Flow: The idiosyncrasy of awesome engineers

“Earth to Anders! It’s the daily stand-up!”

It felt like being a boy again, hearing my mother calling me in for dinner when it finally was my turn to be Darth Vader.

I didn’t want to attend that meeting. Agile was great, but I wanted to code. To learn my tools. To be an awesome engineer.

Two weeks into my first iterative project, I was in conflict with myself.

It came unexpectedly; not only was this an agile project – I finally had the chance to code Enterprise Java using this innovative IDE with refactoring tools and other sophisticated code manipulation features called Eclipse. The project of my dreams, in other words.

(You guessed right, it’s some 10 years ago.)

My team and I had also read books about agile methodology, and we just loved throwing away late testing, early specifications and other anachronisms of the checkered past of software engineering. Our focus was on feedback: We had daily stand-ups, long retrospectives and pair programming.

But there was a snag:

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Stop believing in me, please

Some 15 years ago I told everyone around me I had quit smoking yesterday.

The response was overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic. “Great for you!”, “You can do this!” and so on.

Utterly discouraging.

A few, thank god, were skeptical. “I’ve heard that before,” they would say as I chewed away on my carrot sticks. “You can’t even get up for math lectures. You have no discipline. I bet you’re back on those cigarettes faster than we empty free beer.”

Presto. I haven’t smoked since.

What motivational drivers are better at work? People who believe in us and are supportive, or people who think we’re wrong?

I’ve realized I prefer being driven by people who think I’m wrong. (Provided they give me the opportunity to prove I’m right.) It’s inherently motivating, it helped me quit smoking, but there are some more important benefits as well:

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Serial innovation starts and ends with guidelines on the wall

I wonder – what would work be like, if you and your team would agree to the following four guidelines?

I thought about having a designer work on a poster but decided it was better to monitor how many actually downloads my Keynote screenshot

I thought about having a designer work on a poster, but I decided it was better to monitor how many actually downloads this slide that I made in Keynote

1. Exploration over back-logs

There, I won’t forget it now. Phuh. Writing down future work is therapy to the overworked innovator.

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House of Cards: Lessons in Power and Politics for Corporate Entrepreneurs

No spoilers: Based on Season 1. If you like it, I might derive more dirty tricks from season 2!

Wake up your inner entrepreneur – it’s time to disrupt yourself. By hauge2.

Take Kodak, Nokia and Commodore in their prime time, and ask yourself why your company is any different right now.

Getting enthusiasm about your ideas at lunch is one thing – getting the organization behind your mission to innovate, is another.

Disobedient innovation, or intrapreneurship as we prefer to call it, requires political skills: Any good idea in an established organization is also a threat to someone (anyone who perpetuates the status quo).

Master the politics – become an effective entrepreneur

But you’re not an underdog. You’re Frank Underwood, ready to outmaneuver the opposition with political virtuosity, lean thinking and entrepreneurial charm.

Like the president, who unknowingly unleashes a monster when double-crossing Underwood in the first episode of season 1, established companies who hunger for continuation unknowingly unleash the entrepreneurs in their people. Preventing entrepreneurship is after all the cardinal sin of a technology company in its prime. Thank God entrepreneurs now learn to deal with the Washington in their companies.

Here’s how Frank Underwood would disrupt your company from within:

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7 counter-tips to entrepreneurs

I’d like to protest against some general advice, by giving some general advice. Written by @hauge2

Dave Kerpen’s post titled 7 tips to entrepreneurs is undoubtedly based on experience, and written with the best intentions. Even so, the more general advice about entrepreneurship I read (that includes stuff I’ve written myself), the more I ask myself what’s the value for the receiving end.

Based on experience. Written with passion. Anticipating success.

Based on experience. Written with passion. Anticipating success.

Example: “Believe in yourself” is an advice we hear often. I don’t think you shouldn’t believe in yourself, but there’s a problem: People who try and utterly fail also believe in themselves. At least believed. Such advice is a cliché.

What’s more alarming, is how easily such advice is misinterpreted and used in ways that was never intended. Hence, to avoid the pitfalls I’m sure the author of the original post never intended, here are my seven counter-tips to Kerpen’s 7 tips to entrepreneurs.

And please: Take this with a pinch of salt.

Tip 1: “Have an amazing support system”.

Counter-tip: “Don’t get addicted to confirmations from your support system”

Make sure you distinguish moral support from validated learning. Eric Ries talks about the entrepreneur distortion field – people who wish you the best will unintentionally give you false positives about your ideas:  The people who fuel your ego are rarely the people who pay the invoices you send. Have a support system, but spend your time on real customer prospects instead.

Tip 2: “Expect utter hell, and you’ll be just fine”

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Idle your product owner

As a first step towards dealing with an over-loaded development team, we showed an organization how to visualize their work by representing work items with Post-its on the wall, flowing from to-do, to in progress, testing and doneThe organization quickly catched the idea, and soon priorities were respected, deliveries became more predictable, and developers had a process to improve.

Which is what they did, and after some time we saw a new work pattern emerge:

  1. A product owner identifies a need and wants a designer to work on the details
  2. The designer grabs the task and sketches out a solution
  3. Developer tasks can now be defined, and they go into a special planning column, which gradually started to increase in size

Things are finally happening

Although tasks are completed at this point, the need is still not solved. Nevertheless, the message becomes: “Hold on tight everyone, things are finally happening now,” and while waiting for it, the product owner may start working on even more needs, which creates even more work for the designers, and subsequently even more tasks for the developers.

Which is what they did.

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130 years old and innovating

After writing about introvert and extrovert organizations, I’ve been challenged to come up with more examples:

Imagine an organization that is more than 100 years old. It has a demanding and highly conscious customer base, who expect nothing but the best. Which is what they get, with live deliveries on a consistently superior quality level, multiple times a month, with constant alternation of leadership.

For 130 years.

This sounds more like an extremely steady delivery organization than an innovative one. In fact, any organization who’s even remotely resembling such seemingly impossible behavior is likely to resist anything new. Never change a winning team, as they say.

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