“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


On recruiting

This should be required reading for just about every company hiring in Taiwan. I’ve been wanting to share my recent interview experiences but framing the article in a positive light was just about impossible. I’ve had guys show up to interview me for senior positions that didn’t know who I was, didn’t know I was coming and no clue what to ask me. I had a CEO send me a letter asking for a meeting as he was looking for someone to direct the user experience for his company, only to tell me afterwards that he simply wanted someone to manage a website (after 2 interviews). No one checked out the kind of work I’ve done, my approach, let alone what I’ve been saying on social media. This after I had done exhaustive research on the companies and their products, and the current and former team members. It stands in stark relation to the way I hire and treat people I ask to work with or help me.

Recruiting is about relationships. Every candidate who applies to your company isn’t just a prospective employee. They’re a prospective customer. Evangelist. Source of talent.

And never, ever judge a book by it’s cover.

The basic premise is simple: treat everyone awesome. You don’t know who the A+ player is before she walks in the door. And you don’t know who the B- player is friends with when they walk out the door. Every candidate that works their way through your recruitment process will undoubtedly share their impressions and experiences with their friends. This will impact your brand.

Be sure to keep in mind these important facts: engineers know other engineers, designers know other designers, product managers know other product managers, and marketers know other marketers. Duh.

On Recruiting, Part One by Jesse Hertzberg, former COO of Etsy and Squarespace.


And so is doing the work. It uplifts you. The idea that you’re doing what you love. It’s very important. It’s very sad that most people in the world are not happy with their lot or with their jobs and they can’t wait to retire. And when they retire, it’s like death. . . . They sit at home and watch the television. And that is death. I think you’ve got to continue. We never retire. We shouldn’t retire. Not in our profession. There’s no such thing. We want to drop dead onstage. That would be a nice theatrical way to go.
Christopher Plummer


Being early

For our first interview for The Distance, he arrived 20 minutes early to the Starbucks in suburban Chicago where we had arranged to meet. Due to a slight miscommunication, I ended up at a different Starbucks at the same intersection, so he actually waited for 40 minutes before we figured out what was happening.

Jim was gracious, though, and later explained that his penchant for extreme punctuality stemmed from his days as a professional trumpet player. As a freelance musician, he needed to be dependable — competition for gigs was intense, and band leaders didn’t want to deal with players who showed up late or weren’t prepared. Jim arrived at all his gigs early, with enough time to warm up and even grab a cup of coffee before the performance started.

Though I’m sure a friend or colleague could remind me otherwise, I share the same desire for punctuality as Jim, likely as well due to my experience as a musician in my youth. I always arrive early and never seldom arrive late. Which is to say the habit of people arriving late for meetings in Taiwan drives me crazy, because in some circles here the more important you are the later you arrive.

There so many basic skills that are all too often forgotten.

From: The Music Man


“If everyone had the luxury to pursue a life of exactly what they love, we would all be ranked as visionary and brilliant. … If you got to spend every day of your life doing what you love, you can’t help but be the best in the world at that. And you get to smile every day for doing so. And you’ll be working at it almost to the exclusion of personal hygiene, and your friends are knocking on your door, saying, “Don’t you need a vacation?!,” and you don’t even know what the word “vacation” means because what you’re doing is what you want to do and a vacation from that is anything but a vacation — that’s the state of mind of somebody who’s doing what others might call visionary and brilliant.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson


A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

In the 1950s, the researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, moving from light to deep sleep and back out again. They named this pattern the Basic-Rest Activity Cycle or BRAC. A decade later, Professor Kleitman discovered that this cycle recapitulates itself during our waking lives.

The difference is that during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.
Relax! You’ll Be More Productive


If You Multitask Often, You’re Impulsive and Bad at Multitasking

Multitasking appears to be less of a special talent and more of an ADD-type behavior: The frequent multitaskers in this study were just unable to focus on one thing at a time.

The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking.

From Who Multi-Tasks and Why? Multi-Tasking Ability, Perceived Multi-Tasking Ability, Impulsivity, and Sensation Seeking. Via The Atlantic. See also The Myth of Multitasking.


“There is an ugliness in being paid for work one does not like”

The greatest satisfaction you can obtain from life is your pleasure in producing, in your own individual way, something of value to your fellowmen. That is creative living!

When we consider that each of us has only one life to live, isn’t it rather tragic to find men and women, with brains capable of comprehending the stars and the planets, talking about the weather; men and women, with hands capable of creating works of art, using those hands only for routine tasks; men and women, capable of independent thought, using their minds as a bowling-alley for popular ideas; men and women, capable of greatness, wallowing in mediocrity; men and women, capable of self-expression, slowly dying a mental death while they babble the confused monotone of the mob?

From: How to Avoid Work


It’s hard being number 2


Derek Sivers’ 3-minute TED talk on leadership.

If you’ve learned a lot about leadership and making a movement, then let’s watch a movement happen, start to finish, in under 3 minutes, and dissect some lessons:
A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he’s doing is so simple, it’s almost instructional. This is key. You must be easy to follow!
Now comes the first follower with a crucial role: he publicly shows everyone how to follow. Notice the leader embraces him as an equal, so it’s not about the leader anymore – it’s about them, plural. Notice he’s calling to his friends to join in. It takes guts to be a first follower! You stand out and brave ridicule, yourself. Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.
The 2nd follower is a turning point: it’s proof the first has done well. Now it’s not a lone nut, and it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news.
A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see the followers, because new followers emulate followers – not the leader.
Now here come 2 more, then 3 more. Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point! Now we’ve got a movement!
As more people jump in, it’s no longer risky. If they were on the fence before, there’s no reason not to join now. They won’t be ridiculed, they won’t stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd, if they hurry. Over the next minute you’ll see the rest who prefer to be part of the crowd, because eventually they’d be ridiculed for not joining.
And ladies and gentlemen that is how a movement is made! Let’s recap what we learned:
If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you.
Be public. Be easy to follow!
But the biggest lesson here – did you catch it?
Leadership is over-glorified.
Yes it started with the shirtless guy, and he’ll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened:
It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.
There is no movement without the first follower.
We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective.
The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.
When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Via Monoscope. See also Seth Godon.


Relevance

“And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye?” – Matthew Chapter 7, Verse 3

I’m not one for quoting the Bible but I happened upon this today and it seems entirely relevant to the people I am forced to deal with lately.


Filling out your Pie, Maxing your Triangle

triangle.jpg
When I was in Don Johnson’s trumpet studio years and years ago, one of the many concepts he tried to ensure we remembered was to divide our work into a pie chart. He wanted us to diversify the sources and types of income we generated to both ensure we could weather tough times and to create a balance in the type of work we were performing. It was a survival and growth technique.
Jack Cheng has a different approach to a similar equation which he calls the love-growth-cash triangle and I like it very much.

I find that most people take on new jobs, projects and hobbies for three reasons: 1) To learn something new, 2) To pay the bills, 3) Because they love doing it. These three things fulfill some of our very basic needs—they give us stability, excitement, ways to contribute and opportunities to grow.

He goes in greater detail and it’s a worthy read. Via.


[Bits] On work, work, and working

Startup, Inc – What You Need To Know Before Starting A Company
Often people start a company without any clear idea of what a company is. Entrepreneurs closet themselves in the garage and start writing code. While the modern tech world could not exist without obsession, artistic inspiration and crazy engineers, there’s more to a startup than passion. Alex explores the basics behind corporate entities, stock, financing, and the key non-technical infrastructure every company should have.[via Swissmiss]
Walking the Line When You Work from Home
Working from home as a freelance contractor or remote employee can be a great thing, particularly if you live alone. But what if you have a spouse and/or children at home with you while you work? Every work environment offers distractions, but those who work from home with their families face a unique set of issues—and need equally unique ways of dealing with them.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Managing Multiple Jobs At Once
Some of us take on second jobs to make ends meet. Some do it for a chance to do the work they actually enjoy. And some of us create our own second jobs to build a business or create our own projects. No matter what the reason, though, juggling more than one job is guaranteed to be a crash course in time management. If you’re not careful, the word ‘crash’ could become more than figurative
Tim Ferriss interview
Whether you are a musician, entrepreneur, employee, or all three, everyone has too much stuff you have to do, and not enough time for the stuff you want to do.
If you have something that you would like to make and you just don’t know how to test it, make sure you’re scratching your own itch. Like Twitter: Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey created it in two weeks as a way to scratch their own itch. He said, “At least that way you know that one person is interested in having it.” It’s amazing how many otherwise smart, well-funded companies will use awful statistically-invalid focus groups, then say, “Well, no one in this room likes the idea, but our focus groups tell us that we should make it,” so of course the product comes out and it fails.


The Problem with Telecommuting

This past Monday I had problems with my wireless network which prevented me from having access to the internet. I thought at the time it was a problem with my isp, as I had thought many times before, but playing with the settings created a voila moment, miraculously allowing network access.
Yesterday for some inexplicable reason I could not access a site that I use to run a web app.. In fact half of the sites I use, all on the same server, are unreachable – the other half are fine. All of these use the same block of IP addresses. I can’t continue with the work I was doing 5 minutes before the outage.
Is this the 21st century equivalent of my car won’t start?
Our increasing dependence on complex magical systems like the internet for our livelyhood makes me wonder what would happen if there were extended outages or increased unreliability at just the worst possible moment. I can’t get to work and there is no ‘internet bus’ to take me there.


December Exhibition

“To present the musical soul of the masses, of the great factories, of the railways, of the transatlantic liners, of the battleships, of the automobiles and aeroplanes. To add to the great central themes of the musical poem the domain of the machines and the victorious kingdom of Electricity.”
“I unfurl to the freedom of air and sun the red flag of Futurism, calling to its flaming symbol such young composers as have hearts to love and fight, minds to conceive, and brows free of cowardice.”
A few years ago I became enamoured with the audio environment around me. Through my photoblog at that time I had already been noticing and sharing small bits of visual artifacts but noticing interesting signals through all the noise that is present here was something new. When you take the time to listen you may find yourself surprised at the remarkabley diverse array of delightful noise. Your cityscape transforms itself into futuristic noise orchestra that constantly changes, a never ending performance, which in turn completely changes you and your relationship with your city.
And I started to record and think of ways to share what I heard. I decided I wanted to be a sound artist.
A year and a half ago I finished a body of work, well mostly just prototypes and concepts given form, of sound art and tangible UI/interactive art. It was a tremendous learning experience – an education in product development rolled up in less than a year. We exhibited in an entirely appropriate old railway house to some acclaim. Since then I have been lucky to show various pieces at other venues throughout Taiwan. But until now I haven’t had the oportunity to focus entirely on sound art.
This December I will exhibit my traffic series of installations in Puli Taiwan. I wanted to show more, including my ambient room, but budgets would not allow. I’m looking forward to it as a source of inspiration and a break from the doldrums of freelancing.
All the pieces are reltively similar but with different execution. Here are brief descriptions of the pieces:
Traffic 1
“Now we are satiated and we find far more enjoyment in the combination of the noises of trams, backfiring motors, carriages and bawling crowd.
To excite and exalt our sensibilities, music developed towards the most complex polyphony and the maximum variety, seeking the most complicated successions of dissonant chords and vaguely preparing the creation of musical noise.” -The Art of Noises- Luigi Russolo
Traffic 1 is a series of sound vignettes played through custom built enclosures. It communcates through sound various emotions felt during the daily commute through Hsinchu’s streets. Using the simplest tools possible I set out to recreate the sounds I hear when driving in traffic in Hsinchu.
Traffic 2
Traffic 2 attempts to create spontaneous real time auditory compositions or improvisations using data gained from network traffic. A secondary aim is to test our understanding of the usage of network data in the public and private sphere.
We treat the network as an unseen life form – a body in constant change – born from the usage patterns of the users of the system. By using network traffic as a tool for creating music we in effect illustrate this unseen form.
Unlike traditional musical performances, Traffic 2 does not exist over a set period of time. It is in effect never ending and never the same at any given point in time.
Traffic 3
Over a period of time we gathered sound samples from various locations throughout the city of Hsinchu. We edited these samples and tuned them to a specific harmonic structure. We then fed these sounds, over a 100 in total, into our software agent which communicates with our server. The result is a cacophony of sound which could be understood as the city of Hsinchu acting as a Futurist Noise orchestra driven by network traffic.