Archive for March, 2005

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Tricks of the mind

March 25, 2005

This blog is an interesting place for me to say what is on my mind without ever really saying what is on my mind. It is an illusion of sorts, a way for me to paint a picture that addresses things I think are important, but also excludes things others might think important.

Anyway, it has been a very tiring week. I left on Sunday for the east coast and got back Wednesday evening. Now it is Friday and I leave on Sunday morning for the east coast again. Back on Tue evening. That is the type of schedule that is very tiring. Since I end up spending almost as much time on an airplane as I do actually working at my destination, it feels like there is not a lot of down time at all. I need my “me” time.

Next week I am headed to Boston and Connecticut. I plan on having pizza in Connecticut if I can — some of the best pizza in the country there. Thanks to my buddy J for passing on the names of the top rated places.

I hope to take a little time off for myself the week after next (or the week following). My wife is traveling the week after next so I will be alone with our daughter in the evening. That is a lot of fun, but is also tiring.

Is this boring? It is boring me.

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Play with this to clear your mind

March 24, 2005

Modern Living, courtesy of Cool Hunting

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Chicago

March 22, 2005

So, can’t go into the details of the focus groups here, but will say that they once again proved the value of listening to customers in the right setting with the right set of questions driving the discussion. Being close to the customer is always relevant and always shows us something new.

Back in NY yesterday we did not go to Butter due to scheduling conflict. Instead we went to Gotham Bar & Grill
. It was good, not great. I had been there before many years ago, but didn’t remember anything more than the room itself. The service was very professional and understated. The food ranged from very good to good. I think the whole table was a bit disappointed in the desserts, however. The best part of dinner was the company of smart and energetic people that were all fired up after a day engaged with our target market.

Today I flew to Chicago and doing more focus groups. Then dinner tonight at TRU. I am full of anticipation for a great meal.

In New York I had stayed at the Hudson, and it was modern design at its best and worst. Someone commented about the “all white” look. The rooms are like that and that can be both calming and unnerving. Everyone knows the rooms are small, but what feels comforting and cocooning in bed feels cramped in the bathroom and shower. Tonight I am in the Westin — more traditional and a big room with a big bed.

Tomorrow I fly home. Yay for home.

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New York

March 21, 2005

This week I am in New York on Monday and Chicago on Tuesday. Meetings and running some focus groups. Lacking anything insightful to say, I simply point you to the interesting places I am staying and eating.

Hudson Hotel

Butter

Tru

And so it goes.

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Human Architecture

March 17, 2005

A large company is a very complex organism. Something may be changing, growing, improving, declining in one of the extremities right now, but it could be weeks or months or years before it is known to the central nervous system. It might never become known to the other extremities at all. Organizations are constantly in motion, constantly in change.

My own company is a very good example of this. With tens of thousands of people worldwide it is often impossible to know from here what is occurring over there. We are probably one of the most effective users of technology on the planet, but communication still takes time and effort. I can’t imagine what it must be like at a less technology savvy company. How do they know what is occurring tomorrow if they barely know what happened today?

To enable communication like this, and ultimately to enable the organization to prosper and grow, requires some thought about how it all fits together. That is, I believe, the essence of architecture.

We have been discussing this very issue a lot in my team — exactly what is architecture and what is its purpose? There are many ways to address these questions. My more technical co-workers are exceptionally capable of doing this job on a technical and implementation level. We all think about it at a strategic and enterprise level as well. I think, however, that I am one of the few people that dwells on the issue of the human in the whole architectural model.

Architectures of all types require a human element. From a building to an IT infrastructure, nothing works without the people that must dwell within. In the case of a building, the wrong architecture can make the occupants feel disoriented, oppressed, and depressed. The right architecture can lift the human spirits to new heights of contemplation (Rothko Chapel), wonderment (Seattle Public Library), or sheer awe (Fallingwater). A good building is an experience.

In technology architecture, however, we very rarely get to experience the beauty, wonder, or majesty. In fact, in technology architecture it is often a point of pride that a good architecture is invisible. A bad architecture is often the whipping boy for systems that don’t work as expected. A good architecture is a proprietary solution for the business that has competitive advantage. A bad architecture means the CIO or CTO is looking for either a new vendor or a new job.

Yet, people — the humans inside the system — are impacted by the architecture of technology every day. For each frustration when a query fails to execute, a report never appears, parts are not automatically ordered, email fails, security is breached, the architecture has caused pain. The results are tallied by the company on spreadsheets, but by the person in stress, illness, frustration, depression, and other unpleasant effects. Architecture can cause heart attacks, ruin relationships, and destroy lives.

A little dramatic effect above, I realize. But, think for a moment about the last time the architecture of the systems around you failed. Remember the tension in your neck or head or shoulders. Think about how annoyed you were by the time you got home and how damn good that beer tasted. The architecture touched you.

Go tell your architects to create systems that elevate the human spirit. Tell them to design for better conversations, better effort, more beautiful products, and more time for you to get to the kids soccer game. Suggest that in doing so they will also help the top and the bottom line of the company. (I am a capitalist as well as a humanist – -the two are not incompatible.)

I hate when humans are reduced to nothing more than mere “objects” in the architecture. Think about human action, human brain power, and human desire. These things make the technology real, not the clever distribution of web services or the effectively modeling of processes. Those things are tools. Humans are the engine of rationality behind it all.

I have written in the past about the magic of software. I fully believe in it. Magic, however, only exists when there is magician and audience.

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Balance

March 15, 2005

The lesson I learned today is that each of us has to juggle the person we are inside with the person we must appear to be in our work life. Each of us is balancing on our own beam and somehow touching the delicate balance beams of others. One little tip in the wrong direction and we all come crashing down.

Nothing particularly profound here, but it did remind me of how amazing the people around me really are. You see, I feel constantly out of balance. I feel like my own personal balance beam is crashing and smashing into others and upsetting all the precious equilibrium around me. Sometimes it is intentional, but often it is just a result of my own inability to find stability in daily life. Daily life is actually a little dull for me. Daily life needs to be out of balance in order for me to feel alive.

I don’t mean that there are not challenges in each day along with many satisfactions. I just need there to be something a little out of whack, something I can’t see in the corner of my eye, something on the very edge of perception that catches my attention. I just need my own balance beam to be constantly in motion.

I admire the people around me that seem so in balance and so capable of maintaining that balance day by day. I might work to tip them over, but I am always in awe of their stability.

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Elmo is thinking about blogs. You know, blogs.

March 11, 2005

Blogs are funny. In this instance I mean funny in the accepted “norms” in the blogging community about how to link to other blogs, what style of blogging to use, the dialog engendered by comments, etc. There is an underlying epistemology of blogs that is only now beginning to take shape, a way of thinking about what blogs are, what they contain, and how they communicate that shared understanding. Over time this will become part of the shared experience we all have of communication and social discourse. Today, however, it is still something new and exciting to many (most) people.

Given the fear of the new, the sometimes scary prospect of self-disclosure and retreat from anonymity, some people just don’t want to blog. Some choose to blog in an anonymous fashion. Some ask “what’s a blog?” To take the step forward, to engage, is not easy. I often encourage the people I know to cast away their inhibitions for a while and try it, but in doing so I also know that I am forcing them to ask the introspective questions of “why” and “who”. In essence, encouraging someone else to blog is the modern equivalent of encouraging them to go into Psychoanalysis. Like phrenology was before the advent of modern Psychology, blogging might be the precursor to another form of communication yet to emerge.

Then, who might be the William James of blogging? Who can approach the subject with that rare combination of ontological insight into the blog with pragmatic ratiocination of it use? Who can lay the foundation for modern thought about electronic communication? There are many soi-disant prophets of blogging, but I trust none of them. I truly wonder when the voice will emerge from the aether.

The natural tendency of people is to shield themselves from change. Change means that the fine balance we establish between the rational mind and the irrational is maintained and we have the illusion of control. Forcing people outside that illusion is a difficult task and one that creates a palpable state of tremulous anxiety in most. Blogs, as a mirror of technology and a mirror of the self (cf. Sartre’s “The Look”) are a philosophical demon, an electronic doppelganger, a digital boogeyman. Fear is an appropriate response.

Overcoming that fear is the challenge. Finding the voice, the stance, and the perspective to represent your own reality and use it to describe the reality around the self is the struggle. Conquering the fear is an evolutionary step tantamount to the first time we realize we are a unique individual in the world and not simply an abstraction of thought and dreams.

Go forth and blog, young human. Your ego may be frangible now, but it can withstand the shock and grow.

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