Posts tagged Companies
Posts tagged Companies
We had an interesting bit of “training” over the lunch hour today. One of the deep-thinkers wired himself into our large conference room via two-way webcam, and—unloaded a couple decades of experience on us, which included the pendulum-swings between centralized and distributed computing fads, and also the dead-wrong predictions/assumptions committed by even the most forward-thinking the technorati.
For me, the money-quote was the prediction of an “information economy.” Our guest re-cast that instead as an “attention economy,” on the premise that information is only valuable if someone reads/views/hears (and, I would add, acts upon) it. Our colleague also theorized about our obsession with glowing rectangles (phones, tablets), and the apparent necessity of maxing out our attention bandwidth when it’s not satisfied with the work and people and general doings around us.
Those two notions (attention economy and voluntary information saturation) kind of meshed into the notion that, in terms of classical economics, we’re voluntarily debasing our own currency. (Most especially when those brain-CPUs are in paparazzi or “Farmville” spaces.) I suppose it wouldn’t be a big deal if Moore’s Law and the general premises of computing applied to the think-meat between our ears. Presumably then we could evolve to a state where our internal process monitors looked something like:
30% - Curing Disease
30% - Ending Poverty & Injustice
30% - Saving the Planet
0.0001% - How long are those eggs in the ‘fridge okay after their expiration date?
9.9999% - OOOOH—SPARKLY BALL OF TIN FOIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me, I’m not holding my breath. But in the absence of unprecendented rates of brain evolution (or neural augmentation), our techniques for managing divided attentions will have to evolve to take up the slack. And, sadly, I’m not holding out any more hope for that, either. Not after seeing how stubbornly mainstream corporate culture invests in tired carrot-and-stick paradigms, years of disconnect between worker productivity and pay notwithstanding. Sigh.
But such cognitive fragmentation is something we need to start acknowledging in our work lives—and devising coping strategies for its corrosiveness. Particularly in my profession, where one is expected to toggle between blinders-on, deep-dive focus and collaborative brain-pooling in such an immediate and binary fashion. Anything less is living in denial. And, in the long run, the cost of living in that zip code is higher than anywhere else on earth.
Back in the summer of the post-dot-com-bubble-pop (a.k.a. 2001), fellow tech. writer—let’s call her “A”—and I drove from Rochester, MN to the Minneapolis Convention Center for a tech. expo. She was looking for work—and tchotchkes. Whereas I’d talked my first line supervisor into letting me put 8 hours into this junket on the pretext of research, specifically the question, “What does the internet mean to your business?”
Let’s face it, that particular tech. expo. was already showing the effects of the post-bubble hangover. The convention center had had to fill the space by booking a manufacturing-related expo. at the same time, discreetly partitioning them with blue curtains. As it turns out, the best answer to that question came from the manufacturing side. A micro-manufacturer of industrial tools related the story of how a customer in desperate need of a replacement for broken equipment had emailed the CAD drawings to them. After taking a look a the drawings, the manufacturer called the customer—a few hours’ drive away—and said, “Send your truck now. We’ll have it ready for you by the time you get here.”
Naturally, at the time I was all drop-jawed about the competitive advantage that “internet time” provided. (Dennis, being a manufacturing engineer at the time, was trained in a world where dead-tree prints would have to be shipped, then re-drawn by one of the manufacturer’s techs, and only then could the actual business of “manufacturing” begin. Even at dail-up speeds, receiving a digital file that could be directly imported made for blazing turnaround times.) Even today, I caught myself annoyed with Canon for only just drop-shipping yesterday a part that I ordered (gasp!) all the way back on Saturday. (The horror…)
Now, in many, many parts of the world, such digitization and delivery capabilities are positively banal. And, to me, that’s a good thing. I was reminded of that tonight when I pulled a non-bill, non mass-mail envelope out of the stack. A small business’ company envelope, obviously, with the city/state/zip line nearly running off the Avery label. The one-page form-letter offered the services of a (relatively) local moving storage company. Short, sweet, who-we-are-and-what-we-can-offer-you. (No physical signature above the printed one, which would scandalize Mom—old-school enough to hold each sheet of bond paper to the light to verify that the watermark was correctly aligned. But it was obviously proofread for grammar and spelling, which (sadly) pretty much puts it ahead in the game.)
The backstory is that Dennis & I just put our home up for sale, so it’s pretty obvious that the MLS listing prompted the contact. And good on them for showing some hustle. In the end, it doesn’t matter that property listings no longer have to wait for the classified. Nor even that reverse lookups (of addresses or phone numbers to people) are stupid-simple (if you don’t mind popup ads and enough cookies to choke a certain fuzzy blue Sesame Street character). But it’s the first moving-related offer I’ve seen since a bare-bones listing went live nearly two weeks ago.
And I can’t help but notice that, in both cases, neither firm could be described as a “technology” company. Speaking for myself, I think we programmer/technology types sometimes take technology for its own sake a little too seriously. For the manufacturing and moving company, it’s not All About how quickly they can access information; it’s about how capable they are of doing something constructive with it. Dunno about anybody else, but I can’t help but be a little humbled by that.
Pop Quiz: What would you do if you knew that 50% of your potential competition doesn’t actually exist?
Maybe it’s one of those unquestioned conventional wisdom things—an old wives’ tale of capitalism, if you will—that bit about “Half of success is just showing up.”
Or maybe it’s that I’m still somewhat crabby that a contractor dude postponed my dinner with Dennis by half an hour by deciding that our shed roof wasn’t worth his time. (I wouldn’t call it wasted time, b/c it was spent with Dennis.)
Or maybe my trade as a web programmer raises the bar for the expectation of instant gratification.
We’re used to the bell curve—it’s baked into our judgement in so many ways, even if we’ve never been formally exposed to statistics. But in The Real World (TM), oftentimes only numbers greater than zero need apply. And not showing up equates to less than zero. (Yes, I understand that eBay and Craigslist vendors have differing amounts of skin in the game—each is filling a different niche—but I also humbly suggest that Craigslist would do well to (re)consider the benefits of “reputation” tier.)
Yes, I know that the business textbooks currently in vogue tell you to ignore your competition and relentlessly focus on your vision and just look at Steve Jobs and yadayadayada. (Me, I think that the problem, historically, has less to do about obsessing over the competition than recognizing it in the first place.) But if you can’t help but obsess over any competition, doesn’t it help you sleep better at night knowing that half of them don’t actually exist?
Apparently, Those Who Know Best decided that it would be a good idea to encourage folks in the office to donate blood. An effort that’s of a piece with earlier efforts to field a team for the local ACS Relay for Life (something which—I might add—I did a subpar job in managing when it was my turn).
With that disclosure, two things struck me about the email that was fired—shotgunned, really—to the general mailing list.
Being a complete wimp about needles—despite being assured by trained medical personnel that I’m “good bleeder,” thanks to highly visible veins—I have worked myself up to either donating blood or signing up to be called on for such on short notice. But not often.
Granted, that’s me being me. But I started noodling the idea of motivation—particularly the extrinsic kind that can might just pass for intrisic if it’s done with the right finesse. And, given that the only formal training I’ve had in what makes human beings tick comes from good ol’ Psychology 101 in college. (In retrospect, I think my prof. and I had a tacit bargain: I could skip out of class some Tuesdays for speech tournaments and he could guinea pig me in class b/c he knew that anyone who did that sort of thing had more defenses than your average freshman. It was a pretty symbiotic relationship, all in all.)
But I digress in navel-gazing. The snippet of Psychology 101 to which I refer is, not Pavlov’s drooling dogs nor Skinner’s baby-in-a-box nor even the infamous Milgram or Stanford Prison experiments. No, I mean Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (without which, it seems, it is impossible to write a book on organizations these days). The premise of the hierarchy is that human needs are built as a pyramid, with what we would consider the most basic—i.e. primitive—motivations at the bottom and the more sophisticated (although hardly effete) driving forces at the top. The pyramid structure is mostly valid, although slightly misleading. For example, think of the vibrancy of Stone Age cave-painting or—much more amazingly—the Viktor Frankls and Eli Weisels of this world.
And while it’s not 100% apples-to-apples analogous, I’ll take a highly subjective stab at the comparable hierarchy in operation at the office:
Growth: Do I have room to play? To connect? To fail and grow?
Control: What percentage of the week do I spend merely reacting vs. adding value?
Ethos: Do I grok why we’re doing what we’re doing as we’re doing it?
Roadmap: Do I know what needs to be done (and can I do it)? Then what?
Security: Will I still have a job when the rent’s due? How easily can I be replaced?
Survival: Can I pay my (part of the) bills on the income from this job?
To my way of thinking, this is the “pyramid” (and, yes, I know it doesn’t much resemble one, but you get the point) to which the Powers That Be should focus on building—assuming that there’s any pretense to harnessing the value of employees who are not merely punching a clock.
I suppose, theoretically at least, you could make a point of hiring the Frankls and Weisels of this world—the people who make a conscious choice to transcend whatever’s thrown at them, if only for their own sakes. But I know I wouldn’t invest in the company that built a business model around that…any more than I’d knowingly invest in a the old-school carrot-and-stick school of H.R.
But let’s back up for a second. The sender (notice I didn’t say “author”) of the afore-mentioned email about blood donation is new to our office and relatively young besides. I want to be clear about that, mainly out of fairness: No one deserves to be slammed b/c Those Who Know Best aren’t necessarily the quickest learners. (Not from where I sit, anyway. For all I know, my co-workers’ mileage may vary.)
So, against my better judgement, I’ll slip a quick word—destined for upstream consumption—that “contests” require some sort of prize, even if it’s only bragging-rights. Either that or an office-wide philanthropic effort should be built on some kind of buy-in. Because pandering to our most mercenary instincts is bad enough…but offering no pay-off in the bargain? I’d rather not see that much #fail in one place at one time. And because, for a cynical as I’ve become (not to mention a downright snob about which battles I’ll fight) I’d don’t want to see someone set up to fail (even when the set-up’s not deliberate). Especially not on the first effort.
Apparently, hyperopia is a hipster condition…at least in the sense that I’ve never heard of it—not that this is much of a touchstone, mind you! (The less fancy name for those of us lacking a degree in opthomology is “farsightedness.”)
It occurred to me to look up the word while I was testing a fix, and realized that I was doing so with full God-Emperor-of-Dune system privileges. I should note that only a meagre handful of users have that level of access. But testing (either formally or informally) with the full menu of features at hand is not always a good thing—as I discovered to my mortification years ago when a necessary feature actually generated errors for any poor, average hoi-poloi schlub unfortunate enough to have to use it. (Small wonder it was the proverbial red-headed step-child of features…y’think?!?!)
I think it’s telling that I found the word “hyperopia” not thanks to a mind that’s a sponge for over-educated trivia. Nor even via an educated guess based on a two-ships-passing-in-the-night acquaintance with Greek.
No, I merely Googled, “opposite of myopia.” Because “myopia”—a.k.a. near-sightedness—is a term that has some layperson mileage. And that’s what puzzles me. When a person or organization or culture is described as “myopic,” that’s invariable a bad thing. Parochial. Head-in-the-sand. That sort of thing.
But we don’t have the equivalent term of people who were so busy worrying about what’s going on outside the walls self/organzation/country that they forgot to take care of business. And I think you can definitely make the case that “hyperopia” is an equally deadly sin. You saw it in the “but everybody else is doing it, and if we don’t they’ll eat our lunch” Wall Street lemming-stampede. You see it in investing even now…by so-called professionals. You see it in the way our country cheerleads democracy and freedom and gender equality and anti-corruption efforts in other countries but thumbs its nose at them inside our own borders.
My position? Screw the Joneses. Let them lose sleep worrying about how they’re going to keep up with you. Sure, pay attention to what’s on the horizon and dedicate a percentage of resources to the hic sunt dracones part of the map—no question. But otherwise, there’s no substitute for taking care of business.
I’m not sure I want to perpetuate the analogy of “tribes” to a work environment, because, going on my career so far, I’ve rarely seen the necessary level of cohesion extend beyond, say, three co-workers.
But Best Friend H. was chunking out code when I was still struggling to parlay a Liberal Arts degree into a “real job,” so I tend to trust her instincts. This past weekend, she used the phrase “tribal knowledge” in the context of griping about why outsourcing projects to contracting firms was capable of so much friction. Friction, I might add, that had nothing to do with time zones or language or even cultural norms.
That concept has been brought home the past few weeks as I’ve been on the short road to tinnitis, trying to block out days’ worth of brain-dumping. And that’s just for one application. We’re trying not to traumatize the trainee, so I haven’t even started loading my dump-truck just yet. (Much less the gleeful rubbing of hands, twirling of moustache, maniacal laughter, etc., etc.)
But in a much more tangible sense, I only need rewind to last Friday. I don’t think I’m telling too many proverbial stories out of school when I say that a software enhancement was expected to be rolled out to the production (i.e. live) website this Tuesday, and we still needed to make a final check on the “beta” (i.e. dress rehearsal) server. Quality Assurance (QA) was already slated to test over the weekend, and Alpha-Geek was likewise planning to make the final code-push, assuming it passed muster.
I handle promotions in the afternoon, so the programmer responsible passes the issue off to me. So far the tribal knowledge seems to have trickled down, despite the fact that he’s only been with us for a small handful of months.
Except the tribe missed passing on the bit of collective wisdom that says that if your patch is that important, you should probably stick around to see it safely promoted and, oh, maybe even spot-check it before handing it back off to QA. But, being a self-respecting barely-post-collegiate type, he, naturally, made for the door in anticipation of a three-day weekend.
I duly promoted the database portions, then realized that the programmer had forgotten to to merge one chunk of the code into the production branch of the Subversion repository. Hypothetically, this should be only a minimal inconvenience, because I should be able to update my copy of the “production” repository, merge the designated changes from the beta version, and commit them up.
It’s an amiable enough hypothesis, to be sure. But it reckons without the fact that, between the time programmer made his change and the time I had to merge them, a directory had been deleted. Which means that Subversion had had its little drama-queen hissy-fit freakout about a tree conflict. In laypeople’s terms, this leaves me with three possible options:
A.) Trust my version of the files
B.) Trust the incoming version of the files
C.) Try to negotiate a compromise
Only problem was, I wasn’t privy to the “tribal knowledge” behind the “missing” folder and its contents. That had left with the programmer in question—and, for that matter, everybody else. Which left me with two possible options:
A.) Take a wild, flying stab in the dark and let other people shop-vac up any resulting damage
B.) Document what I’d done so far and the problems encountered and foist the rest of the promotion off on Alpha-Geek
Sadly, the latter was the kinder option. (From a passive-aggressive standpoint, it was probably a horse apiece, so I refuse to feel guilty about choosing (B.).) Apart from being copied on the note that Alpha-Geek had ultimately finished the promotion (after working around said freakout), I didn’t hear bupkis about the incident after that. I should probably check in to see that the appropriate party was shown the error of his ways.
But the “teachable moment” from all this should, I trust, be the ample demonstration of the value of cultivating knowledge as a tribe. Or, perhaps more aptly, the counter-wisdom of grafting individuals (and even whole teams) onto a project without thoroughly marinating her/him/it in the deep end of the knowledge-pool. The best possible outcome otherwise is gross inefficiency; the worst is wholesale disaster. The foolhardy grafter should expect no sympathy in either case.
After last year’s suicide scandals, Foxconn and its most glamorous customer, Apple, are again in the news, and—again—not in the good way. The invisible people who make our toys are supposed to stay off our radar. Just like the elves who make toys for Santa, don’cha’know? A predictably boring supplier is a good supplier: That’s just how it works.
After reading—by which I mean deep-skimming and yes, I do consider that a distinction—the article, the Inner History Major snorted awake and mumbled, “Right. Basically we’re talking the Irish Potato Famine. Got it. Zzzzzzzzzzz…” The IHM was mainly thinking of the monoculture component of the famine, what with the concerns about consistency and timing in the supply chain. Not to mention the overhead cost associated with putting the screws to multiple suppliers to insure that one doesn’t chisel you out of that fraction of a penny on a three-figure tablet or smartphone: Quelle horreur… (An economy stacked in favor of absentee landlords and de-facto colonialism…that historical parallel pretty much speaks for itself.)
But IHM had a point, and the leftier-brainier part of me couldn’t help but wonder: How scalable is scalability itself? True, macroeconomics has reams to say about the virtues of specialization. But even the most greasiest of gears can’t avoid some grit. Or—more ominously—flaws and stress-points in the metal itself. Or—as this week has demonstrated—random acts of freakish nature.
(Then, too, the contrarian part of me—smirking sarcastically at every other part from its snarky digs—likewise couldn’t help itself and wondered why anyone would shell out half a grand on a tablet to be like every other slavering fanboy/fangirl. Doubtless, the next iPhone/Android phone could easily get away with the schtick so common to ‘90 boutique catalogs: “Due to the natural variations in outsourced manufacturing, please allow us to select one for you.” You can’t tell me the Kool-aid swillers would pound that down…)
The geek in me just knows, though, that if you rely on disasters to test your failover plan, you don’t really have backup. Which applies to people and their knowledge-sets just as much as it does to hardware and connectivity, by the bye. And baking in a certain amount of slack in lieu of stuffing more eggs into the same basket is, really, what it amounts to. Plus, I figure that if my own trade—programming computers—can be subjected to the ethos of assembly-line manufacturing…hey, we might as well make that botched metaphor a two-way street, no?
The car-doctors down at Ballweg’s again pronounced my bordering-on-retro Tercel in admirable shape, mileage and salted roads notwithstanding. One outstanding concern is the oil pan gasket “sweating” a bit of oil. One of the few truly practical life lessons I can claim is this: You know you’ve found a good auto shop when they try to talk you out of, rather into repairs. And it seems that the change in ownership (i.e. Steve Low’s to Ballweg’s) hasn’t changed in that respect.
But I have to admit to wiping a smile off my face when the service desk dude who rang up the bill skimmed through the summary of work done, referring to the person who handled the work order as, “A.—who was your advisor today…”
Now. I’m probably bordering on hypocritical here, simply because my second job in college (not counting work-study) was at an ever-so-slightly upscale women’s clothing store. At minimum wage (plus the discount on the clothing I was supposed to buy from the store for the privilege of coming into work), I held the title of “Fashion Consultant.” Anyone who knows me—and my jeans-and-baggy-cargigan dress sense—should quite rightly be howling with laughter at the irony.
I’ll grant you, the “title inflation” phenomenon is not exclusive to recessionary economies. Witness, for instance, how any fool capable of picking the correct Dreamweaver menu options in the late 1990s qualified for a business card reading “Web Programmer.” But—based on my perceptions from the double-whammy unemployment/inflation deathtrap of the early ’80s onward—it seems to me that title inflation is a form of compensation for jobs that would normally be considered beneath the average sitcom character. You know, that alternate universe in which baristas can afford Manhattan apartments. That sort of thing.
But the problem is that inflation—in titles as in money—has diminishing returns. And the only saving grace of a bubble is that its popping restores—however temporarily—an equilibrium. At least until some skanky wanker decides to cut in line and starts gaming the system and other fools follow suit. Sigh.
Yet, to me, it all begs the question of why “Sanitary Engineers” are more societally correct than “Garbage Collectors.” (‘Course, as a Java partisan, I can totally get behind the value-add of garbage collection, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story…) Imagine how quickly life would become noxious if garbage collection stopped or the sewers were allowed to back up—how quickly we’d open our wallets to clear the stench from the apartment or house. Imagine the office (and parental) strife when day-care providers shut their doors…or home care providers stopped knocking on ours.
In the time capsule that is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, she has (Miss) Kate Vaughn stand in for the British classism that is foil to (morally superior) American democratic sensibilities:
Miss Kate strolled away, adding to herself, with a shrug, “I didn’t come here to chaperone a governess, though she is young and pretty. What odd people these Yankees are; I’m afraid Laurie will be quite spoilt among them.”
“I forgot that English people turn up their noses at governesses, and don’t treat them as we do,” said Meg, looking after the retreating figure with an annoyed expression.
“Tutors, also, have a rather hard time of it there, as I know to my sorrow. There’s no place like America for us workers, Miss Margaret;” And Mr. Brooke looked so contented and cheerful, that Meg was ashamed to lament her hard lot.
“I’m glad I live in it, then. I don’t like my work, but I get a good deal of satisfaction out of it after all, so I won’t complain; I only wish I liked teaching as you do.”
So the question is: Have we become the enemy—i.e. the Victorian elite whose servitors were expected to be velvet-footed, when not completely invisible?
Because, no matter how (cough!) “menial” (cough!) the job may be considered, the fact remains that we all—rich or poor, potentate or peon—have exactly 168 hours in a week—-112 if you get your 8 hours of shut-eye. Even the increasingly Disney-esque fiction of the 40 hour workweek eats nearly a quarter of the grand total, and over a third of a human being’s waking hours.
You can’t claim to respect the sanctity of life on principle and auto-magically suspend that valuation in the face of The Suits’ solemn invocations of “hard choices” in the name of “shareholder value.” Nuh-uh. Not while I’m within earshot, anyway.
All of which makes me sorry that I didn’t actually follow up yesterday’s reference to “your advisor” with a dewy-eyed, “Oh, you mean the technician?” Because, frankly, “advisor,” in my mind, implies self-interest, manipulation, puppeteering: Rasputin. Nostradamus. Karl Rove. Catherine dei Medici. Cardinal Richelieu…or even Wolsey, for pity’s sake. Umm, thanks, but I just want someone to tell me which car-part is borked…and to put a not-borked one in. Trust me, I’ll respect technical chops that a lot more than the eminence grise pretensions…most especially from someone almost young enough to be my child.
Being a complete naif, I used to think that the worst part of contracts was their lawyerly patois of weaselese. Not so much, it turns out.
There’s a backstory and it’s a long-ish one. The tl;dr folks are welcome to head for the exits now—trust me, I understand completely.
The backstory is that two departments at “my” client are having a tug-of-war (of sorts).
(And, of course, there’s me and certain co-workers. Alpha-geek. Walks-Above-The-Water SysAdmin. QA. OfficeMom. Certain innocent bystanders to boot.)
But Party B has standards, friends and bretheren. It’s all about standards, don’cha’know… Which—afore-mentioned non-conformity aside—admittedly does have a certain pull with your faithful blogger. Haven’t I, after all, twisted my whitey-tighteys into a bunch when Microsoft or the Mozilla Foundation or whomever thinks it knows better than the W3C? So, basically, that makes a contract with this brand-name company sorta-kinda like an API for its vendors, yes? Yeah, I can grok that.
And—let’s be fair—the process of modifying and deleting extraneous and egregiously slanted terms in the voluminous “Application Service Provider” contract was actually pretty amicable. So no complaints there.
Then came the ugly question, “Who’s paying for these changes?”. From where I stand, Party B said to Party A, “Well, it’s your application.” Party A retorted to Party B: “Hey, we didn’t order this!” And so the rollout—originally slated, appropriately enough, for Halloween weekend—was put on hold indefinitely while that was sorted out.
Fast forward to early 2011, when we were informed—sans fanfare—that arms had been twisted and some budget somewhere would be shaken down for the not-inconsiderable fee. Oddly enough, the rollout was then set for Valentine’s Day weekend. So I’m wrapping up walking “my” power-users through the tip-of-the-iceberg changes that would actually affect them, when I’m sucker-punched by the news that a completely different set of folks need to know this, because “my” users don’t have the resources to deal with the downstream users.
And so the upgrade is unceremoniously stuffed back into its cryogenic tube.
A week or so elapses between the above (ahem!) epiphany and an email informing me that Parties A and B have scheduled a meeting to hammer out the support issue. Donning my very best Chibi-eyed Look of Innocence, I offered my support “in case there are technical questions.” Then I booked the tickets to crash the meeting in person, rather than via web conference.
Maybe it’s just that everyone was on their best behavior b/c “company” was visiting, but the actual meeting was pretty laid-back—seriously, singing “Kumbaya” or passing a joint would not have been entirely out of place—at least from my vantage-point, anyway. The changes that were largely “mine” were pretty much accounted-for. But what blew me away was that, when it came to the question of all the auditing history that Walks-Above-The-Water SysAdmin has to do, nobody—and I mean nobody—in that room had a clue who was supposed to receive that.
I’m pretty sure I managed to keep the “Y’all are kiddin’ me…riiiiiight???” I mean, after all, don’t you do this contract for everybody ‘n all?” look off my face and saved the actual freak-out for the safe confines of my home-pod, nestled in the nurturing bosom of my workaday “family.”
That’s when WATW SysAdmin enlightened me to the fact that the bulk of “his” part of the contract was written as a potential “escape hatch.” In other words, the intent of Party B is to rely on entropy, to assume that the service provider would—given their druthers—cut corners, kick the can down the road, bank on no news being good news, etc.
In other other words, unwritten weaselese. The brown M&Ms clause and that sort of thing.
Problem is, that smacks of what psychologists call “projection.” Were I a gambler, I’d label that a “tell.” And I’m emphatically not a gambler. (If you don’t believe me, ask Dennis about the infamous game of 500 with his Mom and Grandma where I was dealt what can only be described as a statistically-improbable hand—and couldn’t stop giggling the whole round.)
Now. Even someone who still nurtures enough foolishness to be annoyed at a criminally illogical world, I do know that people are a special case of the Universe-at-large. For the most part, the Universe-at-large does not conform to your expectations. At least not without a lot of money or pharmaceuticals to make a gated community from your own special lower-case reality. People, on the other hand, quite often do live up—and, more aptly, down—to your expectations.
Expect to be screwed by anybody, anytime, and…well…I have a tough time scrounging up much sympathy when it happens. Because, in my naifish world, a contract essentially says, “Okay, we’re spelling out the quid pro quo to cover both our butts. Because we both know that people come and go, and in the meantime we all have better things to do.”
But beyond that, expecting contracts to passively do the relationship-policing for you is a management #FAIL. Most especially when the definition of “management” embodies our worst-case top-down military-industrial hangovers. Even in that extreme case, it begs the question: “Why are we wasting all these windows on hard-walled offices when we can manage by contract?” I understand that there need to be minimum standards to head off cronyism, kickbacks and the like. But at some point an organization needs to understand that it’s doling out executive salaries and absorbing the cost of the corporate caste system’s perks to some tangible end.
Please understand, above everything, that I desperately hope I’m wrong here, and that the representatives of Party B—and they’ve been quite easy to work with thus far—just don’t have that much experience with outside parties. That would be awesome, actually. Not only because it leaves me more time to worry about making sure that The Bytes successfully hook up with The Real World—but also because it basically equals a productivity #WIN.
Hmmm…maybe that doesn’t scan so well as Oliver Stone’s heavy-handed commentary… Dang.
Last night, while mixing teriaki marinade and paring beef for homemade jerky, Dennis mentioned the latest high-profile results-jacking busted by Google.*
Dennis suggested the incident as good blog fodder. At first, I was a little skeptical, thinking that we—by which I mean I/T folks—are pretty jaded about the cat-and-mouse arms race played by Google and legions of SEO mountebanks. (By the bye: I’m not actually mixing metaphors here; in the hands of a talented artist like Jeff DeBoer, a cat and mouse arms race can be both awe-inspiring and absolutely delightful.)
I do recommend reading the full five pages of the original New York Times expose, simply for their peek into the shadows of the world of link-farming—and, more aptly, why you should at least skim past the first link. But for me, the real takeaway is that, while software is key to boosting the signal-to-noise ratio (which is to say, a search engine’s bread & butter, beer and pizza, burger & fries, hummus & pita, yadayadayada) ultimately, human intervention is a non-negotiable part of the business model. (If you read the PayPal chapter in Founders at Work, you’ll notice the same schtick in the anti-fraud dept.)
And that’s maybe the lesson that the “everyone” implied by the link-farmer interviewed in the NYT article should take to heart.
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* Welcome to Valentine’s Day in a dual-geek marriage. Knowing me, I was playing with banana chips—products of the same dehydrator—to see how far I could fold them over between my molars before they actually snapped and I had to crunch them out of their misery.