Culture

Great corporate culture is easy to spot; just count the happy employees. I’m sure there are studies into the benefits of a positive culture, but I doubt you need studies to be convinced anyway.

Creating a great culture can be incredibly hard though. And regaining it after losing it is just as hard itself. It is like exercise; the amount of effort it takes to regain condition after sitting on your ass for a month disproportionately overshadows the effort it would have taken to maintain the routine for that same period. It’s rolling that boulder back up-hill.

So, I guess the first rule of Culture Club is: maintain culture for all it’s worth.

What makes culture hard is that you cannot afford words and actions to become misaligned. Intent alone is not enough, because perception beats intent every day; if employees don’t believe it, you’ve lost already.

Which means that the second rule of Culture Club is: make sure you pick a culture you are prepared to stand behind with every action, pick the culture you mean, be specific… platitudes do more harm than good. Everyone wants to be the “company full of smart empowered and pro-active individuals”, but just don’t say it unless you’re prepared to live by it.

I mean, look at McDonalds… there are manuals and procedures for everything. No need for anyone to be empowered or pro-active. But at least everyone is on the same page regarding what McDonalds culture is like. Which means that nobody ends up complaining about it. It Does What It Says On The Label.

And there are many stops along the spectrum from completely running on process* to completely running on people*, so pick the spot that is right for your organisation and live and breathe it.

And that would be the third rule of Culture Club: once you have a culture that is realistic for your organisation, everyone has to work at keeping it there. You have to look for things slipping and nudge them back where your culture says it belongs.

I suspect that may well be one of the biggest purposes that the playful decor at a place like Google has in maintaining their culture. It’s not a direct part of the culture, but it serves as an overt reminder not to take things too seriously. Breaking traditional corporatey-officey rules in the way you decorate immediately makes clear not to make assumptions about how things work around the place.

And I couldn’t be happier at Campaign Monitor; it comes with a great built-in culture close to the People-based end of the spectrum. And I’ll actively be doing my bit to help keep it there along with everyone else.

Just a little ongoing maintenance is all it takes.


* It is almost impossible to maintain a culture that is purely process-based or purely people-based. The more process-based a culture, the better it is to have a publicly acknowledged “why” for each rule and process; it helps the “people”-people. The more people-based a culture, the better it is to make clear that not being sure of how to handle something is okay, and a process to follow to find the right person to help; because you’re going to have “process”-people as well.

Day 263 – Entertainment Stacks

Today I have been consumed with media cataloguing. I used to keep a Wunderlist instance with movies and series that we already own and intend to own. The one draw-back of using a to-do list for this, is that “ticking off” items does not result in meaningful behaviour in that context.

After a lot of hemming and hawing I decided to give Google Docs a try. A simple spread-sheet would surely do the trick. It got a little fancier than I had anticipated.

Stacks of Moves and Series
Stacks of Moves and Series

My memories of Google Sheets was hazy, and I was prepared to settle for a simple list of titles, a little meta-data, and an indication of whether the item was already bought or not.

Then my sense of exploration, and my management-induced Excel knowledge started leading me down a path of validation and conditional formatting. I now have greyed-out titles for items that are already bought, red warnings on meta-data that is missing from items that have been bought, columns to log Amazon/eBay pricing so that if I am in JB HiFi I can spot the actual bargains.

On top of that, the “Filter View” functionality is very helpful for flicking quickly between the list of “owned” and “not-yet-owned” items. Sadly, this feature does not exist in the Android version of Google Drive yet.

And that brings me to the final critical point; this sheet is very usable even on my tiny Android screen. I pinned it to the device so it keeps an offline copy synced in case I lose signal in the back of JB HiFi, and scrolling through the list of 900+ titles is actually very snappy.

Now I just need to have a hunt around the house, because although I think I’ve piled up all the discs, there is a conspicuous absence of “Modern Family” and “Sherlock”… there must be a few more discs hiding out somewhere.

Day 245 – Play Music

A tale of slowly lessening misery.

I thought my stiff neck and back would benefit from a good nights’ sleep. Instead I spent a night mostly flat on my back, because rolling over was just too painful to be worthwhile. I woke up worse than when I fell asleep.

Luckily I had decided despite my best hopes to book a session for my back this morning. But it quickly became clear that my hope to make it to the office by 10am was a slightly over-optimistic fantasy. And although I knew it was inevitable, it took me till about noon before I wistfully cancelled my gym class for the evening. Telling myself it’s for the best is cold comfort when between a Melbourne trip and this back I have done maybe 2-3 classes in the last two weeks.

So instead, I spent my day with heat packs, sitting as upright as I could in front of my laptop, letting the heat seep in and carefully stretching the range of the mobility in my neck. I can now do from almost over my left shoulder (with some pulling) to almost over my right (with some more pulling), and down almost touching my chin to my sternum. I should at least be able to sleep normally.

And I made myself “useful” by moving the last vestiges of important data around so that this laptop can feel like home.
And I moved all my tracks from Spotify into Google Music, and then changed over my subscriptions.

I really like the Google Music UI. It feels more useful for discovering stuff than Spotify ever was. And as a bonus I spent most of the day with music in my ears, which is a great way to forget about how useless I am right now.

Though for some reason, it has decided that my “I’m feeling lucky” radio station consists of classical music. I may have to re-train it a bit after I cleared out my previously uploaded tracks. Clearly the sheer volume has given it slightly the wrong impression of what best to surprise me with. Oh, wow… look at that… “Refresh Station” fixed it in one go. On to New Adventures!

Day 167 – Identity

I am very ambivalent about places like Google+ and Facebook. I like the idea of a platform that makes it easy to share and connect with friends, but… there always are problems.

It relates to why European teens are allegedly abandoning Facebook in droves.

It relates to unease giving corporate entities access to personal information.

It relates to frequent annoyances and misguided features.

Trusting Business

To me personally, the corporate trust issue is less of a reason. Not because I actually trust Google and Facebook and Microsoft, but because the reality is that we all are already trusting a lot of large corporations anyway.

Do you have an Android phone? Well, then you are running Google’s OS and they are essentially in full control of your phone already, and everything you do with or through it. If Google decided to go evil, they’d have all our personal information and bank details.

Do you have an Apple phone? Same story, different company.

Additionally, we routinely trust the manufacturer of our phone hardware, the manufacturer of the major chips inside the phone, the network operator you are subscribing with, the company that installed the mobile phone towers in your area, the manufacturers of the hardware of these phone towers, and so on.

If any one of these links in the chain, wanted to maliciously intercept all your data, they can do so if they want it badly enough. And there is no way for us to tell whether they are or aren’t doing so.

My trust comes from any misdeeds of this nature sooner or later coming to light.

Annoyances and Mis-features

Every so often it seems the big social platforms betray their users in the most logical of ways. We’re playing on their services for free, and they will always keep looking for ways to increase the value of our interactions so that they can make money somewhere.

Facebook has a habit of making changes to the privacy settings. To make our content less private. Their revenue model drives from having people make connections and share with each other. And by that sharing show things about themselves Facebook can monetize. They do not want you to hide your information and keep private; they want you as public as possible.

Google is mostly motivated by search. Their moves try to increase the value of search and credibility. They don’t care as much about how we relate with each other and what we do exactly (for now), but they do want to know what information is reputable. Google wants to create “PageRank for People” so they can tell who knows what about what, and who is just full of shit.

Invariably these moves lead to outrage, but that always quiets down again in the end, because when it comes down to it we all just want to share with our friends and family, and there really are few other places to go with comparable features or commitment from our existing contacts.

The Social Circle Problem

What has been driving European teenagers off Facebook is kinda interesting. Teenagers like Facebook. Late to the party, parents start showing up on Facebook. Teenagers accept friend requests from parents (because they feel they have to?). Teenagers feel this invades their private friend-space. Teenagers flee.

The same problem exists with mixing other social circles… work and friends… friends and family… family and work… close friends… special interests.

What’s interesting is that the tool to resolve this problem comes included with Facebook: Lists. But they just aren’t as easy to use as they could be. I’m not sure whether this is a purposeful strategy, or a failure to see why this is an important aspect of a social platform into the future.

We all move in a multitude of circles. We all are many pieces of different identity that we do not necessarily want to mix with all our circles. That gaming habit might elicit ridicule at work. That party you’re throwing might not be for all your friends to know about. Those family photos might not be for anyone but family for a variety of reasons.

I think there’s room for a social network that gets privacy and dealing with our many interwoven identities right, but in the mean time…

My Solution

Setting up and properly using Facebook lists can make what already exists a lot more bearable.

My current strategy:

  1. Add all missing family members to the “Family” smart-list
  2. Add all co-workers to the company-named smart-list
  3. For anyone not on lists 1 or 2
    Add everyone you don’t really know to the “Restricted” list
    (you move them on to other lists later when you know them better)
  4. For anyone not on lists 1, 2 or 3
    Add anyone that you only want to see important posts from to “Acquaintances
  5. For anyone not on lists 2, 3 or 4
    Add anyone you are close to, to “Close Friends” so you see all their posts
  6. Create any other special-topic lists with appropriate names added to them

The people on the “Restricted” list will only see material that is already published publicly anyway, plus anything they are explicitly mentioned in. This is a good place to put new people who you’re hesitant about until you decide where they really belong.

Facebook considers everybody else a “Friend” and can see what you normally post and comment on your feed.

For those marked “Acquaintances” you will only see the most important posts so your timeline does not get cluttered up by people you only very vaguely know. Like that person you spoke to that one single time at that party.

For those marked “Close Friends” you will see everything they post. So keep this list to your real closest friends. Anyone not marked explicitly as “Acquaintances” or “Close Friends” will presumably sit on a level somewhat in between the two.

And when posting something new, by default the publishing setting is “visible to Friends”, but with these lists properly populated it becomes very easy to publish something only to “Family”, or “Close Friends”, or “Work” as appropriate for the occasion. For bonus points you can then go through the privacy settings and adjust these so that your address is only for family, and your mobile number only for close friends.

And those fleeing teenagers? They could easily create a “No-Adults-Allowed” list and then make this their default publishing target. As long as they post enough mundane stories to “Friends”, their parents would never be the wiser they aren’t seeing the good stuff.

Day 111 – Into the Nexus

Today my brand new Nexus 5, 32GB (Black) arrived.

Last Thursday I read that Google would be unveiling their new device overnight to the American market, and I was looking forward to picking one up sometime on Friday.

On Friday, as is my usual routine, I was skimming through Feedly to catch up on my news feeds from overnight before getting out of bed. One of the first articles from the US I hit on announced “Nexus 5 Sold Out”, which had me out of bed quicker than if the house had been on fire.

I hoped that Australia would still be lagging this news by at least a few hours.

Luckily this was true. I managed to place my order on Friday morning before several batches sold out. Over the past weekend every single variant has sold out; it may be a while till new stock shows up.

Originally my order indicated to expect shipping “By 8th November”. Which was fine with me. Then later on last Friday I got an email from Google saying that the device had been “shipped”, meaning they had taken my money and told FedEx to come and pick it up.

It indicated an estimated delivery date for today, the 4th. I wasn’t quite sure I believed it.

Parcel from Google
Parcel from Google

But there it was, by 6pm as indicated, I was in possession of a small well padded parcel that had come down from a warehouse in Hong Kong over the weekend.

Understated Packaging
Understated Packaging

The packaging of the phone has a very basic austere look to it. You’d hardly believe it contains the latest gadget from a high-tech company by the look of it.

Pristine new Device
Pristine new Device

But who cares about the packaging anyway? It’s all about the black piece of plastic with rare-earth elements inside.

It doesn’t look as large as I had feared, this nominally being a 5″-or-so device. Or maybe my Galaxy Nexus is just larger than I thought it was.

It is also very thin, and very light. As with all modern technology, I have a sneaking suspicion that there is nothing inside the shell, and that somehow they have figured out how to make actual honest-to-goodness magic to drive these.

Anyway… let’s get this show on the road!

Updating, ... Straight out of the Box
Updating, … Straight out of the Box

…Or not.

It appears that this Google device that was launched barely 3 days ago already needs an update before it runs. It makes me wonder how long these have been waiting in a warehouse for Google’s announcement.

And then there is the matter of the SIM. I still have a full-size SIM in my Galaxy Nexus, so tomorrow I will have to drop by a Virgin store to get a Micro SIM for this phone.

But I’ve had a play with it on WiFi, and it’s very slick and incredibly helpful. Google’s worked out where I work, where I live, where I go to the gym, and where I get my coffee. It’s basically figured out the centre of my universe and how to get around it.

And everything feels smooth and responsive.

I just have to go through all my apps and re-enter the necessary credentials. Although that can probably partially wait till tomorrow.

And then there is the matter of waiting for the case to arrive. It also comes from HK, but it doesn’t have the benefit of a very determined multinational behind it to speed it along. I’ll just have to be very careful for a week or so till it has some proper protection around it.

Day 91 – Dash Around Melbourne

I earned my dinner by walking my 10k steps around Melbourne this evening. Fittingly, my bracelet buzzed just as I walked back into my hotel room. I checked the Melbourne map in Google before setting off to measure the scale of the CBD, and decided I could do the full width easily for a walk.

I really need to spend some time on a holiday here, because there are so many places that look ideal for the daytime that I’ll never get to on a business trip. Nice parks, just outside the bounds of the CBD, but too far from work to make for an easy trip in a lunch break. Unless I have a really unconscionably long lunch break that is.

I returned with a nice salami pizza that is now gone, a large bottle of pear cider that’ll last me the rest of the evening, and two donuts to try later. I briefly considered the Key Lime Pie donuts, but now that Android 4.4 has been renamed KitKat, I just didn’t see the point.

I think I got a good 5km walk in and now I deserve a rest, before I have to dive into the paperwork to prepare for tomorrow.
*sigh*