A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



Fuck You Big Blue - Other Culture is Available

So I haven't done this for a while - sat down and told myself that I'm going to write 1000 words. And part of the reason is that I've been busy working, working full time on a job. Was I working long hours? Not really. Was I commuting a long way to get there for 9 - not really. Is my job a lot harder than a lot of other people's jobs? I would say it probably isn't, if fact, I'm certain it isn't.

Well then, what am I moaning about? Well, I'm not exactly moaning. It's just a plain fact that while I've been doing this job, I've not been writing much. And that's because the job I've been doing has involved so much utter nonsense that time when I should have been resting and relaxing has been spend worrying, getting annoyed and having one-sided arguments (I'm not the only one who has those, right?).

It looks like this "engagement" will be over (trust me, it's going to be over, one way or another, by hook or by crook) at the end of next week. And winding down has given me pause for reflection.

One thing that it's caused me to think, coming back to writing is to remember the original purpose of having a "commonplace". To have somewhere where I can make a not of "anything" that find interesting. Well, I'm going to do that just now - some of the themes that I've been harping on for the last couple of years reared their head as part of this "engagement".

Thinking Fast and Slow

The fast thinking is always wrong (unless you're jumped by a brontosaurus in a cave or whatever the evolutionary psychologists' fantasy is) - and that's what you're always battling with, the "common sense" that the customer "just knows". But there's no guarantee that the slow thinking is right. Just because you know the fast thinking is wrong doesn't mean you know what's actually going on. The map isn't the territory. Confused? You will be. Your fast thinking is also wrong by the way.

What You See is All There Is

The only way to change the way that people think is to change what they see, because the think, using fast thinking, with what they see. Change what they see, change what they think. Control what people see, control what they think. I would really like to have on every team someone who's only job is to maintain the information radiators.

The Losers vs The Sociopaths vs The Clueless

You might think that an environment where there were fewer sociopaths would be a more pleasant right? It's a fucking nightmare. Without chance takers the risks of failure escalated dramatically (I'm going to leave someone else to figure out that particular conundrum).

Focusing on Working Software (in anything but the smallest of start-ups) is a sociopathic act

Legibility and Clarity vs Illegibility and Vagueness

Senior management say that want to see what's going on. They really don't. They can't handle the truth and won't thank you for telling it to them. They won't be able to get past their "fast thinking" reaction to what you're telling them, which is to blame the messenger. Your jobs is to use the "What you see is all there is" principle to manipulate their thinking.

Commitment and Consistency

The sociopath's best friend. The Clueless will vaguely bleat about commitment and consistency. The sociopaths will use it as a cattle prod and a stick to beat and punish your team.

The Planning Fallacy

People consistently underestimate how long tasks will take - and forget the complications and delays that are always involved. Sociopaths know this intuitively. Sociopaths hook this up with people's desire to be consist with what they've said and to honour their commitments to get people to do their bidding.

The Fata Morgana (the Hiding Hand)

"Every novel is the wreck of an idea."

People aren't motivated by details, stories of difficulty or understanding of complexity. They're motivated by big, attractive, simplistic pictures. If the people involved in any worthy endeavour know how much effort it was really going to take, how little reward it was really going to provide. If they knew what a "wreck" the finished product was going to be relative to the idea, they would never embark on the journey. Of course the "wreck" is infinitely preferable to the "idea" in some really important ways. It's real. It can really deliver value. Maybe that's good. Maybe it isn't. Maybe the vapourware was delivering more value for the people in charge that actually paltry value of the real working software every could.

Sufficiently Advanced Technology is Indistinguishable from Magic

Working software is magic. We're in the magic/working software business.

And then - because (alongside Negronis) I was listening to a lot of audiobooks about (Zen) Buddhism as a coping strategy, I actually got an idea for something new - a series of Koans about Agile and software development. I also really learned the real meaning of the Agile principles:

Individuals and Interactions of Processes and Tools

everybody but everybody thinks it's the other way round. Stop writing the email, stop adding that extra workflow state to Jira. Go talk to someone.

WORKING SOFTWARE over Detailed Documentation

I didn't emphasise this as much as I'd like to because I don't have the resource to carve it on the side of mountain Mount Rushmore-style.

Responding to Change over Following a Plan

the people who bleat most about having a plan are the people who have absolutely no fucking plan. Actually, when people keep asking you for a plan, this is code for "I have no ability to manage anything, please help me." And keep a note of all the changes - keep a daily Scrum Master Log. If if cheers you up to pretend you're William Shatner, well then, knock yourself out. Other culture is available.

Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation

Your job is to act as a techo cupid. You have to get your customer, your real* customer to fall in love with the working software, once they've done that, it's not going to matter what's in the contract*.

So what's the title of this rant about? Well, I came across a link to some IBM-developed application that assesses your personality based on your prose. It doesn't think much of me. If I put in roughly half a year's diary writing (all it can take) it spits out stuff like this:

You are intermittent: you have a hard time sticking with difficult tasks for a long period of time.

Well. Hmmph. Maybe. But is that what successful people do - stick with difficult tasks? Is it really? Oh sure, that's what it says they do in the self-help books, but is it really what they do? What about sociopaths? Don't they achieve success a lot of the time by jumping from one project another? What is life? Is it poker - adopting strategies to cope with imperfect knowledge and randomness? Or is it chess - the harder you think about, the more you analyse all the possibilities, the more likely you are to succeed. Or is it some hopelessly opaque mix of the two, where you can never really tell what the right move will be - whether you should hold on for a draw or fold?

Obviously I wouldn't be going on about this if I weren't stung by this comment in some way. I would like to finish a book. And I'm wondering if writing these Agile Koans might be one way of doing that.

And this:

You are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys.

I think it's just upset because I don't like Star Trek.