Work is created in meetings

This is a great analysis of meetings and email by Jason Downs.

I used to think that most work arrived by email, but after looking closely at it, it’s clear to me now that the critical point at which work gets created is in meetings. Email, as painful as it is, is really about people requesting a response to the fact that work needs to get done; students asking for extensions, colleagues asking about that project you are working on together, program managers asking about that new course design…

Good advice on how to take charge of the meeting/email cycle later in JD’s post, too.

2016 Year in Review

A brief look back at the working year that was.

The first half of the year was, as I recall, mostly taken up with teaching. I was the coordinator for a fourth-year research methods course for four of the six design disciplines in the School. There were almost 200 students, three other lecturers and six tutors. Keeping all of that under control was quite enough. For the first time since 2006 I did not have to do the 8am research seminar on Fridays with the fourth year Industrial Design students. Not having to be up early on a Friday, and not having any 8am teaching starts, was pretty great.

Naturally, I should have been writing.

At some point in the middle of the year I was asked to act in the Research Leader role for the School. This is supposed to be an Associate Professor level service role (level D) and I was a Lecturer (level B). Several people objected to me acting in this role and had to be told that the Dean had approved it. Several other people told me that they had assumed I was at least a level C. I’m still not sure how to think about that.

Acting as Research Leader was a fascinating insight into how the faculty-level research policy sausage gets made. It gets made in meetings out of a kit of parts provided by the university and mostly organised ahead of time by the faculty executive. The role of most people in the meeting is to witness the announcement of the decision, whatever decision that may be, and then discuss the management of the impacts of that decision.

For a lot of this time, meetings were taking up much of my week which meant using weekends to prepare for teaching.

Throughout the year I was serving on the Faculty Ethics Committee, reviewing “low risk” ethics applications. Everyone on the committee had their own pet quibble. Mine was to pick holes in the detail of proposed informed consent processes.

Naturally, with all this happening, I should have been writing.

In second semester I taught Product Usability to the (mostly) first year industrial design cohort. I really liked teaching Product Usability. I will miss seeing 80 faces when the class is told that they need to make a toilet out of cardboard for the first assignment.

I was also involved with the fourth year Industrial Design students in their capstone project. As it happens most of the 2016 four years were in my class the first year I taught Product Usability.

About ten weeks in to Semester 2, around mid-October, I accepted a role with Symplicit, a user-led innovation firm. They wanted me to start in two weeks. Universities like you to give 4 months notice. We compromised that I’d move to a 40% appointment with the uni and start 60% with Symplicit until teaching and marking was finished. That led to some interesting weeks where I could be teaching one day and a then on a plane to Melbourne the next to run a workshop for a client.

Still being employed by the University, I should have been writing.

Finishing up with the University and being full time with a commercial firm has been quite the change. I’m yet to need to check email on the weekend or in the evening. Work happens during work hours. It’s quite the change.

The year ahead is mostly planned out until late March or early April. Beyond that my calendar is a great white expanse of as yet unclaimed time.

Goodbye, 2016. You were mostly hard work but you ended well and the year ahead seems to be full of promise.

Doing Different Things Differently

Today on Twitter, Venkatesh Rao said

Challenge accepted.

Change Yourself or Change the World 2x2

Change Yourself or Change the World 2×2

Here’s what’s going on.

The lower left, with no changes to the world or yourself is Status Quo. Lower right, changing yourself but not changing the world, is Navel Gazing. Navel Gazing is not derogatory but about introspection. Changing the world but not yourself is Dear Leader. Dear Leader is the pole-star who amasses a following. Changing yourself and the world is Boydian because it seems to involve a sort of multi-loop feedback system with changes to the person making changes in the world which make changes in the person.

But… this 2×2 doesn’t make any claims about doing things differently or doing different things. And the world only changes in three of the four quadrants. Change only happens for the Boydian, who can do things differently or do different things. The Navel Gazer is trapped in introspection and Dear Leader seems to be reliant on Boydians to actually change the world.

I’m far happier with this second try where I’ve tried to make use of all the tropes of Rao’s (in)famous 2x2s.


Doing Things Differently or Doing Different Things 2×2

What’s going on here is that the axes are now Doing Things Differently and Doing Different Things and the whole 2×2 is about change in the world. The horizontal axis runs from Freedom (left) to Purpose (right) and the vertical axis runs from Exposed (bottom) to Volatile (top).

The whole 2×2 is actually about agency.

In the lower left, we’re in The Doldrums, where we have Freedom but are also completely Exposed. We lack agency. We have the whole ocean stretching out in every direction, but way to act.

In the lower right, we’re Hill Climbing. We now have Purpose but we’re still Exposed. This is Doing Things Differently but we’re still stuck with the same Things. Algorithms that implement Hill Climbing search strategies can only find local maxima and might miss potential global maxima, if only they were a little more Volatile.

In the upper left we’re on a Random Walk. This concept is response to flaws in the Hill Climbing algorithm and attempts to avoid local maxima by jumping to random places in the search space. But a Random Walk by itself has no Purpose. On the Random Walk you can Do Different Things, but so what? The caption for this quadrant “betting on a Single” is a roulette reference, where a single is one number on the wheel. There’s a big payoff if you’re correct, but if you’re wrong, do you stick to your guns or change your bet?

In the upper right is Drunken Master. This is a reference to the zui quan fighting style of Kung Fu most famously displayed in the Jackie Chan classic Drunken Master. Basically, the fighter adopts a drunken affect which unsettles the opponent. There’s (obviously) a strong element to Boydian “getting inside the opponent’s decision cycle” here, too.