Brad Neuberg on Inventing with Values

A few months ago, my friend, Brad Neuberg, gave the keynote at Yahoo’s internal Front-End Engineering Summit. The video is now online, and it’s worth watching. Brad’s not only a great guy and a great hacker, he’s an excellent speaker. He speaks from the heart with intensity and good humor.    (ME6)

I want to highlight four things Brad said:    (ME7)

  • A good way to approach invention is, “I Against I.” (The name comes from a classic punk song from the mid-80s.) Don’t worry about what others will do. Instead of trying to protect your ideas by putting up walls, compete against yourself. If you’re going to be put to pasture by somebody, it might as well be by you. And as Brad points out, no ideas are safe. In this day and age, you will be put to pasture.    (ME8)
  • Brad’s section on values was tremendous. He cited two techniques for clarifying values. The first was “Mob Rule.” If you were the only thing between an angry mob and some other thing, what thing would cause you to stand your ground? This reminds me of something Alan Dershowitz said in the best class I ever took in college. Dershowitz said that he was willing to die for freedom of speech. I was astounded by that statement, and it made me think about the values that I was willing to die for.    (ME9)
  • The second technique was, “The Last Speech.” Imagine you were about to leave your company and that you were asked to deliver a final speech. What would you say? This actually happened. A decade ago, James Gosling was fed up with Sun and decided to leave. Scott McNealy asked Gosling to write a letter before he left, explaining what he would do differently if he were in charge. Gosling outlined a vision which ultimately led to him staying at Sun and creating Java.    (MEA)
  • Brad ended his section on values with a story about Archie Rand, the famous expressionist painter who was one of Brad’s professors at Columbia. Rand used to walk around the room as his students worked, look at them with his eyes blazing, and say, “This shit matters.”    (MEB)

Each of these things are worth thinking about and trying.    (MEC)

HyperScope Sprint this Saturday in San Jose

Brad Neuberg, Jonathan Cheyer, and I will be meeting at Jonathan’s place in San Jose this coming Saturday, May 12, at 10am for an ad hoc HyperScope sprint. Please join us! This will be an outstanding opportunity to meet the team, learn about HyperScope, and help us move the project forward. If you’d like to participate either face-to-face or remotely, please drop me a line or RSVP on Upcoming.org. Hope to see you there!    (M8T)

Spreadsheets 2.0 and Transclusions

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with my old HyperScope buddies, Brad Neuberg and Jonathan Cheyer. We talked a bit about this Office 2.0 madness, and how a lot of these Web-based applications were disappointly uninteresting. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of really nifty hacking going on behind the scenes to make this all work. But in the end, all you have is a Web-based office application. Most of these applications do little to take advantage of the network paradigm.    (M2P)

A simple and extremely cool way for Web-based spreadsheets to exploit the medium would be to support Transclusions across multiple web sites. As I’ve observed before, spreadsheets were the first applications to popularize the notion of a Transclusion, even though they didn’t call them that. When I type =E27 in a cell, it displays the content of cell E27. This, in a nutshell, is a Transclusion, and oh, is it useful.    (M2Q)

With Web-based spreadsheets, if you made cell addresses universally resolvable, you could easily support Transclusions across web sites. In other words, I could transclude the content of cell =E27 from a spreadsheet hosted on my web site into a cell on a spreadsheet hosted on another web site.    (M2R)

Why would this be useful? Well, why is it useful to link to other web sites? Today’s Web-based spreadsheets are no more collaborative than desktop spreadsheets. In theory, they’re more convenient than emailing spreadsheets back-and-forth, but they’re no different in capability. Cross-spreadsheet Transclusions would break down silos and encourage collaboration.    (M2S)

I would start with spreadsheet-to-spreadsheet Transclusions with an eye toward supporting Transclusion of non-spreadsheet content using Purple Numbers or something similar. The main technical barrier is coming up with the right addressability scheme. Seems to me that the Simplest Thing That Works would be to use fragment identifiers (which is what we did for the HyperScope). In other words, cell =E27 on a spreadsheet at http://foo/bar would have the address:    (M2T)

  http://foo/bar#E27    (M2U)

Eventually, you’d want persistent, non-URL-based identifiers, but first things first.    (M2V)

What is Collective Leadership?

One of the reasons I joined the board of the Leadership Learning Community (LLC) is that leadership and collaboration are closely related. But what exactly is the nature of this relationship? That is a question I’ve dutifully ignored for the past four years. Thankfully, the good folks at the LLC have unwittingly encouraged me to get off my lazy butt and think a little bit deeper about this question. Much of our discussion at the Evaluation Learning Circle last month was about Collective Leadership, which is also the theme for the upcoming Creating Space gathering. What the heck is “Collective Leadership“? I’ll try my hand at that one too, but first things first.    (LTZ)

On Leadership    (LU0)

What does it mean to lead? When I think about the word, I envision movement in some direction. It could be shared movement among a group of people, or it could be individual movement (e.g. how you lead your life”). If it’s shared movement towards a bounded goal, then by definition, it’s collaboration.    (LU1)

There are many ways you can create shared movement. You could describe a vision, and encourage people to get there anyway they can. You could start moving in that direction yourself, and hope that others follow your example. Or you could pull people along, kicking and screaming. All of these are forms of leadership.    (LU2)

The word, “leader,” implies the existence of a “follower,” which suggests a power relationship. However, leadership is a role, not a title. Roles can be shared, and they can be reversed, depending on the context. They can be pre-assigned, and they can emerge.    (LU3)

People often assume that collaboration implies shared leadership. This is incorrect. Take dancing. Dancing almost always necessitates a single leader. The only exception I know of is contact improvisation (first explained to me by Brad Neuberg), although I welcome other counterexamples from people who actually know how to dance.    (LU4)

The single leader is a pattern in many fields. In cooking, for example, there is almost always one executive chef. The word “chef” is French for “chief.” In music, there is almost always a single leader. Orchestras have conductors, string quartets have first violinists. Even in jazz ensembles, someone always leads, and everyone else riffs off that person.    (LU5)

In rowing, you have the coxswain, who is responsible for navigating the boat and keeping the rowers in sync. Even though the coxswain does not physically contribute to the movement of the boat, the coxswain always trains with the rest of the rowers. Why? Trust and respect. If the coxswain did not participate in the training, the rest of the crew would not accept him or her as a member of the team, much less the leader.    (LU6)

On Collective Leadership    (LU7)

What about driving? Would you want multiple people driving a car at the same time? I sure as heck wouldn’t.    (LU8)

Is the driver a leader? To the extent that he or she is moving the passengers in some shared direction, absolutely. But the driver is not necessarily the only person determining where to go. Who decided on the destination? Who is telling the driver how to get there?    (LU9)

All of these roles are legitimate leadership roles, and some of these could very well be shared among multiple people. Are they better when shared? That depends.    (LUA)

There are two factors that help us think through this question. The first is the boundedness of the goal. When you must achieve your goal very quickly, you don’t necessarily have time to gain consensus on an issue. In these situations, having a single leader can be more efficient.    (LUB)

The second factor is the wickedness of the problem. When Jeff Conklin describes Wicked Problems, he often shows people this chart:    (LUC)

https://i1.wp.com/www.cognexus.org/4660c8d0.gif?w=700    (LUD)

In the collaborative design process, there are people who ponder the problem first, and there are people who immediately dive into the solution. Neither is wrong. In fact, when problems are so complex (wicked), you don’t even know what the exact problem is, then you need to attack the problem both ways. Our traditional notion of efficiency is no longer an option. Because we need to attack these kinds of problems in multiple ways, there are multiple opportunities for leadership. More importantly, there must be a shared vision for the end state, even if the path for reaching that end state is not universally shared.    (LUE)

For more thoughts on Collective Leadership, see my post, “Dumbells and Collective Intelligence.”    (LUF)

Reversing 1984: Augmenting Language

Brad Neuberg and I were having a conversation about HyperScope earlier today, and Brad said something interesting about language. He said that HyperScope expands people’s vocabulary. He contrasted that to George Orwell‘s 1984, where Newspeak is constantly shrinking.    (LEA)

I loved the Orwell reference, and thought it would be worth rereading the relevant passages. (I ended up rereading much more. It’s such a well-written and engaging book, it was hard to put down.)    (LEB)

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Eidition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language when the language is perfect.” (46)    (LEC)

If reducing vocabulary and narrowing language are prerequisites for diminishing our ability to think, then it follows that augmenting our ability to think results in an increase in our vocabulary. Doug Engelbart always talks about augmenting existing capabilities while adding new ones. You could replace the word “capabilities” with “vocabulary,” and you would essentially be saying the same thing.    (LED)