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Posted on: Saturday, August 28, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Leadership Tip: Avoiding Blind Spots For Stupidity Within Your Organization.

You look at the stupidity that happens in your organization and you tell yourself, "WTF! Why cant they see something as clear and stupid simple as this?".  And then after a few meetings you stop giving a f@#ck, slip into hibernation and start doing your 'job'.

Scott Berkun describes the situation rather articulately in his post about the topic of fighting management incompetence. He explains:

The big incompetence crime committed by VPs is leaving incompetent managers in place for too long. My theory: by the time the CEO knows a VP stinks, the whole org has known about it for months. The smart people have been making plans to leave or are working to cover their assses. By the time the CEO gets around to taking action, it’s way too late. And often the action taken is whitewashed: no mention is made of how the VP or middle manager utterly failed (e.g. “Fred has decided it’s time for something new.”) The denial lives on, the lie propagates, making it easier for more denials and lies the next time around.

But then the real question that continues to confuse and amuse me is this; why do so many people so high up in the pecking order of really big organizations prefer to live in the state of denial? Are they complete morons, down right idiots or arrogant pompous fools who managed to peck on others and climb the corporate latter of prickdom?

The answer however, might be none of these. John Cleese on his video about creativity might have hit upon the answer using simple science and logic. He explains:

To know how good you are at something, requires the same skills as it does to be good that thing. Which means if you are accidently hopeless at something, you lack exactly the skills that you need to know that you are absolutely hopeless at it.

And this is a profound discovery. Most people who have absolutely no idea what they are doing have absolutely no idea that they have no idea  of what they are doing.

It explains a great deal of life. It explains particularly Hollywood. But it also explains why so many people in charge of so many organizations have no idea what they are doing.

They have a terrible blind spot.

And the problem with teachers may be that the teachers do not realize that they themselves are not very creative and therefore they may not value creativity even if they can recognize it.

The approach mostly explains why kickass developers find it painful when they are asked to work with non-technical managers who had never coded or were never really good at coding in their entire life.  It also explains why so many people high up in the pecking order of countless organizations around the world do not see what every developer who walks the corridor of the organization sees.

So the next time you are asked to lead a team, work on a project, or lead a department take a long pause and ask yourself if you are really good at what you are going to be leading people on. I know there is an impulsive voice within you dying to say - 'of course I know what I am talking about!' - but hold it. Relax. Give it some soak time. Be really honest about it. What are your credentials on that specific topic?

You might have been an amazing programmer. That does not make you a good manager. You might have been an amazing manager, that will not make you a good entrepreneur. You might have been a really successful entrepreneur, but that that may not make you the best programmer. You might have built an amazing system, that does not make you a person who can drive a community.

Before you decide to get actively involved and lead from the front, think. Sometimes handing the driving wheel to someone else who knows how to drive is a way better option. Seriously.

posted on Saturday, August 28, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, August 27, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Programmer Tip: The Meaning Of Mentorship And How You Grow As A Person

Jack triggers a casual conversation about his need for mentorship

Yes, that mentorship where he is looking for an 'in office mentor' to handhold him and help him grow technically. He feels he is not 'growing' because he does not have a mentor who can train him.

He talks at length about the glory of his past mentors as you listen in silence. You happen to know and respect some of these guys that he is talking about, personally. Five minutes into the conversation and you have realized the absurdity of it all.

Respecting someone for his talents and wisdom is perfect but when people start putting other human beings on a pedestal higher than themselves and start hoping that these mentors will show them the way, strange things happen.

You look at Jack wondering if you should tell him to snap out of the Matrix. You wonder if he is ready for the red pill.

That red pill.

Then you do it. You ask him to name one hugely successful project of one of these mentors that he is talking about actually led from the forefront.

Silence. Crickets chirping.

Ok, how many times did this mentor of his actually conduct a training where he wrote code that inspired Jack?

More crickets.

Newsflash! These mentors were just as lost and confused as Jack himself or me.

Ours is a business where we mix way too many things together. We mix authorship with authority, years of experience with technical competence, a condescending attitude with power or wisdom and respect with mentorship. We see people with power or authority and assume that just because they were able to get themselves in a position where they can demonstrate power or authority, we need stop questioning and start following them.

The red pill in the software development world is about challenging the validity of every human being you learn from. Question everything that they have to say. Look for your own facts, take your own decisions and make your own judgment calls.

As you read this, you are either nodding your head in agreement or shaking it in disagreement. I am not going to try and convince you one way or the other because becoming your mentor is the last thing that is on my mind. I am not good enough to mentor anyone and I have no misconnections about that.

If I can just collaborate with a few interesting minds around the world, learn something from them, teach them a thing or two and exchange ideas worth sharing with them, I have done my part.

Now stop cribbing about not having a mentor at your workplace. Go find the best alpha geeks and loud characters out there and collaborate with them. Mentorship is not a one way street. It's cluster-fuck of hundreds of minds engaging in countless battles of ideas, facts or techniques and learning from  those battles. These battles can cause a few scars but once you get the point they are so worth the scars they cause.

Now the real question you have you ask yourself is:

Are you man enough to put yourself out there and participate?

Go on. Connect with the best of the minds you can find and then learn from them. I dare you.

posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 4:21:00 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [2]
Posted on: Sunday, August 22, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Geek Tip: The Speed Of Time And Keeping A Track Of The Days That Have Gone Behind.

Remember that book you promised you said you were going to write? Remember that technical blog you were going to post on regularly? Remember the little open source framework you said you were going to work on? Of Course you are working on all of that. But then, do you remember when it was that you first said you were going to write a book? Three months ago? Five Months ago? A Year?

Thought so.

Time has strange attributes attached to it particularly when it comes to the speed at which it moves. You are not going to win the fight against time, so don’t even try.

But then, as a geek you have tools at your disposal that help you realize just how pathetically slow you are moving. One simple tool is using twitter to announce the number of days since you started a task. I recently started doing this with the book project that I started working on:

The idea is to make it a point to go to twitter and post a message with every passing day telling yourself that one more day has passed. You can either leave it at that, or get creative and mix it up with celebrating doneness, announcing frustration at random distractions or announcing nothingness.

Either ways, if you can just logout for just five minutes every single day to remind yourself how fast time is moving by, chances are that as time moves by you will disconnect for longer durations and get something real and productive done.

So go ahead, make a not to yourself and tell yourself how many days has it been since you said you were going to work on whatever it is that you said you were going to work on in your free time.

Of course you will end up making a fool of yourself when the number of days start moving phenomenally high for simple things, but then, at times, self humiliation in public can work really well.  Try it.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Sunday, August 22, 2010 9:05:25 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [3]
Posted on: Saturday, August 21, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Geek Tip: Learn How To Move to The Logged Out State Of Mind.

You are a geek. An alpha geek. Don’t get me wrong. It is absolutely cool to be the guy that acquaintances call up when their computers stop working. It is also absolutely cool to be the guy that folks in office approach when some firefighting needs to be done. And it’s also absolutely cool to be the guy that relatives count on when they need help with installing software or automating their backup.

But beware young geek. The same geekness that makes you “wanted” will turn you into a battery if you don’t master the art of logging out.

Logging out is not just the art of disconnecting twitter. Logging out is not just the art of not checking your emails. Logging out is not just the art of putting your phone on silent. Logging out is a state of mind where you announce politely but firmly (making it very clear that you mean business) to the world that surrounds you, that you refuse to be turned into a mindless robot attending to things at hand.

You can typically logout as much as your life permits but typically a few hours a day is usually good enough.

When you are logged out, you do not take phone calls. You do not check emails. You do not talk to colleagues who walk up to you seeking your help with tweaking the server configuration. You do not help relatives fix their laptops. You do not respond to people on twitter.

When you are logged out, you are usually doing what matters the most to you at that point of time. When you are logged out, you resist the temptation of logging in. When you are logged out, you are in the flow. When you are logged out you have picked one thing, just one thing that you are going to focus on for the next couple of hours and that one thing is what occupies a good part of your mind.

It could be anything. Something you always wanted to work on or a work related problem that you had said you will attend to for months. Anything that you absolutely want to work on.

Most folks who need stupid favors from you might get annoyed at the idea of logging out but if you cannot be a in logged out state for a couple of hours a day, you are just being utterly unfair to yourself.

The logged out state of mind is what keeps your geekness smart. The logged out state of mind is where you geek comes to life and does some serious intellectual exercise. The logged out state of mind is where all the real work happens.  The logged out state of mind is where things are built and then shipped.

Go ahead and logout for a couple of hours every day. Your true friends and genuine well wishers will understand. The others just want their computers fixed and will either wait or call geek squad.

posted on Saturday, August 21, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, August 20, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Work In Progress Version Of The Book On Builder At Work - Part 3 (Revised).

Based on criticism of the last chapter I ended up taking it offline. One of the things that I learnt about writing while doing this book is that you need to give each chapter some soak time where it just sits on your hard disk and you spend days looking at it, refining stuff, adding stuff and most importantly, removing stuff. This chapter is my attempt at doing that. The chapter has been made to soak for few days and has been edited with considerable effort.

The purpose of the chapter is to introduce you to the idea of builders without a lot of preaching.

As always, we would love to hear back from you. Feel free to drop us a comment, send a tweet @thousandtyone, email me, ping me or call me if you have anything to say regarding this chapter or the book in general.

Now go get a copy of the chapter here.

If you are interested in the other chapters that have been drafted so far you can also take a look at the table of contents.

posted on Friday, August 20, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [2]
Posted on: Saturday, August 14, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Picking A Company Is Not As Simple As Picking Your Clothes.

At a shopping mall my mom hands me a shirt which I brush aside as something I don't want to try out. When it comes to dressing most of us have preferences. What is the maximum loudness of the color that you can carry on your shirt with grace, do you wear regular fits or are you comfortable in tights. Do you have the physique or the body to carry the clothes you are wearing.

You probably even know the kind of fit that you are looking for in the first place.

You might even end up spending quite a bit of time trying stuff out.

Every time I interview someone and candidates tell me that they have not visited our website, my ears perk up. What do they know about the organization they are applying for? Have they interacted with someone in the organization? Do they know someone personally? Have they talked to someone? Read someone's blog? What made them apply in the first place? I am already suspicious of their reasons for applying.

The next question, is turning the tables, and letting the candidate interview us. Tell them that this is their only chance to know anything they want to know about the organization and let them ask questions openly and candidly.


Their questions say a great deal about the type of 'fit' that they are looking for.

  1. How does the appraisal process within your organization work?
  2. How can I grow within your organization?
  3. What are your salary brackets for someone with similar experience as me?

This line of question says quite a bit about the candidate asking them.

He is neither looking for the personality, nor the texture of your organization. He is not considering his own mindset and mental physique before applying for an organization.

If he was given a job offer would he just join?

If he can somehow get those legs into those jeans, will he buy them?

Or is picking an organization really much simpler than picking your clothes?

Now, all you need to do is go through the interview, but you might want to keep it short with this guy, because from this point on, you are probably just wasting your time which could have been otherwise utilized interviewing better candidates who care.

posted on Saturday, August 14, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, August 13, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Genuine Mavens Can See Through Your Product And Your Organization.

You are in corporate business meetings where the revenue model of the product is discussed extensively. Meetings where the business wants to visualize and conceptualize every single use case of your product before you even start writing a single line of code.

You are working in an organization where ideas do not “happen” or catch someone by their collars. You are working in a company where ideas are manufactured based on market trends, what is going to be big, what is going to be hot and what is going to have the highest ROI.

The problem with this organization is that when your revenue model, your profitability and your ROI is all you focus on, you build a product which has a hollow sole and a marketing pitch that is full of impotent words.

Put simply, you are trying too hard.

And when the trying ends, you might have a product with a lot of features but you don’t have a story. You have a product that does much more than any other product out there but a product that no one cares about.

Why? Because the really smart consumers, the ones of have the means and the measures to become your unpaid ambassadors also have the common sense to see through your shit and get to the rotten core of your product.

Your product was built by builders who went on hibernation half way through the product because the so called management rubbed them the wrong way and gave them no autonomy, it shows.

Your product was build by 501 programmers who you thought you would just hire and pay to get stuff built, it shows.

Your product was controlled by a team of micro managers, who started five mail threads and had five new ideas for every five lines of code the actual team that was doing some real work behind the product wrote.

Every single act of organizational stupidity that happened through the development of your product is going to show. The folks who can actually tip your product, are going to see right through it and give your product a simple cold shoulder as you sit in meeting rooms and wonder why you are not getting a lot of traffic on your website or why no one is using your product.

What is most ironic, is that these are the same smart mavens who would have joined your team and become your unpaid brand ambassadors, only if you started with a genuine idea of helping your consumers, making a dent in the universe or just adding a little bit of fun to their, and above all your life.

When you are having meetings and politics instead of having fun while building a product, you, your product and your organization tend to become boring. At least, to an outsider. The smartest of your consumers can see right through your product. Of course, the business loves profitable, but the day you stop having fun, you stop being profitable. It’s that simple. Really.

posted on Friday, August 13, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, August 8, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Getting Those Paycheck Programmers to Quit Your Organization - Part 1.

A book I read recently called, Drive, is fundamentally a collection of researches that other authors and companies have done regarding the hidden forces that motivate true builders. The book also talks about thing that do not motivate the true builders.

The book begins with the introducing smart chimps who solve puzzles without the lure of food or direct rewards and introduces you to the concept of intrinsic motivation, which also happens to be the central theme of the book.

This video does an really good job at describing the book and everything the book contains.

One genuinely innovative idea the book proposes is the concept of what I like to call “a quitting bonus”. The idea is fairly simple. Somewhere, smack in the middle of the year, you announce a quitting bonus. Anyone who quits within a month from the day you announce the bonus gets the bonus. It is similar to a joining bonus, only designed with an intention of driving people out of your organization.

The central idea is simple. After a certain level, the truest of the builders in your organization are not moved by paychecks. If you are a truly innovative company, chances are, that you do not want folks who will jump to the next door organization at the first fifteen percent hike that they are offered. So just offer them that much to quit in the first place and see if they stick around.

A quitting bonus gives the jumpers a chance to jump early. After the jumpers have jumped you are left with individuals who are not driven just by a slightly bigger paycheck. You are left with people who are not moved by carrots and sticks. You can now settle down and focus on making small or big dents in the universe through your work rather than constantly worrying about people leaving.

Getting your management to lure people to quit, is a little difficult to describe and sell in a management meeting, but if you think about it, you are way better off paying a small bonus to get rid of a paycheck programmer, rather than having him work half-heartedly for your organization and introducing mediocrity in everything he does.

Go ahead, use money as a carrot to drive people out of your organization and the ones who do not take the carrot might be the builders, story-tellers or people who believe your vision. These are the people you set out to look for in the first place. With the others leaving your organization, you can now settle down, focus and get down to some real work.

posted on Sunday, August 8, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]