Cannot connect to world

Common minecraft error message

This was pretty much a central theme during my time working in China. When you are conditioned to always be connected to the hive mind suddenly losing access made for some adjustment. Ready access to information is central to experience design work today.


Modern laziness
The original kind of lazy avoids hard physical work. Too lazy to dig a ditch, organize a warehouse or clean the garage.

Modern lazy avoids emotional labor. This is the laziness of not raising your hand to ask the key question, not caring about those in need or not digging in to ship something that might not work. Lazy is having an argument instead of a thoughtful conversation. Lazy is waiting until the last minute. And lazy is avoiding what we fear.

Lazy feels okay in the short run, but eats at us over time.

Laziness is often an option, and it’s worth labelling it for what it is.
Seth’s Blog


– Dan Shapiro

… courage was more important than confidence. When you are operating out of courage, you are saying that no matter how you feel about yourself or your opportunities or the outcome, you are going to take a risk and take a step toward what you want. You are not waiting for the confidence to mysteriously arrive.
An interview with Debbie Millman in Tim Ferriss’s book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World


    Were all pros already.

  1. We show up every day
  2. We show up no matter what
  3. We stay on the job all day
  4. We are committed over the long haul
  5. The stakes for us are high and real
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor
  7. We do not overidentify with our jobs
  8. We master the technique of our jobs
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world
  11. Steven Pressfield

From the book The War of Art.


What I have been up to

Waiting for my order at Starbucks in Fuzhou. It was hard to find good coffee there and I would have to rely on Starbucks for a Latte fix. Unfortunately the milk they use would often cause problems.

I have been back in Hsinchu since July, staying under the radar, as I often do, but have been asked on a number of occasions what I have been doing to keep myself busy. As is also often the case my responses have gone off in all kinds of directions – my conversations are still often like hypertext and it takes effort to focus.

Though it was only official in September, I left NetDragon at the end of June, immediately packed my bags, and got out of Fujian as fast as Cathay would take me. Which as it turned out wasn’t that fast, as I had a layover in Hong Kong. I had been thinking about writing about the experience but I have decided that there is little point in sharing much of the details. If we think of companies as products, like Apple reportedly does, NetDragon ticked all the boxes, the feature list was long, but like so many tech. products the actual experience was poor. Poor to the point that I wasn’t going to achieve what I set out to do. There are some good people there and I worked on some interesting things, but over the long term it just wasn’t worth being away from my family. As I get older I have less patience for wasting my time, our greatest commodity.

Now, I am taking a risk by spending time on pursuing something different. I would like to say that it’s all puppies and pizza but it isn’t. It’s hard, frustrating, and very often boring. Through a combination of books, online courseware, and tutorials I have been spending my days learning programming with Swift. I’ve taken programming classes in the past, worked on apps. in Xcode, and did a lot web development, but with the exception of mark-up languages I was at best a hack. A cut’n’paster. So I am giving myself 4 – 6 months to see how far I can advance with my studies. To be honest I am not making great progress, boring tasks plant the seeds of procrastination, but I’m not ready to quit yet.

Lastly, I started with Sheryl a new company. It’s called Smart Bean, and I see it is as a new kind of family business, with everyone involved in it’s success. It’s akin to stalls at the farmers market, a breakfast shop in Hsinchu, or what younger, more hip people than myself, call a side hustle. When I was a musician we called it surviving. Though it’s my main focus in the months to come we don’t have grand ambitions like so many start-ups you read about in tech blogs. We just want to work hard at something that’s fun to do and hopefully be rewarded with experience and enough business success to smooth out the rough spots as we transition away from Taiwan. Our company has an educational product focus with Apple’s iOS being our platform of choice, for now. The iOS app business feels like the “Pro Blog” trend of past and we are going in realizing that it’s very difficult for a small independent developer to make money. I think it’s fun to be working on the whole product development stack, not just writing reports or managing the work of others.

Other than that, it’s great to see my kids everyday again. I spent the better part of a year in China and Canada, and visits were sparse. I’ve had to lay off running for a while but I’ve been training and hope to be running again ASAP. Now that the heat has gone, Hsinchu is a pretty decent place to be right now.


If you can’t explain it to a 5 year old …

One of the consistent problems I have faced both as a result of a highly irregular career path (I don’t even like the word career), and my own extremely broad interests, is that answering the inevitable “what do you do?” question inevitably leads to a stuttered response on my part.

This problem in no small part has been a result of living in Taiwan for 18 years, where design specialization is a difficult path to take.

My responses have been purposely vague and often include the titles designer, design manager or engineer. Inquisitive people, like my son, often want more detail and that’s where I usually start to fail. How to explain my work, experience, and/or my interests to non-practioners, which is to say just about everyone.

Last December I attempted to do just that, as I was required to do so as part of 3+ month evaluation presentation. I wrote the following:

For over 20 years I have worked with organisations to help them build applications, websites, music, and other digital products that work for real people.

I’m a maker, love my craft, and enjoy working with others to realise a products vision. I have experience, and am comfortable, working in a variety of roles.

我有著20年的經驗幫助各類組織製作應用、網頁、音樂 、提升使用者體驗、以及開發其他幫助人們實現其 目標的數碼產品。

我是一個製造者,我愛我的手藝,並樂於同其他人一 同努力實現產品目標。 我有著豐富經驗,能夠適應在 工作中扮演不同的角色。

I don’t like it but it served it’s purpose at the time, particularly the Chinese version.

The problem with these couple of paragraphs is that they don’t actually explain anything. And the term maker in English has all kinds of connotations that I don’t want.

So this is a problem I hope to solve over the next couple weeks as I make some time for a healthy does of introspection and define some further focus for the next few months.


A quick departure

NetDagon’s very impressive ChangLe campus attracts allot of new recruits and tour groups. Really well done and the whole campus is incredibly well maintained. Missing from the picture is the new executive “borg like” apartments on the right. While it deserves all the attention it receives, it becomes obvious over time that the campus and office buildings were designed more for the “wow”, than for the needs of employees.

Some decisions are difficult. While I am really excited to be returning to Taiwan for these next few months and have a direct impact on a new company’s product, I can’t help but feel a tiny bit of disappointment that I am leaving China early without accomplishing all I had set out to do (it was a big list). I’m a bit of an outlier, an odd duck, for a lot of good reasons, but instead of wasting time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, I thought it best to part ways, quickly, and on friendly terms.

I hope to write more about my experience in the coming weeks


Inside look at NetDragon

I always find it interesting to have a voyeuristic look into the work environments of others. While I wish these photos were as beautiful as many I see of design studios around the world but I hadn’t given any forethought to this series. My other photos of the of the ChangLe campus largely feature the buildings exterior and environment.

Most of the team at a dinner activity.

Cramped quarters in the Fuzhou office – less room for thinking and collaborating, more focused on production.

Afternoon meeting

Merry Go Round near the industrial design teams workspace.

Lots of space creates possibilities for thinking and co-working.

If I have the opportunity I’ll come back and update this with new photos.


Less Adjectives More Verbs

In other words, less talking more doing.

Taken from the blog of the same name, this should be my mantra for the rest of the year.


“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”
— Jessica Hische


Creativity isn’t linear

I die sitting at a desk all the time, and despite most of my favorite ideas coming at times I’m not even at work, I must sit there for at least 8 hours a day. Many don’t truly understand the following, and prefer a factory model of employee productivity and value.

… let’s remember that research shows human productivity does not follow a linear continuum with time. Specifically, according to Pareto’s principle, people produce 80 percent of what really matters in approximately 20 percent of the time they spend at work. So when I hear clients complain about summer hours, coffee breaks, or employees’ short days, I always remind them of the result of the study. Timesheets for employees are a relic of the past. They made sense in the industrial era when the scientific management of labor was implemented to organize work in assembly lines. But in today’s global economy more and more companies rely on their employees’ creativity for their success. Because creativity does not follow a linear relationship with time, time management for creative employees shouldn’t either. For instance, great advertising copy can take weeks or even months to be worked and reworked to final edit, whereas, conversely, a brilliant slogan may come to mind in just a few seconds. Time spent on copywriting is not a guarantee of success. So when Google provides employees with space and resources for a break, relaxation, or a massage they actually are managing the 80/20 rule of human productivity very well. They know that at some point in the day it inevitably becomes useless to require employees to sit at their desk. From this article which is excerpted from Francis Cholle’s The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass


Doing a Project in Your Spare Time

“The Problem With Doing a Project in Your Spare Time is That There isn’t Any”

I shared this on twitter earlier but the 140 character limit doesn’t allow for much commenting. I think it was Matt Owens of Volumeone (one of the original flash based “ezines”) who served as my inspiration 17 years ago for doing personal projects. It was at that time a very fundamental part of what I did, and about the only opportunity for trying new things that ultimately increased my skill set or alleviated the boredom of corporate design work. Many of these projects went on to be sources of income in themselves. When asking young designers today if they doing any work outside of the office they almost universally say no. Which is a shame because much of what gets done at work is full of constraints and as such it can be hard to grow or simply have fun.

But the choice quote above from Jim Coudal above does ring true. None of us get off at 5, and though I leave earlier than most, the mental energy to start a side project is nearly impossible to muster. It should be apart of our week, but unfortunately in all of the past 17 years in Taiwan, I’ve only met 2 bosses who believed in giving teams time to learn new skills. As a result I sacrifice my lunch hours, Friday nights, some early mornings, and Saturday afternoons practicing skills that make me a better designer.


It’s amazing the difference experience makes

A recent school meeting where we get introduced to all our kids teachers, and hear about the coming year amongst a myriad of other things, was a refreshing change. All but one of the teachers were mid career or older and had an air of confidence and experience that was palpable. They spoke from their success and failures, and with many stories to illustrate their point. The results of our kids studies at this school are far from being evident but despite having an unfavourable impression of the school as a whole, I left feeling at ease and confident that our children’s educational needs would be taken care of.

In my life I don’t often run into people with experience, Taiwan employers favor youth over experience, and so it was interesting to be talking to people whose abilities were as much defined by what they have done as what they have read. There is a struggle to gaining knowledge over time and this comes through with their delivery. Which reminds me of a quote from Limitless:

And you would even think that, would only show me how unprepared you are to be on your own. I mean you do know you’re a freak? Your deductive powers are a gift from God or chance or a straight shot of sperm or whatever or whoever wrote your life-script. A gift, not earned. You do not know what I know because you have not earned those powers. You’re careless with those powers, you flaunt them and you throw them around like a brat with his trust-fund. You haven’t had to climb up all the greasy little rungs. You haven’t been bored blind at the fundraisers. You haven’t done the time and that first marriage to the girl with the right father. You think you can leap over all in a single bound. You haven’t had to bribe or charm or threat your way to a seat at that table. You don’t know how to assess your competition because you haven’t competed.

Companies in Taiwan over-reliance on inexperienced workers in their teams may be misguided (more time spent does not equal to quality output) but that not to say that younger people have no value, many of the people who I have worked with are far more skilled in some areas, but that one should have balance. The best design team I worked with had people of all ages and backgrounds.

Also: At 90, She’s Designing Tech For Aging Boomers and Former Apple artist Susan Kare joins Pinterest as a lead product designer.


Saturday afternoons

A great working partner

A great working partner

This is getting to be a bad habit. I enjoy working in coffee shops, the few I frequent in Hsinchu are some of the best you will find anywhere. Great coffee, free wifi, and great environment. Saturdays are less enjoyable as it’s standing room only and the noise level rises above the usual background din.

For the past month or so while my son is at soccer I have been spending most of Saturday afternoon with my daughter at our local favourite Ink Café. I study, or catch up on odds and ends, or work on projects that can’t be accomlished through-out the week. Catriona finishes homework and then dives into a book.

It’s not a total waste but I can’t help think that this would be better done during normal (western) working hours. I would rather be hiking, or watching my son practice, or simply helping my daughter with homework over coffee and then going off exploring. But there is so much I hope to do.

Maybe if in the future my employment situation is more stable, I can relax and not be concerned with these small tasks.


Empathy and teams

How can you create products without being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, without caring deeply about how they will use your product and how they will feel. The same with the people you work with. If you really don’t care about them or their time, if you don’t try to help, or aren’t aware of their needs, how can you possibly work well together as a team? The best teams I’ve ever worked with were in music, where everyone intuitively worked together, communication was nothing more than a glance or a deep breathe. I often think of these questions lately.

Below is section from Stewart Butterfields recent interview in The New York Times, Is Empathy on Your Résumé?

You’ve had a couple of big successes, starting Flickr and now Slack. What are your thoughts about culture?

I really admire good restaurants. I don’t necessarily mean expensive ones. I mean restaurants that are well run with a seamless kind of flow. I notice things like whether the servers keep an eye on each other’s tables. If someone needs the check, they’ll tell each other. I think everyone likes working in an environment like that.

I played in jazz bands when I was younger, and I like playing improvisational music generally. You really have to keep your eye on everyone at the same time.

So how do you try to maintain that feel as your company grows?

One of our values is that you should be looking out for each other. Everyone should try to make the lives of everyone else who works here a little bit simpler. So if you’re going to call a meeting, you’re responsible for it, and you have to be clear what you want out of it. Have a synopsis and present well.

At the same time, if you’re going to attend a meeting, then you owe it your full attention. And if it’s not worth your attention, then say so — but don’t be a jerk about it — and leave the meeting.

People can go to work every day for a year and not really get anything done because they’re just doing the things that they felt they were supposed to be doing. We just went through this process of canceling almost every recurring meeting that we had to see which ones we really needed. We probably do need some of the ones we canceled, and they’ll come back — but we’ll wait until we actually need them again.

When we talk about the qualities we want in people, empathy is a big one. If you can empathize with people, then you can do a good job. If you have no ability to empathize, then it’s difficult to give people feedback, and it’s difficult to help people improve. Everything becomes harder.

One way that empathy manifests itself is courtesy. Respecting people’s time is important. Don’t let your colleagues down; if you say you’re going to do something, do it. A lot of the standard traits that you would look for in any kind of organization come down to courteousness. It’s not just about having a veneer of politeness, but actually trying to anticipate someone else’s needs and meeting them in advance.


If something that seems like work to other people doesn’t seem like work to you, that’s something you’re well suited for.

[…]

The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do.

[…]

What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?
Paul Graham


On speaking: HAIL

I’ve been avoiding TED for the past few years but this talk caught my attention and is worthy of your time. I’m certainly guilty of a few of his 7 deadly sins. I’ve tirelessly practiced how to perform but his advice shows me areas where I certainly need to improve and or remind myself of. I love his 4 principles, HAIL:

H: Honesty – Be clear and straight
A: Authenticity – Be yourself
I: Integrity – Be your word
L: Love – Wish them well

Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen