Monthly Archives: August 2011

Conversations With Your Future Self

Two perspectives on dealing with the future, one more time management oriented, the other a little more creative.

Follow Up Then

Follow Up Then (thanks Marc) is a site that enables you to set time based reminder on email. It’s a clever idea and covers for times when you expect a response, but don’t get one, or simply want to send an email away for a while to deal with it later. The ingenuity of the system is that it all works from the address line of whatever email tool you use.

Future Me

Future Me which is much an art project as a tool also has an accompanying book. Has been used by people to write over a million letters to their future selves, about exam results, break ups, job searches etc. In addition to writing to yourself in the future, you can also read what others have written, here are some of the better ones.


I recently got back from a trip to Mongolia and some of the photos are below. You can see the Gobi desert, which was amazing for its complete lack of roads, just dirt tracks everywhere. In also was far less sandy than I expected though it was of course a barren landscape. The ‘event’ photos are from the Nadaam festival held each July in Mongolia to find the best wrestler, horse and archer. One of the most amazing things about Mongolia is how unchanged it is for the nomads who live in the countryside, with many of their traditions going back to the time of Ghengis Khan.

5 Things Project Managers Can Learn From Netflix

Netflix, the US movie subscription service posted this deck on Slideshare, which describes its creative approach to culture, people, process and incentives.

1. Inspire with context setting, rather than managing details

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather the wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the endless sea.”

Antoine De St-Exupery

2. Culture is not rules, but behaviors

Enron had an impressive list of values, but evidently didn’t practice them. Culture is not about what behavior gets talked about, but gets rewarded.

3. The best can be 2-10x as productive as the rest

In processes, the best people can be 2x as productive, in creative roles, the best can be 10x as good as the average person. Work hard to recruit and keep the best people on your projects, because they are disproportionately effective contributors.

4. Hard work doesn’t matter

It’s about results, working long hours isn’t relevant as long as results are achieved.

5. Too much process is counter-productive, encourage freedom.

Process will tend to frustrate high performers and drive them out. Maintaining process will often take more time/effort in creative industries than the cost of fixing a mistake. The goal therefore is rapid recovery, not perfect process. For example, spending under a fixed budget each quarter (high degree of freedom) is a better process than fixed approval for every $5k of expenditure (high degree of process).

Netflix also has no vacation policy, employees chose how to manage their vacation in a way that sense for them as long as they get their goals accomplished.

It’s an interesting model, they admit it’s not suited for nuclear power plants or open heart surgery where a checklist might be a better approach, but for a creative project, Netflix offers some interesting ideas to consider.

A Major Trap In Gathering Requirements

Interesting post from Professor Tim Calkins on the Pepsi Refresh Project. The goal was to move dollars from advertising to supporting the community, in reality sales tanked…

“Be careful what people tell you. I suspect the team at PepsiCo did a lot of research on the Pepsi Refresh Project and heard from consumers that this was just a terrific idea. Indeed, I bet people said that more companies should do exactly this sort of thing, cutting self-serving advertising and instead investing in making the world a better place.

The problem is that there is a big difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do. Confusing these two things is a consumer research trap.”

Clearly, market research isn’t quite the same a gathering requirements, but there are parallels. Just because people tell you they’ll act one way, doesn’t necessarily mean they will.

Think about that the next time your stakeholders are asking for something so complex you worry it won’t be easy to use. Or delivery so fast with a budget so low, you worry it won’t meet the quality bar.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets

Carol Dweck has great insights on psychology, which Michael Graham Richard summarizes here.

Essentially you can view intelligence as…

A. static


B.something that can be trained and improved

If you are more inclined to chose answer B, you’ll be much more successful. Sure, you might worry you’ll fail more, but as Peter Drucker said, “Those who take risks typically fail about twice a year, and those who don’t take risks fail about twice a year.”

Read This Before Our Next Meeting (If You Have a Kindle)

Along with incessant checking of email, inefficient meetings are one of the major wastes of corporate time.

Read This Before Our Next Meeting is a very short read (75 pages/20 minutes) but gets to the heart of meeting efficiency, with a fairly abrasive, but focused tone throughout. The ideas are similar to what I’ve written about better meetings or you can read in 37 Signal’s Rework, but this book is worth mentioning as it’s free on the Amazon Kindle until August 8, 2011 (next Monday). And though I wounldn’t recommend paying for a book that’s the length of a chapter, the content is rich enough to merit downloading it to your Kindle during the free offer period.

Now, if only people would actually do what everyone advises on the topic of meetings.

Book Review – Brain Rules

Brain Rules attempts to explain the complexity of the human brain in simple terms. Not an easy task, given that consciousness is far from fully understood, but the rule based framework leads to a clear book.

Unexpectedly, the book helps with delivering better presentations, a lot of the rules regarding attention span, memory and visual input will be very useful to those who give presentations frequently.

Another key takeaway for me was how unique everyone’s brains are, we don’t all store the same things in the same place and the uniqueness of brain layouts can explain differences between people.

If you have any interest in psychology, then Brain Rules is a useful book to further your understanding of the subject.