Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How To Get Rich

I've forgotten about owning my own company. I now aim to appeal to the small creatures who will carry me off to the land beyond the clouds....

Many thanks to David for pulling my iron out of the fire by sending me great material to keep everyone amused (to see it in full size, click on the picture, then zoom in if you're on Firefox, view image full size if you're on Exploder, and too bad so sad if you're on neither).

If you all are very good, David might agree to come on as a guest blogger if he has the time in the next few weeks. All my threads are being utilised at full capacity elsewhere (in a slow spiral of corporate rot) and I would hate to leave you faithful readers with no mindless drivel with which to pad out your most bored moments.

Yes, I do consider myself the packing peanuts of the blogging world. David, however, has much more important things to say about the social care system, vodka, and the North East of England. In that respect, he is much more like the bubble wrap of the blogosphere.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A New Low

Speaking of human dignity, I have lost all of mine. This is what happens when I try to check out my blog on Technorati:

I officially do not exist anymore. Maybe it's time to pack up and turn off the lights.

David Was Right

This morning, I read this article about migrant workers in California whilst scoffing sachertorte and Trader Joe's milk for breakfast.

By the time I reached the end, the crushing sense of unworthiness overwhelmed me. How was I lucky enough to be born into the upper-middle class, to professional parents who cared for nothing but the education of their children, when there are children who sleep 11 to a room while their parents scramble to earn $10,000 in a year?

Only 500 miles separate me from the family described in the story, and it is certain that although they are a particularly grim example of how migrant families live, similar situations are happening in much closer proximity.

I stared at the remains of my recently demolished slice of torte, on lovely wedding china, and looked at the cat. Forget about me, even the lazy live rug has an existence far more luxurious than many humans. Under my scrutiny, she scarpered under the nearest coffee table.

This was a reminder to me of a conversation (in person, would you believe) that we recently had with David, where he posited the question of what we would do with our gifts, genetically inherited or otherwise. Understanding that we have been blessed with innumerable advantages is one thing; putting that knowledge to good use is another.

David and Mrs. David have chosen to clone the advantages they've got by fostering children who simply haven't had the support or resources behind them to make or take the opportunities in the modern world.

As for the rest of us, perhaps being grateful is an excellent first step. There are still some in this nation of brats who still won't deign to step inside a WalMart, much less acknowledge the fact that our lives are a careful balance of fate, effort, and the sweat of others less fortunate than us.

So why, you ask, am I still here, harping on about the seeming trivialities of a cushy corporate life? Good question. A decent answer will take some time, but I reckon that the shame I feel at the broader issue of social inequality is the same shame I wish those who lie, cheat, and intimidate in a work setting would feel. Maybe I'm just trying to find the shreds of human diginity in a world where it doesn't seem to matter anymore.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


A million congratulations to Miss T, who mailed yesterday to say she has just landed a job as a primary school teacher in one of the top schools in the county!

With a newly-minted masters and one of the highest GPAs in her class, it was only a matter of time before she began indoctrinating the yoof of today... And with her wacky sense of humor and a keen intellect, she will hopefully mold a better future for all of us - whether or not they're stupid enough to join the big corporate world decades later...*

What an injection of hope! In her own words:
FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS! Even if it gets you into debt (I'm there, for the first time in my life) it is completely worth it to love what you do and be proud of your accomplishments. GO CATCH THE STARS, MY FRIENDS!!!
Problem is, I don't have a dream yet. For now, however, Miss T, your complete and utter glee makes life seem that much more fair.

*Please, Miss T, make them smart enough to earn big bucks but dumb enough to still agree to fund our social security cheques!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Don't Make This Stuff Up

Airy Fairy, overheard talking to Perky Pet Analyst (an Ivy League grad):

"We'll be working on this stuff at the same time as Iteration 0... You know, the one before Iteration 1."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Work Sucks... Or Not

This afternoon, I spied a license plate holder in the office parking lot which stated "Work Sucks... But I Need The Bucks." At first I sniggered. For all of about half a second.

My brain then kicked in and protested deeply at the fact that there are people populating the workplace who simply don't care about what they do. The software they write means nothing to them, except as something they crank out just to pay their cable bills.

Am I alone in the world thinking this is incredibly shocking? The people who construct mechanisms through which everyday commerce transacts only do what's good enough not to get their behinds fired. They will not strive for the best. Because you and I are simply not worth it.

No pride, no care, no effort, just "Me, Myself, and I." How rude. How disrespectful. How utterly disgusting.

Have they ever considered the following two options?:

1. Work sucks because they suck.
2. Work sucks but that doesn't mean their work has to suck.

Nope. They've just given up and become white collar burger flippers, taking orders through glazed, expressionless faces and thinking no one will notice if they use a bun that dropped on the floor.

You may believe, on the basis of the ranting that you witness here on DWMZ, that I am one of those people. I admit that the content here could, at first glance, be classified along the same lines as the garden variety "I Hate My Job" blithering found in fine corporate workplaces everywhere, but here's the difference:

I care very deeply about what I do. I want to be surrounded by people who care too. There is nothing more important to my working life than striving to create the finest possible output representing the greatest value to the end consumer. Nothing beats getting a job done right, whilst being part of a team that gets to laugh and build cool (and beautiful) stuff together every day.

My frustration lies in the fact that I can't find the love in IT these days. Nonetheless, just because I'm heartbroken at the state of affairs doesn't mean I'll ever stop trying to care. You'll never catch me spitting in my use cases.

Work doesn't suck... It's the people preventing good work getting done who suck! And they're the ones who think work sucks - because doing it properly is just too stinking hard.

Monday, August 21, 2006

How To Be An A-Lister

Begging your pardon for my lack of content recently. Like a hamster in a ball, I am happily isolated yet careening to an unforseen yet quite amusingly steep set of stairs, e.g. the next iteration.* Still, carpe diem**.

To continue the thread of being a non-entity, a very enlightened person pointed out this link on how to become an A-lister. It resonates quite a bit with my suggestion that perhaps the incestuous world of Web 2.0 might perhaps be, amongst other things***, a collective ego-fest. It's nice to know I'm not completely alone in this thought.

Either that or I'm just bitter that no one links to me yet. But hey, what did you expect from a raw veggie?

*Nope, no project plan still. You really didn't have to ask, did you?

**I will not disabuse Airy Fairy's of her belief that this means "Fish of the Day" in Latin restaurants.

***Like soapy containers of nothing that sting your eyes if they pop too close to your face.

Monday, August 14, 2006


These days, I've got no one but myself to keep me company. Substitute Bionic Seagull has gone on vacation, and I'm tied up with a special project. The special projects are just about as much fun as one can have without a match, an aerosol can, and a spider the size of a quarter. I trundle along, geeking out as much as I can in a pseudo-language, humming away in my personal Happy Bubble.

No meetings, no drama drag queens, no overhead... Pure bliss.

It's very much like how this blog floats in the ether, the ranking bobbing up and down. It lurks along the bottom, but the movement patterns trace out a story of life and death on the open seas; thousands of blogs disappear from day to day, but thousands more take their place. Waves of hope crest over the neglected and decaying.

I'm just pleased the number's actually higher this time around. But I know, just as at work, it's only a matter of time before I hit a brand new low - certainly, an achievement in and of itself. And as many of you know, I'm all about achievement.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Man Is OK If You Are The Man

Working For The Man: £1 of flesh.

Working With The Man: £10 to turn tricks.

Working For The Man Long Enough To Get Valuable Knowledge To Leave And Be The Man: Priceless.

For Everything Else, There's Social Security.

The recent publicity garnered by my Paw-In-Law's young company reminded me of the advice PIL imparted to me one day some years ago on the way to the airport. No, not the one about how to groom eyebrows by encouraging a bonfire with a can of petrol.*

Yes, the corporate world truly smells.

Yes, there's so much that one could do to make it better, more efficient, higher quality.

No, it really doesn't get much better.

No, you can't just run away. Yet.

There is a bright side, he said. If you stay really, really quiet, and filter out all the nuggets of industry knowledge from the company muck, when the time is right you can strike out on your own with like-minded souls and be a model of how things should work. And indeed he did, along with a couple of others close to us who have recently gone into phone booths and come out as entrepreneurs.

Of course, the road is paved with uncertainty and some struggle. But seeing PIL succeed in such a relatively short amount of time is heartening. One day, I may yet follow that fine advice. Until then, I would like to do my part in chipping away at the conspiracy of silence surrounding big company insanity.

As for the other advice, I'm still weighing it up. Never having to wield tweezers again is a distinctly tempting possibility.

*PIL's adventures in DIY have resulted in several masterpieces: new windows, massive extension, beautiful patio. They have also resulted in the occasional DITY (Do It To Yourself).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Our Fudge Runneth Over

Substitute Bionic Seagull comments to me today that things are awfully quiet on the project as of late. He's finding it spooky, especially after having been pestered for two weeks solid to spend all his time and more doing janitorial work on BSA byproducts. I explain to him that the lull is due to release and iteration "planning."*

"Don't you worry," I assure him, "Enjoy your free time while you can. It's only quiet now because management are busy boiling up some scalding chocolate sauce and lining up Ziploc bags."


I explain to him that it will take all of 5 minutes for management to pour too much super-heated fudge sauce into sandwich bags which are too tiny and not heatproof. After taking 10 minutes to figure out how yellow and blue make green, they will casually but forcefully fling the overladen bags to the team.

The bags will then promptly explode, leaving brown goo all over the equipment, staff, and innocent bystanding users. Mayhem and panic will break out.

As the minions struggle to clean their environment, just about near the point when everything looks respectable and the skin grafts start healing over, management will ask everyone why they failed to deliver beautiful chocolate sundaes, and why the whole place looks like...

SBS nods slowly with a thoughtful smile spreading across his face. Either he agrees with me or he's considering a Haagen-Dazs run.

*T minus 4. If a project plan gets talked about in a war room but no one hears about it, is there actually a project plan?

Thursday, August 03, 2006


T minus 10 to the start of a new project, and still no sight of a project plan. I am writing this under cover of darkness, with only a faintly smoldering wreck of a cubicle to illuminate my scribbling. The stench of charred flesh from the intense spontaneous blaming is almost too much to bear.

Many have gone insane from the uncertainty of it all. Will the new project plan rescue them, or will they be left behind on this God-forsaken old project, stalked by wild production support beepers in the night?

As I peer out from behind my special project shelter, I hear groans emanating from analysts with severe back wounds. Their eyes, glazed over with fear, stare into space; their hands, still clutching rudimentary and rather dull accusations, strike out at all who pass, even those who try to help them. Unfortunately, they are beyond help. Their use cases show no vital signs whatsoever.

Along the edges of the destruction, maniacal laughter of scavenging developers peppers the night air. After several fractured ambush attempts on the analyst encampment, they have managed to run off with disjointed fragments of business process modelling. They have used these broken pieces to construct twisted, leaky structures for shelter. Many of them, as a result of exposure to the toxic document dust cloud hovering over the area, have contracted terminal refactoring illness. The main symptom appears to be keyboard-shaped indentations in the forehead region.

I try to huddle deeper into my corner, but my hands only find more hard places and rocks behind me. Instinctively, I pull my keyboard and mouse closer to me. I am getting better at shooting CYA emails at zombie-like forms approaching my dark but dry patch. Fortunately, most of them take each other out before I am forced to fire warning shots across the ether.

Once or twice in the past few days, plan-shaped objects appeared on the horizon. Some poor souls who crawled out from beneath their documentation, believing salvation was at hand, were instead trampled in the stampede. They should have known. Real plans have a characteristic stable flight pattern which none of these decoys had.

Hope slowly fades. How could no-one have noticed that a project carrying so many passengers failed to reach its destination? We are lost, utterly lost. When will a real project plan arrive?

I shall continue to search the skies, but my will grows weaker by the day.

Please send help.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

That Sinking Feeling

Whenever I feel like perking myself up, I go to Technorati to see exactly how much credibility I don't have in the blogosphere:

Every time I do, my ranking is significantly lower than ever before. It's actually quite fun to track and happens to be a great way of documenting my headlong belly-flop into the depths of web obscurity.

As if it's not enough that my rank is in the multi-millions, Technorati's phrasing couldn't be any more insensitive:

"No blogs link here"

"Favorited by: 0 members"

Come on, where's the love? Surely it wouldn't be too difficult to put in logic which inserts the word "sorry" at the end of such raw proclamations.*

Don't get me wrong, though; I actually find this quite nice. Always preferred a small number of close comrades to a large number of acquaintances, me. In the Web 2.0 world of social networking, blogging, digging, and ranking, meaningful connections seem lost in a sea of hit hungry hippos.

No longer does one have to physically hang out with a person, much less be able to carry on a thoughtful conversation with them, to become their friend. All it takes is some reciprocal linking and Bob's your uncle! Or your Friendster.

The passable use of apostrophes and possessive nouns has also become a mere luxury and quality content often means whatever happens to be the weirdest, grossest, or most shocking utterance of the day. It's an acceleration of the dishonorable decline of journalism into the pursuit of "eyeballs" instead of truth.

In this maelstrom of transitory superficiality, I take comfort in the few regular visitors to my dusty museum of oddities. Whatever brings you here - familial obligation, a shared sense of disillusionment, a taste for morbidity, or just plain derangement - I thank you for reminding me of where to find humanity in the coldness of cyberspace. If there were millions more of you, I might just feel far lonelier.

*A peculiar habit I picked up in the UK is to pepper my conversations liberally with apology. "Sorry, I didn't get that..." or "Terribly sorry, but your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries." Whilst hardly a guaranteed indication of regret, it does serve as a mark of civility so lacking in society today, much like the bow before the duel (where someone's going to die and the other person's going to be sorry). I can now say with absolute confidence that I am a sorrier person today than I ever was.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pet (Print) Peeves

Ever since moving back to America, I have been utterly appalled by common Americans' unabashed willingness to flaunt everything about themselves on their car stickers. Where we live, the most prevalent things seem to be:
  1. People displaying mock-Hawaiian emblems - e.g. hibisci, turtles, sandals, etc. - in a futile attempt to demonstrate how "Hawaiian" they are when in fact they only go there on vacation for a week every two years, during which time they annoy the real Hawaiian natives by being thoroughly ignorant tourists.
  2. Though not necessarily stickers, flourescent spray paint proclaiming support for snotty preteens and their inconsequential sports teams. They just aren't complete without the requisite heinous spelling and grammar in 6" high lettering: "We love you Ryan! YOUR GRATE!"
  3. Stick-figure family "self portraits", including dogs. Confidence tricksters around the county rejoice, knowing the full names of all the members of low-IQ households around town.
  4. RIP memorials to dead people. Were these the people who were so in debt they couldn't afford a proper tombstone for their loved one? Are the ashes in the spare tire compartment?
I find this all much like living in a nudist colony of sorts. Loads of people have wrinkled, ugly, or coma-inducingly ordinary bits that they insist on wiggling at the world. I feel a palpable sense of embarrassment on their behalf.

For the most part, that's as far as it goes: a slight unease at having to focus on the dimply fat rolls of other people's lives. However, there is one sticker that pushes me into a cranky red oblivion:

I don't really know why it bothers me so much. Perhaps it's because the people who put these stickers on their cars purportedly have a deep commitment to the outdoors and outdoor activity that Big Bear Lake and Resort are famous for. If, indeed, they are so in touch with Mother Nature, how do they not know the simple difference between BEAR prints:

And DOG prints?

They might as well have a sticker on their window that says "Welcome to Stupidville!"

I also blame the creator of the sticker, whose standards were so lax that they could not even bother to a) check out the official Big Bear logo (seeing as how presumably they'd been there about a squillion times) or b) Google "bear print" before mass-producing emblems for public consumption.

I thought I was only surrounded by intellectual zombies at work. Now I realize that they're with me all the way there and all the way back too.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Hope It's Not Contagious

Just how much air could possibly fit inside Airy Fairy's head? Ponder this...

I had a really tough time deciding how to decorate my cube when I first got assigned one after months of sitting with UI Dev Lead and one other developer in a bullpen. Left to my own devices, I'd rather not fill my workspace with useless kitsch proclaiming how much better my personal life is than other people's personal lives. Proclamations, I feel, are best left to the insecure.

But nothing could take away the fact that part of the cube wall was glass, and when Clueless Himbo Backstabber came to visit my neighbor, I didn't care for the idea of him seeing code on my screen and making up stories about how I was trying to hack into the corporate systems.*

I found an old relic from my first days at university which fits the bill, dimensionally. It is a map of my university town, labeled at the top very clearly:


Actually, the latter line is much bigger - about 125 point. Even bats could tell what it says. If they could read.

So AF, our native 55 year old Lolita, drops by to chat with my neighbor. She mock-casually peeks over my way, and asks:

"Oh! Is that London?"

Uhhhh. I really didn't know what to say, except, "No.... It's Oxford..." I point to the big bat letters in an effort to help her understand.

"Oh, OK! It's just, it looked like London, with those streets!" She vaguely motions at the High Street and Queen Street.

It should look like Oxford, with that lettering, I desperately think to myself, in an attempt to understand what possible logic exists in this utterly soul-killing small talk. And every city has streets.

"Um," I just about manage to spit out.

"It looks like a very small place!" She breezily proclaims.

If you thought it was London 5 seconds ago, how in holy criminy can you now suggest that it's small? I will my phone to ring. Ring, dammit. Even a telemarketer would do.

"Er, Oxford's actually quite a big city," I stammer. Usually I'm halfway decent at playing to people's conversational gambits; Airy's given me what Americans would call "bupkus".

Eventually, bored of mingling with peons who don't compliment her brassy hair enough, she wanders off. I quickly scribble on my Potential Entrepreneurial Ideas List: "Sell AF's head to bouncy castle vendors."

*Stuff like this actually happens to me. Don't bother asking me about the time a deeply ignorant man who claimed to know enough technology to be a development team manager shopped me to corporate security because he thought it was suspicious that a business analyst was in the command line environment typing something that looked indented, like code. If he'd bothered to ask me or my manager, either of us would have explained that it was Perl, which I was using to write a small utility script for a user. But he thought I was just reading about gemstones I might find when I programmatically cracked the safe at the glowing core of the building. Yeah, after I regexed everyone to death.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Goodbye To The Bionic Seagull

Last year, after a vacation, I return to my desk to find a consultant unexpectedly sitting in the space next to me, grinning rather amiably.

It turns out Dough Boy couldn't cope with managing a team of five simple developers without having a meltdown every other day, so UI Dev Lead was brought in to spoon feed him pureed project plans. Despite my internal shock and bristling at the implications of his arrival, I find it difficult to contain my "Oooooooh, a stranger, from the OUTSIDE...." awe.

Over the better part of the next year, UIDL proves to be a man of the utmost integrity, incredible efficiency, wicked wit, and a staunch supporter. His impeccable project plans and frank leadership style - honed by constant assignments at Wall Street caliber firms - made the impossible happen: DB started to look passably competent.

Whenever we speak about the team, he employs a distinct talent for communicating his understanding of my frustration without actually indulging my cynicism.

Ever the diplomat, he tells me, "You have such vision. You could run this whole show. If only you would try a bit more tact."

I laugh. "That's never been my strong point. I tell it like it is, you know that."

"It's not worth winning every battle. It might be easier to win the war if you don't."

"Well, sir, if I win every battle, I will without doubt win the war," I flippantly counter.

UIDL smiles kindly and shakes his head. It is an expression he uses with me on a regular basis.

Before long, he tells me that he is moving on to another project in another state. I knew he was never going to be around forever - as is the nature of consultants - but on a project as permanently dysfunctional as this one, anytime was bound to be too soon.

There has been some delay in writing this final tribute to UIDL because it's taken me some time to get used to the landscape without him at the helm of the UI development group. Truly, he was a Bionic Seagull. He flew in, and instead of crapping all over the place, he actually cleaned up a bunch of turd before flying right out again.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Believe In Bolognese

Another item for the list of things I believe in: The Flying Spaghetti Monster. Never mind that His Holiness looks like tapeworms feasting on larger portions of intestinal matter. It just proves that The Creator manifests Himself organically in everyday life.
Perhaps if I pray hard enough, He might use His Noodly Appendage to smite the opponents of reason on my project.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Growing Up, Part 2

Even if I do eventually turn into some semblance of a grown-up one day, that won't stop me from collecting all of these Developer Action Figures.

Growing Up

I had a revelation today. Amidst tortuous hours arguing a point for a centralized design "service" for creating screens, and attempting to sort through and learn about other people's very different viewpoints, I finally got blog-angry. If other people won't listen to me, and I'm tasked with making sure this thing turns out right, how am I ever going to make it work? What's the point? I should just let them do whatever the bleep they want to do and get what they deserve.

And then, I stopped.

I realized that I was going about it totally the wrong way round. If I stopped thinking about these meetings as me against the world, the picture looked totally different. Instead of looking for differences and trying to purge them, I should look for the similarities and try to build more.

Win people over, not defeat them in debate.

If I make my mission to make friends, instead of killing enemies, then the world suddenly becomes a much more interesting place. Is this what growing up feels like?

Monday, July 17, 2006

DWMZ Soundtrack

Every struggling blog, I feel, needs a good soundtrack. Partly courtesy of the defanged and hobbled Napster, here are some of the tunes which, together, attempt to form a crude representation of the mood here on DWMZ. You may have to register*; if you are paranoid, like Marvin and me, browse the lyrics instead:
  1. Stuck In A Moment (U2) lyrics
  2. Under Pressure (Queen and David Bowie, or David Bowie and Queen) lyrics
  3. Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes) lyrics
  4. Wild West Show (Big & Rich) lyrics
  5. People Are People (Depeche Mode) lyrics
  6. Welcome To The Jungle (Guns 'n' Roses) lyrics
  7. You've Got To Serve Somebody (Marianne Faithfull/Bob Dylan) lyrics
  8. Plastic Man (The Kinks) lyrics
  9. Change (Lightning Seeds) lyrics
  10. Big Town (OMD) lyrics
  11. Opportunities (Pet Shop Boys) lyrics
  12. I'm Going Slightly Mad (Queen) lyrics
  13. Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Tears For Fears) lyrics
  14. I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor) lyrics
  15. The Show Must Go On (Queen) lyrics
  16. Boss Of Me (They Might Be Giants) lyrics
  17. One Horse Town (The Thrills) lyrics
And one which has nothing to do with anything at all, but which I consider to be a classic of the highest degree:

Doctor Worm (They Might Be Giants) lyrics

Also, if anyone out there knows of a reputable New Wave/New Romantic rehabilitation clinic, I would be much obliged for the details, and so would anyone who is unfortunate enough to be driven in my car.

*Through an un-cunning combination of clearing cookies before clicking on the Napster links, I have managed to bypass the registration process once or twice. Now we really know that Napster isn't run by hackers anymore.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Hand Inside The Puppet Head

Strange things have been happening.

It all started last week. Development Manager -- once perfectly willing to nail gun me to the whiteboard for being the subject of randomly fabricated gossip -- performs a classic micromanaging monologue, stops, pauses, and turns to me.

"What do you think? Are you comfortable with this approach?"

Even more shockingly, after I cautiously demur with an explanation, he says:

"Okay, that sounds fine. Scratch what I said."

I brace, waiting to be peppered with roundwire sash pins....Nothing. Days later, instead of the typical grumbling about not getting things wrapped up in less time than people normally need to brush their teeth properly, he says to the group of us working out last minute changes:

"Excellent progress!"

Honestly, someone needs to call the Men In Black. Some alien life form is using the apparently slimy, sleazy, scheming, rug-pulling, heartless maniac and pretending (with a little too much effort) to be human. There is no other explanation possible for why, after a year of masking project difficulties by shifting project plan dates to fit the circumstances, he would suddenly proclaim in the team lead meeting:

"I have received feedback that we're always painting a rosy picture of the project when it may not necessarily be the case. If something is behind, if issues are cropping up, then we need to reflect that in these plans and be honest about them to the users. I cannot emphasize this enough."

If it's not extraterrestrial body snatching, the cynic in me suggests that maybe someone's just been royally spanked.

Then again, I recently learned that more people I truly respect on the team would not be here if not for DM's direct intervention against prevailing opinions. If those aliens aren't careful, their repeat visits may just trigger a government investigation. I won't tell anyone, though, if you won't.

Dream A Little Dream

Over the last four days, I repeatedly experienced a dream I haven't had in a very long time.

The one where I'm wandering around a bustling financial city center again, shivering, in the middle of July. Driven and bright people surround me -- ones who value the intellectual satisfaction of their jobs instead of the tokens of affluence that a salary affords. We find friends who we can laugh with till we all hurt, over very lengthy dinners out.

We talk about code, silly brain teasers, and tell horrible jokes.

Work is full of purpose, walking in and out of offices shared with valued colleagues. Between energetic debates about one topic or another, we all settle into focused quiet, occasionally staring out large windows facing onto a city blending old and new, water and granite.

Every 20th car outside might be an SUV.

Today I woke up. As the dream faded into memory and the sadness settled slowly into my heart, I pondered: Are the too-bad-to-be-true accounts which I describe here endemic in corporate life everywhere, or is it disproportionately exacerbated by a famously superficial locale? Is it the system, or is it the people?

The Zone: A state of mind? A state of play? Or just a different place in the state?

Friday, July 07, 2006


The campaign against the voles has begun. My weapon of choice:
However, I am unworthy of wielding such a widow-maker. It's more likely to be a recipe for DIY amputation than anything else, and I haven't got free healthcare anymore.

Anyway, we're talking about the person who stood for nearly 20 minutes in front of the Yummy Rodent Death Pops, frozen by moral debate - thus proving that while I might fancy myself an assassin, my aspirations far exceed my jelly-wobbly nerve. So I've stuck to the tried and possibly-true castor oil repellent.

If what I read on the internet and the back of the packet is correct, as the pellets dissolve into the earth and coat the voles' food sources, causing them gastric upset. Death, no can do. Next best thing: dishing up the equivalent of a really heinous burrito left in the sun for at least a couple days.

The theory goes that once the stinkers figure out that they regain regularity outside the bounds of our garden, they'll stop frequenting our hot dog stand and tell their friends too.

So far, it seems to be working.

I couldn't help but think, though, that this is the exact same approach that companies deploy on decent folk who try to get stuff done in an efficient manner. Want to round a number to three decimal places instead of two? Write up an issue! Discuss it with a Change Management Board! If the change is allowed, get approval from the user. Forget about phoning them up and dealing with it in 30 seconds - you have to get carefully worded proof in written format approving the change.

Every piece of unnecessary process installed in a company equates to sprinkling a bag of them Gassy Gurgling Granules all over the turf. Employees who just want simple jobs to stay simple start getting grumbly bums, and edge towards the door.

Yeah, blame it on the audits. Blame it on the shareholders. Blame it on the blame game. Whatever it is, it's a crackdown on good, old-fashioned trust for employees, users, and management. Corporate systems fail to be oiled by the honest social currency of trust, and I'm desperately curious why. Is it because people in general have become inherently less trustworthy? Or is it because companies of a certain size must necessarily be so risk-averse that they are willing to sacrifice productivity and innovation?

Unfortunately, it seems that life mimics the garden yet again. Those voles who decide to move on from our yard will populate other yards, where they will very likely experience more dodgy cuisine. And so on and so on, until they die of exhaustion.

I hear Google has a very good cafeteria, though.*

*I wonder if they serve vole-au-vents?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

How To Digg One's Own Hole

As part of my gardening theme this week, I thought it most appropriate to explore Digg*. It's a relatively simple concept:
  1. Sign up.
  2. Submit web links.
  3. Check out other submissions and vote on them ("Digg It" or "Bury It").
  4. Follow the popularity of the links you, er, Dugg or submitted.
  5. Feel really important as your links get promoted.
  6. Cry as your links fall off the end of the rolling ticker, not having managed to set a throng of Web 2.0 denizens abuzz.
It's basically a beauty contest of regurgitated web content fluffed up by a community of will-never-bes (of which I proudly count myself as one), who sublimate their frustration at the mismatch between their achievements and their self-perceived authority by playing God with weblinks. The generic term for this, I believe, is a "mashup."

I prefer to think of it as a gigantic Web Hot Dog. A thousand parts of the pig - edible or not - blended into an unrecognizable pink paste, subjected to intense processing, and extruded into a friendly rounded shape for convenient consumption. Absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever, but surprisingly tasty and disturbingly addictive.

My own attempt at Digging, as you can tell from my paltry Dugg List, demonstrates patterns similar to voles in new territory, e.g. shallow holes scattered throughout cyberspace. It began with shameless self-promotion in the name of testing the waters. Sadly for me, only one other person Dugg my original vole post.

I then punted a New Scientist article which I honestly found intriguing. It had faultless spelling and NO apostrophe misuse to boot (something I only wish would catch fire in cyberspace). Obviously, only two other people and I value solid content and good grammar. Or, to gain more interest, should I say grammer?

In a quest to discover what people really like to see on the web, I placed my bet on a content-free but wildly entertaining link offering to tell me my typing speed. Clearly I was getting warmer.

Either lazy programming or a boundless sense of socialist optimism powers this site.

I resisted the urge to punish an informational pop-up dialog sporting a warning icon and the blatant lack of meritocracy. I figured that if this man managed to keep me on his website for an embarrassingly long period of time, typing chunks of the Gettysburg Address, I might as well spare a Digg for him.

My adventure came to a pause after I discovered a submission of a Slate writer's cautionary tale describing how he tried to experiment with Digg by promoting an article he wrote about Digg on Digg. Not only did I learn that my transgression of self-Digging could earn me a title of Hit Hog, but my head started spinning from the self-referential-ness of it all. People on Digg Digg themselves, Digg other Diggs, make friends with other Diggers (Digg my back and I'll Digg yours), Digg stories about Diggers writing about Digg. I had to sit down for a spell.

Is it democracy, or is it a collective ego-fest built on the shallow currency of clicks? I haven't really made up my mind yet, and until I do I may just keep lurking, making the odd crater here and there and becoming a hopelessly hooked Digg fiend. Mmmmm. Pass the mustard.

*It's yet another idea created by Time Travelling Dot Com Body Snatchers From 1999, whose foreheads are characteristically tattooed with big glassy pastel blue buttons labeled "Fund Me" in 12-point sans serif. Their hypnotic powers are such that people stop to stare and utter, "How are they making money?"

Monday, July 03, 2006


My heart bleeds for the chappie next door, who like many not-so-young men of the region seems perpetually trapped in an identity crisis of enormous proportion. Is he gangsta or is he white trash?
  1. His gleaming pickup truck, perched high on sparkling clean tractor tires, screams white trash.
  2. His lowered black Escalade with spinny hubcaps, proclaims gangsta.
  3. He and his weedy, pale homies sit on lawn chairs on his driveway, drinking Bud Light. With rap and reggae blasting out the garage.
  4. He owns a golf cart. With spinny hubcaps.
  5. He probably reads the CNN website via Gizoogle.
It's an open-and-shut case, it seems, of Drumstick (Cornetto) Syndrome: fake chocolate on the outside, Vanilla Ice on the inside.

After many years in the IT industry, I have sadly observed that it too is increasingly populated by those who suffer similar identity crises. Gone are the days of through-and-through geek-mania. Where are the ponytails? Where are the Birkenstocks with white sport socks? Where are the black t-shirts tucked into too-short trousers?

Now, there are so few left who truly embrace technology, whose first love was not another human but a small black console with magical powers, who aren't ashamed in the least.

Welcome the new breed, who became technologists for one of two reasons:
  1. Easy money; or
  2. Cool factor.
Slowly but surely, the cube farms fill with folks in matching clothes who have watched the Matrix ten too many times and honestly believe that the shallow gold-diggers sitting on their laps value them for their looks. Never mind that their code or analysis reads with the literary quality of "See Dick and Jane Run." Don't you know there's a skills shortage going on?

All puff and no stuff, as my Finnish chum puts it. I can't help but feel incredibly sad.

Occasionally, however, I read stories of nerd clusters roaming free and happy in other parts of the country. I am glad for them, and my myopic eyes mist over at the thought of once again being surrounded by so many people true to themselves, embodiments of the Granola Factor - crunchy on the outside, and crunchy on the inside.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Bad Teams and Pest Control

As if it's not enough dealing with the insanity of a dysfunctional team for 8+ hours in a day, I now return home to a once thriving garden with select plants that have been buzzed to near ground level. Not to mention the wiggly tracks of dead grass in the lawn, emanating from the borders.

A thorough internet investigation reveals that the cause is rodent infestation -- microtus californicus, or voles, to be exact.

As I read more about how to stop these vegetation marauders, it strikes me how many parallels there are between the situation at work and the one in my borders.

They may look harmless, but they can do a world of damage in a very short amount of time.

One might guess that anything with the capacity to raze a plant with 20 2' long leaves to the ground in the space of one evening would be at least the size of a small breadbox. The sheer volume of organic matter should not by all accounts fit into a handful of furry black golfballs, especially ones that hardly make themselves seen.

Turns out, voles are burrowing animals which consume some obscene amount of thriving vegetation many times their own body mass daily, leaving behind piles of excretion in their surrounding environment. They love to make homes in areas of dense shrubbery, where they can hide from anything that can kill them.

And so it is with bad teams. Managers who hide in their offices and window cubicles (much like Dough Boy), covered by dense heaps of project plans and meetings, never surface often enough to be identified as pests. However, behind the scenes, their lack of intellect and slash-and-burn finesse turns happy and productive teams into a grumbling mass of discontentment in record time.

It's not just managers either; with peons, like Darth Hut or Soulless Himbo Backstabber, negative attitudes reproduce quickly and spread under bad visibility (accountability) conditions. The damage is especially potent when they are given direct input into hiring and mentoring.

They are related to lemmings.

As we all know, based on the wisdom handed down by video games, lemmings form large brainless herds which can be easily led -- in the absence of benevolent intervention -- off steep cliffs, down deep holes, or into walls.

'Nuff said.

Killing them is probably not an option.

I haven't the heart to buy or make poisons yet. For either the voles or the humans.

If you put them somewhere else, they will probably just come back.

Gardening forum participants report that catch and release ("Gopher Chauffeur") never really works unless the release occurs at least 10 miles from the catch location, preferably across a wide body of water or a multi-lane highway. One ingenious man painted the backs of the pests before setting them free, and was hardly surprised to find that weeks later, the matte-finish wonders had returned to his yard.

The catch and release is a common gutless upper-management technique whereby underperforming middle managers or other employees get re-deployed to other posts ("Loafer Chauffeur") -- either to isolate bad behavior and/or to accelerate resignation. But they're never put far enough away, and these folks manage by sheer dumb luck to achieve greater visibility or influence than ever before. Unfortunately, very few happen to drown or get run over on the return journey.

The sad reality is that NIMBY can be quickly followed by BIMBY: Back In My Back Yard.

Persuasive tactics have a mixed track record.

From chili powder to used cat litter to castor oil, various methods attempt to either put the voles on the run or give them the runs. Evidence suggests a mixed track record, and the application of such methods requires regular diligence.

Similarly, corporate deterrence employs increasing levels of discomfort: offsites, morale-boosting events, warnings, management workshops, etc. Occasionally, I've seen these things neutralize a certain level of unprofessional behavior. But without regular application, managers and other free-sadicals continue to work their aggro on suffering teams.

This shock therapy/convince-them-it-was-their-idea approach assumes a basic level of reasoning ability on the part of either the voles or the deadwood. As far as I can tell, these were the ones who, when God was handing out single-serve pasta salad bowls, didn't get sporks.

Natural predators work best.

Nothing works better at ridding an area of plague-ridden growth killers than something sharp, fast, and dangerous on the prowl for most of the day.

Introduce a top manager to a flagging project and within weeks they'll be lining up half-dead bodies and vital organs at the doorstep. In a good way.

Prevention is always the best cure.

If we'd known that voles were a major threat to gardens in this area, we would have taken every measure to keep them at bay from the start. There'll be no next time for these mini-Tribbles.

It's somewhat more impractical, however, for corporates to prevent infestation. It's not as if bad managers, programmers, or analysts cannot fit through 1/4" wire mesh.

I can't help but feel that one of the answers has to do with size. Larger gardens bring larger numbers of creatures, and more luscious plants invite hordes of plant-eaters. In smaller gardens and smaller companies, it's exponentially easier to build secure walls and perform regular maintenance to keep the groobies* out.

*My in-laws have unexpectedly expanded my vocabulary to include words like groobie (any of several small scurrying things that causes one to jump and, occasionally, to scream) and chod (a generalized term for anything that has to be scraped off a welly or which is generally transported in piles via wheelbarrow).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


On Sunday, a friend from earlier adventures at Frying Pan, Inc. phones to catch up.

Apparently, Hairzilla is at large again. Imagine, if you will, Howard Stern...
...mincing determinedly across the carpet tiles in kitten heels and pearls.

She's livid. She's not going to sign off your change request analysis, and she's going to tell you precisely why. Not ONLY did you DARE to use Tahoma 12 Point instead of Tahoma 11 Point, she'd also like you to replace all occurrences of the word "advisor" with "adviser." And while you're at it, why are you using hyperlinks to make things easier for others to read, when she only ever prints out the documents on paper? Moron.

The next day, she's back, flustered, twitching, and stuttering. This time, she demands to know why you put in a data mapping and business rules into the requirements.

Why yes, you say, you are a business analyst. Employed to translate business needs into a description for technical implementation. If the system should not display rows with zero amounts, perhaps, you say, you should let the offshore developers know this.

Hairzilla shakes her frizz sadly and wonders how you manage to survive with such a deteriorated mental capacity. This is not your remit. You are NOT to be writing documents telling offshore which pieces of data go where on the screens. You are NOT to be revealing to offshore the origins or meanings of the information to be presented.

Instead of taking it like a good analyst should, you ask: How, then, will the developers get it right?

She spins on her Pradas and calmly explains: You do little draw-y thingys of screens. Offshore will produce them in any order they like, with any behavior they happen to like at the time, and put them into production whenever they like. If the users happen to notice things they weren't expecting, they can write bug reports. Then offshore will be told to fix it.

If the users cancel their subscriptions because of it, even better! Fewer bug reports!

As she stomps off, wafting Britney Body Spray in her wake, your thoughts turn, slowly, to a Monster of a different kind.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Did I Ever Tell You How Funny You Are?

I came home this evening and did the gardening equivalent of kicking a hole in the wall: I deadheaded my five magnificent daisy shrubs down to about 5 twigs each. I'd post a picture, but I'm far too ashamed.

Why did I do it? It suddenly dawned on me, on the way home, that I'm attempting to do the work of three people and getting the sum total of zero recognition or help for it. And if I want to fix the situation, I have to turn into an arrogant piece of turd and announce to the world my wonderful achievements. I live next to an arrogant piece of turd. I don't want to turn into one.

The other possibility is, I am not doing the work of three people, and I am just horribly misguided as to my capabilities - e.g. I'm completely and utterly fruit loops. Again, not an inspiring thought.

I am taking the advice of my dearest next of kin. I will not continue to post about the demon that compelled me to do a #1 buzz on my beloved plants.

Instead, I will post something that, In Spite Of It All, still made me laugh at the end of a very horrible day. It's David's reply to my math problem, which he could not post as a comment due to the jpeg content. Marvel at his pimpin' Photoshop skills:

A complex problem indeed…

Taking the original equation:
If you move the parentheses up and stick them on the end of the line thing then it looks a bit like a boat (please note use of plus sign as an outboard motor).

As idiots constantly attain positions for which they are utterly unsuitable, they are no doubt put in charge of the motor.

However, as idiots are the densest objects on display, their position at the back of the boat causes massive instability and, in accordance with laws of mechanics and naval architecture, the boat tips.

This ends in inevitable tragedy. The presence of idiots causes all compensation, talented people, retention and productivity to be sacrificed. The project sinks without a trace, all souls lost.

NOTE: Idiots somehow manage to survive in a small air pocket at the bottom of the ocean, from where they are later rescued after many adventures. I saw a (recently remade) documentary on it once.

So the answer is: something to do with jumping ship, or maybe rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Some More Really Bad Math*

Given the following assumptions:
  1. As average total compensation a increases linearly, the number of talented people y increases proportionally (The You Get What You Pay For Theorem);
  2. As the number of idiots i increases, the rate of hiring more idiots p increases exponentially (The Law of Critically Stupid Mass);
  3. As average total compensation a increases linearly, the rate of retention u increases exponentially and tends to infinity (The Fur Lined Rut Axiom);
  4. Productivity q is directly proportional to the number of talented people y and inversely proportional to the number of idiots i (The Law of No Free Lunch).
Find the value of i which maximizes the following equation, an expression of corporate value:
You must show all your work. No credit will be given for incomplete answers.

*A mathematician of medium stature has gladly endorsed this problem as "Terrible."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

My Cubicle

Well, thousands of blogs around the world have probably posted it, but I feel a moral obligation to introduce this song, a parody of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful", to anyone who may not have heard it before:

My Cubicle (click the link to play)

My job is stupid,
My day’s a bore,
Inside this office,
From 8 to 4.

Nothing ever happens,
My life is pretty bland,
Pretending that I am working,
Pray I don’t get canned.

My cubicle, my cubicle,
It’s 1 of 62,
It’s my small space,
In a crowded place,
Just a six by six board booth,
And I hate it, that’s the truth.

When I give a sigh,
As the boss walks by,
No one ever talks to me,
Or looks me in the eye,
And I really should work,
But instead I just sit here,
And surf the internet.

And my cubicle, my cubicle,
It doesn’t have a view,
It’s my small space,
In a crowded place,
I sit inside there too,
And sometimes I sit here nude.

8 to 4? Must've been a Brit who wrote this.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Did I Ever Tell You How Crappy You Are?

Like I said, it's silly season. I'm only this mean for fun -- the subject is totally fictional! No manager could possibly deserve this... Right? Thanks, David, for the indirect inspiration...

Though I am quite young
And small for my size
I met an old manager in the Valley of Lies
And he taught me a lesson I will never forget
At least, well, I haven’t forgotten it yet.

He sat in a swivelly leathery chair
And I wish I could say to his smug smirking face:

When you think things are bad,
When run out of people to use and abuse,
When you start to get mad…
Bashing people's heads till they're bruised…

There’s no point being happy,
You’re really quite crappy!
Most people are much less…
Oh ever so much less…
Oh always much-much less
Less crappy than you!

We’re glad you don’t work on the space shuttle Thribb
Your drool would jam gears if you weren’t wearing a bib.

It’s a free market world. All the people who’re in it
Are trying to be productive every hour and minute.
You oughtn’t be here, you useless old snot,
You can’t manage bupkus and you can’t code a jot!

Let’s assume for a moment,
You worked in old Redmond
And had to show talent
Or face being shunned!

Or perhaps,
Just for instance,
You breathed Valley air
And day in day out
You had to show flair!

You wouldn’t survive, you sniveling toad,
Your intellect’s non-existent and now it’s plateaued!
You may never get it together, I’m sure
You may never know how to find any cure
For morale that sinks into steaming manure.
Yes, papi, you’re crappy and not a la mode
Yet management powers you have been bestowed!

Thank goodness for all of the places you’re not!
Thank goodness one firm is containing the rot,
Preventing the spread of your pure disgrace,
And keeping you rightly in corporate space.


Your suit’s pretty snappy,
Don’t worry! Don’t stew!
They may not discover
They might not uncover
All those hundreds of thousands less crappy than you!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Innovation Extermination, or How To Kill An Idea In 250 Words or Less

Scott Berkun's blog post on stopping innovation brought back some of my fondest memories from last year. As I recall, this episode is mostly what drove me to start writing the blog in the first place.

After using the most recent incarnations of Visual Studio over the last few years, I have been completely convinced that a docking and pinning interface is a highly suitable interface for anyone -- not just of the coding ilk -- who has to work in a fast-paced, information rich, and asynchronous activity environment. If the kind of work that you do requires you to synthesize several disparate pieces of information at once at pretty much the drop of a hat, and in a different order or combination every time, then by Jove, your interface should keep pace.

On the trading floor it was an easy sell. "Trader Ergonomics" I called it. And lo, the Traders Smiled. IT rejoiced that there was something that didn't cause the traders to go purple in the face.

Then, I recently came across an eerily similar kind of user work pattern, which required the same interface flexibility. These folks had dual monitors, on which they wanted to place non-modal information in different orders at different times. They wanted extreme flexibility because their processes evolved so quickly and unpredictably, and because individuals in the department each had their own styles of approaching the same problem. They wanted every piece of data at their fingertips.

And the beauty of it all was that the release manager intended to implement SOA (service oriented architecture) which would bring together the relevant (but heretofore scattered) data through a yet-to-be-illustrated modular portal concept.

The conversations went something like this:

Me: Check it out, docking and pinning -- a portal interface, but so much more flexible!
Release Manager: Brilliant! Let's demo to the users!

RM: Docking and pinning -- all new, all your data together, and super flexible!
Users: Wow, cool! It does just what we need!

Me: Let's go, let's develop this thing!
Lazy Asian Fonz: It's so hard. I can't figure out how it works.
Me: Look, I'm not even a developer and I made it work on the prototype.
LAF: I gotta go talk to the chicks.

Me: C'mon, let's develop this thing!
Darth Hut: Users are so stupid. Do you know how much more support this is gonna cause?
Me: No, because these people are not stupid, and it's what they need.
DH: Like I care.
Me: But developers have been using it for years!
DH: Developers are not stupid like users are.

Development Manager: What's up, guys?
LAF: We hate docking and pinning.
DM: What's docking and pinning?
LAF: It's some new thing that keeps me from talking to chicks.
DH: Yeah, and this analyst pushing it is so annoying.
DM: OK, I hate docking and pinning too.

DM: I heard you're being really annoying.
Me: Huh?
DM: Stop it with this docking and pinning thing.
Me: But it fits the new architecture and the users' needs so well!
DM: Stop being defensive and argumentative. This is going on your performance record.

Cue flatline noise.*

* Months later, RM and his merry band of architects resuscitate docking and pinning in the SOA proof of concept. Users still love it. But the pitchforks and torches are already appearing over the horizon of the development village.

Monday, June 19, 2006

How Lucky I Am

I received a package in the post today from David. I couldn't tell whether it was more of an anthrax bomb or a get-well gift: Dr. Seuss's Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? It is a parable of a young child down at his heels being told, by a man sitting on a cactus, that there are far more people who suffer to a far greater degree. So the boy should be happy.

To David, I reply:

If I was simply satisfied knowing how lucky I was, I would lead a life of complacency. The arguments you deploy on me are somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, you say that I should right the wrongs of the world by running for office, or leading some rebellious movement; on the other hand, you lecture me about being extraordinarily lucky.

Which is it to be?

If, indeed, I am so fortunate, I should want for nothing, have nothing to complain about. There is nothing to do. Nothing needs fixing, except perhaps my world view.

If, on the contrary, I should lead a rebellion, you accept that there is something wrong that I see and experience. Perhaps I am not so lucky after all.

If I didn't respect you so much, I might be tempted to make a footwear analogy.
But I shall refrain.

Instead, I shall say this, to attempt to put this whole matter behind us.

I do consider myself obscenely lucky. I was born to parents who gave me strong values and a love of learning; I married the best friend in the entire time-space continuum; I have family and friends like you who give me a reason to laugh and live.

But precisely because of that, I refuse to absolve myself of effort, or forgive ill-will or injustice when it's in my (cubicle) backyard, instead of just skipping along in life and making daisy chains. I hope you understand.

Thank you for the book, and above all, thank you for coming on this journey with me. You are part prickly, part tax-and-spend, part revolutionary, part comedian, and all heart. I am lucky to have a commenter who is the embodiment of the Socratic method. Keep throwing those tomatoes.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Bells! The Bells!

Philip Su's recent post about The Broken Windows Theory tartly illustrated the root of problems plaguing the Vista project, making it a darn fine read for a Saturday afternoon. For me, however, the post rang so many bells in my head that I am now nearly deaf.

Whilst we do not have a cast the size of the chariot race scene in Ben Hur, meaningful parallels abound:

"The code is too complicated": I'm not a developer anymore, but our mission was to replace a spreadsheet that had become burdensome due to its highly recursive nature. Not, as some who fancy themselves geniuses may think, because it approached the complexity of the Black-Scholes formula.

Look, we're not trying to find ways to price and structure exotic tranches of derivatives here. We're trying to find a simple fair distribution. So why has it taken about a year and 20 developers to code this? Even in my days on the trading floor, it took no more than a team of 5 to knock up a reasonably complex pricing engine.

I half wonder whether fancy-pants design patterns are getting in the way. Again, I'm not a developer anymore, but the code seems to be a mini army of different objects - models, views, controllers, subclassed controls, not to mention the server side object classes. Does it make us look cooler? Or does it create a freakish spiderweb that serves to artificially bloat the pipeline so that we can justify the existence of 20 developers, none of which get to do any meaningful work?

On the other hand, the business analysis constipation doesn't help either. Egomaniacal little minds struggle with understanding the most basic of details. They also mistakenly believe that tenure creates extra super brain cells which aid in their efforts to illustrate the problem for others. When somebody does come along who "gets it," they are branded Wicked Mutant Devil Spawn.

In this particular part of the project, it's not that the subject is too complicated. It's too complicated for them. And that is why productivity and quality have fallen and can't get up.

"The process has gone thermonuclear": I hinted at this problem in an earlier post, The Dough Boy. And I can hardly put it better than Philip Su does:
Imagine each little email you send asking someone else to fill out a spreadsheet, comment on a report, sign off on a decision -- is a little neutron shooting about in space. Your innocent-seeming little neutron now causes your heretofore mostly-harmless neighbors to release neutrons of their own. Now imagine there are 9000 of you, all jammed into a tight little space called Redmond. It's Windows Gone Thermonuclear, a phenomenon by which process engenders further process, eventually becoming a self-sustaining buzz of fervent destructive activity.
"Communicate!" we are told, "Collaborate!" It all sounds so deliciously modern until one realizes the exact consequences of having to poll 50 people to change one pixel. Life becomes an endless stream of meetings, emails, progress reports, phone conversations, and discussions about work. Heaven forbid anyone actually tries to get any of that work done. That's just plain selfish and uncooperative!

Add on top of that the quorum of half-wits on management. Welcome to process Groundhog Day, where everything has to be explained at least 10 times (in every meeting, email, progress report, phone conversation, and discussion) before any of them understand the first idea what we're supposed to be doing. If they had any less power, it would be possible to ignore them. As it is, we monkeys must dance for our dinner.

"A culture of belittlement and aggression": I can't say that this culture exists within the company as a whole. I'm told by my longer-tenure colleagues that there are a significant number of humaner pools of existence outside of the project I'm on.

But I don't have enough appendages on my body to count the number of times I've heard management act like Veruca Salt, screaming and kicking and trying to squeeze a square project into a round schedule.

They say that they want things done right, and that they will give all the time in the world to do it.

I normally like to count to ten. Right at about five, when when they encounter a molecule of difficulty, they start screaming blue murder and start giving arbitrary deadlines several weeks too short to get any job done right.

Or (I love this one) they pick a date for delivery without having done any analysis or planning and tell the users. When the results of the analysis come in and the delivery cannot happen as scheduled, they whistle and try to look very small. Oh no! The users have spotted them! Instead of trying to explain to the users that they have no intellectual powers whatsoever, they decide to use brute force to pass the pain of their stupidity onto the users.

Fortunately, because we don't work for true paying customers, IT management can amputate 25% of the deliverables to "make" the delivery date. Phew.

And don't even mention lack of trust, threatening behavior ("If I hear that you have talked to any other managers about joining their teams, I will be very angry"), and dishonesty. The predominant emotion in the ranks is fear. Although this may have been the preferred method for getting slave ships to their destinations faster, I can't help but feel that 21st century software development requires a new paradigm.

"Too many cooks in the kitchen": I could go on about too many people on the project overall, but there is a fine point to be made about too many managers and micromanagement. We have "only" 4 managers, but flash-mobbing of Larry, Moe, Curly, and Shemp at each new release point causes an endless amount of direction change.

Go Agile! No, go Waterfall! No, go RUP! Put this person on! No, take them off -- put this one on instead: she can't reason her way out of a paper bag, but she's got nice legs!

While the rest of us are reeling and puking by the side of the road, management attempts to rectify the situation by giving us "direction." Which means giving micro-managerial edicts on what color the UI should be, how many users we should allow on the system at once, and what version of screen print software we can and can't use.

I thank my lucky stars every day for management. Otherwise I wouldn't know how to pick my nose properly.

"Windows Vista is the largest concerted software project in human history": Our project is now officially the largest one in our company's history. For over 20 years, all projects large and small were done by an IT department no bigger than this one project alone. Historical accounts praise the "get it done" cameraderie of those days.

"Are Vista-scale projects essentially uncontrollable by nature?": What? I can't hear you! Those darn bells....

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The World's Smallest Violin

OK, so I will admit that yesterday's post On Working Life was a squeensy bit melodramatic. David ticked me off good and proper this morning.

However, that doesn't mean I'm taking the thrashing just like that. I'm going down swinging. Here's my reply:

Firstly, I did not intend to suggest that I regretted or resented my education simply because it did not result in instant fame and fortune. I did not attend the school I did merely to obtain fame and fortune either. I went there to learn, and to learn how to learn. In that respect, I am forever grateful. I owe far too much to my time at university -- gaining greater analytical maturity, being part of a different culture, finding the best group of friends ever -- to be superficial about it.

However, my academic life prior to university put me in a rat race even before the corporate one. Attending an Ivy League was to be my Golden Ticket; in fact, I was accepted to Harvard. I one-upped that by going somewhere even more special. All efforts were focused on getting to university, like it would somehow be the magic bullet for my life.

Turns out, it's not the magic bullet. Especially here, where I am convinced most people still think Oxford is in London.

There is a difference between intrinsic value and economic value. The intrinsic value of my education -- regardless of institution (and may I remind you, David, that you attended an equally prestigious university in England) -- is matchless. Economic value, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.

One only seems to attain maximal economic value when the education is combined with personal ambition, effort, and/or character. In fact, one could argue very well based on plenty of evidence that education may be altogether unnecessary! This is an incredibly hard lesson to learn for someone who has a high degree of ambition but lacks the correct character and is sodding lazy. The fall to hard ground has taken some time, and the pain signals reached my brain later than expected.

Of course, some could care less about economic value. I envy them for their laissez-faire approach to life. I wish I could be that way too, but a gnawing fear of poverty got hard-wired into me sometime early in life. My angst is not aimed at my university education, it is aimed at a disappointing revelation about myself: that I just haven't got what it takes to completely remove my fear of being penniless. I am a corporate slave; the income that I earn, respectable as it is, only exists by the grace of people who judge me to be worthy. I am a piece of friggin' meat.

To remove the fear entirely would mean becoming the butcher, but that takes something else I haven't got or figured out yet. You are right, life is what one makes it. I don't think I've got the right set of tools for me -- at least right now. Won't you grant me that reality? Is it whinging just because I am facing up to facts? Is it whinging because it makes me feel slightly sad?

I really do believe this.

Secondly, I feel compelled to clarify my frustration at being one of the Grey Masses working in just another corporation in just another outcrop of suburbia. After years of navel-staring, I have boiled it down to one basic desire: meritocracy. Do good work, get good work. Add value, get value. Work hard, get respect and loyalty.

This is far less about money than you imagine it to be. Let's take money out of the equation. Isn't every person who slogs their guts out and displays creativity, dedication, and care in their work entitled to job satisfaction, respect, and loyalty? Well, here's breaking news: the odds of finding that in most of corporate life are slim to none.

Ways to find greater pools of meritocracy, as far as I have been able to determine: climb up or get out.

My inability to be a Machiavellian Yes Man has ruled me out of the former; my lack of unique brilliance and death-/poverty-defying chutzpah have temporarily locked me out of the latter.

If the free market worked as it should in the space below upper management, I would be perfectly happy to be a cog. I just cannot believe that those who squander millions of dollars, treat fellow human beings like chattel, and who bask in doing as little work as possible get rewarded in equal or greater measure than those with purer goals and more capable minds. Over and over again, I see this pattern perpetuated.

Yes, the broken system burns me up. But my own shortcomings don't help matters much.

Of course, that's not to say I don't have perspective. I feel incredibly blessed every day for my home life. I am busting a gut at work to do my part in fighting pervasive negativity and nastiness. I am still trying to build my own magic bullet.

But I'm not here to compromise. I'm not here to be some namby-pamby apologist. I'm here to tell some (thinly disguised) truths that should make all of us feel uncomfortable about the way many companies work. Along the way, I will tell some truths about me that make me feel uncomfortable. And in many respects, this telling is the beginning of the launching you speak of. I would never feel prepared to change the world if I didn't understand the source of my discomfort.

Now let me ask you a question: Why do you so readily suggest a life swap when you left behind a career so equally full of advantage and promise? I'm guessing that if you look in the mirror, you may see a little green potato staring right back at you.

It's awfully hot down here in the fryer, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Mowers That Be

"And the mower and the trimmer shall lie down together and every man shall have his own beer and Cheetos and the lawn shall be afraid."

On Working Life

[Note: Since it's silly season (i.e. there's nothing insanely ludicrous happening at work), I've pulled this particularly depressing piece out of archive. It's something I wrote after deciding to leave a sabbatical I had hoped would change my life. It did, actually -- by bringing me on this horrific journey through corporate purgatory. Kind of like an optimism amputation. You can barely tell now, but I limp when I hope for anything too good.]

Yesterday, I woke up and discovered I was in the real world. You know, the one where it takes money to make money. The one where instant fame isn’t guaranteed just because I got a degree from a reasonably old and famous university in the heart of England. The one where I’m just one of a few billion people on this earth, and the odds of my doing anything particularly extraordinary are just about as big as my personal proportional representation of humankind. Yes, yesterday was the day I decided that I should go back to work in the corporate world.

That must have also been the day that I officially became old. Youth affords the idealistic, “I Can Do Anything” dreams, as well as the laughably wasted energy that goes into pursuing those dreams. Not that I’ve abandoned the megalomaniacal dreams, mind you. They’re just tucked away until I can fund them somewhat properly, without having to starve and suffer and calculate to the last penny how much it will take to replace a pair of threadbare socks.

Is it so wrong to be just another Joe? Aside from all the shame that flows out of my pores as a result of being raised to be a President of the United States, what exactly is wrong with following a well-trodden path – for just a few years? Perhaps it is the fact that I am walking in such a measured manner back to the black hole from which I escaped almost exactly one year ago. It is the voluntary admission of failure, for now, to display any modicum of prodigy. Besides which, a fear of complacency – the silent, pervasive plague of the middle classes – mutters in my head that I’ll never again escape. And I won’t even know it when Mediocrity has finally consumed my soul.

Life will just spit me out, a small pile of desiccated gray bones, at the end of my days. I’ll only retain faint memories of kicking and screaming, and attribute them to the bad Chateau Lafite ’70.

Hook me up to my yoke; I’m ready to start plowing until I die.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Dream Within A Dream

Sometimes, when I have nothing better to do, or perhaps when I've gone without lunch and I get a bit hyperglycemic, I start pondering the essence of reality. Is my entire working life merely a dream brought on by some bad cheese?*

Lately, however, it's become a bit more Daliesque than usual. Instead of my days being filled with headless bloodsucking chicken managers (the fangs near the backsides, where the heads disappeared) and girlie-man BSAs who cry at the first sign of someone doing better work than them, life has been relatively calm. The circus has left town temporarily, and I'm feeling at once glad and curiously empty.

A dream, perhaps, within the nightmare. Perky Pet Analyst has turned out, as I suspected, to be an uber-capable pragmatist and refreshingly candid; Analysis Manager and I have been able to have frank conversations about my grievances with *gasp* humor; and I have now been roped in to help a truly top crew of geeks to do some rapid prototyping.

My mentor, the technical services manager, has also set up a blog so I can pilot the use of the medium for better communication in the team.

A blog within a blog... Spooky.

*The definition of bad cheese is a contentious subject; whilst some argue that any form of fermented dairy is an abhorrence of nature, another view suggests that any cheese with colouring approximating highlighter fluid and/or extruded from aerosol canisters should be banned from the face of the globe. This is merely a semantic matter: the latter is not cheese, but in fact "Cheez."

Sunday, June 11, 2006


David's creative juices have run dry! I fear a proportionate decrease in heckling content, followed by trembling, cold sweats, and finally a conversion to conservative politics.

Somebody dial 999!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Livin' the Hype: I've Been Web 2.0ed

This morning, out of pure boredom, I succumbed to the rounded corners, large clean fonts, and pastel colors that is Web 2.0. This blog is now officially ON FIRE.

No, not because my readership can now be counted in whole numbers, but because I re-fed my feeds into FeedBurner. So, my imaginary friends, if any of you found my content compelling enough to subscribe to, perhaps you might like to redirect your feed to:


That way, months later I can continue weeping angst-filled tears into my Das Keyboard, knowing that you really are still as real as Oompah Loompahs.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Splashes of Red on a Field of Grey

[Note: This piece was written a few months ago. It's not funny, and probably not particularly clear either. That's why it has found a home here with the other substandard by-products of my mind.]

This is an essay mostly about hope. In my personal experience of the corporate environment, and from the stories I’ve heard seasoned colleagues tell, I’ve been led to believe that corporations are what they are: unmovable monoliths that cannot be shaken. One either has to develop personal strategies in order to climb up the ladder, or melt into the background in order to remain relatively unmolested. Neither approach focuses on why any of us go to work every day – to take pride in being part of something worthwhile. It’s all about getting in and out as quickly and painlessly as possible whilst still getting paid at the end of the day. There is a certain resignation to the unchangeable nature of corporate life, leading to the belief that change is either unnecessary or bad, or both.

Much of this, it seems, has to do with the styles of leadership predominant in corporate environments today. Process and cost-focused techniques have rendered workers and products as mere numbers. Management activity mostly consists of busywork compiling spreadsheets, project plans, and PowerPoints, into which these numbers feed and are presented. The passive and repeated application of process and calculation attempts to show micro-level victories. Some would have us believe this adds up to an entire body of success, and equally that those responsible are also successful leaders.

These matrices of numbers, however, are a house of cards – one new requirement causes a daisy chain of paperwork explosions. Hence, the entire approach vilifies changes: “How can one shoot a moving target?” is an oft-heard complaint. So while movement is kept to a forcible minimum, and deadlines and targets are met, gaping macro-level deficiencies crop up: wasted resources in terms of money and human effort, mediocre quality products, loss of market share, lack of passion amongst employees. The figures, whilst nominally positive, mask a story of companies so large they survive despite themselves.

The deadlines and targets never come close to measuring true business achievement. What is the real productivity, efficiency, and satisfaction of a group of people? How high-quality are the products? What is the rate of innovation and improvement? Is the organisation fulfilling its true potential in the marketplace? Can genuine success continue throughout the life of the organisation?

Startups and smaller companies grapple with these entrepreneurial questions on a daily basis. It seems that the struggle for survival during the early stages of a business requires an enormous concentration on exactly these topics, and far less concentration on project plans and Gantt charts. Those who successfully answer the questions are rewarded with product triumphs and robust recognition in the market.

I have hardly ever heard the same questions being asked at larger companies, however. Those who ask such questions in a corporate setting are branded rebels, radicals who dangerously rock the boat. They threaten the status quo, the mirror-smooth surface of stability, with their challenges. They are the troublemakers, the wearers of the dreaded scarlet letter.

Perhaps, though, these so-called pariahs of the corporate field are in fact the true leaders of the future. I propose that their bothersome habits do not destabilize an organisation, but instead can strengthen and invigorate it, re-introducing a sense of purpose and helping to fulfill untapped potential in people and in business operations. In this regard, the degree to which they are considered successful will be based upon their proactive, long-lasting contributions to the success of the organisations to which they belong.

The case rests on three core concepts:
  1. There is a clear distinction between management and leadership;
  2. The distinction can be made based on entrepreneurial versus anti-entrepreneurial ideas and perspectives;
  3. That entrepreneurial leaders help perpetuate an organisation’s ability to thrive in tomorrow’s business environment, no matter what its size, whilst fostering growth of more leaders like themselves.
The exploration of these three concepts is less of a call to arms from a thoroughly experienced commander. It is more of an observation from the trenches and a deeply (perhaps naively) held hope that in the near term, the leaders with small-company sense will help more people find innovation, energy, and pride in the larger workplace.

Less Management, More Leadership
These days, many use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This is a source of increasing frustration to me, as it bestows automatic value upon management. Management these days appears to be more of a station which can often be reached (if we are honest with our observations) regardless of actual qualities. On the other hand, leadership is a quality which carries no regard to station. Leaders are those who have the ability to inspire, influence, and provide keen insight.

Making this distinction is incredibly important in arguing a case for more dynamic leadership because it demonstrates how diluted the perception of leadership has become.

Whilst the management role centres upon the maintenance of structure and process, leadership understands that this more powerful role is merely a means to forging ahead with significant areas of a company. Often management, especially in corporations, concerns itself with keeping things running. This is most evident in mantras of “On-time delivery” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Whilst not a particularly detrimental thing in and of itself, this does not necessarily demonstrate leadership; it demonstrates supervision. Until the numbers go negative or an alarm bell sounds, management is allowed to continue and is seen as essentially faultless.

Management also conjures up images of a limited number of elite, who work to dictate the future of those beneath them. Even companies who claim to have a relatively flat organisation only mean that they have fewer numbers of managers, and hence a more elite group. Greater numbers in management necessarily water down the proportionate amount of prestige afforded by being a manager. Hence, competition is fierce to attain the status, and afterwards to retain it.

Leadership, to me, implies the opposite of stasis – it is about keeping things not just ticking over, but moving forward. The management role is no more than a practical arena in which to do this. Leadership is also a quality which is not constrained or weakened by greater numbers – it is in many respects a synergistic attribute which (minus egos) contributes to true collaboration and a more consistent sense of purpose at all levels of an organisation.

The trouble has become that discussion on leadership has taken a back seat to a concentration on management. Books and conferences abound on management techniques; incredible amounts of resources are spent pursuing book learning of best practices. Not nearly as much effort is invested in finding independent, synthesized thought and application of techniques.

In other words, companies obsessively collect the tools, but lack the people to choose the best amongst them or to use those tools to best effect. The word leadership is reserved for those at the very top, as if it is the only place where leadership is required or valued.

It is my firm belief that increasing the amount of leadership in proportion to the amount of management would go a significant way towards taking established organisations out of a holding pattern. The question then becomes, what perspectives should define modern leadership in a corporate environment? This is discussed in greater detail below.

The Lifelong Fight for Survival: Entrepreneurial Values
Throughout the world, humans are obsessed with staying young, fit, and agile. Why, then, are companies in such a hurry to mature? Perhaps it is because many believe that businesses are not organisms as such and suffer far lower mortality rates once they reach a critical mass. Stability and stature may be less exciting, but confer a certain sense of immortality upon businesses.

On the contrary, the modern business environment gives no guarantees for critical mass. Having worked in the credit default arena in recent times, I have witnessed the financial markets brutally assess even the most well-established global corporations for their risk of failure. Large companies trip and fall upon overconfidence in their own indestructibility.

In a recent New Scientist article on living longer, scientists argued that an essential part of staving off aging was keeping one’s body in survival mode. Eating less and keeping one’s heart racing through physical activity was shown to prolong a youthful body. In today’s business environment, this could very well apply to companies as well. While fighting for survival is considered the bane of the entrepreneur, it could in fact be an activity that promotes a company’s ability to remain competitive at all stages of its life.

If this is the case, who better to guide mature companies through the uncertain future than those who demonstrate leadership in its purest form? Traditional management quails at the thought of instability – often denying the relevance of looming reality – while by definition leaders take a more active stance.

Most appropriately suited to the task of fighting for survival are those leaders who understand and embrace newness and uncertainty – the entrepreneurs. By entrepreneurs, I don’t necessarily mean those who have started their own companies. Instead, I am referring to risk-takers and risk-enablers who embrace entrepreneurial values, often borne out of the drive to stay afloat. These leaders, as I have seen them, fall into three broad classifications: Inventors, Agitators, and Guardians.

The Inventors, by bringing new ideas and badly needed products to the table, keep an organisation at the forefront of its industry. While perceived wisdom dictates that invention is purely for the newest of companies, I have seen this type of leadership bring concrete value to established organisations. Two managers I worked with at one company began their careers by single-handedly developing a key system for a group of traders. Their innovation and drive resulted in the creation of software that created significant efficiencies for the business, but more importantly, became ingrained into their leadership styles. As they managed larger teams, they recognized and encouraged alternative solutions to new business problems, instead of trying to just make do with existing solutions. Through their own efforts and the efforts of those they led, they added millions of dollars to the company’s bottom line. Ultimately, Inventors like them are the leaders who make it possible for corporations to recognise and capitalise upon fresh opportunities in the marketplace.

Somewhat related are the Agitators, who lead by demanding honest introspection and change, where necessary. Their harsh assessments of inefficiencies and their intolerance for mediocrity, particularly useful for keeping young companies from floundering in their early stages, inject adrenaline straight into the bloodstream of any group resting on its laurels. Nothing escapes their unfiltered eyes, and they demand improvements – or effect the change themselves. Unfortunately, this brand of leadership appears to be particularly difficult to pursue in the face of companies clinging to traditional status-quo management. However, in large enough numbers, or at the right levels of management, I have witnessed Agitators bringing about significant changes to whole departments. Their hallmarks are the introduction of radical advances in efficiency, productivity, and creativity among the groups they command – whether or not these groups asked for it.

Guardians are more thoughtful watchdogs, who keep startups focused on fundamentals such as processes and financials. By protecting the fine balance between the culture of a group and the need for the right amount of structure, Guardians provide what little management is necessary for a team to thrive. One of the project managers I have the most respect for aims not to personally innovate, but to remove roadblocks for her analysts and to keep their workflow fine-tuned enough to respond to external business pressures and individual work styles. She reins in unnecessary diversions of resource to keep costs under control, even when there is no direct reason to do so.

These approaches are by no means mutually exclusive; indeed, almost all of the entrepreneurial leaders I have known combine aspects of each type to bold effect. What clearly unifies the entrepreneurial leadership style is the acceptance of change as a way of life, welcoming and accounting for it. The metrics for these leaders falls away from the superficiality of numbers, PowerPoints, personal glory, and deadlines. Instead, their measures of success focus on highly-regarded products produced by a highly-regarded, constantly sparking team.

Unfortunately, many of these entrepreneurial leaders are also unified by their consistent rejection in the corporate workplace. Inventors are subject to accusations of concentrating on “non-core” functions, as well as professional jealousy from glory-hunters. Agitators become vilified for their insistence that improvements could be made, hounded out because they are not team players. And Guardians fail to be recognised for their ability to nurture growth through limited application of management – they are accused of not going far enough.

Entrepreneurial leaders, in their fight against the status quo, are often foiled in their attempts to introduce youthful dynamism into entrenched business structures. This is because, for the moment, they are outnumbered by those with anti-entrepreneurial values, e.g. the management-centric.

Corporations, like physical objects, suffer from the law of momentum: a body at rest tends to remain at rest. Companies at rest appear to attract those who value administration above change. An emphasis on pseudo-action through spoon-fed methodologies (much like “Coloring by Numbers”) naturally rejects those who strive to achieve more than what is currently thought possible. Environments where survival is believed to be a given – and where numbers are not yet negative – are, I have found, excessively hostile to any suggestion that things could be better. This leaves companies vulnerable to corruption and loss of direction.

In a vacuum of entrepreneurial leadership, a company that began life incubated can quickly turn fully cooked, instead of advancing and becoming itself an incubator. In tomorrow’s fierce marketplace, the leadership provided by those who believe that businesses should remain hungry should in fact be welcomed, since that could very well be exactly what keeps companies strongest.

Viral Leadership
Again, I return to my thread of hope. As much as I have observed entrepreneurial leaders being subdued in a corporate climate, I have also observed Inventors, Agitators, and Guardians engendering fierce loyalty from those who they encourage and protect. This kind of loyalty is something that could never, in a million years, rise from bog-standard management.

Contrary to popular opinion, I do not subscribe to the theory that leadership can be created, through any amount of accreditation or scientific application of formulae. Leadership is born from inspiration by other leaders, enriched by a feeling that one is empowered to change the way things are. In this respect, entrepreneurial leadership has a particular quality that many entrepreneurial ideas are said to have: it is viral.

An oft-heard complaint is that management in large corporations have under-developed succession strategies. It is hardly surprising that this is the case, given the propensity to simply maintain and account in higher-level roles. However, the “contagious” nature of entrepreneurial leaders solves succession problems organically by producing a clutch of home-grown future leaders for every one.

Indeed, the two Inventors mentioned previously have left in their wake a number of leaders in several companies who now head up projects themselves or independently pursue cutting-edge analysis. Quite apart from seeing this as an indirect consequence of their leadership style, they consider that one of the goals of leadership is to make themselves effectively redundant by catalyzing their own love for innovation and change.

Business Life in Color
Although the stagnant nature of large businesses currently retards the growth of startup thinking, I strongly believe that it is possible – even necessary – for such thinking to catch fire. When it does, entrepreneurs will breathe vitality into stale and outdated operations. Even operations that are not necessarily stale or outdated will benefit. Such is the nature of progress – it has no upper bound.

History amply demonstrates that beneficial advances in many arenas – science, art, politics, technology – have on countless occasions been driven by an opportune combination of necessity and revolution. At the forefront of progress are those imbued with leadership qualities which appear on the surface to cause irritation and concern. In essence, however, they are the seeds of the pearls.

The fresh ideas and perspectives that entrepreneurial leaders inherently carry may cause high levels of dissonance in today’s corporate world, but hold the keys to tomorrow’s successes. Instead of a business world divided between quirky young businesses and staid corporations, entrepreneurial leadership could well fuel a second Renaissance in large organisations. I eagerly anticipate such a time, when these splashes of red on the grey corporate field will no longer stand alone as badges of shame or blood lost in battle, but will spread and connect in their true purpose: vibrant beacons welcoming a tumultuous and challenging future.

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