Category: Personal (Page 1 of 3)

“Perhaps the flight of a single bird”

This is a fascinating read.  It isn’t as “unexpected” to me as the quote below suggests it might be.  It might seem obvious that “we gain our sense of self from our interaction with other people” but I don’t think it’s intuitive that isolation reduces a sense of self rather than causing introspection.  People who fear solitude fear disappearing.  And conversely people who crave solitude must want to disappear.  

Neil Ansell: My life as a hermit | Environment | The Observer: “What I found was not what you might expect. You might think that such protracted solitude would lead to introspection, to self-examination, to a growing self-awareness. But not for me. What happened to me was that I began to forget myself, my focus shifted almost entirely outwards to the natural world outside my window. It was as if we gain our sense of self from our interaction with other people; from the reflection of ourselves we see in the eyes of another. Alone, there was no need for identity, for self-definition.

The process was a gradual one. During my years in the hills I kept a journal. For the first year it is a conventional diary; places I had gone, things I had done. By the second year it is little more than a nature journal; what birds I had seen that day, perhaps some notes on the weather. By the third year it is no more than an almanac, marking the turn of the seasons by the comings and goings of migrant birds and their nesting dates, interspersed by the occasional detailed depiction of a moment, perhaps the flight of a single bird. I am an absence, a void, I have disappeared from my own story.”

Buy the book, Deep Country, here .

12 years later

Twelve years is a long time.  But I found this on my laptop last night – although it’s 12 years old it’s still a pretty good representation of how I think about what I do.


iCloud and the death of document-centric computing

It’s disturbs me a little that everything in the Apple ecosystem, from App Stores, to App icons on iPhone home screens and on Launcher for Mac, to application specific file systems, is stepping backwards from a document centric view of computing back to an application centric view. The iCloud experience appears to confirm this direction. I’m not sure what I think about this.  
iCloud isn’t just an Apple branded Dropbox.  The difference between iCloud and Dropbox based sync is application versus document-centricity.  Earlier in the history of computing there was a push away from application based computing, where the focus was on which application you were using to the idea of using multiple micro applications to edit documents. Microsoft’s object linking and embedded was an example  of this.  The old Microsoft Binder was in a way also a step towards this idea. Most explicitly, the Apple lead consortium developing the OpenDoc initiate had this idea at its core. 
All of these products are now dead.  More recently the dream of document-centric computing itself has died.   Perhaps to be replaced by synchronisation and mobility.  
The difference between Dropbox and iCloud synchronization is that Dropbox is theoretically just a file system. Multiple applications could easily edit the same files – as long as they pointed to the same file in Dropbox.  This was also true across platforms. If you have a document that you edit on your iPad and sync with Dropbox you can edit that same file, using a different application, on your PC. 
The iCloud experience is completely different.  The only way to edit a document across platforms or devices is to use a version of the application for each device. Not a compatible application. Not a micro application that uses the same file format. But the equivalent application from the same vendor.  Usually this additional application is purchased at an additional cost. 
This is the most interesting part of the iOS5 experience. Not because it’s any easier than Dropbox based synchronization but because it may actually make me change the desktop application that I use purely based on iCloud support.  It may also make me buy one application purely for synchronisation while I might use another for specific editing on a particular platform (after manually “syncing” on the platform). 

Corporations – thought of the day

I think it’s time I made clear something I’ve honestly believed for a long time.

I think capitalism is a really good system. I think “freedom” is the only moral political system. I think the Austrian Economists at are right.

But I think capitalism and corporatism are different.

As one of my favorite intellectuals I’ve never met (Peter Klein) would probably agree, it’s all about entrepreneurship.

I think the anti-capitalism interpretations of Naomi Klein’s work, and the anti-capitalist interpretations of the whole “occupy Wall Street” movement, are flawed.

And finally – and this is the point of this post – I believe that all corporations exist for only four reasons:

1. To provide a mechanism for fascinating and productive individuals who are too scared to start their own business to be “successful”

2. To provide a mechanism for economically, socially, or future-trendy savvy people to be successful through investment and non-participatory involvement

3. To allow people like me, who are fascinated by the way organisations work, to make them better. Just for our own personal satisfaction.

4. To either make individuals happier by the products and services they provide – or to fail

This is what I believe. It’s also why I think Alan Joyce is cool.

Healthy information eating

I’m looking forward to a few weeks off before I begin a new role in a technology & management consulting company (which I’m also very much looking forward to).

I’m planning on going on an ‘information diet’ during my break and have already cleared inboxes, unchecked starred items, and unsubscribed from plenty of RSS feeds.

But what sort of a diet would it be if I didn’t ensure I got enough nutrition?  So I’ve also enrolled in a course at the Mises Academy.  I’ve chosen “Networks and the Digital Revolution: Economic Myths and Realities” because I’ve always liked reading snippets of Peter Klein.

One of the features of the Mises Academy (other than that the courses are cheap and on line) is that the readings are generally available for free.  While working through the readings for my course I came across:

… They hit gold with ”The Nature of the Firm,” a 1937 paper written by the Nobel laureate Ronald Coase.

The Coase paper asked a deceptively simple question: If the market is such a great tool for allocating resources, why isn’t it used inside the firm or company? Why doesn’t one worker on the assembly line negotiate with the worker next to him about the price at which he will supply the partly assembled product?

That sort of negotiation rarely happens. Instead of using markets, companies tend to be organized as hierarchies, using a chain of command and control rather than negotiation, markets and explicit contracts. Paradoxically, the primary unit of capitalism, on close inspection, looks a lot like central planning.

Mr. Coase didn’t just ask this question; he also provided a provocative answer: it all hinges on the costs of making transactions. What economists call firms, he said, are essentially groups of activities for which it is more effective and less costly to use command-and-control than markets to have things done.

New-economy advocates found this a compelling idea. One consequence of the Internet has surely been to make it cheaper to communicate. This should, in turn, lower transaction costs and change company boundaries. Their conclusion was that companies would inevitably downsize and outsource, spin off unnecessary functions, and carry out more and more transactions using the Internet instead of internal memos.

Not so fast. The Internet lowers communication costs, that’s for sure. But that means it lowers transaction costs within organizations as well as across organizations. The internal memo might disappear, but only because it is replaced by the internal e-mail message.

It just doesn’t follow that lower communication costs lead to smaller companies. In fact, Mr. Coase himself said that ”changes like the telephone and telegraphy, which tend to reduce the cost of organizing spatially, will tend to increase the size of the firm.””

– from here with my emphasis added

I’ve read some of the original Coase papers over the years and the idea of reduced transaction costs have been at the heart of the MWT Model.  I like this idea that a key capability required in a low transaction cost world is likely to be the ability to work effectively with, and generate value from, low transaction costs within organisations and also across organisations.  To me this is the whole point of how management is changing / needs to change.

I also like that this is still an interesting idea to me.  It’s a calling of sorts and something I tend to think about even when I don’t have to. It gives me energy and purpose.


Note to self: do ERP vendors benefit from the sunk cost fallacy and asset specificity?

I’ve never really been very interested in ERPs – so I likely don’t know what I’m talking about…

But over the years there have been many times I’ve heard organisations saying they need to “leverage their investment” in their ERP.  This is usually after they have spent far too much money implementing it in the first place so whenever I hear that phrase I can’t help but hear “we don’t have the expected benefits from this yet so we should invest more in it because we’ve already invested too much not to get any benefits from it”.  This is clearly the sunk cost fallacy at work.

There has been talk of the end of ERPs for some time, and there are certainly many web-based alternatives, much-hyped redesigns, as well as web based versions of classic ERPs.  But at the same time ERPs aren’t going away.  Certainly the companies themselves are far too clever to not evolve.

But I’m more interested in why the benefits aren’t realised.  Because from an enterprise architecture perspective there are certain elements of the ERP value proposition that make perfect sense.  If you think of enterprise architecture as primarily being about finding the capabilities, services, and processes that you want to further integrate or standardise across your organisation (and I haven’t found a better definition) then taking disparate payroll, HR, procurement (etc, etc) processes and standardising them should delivery value.

I’m going to make a leap here and say that ERPs actually do deliver value.  In fact, any critic that suggests otherwise probably has a skewed view of why we use information technology in our organisations in general.  The problem with ERPs isn’t that they don’t deliver value – it’s that they are incredibly overpriced.

Given that organisations pay that price I have to wonder how ERP vendors are able to extract value from organisations so successfully.  Going back to my limited experience with ERP implementations I see three ways ERP vendors extract value from organisations:

1) ERP people are over specialised.  While development and support for software packages from mid-sized vendors, or custom software development can be implemented with a variety of method, tools, and resources, a SAP implementation for example must be staffed with ‘SAP people’.  There are no business analysts, developers, or project managers.  There are instead SAP Project Managers, SAP Developments, SAP Business Analysts.  This of course creates a scarcity of quality resources and the subsequent high price of those resources.

2) ERP vendors force their customers to follow an Ideal Realised Strategy which says your implementation will be simple if you don’t customise your implementation.  However, by virtue of the fact the everybody customises their implementation this doesn’t seem like a feasible strategy in practice.

3) ERP implementation partners take control of both IT change and business change.  However, rather than take the approach that business change is about delivering benefits and increased productivity they appear to take the approach that ‘business change’ is all about making sweeping changes to work practices rather than making small changes to the product.  i.e. by owning business change they are using it to the vendor’s advantage not the client’s advantage.

Long-overdue rant complete.

David Heinemeier’s ‘Unlearn Your MBA’ talk at Stanford

This is nice.

My favourite section:

“There’s no management when we’re three people. There’s no management when we’re 15 people. We still don’t have any managers hired in 37signals. Every single one of us are producers.

I’m still a producer. I still write code. Jason still designs. We still do all the stuff and management is sort of the offshoot of, “Oh, yeah. Sometimes we have to deal with issues that they come up.”

Problem is when you have actual managers, whose sole job it is just to manage, they make up [stuff] to manage because you’ve got to fill an eight-hour day.

And in the beginning, there’s 40 minutes of management every three days. That’s what you need for management. You do not need eight hours of management, which is how you get policies and all this other bull that crops up when people don’t have anything to do.

Idle managers are absolutely the worst.”

(this is cut-and-paste from the transcript so I can’t remember what particular exploitive they are editing when they say [stuff])

Mobile video conferencing as a safe option

Given the on-again, off-again, on-again (but we wont say) link between cancer and mobile phones, I’m surprised I haven’t seen any mention of the significance of mobile video conferencing.

Surely, the different way you hold a mobile phone when you are video conferencing will reduce the incidence of brain cancer caused by mobile phones (assuming, as I do, there is a link).

Anyway, add it to your list of reasons to upgrade your iPhone to G4 as:

iPhone Video Conferencing All But Confirmed with Latest Leak [IPhone]: “

Another day, another video chat/video conferencing bit of debugging code to throw atop the heap that’s amassed around the coming ‘iPhone 4G.’ Today’s revelation: A menu screen from a ‘field test’ that purports to show video conferencing. More »

(Via Gizmodo.)


I have defined Matthew’s Law (with thanks to Arthur C. Clarke, of course):

Matthew’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technical advice is indistinguishable from autism”

Because I saw this…

Infrastructures: “The heartfelt tune it plays is CC licensed, and you can get it from my seed on whenever that project gets going.


We should probably all read “The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur” by Peter G. Klein

I owe some of my interest in organisations to a guy called Peter G. Klein.

Over 10 years ago, when I first decided that there was going to be a shift in the skills required to be an effective manager in an environment of cross-organisation coordination and open information, and when I was developing the initial ideas around ManageWithoutThem, it was in part driven from something Klein had written.

Specifically, I was skimming through an article call ‘0530 New Institutional Economics’ that Klein had written for some sort of encyclopaedia of economics. (It’s still available here)

The article opened my eyes to the possibility of a deep understanding of organisations and the fundamentals of why they exist. Something told me that this was the fundamental economics of the firm and that the ‘managed organisation’ (in the sense that piles and piles of management books that I was reading at the time assumed) was an anomaly.

I’ve since learnt some more of the political dynamic that keeps organised managed; but I still believe the ideas introduced in the original NIE article by Peter G. Klein are the fundamentals.

I even found myself, when often disagreeing with something a manager had said, saying ‘you don’t have a valid theory of the firm’ – until I realised how completely ridiculous I was starting to sound…. 🙂

Though I never actually finished reading the article. To be honest I went on a 10 year tangent. But with the release of Klein’s new collection of writings I’ve decided I’m going read every word. I’d also recommend managers do the same.

Links to purchase and download for free are available on the blog: Why Klein’s Book Is an Event to Celebrate

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