Wednesday Apr 01, 2009

Looking for Leaders in all the Wrong Places

Really good article about leadership from David Rothkopf in the Washington Post the other day -- Where Are the Leaders? My favorite quote is this one right here: "Everywhere you look, it seems that the men and women in positions of power are receding. The closer you look, the smaller they get. Once there were titans running the financial and business worlds, lions of the legislature, great statesmen astride the global stage, individuals who weren't just victims of history but who bent it to their wills. Or maybe it's just that people in the rearview mirror appear larger than they really were."

Yes, I do think the rearview mirror distorts our view, but I also think the current crop of leads out there is poor at best. And I disagree with the presupposition in the article (and in most of these articles) that leadership is only for leaders. That`s what keeps us always looking up to the special people for answers. Leadership is not just for leaders. Leadership is for all of us. And just because our so-called leaders turned out to be obviously so small, that doesn`t let all of us off the hook for our own laziness to take responsibility for our own lives. I mean after all, we believed those guys, right?  That part is our problem, not theirs. Don`t look up for leadership. Look in the mirror. Weave that notion into the article as you read it. I think it works.

Saturday Feb 28, 2009

Never Waste a Really Good Crisis

Huge article in the NY Times about the financial crisis. It's called The Big Fix, by David Leonhardt. Really nice bit of perspective and history and a great read. But what keeps jumping out at me is one quote that puts things into an interesting context:

"TWO WEEKS AFTER THE ELECTION, Rahm Emanuel, Obama`s chief of staff, appeared before an audience of business executives and laid out an idea that Lawrence H. Summers, Obama’s top economic adviser, later described to me as Rahm’s Doctrine. 'You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,' Emanuel said. `What I mean by that is that it's an opportunity to do things you could not do before.'"

That's absolutely true. Even a quick flip through history demonstrates this concept quite clearly and it cuts right across a variety of societies. The leaders of countries (the smart leaders, anyway) tend to use a serious crises to change policy significantly and usually in ways that, in retrospect, represent an obvious paradigm change. In other words, big changes that are only realized later. I'd feel better about it if the power elite suffered the same consequences of these paradigm shifts as the rest of us, but that's not how the world works. I get that. Also eerie about Emanuel's comment is just how much it reminds me of Naomi Klein's latest book, Shock: Disaster Capitalism, in which she documents leaders manipulating events, shocking their populations, and changing policies radically (and generally to the detriment of the people). This phenomenon is not new, and it's not used exclusively by leaders of so-called capitalistic societies. Noam Chomsky has talked about the concept for years, especially and most recently with respect to how governments around the world used 911 to clamp down and reduce freedoms if those tendencies were present in the first place. The crisis was their opportunity. And they didn't waste it. Now, in the quote above, Rahm is obviously talking about fixing things, but the process is the same as wrecking things: you do it using a crisis.

So, if the power dudes view a good crisis as an opportunity never to be wasted, why don't we feel the same way and do the same thing? It's certainly a different way of thinking, but it can be liberating if you look ahead and actively jump paradigms on your own terms instead of holding on to the past as it crumples under your feet because others are acting in their own interests. This is a good lesson for project management as well. The life cycle of any great project snakes around like a river running wild, so it pays to step back occasionally and plan for those times when things break badly. They are opportunities "to do things you could not do before." Take advantage of them.

And finally, here's Rahm's crisis video at the Wall Street Journal.

Monday Mar 31, 2008

Putting the History Back

I have a few slide decks I'm working currently. It's basically stuff I deliver myself from time to time or give to others as background to help them build their own OpenSolaris presentations. I have one deck that tells the OpenSolaris story (as I've lived it, basically) and one on how to contribute to OpenSolaris. And I'm in the early phases of creating one on community building techniques and also one on governance (since I'll be living that life for the next year). That's too many presentations to maintain. I think I'm going to fold the content of contributing and community building back into the main story deck, and I'm also going to put back much of the history I took out in recent drafts. Many people gave me advice to remove the history since it was too long and boring. But I find that some of the history of the project is not well understood or has been forgotten or is being misinterpreted, which is especially the case as we rapidly expand into new areas. This is natural as the project grows and more people become involved (which is great). But I think I have an interesting perspective on this issue since I've been around since the beginning. Doesn't mean I'm right in all cases, but it just means that I have some history to share that can be considered along with everyone else's experiences.

Many people think that we are abruptly changing the project. Well, in some ways, we are, sure, but if you take a high level view and longer term view we are not. We're just growing. And we are growing a lot faster now. A couple of years ago, many people complained that Sun was not involved enough and didn't publicize OpenSolaris enough, and I think that was true to a certain extent. But now others are complaining that Sun has made changes without involving the community enough, and that, too, is true to a certain degree as well. Still others (myself included) have complained that too many people have been complaining too much and not working and contributing enough! And around we all went. :) But all projects snake around like rivers from time to time as people try new things and learn (and make mistakes and learn again). In fact, when I look back on our early plans from four years ago, I see that we have largely achieved our initial goals -- we got some stuff spot on, we ended up doing other things differently, we achieved other things by doing very little other than opening the code (that was planned too), and we are still working on a bunch of stuff, and we missed some stuff as well. And, of course, some things are just late. I think I'll dig out some of those early slides and see if I can get specific in subsequent posts.

Anyway, this mix of events has led to confusion around where we are and where we are going. That's understandable. Our communication has been spotty at best from a macro project perspective. As a result, some people think we built a community for kernel developers only and that our site reflects that. Some think the community is primarily administrators at this point. Some think that the future will mostly be for users. And still others think we set out to build something only to end up with something else. Well, from my perspective, we had always planned to build a multi-level community that included a wide variety of people -- system administrators, hackers, individual developers, corporate developers, students, professors, writers, users, artists, kernel developers, application developers, driver developers, distribution and appliance builders, customers/partners, governments, etc. I think gamers were even on that original list, too. The list was too big, obviously. But although the intention to build a diverse community has always been there, we've had to deal with many natural constraints and dependencies along the way, so we couldn't necessarily engage all these levels of the community simultaneously. That's why different people see the community differently. It is different depending on when you view it and how you engage with it. And it will be different next year as well. This is normal.

However, our initial plans were clear with this one point -- the opening of Solaris (code, infrastructure, process, people) and the building of a global developer and user community would have to be a multi-phase, multi-year program. There was no other way given the circumstances, and that should not surprise anyone who has any awareness of the scale of this project. Heck, it took two years just to release most of the code, but during that time we've been out there building a rather diverse community right here on opensolaris.org (although certainly the entire community is not represented only on opensolaris.org and there is room for many sites around the world). And people have been contributing to the project in a variety of ways all along, which is very cool. Although I realize that contributing to OpenSolaris has not necessarily been easy, we still have to recognize that many contributions are coming in from many contributors. Also, new projects like Indiana will significantly increase the number and scope of contributions, which will increase the size of the community and that's very exciting. So, in my mind the OpenSolaris community already has much of the diversity we had hoped would develop. The seeds are clearly there, anyway. I'd say it's probably accurate to describe us as technical community right now, but I don't think we are only kernel developers (or any other individual segment), and I don't think we set out to build something only to find ourselves with something else. I think we set out to build something, and we are still building. It's that simple.

Now, none of this excuses our mistakes in implementing our communicating. We've made those mistakes (rather publicly, I might add) and hopefully we'll learn and get better. But history is important and interesting, so I hope to put some of this in perspective. That's why I'm going to put some of the history back in my main presentation. I'm not at all finished with this. Just starting. Great fun.

I keep a selection of my OpenSolaris presentations here.

Tuesday Aug 07, 2007

Berkun's Myths

Here's Scott Berkun talking about The Myths of Innovation at Google's campus in Silicon Valley recently. Really cool stories about innovators and their innovations and some of the things people have done throughout the ages to attempt to quantify innovation. I especially liked the opening history and also when Scott picked apart the word "innovation" itself. Seems innovation means many things to many people. I agree. There are certainly more practical ways to determine the success of an idea than just slapping the work "innovative" on it and sending it out the door. Just an aside: the word "community" is starting to feel like its falling into the innovation trap as well -- it's tossed around so often now that no one knows what it really means anymore. Anyway, Scott's talk is well worth the hour so do take a peek. I'll be getting this book for sure.
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