Three critical ingredients for digital age relationships. [Collaborate Series 8/8]

Translation: Are you ready to apply these lessons?

This post is the final post in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

End of LineDuring this blog series, we’ve explored how important culture is in the work place.  The high tech areas are especially sensitive because they disproportionately embrace the millennial culture which often causes conflicts.

Our world has changed, driven by technology, new thinking, and new methodologies yet we may be using 20th century management techniques on 21st century customers and workers. There is an old business axiom that states, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  Yet how much of our process, interaction, successes, and failures never wind up on a spreadsheet, yet impact it?

Customers don’t leave bad companies; they leave companies that miss the mark when it comes to customer engagement. To better serve our customers we need to understand and adapt to the psychology of a new customer … one who has been trained to work as a Digital Native.

What would that look like? Tech people who interact with patience, collaboration, deep knowledge, and an openness to input, adapting to a customer’s needs in real-time. Wouldn’t that create a relationship that is second to none and unbreakable? Wouldn’t that be a leg up on the competition?

By understanding that new business culture has been influenced by the gaming experience, we have a deeper understanding of what is important to our customer base. And like a video game, if you cling to hierarchy, you lose. If you get caught up in linear time management, you lose. If you cling to bottlenecks and tradition you lose.

Three key takeaways: speed, adaptation, and collaboration

Those three words sum up today’s business environment. By now, you should not be surprised that those drivers are skills honed in video games.

We’ve explored the radically different ways that Digital Natives approach business opportunities. As the emerging leaders of the technological world, we must shift our operations to be more open, collaborative, iterative, and experience based.

Rob challenges you to get involved in his and other collaborative open source projects. Brad challenges you to try new leadership styles that engage with the Cloud Generation. Together, we challenge our entire industry to embrace a new paradigm that redefines how we interact and innovate. We may as well embrace it because it is the paradigm that we’ve already trained the rising generation or workers to intuitively understand.

What’s next?

Brad and Rob collaborated on this series with the idea of extending the concepts beyond a discussion of the “digital divide” and really looking at how culture impacts business leadership.  Lately, we’ve witnessed that the digital divide is not about your birthday alone.  We’ve seen that age alone does not drive the all cultural differences we’ve described here.  Our next posts will reflect the foundations for different ways that we’ve seen people respond to each other with a focus on answering “can digital age workers deliver?”

Cloud Culture: Becoming L33T – Five ways to “go digital native” [Collaborative Series 7/8]

Subtitle: Five keys to earn Digital Natives’ trust

This post is #7 in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

WARNING: These are not universal rules! These are two cultures. What gets high scores for Digital Natives is likely to get you sacked with Digital Immigrants.

How do Digital Natives do business?

You've gotta deal with itYou don’t sell! You collaborate with them to help solve their problems. They’ll discredit everything say if you “go all marketing on them” and try to “sell them.”

Here are five ways that you can build a two-way collaborative relationship instead of one-way selling. These tips aren’t speculation: Brad has proven these ideas work in real-world business situations.

Interested in Digital Native Culture?  We recommend reading (more books):

1) Share, don’t tell.

Remember the cultural response in Rob’s presentation discussed in the introduction to this paper? The shift took place because Rob wanted to share his expertise instead of selling the awesomeness of his employeer. This is what changed the dynamic.

In a selling situation, the sales pitch doesn’t address our client’s needs. It addresses what we want to tell them and what we think they need. It is a one-way conversation. And if someone has a choice between saying “yes” or “no” in a sales meeting, a client can always have the choice to say “no.”

Sharing draws our customers in so we can hear their problems and solve them. We can also get a barometer on what they know versus what they need. When Rob is presenting to a customer, he’s qualifying the customer too. Solutions are not one size fits all and Digital Natives respect you more for admitting this to them.

Digital Native business is about going for a long-term solution-driven approach instead of just positioning a product. If you’ve collaborated with customers and they agree you’ve got a solution for them then it’s much easier to close the sale. And over the long term, it’s a more lucrative way to do business.

2) Eliminate bottlenecks.

Ten years ago, IT departments were the bottleneck to getting products into the market. If customers resisted, it could take years to get them to like something new. Today, Apple introduces new products every six month with a massive adoption rate because Digital Natives don’t wait for permission from an authority.

The IT buyer has made that sales cycle much more dynamic because our new buyers are Digital Natives. Where Digital Immigrants stayed entrenched in a process or technology, Digital Natives are more willing to try something unproven. Amazon’s EC2 public cloud presented a huge challenge to the authority of IT departments because developers were simply bypassing internal controls. Digital Natives have been trained to look for out-of-the-box solutions to problems.

Time-to-market has become the critical measure for success.

We now have IT end-user buyers who adopt and move faster through the decision process than ever before! We interfere with their decision process if we still treating new buyers as if they can’t keep up and we have to educate them.

Today’s Digital Workers are smart, self-starters who more than understand technology; they live it. Their intuitive nature toward technology and the capacity to use it without much effort has become a cultural skill set. Also they can look up, absorb, and comprehend products without much effort. They did their homework before we walked in the door.

Digital Natives are impatient. They want to skip over what they know and get to real purpose and collaboration. You add bottlenecks when you force them back into a traditional decision process that avoids risk; instead, they are looking to business partners to help them iterate and accelerate.

 How did this apply to the Crowbar project?

Crowbar addresses a generation’s impatience to be up and running in record time. But there is more to it than that: we engage with customers differently too. Our open source collaboration and design flexibility mean that we can dialog with customers and partners to figure out the real wants and needs in record time.

3) Let go of linear.

Digital Natives do not want to be walked through detailed linear presentations. They do want the information but leave out the hand holding. The best strategy is to prepare to be a well-trained digital commando—plan a direction, be confident, be ready to respond, and be willing to admit knowledge gaps. It’s a strategy without a strategy.

Ask questions at the beginning of a meeting—this becomes a knowledge base “smell test.” Listening to what our clients know and don’t know gets us to the heart and purpose of why we are there. Take notes. Stay open to curve balls, tough questions, and—dare we say it—the client telling us we are off base. You should not be surprised at how much they know.

For open source projects at Dell (Rob’s Employeer), customers have often downloaded and installed the product before they have talked to the sales team. Rob has had to stop being surprised when they are better informed about our offerings than our well trained internal teams. Digital Natives love collecting information and getting started independently. This completely violates the normal linear sales process; instead, customers enter more engaged and ready if you can be flexible enough to meet them where they already are.

4) Be attentively interactive.

No one likes to sit in one meeting after another. Why are meetings boring? Meetings should be engaging and collaborative; unfortunately, most meetings are simply one-way presentations or status updates. When Digital Natives interrupt a presentation, it may mean they are not getting what they want but it also means they are paying attention.

Aren’t instant messaging, texting, and tweeting attention-stealing distractions?

Don’t confuse IMing, texting, emailing, and tweeting as lack of attention or engagement.

Digital Natives use these “back channels” to speed up knowledge sharing while eliminating the face-to-face meeting inertia of centralized communication.

Of course, sometimes we do check out and stop paying attention.

Time and attention are valuable commodities!

With all the distractions and multi-tasking for speed and connectivity, giving someone undivided attention is about respect, and paying attention is not passive! When we ask questions, it shows that we’re engaged and paying attention. When we compile all the answers from those questions, our intention leads us to solutions. Solving our client’s problems is about getting to the heart of the matter and becomes the driving force behind every action and solution.

Don’t be afraid to stray from the agenda—our attention is the agenda.

5) Stay open to happy accidents.

In Brad’s book, Liquid Leadership, the chapter titled “Have Laptop. Will Travel” points out how Digital Natives have been trained in virtualized work habits because they are more effective.

Our customers are looking for innovative solutions to their problems and may find them in places that we do not expect. It is our job to stay awake and open to solution serendipity. Let’s take this statement out of our vocabulary: “That’s not how we do it.” Let’s try a new approach: “That isn’t traditionally how we would do it, but let us see if it could improve things.”

McDonald’s uses numbers for their combo meals to make sure ordering is predictable and takes no more than 30 seconds. It sounds simple, but changes come from listening to customers’ habits. We need to stop judging and start adapting. Imagine a company that adapts to the needs of its customers?

Sales guru Jeffery Gitomer pays $100 in cash to any one of his employees who makes a mistake. This mistake is analyzed to figure out if it is worthy of application or to be discarded. He doesn’t pay $100 if they make the same mistake twice. Mistakes are where we can discover breakthrough ideas, products, and methods.

Making these kinds of leaps requires that we first let go of rigid rules and opinions and make it OK to make a few mistakes … as long as we look at them through a lens of possibility. Digital Natives have spent 10,000 hours playing learning to make mistakes, take risks, and reach mastery.

Cloud Culture: Level up – You win the game by failing successfully [Collaborative Series 6/8]

Translation: Learn by playing, fail fast, and embrace risk.

This post is #6 in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

It's good to failDigital Natives have been trained to learn the rules of the game by just leaping in and trying. They seek out mentors, learn the politics at each level, and fail as many times as possible in order to learn how NOT to do something. Think about it this way: You gain more experience when you try and fail quickly then carefully planning every step of your journey. As long as you are willing to make adjustments to your plans, experience always trumps prediction.

Just like in life and business, games no longer come with an instruction manual.

In Wii Sports, users learn the basic in-game and figure out the subtlety of the game as they level up. Tom Bissel, in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, explains that the in-game learning model is core to the evolution of video games. Game design involves interactive learning through the game experience; consequently, we’ve trained Digital Natives that success comes from overcoming failure.

Early failure is the expected process for mastery.

You don’t believe that games lead to better decision making in real life? In a January 2010 article, WIRED magazine reported that observations of the new generation of football players showed they had adapted tactics learned in Madden NFL to the field. It is not just the number of virtual downs played; these players have gained a strategic field-level perspective on the game that was before limited only to coaches. Their experience playing video games has shattered the on-field hierarchy.

For your amusement…Here is a video about L33T versus N00B culture From College Humor “L33Ts don’t date N00Bs.”  Youtu.be/JVfVqfIN8_c

Digital Natives embrace iterations and risk as a normal part of the life.

Risk is also a trait we see in entrepreneurial startups. Changing the way we did things before requires you to push the boundaries, try something new, and consistently discard what doesn’t work. In Lean Startup Lessons Learned, Eric Ries built his entire business model around the try-learn-adjust process. He’s shown that iterations don’t just work, they consistently out innovate the competition.

The entire reason Dell grew from a dorm to a multinational company is due to this type of fast-paced, customer-driven interactive learning. You are either creating something revolutionary or you will be quickly phased out of the Information Age. No one stays at the top just because he or she is cash rich anymore. Today’s Information Age company needs to be willing to reinvent itself consistently … and systematically.

Why do you think larger corporations that embrace entrepreneurship within their walls seem to survive through the worst of times and prosper like crazy during the good times?

Gamer have learned that Risk that has purpose will earn you rewards.

Cloud Culture: Online Games, the real job training for Digital Natives [Collaborative Series 5/8]

Translation: Why do Digital Natives value collaboration over authority?

Kids Today

This post is #5 in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

Before we start, we already know that some of you are cynical about what we are suggesting—Video games? Are you serious? But we’re not talking about Ms. Pac-Man. We are talking about deeply complex, rich storytelling, and task-driven games that rely on multiple missions, worldwide player communities, working together on a singular mission.

Leaders in the Cloud Generation not just know this environment, they excel in it.

The next generation of technology decision makers is made up of self-selected masters of the games. They enjoy the flow of learning and solving problems; however, they don’t expect to solve them alone or a single way. Today’s games are not about getting blocks to fall into lines; they are complex and nuanced. Winning is not about reflexes and reaction times; winning is about being adaptive and resourceful.

In these environments, it can look like chaos. Digital workspaces and processes are not random; they are leveraging new-generation skills. In the book Different, Youngme Moon explains how innovations looks crazy when they are first revealed. How is the work getting done? What is the goal here? These are called “results only work environments,” and studies have shown they increase productivity significantly.

Digital Natives reject top-down hierarchy.

These college educated self-starters are not rebels; they just understand that success is about process and dealing with complexity. They don’t need someone to spoon feed them instructions.

Studies at MIT and The London School of Economics have revealed that when high-end results are needed, giving people self-direction, the ability to master complex tasks, and the ability to serve a larger mission outside of themselves will garnish groundbreaking results.

Gaming does not create mind-addled Mountain Dew-addicted unhygienic drone workers. Digital Natives raised on video games are smart, computer savvy, educated, and, believe it or not, resourceful independent thinkers.

Thomas Edison said:

“I didn’t fail 3,000 times. I found 3,000 ways how not to create a light bulb.”

Being comfortable with making mistakes thousands of times ’til mastery sounds counter-intuitive until you realize that is how some of the greatest breakthroughs in science and physics were discovered.  Thomas Edison made 3,000 failed iterations in creating the light bulb.

Level up: You win the game by failing successfully.

Translation: Learn by playing, fail fast, and embrace risk.

Digital Natives have been trained to learn the rules of the game by just leaping in and trying. They seek out mentors, learn the politics at each level, and fail as many times as possible in order to learn how NOT to do something. Think about it this way: You gain more experience when you try and fail quickly then carefully planning every step of your journey. As long as you are willing to make adjustments to your plans, experience always trumps prediction.Just like in life and business, games no longer come with an instruction manual.

In Wii Sports, users learn the basic in-game and figure out the subtlety of the game as they level up. Tom Bissel, in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, explains that the in-game learning model is core to the evolution of video games. Game design involves interactive learning through the game experience; consequently, we’ve trained Digital Natives that success comes from overcoming failure.

Cloud Culture: No spacesuits, Authority comes from doing, not altitude [Collaborative Series 4/8]

Subtitle: Why flattening org charts boosts your credibility

This post is #4 in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

Unlike other generations, Digital Natives believe that expertise comes directly from doing, not from position or education. This is not hubris; it’s a reflection both their computer experience and dramatic improvements in technology usability.

AstronautIf you follow Joel Spolsky’s blog, “Joel on Software,” you know about a term he uses when describing information architects obsessed with the abstract and not the details; Architecture Astronauts—so high up above the problem that they might as well be in space. “They’re astronauts because they are above the oxygen level, I don’t know how they’re breathing.”

For example, a Digital Native is much better positioned to fly a military attack drone than a Digital Immigrant. According to New Scientist, March 27, 2008, the military is using game controllers for drones and robots because they are “far more intuitive.” Beyond the fact that the interfaces are intuitive to them, Digital Natives have likely logged hundreds of hours flying simulated jets under trying battle conditions. Finally, they rightly expect that they can access all the operational parameters and technical notes about the plane with a Google search.

Our new workforce is ready to perform like none other in history.

Being able to perform is just the tip of the iceberg; having the right information is the more critical asset. A Digital Native knows information (and technology) is very fast moving and fluid. It also comes from all directions … after all it’s The Information Age. This is a radical paradigm shift. Harvard Researcher David Weinberger highlights in his book Too Big to Know that people are not looking up difficult technical problems in a book or even relying on their own experiences; they query their social networks and discover multiple valid solutions. The diversity of their sources is important to them, and an established hierarchy limits their visibility; inversely, they see leaders who build strict organizational hierarchies as cutting off their access to information and diversity.

Today’s thought worker is on the front lines of the technological revolution. They see all the newness, data, and interaction with a peer-to-peer network. Remember all that code on the screen in the movie The Matrix? You get the picture.

To a Digital Native, the vice presidents of most organizations are business astronauts floating too high above the world to see what’s really going on but feeling like they have perfect clarity. Who really knows the truth? Mission Control or Major Tom? This is especially true with the acceleration of business that we are experiencing. While the Astronaut in Chief is busy ordering the VPs to move the mountains out of the way, the engineers at ground control have already collaborated on a solution to leverage an existing coal mine and sell coal as a byproduct.

The business hierarchy of yesterday worked for a specific reason: workers needed to just follow rules, keep their mouth shut, and obey. Input, no matter how small, was seen as intrusive and insubordinate … and could get one fired. Henry Ford wanted an obedient worker to mass manufacture goods. The digital age requires a smarter worker because, in today’s world, we make very sophisticated stuff that does not conform to simple rules. Responsibility, troubleshooting, and decision-making has moved to the frontlines. This requires open-source style communication.

Do not confuse the Astronaut problem as a lack of respect for authority.

Digital Natives respect informational authority, not positional. For Digital Natives, authority is flexible. They have experience forming and dissolving teams to accomplish a mission. The mission leader is the one with the right knowledge and skills for the situation, not the most senior or highest scoring. In Liquid Leadership, Brad explains that Digital Natives are not expecting managers to solve team problems; they are looking to their leadership to help build, manage, and empower their teams to do it themselves.

So why not encourage more collaboration with a singular mission in mind: develop a better end product? In a world that is expanding at such mercurial speed, a great idea can come from anywhere! Even from a customer! So why not remember to include customers in the process?

Who is Leroy Jenkins?

This viral video is about a spectacular team failure from one individual (Leroy Jenkins) who goes rogue during a team massively multi-player game.  This is a Digital Natives’ version of the ant and grasshopper parable: “Don’t pull a Leroy Jenkins on us—we need to plan this out.”  Youtu.be/LkCNJRfSZBU

Think about it like this: Working as a team is like joining a quest.

If comparing work to a game scenario sounds counterintuitive then let’s reframe the situation. We may have the same destination and goals, but we are from very different backgrounds. Some of us speak different languages, have different needs and wants. Some went to MIT, some to community college. Some came through Internet startups, others through competitors. Big, little, educated, and smart. Intense and humble. Outgoing and introverted.  Diversity of perspective creates stronger teams.

This also means that leadership roles rotate according to each mission.

This is the culture of the gaming universe. Missions and quests are equivalent to workplace tasks accomplished and point to benchmarks achieved. Each member excepts to earn a place through tasks and points. This is where Digital Natives’ experience becomes advantage. They expect to advance in experience and skills. When you adapt the workplace to these expectations the Digital Natives thrive.

Leaders need to come down to earth and remove the spacesuit.

A leader at the top needs to stay connected to that information and disruption. Start by removing your helmet. Breathe the same oxygen as the rest of us and give us solutions that can be used here on planet earth.

On Gamification

Jeff Attwood, founder of the community-based FAQ site Stack Overflow, has been very articulate about using game design to influence how he builds communities around sharing knowledge. We recommend reading his post about “Building Social Software for the Anti-Social” on his blog, CodingHorror.com.

Your baby is ugly! Picking which code is required for Commercial Core.

babyThere’s no point in sugar-coating this: selecting API and code sections for core requires making hard choices and saying no.  DefCore makes this fair by 1) defining principles for selection, 2) going slooooowly to limit surprises and 3) being transparent in operation.  When you’re telling someone who their baby is not handsome enough you’d better be able to explain why.

The truth is that from DefCore’s perspective, all babies are ugly.  If we are seeking stability and interoperability, then we’re looking for adults not babies or adolescents.

Explaining why is exactly what DefCore does by defining criteria and principles for our decisions.  When we do it right, it also drives a positive feedback loop in the community because the purpose of designated sections is to give clear guidance to commercial contributors where we expect them to be contributing upstream.  By making this code required for Core, we are incenting OpenStack vendors to collaborate on the features and quality of these sections.

This does not lessen the undesignated sections!  Contributions in those areas are vital to innovation; however, they are, by design, more dynamic, specialized or single vendor than the designated areas.

Designated SectionsThe seven principles of designated sections (see my post with TC member Michael Still) as defined by the Technical Committee are:

Should be DESIGNATED:

  1. code provides the project external REST API, or
  2. code is shared and provides common functionality for all options, or
  3. code implements logic that is critical for cross-platform operation

Should NOT be DESIGNATED:

  1. code interfaces to vendor-specific functions, or
  2. project design explicitly intended this section to be replaceable, or
  3. code extends the project external REST API in a new or different way, or
  4. code is being deprecated

While the seven principles inform our choices, DefCore needs some clarifications to ensure we can complete the work in a timely, fair and practical way.  Here are our additions:

8.     UNdesignated by Default

  • Unless code is designated, it is assumed to be undesignated.
  • This aligns with the Apache license.
  • We have a preference for smaller core.

9.      Designated by Consensus

  • If the community cannot reach a consensus about designation then it is considered undesignated.
  • Time to reach consensus will be short: days, not months
  • Except obvious trolling, this prevents endless wrangling.
  • If there’s a difference of opinion then the safe choice is undesignated.

10.      Designated is Guidance

  • Loose descriptions of designated sections are acceptable.
  • The goal is guidance on where we want upstream contributions not a code inspection police state.
  • Guidance will be revised per release as part of the DefCore process.

In my next DefCore post, I’ll review how these 10 principles are applied to the Havana release that is going through community review before Board approval.

7 Open Source lessons from your English Composition class

We often act as if coding, and especially open source coding, is a unique activity and that’s hubris.   Most human activities follow common social patterns that should inform how we organize open source projects.  For example, research papers are very social and community connected activities.  Especially when published, written compositions are highly interconnected activities.  Even the most basic writing builds off other people’s work with due credit and tries create something worth being used by later authors.

Here are seven principles to good writing that translate directly to good open source development:

  1. Research before writing – take some time to understand the background and goals of the project otherwise you re-invent or draw bad conclusions.
  2. Give credit where due – your work has more credibility when you acknowledge and cross-reference the work you are building on. It also shows readers that you are not re-inventing.
  3. Follow the top authors – many topics have widely known authors who act as “super nodes” in the relationship graph. Recognizing these people will help guide your work, leads to better research and builds community.
  4. Find proof readers – All writers need someone with perspective to review their work before it’s finished. Since we all need reviewers, we all also need to do reviews.
  5. Rework to get clarity – Simplicity and clarity take extra effort but they pay huge dividends for your audience.
  6. Don’t surprise your reader – Readers expect patterns and are distracted when you don’t follow them.
  7. Socialize your ideas – the purpose of writing/code is to make ideas durable. If it’s worth writing then it’s worth sharing.  Your artifact does not announce itself – you need to invest time in explaining it to people and making it accessible.

Thanks to Sean Roberts (a Hidden Influences collaborator) for his contributions to this post.  At OSCON, Sean Roberts said “companies should count open source as research [and development investment]” and I thought he’s said “…as research [papers].”  The misunderstanding was quickly resolved and we were happy to discover that both interpretations were useful.