Some light additional context - this is part of my ongoing series "The Strategic Independent" which will eventually become a book sometime next year. All the posts in that series are catalogued here: https://www.are.na/tom-critchlow/the-strategic-independent
This post (and the whole series) is designed for independent consultants, free-agents and freelancers who have to navigate entering and exiting client environments often faster than full-time employees. Hopefully there's something useful in that context but many of these ideas could be applicable beyond that also.
Anyway - thanks for the love. If you have topic suggestions for future posts in this series would love to hear them! Thanks, Tom.
They’re very applicable outside the context of consulting - they’re fundamental for any leader joining a new organization to integrate well and get things done. Consultants transition more often than most; the principles you’ve shared are a great reference for the rest of us on how to be effective in a new environment.
The basic premise for this series is inspired by the book and I definitely borrow more directly and heavily for chapters 3 and 4 (which aren't quite ready to publish yet!).
Not sure what the author means by “knowledge work”, but I find this very true, for any type of work.
When stuff is visible and tactile, folks assume that they should intuitively understand it. So my work is subjected to endless critique and brainstorming from everybody, including managers.
Sometimes I envy the embedded systems people because nobody ever looks at the innards of their designs.
True, but the flip side is that nobody understands the complexity. Some will assume it must be easy, especially if you keep quiet about the challenges and just deliver mostly good stuff.
To your point, I was working on a hybrid system and one meeting dragged on because marketing was upset that the font was changed on the inverter. It was machined into the case, and they couldn't make the sharp interior angles needed. So yeah, even when you can see it, there may be hidden complexity.
I've actually seen a few customers listing it as such (based on some sales estimate), but it doesn't seem common. Which is a bit weird, especially in cases where you can trade software cost for hardware cost.
And be endlessly positive about everyone and their ideas so that only positive feelings are associated with you. Choose your favorites by directing attention and investment. Ignore the unkept promises or implications since they will be to the less popular people and projects which are inherently less powerful.
May all bullets be directed to backs and all knifes sheathed likewise.
There is some importance to keeping a pleasant and encouraging workplace but some of us value honesty and straightforwardness as well as the efficiencies that go with these practices. These require real work however.
The rest of improv may not be as applicable, but performance sure does! The show must go on (despite unexpected setbacks or illness or personal feelings), how to speak in front of crowds (even while being ridiculed or ignored), being fully prepared through scripts and rehearsals until you embody the story you are trying to tell... Is an integral part of leading startups and I credit much of my success to that experience.
If everyone on your team is fully embedded in the purpose and ethos of your story, than you can fill in for each other if someone drops a line or needs a stand-in. In a startup everyone is selling! And it will be much more authentic with this level of camaraderie and committment.
I always go with the rule of thumb that unless the person who answered is so far off base that it materially changes the outcome it’s often better letting the answer go and moving on to the next.
But how does one do "yes, and ...", when the previous statement is clearly wrong? You either sound sarcastic or like a patronising twat.
"It is snowing." "Yes, and I'll leave my sweater at home since it's rather warm outside."
It is possible for the characters to disagree with each other if it's not blocking - it allows the scene to continue to develop instead of shutting it down. In this case, disagreement over the weather would become the focus of the action.
"It is snowing."
"Oh, what a kidder you are, Smith! Just look at the shorts I'm wearing, it's fun in the sun time."
"Jones, my breath is visible. You are clearly on a different planet from me."
"Well, as it so happens, I AM an alien!" pause for laughter
And yes, there's a limit to the method when in a business setting. Business machinery is set up to grind out ugly, practical compromises and can't inject fantasy into the equation like that very often in the lower branches of the org, but it often benefits from this creativity when we're talking about executive leadership figuring out what the org needs to look like to succeed in the future.
That’s almost a textbook example of the opposite of Yes And philosophy. Contradicting the reality established by another performer is called Negation.
Disagreement within the YesAnd framework can be tricky to describe. A better example:
“This sucks. It’s snowing”
“Yes, and now we can finally go skiing. I’m so excited!”
If the analogy is applicable to business at all, it's about accepting the "reality" of the place you've parachuted into. Part of that might be to start with the assumption that people are grownups who have real honest-to-god reasons for saying things. That level of respect for strangers seems appropriate, and a lost art in these days of the online echo chamber. Then your job stops being about "being right" and more about listening. This whole viewpoint seems to say it's more important to keep the "scene" going than to be right.
Whereas in theatre you have the luxury of just declaring that yes indeed it IS snowing; in business it sounds like it would be more about figuring out why this person thinks it's snowing. After enough time immersed in their company culture you might see why, and you might even reluctantly agree with it. But you can "disagree without negating" by saying for example "Well I know it's probably not snowing in Cancún." In other words "When I worked at Blablacorp they had an excellent anti-snow system." Seems like maybe caution would be in order before saying anything like that though, as an outsider, because the obvious response is gonna be "Well this is YADDATRON, NOT BLABLACORP! At Yaddatron, it's goddamn snowing!!"
Anyway, point is, you don't necessarily have to accept that it is snowing; sometimes just accepting that the person thinks it's snowing is enough to keep things moving along. I dunno, don't mind me, this is new to me (improv isn't, but this way of using it is), so to some degree I'm thinking by writing.
Mentors are people who you can go to when you’re stuck on a topic, regardless of what it is. They help you navigate through your org (politics, context behind decisions, etc). These people can be in your team/department or could just be someone you’ve met by the water cooler and developed a relationship with.
Supporters are similar to mentors, but more committed. These people will take their own initiative and go out of their way to create opportunities for you. They consider your success as a part of their own success and therefore will do what they can to help you grow and develop.
Followers are people who you’ve either worked side by side with, or who have worked for you. You may take on the mentor or supporter role for them. If you switched teams or departments, these people would want to come with you.
I suspect that the advice I need is “obvious”.
If you try to "get to yes", it will often happen that the person in the position of the client will respond by cutting scope, saying "well, we don't really need that part just now".
And then it will usually turn out that they really did want what they originally said they wanted, and maybe try to sneak the features back in in disguise, and the whole thing overruns or else you end up saying no in a position where everyone is worse off than if you'd said no to start with.
I think they should teach Bridge in management school. Often not being in a contract is the right answer!
"Optimism as an Operating System"
I'm really looking forward to chapter 4, "Status Switching", as it's a skill I'm very keen to further develop.
I wish I could get an email as soon as it's posted.
What I'm really fascinated by is how this can be translated to remote working. I don't think water-cooler talk is possible in Slack. I would be really surprised to find anyone at the top of performance in any organization that isn't fully remote without resorting to Machiavellian tactics. I wonder if the stresses you saw at GitHub during their period of centralizing management in SF after really marketing themselves as remote first were evidence of this.
Can confirm. Switching to a fully remote company was eye-opening. The politics are much worse than my office jobs.
Everything is back-channeled. So many secret private Slack channels and exclusive in-person meetups where actual decisions are made.
At least in the office you could get a sense of the political landscape after a few weeks of meetings — I was unaware of how my remote organization actually worked for over a year until I raised some concerns and a co-worker clued me in.
The shocking thing wasn’t that a remote company has politics, but that the entire company ethos was based on how much more transparent and less political fully remote organizations are.
I've spent about 9 years working with a fully remote company. The back channels exist, mostly as video calls in slack, but to me that's no different than a conversation in a quiet corner of the office. You can usually sniff out who talks to who and what the relationships are like.
I find you do have to call people though, if you isolate yourself in a remote company it's probably even more, well, isolating. No one's going to accidentally bump into you.
Probably not quite to the same level as in-person conversation, but nearly every place I've worked had a variety of off-topic channels (both for specific topics, and totally random discussion), and plenty of my 1:1 slack conversations end up evolving into personal discussions (e.g., "Hey, btw, I saw a cool-looking book on your shelf when you dialed into the meeting - what is that?")
But, I do also think that a crucial distinction is that most people assume water cooler talk isn't recorded. I have several co-workers who have said something in slack, then noted this is probably available to the boss, and then deleted the comment (who really knows if it is actually deleted and not available to the boss as a paid upgrade!). The point is water cooler talk is risk free, and I think at least an important part of those conversations with your coworkers should be experimental and searching, and having a surveillance layer over there prohibits (or inhibits) that.
You're right - there are definitely things I've explicitly not said in Slack and saved for in-person discussions. I forgot about that aspect of it. :/
It's very much available, as someone who works in a highly regulated industry, it would be absurd from a compliance perspective to allow modifying past electronic communication.
If they're available to your local Slack admin, I don't know.
It's not just a case of making an effort to connect with the individuals evaluating the work - it's that siloing your individual contribution, however strong, actually makes you more difficult to work with and your contributions less impactful.
The jumping from sinking ship to sinking ship after gnawing at the baseboards success model is success for them and useless sociopaths like them only and actively bad for everyone else. Their fuck ups are /why/ they need to pay consultants in the first place!
Their methods are a plague on society which makes it abundantly clear why the status quo is fucked up and also why big players even can lose vs garage start ups despite their decades of experience and massive funds difference. While the start ups may be good and smart the vested interest's outright failures despite their advantages are more because they are frankly stupid than their rival's vast skill or genius.
If remote working stops the spread of this virulence (I suspect they will need to mutate their playbooks) then it explains the resistance among current management to not having to pay for office space.
D'Arcy Carden: The goal is to make the other person(s) look awesome.
I wish I could tell younger me to study improv, to hear this nugget of wisdom, before joining the work force. Might have saved myself and everyone else a lot of heart ache.
Yes only positions and opinions that make them look good.
For example, in a tech all hands. "Ask" questions like these
1. How did the upper management react to cost savings from initiative X.
2. How did vendor feel about us canceling their contract by building a cheaper home grown system that is saving us X million $ every year.
3. What is the strategy for filling out open positions faster. ( we are doing so good that we have way too many open positions)
4. "joke questions" , did CEO actually finish 50 pies in pie eating contest at the management retreat ,like he claims he did.
also, consultants rarely get invited to these all hands in the first place.
"Questions" like these put other people on defensive (which means they won't listen to you anymore) and mark you out as an a*hole (which means they won't listen to you at all). It's counterproductive.
I'm always baffled how engineers don't get that: they can understand that you need to write "printf()" and not "abort()" to achieve printout, but can't understand simple rules on how to achieve results when interacting with other people?
No it's the opposite.
How does highlighting millions of cost savings from CTO's initiative humiliate him?
I am confused how you got that impression from my comment. what did i miss.
That said, this is a good reminder for everyone to “read generously”: If you read something that seems absurd, take a minute to make sure you’re not just misunderstanding the post. Posts often gloss over context, and so you should try to rebuild that context.
But I concede that I have read the post in a non generous way and I apologise to the author.
I wonder if there’s not something to read into this a bit beyond my current abilities. Many people work on things that they consider somewhat boring, or at least not at the boundary of their skill set. People above you in the organization spent a lot of time building “synergies” and organizing a team of people frankly (in most cases) somewhat overqualified for the task. It seems like throwing all that out by not integrating enough into the social group is a terrible idea.
If only we had a system where (special) judges were able to determine who works hard and who doesn't and from there decide who gets what amount of pay, and who deserves a promotion. We could actually have a fair society.
Then there's the arbitrage possibilities; are the judges globally uniform? (How are you going to achieve that?)
Then there's the classic Keynsian "usefulness" problem; you can have a whole load of people working hard digging holes and another group of people filling them in, and that constitutes hard work?
All of us would of course be out of jobs and toiling in the fields, as there is nothing so dangerous in this environment as a process improvement. Making the work easier would reduce compensation, so there's a really strong incentive not to improve the process and to sabotage anyone who attempts to do so.
No, I think we have to have the humility to understand as humans that we can't know the answers to this with any kind of precision, and to be more humble in the judgements that we must make,
> If only we had a system where (special) judges were able to determine who works hard and who doesn't and from there decide who gets what amount of pay, and who deserves a promotion. We could actually have a fair society.
Why should pay be based on how hard one works? I know when I started my career I had to work _much_ harder, because I had not yet been around the block so to speak. As time went on I became much more efficient with my time, experience makes it easier to see patterns, etc.
So if the metric is how hard one works, as I get better at my job I'd actually get paid less?
We would be better off paying people more for easy work. People would target what they exceled at. Productivity increases. Our quality of life would increase but some jobs wouldn't get filled.
If someone can talk their way into a promotion, that is either a sales organization, or a great sign of a failing company. Or a strategy group.
A version of this is available every day: commercial journalism is the act of promoting good writing over good thinking. Usually for the same reasons as most bad plans: ideas structured by analogy, visualization, and context free approximation.
Anyway, this is a good article, and because it is often true, one worth pushing back against.
FWIW I posted a little UX teardown of the different annotation platforms here if you're interested: https://tomcritchlow.com/2019/02/12/annotations/
I'm a double-clicker and I know of many others. I don't know many "selectors". In that spirit, they should just ignore double-clicking in whatever they wanna present for selections.
> The male toilet has disappeared overnight. Now there is an “All-Gender Toilet” and the door is decorated in rainbow hearts.
> You go through three stalls before you find one that hasn’t got a used tampon floating in the basin or discarded on the floor.
On your second sentence, I have no idea what you are talking about. Right wing talking points? Leave your politics at the door sometimes.