Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Just finished reading (actually listening to on Audible) Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Barker. I first found Eric on his blog which I follow via email. You can see some of the content posted here.

I’ve read a lot of leadership and getting things done and how to be better kind of books over the years and I’ve posted about some of my favorites on this blog on the reading page.  This has to be one of the very best of these books that I’ve read and I highly recommend it. I’ll be adding this book to that page.

Listening on Audible is great, but I can’t highlight the text as it goes along. If I could, I’d share a number of specifics. I’ll likely go through this one again on Kindle.

Ideas around work-life balance, your weaknesses might really be your strengths and that being on the edge is usually better than being in the middle. And about people like Einstein, Genghis Khan and Ted Williams.

I’m thinking about getting some extra ‘real’ copies to give to some friends.

You can also follow Eric on Twitter @bakadesuyo. I don’t know Eric and haven’t met him. The links to the book are amazon associate links however.

Built to Last

Events around me have caused me to be thinking about how an organization can thrive across long periods of time. Not just points in time, but across decades. How does an organization continue to move forward into the future, accomplishing its mission without getting distracted, lost or even disappearing?

There are so many examples of really great companies that just went away. Kodak and Polaroid are examples of well respected companies that were at the top of their game at one point and now they are gone. The same happens with non-profits, churches, organizations, etc.

Jim Collins wrote the book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business Essentials) which tells the story of companies that have lasted a long time and seemed to prosper over the years. I’ve not read the book but I might. I did scan the Blinkist post on that book and it doesn’t quite seem to hit what I’m looking for right now. The summary does state that these organizations seem to have a higher purpose and that they relentlessly pursue progress.

It seems to me that it is about the people. The leadership and the culture.

I’ve seen companies and organizations lose their way and it is heart breaking. It seems that it is due to the people more than external factors.

How do you build an organization that moves forward successfully across decades of time pursuing worthy goals?

Your thoughts are welcome.

Antifragile

I finally worked all the way through Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Taleb.

An amazing book. Amazing obvious ideas.

I’m now thinking about how to apply this in IT. How do we build processes and IT infrastructures that gain from disorder. Systems that don’t fail from stress, but instead get stronger.

I’m thinking that the redundancy we’ve put into our network structures might get stronger over time due to disruptions. Over time, we adapt, put in more capacity, more redundancy, work out triangle WAN links between sites, design in excess capacity, etc. as a direct result of events that hurt the network. The net impact of the negative events is that the whole gets stronger. Does that count as one way antifragility increases in the system? We do seem to have less negative impact from outages because the ‘whole’ is more capable of adapting to outages.

Do our information systems get more antifragile over time as we experience issues, problems, outages, etc. and then adapt and improve and improve the ‘whole’ to lessen the impact of those events? Are we learning from these events and getting stronger as a result? Are our management teams getting more antifragile as we learn, adapt and improve over time?

Think about storage and how it used to be the drive failures resulted in outages in the data center. Such outages are hardly an event at all any more due to much higher MTBF on drives and due to RAID and other technologies that have been honed and improved over the years. Fragility has been reduced in our storage systems.

Lots to think about here.

A Few Reading Recommendations

Finally caught up on some reading material. Here are a few great online posts you might check out.

  1. A 10 Step Process for Protecting an Organization’s Data
  2. A really cool list of Gifts for User Experience Geeks for 2011
  3. A good list of books to read about complex problems called Five Must-Reads for Tackling Complex Problems which includes some of my favorites.
  4. A finally a great post of the dangers of collaboration entitled Eight Dangers of Collaboration. Great thoughts to actively think about as you are trying to improve collaboration in a team or workplace.

I’ve been behind on posting, but have a stack of ideas I want to write about soon. I leave you with a really great quote:

“One of the most important ways to manifest integrity is to be loyal to those who are not present.   In doing so, we build the trust of those who are present.  When you defend those who are absent, you retain the trust of those present.”

–Stephen Covey

Elegant Solutions

Just finished reading a wonderful book that people in IT should read.   It is called In Pursuit of Elegance:  Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. The book is about elegance and what characterizes an elegant solution. Examples range from the unexpected iPhone followed by almost no advertising before the launch to the completely different thought process behind the Not So Big House where we discovery that perhaps we don’t really need a bigger house. Speaking of the iPhone, RIM thought that Apple was lying with the announcement because it was so different from what had been seen before and from what they thought was possible.

There are many different examples of elegance and what characterizes elegant solutions. The book is not an IT or even a technology book, but it so applies to all of us in the business world and in IT because it is too easy for us to deliver non-elegant solutions.  It is too easy to just start coding something up with this new, fun tool that will be in the cloud that will run on a smart phone when perhaps a better solution would involve rethinking the whole problem and transforming it into something completely different.

The ideas of symmetry, subtraction and sustainability are discussed as key attributes of elegant solutions.

Read this book.

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood

I want to recommend the book The Information:  A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick. You might recall that Gleick wrote the well read book Chaos:  Making a New Science a few years back.   Having an education in Electrical Engineering, the ideas around information moving through communication channels was familiar ground and I really enjoyed covering it again in a much lighter fashion than in EE school. But the other content on codes, encryption, genetics and the explosion of information on the internet was just fascinating. I read this on Kindle but then bought a copy for my bookshelf as I know I’ll take a look at it over and over again. Buying the “book” plus this recommendations are about the highest compliments I can give it.

IT shops are seeing an ongoing explosion in data collection with resulting data storage growth and we are supporting the business with better analysis tools to turn that data into information. Individual users are creating and storing more information too. Our networks are moving more data and none of these trends are likely to slow down. It seems important to understand the difference between just data (and noise) versus information.  The idea that “information is uncertainty, surprise, difficulty, and entropy” on page 219 and the ideas around here are great.   If I tell you something you already know, then there is no information transmitted.

I’m currently watching 229 different pages/blogs/sites via Google Reader which have around 1000 updates a day. Couple that with Twitter, Facebook, personal email and company email and there is a LOT of information (and noise) passing by every day. I’m convinced this is changing the way I think and so I’m off reading  The Shallows:  What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I’m about 1/2 way through and love it. More on that later.