Can Introverts Thrive in Large Companies?

I've long forgotten how I came across either article, but here are two writers talking about life in a big company. It's not clear who wrote "Thriving in Large Companies", but here are the ten tips the author provides:

  1. Learn how decisions are really made in your organization.
  2. Build relationships before you need them.
  3. Long live skunk works.
  4. Be willing to do whatever it takes.
  5. Pick your battles.
  6. Build consensus before important meetings where decisions are required.
  7. Be smart about how you spend your time.
  8. Share information.
  9. Put your manager to work.
  10. Evangelize!

No word on how introverts like me, who would find the prospect of joining a large company daunting, would thrive. Frank Gregorsky maps out why introverts do not thrive in such environments: “The more competitive the industry, the more shark-like the work culture. Extroverted sensors own this territory, and the territory comes to own them. Never forget how sprawling that territory is, despite 15 years of corporate downsizing. The terrain dictates what grows and what withers.”

He finds exceptions to the rule—large businesses that are decentralized, the culture of the branch having more to do with the style and personality of the office manager than diktats from above—and spends quite a bit of "aside" on why we're currently in a real estate bubble, blaming the ultra-competitive industry staffed almost entirely by extroverts. (He says that renters like me don't have to worry too much, and that when the bubble bursts, they too will be able to afford a decent house.) He then recommends The Simplicity Survival Handbook for those introverts who find themselves working for large companies. Any book with a chapter titled "How to Delete 75% of Your Emails" must be good (I'd be happy if just 25% of my emails were deleted).

I'm still working for a small company, and so far in my early job career I've worked in offices where I had the opportunity to meet and work with every employee of that company. How I'd handle working for a company the size of my high school, or even the size of my hometown, I don't know. But both articles guide the way, if for different audiences.

It Has Accomplished the Most Banal and Forced Kind of Crowded-Together Otherness

Two articles on teamwork crossed my desk in the last few weeks, the tabs for both briefly acting as bookends on my browser. Jeffrey Phillips writes about why and when teams fail:

  • The team members don't believe in or aren't committed to the stated outcomes
  • There is poor leadership of the team or committee
  • The goals and outcomes are unclear
  • The knowledge and capabilities of the individuals in the team are not used effectively

Compare and contrast to James G. Polous' article a few weeks ago on teamwork:

Individual productivity is beside, and sometimes even contrary, to the point, unless it comes as a result of, yes, TEAMWORK. To work in this office you must be a TEAM PLAYER. And although there is no I in TEAM there must be some other way of spelling Assured Superficial Diversity without the ego vowel, because there you shall find it in every TEAM that Human Resources can touch. The tentacular grip, once it has accomplished the most banal and forced kind of crowded-together otherness, then sets about imposing the most uniform and depersonalized sort of identity, that of the TEAM itself. Of course this is done by conditioning the team player to conceive of the team as the controlling unit of personality. This is easy in a culture in which every individual is already likely to think of themselves, consciously or otherwise, as a quasi-schizophrenic aggregate of shifting and overlapping selves.

Snowshoeing Alone on Mount Seymour

Over the weekend, I went on my first solo snowshoeing expedition. That makes it sound more significant that it really was: all I did was take the bus to Phibbs Station, take a "shuttle" bus—formerly a school bus—to Seymour Mountain for a couple hours of actual snowshoeing. The conditions were not great at all: it was raining on the mountain, which made for slushy and slippery trails. I fell a few times on the steepest slopes, at least once losing a snowshoe. Almost Sisyphean, I finally made it up, then, decided to give up on another slope, changed my mind and climbed it, then encountered another one, decided to give up, changed my mind, fell again, and decided once and for all to slide pretty much all the way down to the lodge. I proceeded to eat a delicious if sloppy chili dog while I waited two hours for the next "shuttle" down the mountain.

Rainy Mount Seymour

I learned a bunch, like: where "shuttle" picks up passengers (at the end of Oxford St. closest to Phibbs Exchange, not the end farthest from it); how to tighten my newly purchased Yukon snowshoes and untighten them (would have been better off learning that before going up the mountain); and that snowshoeing alone isn't very much fun (though everybody I pass by says Hi, just like back in my hometown). I brought my old Canon Powershot but didn't take any photos with it, instead taking only a couple of shots with my phone (see left). Tempted though I was to bring my Rebel XTi, that's not an investment I'm prepared to lose because I wanted to bum slide down just one more hill.

Other things that happened that day: a lady asked me why I took a photo of the bus stop sign at Phibbs Exchange, and I didn't have a really good answer for her other than that I'm a transit enthusiast. Also, I read a couple of chapters from Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, which so far I haven't learned much from but am enjoying as a popularization of Web 2.0. And I hear there was a football game on that day, but I decided to spend most of the day outdoors.

Prediction Fatigue

Last year, after the 2006 Canadian election, I made the four political predictions. Here they are, with the results:

Prediction Result
a grand coalition government between the Liberals and Conservatives! WRONG: something closer to an unlikely coalition between the Conservatives and NDP is shaping up
Ujjal Dosanjh as the next leader of the Liberals! WRONG: as ably predicted by Sacha, the winner was Stephane Dion.
more photos of Peter MacKay looking forlornly at Belinda Stronach! WRONG: but Condi Rice? Eh? Eh?
or even better, she crosses the floor again so that she can once again join a party that is actually in power! WRONG: though she did change her hair colour

After the 2007 Macworld Expo where nobody had a stake in the predictions they made as to whether Apple would announce a mobile phone, I realized that a prediction market, wouldn't work for product releases, because people would squabble about definitions. It's a tablet! It's a computer! That happens to have a phone!

I'm pretty sure I want one, since everybody else does (with the iPhone, mobile phones, already a status symbol, just consolidated their power over us), though it won't document my world quite like a Nokia N95 would. I had more to say about the iPhone, and wanted to point to people like Mark or Dave (which I wanted to do in a separate post titled, cleverly, "iCurmudgeon") but instead, I'll just say that I think I'm over my prediction fatigue and will go back to using lines from rap songs as my weblog's taglines.

Maybe You Don't Exist

When searching for people who linked to Vancouver real estate bloggers in The Tyee (which includes myself), I mistakenly put the URL in the 'blog directory', and not searching blog posts as intended. Instead of results, I was confronted with this error: “There are blogs, and then there's whatever you just typed in. If it's a blog, we don't know about it. Maybe you made a typo. Or maybe it's a blog that doesn't exist. Maybe you don't exist. (In which case, please ignore this.)” [screenshot]

I still don't like Technorati's use of re="nofollow" (especially relevant in the wake of Wikipedia using the 'rel="nofollow"' attribute on all links), but at least they have a sense of humour on their error messages.

What a Bad Product Manager Would Do and Countering With What a Good Product Manager Would Do

For a non-programmer, non-entrepreneur, non-consultant, non-manager, and non-innovator I read a lot of articles on programming, entrepreneurship (e.g. natural enterprise), consulting, management, and innovation. I read articles about, for example, requirements gathering best practices (pointed out by Boris) without ever expecting to gather requirements. And yet, I can't get enough, probably so that I can properly evaluate those who are programmers/entrepreneurs/consultants/managers/innovators or maybe just because those types of people and those types of careers interest me.

So, as a non-product manager, I spent the last couple of hours reading with interest the entire archives—yes, the entire archives—of Good Product Manager a weblog written by Jeff Lash. There's an emphasis on software/online product management, but Jeff is careful to include links to others in the field and collects anecdotes about physical product management as well. The weblog follows the model of briefly stating what a bad product manager would do and countering with what a good product manager would do. Posts are short but meaty, for 'fast food readers' out there.

(If you were wondering, someone has already claimed the title and I can't claim to have invented the phrase for the field because the phrase pre-exists on the web, but I bet if you were a product manager for the new generation of online community and collaboration tools, you could legitimately call yourself a 'social product manager'.)

Vancouver OpenID Mashpit

I wasn't going to go, but at the last minute I decided that attending the Vancouver OpenID 2.0 Mashpit would give me the opportunity to see Sxip's downtown Vancouver office and also run into people I knew, not to mention meet some others and learn a little about digital identity. (I was rewarded with a free hotdog and snacks. And a t-shirt.) I need to know this stuff, at the very least cursorily, so that I can support it when the time comes. The two days after the event, which featured a brief presentation by Dick Hardt—and a demo that didn't go so well (Simon Willison's OpenID screencast is a great visual introduction to the emerging standard)—and some "lightning talks" by Sxip and Bryght employees on what they've been working on. Heavily developer-centric, much of the discussion, especially with regards to trust, went over my head.

Steven Wittens, Boris Mann, and Dick Hardt Talk About Identity and OpenID

Dick did not say at this event the phrase "trust is social" like I'd hoped, but he did at least suggest trust was in part a business problem, not only computer science problem. If I'm understanding what he was trying to get at correctly, Boris was trying to suggest that we need a way to measure trust empirically, i.e. a way to store the concept in a database and represent it onscreen. The ensuing discussion sounded a lot like yak-shaving, and that's not a criticism, as I'm inclined to agree much about identity is a multi-layered problem.

In short, I wasn't the target audience of the mashpit, and I'm still left with lingering doubt about a) this is a problem in the first place: we need this when identity is, for many, disposable and b) how to explain to my friends that usernames and passwords are the past and that in the future you will use your URL to login everywhere. To say nothing about the fact that, almost necessarily because it was developer-centric, the event had no women speakers.

Here are the recaps of the Vancouver event I came across.

There's gotta be more. If you posted about the mashpit, please add a link in the comments.

The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford by John Robert Greene: A Review

Before the new year, the death of former United States President Gerald Ford took the sails out of former-Senator John Edwards' announcement that the latter would run for the highest office in the land. Press platitudes described Ford—the only in American history to be neither elected as Vice President nor as President—appointed by Nixon after Spiro Agnew resigned, ascending to the Presidency after Nixon resigned—as "decent" and "honorable", an image that despite press clichés, still has resonance. Ford appeared at the end of an episode of The Simpsons, asking Homer if he liked football and nachos, and whether the latter wanted to join him in watching the football game while eating nachos. Homer, the episode makes clear, identified with the former President, because both were a little dim and a little clumsy, but at the core, decent human beings unlike the episode's portrayal of a hateful George H.W. Bush.

The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford by John Robert Greene

John Robert Greene's book, The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford attempts to portray the President as a man leading an administration in search of an agenda, only to have it derailed by both his miscalculations and Congress' increased power after a nation appalled at the executive branch's excess. We are given a tour of Ford's domestic and foreign policies, as well as political intrigue involving Ronald Reagan's challenge to the incumbent's re-nomination (nominations of a sitting President these days being a done deal), as well as former Nixon administration officials who either disliked Ford personally or were bitter about their exit from the halls of power.

The Nixon pardon was—and remains—Ford's most controversial act as President. Anticipating neither the outcry nor its vociferousness, the pardon shattered Ford's image of humble, honest President who appealed for healing after Watergate. Ford was an angry, partisan, political president that sometimes acted on principle (school busing and desegregation) and out of political concerns (New York City's bailout). Greene does not judge Ford as harshly as Christopher Hitchens about the Mayaguez rescue mission, one of the few foreign policy crises Ford faced. Greene recounts the punitive air strikes matter-of-factly, almost as if Ford didn't care that the crew had been released already. (While both discuss the Solzhenitisyn snub, Hitchens covers Ford's turnaround against the Kurds in Iraq, while Greene does not cover it at all.) Greene devotes full chapters to Ronald Reagan's challenge to Ford for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination—Ford ultimately eked out a victory both in the primaries and at the convention—and another chapter to the presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter, to whom Ford lost.

Greene's book, while short at 193 pages (this excludes the endnotes, bibliographic essay and index), comes very detailed, outlining Ford's rise from Congress to the vice presidency to the presidency. The book also features tidbits on major contemporary political players, like the aforementioned Reagan but also Richard Cheney (currently George W. Bush's Vice President) and Donald Rumsfeld (up until recently Bush's Defense Secretary). Greene has written another book about a one-term president, George. H.W. Bush, and that book is next on my reading list about U.S. Presidents. One-termers have necessarily less written about them than two-timers. While they seem a little more mysterious because of that, they still have enough primary resources to draw upon for book-length studies. The George H.W. Bush book no doubts talks about players in that Presidency that will make up a future Republican presidential administration.

Ford's brief experience offers lessons for future presidents—and decision-makers in general who are thrust to the top of an organization with not a lot of preparation, and that is what makes Greene's study of Gerald Ford so interesting. The writing is accessible, not bogged down in interpretation or policy details, but written as a story about a football-playing midwestern President with a public image of sometimes having a few sandwiches short of a picnic, whom the American people judged still too close to Nixon and the perceived moral failings of the Republican Party in the 1970s. A President, in Greene's mind, who nevertheless set out to heal the nation and succeeded.

Personal and Social

Jason Kottke links to Nicholas Felton's personal annual report for 2006. Last year, while on the airport express from downtown Toronto to Pearson International Airport, I started making a list in my notebook of terms from business and other fields that sound cool if you put "personal" in front of them. Note that some are real things that people do, and others are not-quite-neologisms (in that the words are all English words, but the mixing of them are new).

  • personal mission statement
  • personal tagline
  • personal data model
  • personal use case scenario
  • personal business model
  • personal valuation
  • personal value proposition

Note that if you substitute "social" for "personal", you get the same effect. Are there any other terms or phrases that sound more interesting—or make something you think is bad turn into something you think is good (e.g. "social networking")—if you add either "social" or "personal" to them?

Photo Licensed In Such a Way That People Don't Have to Ask For Permission

Sustainability Without Compromise

Every couple of months, I check to see who's using my photos to adorn their posts. In that time period since I last checked, David Crow, co*create and the Vancouver Skateboarding Coalition republished, respectively, "Downtown Toronto as Seen From 215 Spadina" [Flickr mirror], "Sustainability Without Compromise" [Flickr mirror], and "Northside of the Leeside Tunnel" [Flickr mirror]. It's fun to see photos I randomly took, either on my way to or from something (in the case of the "Leeside Tunnel" and "Sustainability" photos show up somewhere, republished, I assume, in part because they are licensed in such a way that people don't have to ask for permission. Thanks to those linked above who used the photo in accordance with the Attribution license I set it to, but mostly for thinking the photo was good enough to include at all.

An Interesting Mix of Suburbanites and Less Haughty Regulars

From Alex's bookmarks I found Robby Russel's two-part series on Portland coffee shops and cafes: part 1 covers Costellos Travel Caffe, Urban Grind, Fireside Coffee Lodge, Redwing Coffee & Baking; part 2 reviews Pier Coffee, Backspace and Three Lions Bakery. Of the ones he reviews, I have only been to Backspace, which has video games in the back, some classic and some contemporary. He hasn't reviewed Portland Coffee House on Broadway, which has sweet wifi, eclectic music, and an interesting mix of suburbanites who get takeout and relatively less haughty regulars who stick around for a little while.

I try to go visit my friends there once a year, but it didn't work out in 2006. Things might have changed since the last time, but the next time I do go, Robby has given me some ideas for places to hang out.

Where Are the Apple Macworld or other Steve Jobs Keynote Prediction Markets?

With all the predictions and anti-predictions of an Apple iPhone, I have to wonder how much people actually lose if they're wrong.

The big idea this time is that, unlike two years ago when people predicted this, Apple will release essentially either a cross between an iPod and a cellular telephone, or a very stylish Apple-branded cell phone without much in the way of MP3 player—though most high-end phones come with them anyway. Based on what little I know, though about the telco market, I think it's very unlikely because Apple would have to make a deal with a major carrier, that is, they could sell them out of the box but won't get distribution like the RAZR got. (John Gruber discusses this at more length in a podcast with Dan Benjamin.) The cell phone market is either a very saturated one or a market with a few gatekeepers, so it's more likely that they'll come out with something like the Nano—a device that not so much revolutionizes an industry but gives it style. That's vague, and therefore easy both for me to claim victory and for others to say I'm wrong. Which is to say I don't really know what they're going to announce. And I've put exactly zero dollars on the line.

Here's what I understand about prediction markets: buyers and sellers engage in contracts to 'price' the likelihood of an event, in this case, the likelihood that Apple will release a certain product or type of product. These people have either private or public information or both (that is, those with private information also have access to public information, but it's not necessarily true that those with public information have access to the private information). If someone does analysis of the available information to them, and don't release it (Sacha, for example, sometimes holds some of his cards close to his hand), then I consider that information private as well. Most bloggers who publish their predictions generally explain why they think a certain way, so their analyses become public information too.

Because people bet real money on predicting something, and money is a direct, numeric and very clear indication of value, that signals how confident a person is in their prediction. And if they're wrong, they lose something tangible, not just a temporary hit on their reputation. A prediction market aggregates these bets, giving us an indication of what people from all walks of life think will happen.

I've never participated in a prediction market involving real money, so my understanding comes only from reading books like The Wisdom of Crowds and asking questions of people like Sacha, who very accurately predicted the 2006 Liberal Party Leadership race after taking public information—what he knew about the party and the leadership candidates as well as the convention's election process—and analyzed it. There's a lot of "public information" about what Apple might release, in the form of what they pre-announced and what seems obvious (e.g. "iTV", additions to iLife), but almost all of it are guesses, some educated, others not.

So where are the prediction markets for Apple products? If any company profits from an inefficient market in predictions (in the form of hype and free marketing), it's Apple. Is anybody out there putting their hard-earned dollars on the line with guesses about what Apple will announce?

Where the Criminals Rested Their Head At Night

Lauren MacIntyre: “Eric Cadora and Charles Swartz, co-founders of the Brooklyn-based Justice Mapping Center, collaborated on the project with an architect named Laura Kurgan, at Columbia’s Spatial Information Design Lab. “What started out as a scholarly inquiry has turned into a national initiative,” said Cadora, whose team has mapped twelve cities so far. Their New York is a digital crazy quilt of “bright-against-black”: the areas least touched by incarceration in 2003, the year they chose to study (Riverdale, Bay Ridge, the West Village), appear black and gray; those more so (Coney Island, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Hell’s Kitchen) neon orange.”

The maps show the home address of those sent to prison, from which researchers can determine crime patterns. The article refers—but does not link—to the Justice Mapping Center, a WordPress-powered site with slideshows on the sidebar which display maps. The slideshows pop over the website using Lightbox, and use a technique I first saw on Jason Kottke's photo galleries to navigate to the next and previous slides (that is, one half of the slide is 'previous', the other half is 'next'). I wish the maps had a little more analysis, either in the slide text or maybe with an audio description. It's also a shame that I can't link to individual slideshows, unless there's something I've missed. Otherwise, the maps are a beautiful display of an interesting look at crime, that is, not where the acts were committed but where the criminals rested their heads at night.

Snowshoeing on Grouse Mountain


On New Year's Eve, after a year of dating, Karen and I finally went snowshoeing together. This time, after a bit of confusion with buses (because of a bus waiting for a CN train to pass, we missed the shuttle bus from Phibbs Station to Seymour Mountain) we instead went on the 232 to Grouse Mountain. Standing in line for about 20 minutes and the $30 gondola lift price were the low points. Granted, the view is amazing, and gets you on the mountain to do whatever you like, be it ski, snowboard, ice skate or snowshoe. We only went up to the black pole-marked trail on Dam Mountain, thinking that visibility was lower than we would have liked, and that there were plenty of downhills to bum slide down.

Karen introduced me to the ... what is it? A sport? Leisure activity? Punishment? Whatever it is, it's a good workout on the way up, and fun on the way down. I'm going to buy some cheap snowshoes so I don't have to stand in line and besides, after about 5 times, the snowshoes will pay for themselves. I can go alone or, like the time I went snowshoeing on Hollyburn and on Seymour, I can go with a local hiking club. Or I could go and take a silly picture with my girlfriend, but only when she comes to visit, and only day trip. There's no way I'm snowhoeing on flat Ontario land, because I'm a snob and am spoiled by British Columbia's hilly bounty, or for an overnight trip, because I'm a wussy. But I enjoy snowshoeing enough to go in the evening after work or during the day on a weekend.

2007 Predictions

As Matt says, “I love prediction posts because they get people’s imaginations going.”

  • Flickr will implement rel="nofollow". Specifically either a META tag on external links, whether on user profile or in photo annotation, description or comments. This to counter its use to increase search engine ranking. (I know people do it because I do it.) So will already does it.
  • No affordable plans for truly unlimited Internet on mobile phones for Canadians in 2007. (I define "affordable" as $100 or less per month.) I've given up hope.

Possibly more as they occur to me, this first day of 2007.