Diversity, Vital but Difficult

Increasing diversity at work is extremely difficult. There are all sorts of unconscious biases in the work place, including the words we use to describe jobs. Language that appeals to mostly guys could be a serious turn off to females. Calling people “Hackers” like in the Fast Company linked above, not only turns off females, it turns of men too. It has a connotation of a specific type of work ethos that doesn’t necessarily mesh with the type of environment a lot of people want to work in. While it’s awesome for fresh out of college graduates, for many experienced employees it sends the wrong message.

Diversity is a worthy goal, but it also needs to be tied to performance improvements in the organization. Not because you want to make a decision to turn it off or not, but because you need to know how successful it is and how it’s impacting the organization. If you’re hiring more women, how do you think that’s going to impact your company? Is it going to increase the number of releases, the number of novel features, make the product more appealing to women in general? The answers to these questions are incredibly important because the results should shape where your organization is going over time. Diversity isn’t going to just impact the team, it’s going to move the company. As a leader you should expect a similar result from the African-American and Latino communities as well.

Sociology research has indicated that diversity in backgrounds, even something like living abroad or knowing another language, dramatically increases the number of good ideas that come out of a group. Developing a clear plan with metrics will help leaders, that may not have bought into the plan, to understand the true value.

Unfortunately, this means that there is a group of workers that are going to either actually be negatively impacted or will feel like they are being unfairly called out. Scott Adams of Dilbert wrote about this just a few days ago as it has actually impacted his career. He had to leave two careers over diversity pushes, but he knew as a white male engineer that he’d be able to find work in other industries because he was a white male engineer. Other groups do not have that luxury. The Scott Adams of this world aren’t the problem, it is the people that feel that this is the wrong thing to do are being attacked by these initiatives. This is something that needs to be addressed immediately as it can seriously poison the culture of the company. It will make the diversity hires feel like they were only hired because they were a diversity candidates not because they bring something to the table. My wife has told me she has directly been told that before, which is unfair to her because she’s an amazingly brilliant woman.

There are a few ways to deal with recalcitrant people. One is the help them leave through a comfortable severance package. Obviously this would need to be handled carefully to avoid any potential lawsuits. Secondly, it needs to be clear that there is a place in the organization for white males in some fashion. Help them help with the diversification of the organization. For the highly experienced have them mentor some of the candidates so they can support those new employee’s career growth, they know the organization best and know where it needs help the most. Enable talent to move to the best places for them in the organization through mentoring. Provide mentoring to this cohort of employee by both minorities and others that have already bought into increasing diversity.

Increasing diversity is difficult because it’s painful. It means a great deal of change for everyone involved. The incumbent employees will have to adapt to a new work culture, while the diversity candidates might feel aggression towards them. It’s important for leaders to create the right type of environment where everyone can succeed and grow.

Businesses and Silver Bullets

I’ve been teaching Lean Process Improvement or Six Sigma for about 6 years now. I’m getting into learning Agile in a pretty deep way through reading a ton of books, seeing it in action, and working with Agile teams. I’m currently learning Business Architecture/Enterprise Architecture as well. All of these methodologies are similar but different in some dramatic ways. Lean itself isn’t a project management solution, it has some features of it, but the goal is to take action put something in place and measure the results. Inherently, you’re supposed to be done as soon as possible. Six Sigma has some pretty strong Project management capabilities built into it, but it’s not to be used to install software or some other type of function, it’s design to solve a complex problem, prevent it from happening again and moving on. Agile is totally about managing projects while with as little overhead as possible, while maximizing visibility. This is done through frequent light weight touches and less frequent demos. Finally business architecture is about defining the structure of the business then identifying root causes. I’m the least impressed with Business Architecture at this point because it seems to have the objective of keeping the people at the top in charge while minimizing the amount of empowerment throughout the organization. That’s just my first brush with it though and I could be wrong. The other methodologies are all about empowering the team and the people doing the work so they can be as effective as possible. With Lean and Six Sigma the goal is to eliminate your own job if you’re an instructor or internal consultant, it doesn’t seem the be the case with Business Architecture.

Regardless, all of these methodologies indicate that our businesses are extremely sick. It’s becoming pretty clear to me that the vast majority of current state business practices are flawed and leading to under performing businesses. Lean Six Sigma, makes it clear that there are out dated and poor performing processes. Agile makes it clear that traditional software development doesn’t work and is much too expensive. Business Architecture indicates that no one knows what people are doing, why they are doing it, or where other parts of the organization are doing the same type of work.

In many cases some of the problems looking to be solved by Business Architecture are eliminated in a true Lean organization, but not always. I believe that is why Lean Startup methodology is becoming so popular in both new and old businesses. It’s a novel way to force change in an existing company, while in a Startup it helps keep the company healthy much longer. Furthermore, it forces the company to build effective organization structures early and continually test them.

With the majority of businesses being unhealthy due to out dated processes or aging systems, it’s no wonder why organizations are always looking for a silver bullet. They need a quick fix because nothing is working correctly. The goal to continually drive more and more profits prevents leaders from taking a hard look at what they are doing. Forcing investment in doing the right thing the first time or to do the right thing for the organization even if it takes more time and potentially money.

With my current process improvement classes and engagements I’m seeing a continually struggle between the way you should do Lean, focus on changing what you can, and the reality that most of the work is being done through systems. Even if I wanted to improve processes around the system there’s a limit to what I can do, because I cannot effect change on the underlying system. Changing those systems either IT or organizational can be impossible to do without a strong organizational will and clear strategy. Without either of those, any improvement or agile effort is doomed to fail.

More than two sides, the complexity of a story

In a lot of my writing, I typically focus on one aspect of the story. For example, with my writing about Ferguson I really focused on the wrong that I believed the police were doing. I didn’t really touch on the violence that the protesters were doing to the community (contained to the first few days) or the violence they were committing on the police. I didn’t ignore it personally, or as I was thinking about the articles, I just didn’t want to discuss it because it didn’t fit with the story I was trying to outline. That’s perfectly fine. You can’t fit everything into any given story. However, that doesn’t mean that omission was support of the actions of the protesters. I abhor their behavior and I think that it really negatively impacted their message. 

The past few days, we’ve had some pretty serious leaks. Over 100 celebrities have had their nude images leaked. The suspected culprit is iCloud. The iPhone, like most Android phones have the option to automatically backup your photos to a storage unit online. Apparently, there was a vulnerability in an application called Find My Phone, which allowed a person to try as many times as they wanted to access an account. What this meant was that brute force methods for cracking a login for an account would work eventually. It might have taken days or longer for whatever algorithm was used to crack the logins, but eventually it would have worked. There’s no way for it not. Essentially, the approach would run through as many permutations as possible for the login. furthermore, it could have actually been run concurrently on multiple different systems to test in parallel. It’s pretty horrible that someone was able to sneak into iCloud and steal these pictures, however, it’s also incumbent on the users of these systems and the owners of the systems to ensure that these simple lapses don’t happen. 

The users of these services bare a responsibility for understanding what is happening to their data once it leaves their phones. This is a requirement for any user, not just the famous. The famous likely should have someone help them with their security features, as it’s unlikely that many of them have the desire or knowledge to do it on their own. Not that this is any different for much of the rest of the population. They are as vulnerable as the famous, but aren’t a target simply by being uninteresting. 

In both cases, it’s fully acceptable to be upset by both sides of the story. It’s not impossible to say that police violence and militarization is bad and that the criminal element of the Ferguson protests is bad too. It’s also fine to say that you shouldn’t hack and that the people that develop the systems and use the systems are accountable as well. In most of our stories, there are complexities that are withheld or ignored because there is an angle the writer is going for, the story would take too long, or the writer has a low opinion of the readers. In my case, I was going for a specific angle with the Ferguson stories, because I assumed that it was obvious to the reader that the violence committed by the protesters was both known and understood to be a terrible wrong. Not mentioning it did make the police seem less rational than they were behaving though.

In the case of the leaks, most of the attention has been put on the leaker and the people enjoying the leaks, however, it’s important that we keep in mind that there’s a responsibility of the companies to keep that data safe. 

Driverless cars aren’t without ethical quandaries

While driving home the other day I was thinking about the new Google Driverless car stuff that I’ve seen. It’s an interesting looking vehicle, see it below. Apparently, one of the reasons why Google went fully autonomous was that people would be first hyper vigilant, then so lazy that they completely trusted the car in any and every situation.

Google’s fully automated driverless car

I believe it’s likely that the first round of driverless cars won’t be fully automated. Data will eventually show that the fully automated cars are perfectly safe, but we’re a paranoid lot when it comes to new technology. I also think that there are definitely risks with a fully autonomous car in regard to hacking and spoofing the system. I have a feeling that will become a game with hackers to try to trick the car into thinking that a direction is safe when it is actually not. To continually combat these risks Google will have to make it very easy to update the software, possibly while driving, as well as the hardware. I believe this is one of the many reasons why Google just announced their 180 internet satellites that they will be launching soon.

However, I think that the best of intentions will likely lead to some serious issues for Google and law makers in the next few years. For some of them an author at the Guardian wrote a few of them. That being said, I think that the first cars will not be fully automatic until enough data comes into show they are safe going highway speeds consistently. I think that this will lead to issues for Google.

One of the things that is missed in the Guardian article above is that if you’re an Android user, those very things could happen already. Your phone already tracks not just GPS but also nearby cell towers, so you could very easily subpoena either Google or your cell provider for records of your whereabouts. However, the interesting thing that Google talks about in regard to safety, is that drunk driving will be a think of the past.

As I mentioned before I think that there will be a manual mode and I think there will have to be one for a while because of definite hacker threats. You’d need to override. I also think that this would require a mechanical switch that literally overrides the system. The system would still run, but would not be able to override the human driver. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I don’t think that anyone can create a truly secure vehicle like this and if one is compromised then all of them would be under the exact same risk.

Now, let’s say a guy goes out drinking. Google knows where he is. Google knows that he took pictures of his shots Instagraming “#drinktilyoublackout!”. Google also knows that he texted a few friends through Hangouts fully integrated texting capability. Furthermore, he tweets to @Google “Getting Black out drunk no #DD #DriverlessFTW”. This guy then gets into the car, switches it to manual override for whatever reason gets in an accident, who is at fault here? Clearly the guy that’s driving right? Well, if he had a fully automated car with no other option he’d not hurt anyone. Google knows everything he’s doing. Google knows everywhere you go already because of how their devices work. The difference is now that they can control where you’re going and how you get there.

Is Google responsible for building a car with a manual override that could save people’s lives in other instances? Is the State responsible for mandating that Google put in that switch? Should Google have built in safety measures that make the user go through a series of actions or prove the driver is capable of overriding the car?

I think that we need to hash out all of these before these cars are allowed on the road. I also think it’s going to be vitally important that we understand what happens with that data from all our cars, who can access it, and if we really have any privacy in a fully automated car like that. Simply by participating in our culture with a cell phone we’ve already eroded our privacy a great deal in both the public and private realm. Driverless cars will further impact that and will likely end up being a highly political issue over the next several years. Taxis, Lyft, and Uber will be out of business – the Car2Go model will beat them out any day of the week if the cars are autonomous. Direct to customers, like Tesla is pretty obvious. Lots of changes are going to happen through these cars.

We can’t just let this happen to us, we need to make decisions about how we want to include driverless cars in our lives. They aren’t inevitable and definitely not in their current incarnation.

Bastille’s Bad Blood and Friendship

I really enjoy the song Bad Blood by Bastille. It’s not the most amazing song out there but for some reason it really strikes a cord with me. I think it has to do with the course about how tightly things in our past bind us together. It reminds me of some of the stuff that ended up happening when I was younger. Things that when you have a meet up of those people that you end up talking about. One of them is a time when a friend and I were standing outside of Sheetz early in College. We were bullshitting with the woman working and she was really tired of working complaining about work. Well, my friend has a bit of an anarchist bent (or at least did) and said, yea we should just blow it the fuck up. He and she finished their cigarettes and we drove off thinking nothing more of it. A few days later I get a phone call asking about the terroristic threats. Which obviously didn’t happen.

Aside from events like that it also reminds me of all the people that I’ve lost through stupid things. One kid we wrote off after he didn’t show up for a bachelor party or the afterwedding party at the Cabin – he was the best man. We were pretty upset about it. However, some times you lose friends because of other friend’s disagreements. I’m thinking about two of the best buddies I knew in highschool and up through their argument. I’m not even sure of the details because it happened while I was in Europe and no one really talked to me about it other than saying not to talk to either of them about it.

This sucks. Our lives are both too short and too long to leave things things festering. We only have one life and we need to make the best of it. So in the case where a fight ruptures a friendship like that and impacts all relationships with each other, that’s something that needs to be dealt with. It’s one of those things that could very likely lead to a great deal of regret as we get older. When we’re in our 50s or 60s do we want some squabble to have ruined a great friendship? I don’t know.

Song just makes me really think about how our lives are bound together through collective stupidity in youth and how those are the strongest bonds you have. How, bad blood can poison a group of friends, and how some times we really do just need time to heal.

Video Games, not just for Kids

So, today was one of those days where I had a few different topics that I wanted to write about. I had a request to write about video games. I’ve written one or two blogs about video games in the past. However, I think that there’s always more to be said about them.

I think it’s fair to say that video games are a bit of the red headed step child in the entertainment industry. They aren’t taken as seriously as movies and it’s not as culturally acceptable to geek out over video games as it is to geek out over movies (some movies) or television shows. However, I think that this is going to change and it’s not because of the video game designers and publishers.

I think that Twitch is going to drive to make video games more acceptable and shift video games location in culture. Through events like Intel’s championship series or DreamHack which is a collection of tournaments for games like DOTA 2, League of Legends, Star Craft, and many more, I believe that there is an opportunity for video games to reach an acceptance level akin to golf. For the most part these games are multiplayer and very team based. There are leagues, trading of players and everything else you would expect in a major league “sport.”

It’s not just these events, it’s the personalities that drive watching live streaming. As I’ve mentioned in the past I have a few friends that stream and there is a community that has sprung up around watching these guys play. It’s pretty awesome.

Through these streamers, I’ve been able to experience many more interesting games than I can actually play or even afford to play. This allows me to keep abreast of the video game landscape without having to really play (I play Civ V, Binding of Isaac, Super Meat Boy mostly). In the case where the streamers are playing single player games it’s similar to watching a movie with someone guiding the movie. It’s a lot of fun, especially since you’re able to have a conversation with the star and his fans all at the same time.

Furthermore, I think that video games have not been given enough credit for pushing the boundaries of technology. Game designers and players for PC together drive companies like Intel, AMD, and Nvidia to keep designing newer and more powerful products. Intel is able to make a massive profit on their platforms designed for gaming – they know it, they’ve changed their strategy a few times in regard to selling stand alone chips because of gamer’s demands. We should be praising the hardcore gamer because they are helping us continue to advance in one of the few bright spots in our economy.

Each video game community has it’s own quirks and idiosyncrasies, which can be seen in how new games are developed as well as in business practices for the developer. For example, Valve has several economists studying the naturally occurring economy around trading in games like TF2, I believe that through controlled economic settings like TF2 where there is no central control (Blizzard I’m looking at you!) unique economic conditions can emerge that will shape how the designers develop future releases in the game. This has been clearly shown in how Valve continually releases new hats (yes, hats).

Compared to Eve (a massive multiplayer online role playing space video game) TF2’s economic system is rudementary. In Eve you can buy, build, trade and develop true economic systems. Furthermore, it’s possible to see the effect of war and diplomatic missteps on the economy. Recently nearly $200k worth of money was wiped out because someone missed a monthly payment. It’s possible to see how various factions have recovered after a serious economic, material, and military shock hit the entire game.

Games are vital to our culture. We’ve always had both physical (sports) and mental (chess) games. I believe that video games are simply a new extension to both of those. Many games require you to think quickly and have quick moving fingers (Star Craft) while others are almost as passive as watching TV. Understanding the value of video games and the culture about them is important to understand how our culture can grow and develop in new ways.

Book Review: The People’s Platform: Taking back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

I just finished reading “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age” by Astra Taylor  I really found this book to be interesting. I believe it offered a very different critique on the digital age than Evegny Morozov’s “Click here to Save everything” where he focused on the arrogance of the algorithm and total solutionism of the movement, Taylor focused on the cultural cost of our digital economy. I think combined the philosophizing of Morozov with Taylor’s discussion of the value of culture and the economic forces behind these changes is an extremely powerful argument. Alone they are both excellent, but I think they offer balancing points that compliment each other well.

First of all, I don’t think everyone will like this book. I don’t think a lot of my readers will like large portions of the book. However, even the most libertarian will agree with some portions of it. I think that’s the power of this book. It’s not really fair to one side or the other, although is really obvious she has a bias – which she wears pretty proudly. Knowing this bias is there allows the reader to decide which portion is Occupy Wall street dreaming or which is really a problem (of course one can go too far either direction).

Taylor’s cultural argument is powerful because we are all part of that economy. We all consume cultural artifacts or perhaps, like myself, make them. The fact that these have been commoditzed to a cost of nothing while still valuable is something we deal with daily. The choice between pirating a movie, renting, streaming it on Netflix, or buying it all are choices we decide on a regular basis. I think that even the most hardcore pirate buys a lot of cultural goods.

Many of us, even if we don’t produce cultural goods, know someone that does. You might watch a video game streamer, you might have a friend or two that are in various bands, you might read my blog or another friend’s blog. All of these people want to use these artifacts to either live on or perhaps enhance their career in some fashion.

However, in the digital space most of the companies that share or distribute cultural activities are funded by ads. Twitch makes most of it money from ads, Google makes $50 billion/year on ads, Facebook makes the most money on an ad whenever a friend “Sponsors” that ad with or without our active agreement to “sponsor” the ad.

Taylor argues that we need to help develop a cultural public space that helps create value for other cultural goods that you may not actually consume (which is why I wrote this blog).

Many of the ideas in the book are anti-corporation, but not because they make money. Instead, it’s because they make money in ways that aren’t obviously ads and that control our cultural destiny. She is pro-net neutrality, she supports companies making profits from ads, but she argues for more transparency that an article is actually sponsored.

Her argument isn’t that we should tear down companies, but instead that we pull back some of the power that these companies have simply taken without any real conversation. We need to look at the ethics behind the algorithms they are using and understand their biases. We need to enable true conversations about these topics. Ad driven content leads to self-censorship and lower quality products.

Is this book perfect? Not by a long shot, but it really made me think about some topics and I think that we need to have more conversations about not just ads, but also about why companies behave the way they do. We need to find a better balance than we currently have.

I rate the book 5/5 for making me really think about topics