Selecting Decent People

I have proposed a seminar for Agile 2008, being held here in Toronto in August. I want to explore how the Agile Principles expose truths and helpful techniques in hiring. My limited experience has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that quality of hiring has more to do with an organization's health and success than any other factor.

The proposal has generated some interesting discussion and it seems to be an issue people find compelling. One commenter on my proposed seminar told me to go read some Dee Hock.

Holy good idea. Here's Mr. Hock talking about how he gets people to describe the responsibilities of a manager, and what he thinks the right answer is. I know it's kind of long, but seriously, it's worth reading. (from Future Positive)

I ask each person to describe the single most important responsibility of any manager. The incredibly diverse responses always have one thing in common. All are downward looking. Management inevitably has to do with exercise of authority — with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, controlling them. That perception is mistaken.

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self, one's own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. It is a complex, never-ending, incredibly difficult, oft-shunned task. Management of self is something at which we spend little time and rarely excel precisely because it is so much more difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others. Without management of self, no one is fit for authority, no matter how much they acquire. The more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become. It is the management of self that should have half of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do, the ethical, moral, and spiritual elements of managing self are inescapable.

Asked to identify the second responsibility of any manager, again people produce a bewildering variety of opinions, again downward-looking. Another mistake. The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators, ad infinitum. In an organized world, there are always people with authority over us. Without their consent and support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgment, use creative ability, achieve constructive results, or create conditions by which others can do the same? Managing superiors is essential. Devoting a quarter of our time and ability to that effort is not too much.

Asked for the third responsibility, people become a bit uneasy and uncertain. Yet, their thoughts remain on subordinates. Mistaken again. The third responsibility is to manage one's peers — those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us — associates, competitors, suppliers, customers — the entire environment, if you will. Without their support, respect, and confidence, little or nothing can be accomplished. Peers can make a small heaven or hell of our life. Is it not wise to devote at least a fifth of our time, energy, and ingenuity to managing peers?

Asked for the fourth responsibility, people have difficulty coming up with an answer, for they are now troubled by thinking downward. However, if one has attended to self, superiors, and peers, there is little else left. The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority.

The common response is that all one's time will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but see they are properly recognized, rewarded, and stay out of their way? It is not making better people of others that management is about. It's about making a better person of self. Income, power, and titles have nothing to do with that.

Mr Hock has summed up better than I ever could the truths I've learned in my years managing people. And uncovered even more truths. I used to get angry at the fact that I had to keep managing my bosses. I shrank from managing my peers.

It was wrong of me. But at least I got the idea that hiring well is what it's all about.

Just to review, this sums up my proposed seminar right here: "One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process."

Yep. It sounds so simple, when he puts it that way.

I'm very excited about this conference and this seminar, should it go forward. Already the folks discussing the issue are full of great ideas and worthwhile conversation. If any of my half-dozen readers are thinking of attending, I hope they'll join in the seminar selection process and help bring this idea to life.

10 Feet of Henry

If you were a teenager in Calgary, Golden Rock is the blog you've been waiting for.

This is guy is collecting and posting indie music from Calgary's yesteryear.

Color Me Psycho.

Tau Ceti.

The Ted Clark 5.

Funeral Factory.

Ah, Funeral Factory. Absolutely FANTASTIC version of "Heartbreak Hotel". Still stands up after all this time.

No Same Difference yet, but a little bird told me to keep an eye open. You can read James Muretich's review of Club Notes when it first open, and watch him slag off Skinny Puppy: "Skinny Puppy should've listened to the Bauhaus song: Bela Lugosi is dead." Ha! Muretich changed my life. He was THE GUY when I was eighteen, that's for sure -- I took his every opinion as absolute gospel.

Thanks, Golden Rocker. I am made happy.

Confidence, Crushed

Some things just seem so obvious to me. Like the notion that Arnold's Conan and Julie's Maria belong together. Sort of. If you, you know, don't think about it too much.

So we watched Conan The Barbarian a while back, cause it's awesome (as you know), and I was listening to Julie Andrews singing "I Have Confidence", which is also awesome (as you also know) (and yes, I have The Sound of Music soundtrack on my iTunes rotation) (but I wasn't listening to Julie Andrews WHILE we were watching Conan, cause that would be annoying), and to be honest, the rest was just figuring out how to use new toys.

Steph got me a digital drum machine last year, and this is the first track I've used it on. It's called iDrum and it integrates fully into GarageBand 2. It also works very well as an independent groove-maker, outputting aiff files you can then drag into GarageBand as loops. Awesomely cool.

So this track features less GarageBand loops than any track I've done so far, I think. Only one pre-fabricated GarageBand loop is used in here -- bonus points if you can guess which instrument it is.

Crush Kittens

Steph again provided useful ideas. She also said I should lose the guitar. This time I couldn't bring myself to take it out. Way it goes.

Lunkslutting, Jan 19

Just going to post some random collections from around the web. Got twigged to Brianne Drouhard's art from Chris Sanders (who's in my good books as the director of Lilo and Stitch). That yuki-no-onna is pretty righteous, says me. There's not going to be a lot of snowy landscapes in DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, but I have ideas for an expansion set once DPoNI is the enormous success it deserves to be. Giant Cave Bears + Fur Traders + Insane Japanese Ghosts = FUN!

That enormous success is going to turn largely on the enormous talent of Claudio Pozas, who's putting together some very cool logo designs that we'll unveil here once they're ready.

Three guys recreate the beach landing scene from Saving Private Ryan: this has turned up all over the internet, but it's so awesome I'll link to it on Pulp 2.0, where I first saw it.

Via The Vancouverite: Ezra Levant (who Steph and I went to university with) unloads on the Human Rights Comission, and it's totally awesome. My Albertan heart is proud.

Good for you, Ezra. You showboating right-wing freakazoid, you.

This comes from the SCARY NEWS:

Tom Cruise: Scientologist

If you're on the fence about how insane Mr. Cruise is, you haven't seen this yet. He's a loon, folks. Favourite quote? "Get those "spectators" either on the playing field or out of the arena."

And maybe it's just in the air these days.

Reviews and Love

We met Stefan in Tokyo -- he was the guy with the biggest collection of videotapes I'd ever seen. He was leaving town and was looking for someone to take his collection away. Me, I volunteered. Numerous large shopping bags full of VHS cassettes were lugged across Shinkoiwa and deposited in our loft. Stefan mentioned a few key ones that were not to be missed and then he was gone and we never saw him again.

We watched a lot of those movies, and they had an immense impact on us. Swordsman II. Bullet In The Head. The Bride With White Hair. Chungking Express.

Classics now, but at the time they were piled up willy-nilly with less memorable titles like Wonder Seven or An Amorous Woman of the Tang Dynasty (you gotta admit, it SOUNDS promising enough). It was hard to push our way through the towering collection without a guide of any sort. A great deal of time was wasted watching absolute crap.

But then a book appeared. A book that laid out Hong Kong cinema of the 80's and 90's, gave solid reviews of many films and placed them in a context so that we could make sense of what we were watching.

That book was Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head. Written by none other than Stefan himself.

That's correct. We inherited the video collection of the author of the definitive book on Hong Kong New Wave cinema. And the impact goes deeper than you know.

First of all, Stefan and his co-writer Mike Wilkins articulate so well in this book the joys of these films:

In describing Hong Kong cinema — its excitement, vitality, electricity — film-school polemics fail. There is no pointy-headed, white-wine-and-baked-brie philosophy that adequately describes its "scalding propulsion," the force that blasts you out of your seat and rearranges your popcorn.

But it's in the reviews themselves that this book really shines.

"There is a fine line between horror and humour, and Mr. Vampire does everything but jump rope with it."

"Naked Killer arches its back and spits at you for ninety minutes."

We're still in Chapter One, here. This book is full of gems like that.

"Transfer cracked-shell, evil-egghead brains into killer androids, and stuff like this is bound to happen."

Besides providing us with a guide to what have now become a solid set of our favourite films ever, S&Z&aBitH also provided me at least with a form of writing that I don't think I've ever quite shaken -- the smug, knowing summation of dire events that is nonetheless delivered with heartfelt emotion and some spectacular turns of phrase. Take this comment from their review of the rather crappy Wicked City:

"Tragic potential energy becomes tragic kinetic energy, and almost everyone dies."

Come on. That's a pretty sweet little sparkle, right there.

For some reason I've picked this book up recently and am awed all over again by the energy and obvious love it brings to its subject. The Hong Kong New Wave petered out a number of years ago, and we'll never see films like Full Contact or Drunken Master II again, but this book takes me back to what it was like to first discover this whole world of cinema I'd never even heard of.

A Murky Future

I don't think I have ever faced a year with so little notion of what it might contain for me as 2008. I don't have any idea what's coming. Really and truly.

It seems like everything is up for change, for collapse or for renewal. Who will I be 362 days from now? Where?

I learned so much in 2007, and yet it feels like maybe I learned it too late. But that's retarded. Too late for what?

Steph has declared this The Week of the 80's, and we watched Blade Runner last night, and could not help but remark on two things: first, the incredible impact this film and its look have had on cinema, on pop culture in general, and second, the intense nostalgia that infuses the film, not just in its evocation (and indeed, overpowering) of film noir's distinctive stamp, but almost it seems the entire twentieth century -- the 40s fashions, the bazaars of 1920s pulp adventure, architecture that rivals Speer's greatest designs, and the grimy streets and bleak realism of 70's procedural drama -- has all been inhaled by Ridley Scott and his team and breathed out in a great exhalation that wrapped up everything the 80's and even the 90's would become.

It occurred to me that I grew up and have lived in that atmosphere of nostalgia nearly all my life. The last few decades have seen little enough innovation in design -- rather, we've recycled each decade's looks and feelings in turn, and now are cannibalizing just the past few years. Steph promulgates the theory that in 2012, which the Mayans reckoned as the end of the world (Aztecs? not sure, let it slide), we'll finally run out of nostalgia to embrace, that our recycling will catch up with our present and the world will... well, something.

I wonder if the Aztecs (or the Mayans, or whoever) weren't maybe off by a few years. It feels to me like I've run out of tricks to recycle, anyway. 2012 is too far in the future to even dream of, for me. I don't even know what February is going to look like.

I believe the primary emotion associated with freedom is terror. I know that what I have to do is embrace this fear that threatens to overwhelm me and keep it from driving me into familiar terrain where I can shrink back into a comfortable posture, refuse to grow and refuse to seek the new.

Steph amended her previous comment on me vs. Dzurlords -- her notion was that at any rate, I feel a lack in myself, a failure to live up to my own self-image, my own principles, that such passages evoke.

That is, maybe the problem isn't that I'm not courageous, it's that I'm not courageous enough to meet my own standards.

Which leaves me with three choices: suffer along in this state, man up and get more courage, or lower my standards.

Here's hoping that as 2009 rolls in I don't look back and decide that 2008 was a bad year for My Standards.