Sunday, October 30, 2016

There Are No Objective Here

Just like Bukowski, it began as a mistake. I accidentally clicked on a link to Google Domains and all of the sudden I owned  I didn't know .dog domains were even a thing, but once I knew they were, I had to have it. My first blog was named Wrong Dog's Life Chest and its my chosen user name for gaming and social media - its part of my identity.

It's been a year since we moved to Seattle and I'm getting settled into my new job, so I had been playing with the idea of writing online again. My shiny new domain sealed the deal for me. So, I set this up and have been staring at a blank screen for weeks. What did I hope to accomplish here? What is my objective? Generate revenue? Have some meaningful dialog? Help people learn about new technologies or just ti pass on sage wisdom? Entertain myself with delusions of grandeur?

So, I started running through scenarios in my mind. What if I set out to generate revenue, build a fan base or change the world? What would that be like? I would need to attract attention in the new style, blogging isn't what it used to be. People don't subscribe to blogs anymore, they click on recommendations in social media or they find individual articles of interest through crowd-sourced curated lists, like redit and hacker news. I would need to write about areas of fairly broad appeal. I would need to find hooks and reel people in. I would need to jib and jab and whatever else I could do to get upvotes.

So here I am with a shiny new writing platform and it was too much pressure. Thinking of how I would reach any sort of goal already made me feek fake and a little seedy. Would I write top ten lists? Would I devolve to celebrity upskirts and miracle cures?

Then, out of the blue, I got a text from a friend with a link to a video by his former professor. It was unexpected, but like a lot of life's little treasures, it was perfect timing.

Speaking on his book Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned, Kenneth O Stanley examples from machine learning to make a very compelling case that objectives ruin greatness. I'll attempt to summarize what I took from it by saying that we have set up all aspects of our culture around goals. We work towards those goal with dogged tenaciousness, sometimes we hit them and sometimes we don't, but from my experience it is usually somewhere in the middle. - but in any case that narrow focus on goals represents a major opportunity cost of what we might have missed. How many beautiful discoveries did we miss along the way because of our narrow focus on something we set out to do days/months/years before?

Consider basic software engineering programs. Whether the requirements originated from a user request, a new business thrust or someone's bright idea, every software project I have ever been involved in had an end state or goal that the program was working towards. We call it the program's scope. The business team comes up with the business requirements and the TPM works with the engineering staffs across multiple teams to pull them towards the common goal: implement the business requirements within the market time frame. The TPM collects metrics, monitors Jira dashboards, reports on burndown charts and progress. In order to deliver the right product at the right time, there are most often tough tradeoffs: scope, schedule or costs. Eventually though, something gets delivered and you meet some or all of your goal.

All that time, the entire team was thinking in terms of "how do we get from here to there with what we have?"  This is where the opportunity costs come in. Throughout the tactical execution, the engineering teams (and often the program team) are focused on implementing business goals that were set way outside of the context of where they are working. This type of narrow focus doesn't allow for time or energy along the way to explore the technology enough to make beautiful discoveries.

I often come up with some of my best solutions in the shower. Why? I don't know the scientific answer. I could look it up and give you a real answer, but I'm lazy and you can use Google.  Instead, let me tell you what I think: I come up with my most elegant solutions in the shower because I am not actively thinking about the problem there. I am relaxed and letting my mind generate its own slide show sequence and then boom! I get an answer to something that has been bugging me but was too elusive for direct thought.

There are a lot of places in my life where I think I can let this concept change the way I do things, but how does it apply to this site? How will it help me write here?

 If I started this discussion with a goal of changing the world, I will most likely fail. Why? I will write stories I think people will want to read - other people who aren't me -  and in that process I will miss the opportunity to make something I would find beautiful.

I constantly work towards goals and objectives and data is collected to judge my progress towards them and that analysis is used to stack rank me with my peers. I don't want that here, so there will be no objectives.