Connecting Past and Present

Doug Engelbart’s passing earlier this summer has me reflecting a lot on our friendship, the work we did together, the influence he had on my life and my career, and also larger issues around connecting past and present. Talking with my former HyperScope teammates reminded me of how much fun we had together. I’m proud of what we did, but I’m even prouder of how we did it.

We worked in two ways that were particularly innovative. First, we were an open project. Anyone could participate in any of our meetings, including the face-to-face ones. We even provided food.

Several people (but not Doug) were nervous when I first proposed doing this. They were concerned about people disrupting the process. I wasn’t worried about disruption, because we had a strong core team, and I knew how to facilitate an open process. In particular, “open” does not mean everyone is equal. As I explained to everyone who joined us, I invited everyone to speak up, but we had a task we needed to complete, and I reserved the right to direct the conversation and kick people out if they didn’t respect the ground rules.

I had to assert that right a few times, but otherwise, the openness overwhelming improved the project. We had a number of people make really valuable contributions, and Craig Latta in particular came out of nowhere to become an important part of our core team.

Second, I proactively invited members of Doug’s original lab to join us. I wanted the team to learn everything we could from the people who had done it before us, and I also wanted these folks to understand how much we valued them. The whole team agreed that this was one of the best parts of the experience. Not only did we learn a ton, but we felt like an extended family.

I’m constantly amazed how rarely this occurs. People don’t think to reach out to their forebears, and they miss out on a huge learning opportunity. The HyperScope project was an unusual situation (although Silicon Valley is rife with these opportunities, given how compressed the history of our industry is), but these opportunities also apply to projects where people have recently left.

I think that most of the time, it simply doesn’t occur to people. Sometimes, there are tricky politics and emotions involved. Often, it’s because we don’t value the hard-earned knowledge that we can learn from those who came before us. This is why so many companies often lay people off without taking into account the loss of institutional knowledge.

Regardless of the reasons, I think it’s unfortunate that connecting the old with the new is such a rarity, and I’d love to see this shift.

The Banana Hoarding Problem

I spent a good portion of this weekend listening to (and laughing at) my friends, Andrew and Elene, who are having a little problem at work. They both work at a large Silicon Valley company that has fresh fruit delivered each week — apples, oranges, and green bananas. Each week, the bananas disappear right away. Why? Because people hoard a week’s worth of bananas at their cubicles, rather than taking only what they’re going to eat right away.    (LXI)

What should my friends do? Here were some answers I and others came up with:    (LXJ)

  • They should hoard bananas for themselves.    (LXK)
  • They should take bananas from one of the hoarders.    (LXL)
  • They should bring their own bananas.    (LXM)
  • The company should order more bananas.    (LXN)
  • The company should appoint a banana distribution manager.    (LXO)
  • They should hoard all the bananas themselves, and become the de facto banana distribution managers.    (LXP)
  • The company should hire an old person to stand in the kitchen at all times, a la Wal-Mart. This will shame people from hoarding.    (LXQ)
  • They should poison one bunch of bananas, then put up a sign saying that one bunch is poisoned without indicating which one.    (LXR)

What would you do? Blog (and link here) or tell me your answers.    (LXS)

Not only was it incredibly funny to see how dismayed my friends were (what can I say, I’m a sadist?), but it was actually interesting to think through the problem. It’s a real-life instance of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a classic cooperation (but not necessarily collaboration) problem.    (LXT)

At the St. Louis Collaboratory workshop last October, we spent the day working on the Iterated Prisoners Dilemma, appropriate since the workshop was held in a former police station. It was fascinating to watch people work through the problem. I’ve been sitting on a pile of notes about it for months now, and this latest real-world dilemma may motivate me to sort through them and blog about it.    (LXU)

Update    (LY4)

Clearly, the Banana Hoarding Problem is more widespread than I originally thought, as the empathy and some possible solutions are already starting to come in. Once again, we see the Wisdom of Crowds at work (or not).    (LY5)

Keep your answers coming!    (LY8)

WikiWednesday and Web Mondays

Two “days” coming up worth attending, for those of you in the Bay Area. Tomorrow is WikiWednesday at Socialtext in Palo Alto. Three good reasons to go:    (LGI)

Next Monday is the third WebMonday Silicon Valley, this time at Cooley Godward Kronish in Palo Alto. Sadly, I won’t be able to make this one, but I spoke at the last one, and I had an one excellent time.    (LGM)

BarBar Redux

Thanks to those of you who dropped by BarBar last night! Not surprisingly given that Scott McMullan and I organized, it was a very Wiki-oriented crowd: folks from JotSpot, Socialtext, and Atlassian were there to relax.    (LAT)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/120/260460715_429ee26d12_m.jpg?w=700    (LAU)

If you want to know what makes Silicon Valley great, this picture says it all. Where else in the world is it commonplace for competitors to get together for beers after work and talk openly about their work and their lives? We had great conversation (not all of it Wiki-related), and I had the chance to preach WikiOhana to my enterprisey peers.    (LAV)

The highlight of my evening was enjoying the sweet fare of the Tamale Lady for the first time.    (LAW)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/94/260460413_25cb3c9a58_m.jpg?w=700    (LAX)

They were ridiculously tasty. How is it that I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over ten years, and I had never heard of the Tamale Lady before? Ah well, now I’m in the know (and so are you).    (LAY)