Look how many women are at Google I/O – this is my world. Let’s change it.
I was recently on a call with a developer (woman), and a colleague who was her supervisor (male). This colleague is *very* well-intentioned and the last thing he wanted was to alienate, silence, diminish, humiliate, or shame the developer. He truly wanted to know what she thought, and to collaborate on a touchy timeline estimate we were building.
Throughout my career, as a woman and working with diverse teams, I’ve noticed a few things that made me think that women, as well as people from other cultures, minorities, or any “other” in the American technical workspace, may be contributing in a style different from what we expect. American business style is a certain way- and I can see the effectiveness of it- but for more diverse teams, there are other techniques to getting the strongest collaborative product out with all resources available.
Ask open-ended questions, and wait for the answer.
Don’t predict or propose a solution or statement. Instead, ask an open-ended question, to find out what they think. Wait for them to actually complete the entire thought. I feel like the American discourse style promotes initiative, assertiveness, and directness, and this is not taught or supported in other cultures (in France, for example, I was routinely told to downplay initiative). So by asking open questions, and creating clear interval or silence where you are listening for the response, helps bring out opinions from others that may be intimidated, or generally not as forceful speakers.
Ask leading questions
Contrary to above, ask questions that posit a strawman or a certain attitude or potential criticism. Then, key to this, is to wait for the full answer to complete.
Your point is stronger knowing the other collaborators’ opinions
You may know the right answer. You may have solved the problem. But your argument, eventually, is far more persuasive if you have heard more opinions from the team, and know how it fits in with your final argument. Listening to as many individuals in a team as you can get- regardless of seniority or experience- strengthens your position.
Ask before you posit your own opinion
It sets bias to say what you think, before asking for a response. Especially if you are senior or in a position of more strength than the person you’re asking. So always ask first.
I learned a lesson in one of my first workplaces- about goodwill- that has proved itself over and over again.
I had a colleague that was much older than me, and knew almost everything about our little software animation shop (4 people, including 2 co-founders). Classic startup- I worked the phone, customer service, accounts payable, product management, and (cough) engineering. Whenever I had a question, I asked him. He got tired of this, and stopped wanting to help me. What I was told by my boss (the president) was that I “hadn’t built up goodwill.” Regardless of whether it was in this guy’s job description (my argument), I had to still help him. I had to make it worthwhile for him to help me.
How goodwill relates to the collaborative process: communicate what you have learned in gathering opinions, for example. Communicate to the developer how her opinion is backed up by other investigations into the problem. Reveal and contribute, where you can, to help her be part of the solution. In the future, she will be more ready to contribute and offer resources to the solution. Sure, it’s in her job description, but showing the final goal and how she contributes to the goal is how you, as a senior person, can give something valuable back to her. Take an opportunity to help her if you know a way of researching a problem she has had. Unsolicited help, or asking if she needs more eyes on a problem. Offer to pair, or contribute feedback before she submits her next pull request.
You’ve seen them- large, ghost-like double-decker buses, careening around the narrow streets, in the Mission, or North Beach, picking up nicely dressed young people and carting them off to hinterlands of Silicon Valley. Is it a sign of exclusivity, of belonging, being part of a bigger machine, the companies that can afford their own bus lines. They can ride in Wi-Fi comfort, above the rabble and pee-smell seats of Muni. With only a dreaded coworker to avoid instead of some crazy homeless guy.
The problems with private busses- including Academy of Art, Electronic Arts, Yahoo- is that they are creating these overlays of stops and routes on top of our city grid. In a way, it’s similar to the days before our public bus system, when a dozen or so streetcar companies competed for patrons. But we’re not allowed on these- only the workers of Google, Facebook, etc. I also wonder how much the city is being deprived of potential investment in transit. If all these workers took public transportation, or bitched and complained and lobbied for more direct and faster routes, would it clean them up? The separation of their commute- they only see their coworkers, no neighbors, no kids along the block, no ex-boyfriend or recent crush, no barista from your favorite cafe- makes it this cocoon of privilege and in a way, isolation.
I’ve always thought it’s ridiculous to have long commutes. Either live near where you work, or vice-versa. And, this is from someone who has had very seriously long commutes, for years. In a way, I’ve learned- it’s not worth the cost to your life. You’re neglecting your life in one place- it doesn’t stop, it just keeps going without you. And, in reality the place where you’re commuting to has a nice potential life of its own. Mountain View, Cupertino, Palo Alto- all very nice places to live. So why do they do it?
“There’s no other job like this one,” or “I own a house, I don’t want to move,” or “SF is so much fun, I don’t want to leave.” Still spending up to 3 hrs a day (or more?) traveling by bus on the roads. My first job in SF, I took Muni to Caltrain, and walked to work. My latest commute was biking, to a ferry, then biking again to work. It was beautiful though, and the journey was most of reason the work seemed so fun. Now I’m walking through downtown, which I love. The rest of the ride is forgetable but it’s only 20 minutes, then a quick 10 minute walk. Public transit commuting means you meet your neighbors. And in that, you are part of the fabric of your community. Being in your car, or in your work’s bus, you are not meeting your neighbors, you are barely, by a thin thread, part of the fabric.
Picture I took walking to work this week. I also buy hats, it seems, on my walk home. So far: 2.
Why do we work far from where we live? Is the job so irreplaceable, or are we lazy and don’t want to hunt down something more convenient, and in the end, gives us more time in our lives?
(inspired this post:) Google Bus Pinata Smashed During Anti-Gentrification Rally
Why we’re invisible to Google bus riders
San Franciscans feel resentful about the technology industry’s lack of civic and community engagement, and the Google bus is our daily reminder.
Beyond the Secret Corporate Shuttle Stop
Silicon Valley’s Exclusive Shuttles
Another Silicon Valley Perk- Free Shuttle Service
Rodenbeck says he thinks the locations are secret because the companies are “sensitive to this idea that they are funding a change in the infrastructure in San Francisco without it being regulated.”
Video: Class War Pending As Google Bus Driver Threatens Irritated Cyclist
StreetsBlog: Private Bus Routes and Silicon Valley’s Outmoded Office Model
I’ve been working in the northeaster corner of the San Francisco neighborhood, the Bay View for a few months now. It’s an geurilla gardener’s delight. There is so much land- unloved, untilled, un-staked out by seemingly anyone. So, if, for example, you are interested in gardening but the closest community garden has a 5-year waiting list (see: Fort Mason), scratch that green thumb itch by grabbing some seeds, a trowel, some clippers, and then catch the T-Sunnydale to Bay View.
Here are some prime gardening locations:
- The Quint street and Caltrain interchange, new Jerrold, has about 4 acres of land
- There are about 3 empty lots on Oakdale, between Third & Bayshore that can be easily slipped through, or you can throw seeds over the fence.
- Tons of little sidewalk squares ripe for the gardener love.
There’s a natural wildness to San Franciscan empty lots and volunteer weeds popping up on the sidewalk. Last week I took a serious look at a few weeds lining my walk:
Eschscholzia californica. Describing to a friend how this is hard to cultivate- you can’t really move poppies from one side of the garden to another. So when I see them popping (haha) out of the pavement, I appreciate it. It’s a really lovely bit of color, and it’s so weedy and grasslike… uh, graceful and delicate. More beautiful when it’s out across a field, turning the hillside lightly orange, but out in the urban wasteland- I’ll get what I can take. It’s one of the few California native plants in this weed line-up.
An aqueous extract of the plant has sedative and anxiolytic action. The extract acts as a mild sedative when smoked. The effect is far milder than that of opium.
Seeds are edible.
Named by a German, after another German, on a Russian ship, pre-American statehood:
Eschscholzia californica was the first named member of the genus Eschscholzia, named by the German botanist Adelbert von Chamisso after the Baltic German botanist Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, his friend and colleague on Otto von Kotzebue’s scientific expedition to California and the greater Pacific in mid-1810s aboard the Russian ship Rurik.
Vitis californica. I took this photo on Quint Friday- it’s a wild grape. It will be awesome around fall this year. I just read about California wild grapes- didn’t think I’d ever see one so soon after reading about it. May have to do a bit more identification, but seems very unlikely that someone’d cultivate a grape on the side of a gravel lot, across from the water pollution treatment center, ha. Also gets the “noxious weed” assignment, haha. Also a rare SF/California native plant.
The cultivar ‘Roger’s Red’ (named for noted horticulturist Roger Raiche) turns brilliant red in fall and is a hybrid with a wine grape, Vitis vinifera Alicante Bouschet. The cultivar ‘Walker Ridge’ turns yellow in the autumn.
Centranthus ruber. Beautiful flower, popping up among grasses or just right out of the sidewalk. “They have a strong and somewhat rank scent.”, “Often seen in urban wasteland” (poor Bay View). I’ve also heard it described as “burnt tire” smell. Why would you smell it- that’s something funny with plants, rarely do people actually crinkle and smell them (anymore?).
Both leaves and roots can be eaten, the leaves either fresh in salads or lightly boiled, the roots boiled in soups. Opinions differ as to whether either make very good eating, however. Although it is sometimes reported to have medicinal properties, there is no basis for this view, which is almost certainly due to confusion with true valerian, (Valeriana officinalis).
Geranium robertianum. “… it is known as Stinky Bob and classified as a noxious weed” NOt sure I’ve ever heard of noxious weed outside of Monty Python.
In traditional herbalism, Herb Robert was used as a remedy for toothache and nosebleeds. Freshly picked leaves have an odor resembling burning tires when crushed, and if they are rubbed on the body the smell is said to repel mosquitoes. The active ingredients are tannins, a bitter compound called geraniin, and essential oils. It was carried to attract good luck, and due to its analogical association with storks, to enhance fertility.
Foeniculum vulgare . I love fennel- it smells like licorice, the bulb is a great starchy root. I replace fennel root with potatoes in some recipes to liven them up. It’s a big, boisterous, invasive weed but has so many uses. Namely, for San Franciscians who love their booze, its’ the primary ingredient in absinthe.
The word “fennel” developed from the Middle English fenel or fenyl. This came from the Old English fenol or finol, which in turn came from the Latin feniculum or foeniculum, the diminutive of fenum or faenum, meaning “hay”. The Latin word for the plant was ferula, which is now used as the genus name of a related plant. As Old English finule, it is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a fennel plant to steal fire from the gods. Also, it was from the giant fennel, Ferula communis, that the Bacchanalian wands of the god Dionysus and his followers were said to have come.
The Greek name for fennel is marathon (μάραθον) or marathos (μάραθος), and the place of the famous battle of Marathon and the subsequent sports event Marathon (Μαραθών), literally means a plain with fennels.
Tropaeolum majus. I grew up with this landscaped along our driveway by gardeners hired by the housing development. Somewhat OK for landscaping though it tends to look messy. You find it all over SF- it grows in big swathes low to the ground, cascading down Telegraph Hill on the steep unpopulated eastern cliffs. Beautiful, and edible, what more could you ask for?
Note: it’s *not* the plant with the Latin name nasturtium. That had me confused for a while. Fun fact: It’s from Bolivia, near the Andes.
Seeds, flowers and leaves are all edible. Good “companion” plant to broccoli and cauliflower, to repel aphids.
Oxalis pres caprae. This weed is the scourge of my father- he literally has spent many, many hours pulling it from their garden. As a kid growing up in California, this was always a tasty treat- I’d grab a handful and suck on the stems- they were sour and bright tasting.
It’s from Africa, and now a weed in coastal California. It propogates with tiny little bulbs in its stem, so when you pull it you really have to dig deep.
The plant is palatable and in modest quantities is reasonably harmless to humans and livestock. In South Africa it is a traditional ingredient in dishes such as waterblommetjiebredie (water flower stew). The plant has been used in various ways as a source of oxalic acid, as food, and in folk medicine. The raw bulbs have been used to deal with tapeworm and possibly other worms. The plant has been used as a diuretic, possibly hazardously, in the light of observations in the following section. The lateral underground runners, which tend to be fleshy, have been eaten raw or boiled and served with milk. The golden petals can be used to produce a yellow dye
Note- there’s some associated sheep death when they are hungry and eat a large amount, though they don’t know why or how it happens.
And thus ends our gardening hour. Stay tuned for: Good Eats in Bay View.
Ed: Second in the series, see Dwight for earlier one. My reviews of Bravo’s Startup Silicon Valley
What I learned from Bravo’s Startup Silicon Valley about Women in the Valley
I could write a detailed diatribe/analysis of the reality series in contrast to my life as a woman engineer in the city I’ve lived in for 30+ years. But, instead, I’ll just tell you what it would tell me if I knew nothing about it. Therefore, not coming from the informed reality that is my life, but what Randi Zuckerberg’s – sister of Mark and executive producer- her reality and/or version of her experience in my hometown, the friends she cast, and the overall effect the producers, including but perhaps not her directly her input, that influenced the image of the woman in engineering-entrepreneurial SF tech to the rest of America. I do a bit of end-notes stating where/what I get this from after each statement. And, you know, you be the judge.
Women in Silicon Valley get their hair done for hours by professionals at fancy hotels, feeding their dog steak from room service (Sarah). Women in Silicon Valley aren’t actually programmers – I never saw a woman sitting at a computer coding (Kim was working at a computer, but mostly talking to her coworker). They always talk on speakerphone (some requirement for reality show people, I assume), and do their nails at salons. Sometimes, they make inappropriate sexual jokes (Hermione), and do gymnastics in living rooms (Kim). They live in apartments that are in the higher end of the rental market (Kim, Hermione). They don’t work, or, you never see them work (Hermione, Sarah).
This combination of not seeing them work and having high rent lifestyles equates to this magical source of income and/or “what are they doing?” tension while you’re watching the show. They are very comfortable speaking in public. They wear the latest fashions. They are unsuccessful in dating. They are very unaggressive in dating, waiting to be asked out for most of the season by various guys. They are young, straight, and mostly blond.
They have poor backgrounds and/or backgrounds and childhoods in other careers that are not tech-related. Most of their time is spent having complicated interpersonal friendships (Hermione, Sarah), or agonizing over career changes (Kim) or business partners who don’t let them do what they want (Hermione).
In investor meetings, they say “And my brother will discuss the tech” (Hermione) (even though he then hires an engineer to “do the tech”). In interviews, they ask pointed questions about how much money people are going to get (Sarah). They say a lot of generalizations about what it’s like to be “in the valley” (Kim, Hermione). They don’t drive cars (Hermione, Sarah). They are driven around in more expensive cars by men. They have very emotional tantrums in public (Hermione, Sarah).
Basically, a kind of primped up bag of feelings, in a lifestyle paid by men. And how is this different than Basketball Wives (A show I adore, btw.)?
Maybe my next post will be: my view of women in the valley. Hmmm.
Ed: Unlike most of my peers in tech, I liked Bravo’s Start-Ups Silicon Valley. When I gave recaps at lunch, everyone seemed interested, so… I’ll be posting a series of blog posts on characters, themes, and general responses. Too busy to do recaps, sorry.
Dwight is the engineer formerly from Google who is the archetype: young, white, male, nice, and smart. His Achilles’ heel and dramatic tension would either be his inability to admit his undying love for his friend Kim OR his intermittent abusive social drinking that leaves him blacked out and wondering what the f**k he did the night before. Besides that… he lives and works in a 2-bedroom in a 60s dilapidated apartment complex in Mountain View, sharing this with some of my other single male friends down there. I know a few Dwights, and they know each other, actually too. Note: I will stop playing the Name Game since it really doesn’t say much more than: it’s a small town & I’m in tech.
His storyline was the most realistic to me, and probably because of this, the least fit for drama. Because successful engineer-entrepreneurs are working all the time. Sitting at their computer, working. It’s boring. Which makes this series somewhat ill-fated. The sad part of the story was the end (spoiler). His startup, a way of finding a car on the internet “Carsabi” is bought by Facebook. Facebook kills innovation again, because honestly, have you seen the car search on Facebook? I haven’t. Will we ever see it? We do know that Facebook got a good entrepreneur-engineer (among their leagues). How much does he get for it? He doesn’t say, but he does buy a nicer car, get a real bed. And, he works now at Facebook. Is that a good outcome, for him (the 9-5) or for us, deprived of new way of searching for cars? Note: in other articles, turns out Craigslist blocked him which prevented his startup’s success.
Acquisition versus taking it on yourself- that’s an interesting conversation to explore with our characters (which we never hear them saying more than a soundbyte, over and over before and after commercials, Bravo-reality-show-style). But real business conversations aren’t in this show, I’m not sure why. Because we wouldn’t be interested? We’re watching a show about Start-ups, we’ve already “gone there.” OK back to Dwight. He works hard, he’s scrappy and lives very low maintenance, and we all know he’s the one we would invest in. Why? Because he works hard and got shit done. His low maintenance lifestyle shows that he makes good decisions. He works well with his partner, he seems pleasant to work with, and nothing ridiculously stupid has come out of his mouth. Toga parties and algorithms? That looks really staged, but perhaps is supposed to spice up the life of the average viewer, or show that it’s not all sitting in front of your computer (when it really is). The best quote, as usual, comes from Kim-of-the-vocal-fry says, “It’s funny because Dwight is always in front of his computer.”
Technical review: two points at which we hear Dwight actually discuss programming: he turns to his business partner, and asks him how long the Android app will take. The guy says, “I don’t know, I just started today.” That was awesome. Another good quote (of 2 tech quotes, I’m serious, there’s less tech in here than in [insert Bravo series I don't watch]) … another good quote is: “What’s the jQuery for __?” Partner: “___.” Dwight: “Thanks.” As I said, realistic, and probably not good TV. Up there with Warhol’s Sleep.
Dwight Crow’s life is unreal on Bravo’s ‘Silicon Valley’ and off LA Times
I’m sitting here at work kinda slammed and sick, but hey, it’s ALD, and that’s kinda cool.
At work, we were talking about Ada Lovelace – interesting because we are in fashion, and her first application was making jacquard. I love that fact.
In thinking about Ada with this coworker, I realized that she is an important lesson in what one can do with childcare, money, and education. She heard about someone making a machine, thought about how she’d apply the technology, and wrote him a long letter with instructions… before it was even built. She had the leisure and time and energy to pursue science and math.
So next time you’re judging an industry on its lack of women, don’t say “because they don’t have interest/ability/”they don’t have minds like that”" think instead of how the world would look, and be, very different if everyone had equal access to good math and science education, childcare if they chose to have children, and time to study and pursue free projects, if they could afford it.
Hm. Opinionated a little?
A couple of times, folks ask me: do you know X? And I say, why, no I don’t. I do know the language that X avoids. X is: Objective-C, Java, etc. the list goes on. Tonight at a study group, a friend who had just learned Objective-C agreed with me (I had told her- “… just learn it, it’s not that hard”) that “It’s not that hard.” See??!! OK maybe an anecdote isn’t enough to prove my point.
So you want an iPhone/Android app. You’re worried that:
- You will invest a lot of code into one operating system
- You will alienate the other users- iPhone or Android (OK, face it, usually Android)
- The native language is hard
None of those are good reasons. Why?
1: Think investing in Android/iOS is faulty? Think of investing a lot of time and effort in a framework that, while fancy and fun today, will go out of favor in (count them) 4 months approximately. Rarely do these last that long, for various architectural reasons. It’s a total b***ch keeping up with two different platforms (iOS/Android) that are constantly evolving- think of this from the framework’s perspective. At least Google & Apple have a lot of developers building out their SDKs. Most hybrid/cross-platform frameworks have a few open source fans, or a crew of 5-20 developers in a start-up/funded environment with various levels of skill.
2. Different businesses and apps have different target markets. Figure out what devices your users have, how they use them, whether they use native drivers (camera, voice, etc.), and build a simple, native or web app for them. And then roll out a comparable one (or even diminished in features) for the smaller represented set. Or, build in the most popular native operating system for your target demographic, and create a web version to encompass the others. Or, what I like to do, wait for people to complain. If enough do, there’s your market, develop for that.
My most conservative, time-saving, and risk-adverse advice is to build out testing. And rarely do new frameworks that straddle both native systems have good testing frameworks. That’s a pretty strong reason in itself.
My hackfest-programming-partner Stacie Hibino and I submitted ChickenDance to the 2012 iOSDevCamp Hackfest. We were in the first batch called up to demo, and had various network issues that resulted in the much competed for prize: “Best App with Demo Fail.” I had been holding out for a “Had Most Fun Making App” award, but had to lower my hopes when our names were called.
It’s the third “win” for us at the iOSDevCamps. We won “Best New Developer” for DicePad (throw a dice from iPhone to iPad), then “Best Social Game” for “SocialPong” (play Pong with X number of people, consoles are your phone in HTML5).
I’m still suffering from the blow of the Demo Gods. Our app takes a voice input “song” and mashes it up randomly with a 7-second dance video. You can also input video “dance” and that will mash it up with 7-second long songs that were recorded earlier. So, oddly the video worked later in the hallway. We got this fun mash-up of the audience doing a wave to my song “YMCA”:
Of course, it’s a sign of loving inclusion to get the award. The worst would be – being ignored – no prize, or having it fail just generally. The fact that the app works, and that we had a lot of fun playing it earlier, is testament to something, right??
Future mods will be: using a database (instead of Amazon S3 exclusively- was a delay in scanning directories) and using Facebook network, as right now it might devolve into a Chat Roulette problems.
The tradition with the dev camp is to mod the giant skeleton head booby prize. for the next poor soul. Stacie has some fun secret ideas. We put an Angry Bird in the eye socket as a hint to what may come. I’m thinking some kind of vicinity detection that emits smoke from its eyes.
One of the camp founders, Christopher Allen, tweeted:
@banane @staciehibino it is not a booby prize, but a celebration of effort! Freedom to fail is important! #iosdevcamp bit.ly/Miezqp
Very true, very true. Still, it’s hard when your super cute app flails. I do usually learn from failures, from this one, the lessons were: don’t change your wifi settings right before the demo, and, test the exact sequence of the demo BEFORE the demo.
The New York Times just announced: Marissa Mayer took the position as Yahoo’s CEO a few minutes ago. She has broken through the glass ceiling at Google only to encounter the “glass cliff”:
via Wikipedia/Univ. of Exeter:
A glass cliff is a term coined by Prof Michelle Ryan and Prof Alex Haslam of University of Exeter, United Kingdom, in 2004.
Their research demonstrates that once women break through the glass ceiling and take on positions of leadership they often have experiences that are different from those of their male counterparts. More specifically, women are more likely to occupy positions that are precarious and thus have a higher risk of failure – either because they are appointed to lead organizational units that are in crisis or because they are not given the resources and support needed for success.
The telltale signs that make this a classic glass cliff situation are:
1. It’s a position of leadership
2. The company is in crisis
3. Average or under-skilled for role
She’s inexperienced at being a CEO, and the company is in huge crisis. The former CEO’s (with lots of experience) have bailed and/or been chucked out (see: Carol Bartz). She’s also quite young. Her background is in engineering, not management. Unlike Campbell’s woman-CEO, who is very experienced, trained for the position, and the company was not in (this level of) crisis when she took over. Or, Jobs swooping into Apple when it was in the shitter. Hm. WWSJD?
Why is Yahoo in crisis?
Here are Yahoo!’s latest headlines:
450,000 Yahoo users hacked
Yahoo calls off patent battle with Facebook
Yahoo CEO resigns after resume scandal
Yahoo! founder leaves, paving way for possible sale
… and so on.
Here’s a metaphor: I see Yahoo as a tall-masted ship in the era of WW2 battleships. They lost the search wars, and have been unable to innovate at the same speed as their competitors. Now, they’ve hired a top artillery midshipman. But the ship still has cannons. See what I’m saying? She’s managed a ton of people, true, and been at a really great organization- Google- but now she’s at Yahoo!, floundering on a model built on ad revenue, a failed inbox, and corrupted data. Compare corporate acquisition strategies: “… Google products originated as services provided by companies that Google has since acquired” (Wikipedia on Google Acquisitions), whereas Yahoo has “acquired and killed” startups (Gizmodo).
Best of luck, Marissa (gulp). If she figures this shit out, I have 2X the respect for her, than I already do, and that’s quite a lot.
(photo credit: Horrible Tianmenshan glass cliff in Zhangjiajie, Hunan)
I really like attending conference talks on how people screwed up. Not just to laugh at their mistakes, but to learn from them. It’s important to fail, and so many people are afraid of admitting it, for various reasons. Thing is, if they failed at something awesome– a new gaming console, a cure for cancer, a self-cleaning apartment robot, learning Tlingit– you end up respecting them. If it’s a stupid mistake, yeah, that’s not that interesting.
1. What did you fail *at*. Was it a worthwhile, ambitious, interesting, valuable goal? Did you expect a certain outcome and get another? Was it unexpected? Was it worth the doing?
2. Interesting people fail a lot. For example: Abraham Lincoln, had quite a rocky life and career. Do I want to sit next to the skyrocket-to-the-top success, or the one who endured struggle and challenge after challenge? It’s not just that I’m a blind lover of the underdog, but find it more interesting when someone can speak intelligently as to how they got where they are.
3. From that last point, why is someone who has failed a lot more interesting? It’s the magic of:
an important/ambitious/boundary-risking task + an attempt (sucess or failure) = interesting lesson
Easy success? Not a lot learned. Safe success? Also rather boring. “We kept selling the gizmos that were already selling well!” Not as good a story, nor as useful, as, “We tried digital cameras but they were too expensive (our users said). Next time, we’re making them from cheaper parts/less features, and lower price.” A lot more interesting.
Work Isn’t Play
This is true, and one of my pet-peeve buzzwords in this industry is “play.” I had a teacher who called coding “play” and while I know what she means, it’s largely not “play” to write test scripts. Writing “f**k you” over and over again recursively on your screen (as I saw a teen do in a Ruby class) is, though, play. And funny. She didn’t innovate, but let her doodle around some more for a few days/months, and who knows.
What we get from playing, though, (reference: Jane McGonigal’s talk on gaming) is that, obviously, we’re goofing around. We’re having fun. We’re experimenting, being creative, testing boundaries, all great ingredients for innovation. Still, we need safe parameters, lack of repurcussions, etc. Interesting that when we were kids playing on the playground, I personally remember falling *a lot*. But I didn’t think “I should never play again on the jungle gym again,” I simply went out there the next day, with bruises fresh and callouses, and climbed up a different way, or held on longer, or something.
Similar to anything, you can fail a bit more safely: fall better, cushion the blow, fail fast. Talking to a client the other day, I was like “you can fail long and painful and expensively, or fail fast.” Not that failure was imminent, but he was worried about whether the idea would be good, proofed in the market, etc. I’m a fan of course, as we all are, of failing fast. It’s a bit of an oxymoron, failing safely, because if you were attempting something safe, it’s not a very interesting failure. How you can “cushion the blow,” though:
- put metrics on everything
- lock down a time frame (fail fast)
- make sure the only variables are the ones you are testing (no new talent, no new features, etc.)