Archive for the ‘Success’ Category:


Classical Ideas

So, a Tory MP may or may not have called a police officer a pleb.

The reason this makes the news is not that we find the term pleb particularly offensive, but because it shows that Tory politicians are all the same – that they are bad people who believe they, the monied elite, are better than us (and by us I mean the middle class journos who are making a song and dance about this).

Except it doesn’t.  However this might fit the story we want to tell ourselves about what Conservate politicians are like (and, as a liberal, I’m pretty keen to tell myself that story from time to time), all we have is statistical evidence that maybe one member of the Conservative party has class based prejudices which show themselves in a moment of anger.  It is true that all the evidence from people talking about Andrew Mitchell suggest he isn’t the nicest guy – but sometimes people like that turn out to be particularly effective in doing certain jobs.

However, more to the point, assuming for a second that Andrew Mitchell should be sacked for having insufficient class sensitivity to call someone a pleb, then we need to ensure anyone who has ever called anyone a chav should also be sacked.  Because what pleb means to the public schoolboy, chav means to the middle classes – essentially: someone who, due to the education they received, financial situation of their parents, accent and dress, are to be despised.  And, while I’m at it, its equally bad to assume public schoolboys, even Bullingdon Club members, consider the population to be made mainly of ‘plebs’ – from my experience it is, at most, a small minority – the rest are, again, the class based imaginings of a resentful middle class.  Don’t think that the outcry over Andrew Mitchell isn’t just as much about class based resentment as any comments he may or may not have made.

But there is another element of class based resentment, which I worry is a little more insidious - in that it seems to be agreed upon by almost everyone across the political spectrum.  And because, as far as I can tell, it is not only wrong, but harmful to the quality of life of – well, almost everyone in the world.

The idea is that : There exists a class of scroungers, people who live a life of luxury without putting in a day of work in their lives.  Also, they tend to have lots of children, which in some way means they get to live an even more luxurious and more work free life.

Now, I’m not denying there are some families who live, generation to generation, on welfare.

What I am saying is that, if the life they live is the most they want, then good for them.

What I’m also saying is “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all live the life we want without having to work?  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we, as a society, decided to make that a goal, rather than the concepts of economic growth, which often keep us trapped in lives we don’t want to lead”

I’m not, for a second, suggesting that everyone become lazy, TV watching, drones – you’re back to the class stereotypes if you even considered that.  Without a day job, I would be busily learning, writing, coding, thinking, creating – all on my own.  Some of my ideas and creations would be useful to others.  I’m sure people would take those ideas on and develop and improve them, sanding down the rough edges that I may prefer to leave unfinished.  In short, I would be providing value to society… and I think, left to their own devices, most people would.  The value might be a different sort of value from what we have grown to understand in the education to factory or office to retirement to grave treadmill – but people want to be useful, they want to both give and receive – they just need the opportunity.

Even if we had the money to fund giving everybody a state mandated living allowance – and that we could do so without weird inflationary effects – I wouldn’t suggest switching over to this new model tomorrow.  There is a need to remove (and ideally automate, rather than sending oversees) the jobs that people don’t want to do.  We’ve already started.  The servant has been replaced by the hoover and washing machine.  We should not fear the loss of jobs through automation, but we should try to make up for them, by making it increasingly possible for people to live without he need to do someone else’s work.

Right now when a job is automated, we put the spare labour back onto the job market, which lowers the amount people are paid to do similar jobs, which ultimately means we are all working harder to stay where we are.  When people predicted a three day week, they were optimistic that there wouldn’t be enough work – instead we find that every time we finish one job early, there is more work to be done  or else we will be out competed by someone who is willing to put in more effort in order to gain a rung or two ahead of you on the (material) ladder of life.  We can’t, as a society, win if we keep on going in this direction.  We are in an arms race which, at best, will lead to us burning out rather than burning brighter.

So when you hear the cries of ‘scrounger’, don’t ask ‘How can we get rid of that?” ask ‘How can we get more?  How can we raise everyone’s basic level of living so that, should I want, I too can be a scrounger?’.  It should be a goal of society for us all to be able to do exactly what we want, for us to aim for our highest potential, rather than the highest level of corporate management we can fill.

 

The Horse

Andalusian

Even if the fall doesn’t hurt, it can be hard to get back on the horse.

Lots of things take time to become a habit.  There are lots of things I do frequently, which are not yet habits.

And sometimes, for whatever reason:  Stress. Overwork. Tiredness. Something new that interests me.  Boredom. I stop doing them.  Not because I don’t enjoy them, but because the take something like time, brainpower, energy, willpower that I don’t have enough of.

These things.  Things I like.  Things I enjoy.  These things seem to be the hardest things to start doing again.

To start doing these things again is making a statement ‘this time I’ll stick with it’

And that statement carries the hidden statement ‘and if I don’t stick with it I’ll be a failure’

Which is a shame, because I can’t do the things I like, because of the potential to fail.  Whereas if I never do them again, I’m not so much a failure as a tormented genius with sooooo much potential.

So failure seems to be a better route than being the sort of person I would dismiss with sarcasm.  I will let myself fail at most things, if it means I can succeed in having fun – or just the occasional feeling of success at not having failed yet.

I will get back onto the horse.

I will lose weight.

I will write more.

I will try to knock a few entries off the list of things I could do right now if I had the energy

(I tried horse riding once, I didn’t enjoy it.  The horse in this post is metaphorical.)

I will fail at some or all of these.  That isn’t the problem.  Because the joy isn’t is getting to the end.  It isn’t to say on my dying day ‘ha-ha I stuck with it all the way.’  The joy is in the process.

 

I’ll Be Damned

I’m not a perfectionist.  Not your normal kind of perfectionist.
I know damn well I’m not perfect.
I can list all my flaws.  One after another.  Want to hear them?  You’ll be here a while.
What I can’t face is anyone else knowing that I’m not perfect.
So, keep it to yourself, would you?
What I like to do is think.
Ideas are where I live.
The real world is just a place to inspire ideas.
The real world is imperfect.
When I try to bring my ideas into the real world, the light of the real world shines on them and reveals imperfections.
Those imperfections weren’t there in my mind
Or maybe they were.  And I overlooked them.
(But that would mean I was imperfect.  So shhhhh)
I can’t bare for my ideas to be imperfect… not if anyone else is going to see them
So I destroy my creations.
Or I hide them away.  Away from the light.
More recently I just plain got good at never letting my ideas out in the first place.
In my head, they are all my babies.  And I take care of them.  They don’t need the real world.

Ideas, in my head, unexpressed, are wonderful and priceless.
To me.
To others they have no value.  They do nothing.  They don’t even exist.
And so, I guess to others I have no value either.
Since I am a combination of my ideas, and a seething mass of repressed imperfection.

This has to stop.

I have to stop fearing the imperfect.

Occasionally I look at my old ideas – ones I realised, then hid, ashamed.
Lots of them are pretty good
Not great.  But pretty good.  I like them.
Not enough to share – you understand – that time has passed.
Those ideas are old now.  They belong to another me, a me from the past.
I have new ideas.  Perfect, unsullied ideas.

So my mission is to share my ideas.

Its not a mission.  A mission is a cause you live for.
I live for the ideas.  The ideas will never die.
But my soul might.
Because if the ideas are me.  And they are.  Then to share them is to love.
I don’t love enough.
Because I don’t share enough.

When I said my ideas had value, did you think I was talking about money?

This is the plan.  The idea.  The first idea:
Make it easy to write.
Have a keyboard to hand at all times.
Forego brain numbing entertainment and embrace boredom
Boredom is a great motivator.
Encourage boredom, and you encourage creativity.
Do not fill the spaces in between.  Make them wider.  Look inside them.

The second idea is dangerous.
I do not like it.  It taunts me.
I am afraid of it.
But it has power.

“Publish before thinking.”

I publish everything now
(well, not everything.  But lots.  every day)
I do not edit.
Because editing implies I could make it perfect.  Or more perfect.  And that reminds me of the imperfections.
I spellcheck, because I like getting rid of the red lines.
I do not reread it.
I just hit publish.
And it is out there.

I do not always publish under my own name.  Because I am scared, and because names have power.
But I have shared.
I have loved.
Loved in the manner of a man who dare not approach his muse – dare not even look at her.
But loved.

And my love, out there, lasts.
My ideas stand on their own.
Imperfect.  But beautiful.

They are not all beautiful.
Some, i know, are ugly and twisted.
I will revise them, I tell myself.
But not yet.  Because there is more to share.
And in time maybe the ugliness will wear off.

I doubt the ugliness will wear off.

But I have shared.

If these ideas are worth anything to anyone, then I have done good.
If they are worthless, then I have done my best.
Because striving for perfection
Is striving to add so little
and succeeds in only adding great disappointment
When the ideas refuse to step outside.
When I keep the ideas locked inside.

No.  I have shared.
I will continue to share.
I will not edit.  Because editing stops me from sharing.
I will publish and be damned.
I will publish, and maybe the ideas, the me inside of me, will be saved.

[Note from Ben:  I wrote this.  I think its a poem.  I don’t think I started out writing a poem, but thats what it seems to have become.  It was meant to be a manifesto against keeping ideas to yourself because they are not perfect.  It seems less optimistic than it was meant to be, but I think it shows how scared I am of coming to terms with this concept - a concept which is, I am pretty sure, the right way for me to behave.  It is, nevertheless, empowering.  In its own way.  I didn’t post this right away, which makes me a fraud and a liar.  But also human, and very much me.  I will post it.  I will.  It will not be revised.]

Betterness

I’ve been reading Betterness: Economics for Humans by Umair Haque.

The thesis is a simple idea:  That we have reached a point of stagnation in business (it follows on from Tyler Cowen’s ‘The Great Stagnation’ idea – which unfortunately I’ve still not got around to reading… though as a regular Marginal revolutin reader, I suspect I have a fair grasp on a lot of the concepts behind it) and that something new is needed to make any real improvements.

What Haque suggests is Betterness.

Betterness is to Business (or economics… its unclear – Haque talks about economics, but seems to be talking purely about the parts businesses play in the economic system, and a Betterness is meant to be a replacement for Businesses as usual) what positive psychology is to psychology – the recognition that we have spent so much time figuring out wat goes wrong in businesses (or economic systems?) that we haven’t really looked at what makes business’s (or economic systems?) work realy well.

I wonder how good this is as a starting point – certainly, a vast number of business books seem to be about making businesses really good – the book “Good To Great” springs to mind.  Maybe this is less studies in academia, but then this book isn’t an academic text either.

Betterness then follows the popular psychology approach of saying “We don’t just want to be happy, or surviving, we want to experience Eudaimonia – and businesses shouldn’t just be profitable, they should have the business equivalent of Eudaimonia”.  It is a short (an philosophically conservative) step from here to virtue ethics – or in this case, I guess Virtue Economics.

Betterness doesn’t make it clear what it considers virtues to be for businesses – their certainly seems to be a concept of ‘greater good’ at the heart of it, but specific virtues are not elaborated on.  There is nothing so well developed as the VIA inventory which positive psychology has used.  Nevertheless, this list seems to exist somewhere, as some concept of measuring the virtuousness of companies is talked about later on in the book, albeit frustratingly lacking in detail.

For much of the book, I felt one thing lacking was a description of “How do we make our company better?”  The answer is finally elaborated on near the end – apparently, its by having a mission statement.  Though not just any mission statement – careful picking and choosing of mission statements is used to make a point – good businesses has a mission statement which says how they benefit the customer and the world, rather than how they benefit their shareholders.  Unfortunately, its always easy to find meaningless mission statements when looking at companies – because mission statements don’t actually always impact the company’s core values.  Moreover, they manage to make two mistakes:

As a bad mission statement, they pick Microsoft’s “A computer in every household running Microsoft Windows”.  Except this (or its previous “A computer on every desktop” statement) was, at the time it was created, a powerful statement about they way they expected the future to be – and was exactly the sort of future Microsoft helped bring about.  It would be meaningful to say that this mission statement has passed its prime – and that this might be why Microsoft has seemed to lose its way, but to class it as a bad statement shows a forgetfulness about where the world was only a few years ago.

As a good mission statement they choose Google’s “Be really good at one thing”.  Again, this is a statement which may have worked for the first few years of Google (when they were trying to be really good at search), but these days, it doesn’t describe the Google I know.  Google now is trying to be everything to everyone – sure, looking after the worlds data may be a core value, but in order to do that, google is being a hardware manufacturer, a operating system developer, a search engine, an office suite, oh yes, and an advertising space retailer.  A common criticism of modern Google is that it is spreading itself too thin.

Betterness never goes into the legal changes that would be needed for Betternesses to take off.  How are they funded?  would people put money into companies which cared about the world before shareholders?  what about public company’s legal obligation to do the best for their shareholders?  There is suggestion that companies which are already thinking about the world first are more profitable – but is this a general trend, or do large companies spend more PR money on making themselves look good?  I’m left unconvinced.

Which is a shame.  Because, at heart, it is a good idea.  it would be a better place if our businesses were able to consider money only as something they need in order to flourish, not as a single goal.  If this book as a key value, its about suggesting that there is another way, that we ought to consider another way, rather than going down the same path as countless businesses.  It is a fine aspiration.  Now all we need is a roadmap, and some good data to show that the road actually exists.

 

What rules are you playing by

Recently I wrote an article here about the fact corporate procedures are a lot like the rules of games – and that by acknowledging this, we could bring game design techniques more clearly into the workplace.  Perhaps make working – or at least corporate procedure – more fun.

It wasn’t, in my opinion, a great article.  It had one idea, and went on, it rambled a lot.  I suspect what I wrote above sums up what I wanted to say more clearly.  Yet I posted the article anyway.  Why?  Because its the rules.  Because I realized the rules I live by are also game mechanics.

I never like the quality of anything I write.

When I look back at things I have written, from a distance, I often like them more.

If I went with my first instinct, I would never publish anything.  I would never share my ideas

If I went with my second instinct, I might share my ideas, but they would never be fresh, I would never be part of the conversation.  In many ways this is what being an introvert feels like in every day communication – it shouldn’t be like that online.

So I came up with a rule.  I publish everything, no matter how much I’m unhappy with it.

Will this make me look a fool in public?  Probably.  But you can respect someone for doing something risky, dangerous and possibly foolish.  You cant respect someone who hides away.

This is by no means the only rule in my life.  When I realized I was being insufficiently careful with money, I made a rule to ensure I saved something.  When I realized that I wasn’t spending enough time with my wife doing things she wanted to do, I made rules about accepting a certain number os social engagements – engagements that I would otherwise avoid like the plague.  I make lots of rules for myself.

But its the rules we don’t realize we’ve made which can be the most devious, and the most destructive.

I’ve accepted my part in the mortgage and pension game.  This has lots of good aspects, but it means I have sacrificed certain freedoms.  I worry about financial security, and, until I see my bank account has enough money to support me and my wife, in the level of comfort to which we’re accustomed, for the rest of our lives, the risks I’m going to take will naturally be limited.  This is a rule I’ve accepted without realizing it.  And its a hard rule to ever consider giving up (indeed giving it up seems to be the epitome of foolishness).  But its a limitation, and it means freedom remains further out of my grasp than without it.

However, its a rule that I’ve identified.  and by identifying this rule, I have the potential to bend it – or break it – or make new rules to compensate.

What rules do you live by that you simply accept as being good common sense and never consider challenging?  What freedoms do you give up by following these rules?  Are the freedoms you gain sufficiently good that following the rules will always make sense?

Is it time to change the game you’re playing?

On Susan Cain and Introverts

Susan Cain seems to be the most recent person to discover that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert.  Her TED speech was impressive, because Susan Cain is a wonderful, energetic, empathic speaker.  And there is a segment of the population – introverts – who are going to react strongly to it, because its a message we all like to hear : “All those things you’ve been told time and time again are wrong with you?  Well there is nothing wrong with you.  You’re a beautiful little flower – in fact you’re probably more beautiful than some of those big brash gaudy flowers.  And the world – well the world better shape up and start making your life easier, or, well, there’s gonna be some indeterminate form of trouble”

For the record, I’m an introvert.  A big, avoid parties, enjoy solitude and reading, and keeping my thoughts to myself, introvert.  I often say (as a joke… although all jokes have an element of truth in them deep down) that I hate people.  And I’m not a self loathing introvert.  I also agree that its an extravert’s world out there. I learned long ago to accept what being an introvert means to me:

Other people are tiring.

I find it hard to think, when I’m also trying to manage all those other, tiring people.

I’m bloody well not going to tell you what I’m thinking about, until I’ve formed the thought in my head, and got it fairly right.

Because inside my head is where things matter.  Its where I live.  The outside of my head is just a place where new things come from – its job is to funnel them into my mind.

I have no evidence (and I can’t read her book, until the end of March, so I may have to write a follow up then) but I suspect Susan Cain agrees with me on these points.

But we disagree – I think – on one major issue.  Susan Cain comes close to suggesting that introverts and extraverts are at war.  Whereas I think between us we have more potential if we work together.  And for introverts – as a niche, its up to us to find our way into the inefficient cracks of extravert society.  If its a war, we are not an opposing army.  We are a resistance, who extraverts might one day wake up and notice are running everything, secretly, behind the scenes.  If we’ve done it right, the extraverts won’t even care.

So – let me get this straight – I do think the world needs to be told that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert.  I do think its right that extraverts should be told there are people whose minds work in a slightly different way from yours (incidentally, if you’re an extravert… imagine you’ve spent all day in meetings.  Then gone out with a crowd of people after work.  Then, on arriving home, you’re in-laws have turned up for dinner.  Just as you are seeing them out the front door, after a lovely meal, a friend calls, and suggests you pop down the pub for last orders.  You say “I think I’m going to have an early night” tired from all the socialising.  Well, that’s how an introvert feels after an hour of meetings.  Or after one long phone call.  Once you can understand that, we can move onto the deeper implications).  I also think its right that introverts need to be told that there is nothing wrong with them, that its just a characteristic they have, like their height, eye colour or sexuality.  But I don’t think we need to get extraverts to compromise as much as Susan Cain seems to think we do

Lets take her discussion of education.  Susan Cain says

1.  Introverts do better at school than extraverts

2. The school system is increasingly biased towards extraverts in how children are taught to learn

3. There are more extraverts than introverts (actually, I think Susan Cain overestimates the number of introverts – everything I’ve read suggest we are 25% of the population)

Now – for right or wrong – our school system is set towards getting everyone to the same level.  It doesn’t do a wonderful job of helping those who are capable of excelling excel, because it spends its time picking up the pieces of those who are falling behind.  Now, looking at the statements above we see that, despite the extravert education system, the introverts are doing well.  On average, they don’t need more help.  Its the extraverts – the majority – who need help.  So doesn’t it make sense to have an education system which teaches extraverts in the way they find the best to learn?  Its at the expense of the introverts doing even better – but hey, its not the extraverts who are going to pop down the library and carry on with self study on their own, is it?

I’m tempted to think that the workplace is the same.  Now, I’m going to make assumptions here – some are probably unjustified, and many are based on talking to my wife, who is the sort of extravert who makes extraverts go “wow – she talks a lot”.  Really, its all a lot of guess work.  But its been through my mind, and feels sufficiently right for me to want to put down on paper – which is better than you’ll get from the average extravert’s blurtings.  A workplace is full of extraverts and introverts.  Probably still in similar ratios.  Introverts, when they see problems, or opportunities to change things, will look them over, come up with a few ideas, and then (if they still like them) will tell someone.  Extraverts are different.  Extraverts don’t really believe in the reality of an idea until they’ve told someone else about it – until the idea has left their head and entered the world.  So extraverts hold meetings.  And they brainstorm.  And generally tire out the introverts (who would much rather just read the minutes, then come back with their own thoughts on the matter).

Without the meetings.  Without the ability to shout over cubical walls, the poor extraverts won’t be able to get anything done.  Productivity drops by 75%.  Now, if you rule out the introverts, productivity will only fall by 25%.  And it won’t even fall by that amount because introverts have a couple of tools in their arsenal which they learn to exploit.

The first is to be friends with an extravert.  Or, you know, marry one (a risky decision, but its working out for me).  You can manage your time with the extravert, and use that time to explain your ideas to him.  All you have to do is win over the extravert, then he’ll do the job of winning over everyone else.  Of course, you’ve got to pick you extravert… you want one of the really popular, really convincing ones.  But if you provide the ideas (and yes, act as his sounding board… it would be better if you didn’t have do, but at least its only one person, and you can control the situation more), then they’ll spread.  You might not get the credit, but that means you won’t have to deal with the other people that taking the credit entails.  Your pet extravert will, however, consider you his secret sauce – and won’t want to leave you behind.

The second is to learn public speaking.  “But introverts can’t speak publicly!” I hear you cry.  Um, we can.  Because when you speak publicly, its a very managed situation – moreover,  you’ve thought of what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it beforehand.  Its a learned skill, that anyone with a few evenings to spend at a Toastmasters group can pick up.  Moreover, I’ve noticed public speaking unlocks a slightly different personality – the crown pleasing, crowd controlling, dare I say it, charismatic me.  Now, I can’t keep this version of me turned on for too long, it drains me.  But when I’m in a meeting, and I have to take control, remembering to switch to ‘Presentation Ben’ is a big advantage.  Still think you can’t do it?  Trust me, you do it all the time.  If, like me, you live in your head, then everything you do is a presentation, an act to portray yourself to the world.  Many of our best known comedians and actors are good public speakers.  Hell, so is Susan Cain.  She knows she can do this – I know that almost anyone can.

The final trick is to know your energy.  And to honour your energy.  If you’re feeling tired, you need to recuperate.  Right now, I’m sitting in a hotel room in London, taking a break from the world.  Because work does drain me (moreso since I’ve got myself involved in the world of product management meetings).  And, bless her, my lovely wife can drain me too – and certainly joining her in activities she loves (which involve lots and lots of other people.  Did I mention that I hate people?) drain me.  So I’ve taken a few days to escape.  And be on my own.

So it doesn’t need to be a war.  You just have to accept that the extraverts need to do things there way, and we need to make a life in that world…

Or we did.

Because half my life ago now, the my little, introverted, world changed.  And it was all due to introverts.

Specifically, it was due to the group of introverts who built and brought to me the internet.

As an introvert, the net is wonderful.  Right now, I’m sharing ideas with you – and it isn’t tiring, its the opposite, its a release, because these ideas are finally leaving my skull and going outside where they can bother other people.  I don’t have to talk to you.  I don’t have to race to keep up with both thinking and talking (hmm, that could be a good slogan “Introverts think without talking.  Extraverts talk without thinking”).  Meanwhile, my shopping is delivered to the door (and the sooner they have robot deliverymen the better), my books arrive straight on my kindle.   I still get to meet new people, but I meet them at my rate – at the rate of thinking, not at the rate of talking – or the more common rate of smalltalking.  And, when all the meetings get too much, I can work from home, and actually get stuff done.

In peace and quiet.

Alone.

And the research suggests that the stuff I get done this way, is going to be better than the stuff extraverts bash out between themselves at meetings.

So who am I to complain?

I never wanted to be president.  To much shaking hands and dealing with people.

No, the vizier behind the throne.  That’s power.  After all, presidents only last for 8 years.

Ideas… they last quite a bit longer.

TEDXGranta

I spent yesterday at TedXGranta.  Presumably, you’re familiar with the TED conference – TEDXs are smaller, local conferences which follow the same format of short presentations and conversation, under license from TED, but organised and run locally.  There were a wide range of talks, some of which I found myself more interested in than others (as you might expect), but right now, rather than listing them all I’m more interested in drawing out the themes which ran across the talks, as these felt like the ‘bigger’ ideas hidden within the more specific, smaller, ideas of the speakers.

The first two presentations were by Tim Morley – talking about teaching Esperanto in Schools, and Eben Upton – talking about using the Raspberry Pi to bring back proper computer teaching to schools.  They shared a common concept – it was about giving children a simplified device – or language – for the purposes of piquing their interest and making their own discoveries.  It was likened to giving people a recorder to get them started in music.  A friend commented to me that he tried learning Esperanto as a child and never got anywhere.  I responded that he also had a microcomputer in those days (which is what the Pi seeks to be a modern day version of) and took to it like a duck to water.  It isn’t about making everyone a linguistic master, its about democratising opportunities to find out what you love.

A second big idea was the benefits that come from empowering minorities.  David Constantine’s NPO Motivation provide wheelchairs for the developing world – but his motivation went far beyond simply offering mobility – he wanted to offer self respect and participation in society.  He’s doing a truly fantastic job.  Closer to home, Flack – a Cambridge listings magazine is offering the same benefits to the City’s homeless.  Rather than focussing on the problems of homeless people, Flack encourages them to use their talents, skills and creativity.  Again, its all about empowerment.  We also saw a video presentation of Susan Cain’s speech about introversion (which is making a bit of a buzz right now).  While I have some issues with the contents of her speech (thats another blog post… and probably a second post once ‘ve read her book and seen exactly what her ideas are in depth), she points out the modern society is marginalising introverts – potentially a secret oppressed minority in front of our eyes (or, in may case, behind my eyes.  Introverts will get that joke… extraverts, maybe less so).  She also says that empowering introverts will bring new and better ideas which can change the world.

The final big idea was that we should bring the things to the people.  Raspberry Pi and Esperanto are examples of this – the low cost (of the Pi device, or of learning Esperanto well enough to teach it to others) puts them into the hands ofchildren who can benefit.  Shelly Katz displayed his new instrument / performance device: the Symphonova.  its a device which will allow him to bring the sounds – and live reactivity – of an orchestra onto a far smaller stage.  And also a device which will allow people with my personal levels of musicality to sit amongst and play within an orchestra.  Tim Hayward (once a writer for the Guardian, and now the Guardian of the sticky buns) talked bringing the foodie revolution which has happened in the high end restaurants of London, into the smaller indie venues on the high street.  He’s starting by saving Fitzbillies – something I have to approve of, even if gluten intolerance means I’ll never again taste the benefits (That said, my wife, who is frequently sniffy about British cakes seems to have become a convert to his Chelsea Buns, so I assume he is doing a good job).  Finally Tim Minshall taled about the problems of bringing engineering to the people – because people didn’t know what engineering is (just as an aside, while I’m sure children don’t know what Engineers do – do they also not know what inventors do?  Or games programmers?  Or chemists?  Could all the problems in his speech be that he is being more abstract than he needs to be?)

I haven’t mentioned everyone here – the talks were eclectic, and I’m only picking on the things that kept coming up time and time again.  I could have easilty considered a few more (engineering + design changes the world.  Art + Technology = wow.  engineering + art + emotion = wallace and grommit).  But time is short.  And there is one more thing I want to address:

Presentations are what has made TED famous.  TED presentations are flawless.  And yet the quality of the presentation skills at TEDXGranta was variable.  To be fair, no one was awful – when you’ve been to as many tech conferences as me, you’re prepared for far worse speaking, but time and time again I was raging to myself “If only I could have spent a little time tweaking this guy’s words.  If only I could have had an hour with these guys showing them how to use the stage more, or how to put down their notes and speak from the heart.  If I could teach how to keep track of the clock, and make it their friend.  If I could redo their slides – or convince them to throw them away”.  Presentations are important to me.  Every presentation at TEDXGranta had really valuable content – and I feel picky by complaining about one aspect.  But its communication.  Without both action and communication, ideas are nothing.  And a less than stella presentation (and this is a learnable skill folks, not something you have to be born with) distracts from the communication.  It makes the idea a little less valuable.  And a little less likely to change the world.  And the ideas I heard yesterday are already changing the world.  And need to be heard more.

Susan Cain said it ” There is no correlation between the best thinkers and the best speakers”.  This isn’t an excuse folks.  If you have good ideas, you have to learn to find a way share them.  Thats why I write this blog.  Thats why I love TED in all its forms.  It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert.  If an idea is valuable, it’s up to you to ensure you show it in all its beauty.

 

Why Bonuses are like Torturing Dogs

The following is a description of an experiment, which, more or less, involves torturing dogs.  Give dogs collars which shocked them at random intervals.   For some of those dogs, make sure the collar stops giving them shocks when they enter a particular area – for other dogs, just keep giving them shocks, randomly.  For the dogs who can escape the shocks, most of them figure out, quite quickly, how to do it.  Clearly the dogs who can’t escape don’t.

Later give the dogs different collars.  Specifically, give the dogs collars that give random shocks, but stop if they jump over a wall to a different area.  The dogs who previously found out how to stop getting shocks quickly learn to jump the wall, and escape again.  The dogs who found no way to escape the shocks don’t even try.  They just lie down, whimper and suffer.

Essentially, the dogs who got the unstoppable shocks learn that there is nothing they can do.  They learn to be helpless.

Now consider bonus culture.  I’m a software engineer – sure I play my part in making my company more successful, but there isn’t much I can do on my own.  I’m part of a team.  Any fixes I make to our code, any features I add, often don’t have an effect for motnhs or years after I have made the changes.  Also I get paid a bonus.

Now, at a previous company, this bonus was related purely to department performance.  Which might sound good – I’m part of the team – I play my part.  If we do well, the company does well.  We deserve bonuses, right?  Well, in a particular year we had a goal : to drive sales to a new high.  And – despite the fact we wern’t involved in sales directly, we helped the sales team in a number of ways – and sales hit the new high.  Unfortunately the way our bonus was calculated was how much we added to the turnover of the company as a whole.  But our departments sales were mainly in europe.  And our company was based in the US.  And the exchange rates wavered.  Despite the fact we had made a new record in sales across Europe, on the day company figures were released, the euro was down against the dollar.  Our success was entirely wiped out by exchange rates.

This made me feel like a dog with a shock collar that can’t be stopped.  I have no control over exchange rates – yet I’m going to be rewarded if they are one way and punished if they fall another way.  I have no control at all.  No matter how much work I put in, the exchange rates are going to beat me.  The bonus isn’t a system that inspires me to work hard – its a system which teaches me to be helpless.

Now at another company my bonus is related to meeting specific goals, multiplied by how well the company has met its goals.  Now int his case, I can’t affect the company’s goals, the company is too big.  But I can affect my performance.  However I have no idea if at the end of the quarter, the company is going to report a big number, or a small number- and so I don’t know if exceeding my goals is worth a lot or a little.

This shouldn’t be a problem:  I like to work hard and exceed my goals.  I feel responsible for how good my work is.  Its important to me.  But psychologists know: when money is put on the table, it changes things.  And it isn’t clear how hard I should work to get my bonus.

Here is what would work better:  Tell me you’re going to give me a bonus based on last quarters results, multiplied by my performance in the next quarter.  That way I know how much my hard work is worth.  But also give me the option of choosing – before quarterly figures are out – of choosing to take my bonus multiplied by the current quarter’s results.  So if there was a poor quarter, I can be inspired to work harder to help change things.

But don’t just give me random shocks and rewards and expect me not to just give up and do my job and no more.  That just doesn’t make sense.

Success

You can’t have success without stepping outside of your comfort zone.  If you could, then you would already have success.

To step outside of your comfort zone requires willpower.

Willpower comes in a limited supply.  It can get used up.

You can find ways of increasing your supply of willpower – with practice, or (strangely – but apparently true) by consuming glucose

But the best way to ensure you have enough willpower is to not use too much of it

You don’t have to step too far outside of your comfort zone – anywhere outside is outside and has potential that inside your comfort zone didn’t have

It’ll probably help, too, if you stop doing those things you currently find uncomfortable, but think you have to do (but for which you never see any real results).  They drain lots of your willpower.

And your comfort zone will grow.  Often quite quickly.  You’ll be back inside before you know it.

And if you go out of your comfort zone in a direction which relies on and builds on your strengths – it will hardly take any willpower to get to the point where your comfort zone grows.

And will you have success then?  Who knows.  But if you don’t, all you have to do is take another step outside of your comfort zone.

© Ben.Cha.lmers.co.uk
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