The modern sinner, the modern pharisee

The Pharisees Question Jesus
The Pharisees Question Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are a Christian, you may be aware of the gospel reading where Jesus is sharing dinner with various nefarious (and outcast) types. In the words of the Pharisees:

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”

Luke 15:2

They sat on the sidelines and shunned him because they felt the company he kept was unclean. However, he was only obeying the same law that he lays out quite clearly elsewhere in the new testament: “To love your neighbour as yourself.” While Jesus was open to welcoming all types into his circle – sinners, saints, liberals, conservatives, men, women, jews and gentiles. The Pharisees were busy setting up their own silos to isolate themselves from those they felt were sinners; standing on the sidelines insulting those who were more open than them.

These days, with the Internet and global communication, we are exposed to more ideas, peoples and diverse interests than ever before. This is truly an age where we can get to understand varying viewpoints and try to understand and love our neighbours more than ever. Yet, I feel we have degraded back into the days where we find similar minded people, and isolate ourselves from those “sinners” we disagree with. Those who don’t follow our limited set of rules that we have arbitrarily set for ourselves. We’ve become pharisees.

My theory is that because we are able to connect with so many more people, we are also able to connect with more people who share precisely our view of the world. Thus, it is easier for us to find only those we agree with and not have to put in the effort to try and understand those we don’t understand (or even disagree with.) It’s simply easier. You just parrot the same lines that allow you to dislike people among your small social group and then you all feel a bit better about yourselves. You simply block them on Twitter when they state something you disagree with, argue with them during Thanksgiving, dismiss any reasons behind their beliefs or banish them entirely.

Sadly, I must admit that I’ve fallen into this trap from time to time. Yet, what does that gain me? What does that gain us? It’s easy to see that every group has their own “sins” and their own “sinners.”

Some eco-minded folks demean those who shop at Walmart and not Whole Foods as if they were adulterers. Simply not comprehending that for some families that is the only way they can get by week-to-week.

Some fiscal conservatives insult those who require food stamps and government assistance as if they were lepers, claiming some undefined sin has placed them into this category of life.

Some educated liberals insult those who view the world differently than them and have some ideas that actually are quite well founded when you dig down to find why they believe them as if they were blind beggars in the street.

What does this accomplish for us as a society, other than make it harder for us to work towards common goals and still feel good about ourselves because it’s not our fault?

Further segregation, less cooperation, and eventually more crises without any capacity to solve them. If you dismiss anyone who you disagree with as a sinner, you inherently have less knowledge, less manpower and less capacity to work towards a common goal.

To use the Christian reference, Jesus not only could work with sinners, but sat down at the same table and ate with them congenially. How many could sit down at a table with those we disagree with and share a congenial meal? I know I’ve seen enough vicious arguments over family dinners to know it feels like very little these days.

Perhaps though, we should try to change that.

While I cannot speak for other religions, although I believe many have similar constructs. If you are Christian, we have all been invited to the table of plenty; Invited to sit down with sinners and saints, understanding that even though you are also a sinner, you are forgiven; This is precisely how amazing works are accomplished and communities like the 1 billion strong (and growing) Catholic church came to be; not by excluding sinners, but welcoming all with open arms.

For myself, after much frustration from doing the opposite, I have found that the best thing is to try to extend that forgiveness to those you disagree with and even those who have harmed you, listen patiently to what they have to say, and don’t dismiss them as yet another sinner, even if you believe they are wrong.

Even those you disagree with can have many valuable things to say.

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The myth (and lucrative business) of “entrepreneurship”

English: Cedar Rapids, IA, June 26, 2008 -- Th...
Photo by Greg Henshall / FEMA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned a couple of pretty important lessons in my life:

  1. If everyone is zigging, you should zag. (AKA. Don’t buy the stock that the professors are buying.)
  2. Selling false hope is a common trick used to scam people out of money. (Self-help books are a common method.)

Number one is fairly obvious – in a soccer game, you don’t want to be where the ball is, you want to be where the ball is going. If you ever watch a young soccer league though, you’ll know what most people do in business. A small crowd of kids chasing after a ball – Brownian motion.

Number two is what “entrepreneurship” has become in the last 15 years. Before I was in university (in the 90s), it was “consulting,” but it’s the same basic idea. Various gurus (false prophets?) are going around North America telling us all “If you just quit your job and do this vague undefined task that you love to do, you’ll become insanely rich and not have to worry about work ever again.”
All you have to do is buy this book, pay to attend this founders roundtable, join this MBA class, pay to pitch to these VCs, buy from these financial consulting, etc. Do you notice the trend here? All you have to do is pay for it.

Note, you don’t always have to pay though, there are tons of well sponsored events with many large businesses presenting that would just love to have you attend and listen to how they are going to disrupt the world with technology x or idea y. The more people that attend these ones, the better. The money to be made isn’t from your ticket, but from your attendance. Ie. the new Facebook model of business, sell your users to your customers. This works especially well because the users are self-chosen. People who are interested in the new magic tech that will help them break through to the other side with their idea.

Yes, if you pay to attend the talk with the one founder who did break through the brick ceiling and come out reasonably unscathed on the other side, you might learn that one trick they did to become rich.

Yes, if you attend the found round table with Facebook’s lead engineer presenting how their updates to the API will change everything and that you should build apps on it right away if you want to be taken seriously as a business, you may just have that breakthrough moment.

However, I’m sorry to be blunt, but statistically you won’t.

Worse off, you’ll be falling for the Texas sharpshooter fallacy in the worst way possible. You will only see people who were successful and miss all of those who wasted their savings, ruined their marriages, hurt their friends and destroyed their career in the vague hope that their idea would be worth a billion dollars some day.

You’ll have fallen for the false prophets in the hopes of false profits.

My advice, which I give for free and you can take it if you want is: Enjoy your friends, build a beautiful family, find hope, joy and peace where you can, and when they all zig, you zag.

Only then can you get ahead of the ball.

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Selling nothing is great way to make lots of money.

Vaporware?
Vaporware? (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

I was watching Duck Dynasty. Yes, yes, It’s not real, I know. Regardless, it is pretty funny. In this episode, I ran into a really interesting concept that goes against everything the techie and software developer side of me stands for. In the episode, they had sold a ton of cooking DVDs through catalogues, and had only produced the cover the DVD. The DVD content itself did not exist. They were able to prove a market for the product and only then proceeded to make the DVD to sell. The joke was them running around to produce this crazy DVD that the main characters in it didn’t even realize they were doing.

In other words, they sold vaporware, and a whole lot of it, and only when they new they’d recoup the costs of the DVD did they actually make it. (I’m guessing if they didn’t recoup the costs, they’d have returned the money with some standard excuse.)

Throughout my entire technically inclined life (high school, university and beyond), I’ve been told to despise vaporware. In fact, I think this is why many developers really dislike salespeople. “Vaporware” is more of a dirty word than f*** or s*** in many circles. The only other term I think is equally used as a perjorative is FUD. Yet, in this circumstance, it worked wonderfully – it provided the capital they needed to make the video well, and if enough sales weren’t made they would simply use one of the standard stock excuses you hear and return the money.

It hurts me to say this, but selling nothing is a great way to make lots of money. Note I’m not saying that you should sell nothing and get paid for it, I mean selling something you don’t have yet and use that to raise funds to build it.

Sounds a whole lot like Kickstarter actually. Except, in this circumstance, if you don’t deliver, you will have legal consequences unless you give the money back (and even then.) However, in this circumstance, it’s a lot easier to convince people to pay in because it isn’t a donation, but an actual purchase.

So what to make of this? Personally, I don’t know. I know my team has some amazing ideas for hardware and software, but we don’t have the capital yet to follow through like we want to. Yet, to sell it without already having it built seems somehow wrong, even if the client gets the product in the end (and may even not realize that it was vaporware at any point.)

However, I’ve learned in my life the propaganda and ideologies that have been ingrained in me sometimes are dirt wrong. So, this is definitely something I need to kick around in my head a lot more.

As a rule, I’ve always either sold a product we had, or a service we were ready to provide as soon as the contracts were signed. However, if you were selling thousands of products to thousands of people, and you had a plan to have it ready by the time they expected it delivered, if you got the money, what to make of that? More people will be happy to get a good product and you will be able to continue to sell it after the initial bang.

Selling nothing seems to be a great way to make money and, in the end, make a great product from scratch.

What are your thoughts?

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The myth of cheap tech experts. aka. technical debt.

network spagetti
network spagetti (Photo credit: versageek)

A common issue I’ve seen time and again around computers is the myth of cheap tech experts. You may have heard these lines before:

“Why would I need a professional programmer for my website, my cousin just graduated from *insert design college here* and can do it for us.”

“My friend, Jennifer, knows how to wire up a network, we can use her for cheap IT.”

“We can just outsource (IT, programming, etc.) to these really cheap group (and their salesperson has totally convinced me that their employees will care about us), they will totally know our unique needs and we’ll save tons.”

or the worst to me,

“Security (or insert other specialty here) is easy, we don’t need an expert for that.”

These statements above are all correct. You can do those tasks, in the short term, for cheap. You can build a quick website, you can set up a quick network, you can cheaply outsource to overworked people who don’t care about your organization, or you can patch up a few security holes and pray no one finds the ones you don’t know about. However, doing this is similar to patching the hole in your roof by covering it with plastic, it keeps the water out, but also can cause much worse and more expensive problems in the long run.

Credit Card
Credit Card (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

To use a common term, you are now taking on technical debt.

Note, this doesn’t mean hiring people you know is a bad idea. Because you know your cousin, you know your nephew, and you know your friend, you are more knowledgeable of their skillset and, in general, know that they would be less likely to betray your trust. However, getting suckered by a good outsourcing firm who invested properly in marketing that looks really sharp, snazzy and capable (note, the more they spend in marketing, the less they are spending on their customers) is more common than you’d think.

The issue here isn’t that they are related or known to you. The issue is that you are using them to save money, not to do the job correctly. You get technical debt when you try to save without consideration of the actual time and costs of doing a project correctly. Technical debt you will have to pay off later if the project continues.

The sad part is many young and very qualified firms make this mistake as well by severely undercharging for their labour and then overworking themselves to the point of producing a lower quality product within the timeline and budget.

And the worst part is that everyone suffers in the field because prices are artificially surpressed to the point that qualified people don’t bother working in the field because they can’t make what they are worth without spending all of their time cleaning up other organizations technical debt, an incredibly frustrating and unsatisfying job.

“There is time to do it right.”

I worked for a very old consulting firm for many many years where that was their long-discarded slogan. However, it always stuck with me. It implies to relax, calm down, take a deep breath and let the experts do their job. You hired them to make things work correctly.

You wouldn’t go to a surgeon or a dentist and demand that they get it done in less time than they are spending to do it correctly. Heck, even in jobs where you don’t spend 15 years training for it – you shouldn’t tell a bricklayer or a carpenter to cut corners and get those walls up in half the time at a quarter of the price (or if you did, you would be asking for trouble in the future and likely a visit by Mike Holmes.)

Why should you not do the same with an expert job in a technical field? You hired them to do a job for you and commonly it’s a job that’s central to your organization. If the network goes down, even for a day, that’s almost one full day of lost productivity. In an organization of 100 people, that’s ~ 100 work-days lost. In perspective, that’s nearly a third of a year.

“But it improves my efficiencies at half the cost!”

Yes, IT and computers are great at improving efficiencies in corporations – even with systems that have technical debt. However, we all need to realize that the myth of cheap tech experts is costing us all in likely billions of person-hours of work every day throughout the world. This is where those security breaches come from. This is where the badly documented networks that are difficult to upgrade come from. This is where the locked-in outsourcing firms come from. This is where we are losing money. It’s the credit card of the technical world. You may save $10k a month with these guys, and end up having to pay $4k a month later, but if we all accept that “there is time to do it right”, you’ll save $25k a month in efficiencies and not have to worry about eventually paying off that technical debt.

Yes, it cost more upfront, but it saves you money in the long run. Like buying a house with a big down payment.

Good skills are very rarely cheap (theologians and philosophers excepted). If you want it done correctly, pay the right price, and remember there is always time to do it right.

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Some translation needed (applications of immix)

Symbol of Confusion
Symbol of Confusion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A big problem I’ve encountered in business is the widening chasm between sales, marketing and IBM-style management folks and the new group of technical experts coming up. I’ve been in rooms where the marketing people have great ideas about a product and the technical people simply cannot understand or comprehend what they are saying or, worse, why it is a good methodology to sell a product. To them, it’s the technical structure of the product, the spreadsheets and data, not the human or “mushy” interaction with the wetware on the other side.

There are times I wonder if part of the reason techies spend so much time on futurism is the hope that by removing the wetware entirely, the system becomes much simpler.

However, it goes the other way around. Techies will describe what they are doing in terms that to them are simple, but to the sales and marketing guys are essentially another language. Many smart sales and management folks will usually retort with “ok, let’s pretend I’m an idiot, please explain this to me in language I understand.” I surprisingly polite, if somewhat demeaning way to ask for clarification. The issue though is when the techie “dumbs it down,” they resort to either simpler technological terminology, defeating the whole point of why the prototype they built is cool, or they change the terminology to a different field that they have less respect for (This is more common than you’d think.)

I confess, I’ve done both of the above. I’ve put on my sales, marketing and management cap and found it excruciatingly difficult to explain to a techie why the direction they are going won’t work. Why to sell the produce we need to do something more palatable, more refined. Why, at the end of the day, we need to have a product that actually works rather than the potential for an awesome product eventually. This is something I want to fix eventually, since if I put on my techie hat, I fall into the same holes as them. (Whoo, that’s cool, do that, don’t worry if it doesn’t work…)

I’ve put on my techie hat, went into a sales meeting and found myself discussing the more complex points of software engineering on a clustered system to an individual who only wanted to know why the algorithms on mutual funds were taking longer to calculate than he wanted.

Yet, ironically I’ve found when I’m not the one communicating, it has put me into an interesting situation. I can read over a paper on advanced clustering algorithms and explain to a manager of a small company why this is useful for their primary software product. I’ve also found myself in a technical development meeting explaining to techies that the sales manager is not demanding an entire rewrite, but simply a new field on a single screen.

So, while this is important and I enjoy playing this role. I realized that this is ironically what immix has become. The internet is full of 100s of APIs and organizations have likely thousands if not millions of different systems that have their own DBs, no APIs, no clean way to link to the old database and combine it with new systems in a clean fashion.

While more standardization of APIs is useful, that doesn’t give many businesses any ROI since they don’t want to throw out all of their existing work.

immix has become for many organizations an interesting middle man. It allows the various systems to communicate to it in their own way, and then through module building communicates what is necessary to other systems (including the nefarious wetware I mentioned above.)

It makes the software and hardware talk together. It creates a social network for humans, hardware and software.

Carrier to Noise Ratio of a QPSK Signal
Carrier to Noise Ratio of a QPSK Signal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The realization I had is that over the last 5 years we’ve encapsulated in software what I’ve been doing in business for a long time. we’ve built a technical translation system that allows normally incompatible systems to understand what they are doing and make more intelligent solutions, and this is important. The internet is overwhelmed with people talking to the wind, and many of the time with good ideas when you can understand the underlying logic. Adding things to the mix will just make it even more confusing, adding noise and not signal. Not because there isn’t signal, but because the things are all communicating slightly differently.

However, by having a centralizing IoT framework that repolarizes those signals all into the same frame, you can actually start to make sense of it all.

I’ve always felt like a jack of all trades because of my varied knowledge and personally worried that it put me at a disadvantage as I needed to read so much more to get the depth I wanted in all of the fields.

However, now it gives me an advantage because I can talk the various languages needed to build good businesses, and I can see how to build a framework that does the same thing electronically.

Maybe I finally found my niche.

Some translation needed.

KJR

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Faith, trust and disorder

Simplified scheme of an organization
Simplified scheme of an organization (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had an interesting and thought-provoking conversation yesterday with a good friend. I haven’t talked with him in many years, and since we last spoke he has worked up the ranks in his business to a project lead position. It really put a lot of things in perspective since I have been hanging around with many CEOs, MBAs, and other business school/well-connected folks who have worked hard, but have worked up the ranks in their business through more entrepreneurial/less traditional routes.

From the people who worked up through those routes, many of the biggest personal issues I’ve encountered with running a business they take in stride (Dismissing people, handling hostile clients and doing blind sales.) Oddly though, many of the the pieces of running a business that I have little problem with, they have found difficult. So, naturally, I had a lot to learn from them. Even if, in the end, ethically I disagree with some of their methodologies or their philosophies behind their actions.

However, the conversation I had with my friend brought back to the forefront of my mind the biggest part of running a business (especially small business) to me. If I wanted to be sole contractor, making money simply by doing the development myself or providing high level security work, I would just go and work for a larger organization like IBM, CN Rail, Google or Amazon. I actually remember working for Car Accounting at CN Rail and loving it, and I have very fond memories of my days working as an IBM business consultant under the AERIS banner. I’d make a relatively stable income, and generally be pretty OK with it.

But, business is more than that to me. Never fully figured out why, but I really enjoy giving people the opportunity to work on projects they never thought they’d be able to work on and find ways to take the awesomeness from those and make it work to improve the ROI (or organizational processes) of our clientele. It was hard to reach considering some of the ups and downs I have had in hiring, but there is a deep pleasure in having faith in someone and having that faith fulfilled.

Giving a project to someone who really wants to do it and do an awesome job on it, and then seeing them create something beyond your wildest dreams. That’s a pretty awesome feeling. It’s the 1+1 = 3 phenomena. I, alone, could not accomplish this, and neither could they alone, but combined, through faith in each other, we are able to produce something more.

Now, business doesn’t run on faith. Business runs on product, profits and financial statements. So you need to have one other piece of the puzzle – trust that they person you employ to do this job will be able to not only do an awesome job, but stay on task enough to build a product that supports them and the larger organization moving forward.

I’ve always found, contrary to many of my more atheistic friends, faith is easy; trust is hard.

Especially when your trust is betrayed or, worse even, entirely proven baseless.

That leads to disorder, not only for the organization but also for yourself. You need to re-examine your core beliefs and try to find out why you had this trust and what you missed that showed how that trust would be betrayed. You need to restructure the organization (sometimes at heavy financial and personal cost) to prevent such a failure again (that is if the failure was something massive.)

And you need to find a way to move forward. As hard as it may be.

So, we return to my friend that I enjoyed a lovely dinner with last night. His organization has some serious issues that need to be sorted out. The dysfunction is so inherent that individuals who are clearly skilled and capable of doing the work are being dragged along by the chaotic maelstrom that happens when organizational trust is betrayed. Trust goes both ways, you see.

It’s possible if I read this 10 years ago, I’d scoff at it. However, now I know it’s immensely true. These structures in corporations, non-profits and other organizations exist to allow for products and progress to be made. When you as an employee have no trust or faith in your leaders to lead, you will betray their trust in you to do what you have been hired to do. In the end, you both get disorder. You are a miserable employee, and your employer is stuck trying to decide what to do to make the engine work again.

This doesn’t mean you should put up with hostile or toxic business environments, far from it. It means that if you are unhappy (for any reason) and you can walk away, you should do so. Don’t betray the trust of the people who put you there.

However, don`t also assume that the chaos and disorder around you is due to a bad strategy by those who are doing their best above you, and most importantly trust that what they are assigning you is not entirely without purpose and void.

Their job is to ensure their department does it’s job and, in the end, that the organizations continues to be successful and sustainable. Sometimes they fail, yes, but don’t aid them in that by failing to keep up to what they expect of you.

Otherwise you just in a self-fulfilling maelstrom and more and more will get caught until someone pulls the plug on everything.

KJR

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