I’ve been following Scott Berkun for at least a decade. Every month or two, I mosey on over to his site to get my Berkun fix and see what he’s up to. I’ll read some of his blog posts and/or watch a video of one of his great talks.
While watching Scott’s lecture to MIT students on innovation, I paused the video to steal this insightful graphic:
People (especially in western cultures) love short and sweet stories of epiphanies and overnight success – the tip of the iceberg. They yearn to believe that world changing innovations happen in flashes of instantaneous insight, no preparation required, all glory and no sweat.
Scott’s research for his Myths Of Innovation book busts the misconception of all mental play and no work. Oh sure, the epiphanies and eureka moments do indeed occur. But odds are that the innovator has been obsessing over a specific problem; immersing herself in the meticulous details of the problem and its enveloping context. The innovator has likely been exploring solution paths for months, years, or even decades. The hard, persistent, sustained, work of mulling over ideas prepares the innovator to receive the proverbial epiphany as thrust down upon her from the heavens.
But alas, doing the hard work can only get you to the bus stop. It doesn’t guarantee that the bus will arrive – ever.
Every person has at least one hero whose work they admire. If you’ve glanced at my “about” page, you may have correctly assumed that one of my heroes is writer/speaker Scott Berkun. I’ve followed Scott and read all of his books since he made the scary leap long ago from a safe job at Microsoft into the unforgiving jungle of self-sufficiency.
I like Scott’s work so much because I think he’s genuine, transparent, sincere, and down-to-earth. In short, his ideas and insights are helpful to his readers. That’s why I got a kick out of this twitter exchange:
Scott’s brand new, kickstarter-funded, book is titled “The Ghost Of My Father“. It’s a radical departure from his other books in that it’s a deeply personal treatise on growing up with an absentee father. Go out and buy it, pronto!
If I ever get my lazy ass out of “blog only” mode and hunker down to write some kind of unsellable book for my own personal satisfaction, Scott will have been a huge influence on the transition.
Via a twitter tip from Scott Berkun, I read Matt White’s “Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History“. The book is a truly impressive and meticulous compilation of man’s inhumanity to man throughout the ages. It’s not only chock full of body counts, it attempts to describe why each atrocity was precipitated. The book also contains lurid details of some of the tactics and methods used by the “victors” to obliterate their victims.
According to Mr. White, here are the top 3 atrocities that have occurred (so far) over the course of human history:
While reading Matt’s book, my feelings oscillated uncontrollably between repulsion and gratitude. Repulsed at the insidiously diabolical forms of death experienced by bazillions of fellow human beings, but extremely grateful I wasn’t physically present during any of those maelstroms.
Continuing on with a series of posts fueled by the inspirational content in Scott Berkun’s newly minted “The Year Without Pants“, let’s explore the relationship between tradition and progress:
There is nothing wrong with tradition until you want progress: progress demands change, and change demands a reevaluation of what the traditions are for and how they are practiced…. The responsibility of people in power is to continually eliminate useless traditions and introduce valuable ones. An organization where nothing ever changes is not a workplace but a living museum. – Scott Berkun
In poorly led institutions, as the number of management (“management” is simply a euphemism for “control“) layers increases, new “special interest” traditions are continuously introduced into the environment whilst old and useless rituals are rarely eliminated. Policies, directives, processes, procedures, taxes, fees, laws – pick your poison. The pile of behavior constraining rules just gets bigger and bigger, suffocating all intrinsic motivation and instilling learned helplessness. Damn, that Kafka dude got it right. So did Ackoff:
It is easier to start something new than it is to stop something old – Russell Ackoff.
Scott Berkun’s books have always been lucrative gold mines for bloggers wanting to explore novel ideas and insights. His latest release, “The Year Without Pants“, is no different.
In TYWP, Scott discloses a major cultural malady that plagues corpo America: “The Confusion Of Roles“.
One major mistake Schneider (Automattic Inc’s CEO) had seen was how companies confused supporting roles, like legal, human resources, and information technology, with product creation roles like design and development. Product creators are the true talent of any corporation, especially one claiming to bet on innovation. The other roles don’t create products and should be there to serve those who do. A classic betrayal of this idea is when the IT department dictates to creatives what equipment they can use. If one group has to be inefficient, it should be the support group, not the creatives. If the supporting roles, including management, dominate, the quality of products can only suffer. – Scott Berkun
The “Confusion Of Roles” is simply not a problem at Automattic Inc. That’s because there are no legal, human resources, finance, quality assurance, or information technology silos within the flat-as-a-pancake company.
Well, that’s all fine and dandy for a cozy, small company like Automattic. But there is no cure for the “role confusion” disease in big borgs like yours, right? Bzzzzt!
HCLT CEO Vineet Nayar wrote about the exact same productivity and morale killer in his shockingly titled “Employees First, Customers Second” book. Taking the bull by the horns, Vineet corrected the “confusion of roles” epidemic at his 30,000 person Leviathon by inverting the pyramid and instituting a transparent system of reverse accountability called the Smart Service Desk (SSD) .
The SSD is where front line employees can submit problem tickets against the (so-called) support functions. Each ticket has a deadline date and the submitter is the ultimate judge of results – not some self-important manager. Shortly after its introduction, the SSD was receiving tickets at a rate of 30,000 per month – one per employee. D’oh!
Why, you may be asking, aren’t there more “unconfusion-of-roles” change efforts taking place in the land of a million pointy hierarchies? It’s because the pinnacle dwellers who rule the roost don’t see it as a problem at all. It’s the way it is because it’s always been that way and, more importantly, it’s the way it’s supposed to be.
When a new product development project kicks off, nobody knows squat and there’s a lot of fumbling going on before real progress starts to accrue. As the hardware and software environment is stitched into place and initial requirements/designs get fleshed out, productivity slowly but surely rises. At some point, productivity (“velocity” in agile-ese) hits a maximum and then flattens into a zero slope, team-specific, cadence for the duration. Thus, one could be led to believe that a generic team productivity/progress curve would look something like this:
In “The Year Without Pants“, Scott Berkun destroys this illusion by articulating an astute, experiential, observation:
This means that at the end of any project, you’re left with a pile of things no one wants to do and are the hardest to do (or, worse, no one is quite sure how to do them). It should never be a surprise that progress seems to slow as the finish line approaches, even if everyone is working just as hard as they were before. – Scott Berkun
Scott may have forgotten one class of thing that BD00 has experienced over his long and un-illustrious career – things that need to get done but aren’t even in the work backlog when deployment time rolls in. You know, those tasks that suddenly “pop up” out of nowhere (BD00 inappropriately calls them “WTF!” tasks).
Nevertheless, a more realistic productivity curve most likely looks like this:
If you’re continuously flummoxed by delayed deployments, then you may have just discovered why.
- The Year Without Pants: An interview with author Scott Berkun (oldienewbies.wordpress.com)
- Scott Berkun Shares Advice for Writers Working Remotely (mediabistro.com)
- A Book in 5 Minutes: “The Year without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work” (tech.co)
I’ve stated my admiration for Scott Berkun’s creative work several times before on this blawg (here and here and here and more!). Since he will be hatching his latest book soon, it’s time for BD00 to schtump for Scott once again.
Although BD00 would have preferred Scott to name his book with the same title as this post, it’s more respectfully named “The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work“. Cool cover, aye?
In TYWP, Scott will tell the tale of his temporary flight from total self-reliance back into the real world – working for one year as a project manager for WordPress.com’s creator Automattic Inc.
Like his previously penned, delightful, page-turners, I expect TYWP to be yet another delicious mix of insight, sage advice, comedy, and drama.
If you’re gonna go a year without pants, you might as well don some funky red skivvies, no?