Vermin to be slaughtered

Screenshot of story

As I slowly recover from the mysterious viral fever, an interesting juxtaposition of advertising and news story (pictured) caught my eye today.

Staff are leaving Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s office in “droves” — that’s one of those newspaper-only words, like “wed” as a verb instead of “married”, isn’t it! But are they really “vermin to be slaughtered”?

Over the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly concerned about the unhealthiness of modern Australian work practices. There’s so much focus on short-term “productivity” and false urgency, on quantity over quality, and so little respect for people as actual humans. Now the world financial crisis looms — yes, chickens, it really is as bad as the Great Depression. The danger is that employers will turn up the pressure to be “productive”, meaning “working harder”, instead of working smarter.

How business managers respond to the challenge will reveal much of their character as human beings.

Three Moments of Software Joy

I like it when software-writers pay attention to the little things.

  1. When changing credit card details in my Basecamp account, the system noticed that I also had a Highrise account and offered to update that at the same time. Thank you, 37signals.
  2. When I installed the new version of OmniFocus, it pre-selected the option to delete the installer files once it was completed. Thank you.
  3. When Miro TV updated itself to a new version, it re-started and continued playing the last video I watched from where we left off.

If I listed “Moments of Software Unjoy”, it’d go for pages…

Communication usually fails, except by accident

Every time I read 37signals’ blog, I find something of value. Today they tell me about a Finnish researcher in human communication, Osmo Wiio, and his Murphy-like laws of communication.

  • If communication can fail, it will.
  • If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way which does the most harm.
  • There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message.
  • The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed.

After that, you may want to read more about Osmo Wiio.

“Urgency is poisonous”

Here’s one for a rainy Monday morning. 37signals’ experimental 4-day working week is going very well.

When I first compared this enlightened approach to people-management with the drive-them-harder style of Jason Calacanis, it triggered a massive debate, and I wrote a follow-up comparing the Calacanis approach to an evil cult. Last week 37signals reckoned that urgency is poisonous.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that urgency is overrated. In fact, I’ve come to believe urgency is poisonous. Urgency may get things done a few days sooner, but what does it cost in morale? Few things burn morale like urgency. Urgency is acidic.

Emergency is the only urgency. Almost anything else can wait a few days. It’s OK. There are exceptions (a trade show, a conference), but those are rare.

When a few days extra turns into a few weeks extra then there’s a problem, but what really has to be done by Friday that can’t wait for Monday or Tuesday? If your deliveries are that critical to the hour or day, maybe you’re setting up false priorities and dangerous expectations.

If you’re a just-in-time provider of industry parts then precise deadlines and deliveries may be required, but in the software industry urgency is self-imposed and morale-busting. If stress is a weed, urgency is the seed. Don’t plant it if you can help it.

I can’t agree more. A client phoned once, all a’fluster about an “emergency”. Before I could think, I blurted out the question, “Why? Whose life is in peril?”

Of course no-one was in danger. This client was operating in crisis mode, as usual: that anti-pattern also known as “firefighting mode”: “Dealing with things only when they become a crisis, with the result that everything becomes a crisis.” I’ve written about that before here and with my colleague Zern Liew.

Thoughts on Twitter

High MacLeod cartoon Twitter logo: a stylised bird of some sort

In just two months, Twitter has become one of my core communication tools. Non-Twitter instant messaging and Facebook have all but disappeared from the mix. Here’s why.

Actually, before that… If you don’t use Twitter, or if you’ve taken a look but don’t “get it”, watch this 2.5-minute video Twitter in Plain English from those wacky Canadians Common Craft. Love their style.

OK, back?

Like the character in the video, I was sceptical about Twitter. Why do people need to know every little detail of my life? Who cares? I said as much to Perth’s Twitterati late last year. But then I actually tried using it — and I “got it” immediately.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Twitter”

Jason Calacanis and the Evil Cult of the Internet Start-up

[Note: This article is a follow-up to How do you treat your staff? Like 37signals, or like this prick?, written after that piece received a lot of attention. But my views are more complex than simple Good vs Evil, as a look through all Calacanis-related posts will show.]

I’m still chuckling at the seriousness with which some people treat getting onto Techmeme. It’s true, I keep stopping typing to giggle. It’s embarrassing.

I’d never visited Techmeme until this weekend. Even then it was only because someone told me I’d blipped up there. It’s just another feed of what someone thinks is “important” in infotech, yeah? Who cares. It’s not as if it’s Reuters or BBC News.

It’s just more geeks telling geeks what geeks think other geeks should think about stuff that geeks think about.

Photograph of Jason Calacanis

But Jason Calacanis cares.

Jason Calacanis must care very deeply because he “joked” about it on this website, and over at TechCrunch he “joked” about getting pageviews. His fan club speculates that Duncan Riley and me and others are only attacking him to generate our own web traffic. Well, I can’t speak for Duncan, but no, I couldn’t care less about website traffic — especially the low-grade drive-by flamers that usually wash up here after being mentioned on high-traffic fan sites. That’s not why I’m here.

I’m attacking Calacanis because I reckon the business style he describes, the one championed by his defenders, is rotten to the very core.

But first, let’s talk about religion…

Continue reading “Jason Calacanis and the Evil Cult of the Internet Start-up”