Monthly Archives: March 2013

Culture is Corrosive

I’ve been trying out the local coworking scene for the past month, and I’ve really enjoyed it. Thursday I had lunch with the woman who is responsible for putting all of the pieces together. I had a lot of fun talking about startups, entrepreneurialism, and financing.

We reached the point that I’ve seen many times when talking to local folks about startups. The “Silicon Valley” moment.

“People say that we couldn’t be another Silicon Valley, but I don’t believe that,” she said, “we could make it happen here”

This made me both very sad and happy at the same time. Sad: we have a better chance of teaching pigs to be ballerinas than creating another Silcon Valley in sleepy little Southwest Virginia. Happy: it’s a worthy cause, and even by “failing” we could end up helping a lot of people. Sign me up, coach!

I tried to explain these things, but probably did a very poor job of it. I told her about Y Combinator, how it now has thousands of folks who have gone through their training. Many of them are still in the area and they all help each other out. I talked about how SV success stories are usually willing to take their time to try to help the next generation out. They’re not in it just for the money. There is a spirit of cooperation. I talked about how “failure” is not a bad thing: people work hard and stick with an idea until it either works or they pivot. I talked about how people share and support each other because even the success stories know what it’s like to be plugging away at something that doesn’t appear to be working. I mentioned how tough it was for people who did well in one startup to recapture the magic — and how that was okay. I told her that both chance, preparation, and tenacity play a big part in startups, perhaps chance more than preparation and tenacity, but you had to have all three. About how important the team was compared to the idea.

There’s a lot of things to understand about startups. I kind of felt like a parrot. All I was doing was repeating what I’ve heard much better people say.

But then I hit it, a way of capturing this huge hunk of important information into something more like a slogan. Culture is corrosive.

You take somebody just out of school who doesn’t know any better. If they’re in a team of friends who are able to execute and stick it out, they have the greatest chance of success. Why? Because they don’t know any better. They’re not indoctrinated in what “winning” and “losing” looks like. They’re willing to try anything. They understand sharing and how being open and sharing with each other helps everybody out.

Take those same guys, put them in a corporate job for a few months? It’s like night and day. Suddenly “work” and “life” are two different things. You’re not supposed to like work, you’re supposed to want more free time. You have your team and other people have theirs. You don’t help the other guys. You measure success in dollars. There are rules and ways to do things. You stick to these in order to reduce or eliminate risk.

Culture is corrosive. When we talk about forming new Silicon Valleys, there’s a lot of things to get our head around, but this is the big one. This is the enemy we fight. Culture is corrosive.

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Weight Loss 2 – The Roux En Y


You just know that’s going to hurt



My journey towards bariatric surgery as a way to control my weight has been steadily moving along. It’s taking a lot longer than I had imagined!

We finally have a surgery date, though — June 5th at 8am.

For two weeks prior to that date, I’ll be on a liquid diet. The doctor says it’s important to do this in order to shrink my liver. Turns out he’ll be doing a lot of work behind my liver, and in some cases the liver can be so big he can’t get his work done.

It’s a pretty incredible piece of surgery if you think about it. It’s called a “Roux-en-y“, and what they do is 1) chop off most of the bottom part of my stomach and sew it closed, 2) connect the tiny remaining stomach into the small intestine a good ways down from the stomach.

This does two things. It decreases the size of the stomach dramatically, and it prevents your digestive system from absorbing all the nutrients you send it.

As you can imagine, this is a pretty big deal, and I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about it. It is definitely not a decision you make lightly. I chose the best doctors I could find within 700 miles or so, and i have a 4-hour drive each time I go see them.

After the surgery things will be much different. It’s not a magic bullet. In fact, once you are physically prevented from eating so much you can easily end up in depression. It’s a completely new way of living. Or as the nurse told me last week “Your eating is going to get pretty boring for a long while”

I’ll keep the reporting going. A grand adventure awaits.

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It’s All Bullshit

One of the key indicators of reaching mastery level in any field is realizing that’s it’s all bullshit — and moving forward anyway.

Take one of my fields, technology development, as an example.

Did you know that 70% of all IT-related projects fail to meet their objectives? Or that Winston Royce was the man that created the waterfall development model? Or that the military uses “command and control” to tell soldiers what to do? (and that this is a bad thing) How about that Use Cases are going to destroy your productivity?

These factoids, and many more, are commonly used in presentations dealing with technology development.

And they’re all bullshit.

Success and failure as measure by the 1994 CHAOS study, is a relative thing. Winston Royce never wanted people to use the waterfall method; he was just describing sequential activities. In fact, he said you should iterate through again. The military, especially ground combat units, give most operational responsibility to people on the ground engaged in combat, not generals — exactly the opposite from what a non-military person would think. Use cases are a form of process analysis, not a huge MS Word document template to be filled out. As a form of analysis, you can complete them with any level of formality or documentation you like: lots of meetings and paperwork, or a napkin and a 15-minute conversation over lunch.

It was a recent conversation on Google+ that got me thinking of this. Internet friend Laurent was complaining that the statistics used by academics discussing technology development were bad, mungled, and meant nothing. He seemed very upset that such arbitrary numbers could be used.

This piqued me, because I never thought of academics (or any other thought leader) in the technology development arena to be doing anything more than quasi-informed guesswork. And that was fine with me. But to Laurent it was very disturbing.

One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that there’s theory, then there’s the real world. In the real world you can use any kind of theory you’d like. Just pull it down, apply it, and see if it works for you. Keep what works. Throw away the rest. But you can’t focus on the theory. You always have to focus on pragmatism: is this working for me right now. It’s this two-track approach, where academics and other thought leaders scope out a possible path forward, then millions of us try it out in practice, that slowly moves us forward.

Most things we do are not physics. We don’t need a theory of life, the universe, and everything. We have work to do. These things do not exist in the absolute, easy-to-digest way we might want them to. We need a solution to the problem we’re working on right now.

Some people just give up on all theory — all they want is results. Some people, many times without realizing it themselves, start focusing on how things ought to work based on their pet theories without looking at how it’s really working. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing.

People screw up when they focus either too much on how a few teams worked or how the theory works. You need both tracks.

But this is true in many more areas aside from technology development. There are things we can do that work most all of the time, there are things that are going to be highly contextual, and there’s the system of common understanding about why things work they way they do. These are completely different areas!

So yes, at some level you realize that, heck, even physics isn’t physics. Physics has many more unanswered questions than any sane person would be comfortable with. The soft sciences are a lot more soft than you were taught, and that evolutionary behavior theory sometimes can amount to a lot of speculative bullshit while hand-waving than the TV science shows let on.

But then you realize that it’s this way everywhere else too. And you move on. After all, you have work to do.

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Why I Finally Joined Mixergy

I’ve been looking at the mixergy site for a year or two now with a jaundiced eye. Mixergy is a site created by Andrew Warner, self-made millionaire. Its goal is to have a site dedicated to people forming their own startups. It’s a fee site. You can pay so much every month or an annual fee.

The reason I’m so skeptical? 1) Everybody and their brother wants to charge me for making my startup awesome. By painful experience, most of these sites and applications do not live up to their hype. 2) Andrew seemed like a nice guy, but, frankly, another rich guy with a successful startup wanting me to join in on his next successful startup didn’t seem like so much fun.

But I have changed my mind.

Why?

As it turns out, this is a good lesson for all startup founders.

Warner has been doing interviews of other founders and people in the startup community for a while. Every time he does an interview, he sends it out free to community. But if you want the older interviews and content, you have to join the site. So every so often, the people on his site consume his content and share it. That means I’ve been constantly exposed to his work.

Eventually, every now and then, I’ll click over and consume the content. Each time I do that there’s a small chance I’ll look around.

After a year or two of coming over now and then, consuming content and looking around a bit, I decided to take a look at his interview archives.

Jiminy Cricket! There’s almost 700 interviews in there. While “getting rich quick from your startup” has been done to death, 700 hours of interviews with successful founders is something I’d really like to take in. Even if their advice never directly makes a difference in their startup, just listening to their stories can help me get a better sense of context for where I am in my startup. And that’s worth money.

But the bigger takeaway? It’s one thing to have an idea and chase after it for a while. People see what you’re doing and say “That’s interesting, but are they really serious? I don’t think so”

After a while, though, it starts sinking in to potential customers that you’re not going anywhere. Then they start taking your seriously. For transactions involving money, just being out there isn’t enough. You have to be committed.

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Dividing My Internet Content

The more I see of how the internet works, the more I want to totally control my own content. While I enjoy many places like Facebook or Twitter, the people who run these “walled gardens” are selling one thing — the stuff we all create every day. That’s what draws in other members, that’s what gives them places to sell stuff, that’s what search engines use to bring people back to their site later.

And while any particular piece of content you or I might produce averages about one-thousandth of a penny in worth, it adds up. There’s also a normal distribution curve: on average content is worth mostly nothing but every now and then one of us might write something that has several dollars, or even several hundred dollars, of value. And it’s all owned by somebody else.

I don’t mind sharing, but more and more I’m feeling used by these clowns. So I’ve decided to do something about it.

I’m slowly creating web properties that represent the things I like to post online. My diary, of course, is here. There’s my funny pictures collection. (needs more cats), my Agile coaching and practice information, and now my summaries of libertarian news stories and commentary.

There’s no master plan here, aside from my wanting more control over what I create and collect. I guess that’s enough of a master plan for now.

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Why I’m Leaving My Home Office

When I’m not helping a large client, I work from my home office. I’ve been working this way for around ten years.

Today I’m leaving my office for a while to try coworking.

Why would I leave the comfort of my home to travel an hour to the nearest town to work with a bunch of strangers?

Productivity, that’s why. Random human encounters, being around other people working, the social atmosphere of an office — all things you don’t find in a home office.

It occurs to me that if co-location is so good for Agile teams, it might be good for sole founders as well. And in this business, there are no universal rules, only what works and what doesn’t work.

So for the next month or so, I’m going to try coworking.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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