Doing your own year in review slidedeck

2016 was an interesting year for me.

It’s easy when you set goals, to lose sight of the things that went well to focus on the things you’d wish had gone better. I was talking to a friend about his own work and he mentioned doing an annual review that was just for his partner, because he’s independent. I think it’s a fascinating idea to assess your own work over the year — your successes, what didn’t go right — and develop a roadmap for the upcoming year. Even if it’s only internal (e.g. just for you), it can be a powerful way to focus yourself on the things you deemed important and to take stock of your successes.

Rather than overthink every thing you did, I spent time just highlighting big things that happened through the months. You can pick and choose — after all, it’s your review — but again, the goal at the end is to feel good about what you accomplished and if you didn’t do enough, taking stock on each month and how to be proactive in the new year.

Did you do an annual review of your year? Which ways to do you take stock of your work?

I’d share my template with you, but part of this exercise is about sharing what you’ve done internally and not feeling the need to itemize for the crowd. It’s less about showing off (though if you contact me offline, I’d probably send it to you…) and more about taking stock and re-assessing what the next steps are going to be.

Happy planning!

 

Pondering the frivolity of sports fandom

In a world beset with important problems ranging from hunger to climate change, stateless people seeking a better life for themselves and families, how is it that we can spend so much time and attention on the sheer uselessness of professional sport?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question, because I have an often uncomfortable relationship with sports fandom. People can take it too far, much like they can take anything too far. But an entire set of industries borne around an industry we don’t own, but take a modicum of ownership in, seems useless when we think about al of the ways that we could be benefitting our communities and society at large if we didn’t have so much invested in games that have become bigger than life itself.

When I first saw the tweet above, I thought “well, what separates an athlete making millions from an actor or a hedge fund manager?” Sports are games we play on our own, so it’s easy to look at someone playing a kid’s game and believe that we’re a lot closer to them than a person locked inside a windowless office staring at a computer screen for 14 hours a day. We relate to athletes in ways that we cannot with someone who willingly gets on stage and bears their soul in a song or performs dramatic works in a moving theatrical performance.

So what is it about sports? Can you both abhor the NCAA as an entity and root for the athletes and/or the universities they represent? Is it a massive contradiction to watch gridiron football, hockey or baseball when teams willingly bear caricatures on their uniforms; often with owners, management and players who have retrograde views not in lockstep with a forward-thinking society?

Or should we just be spending our time in better ways? The biggest criticism of sports fandom is how it can consume people’s lives to the detriment of all other things. I find this most offensive when considering how much time we spend in the US on youth sports, when decades ago, kids mostly played with people in their neighborhoods in unsupervised games with always needing adults to mete out the winners and losers.

We’ve surely lost something in a world of millionaire athletes, billionaire owners, subsidies for stadiums and tens of thousands of screaming people who feel entitled to a piece of people for having paid scrip to watch the circus perform. But I’m not sure that sports are the symptom or the remedy for what ails us.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means not just to be an American, but a citizen at large. Amidst this thinking is pondering precisely what responsibility comes with citizenship, how that intertwines with community and whether the collective good is something attainable and how we define what “good” is.

For me, sports are a way to connect with people I’d probably never talk to otherwise. When I find myself, a borderline teetotaler at a bar, knowing I can talk intelligently about all of the other things that interest me, as well as the historical origins of most sports — because I’ve just always been interested — is exciting to me. Sports is a vocabulary no different than my passion for shoegaze records, Star Trek or preference for coming-of-age indie films. I used to be too good for television shows, too. A winter in a rural town fixed that for me, because there were only so many things I could do on the computer.

Participating in an unequal world means making a lot of compromises in order to function day to day. Sports is just another of them. Fandom doesn’t excuse us. We should be cognizant of our complicity in the structures that inhibit progress, even unwittingly.

On gatekeepers

I tend to look at different mediums as a way to connect with people. I’m less concerned with the mechanics, often. For instance, podcasting. For me, it’s just another vehicle for connecting and getting a message out. More importantly, I’m interested in the stories other people have to tell and what they’re interested in sharing. I’m not as concerned about immersing myself in all things podcasting, going to every podcasting conference there is or becoming a hobbyist in the sport.

What I’m learning the past few years, is subcultures take their crafts very seriously. They’re not as happy about people showing up to the buffet late without a desire to participate fully in the statecraft of whatever rituals and exercises they’ve developed.

I love the DIY space between the start of something and before it becomes formalized. I liked the web before they started convincing kids they needed degrees in it. That empty space where people can tinker, communicate, share and fail is special.

Once there are gatekeepers, I’m a lot less interested in being involved.

Two Civic Projects I’m Working On

Worth noting that earlier this year, I launched 100 Good Folks, which aims to entice 100 people to move to Bloomington, IN and bring their ideas and passion. It’s an idea I borrowed from Boulder.us from back in 2006 where that community had folks coalescing around  bringing people to town though they didn’t have to really sell it that hard.

The other is Design of the City, an initiative where a group of designers work with civic leaders to redesign communities. This has nothing to do with art & culture and everything to do with mundane things like policy and how services in communities work. Using service design techniques and frameworks, we’re convinced we can make a big impression and affect change in  communities across the country.

 

Season 2 of #24hrsofstrategy

via GIPHY

Season 2 of my ongoing series #24hrsofstrategy started tonight.

It won’t be 24 articles, mostly because Medium doesn’t support that. Nonetheless, I’m going to be talking about web management, the way things are and how we neglect people who manage our sites and why we need better education for ordinary web people.

Not just at expensive conferences, but in ways that people can actually get the information they need. So much of the conversations about design thinking or strategy are always high minded. They’re aimed at people who don’t work in the trenches, but are good at passing the ball to someone else to figure out how to actually get the work done. Or setting battle plans that don’t bear any resemblance to reality & hope it’ll be good enough.

We can do a better job. I’ve known this my entire career, because I’ve been at very stage of this process from the entry level guy punching above his weight to the dude in charge of an entire department of web managers across a disconnected network trying to figure out how to implement bad policy being given to me by people who don’t know what we’re actually going through; while deciding what I can do to provide actual air cover while my people on the ground get real work done.

Maybe this will resonate. Perhaps it won’t. I don’t know that I care anymore, I just needed to record the background, the struggles & my solutions for fixing what I see are problems.

Sometimes has to.

(P.S. Here’s the link to Season 1 in case you missed it. Season 2 will be a lot better though.)

On hiring: Puzzle pieces & how to fit them

The discovery problem that Silicon Valley — and tech hiring in general has — relates to an issue of finding the right pieces.

Right now, the methodology goes something like this. Somebody stumbles upon a good idea that gains traction. Hell, maybe it’s a bad idea that gets traction and succeeds. Investors like the gold rush flood in seeking to see if that market bears anymore gold or whether they need to seek out a new mountain. Sometimes, they find more gold. Other times, you have to go elsewhere.

Jigsaw puzzles are fine if you like doing them. Depending on how big, they can be a challenge. What happens when you’re about to complete a puzzle and you’re missing a piece? What do you do? Search for it? How long do you search before you give up? Even if you complete the puzzle, what is your next task? Either get a new puzzle to complete or dismantle the one you’ve put together and start again.

I think of tech hiring in a similar way.

We’re really comfortable putting together puzzles that are challenges, so long as all of the pieces are in the box where we need them.

Solving your culture problem

Organizations like to manufacture excitement because they don’t trust their own people to create it organically. We feel like we need to create events to bring people together without thinking about how people are already talking in the cubicles, in meetings and through their natural work together. In big organizations, all huge interactions do is create tension and anxiety. It’s akin to a musical chairs exercise where the favorites always have a seat at the table and the unfavorables are always scrambling to find one, jam their seat that the table and sit there awkwardly, hoping that someone will talk to them and that they can be part of the conversation too.

The myths of meritocracy

The One True Pairing of hiring.

“No one goes to the Golden Corral buffet to stuff themselves with lettuce and quinoa.”
Ty Tashiro, The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love

In fan-fiction circles, OTP is the ‘one true pairing‘. It’s your favorite characters that you think ought to be together. It’s apparent from job descriptions that companies think they’re going to find their own OTP.

Look, it’s important to communicate your culture and what makes your company stand out. The hottest job seekers can choose where they want to go and you’re trying to find them, so you want to use rhetoric that attracts them. But a quick scan of job descriptions

make a difference in an exciting industry; if you like the idea of developing clean, lean solutions to tackle problems that have never been solved before; if you love to learn, have a passion for your work, and enjoy being part of a small, family-oriented environment…help small businesses inspire the world to experience life-changing adventures…

Our people are technically exceptional, but more importantly – built to the core to wow our clients and coworkers as to how helpful we can be. If this is the sort of culture you look for in an organization we want you as a part of our team.

Are you a Mobile UX Superstar who wants to be on the ground floor of a startup focused on social change? If so, read on…

The OTP problem isn’t confined only to jobs. These days, it seems like everybody wants to be the VP of their own startup that simultaneously make them rich while enable them not to feel bad about it through a social mission or talking about how their work will “change the world.” I’ve advised people who only want to work at “the best” companies and find themselves shocked when those companies aren’t interested. We’re often focused on becoming, rather than being.

There is no perfect company. There are no perfect candidates. Keeping your expectations checked is a good way to avoid disappointment and yet, you have to start somewhere. Companies often do, as do people. It just seems there are better ways for us to match without feeling like we’re settling.

 

The Fallacy of Data Meritocracy

So hiring is hard. No revelation there, but how do we fix it? We can rely on data, right? Not if that means taking people’s ability to value what the firm needs out of the process.

In his provocative book, To Save Everything, Click Here, Evegeny Morozov has a chapter on algorithmic gatekeeping. There’s a theory in both hiring and college admissions that we can use algorithms to make decisions better than humans do.

“Being objective is hard work; it doesn’t just happen naturally once all the important work has been delegated to the algorithms.”

For decades, the highest level of college football relied on human polls of media members & coaches to select a national champion. Not surprisingly, this process came fraught with biases that often created mixed results — or several national champions — due to split opinions. A few years ago, they allowed computer rankings to be mixed with human polling. This created better results, but required tweaks every year to achieve a semblance of approval and ultimately scrapped in favor of a playoff that was decided by a panel of humans and no computers.

Having a pulse on the organization enables us to monitor what makes sense and what doesn’t. Paper applications, results and test scores might be an entry point to filtering candidates, but there are people arguing for entirely different methods to review candidates like this NYTimes op-ed from a UPenn professor explaining the assessment center method.

Hiring in flyover country

 

Flyover country startups have an additional challenge that their partners on the coasts lack. That’s in addition to finding a critical mass of talent, they have to compete with far more ‘desirable’ places to live to get people to settle in. They often pay less, but will tell you “how much cheaper it is to live,” and when you find the right cultural fits, using family as a draw, it can work.

I run across people for years who don’t fit the prototype. Maybe they didn’t graduate from the “right” schools,” perhaps they had families early and got into the tech game late. Whatever their reason, our processes are broken because they assume there’s an ideal candidate that fits a certain methodology and if we can just crack that code, we’ll find good people.

Whether our biases are geographic, we’re all too reliant on referrals. We want our friends, our colleagues or whoever else inhabits our circles to tell us who we should choose. These blinders cost us millions each year, because we’re failing to identify the right people and spend lots of money targeting the wrong candidates, hiring them and in the event we get lucky, paying them to leave us when they’ve reached their apex.

 

For years, I’ve been assembling teams for startups and even launched a conference based on the idea that so many off-the-beaten path places I’d go had these micro-communities surrounding their startup cultures, but nothing in the way of cohesiveness because people want to be in charge of their own destinies.

Making your puzzle work

Finding the right mix of a team is difficult work. Especially trying to move outside of your comfort zone or network to fill a team is a challenge. It’s still a worthwhile task that can have dividends on your bottom line.

1. Go beyond referrals in your immediate network.
It’s tempting to let people in your own world influence who you work with. After all, if we’re going to stake our work on somebody, we need to know they’re the goods. While this is useful, it assumes your company can’t benefit from outside perspectives well beyond the people you know. Be willing to give people a real shot at breaking through.

2. Test your own culture.
Let your people conduct the interviews. Watch them and see how they react. Do they speak the values of your firm without being coached? Is the way they approach the process consistent with how you’d do it? If not, why? The best ways to understand what people have learned is involving them in game-changing decisions involving outsiders and seeing how they perform. It’ll tell you more about your company than hiring a six-pack of management consultants.

3. Tear up your job descriptions.
Rather than hire for a specific role with lots of bullets of what you need, pair back the content and see what types of replies you get. Too often, we get caught up in envisioning an OTP that must exist for our firm, because the world is large and lots of people want jobs. The reality is, hiring is like dating and finding the right person is a mix of science with a heavy dose of luck. You have no idea who might apply under these conditions.