Thursday, September 21, 2006

Comment of The Day: Bill Joy, Ignorant Slut

There were a lot of great comments on my post regarding Bill Joy's agita over consumer-generated media, but I just have to highlight this one from Matt:

"Maybe Mr. Joy hasn't noticed that the company that's putting his out of business was started by a college drop-out?"

5 Things Leaders Should Do To Promote Creativity (and 3 Things They Shouldn't)

Good stuff from Frans' mentor, Teresa Amabile:

I found that there are five leader behaviors that have a positive influence on people's feelings, and the daily diary method allowed us to identify these behaviors at a very granular level. One of these is supporting people emotionally. The second is monitoring people's work in a particularly positive way, and that has to do with giving them positive feedback on their work or giving them information that they need to do their work better. The third behavior is just plain recognizing people for good performance, particularly in public settings. The fourth is consulting with people on the team—that is, asking for their views, respecting their opinions, and acting on their needs and their wishes to the extent that it's possible. And the fifth category was a grab bag of things. But the most important aspect here was collaborating—that the team leader rolled up his or her sleeves and actually spent time collaborating with somebody on the work.

We found three leader behaviors that had negative impact. One was the under- or overspecification of assignments. Much of this has to do with giving people either too little guidance or too much guidance by overconstraining the assignment. The second one is monitoring in a negative form—that is, checking on assigned work too often or not often enough. Or, checking on it for too long, like hanging around and going too much into the details of what people are doing, and giving unconstructive feedback. The third negative has to do with problem solving—either avoiding solving problems that crop up in the team or the project, or creating problems.

I believe it's important for leaders to understand the power of ordinary practices. Seemingly ordinary, trivial, mundane, day-by-day things that leaders do and say can have an enormous impact. My guess is that a lot of leaders have very little sense of the impact that they have. That's particularly true of the negative behaviors. I don't think that the ineffective team leaders we studied meant to anger or deflate the people who were working for them. They were trying to do a good job of leading their teams, but lacked an effective model for how to behave.
So, I would say sweat the small stuff, not only when you're dealing with your business strategy, but with the people whom you're trying to lead. I would encourage leaders, when they're about to have an interaction with somebody, to ask themselves: Might this thing I'm about to do or say become this person's "event of the day"? Will it have a positive or a negative effect on their feelings and on their performance today?


Bottom line summary:

Do:
  • Support people emotionally
  • Give positive feedback
  • Recognize people for good performance
  • Listen to your team
  • Roll up your sleeves and collaborate

Don't:
  • Under or over-specify assignments
  • Be negative
  • Create or ignore problems

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bill Joy: Ignorant Slut, Crotchety Old Man

My friend Ben Casnocha sent me this excerpt from The Atlantic Monthly, a great publication that I refuse to read because I am too cheap to spring for a subscription. (He also suggested that I continue to use the "ignorant slut" them, so blame him if you're tempted to flame me!)

In it, ubergeek Bill Joy rubbishes games and blogs as a gigantic waste of time:

Bill Joy, the cofounder of Sun Microsystems, dismissed the suggestion that the online communities formed around Internet games and LiveJournal pages could provide an educational boost for America's young people

"This all sounds like a gigantic waste of time. If I was competing with the United States, I would love to have the students I was competing with spending their time on this kind of crap. People are fooling themselves that they're being creative in these spaces. The standard of creativity in the world, to be competitive and be a great designer, is very hard: you have to go to school; you have to apprentice; you have to do hard things.

...The real problem is, by democratizing speech and the ability to post, we've lost the gradation for quality. The gradation of quality was always based on the fact that words had weight. It cost money to move them around. So there was back pressure against junk.

Ultimately, not everyone can have a million readers, because all the readers have run out of time. So it's a false promise to people, that they can get the big audience. Because in the end once you've gotten to the years when you've got a job, you've gotta raise your kids, you're not gonna have time for this."

Joy's arguments are so wrong in so many ways that I'm reminded of a VC friend who once admonished me not to play any rap music at an event because he couldn't "make heads or tails of any of that dip dap dip dap stuff." It's sad to see a man become crotchety before his time.

Bill makes a couple of important and completely blockheaded assumptions.

1) To be creative, you have to go to school, apprentice, and do hard things.

First off, you certainly don't have to go to school. Going to school helps, but is far from a prerequisite. The number of great artists who have a degree in Creative Writing or Studio Art is embarassingly small.

Apprenticing is important, but there are many different forms of apprenticeship. For a writer, simply reading the great works of the past is a wonderful apprenticeship. There is no requirement for a formal, in-person apprenticeship.

I do agree that doing hard things is essential to creativity, but I disagree with Bill's assumption that blogging and creating and playing games are easy tasks. Doing them well requires just as much discipline and skill as coding in Java.

2) By democratizing speech and the ability to post, we've lost the gradation for quality.

Another absurdity. Why not just say that by democratizing the right to vote, we've created a dumbed-down electorate that can't be trusted to make the right decisions, and that we should go back to only allowing the landed gentry (or digerati) to vote? (though a frightening number of people agree with that last statement...)

It is true that barriers to entry help filter out bad content, but they filter out good content as well. A transparent market without barriers is fairer, and ultimately, more efficient. Bill may be disappointed that outsiders have a better shot at finding an audience...I view it as progress.

3) Not everyone can have a million readers, so for the majority of content creators, creativity is a waste of time.

This may be Bill's most pernicious argument, for it has an important grain of truth. As I've written before, anyone can be a star, but everyone can't be a star. However, who ever said that creating content was about becoming a star? Creation is its own reward. Young people have more opportunities than ever to experience flow, and that's a great thing, even if few of them go on to sign record deals.

Bill's right--I have a job. I have to raise my kids. And I probably don't have time for this. But that's not going to stop me. Not because I plan to make millions, but because I don't plan to make millions.

Ask any true writer why they write, and the answer is probably, "because I can't not write." The same holds true for any other creative activity, including coding.

Shame on Bill for forgetting that.