Living in a Bubble

Living abroad, I often hear people talk to me about Americans who don't know there is anything going on in the world except from within the American border. Baseball isn't really a 'World Series'. Football is soccer in Brazil (Brasil, Brasilia) and Rugby is considered to be a real man's hard-hitting sport when compared to American Football with all the padding, helmets and so forth. Field hockey, Cricket and Polo are considered international sports by anyone who talks to me. One person told me that he enjoys watching American television because we are masters at creating false realities and 'what-if' scenarios. I've had people mention their love of our innovative spirit, the fact that infrastructure simply works and the unique fact that 50 individual states are joined together to construct one country, as opposed to, 54 countries co-existing on one continent, yet unable to work together. There is a lot to admire, love, respect and learn from when thinking about the US. There are also important lessons to be learned when studying the US or any other particular country, region or continent.

The fact remains that at the end of the conversations with so many internationals, I'm continually challenged by others to see if, for all the other great aspects of America, I'm capable of seeing things from another perspective than purely the United States of America. One person even told me they believed most Americans had no chance of knowing about the world because we learn about everything through the Discovery channel, CNN and Fox News which are all conglomerate owned and orchestrated. "So", as I was told by an associate just days ago, "unless you guys leave your borders and go see the world for yourselves, all you really seem to know is what you're told by your government and by your media institutions." I've heard it before. There is truth in the statement. And when an American friend of mind rebutted with, "We have everything we need inside the borders, why go out?" the idea of a bubble was validated.

The larger issue for all of us, any of us, is that we have to choose to see outside the bubble in which we live. Personally and professionally, our ability to understand what we see, hear and experience on a daily basis is all mapped into the library that is our minds. A library full of personal experiences, experiences communicated via friends and families and even experiences we glean from television, music or movies. The size of our mind-library is moldable. We are able to continue putting things into the library, in which case the library expands. As we group experiences into like categories our perspective on what "Africa" is, or what "foreign policy" means, or even what it means to be an oil-based economy often makes more sense as we gain data. In fact, after we have more and more data (and we've assumedly verified the source of the data) we may even begin to realize that what we considered a 'truth' or 'reality' is a gradient or more different from our original definitions. What if more data helped us realize that we had it wrong?

"The size of our mind-library is moldable." Unfortunately, for as many people there are continuing to put more and more data into their mind-library to evolve constructs, theories, paradigms, definitions and world-views, there are also people out there that don't. Simply characterized, there are many people floating through the ecosphere we call Earth who don't have access to additional data, don't desire additional data, or believe that someone else is going to learn it, think through it, synthesize it and go fix or change it if necessary. Some people may not even know they need to challenge information provided by governments, corporations, religious and political leaders, trusted friends, media outlets and the like. Some may not know the bubble could be bigger. Some people may accept, swallow and digest whatever is fed them. Regardless the situation, each person tends to define their reality by what they choose to see and what they do not choose to see. This reality is their bubble.

The next time you're trying to figure out why the person you're having trouble working with is so inexplicably stupid, consider an additional theory. Perhaps it has something to do with the bubble. The next question may then be, is it their bubble or yours that requires expansion?

Writing, Craft and Journey

Freshly back from a course discussing how to build flourishing companies based upon the Theory of Constraints (TOC) by the Goldratt Institute itself, I wrote a new book discussing how to create a strategic and tactical operational structure for software and technology companies blending TOC, General Systems Thinking and Agile. The book material is being peer-reviewed by colleagues on three continents and I've noticed I'm receiving starkly different feedback from each setting. All of the received feedback is constructive. And particularly interesting to me is the fact that the feedback is very different. All of the feedback is valued and is not the point of conversation. However, the difference in feedback polarizes a conundrum for me. Am I writing to sell? Or am I writing to organize my thoughts and use the material professionally in my consulting work? Ideally, are they the same?

While I've been in my profession for just past sixteen years, I've really only been writing purposefully for a little over a decade doing articles here and there, blog-posts, research papers, one published book, one soon-to-be published book, have been working on a dissertation thesis proposal for about six months, as well as, a movie script for three years. Upon reviewing the different types of writing I've involved myself in through the years I realize I've written with different tact depending upon the purpose of the material. However, at no time have I purposefully structured something to sell. Why? I wonder.

Articles that I've written have always been on request of someone else, have a fixed thesis, word count, audience and well-defined purpose. I know why I'm writing, what I'm writing and am able to craft the material to accomplish the goal as specified to me. On matters in which I have experience, education and am inspired, I do not struggle for words or points and the material flows through my fingers quite quickly. By experience I've found that I do not enjoy writing about subjects in which I have no personal interest, whether educated and experienced or not and I'll politely decline the opportunity to submit a writing associatively. If I'm not inspired, I cannot produce something that even I am interested in reading.

Blog posts are usually instructive, often temporal soap-boxes stimulated by a current reading, situation or experience. Sometimes I may start a blog article and soak on it for days, weeks, months and in a couple of cases, years. However, in the end the blog articles I publish are usually about something of which I have a current, direct interest. And as I've said before, if I'm interested in it, I have no problem researching, thinking through or constructing an argument. In this case, however, I have no defined audience or word count even though there is a thesis and a series of points. I'm temporally passionate about the material and therefore able to construct it without much effort and publish it thereafter.

As for research papers, they are just that. Particularly for graduate work, we were ordinarily challenged to take a thesis, pick one side of the argument and construct or deconstruct the argument in a defensible manner. On subjects that were of no interest to me, I often struggled to pick an argument, perform the research and write a paper that even I was willing to read. Who would seriously want to read material on this matter? Of course, there are people interesting in the subject I would find, hence the significant research materials available to me. Nonetheless, when I was intrigued by the subject, research, analysis, construction, delivery and defense were no effort for me. I loved it. When I was not intrigued, I scraped and crawled through the experience because I ultimately needed the grade. I can read my own material now, years later, and tell you by the sentence structure which subjects I wrote out of passionate interest and which ones were to get a grade.

My first published book (2006) was constructed based upon a passion. That passion was built upon the idea that not enough American programmers, IMO, were globally competitive enough to prevent or mitigate their jobs being outsourced to India at the time. I came to believe that were a programmer more business-literate about all the people, purposes and results around him or her, he may not only still have the job, but be leading the outsourced, insourced or otherwise non-changed domestic team delivering products and services to customers. So, I titled the book, "Becoming Globally Competitive in Software" believing that my target audience was the American technologist who would lose his job unless his eyes opened wider to understand whole company value, not just code level value. I wrote the book in very casual, even loose, conversational manners with each chapter covering a subject in a company that all technologist should be aware of and know. Because I wrote it in a very casual, non-pomp and circumstance manner, I added the sub-title, "The Fundamentals for Regular People" to let people know that this book wasn't a boring academic book, but rather something in layman's terms that anyone could understand. Incidentally, I was later ripped by a college compsci department chair who said the book was too casual for academia. At the end of the chapter there existed a "Top 10" list of items you should know no matter what. If you were familiar with purpose, context and content on this list, then you'd be more cognizant of whole company value and not just believing compilable code is your gift to mankind.

Really the book, as I've soaked on the material now for years, is only written for Americans. In order for this material to be a globally accessible book, I need to remove all the purely American connotations and illustrations for the material to transcend culture and context. I didn't realize this fully until living outside the US for an extended period of time. I'm rewriting the material now with the intent of re-publishing, though I've noticed my passion for re-writing old material is not present. And to change the dimensions of the book I have to resubmit to the Library of Congress and get a new ISBN. All of this because I had a temporal passionate argument that now haunts me. A published book is so finite. Yet the material and people are ubiquitous. I learned much from this first book. I learned that there are different kinds of audiences and particularly that some in the audience are critics of a particularly bristly kind.

The second book, constructed in May 2011 and soon to be published, is built according to feedback I received on the first book and how I learned to research and write differently during my masters program using the American Psychological Association writing style. The material I am passionate about. The construct of the material is written in such a way that it is immediately applicable in most any organization as a pattern, though not just in the field of technology. I've received some interesting feedback, grammar and typos assumed. One type of feedback surrounds the material being too formal. The other, taking too long to get to the point. In fact, one well-seasoned PhD professional (not an academic) told me he was falling asleep and struggled to stay with the if he were reading university materials again or something from a government financial institution. Another peer told me to get to the point and stop explaining things in such detail. Another said he just wanted a bullet list and to move on. What I've noticed is that the well-seasoned tech-heads are asking for two things: a) get to the point now, and b) make it conversational. While they may already know some or most of this material, they may not have seen this material synthesized and presented in this manner. However, they are highly educated, experienced and knowledgeable enough to see it, eat it and use it immediately. In fact one of these guys could have been shown on a napkin at lunch and written the book himself. Detailed explanation to this group of people is a waste of their lives. They are swift enough to drive-by, see it once, use it this afternoon and evolve it in their sleep. I noticed these people are all either trained in or living and working in the UK or US and are in their late 30s, 40s and 50s as career, hands-on technologists.

The feedback I've received from some middle-European colleagues has pretty much said that, other than some stylistic considerations and needs for clarity here and there, it rocks right now and to get it published already. Same age group. Career hands-on technologists. And to throw it off a bit, some feedback I've received from some African colleagues suggests the detailed explanation of the material is necessary and that after reading the book they want to know more. In a couple of cases they suggested the material is new enough to them that they don't have the background to see it, eat it and use it and would need a consultant to come in or a second book with detailed implementation mechanisms.

All this feedback, so far, seems to suggest that unless I'm writing about humanitarian universals such as food, sex, exercise or hair loss, the demographic response for this material differs by age group, years of hands-on-experience, education and continent. This then suggests that to publish to Africa is a different behavior than publishing for the US and UK. And to publish to middle-Europe, the material seems to be somewhere around 'useful' as is. I am intrigued. Of course more data points would yield a better developed trend, but the journey itself is teaching me about writing in an unanticipated manner.

And as for the movie script. Well, I figured being from the career technology industry myself, having a master degree in diplomacy and the common themes of information security, cutting-edge technology, espionage and nation-state building, protection and deconstruction I could summon up some ridiculous creativity and write something that seems so far-fetched it had to be true. I started writing it while in the US and believe that the insight I've gained while living abroad will enrich the material's details. I know I'm not going to use APA, academia or other R&D rubbish I've learned through the years, but rather simply write as I write letting the material flow. Of course, as I've learned with all the other writing experiences, there is audience, critic and so forth. However, my passion lay in constructing the scenario themes, infrastructure and primary activities and experiences. However, I find that character development is hideously tedious. I like understanding a character. And I've thought through the characters multiple times, but the characters more often reveal themselves to me during the writing. I'm enjoying the thought games. Makes me laugh. Stumps me. Forces me into clouds of structured thought all alone while sitting in crowds of people. Makes me half-grin with what I believe is cleverness to later realize it was a stupid thought.

At the end of this writing about writing I've decided that I'm more interested in the intellectual journey of thinking and developing thought which can be applied than I am in constructing a book purely to sell a million copies. In fact, the movie script is really about me enjoying the thought journey. Whether it ever goes anywhere past my laptop we'll see. I've recognized that I like to write in order to think. Writing organizes some of my thinking. After I've thought through it I'm better equipped to do it. However, I've also noticed that after I think through it and document it, I'm not interested in revisiting it (rewriting the material). Forward progression is what I constantly seek. Loitering on an old subject is uninteresting to me. So writing is about thinking. This article is about the journey of writing. Many seem to define success by the number of copies sold, which is monetary and I suppose perceived as an end-state by some. I've decided that I'm more interested in the thought journey than the money. Bummer for my wife I suppose.

A parallel interest to me is that laying down code into a file which constructs a user-interface or lower level behavior requires similar creativity and stylistic discipline. Not just creativity, which is stylistic and subjective. Not just discipline, which can be unimaginative and structurally correct while usefully miserable. Both. Laying down code requires both creativity AND discipline. Disciplined subjectivity built on passion, interest, education, experience, structure and intended audience or purpose.

If I consider 'writing' a craft and the journey itself as my educator, it suggests I am constantly seeking knowledge and experience fostering evolution. If there were ten extremely creative, experienced screenplay writing craftsmen in a room responsible for constructing a new super-screenplay, harnessing all of that creativity and energy into a focused direction would require its own experienced, educated and salted leader who loves the craft and the journey as well. With like-minded journeys and experiences, coupled with creativity, focus and discipline, we would have a higher probability of yielding a positive result enjoyed by others as a wonderful by-product. Money may or may not be a by-product of this journey, but could realistically be so. 'Tis interesting to me then that discipline and creativity imbalances within the team would impede output. And a wrong leader (money-chaser) in that role would most likely destroy the team's (craftsmen) ability to produce.

It seems reasonable to then suggest that pursuing money generates a different professional and product than simply enjoying the journey of evolving the craft itself. Sure, the conundrum. So when we look at team construction, leadership style, method and delivery of any product or service, I suppose we really shouldn't be surprised by the differences we see in results or result quality. Some people pursue their craft which yields money as a by-product. They seem to be the few. Others appear to pursue money assuming they can generate a craftsman-like deliverable as a by-product.

Craftsmen are more likely to accidentally generate money than money-chasers are to accidentally generate a good product. Is the conundrum really 'journey' OR 'money'?

I'm tired of thinking through this. I may just take up painting. Of course then we'll have to argue over that too. Is code, art? Sheesh.