Monthly Archives: November 2011

How to Tweet

An online friend of mine, Ed, took up tweeting a while back. I followed him and he followed me.

Last week, I saw a tweet from him: “Tweet about bathroom: Unfollow. Tweet about politics: Unfollow. Tweet too much: Unfollow. Don’t tweet enough: Unfollow. Add value: Follow!”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Here’s Ed, a bit of a fellow curmudgeon at times like myself, instructing the universe at large on how to Tweet. I had to reply.

“Thanks to the message to the universe, Ed. We’ll try to do better. Promise! :)

I never heard back from Ed. Looking at his follow list, I know why: I didn’t make the cut! Yikes! I have been found guilty of being a bad tweeter!

As in most things Twitter, the first time things happen to you they seem much more important than the 10th time. I’ve been un-followed by the best of them, Ed. No hard feelings. As the old saying goes, I’ve been thrown out of better bars than this one.

But it did strike me as indicative of the different ways people look at tweeting. Ed wanted value, dang it. Tell me something important! Or don’t bother me at all. People with his goals want to follow the optimum number of people to receive the maximum amount of “value” for a given time. They want to narrowly-focus. They feel that Twitter is a form of radio or television. Something you subscribe to in order to get custom content just for you. If the guy you are following is dishing out stuff that’s not about aardvark farming? The channel is broken. Eliminate it and find a better one for your interests. Your job is to entertain (and inform) me.

I am not one of those people.

My Twitter goals are completely different. I sit here in my office, and guess what? There are no co-workers. If I want to learn the exciting internals of client billing, I’ll go read a blog. What I need is somebody to just talk out loud to. Something like “Hey, is it just me, or is Dog the Bounty Hunter a big douchebag?” or “I find that people that the people who are most against abortion are the ones most unlikely to procreate in the first place” or “Listening to the Sunday morning talkers, how can so much BS come out of so few politicians?”

To me, Twitter is a bunch of people all standing in a room all talking to themselves, hoping to start a conversation.

Each tweet is just an observation, something you might say to the person working next to you. No, I do not tweet about going to the bathroom, picking my nose, or what kind of sandwich I had for lunch (mostly). I try to strike a balance between interesting and banal. It’s chit-chat. Small talk. “Frivolous” might be an apt name, but only if you see Twitter as having some sort of grand mission in life. I do not.

So based on that metric, politics is good. I get confused by politicians on all sides of the aisle, and frustrated, and pretty angry at times. When that happens, I make an observation to that effect. As far as the frequency of my tweets, geesh, I never really thought about it. And I don’t plan on starting any time soon.

My goal in following folks is to have virtual office-mates: long-distance friends. We don’t have to agree on stuff like politics, religion, life, the universe, or any of that. Hell, I would like it a lot better if we didn’t! When I tweet something and we start up a little sidebar conversation, I get the feeling I am part of a larger community. That’s what keeps me using Twitter. Being connected.

It’s been said that Twitter is 95% people marketing to each other. To me, if you keep the focus on personal value, or celebrity worship, sure, that’s true. People will use it as a channel to get to your eyeballs. If you look at it more like a small room (and keep your follow list small as a result) then it opens up into a different kind of experience.

The folks I un-follow are those who are telling instead of sharing. They tweet as a way of preaching to the world, not because they are interested in others. This is the guy who wants to save the whales and every third tweet is about whales. He is on a mission. You are not invited on this mission, and your opinion, especially if it does not agree with him, is not welcome.The worst version of this becomes kind of an accusation at the listener. What’s wrong with you, asshole? Don’t you like whales? While I understand this also is you talking to yourself, there’s not a lot of room for me to participate, and it doesn’t look like something that would start a conversation. I think Ed kind of crossed the line there, but we all do. It’s not a rock-solid rule. If I note a pattern, I un-follow.

Likewise, when folks follow me, I see if they respond to my thoughts. Got a cool reply, something to make me think? Something to advance the discussion? Great! I’m learning things and socially connecting. After a couple of those I follow them back. I keep my follow list very small for the same reason I keep my office small — it’s the folks that I have an interactively-enjoyable time with. Twitter is not like TV or the radio to me at all.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, just opinions. Twitter is what you make it, right?

If you’d like to hear my random thoughts and engage in a chat from time-to-time, sounds like fun! Follow me on Twitter.

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Agile Means Doing New Things Even When You’re Happy

I’ve spent some time lately on a book about how to really implement agile — not something that cheerleads agile, but something that rather takes a long, hard honest look at all the various ways we screw things up.

One of those ways is our ability not to be able to accurately predict whether a change will have a positive effect on our team or not. It’s very easy when talking about something, say TDD, to sit around and list the seven million reasons why it won’t work for us. What’s much more difficult is to honestly try something new with an open mind and see what happens.

The scary parts are 1) Nobody is immune to this, and 2) It works for all kinds of changes, not just the “right” ones.

Maybe your team might work better without TDD. Are you willing to try that?

We cheat. Instead of honestly trying new things, we take up mentally-easy positions and defend them. One of those positions might be to try everything that you read in a book and sounds great. This is sort of a chaotic model, where everything is always in flux. One position might be that you’re plenty happy with the way you’re doing things now, so why change anything? This model is rigid and brittle. Then there are the folks who have a bible of sorts that they use to determine which changes to try or not. Did Ken Schwaber say it was cool? Kent Beck? Uncle Bob? Cohn? Then we’re definitely trying it! Otherwise? Not so much.

It seems like it’s very difficult to reach a happy middle-ground: trying some things every now and then — not too much to have complete chaos, yet not too little to get in a rut. Trying out things we hear about — but not because of the social standing of those telling us.

This fault is built into the human mind: we are herd and troupe animals at heart. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature! All of these attributes create real-world primate survival skills.

I was thinking about this last week as I introduced Agile to some folks in a nearby town. I was using somebody else’s presentation, and he called for bringing in Play-Dough and some other stuff. I hadn’t used it before, but I figured “what the heck?”

It worked very well, and now I’m a big believer. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those lectures I have given without the Play-Dough gimmick and how many more people I could have helped had I switched earlier. You never know.

You see, I was happy with the previous way I was giving the presentation. I had thought about various ways to change, but that was all I did — think about it. I never actually tried to change. It was much easier just critiquing the idea from afar.

The ironic thing is that I see this behavior in teams all of the time: I’ll introduce a new concept and they’ll insist that it’s not going to help anything. This is one of the reasons we use coaches to implement Agile. A big part of being a coach is helping people practice things they think will not work — until they finally figure out how great its working. Then they wonder why you didn’t tell them in the first place.

People are funny animals.

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If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.