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.

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.

Back of the Napkin to Presentation in 30 seconds

I wanted to share a handy new process for creating presentations that I’ve been using lately that involves using cocktail napkins, smart phones and Google presentations.

Here’s the Process:

  1. sketch an idea out with my colleagues on a napkin, whiteboard or notebook during our discussion.
  2. snap a picture and upload it to my Google drive from my phone,
  3. import the picture into my presentation using my phone,
  4. tell my team that I’ve updated the presentation using Slack on my phone.

Clearly, this is not a finished presentation; however, it does serve to quickly capture critical content from a discussion without disrupting the flow of ideas.  It also alerts everyone that we’re adding content and helps frame what that content will be as we polish it.  When we immediately position the napkin into a deck, it creates clear action items and reference points for the team.

While blindingly simple, having a quick feedback loop and visual placeholders translates into improved team communication.

Just for fun, putting themes to OpenStack Conferences

I’ve been to every OpenStack summit and, in retrospect, each one has a different theme.  I see these as community themes beyond the releases train that cover how the OpenStack ecosystem has changed.

The themes are, of course, highly subjective and intented to spark reflection and discussion.

City Release Theme My Commentary
ATL Ice House Its my sandbox! The new marketplace is great and there are also a lot of vendors who want to differentiate their offering and are not sure where to play.
HK Havana Project land grab It felt like a PTL gold rush as lots of new projects where tossed into the ecosystem mix.  I’m wary of perceived “anointed” projects that define “the way” to do things.
PDX Grizzly Shiny new things We went from having a defined core set of projects to a much richer and varied platforms, environments and solutions.
SD Folsom Breaking up is hard to do Nova began to fragment (cinder & quantum neutron)
SF Essex New kids are here Move over Rackspace.  Lots of new operating systems, providers, consulting and hosting companies participating.  Stackalytics makes it into a real commit race.
BOS Diablo Race to be the first Everyone was trying to show that OpenStack could be used for real work.  Lots of startups launched.
SJC Cactus Oh, you like us! We need some process This is real so everyone was exporing OpenStack.  We clearly needed to figure out how to work together.  This is where we migrated to git.
SA Bexar We’re going to take over the world We handed out rose-colored classes that mostly turned out pretty accurate; however. many some top names from that time are not in the community now (Citrix, NASA, Accenture, and others).
ATX Austin We choose “none of the above” There was a building sense of potential energy while companies figured out that 1) there was a gap and 2) they wanted to fill it together.

Parable of Kitten Taming

It’s time to return to story of Barney and Bailum.  Last year, I wrote about their separate paths through the circus business: Bailum succeeding with a lean model and Barney failing with a “go big” strategy.  This parable opens with Bailum taking pity on Barney and bringing him into her thriving animal training business.

Bailum had grown her Lion taming business from the ground up.  She started from humble beginnings with untrained dogs; consequently, she’d learned about building rapport and trust with her performers.  She never considered them to be animals.  To her, everyone in her organization (especially the animals) was a valued contributor.  She’d seen first-hand that just one bad link in the chain could cause a great performance team to turn sour.  Her acts won awards and she was proud to have them in the spotlight while she focused on building trust and a sustainable culture.

Unfortunately, Barney did not share his sister’s experience or values.  He only saw the name that she’d built for the company and felt that he could use his position and relationship to promote himself.   Even though he knew nothing of animal training, he was eager to redirect his staff into new areas.  Reading market data and without consulting his trainers, he decided that a cute kitten acts would attract more business than the company’s successful dogs acts.

Overnight, he released the dogs and acquired kittens from a local shelter.  Some of his trainers simply quit while others made an attempt to follow the new direction.  Barney was impatient for success and started watching the trainers learning to work with the frisky felines.  Progress was slow and Barney vented his frustration by yelling at the trainers and ultimately putting shock collars on the kittens.  In short order, the trainers had left and Barney was being sprayed, scratched and bitten by the cats.

When Bailum learned about her brother’s management approach she was mortified; unfortunately, he had also signed contracts promising kitten acts to their customers.   After restructuring her familial entanglements, she took a personal interest in training the kittens.  She immediately recognized that cats require independence instead of direction compared to dogs.  Starting from careful handling, then bringing in her lion tamers and rewarding positive results, she created working troop.  The final results were so effective (and logistics so much easier) that Bailum ultimately transformed her business to focus on them exclusively.

Moral: you can’t force cats to bark but, with the right approach, kittens can outperform lions

DevOps for Non-Profits?! The Miracle Foundation does IRL Puppies v. Cattle

In what’s become an annual tradition, I’m taking a post to think about the intersection of Cloud and Non-profits using my better-half’s employer, The Miracle Foundation, as my inspiration (and to help support their Mothers’ Day campaign).

TMF girl with puppyTheir deceptively simple sounding mission is to nurture children – they’ve just added some minor wrinkles like the children are orphans, in economically challenged areas generally tucked away in remote areas of India half way around the world from their Austin HQ.  That does nothing to dampen their tenacious drive to ensure that these children have the benefits of food, health care, housing, education and, most critically, nurturing caregivers.

How does that relate to the Puppies & Cattle analogy?

Like any scalable operation, they need to create highly repeatable processes to deliver their service.    The Miracle Foundation service, environments where house mothers nurture children, is by its very nature a “puppy” since each child must be treated uniquely; however, everything leading up to the point of delivery must be “cattle-like” to they can scale the care they give.  For example, unique lesson plan is good while a unique chart of accounts is not.

Last year, I talked about how the Miracle Foundation was using quantitative measures to evaluate quality of care.  They’ve used these metrics very effectively in their operations to identify places where they must standardize (like accounting practices, health care regimens and dietary requirements) and high touch places where they cannot (selecting and promoting homes out of incubation).  Exactly like cloud deployments, success means finding places where variation creates complexity (cattle) and ones where it increases value (puppies).

I’ve been impressed to see how the Miracle Foundation identified the need for standardized house-mother training curriculum as part of this analysis.  Their years of experience across a breath of orphanages has shown that giving clear guidance and setting standards for the people in direct contact with the children nets tremendous results; however, just making sure this training is delivered means building up a lot of other process and standardization.

If you think your job of building DevOps scripts and practice is hard then you need to step away from the keyboard for a while.  This organization, and other non-profits like it, are taking on similar challenges with real people across distances that are more than just a few router hops from your desktop.  I’m inspired by how they take on these challenges and fascinated at how much commonality there is between my work and theirs.

If you’re interested in their mission, please visit them for more details.