Deep Thinking & Tech + Great Guests – L8ist Sh9y podcast relaunched

I love great conversations about technology – especially ones where the answer is not very neatly settled into winners and losers (which is ALL of them in IT).  I’m excited that RackN has (re)launched the L8ist Sh9y (aka Latest Shiny) podcast around this exact theme.

Please check out the deep and thoughtful discussion I just had with Mark Thiele (notes) of Aperca where we covered Mark’s thought on why public cloud will be under 20% of IT and culture issues head on.

Spoiler: we have David Linthicum coming next, SO SUBSCRIBE.

I’ve been a guest on some great podcasts (Cloudcast, gcOnDemand, Datanauts, IBM Dojo, HPEFoodfight) and have deep respect for critical work they do in industry.

We feel there’s still room for deep discussions specifically around automated IT Operations in cloud, data center and edge; consequently, we’re branching out to start including deep interviews in addition to our initial stable of IT Ops deep technical topics like Terraform, Edge Computing, GartnerSYM review, Kubernetes and, of course, our own Digital Rebar.

Soundcloud Subscription Information


When Two Right Decisions Make Things Wrong [Digital Management Series, 7 of 8]


The Duality Trap is one digital management danger that’s so destructive, we felt this series would be incomplete without a discussion. It’s especially problematic for The Digital Native managers and often mishandled by traditionally trained ones too.

Each apple is delicious. Which would you choose?

Each apple is delicious. Which would you choose?

The Duality Trap occurs when there are multiple right answers to a question. How often does this happen? Every single time. In fact, it’s a side effect of good digital management. Why?

In hierarchical management, the boss is always right so there’s no duality. Since we’ve thrown out hierarchical decision making, every team action is potentially subject to review by everyone on the team. The very loose structure that allows individual autonomy and rapid response has the natural consequence of also creating cognitive friction when individuals approach problems differently.

These different approaches are generally all valid ways to progress.

Digital natives fundamentally understand choice duality and may present alternatives just to ensure team diversity. Unfortunately, while where may be multiple valid solutions, the team can only pick one [1]. Nine times out of ten, the team will simply pick and move on. In that outlier case, they are counting on you, their digital manager, to resolve the selection.

Here’s the trap: resolving a duality does not mean “picking the winner” because having a winner implies the choices were unequal. If you’re team is stuck then there are at least two good choices.

If you are a traditional manager, the temptation to become Ronald “the decider” Reagan is nearly irresistible. Under the title=authority to decide model, you must justify your salary with making a “right” decision. You’ve been waiting for this moment to exert your authority for days. But, unbeknownst to “the decider,” this big moment will immediately undermine the team’s autonomy. On the other hand, If you are a digital native then this is the moment you’ve been dreading because you’ve got to be decisive. Despite 5 to 10 really good choices, you have to make ONE. So, a digital native can appear to be indecisive. However, not deciding is the worst possible choice. So what should you do?

First, remember that teams are strengthened when they are clearly aligned around an intent.

Resolving the duality trap is an opportunity to emphasize your intent. The best approach is to ask your team to review the options again in light of your shared objectives. In many cases, they will be able to resolve the issue from that perspective. If not, then you should:

  1. validate all options could work
  2. have the team state desired outcomes that can be measured
  3. pick the option that most aligns with your intent
  4. ask if the option your team does choose fit the overall agenda of; speed of delivery but quality drops, quality of deep diving into the project (upping the quality) but you may miss a crucial deadline (this may narrow down your choices.
  5. ask the team to monitor for the results

In this case, even as you are driving a decision, you are still sharing the responsibility for the outcome with the team. It’s important for the team that you focus on the desired results and not on which course was chosen. It is very likely that any of the choices would work out and achieve positive outcomes.

So it’s OK to get out of the trap of picking “best” options when there are multiple right choices.  

In an age of ambiguity, it is easy to fall into the duality trap. Just remember, there is no one way to get it all done these days. Which means a GREAT people manager realizes 2 things; a) your people need more of your support than ever. This comes in the form of training, finding solutions, and building a team that has the right chemistry. And b) getting out of their way.

Get ready as we wrap up this series in post 8: Transitioning from a Bossy Boss into a Digital Age Leader.

[1] If you are in a situation where you an allow divergence for minimal cost (like which phone brand people use) then do not force your team to choose!

What Is digital “work?” Can we sell a cloud of smoke? Yes and the impacts are very tangible. [2 of 8]


So, what is a Digital worker?  Before we talk about managing them, we need to agree to the very concept of digital work.

A Digital Worker is someone who creates value primarily by creating virtual goods and services.  This creates a challenge for traditional work because, in the physical world, no material goods were created.

ManagersBack in The Day, this type of work was equivalent to selling day dreams – it had no material value. It was intangible.

To today’s tech savvy workforce, even though their output exists simply as numbers in the “cloud,” digital work is tangible to digital natives.

Tangible work is directly consumable. If I create something I can see it, hold it in my hands. Eat it and enjoy it in the three dimensional meatverse we call “reality.” So, If I baked a pie and Brad ate it then I produced consumable work. That same rule applies for digital work like this blog post that Brad and I produced and you are reading. It’s nothing more than photons on a screen, but the value is immense and you can see the tangible results of our work.

The entire industrial age up until now was driven by a basic premise of effort equals results so eloquently stated by management consultant, Peter Drucker“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

But much of what we do in the nascent stage of Digital Age, the beginning of the 21st Century, can NOT be measured using traditional value placements.

Case in point, what happens if we only worked when our spouses told us it was time to stop playing Candy Crush and get back to writing? We’re still producing digital work but now our spouses have taken on the role of managers. While they played an essential part in the content being created, their input is intangible and something that cannot be measured. Our spouse becomes the influencer in this model.

We need to revisit “If You Can’t Measure It You Can’t Manage.”  It is BS! no longer applies in digital work.

This distinction is important because we want to distinguish between digital workers and managers. They do very similar actions (type on keyboards, send email, go to meetings), but one creates digital goods while the other coordinates the creation of digital goods.

In the world of physical goods, the people coordinating HOW the work gets done have a significant amount of power. They provide the raw materials, tools, capital, supply chains and other requirements to get the goods to market. i.e…logistics. The actions of any single worker cannot scale in a meaningful way without management being involved; consequently, management has a tremendous amount of power (and corresponding respect) in the worker-manager relationship paradigm. This is not just for industrial work, the same applies to farming, singing, writing or other industries and defines most work in the pre-digital world of the Boomers, Traditionalists and earlier generations.

But let’s extend our simple example to a team of animators creating special effects for a movie. Pixar for example. The work requires each member of the team to already be up to speed on their specific role in the animation process. Whether a sculptor, character development, a digital set designer or character animator, each member knows what they need to do to be their very best, and how to reach their own deadlines. They are self managed and the very best at their jobs. And each is in charge of creating from the digital universe the same logistics mentioned above. Instead of management providing that support, the digital worker is their own support within the team.

The digital world inverts the traditional worker-manager dynamic.

With digital goods, the raw materials, tools, capital, supply chains and other requirements to get the goods to market. i.e…again, logistics are readily available so the worker’s creativity and effort become the critical resource.

A so called “manager” in this framework has one job: to provide the support and right environment to get the work done. Like a beekeeper, he must trust that each bee knows how to create honey. His or her job is to make their jobs friction free by making the environment the very best to get that work done. Trust is the key word.

bunny slippersThere is still need for management and coordination, but the power dynamic has been radically altered. While anyone could follow Rob’s pie recipe, you cannot simply replace his role as co-author on this blog post. Even more radical, there’s often no perceived need for managers at all!  Digital workers simply order pizza and produce digital goods in their bathrobe and bunny slippers.

While this vision is held as a core belief by many digital natives, we don’t believe it entirely.

But wait Rob and Brad, what about those YouTube millionaires who upload cat videos and cash in?  In those cases, there is a lot of invisible coordination in the distribution channel. The massive infrastructure needed to deliver Grumpy Cat is also digital work and Google invests vast sums of money to reduce the friction connecting those content creators and consumers. [Google and YouTube are the beekeeper.]

We believe the need for coordination of digital work is a critical and necessary component for real digital work to get done on time. Unfortunately, the inversion of power means that managers have neither the authority not resource controls that were in place when “modern management techniques” were created.

Our focus here is not on the lone wolf digital workers, but instead, we are focused on the collaborative digital worker. Those people who must collaborate with each other to deliver their goods. For those workers, there is a need for capital, supply chains and coordination. Their work is just a bit of the larger digital whole.

If “modern management” does not work for digital workers then what does?

Let’s keep in mind as we explore this discussion that these are High Trust environments and the subject for our next 6 posts.  Read post 3.