When you realize a vision. When you achieve a goal. When you get to the finish line. How do you take things to the next level?
Such is the question that harasses me lately. I wouldn't dare of dreaming I have completed all of my goals. I'm not even close to think anything of that sort, but as any good chess player can tell you, thinking some moves ahead is key for success.
The natural path my entwined brain takes is not to think on the goals as a tangible end to a means, but more as an evolution. What if the goal is to always take things to the next level, to the next step. This would somewhat represent a change in paradigm; it would mean a never-ending goal, which, much like the rainbow is always far and away, yet visible.
I don't intend to sound too much like "happiness is in the journey". This is not a self-help post and I am, most definitely, not into self-help. What I am trying to point out is that in industries such as computing, advertising, internet, where things shift very quickly, it makes more sense to think that a goal is to constantly change and improve, staying be in top of the game, rather than setting the rigid, dateable and acquirable goals accountants and finance officers love so much.
In an ever changing and whoosh-evolving industry you are at a continuous risk of getting to the start line too late. That's right, no typo, I wrote "the start line". By the time you plan, set, get permissions, engage, budgetize, analyze, prioritize, prove ROI and talk everyone into how your idea is the next great thing since sliced bread or the invention of the wheel, the competition, most probably, has a similar program up and running, collecting success and praise all around.
The greatest risk in this kind of mindsets is to fall into a whirlpool of action with no planning. The point I'm trying to make requires changing how we plan, not banning the whole idea of making plans.
This new way of making plans requires a great deal of flexibility in terms of tools, how-to, and people / teams involved. What remains rigid, and gains a place in the spotlight is the never-acquirable goal.
I've been trying to avoid the usage of examples in my posts lately, but I don't think I can quite communicate the idea without one. Here's the example then:
Picture this as a goal: Provide the best possible customer experience on a web page. Sounds rather general, almost like a cheap marketing pitch: "we provide the best web customer experience". Yet, the trick is into giving essence to the gaping void such phrases carry with them; to make everyone's performance and accountability tied to that statement. If someone detects the competition provides a best experience, that should be reflected on the KPIs. You get the point.
A "good web customer experience" can happen regardless of the tools and processes happening behind what the customer sees. Sure enough they can have a huge impact on the experience, but, if all goes well, the user never should care and would never notice. In this scenario the tools and processes are important only in terms of how they impact on the larger goal. The same happens with other aspects of what it takes to carry over an idea.
With that in mind some decisions should be a lot easier to take. If a tool or process does not deliver they should be put up to pace or replaced. This demonstrates another fact: the goal also becomes the measure stick that can help make decisions.
I have personally just scratched the surface on this. I need to put a lot more thought into this, but I sense it might change the way I face projects, deadlines and the way I make decisions.
As part of blog action day I thought I'd post on environment from a slightly different perspective than what I see out there.
I won't go down the usual road of "you can make a difference" others will surely suggest to change your regular light bulbs for low power ones, to turn off appliances you don't use and so on.
I also won't go to deep into the regular "corporate responsibility" stuff. Others will cover that as well.
I'm not saying those things are not important, they are. For instance all lights in my house are "ecological", I save on heating and air conditioning and out of 5 computers the only one that's on is the one I'm writing this post on.
Instead I'll try to make a point on something else that I truly believe that can do a significant difference: Research and Development investment.
The issue I have with many organizations that raise the ecology flag is that some of their suggestions seem to point that humanity should return to prehistoric times to reduce the footprint we make on the environment. That simply wont happen, humanity moves forward.
Instead I think the smartest approach that can be tackled is spend money on making improvements on all things that pollute or use energy so that they pollute less and use less energy.
All of my life I've been amazed of how little optimized things are. Take air conditioning for instance. You use that to change heat for cold, yet the side outcome is more heat. I'm sure there is a way to reuse the heat generated by that or that there must be some physic way to absorb the heat from the air that utilizes that same heat on some other way. On the scientific side of my brain it makes little sense to generate heat to produce cold air (which is after all, air with less energy): using energy to absorb energy out of the ambient... makes little sense.
The same thinking can be applied to almost anything you see around. Hybrid cars are the result of such thinking: they reuse the wasted energy yielded by braking or idle motor time. Cities as a whole are unoptimized. I wonder if anyone has ever calculated the amount of energy wasted every day by millions of cars waiting for a street light to change from red to green, for instance.
Government and companies should invest more time and money into making small optimizations that would be both economic for the final user and on the toll for the environment. It is a move that only makes sense. Over the span of the next decades we won't be able to sustain the kind of well being we are used to if we don't make some radical changes.
Those changes don't necessarily mean going back to living at caves, quite on the contrary. It means making technology improve on the right direction. Whoever starts making those improvement will have a significant competitive advantage in the medium term. Toyota's Prius is the living example that such things work both for the environment and for the company.
Look left. Look right. Look everywhere, look anywhere. You'll see anachronisms, standards out of date, deprecated ways of doing things, old laws and rules.
Should patents apply to software? Should copyright be set to last longer / forever or vanished for good? Should record companies and Hollywood studios chase p2p networks and users? Should traditional ways of managing companies be put to rest and try more horizontal approaches? Should scientists be allowed to play with DNA? Should democracy be re-stated with the possibilities the digital era provides?
The questions are endless, yet the answers are lacking or they please only a few. Look anywhere they are all around us, they affect every part of our lives: our jobs, our families, our health.
The 20th century was full of revolutions. From penicillin to the atom bomb, from TV to the internet. Yet, the last quarter of it was the one that most challenged and affected the way we live, defying the main institutions upon which we build our lives.
So much looks out of date, one wonders how things will be in just 10 years.
But most of what needs to change, needs to improve. I think much of what's happening is moving towards what might be the right direction (only time can tell). The truth might be that "continued change" is the norm, the way of life. It has been so for well over 100 years, and unless a meteorite wipes us all out, it shall remain that way. We need to build upon thoughts and institutions that can last whatever crazy new things the human race might invent in the future. We need to get over the "this exact millisecond" thinking and into a more deep way of looking at things.
The questions out are there. What answers shall we find?
Upon my trip to Uruguay I bought the whole Dune saga (totaling 6 books); I remember watching the movie as a kid, although I couldn't remember much of the plot. The impression was persistent in my memory; there was a mystique around it that appealed to me. After looking out for the books at local stores for some time I was able to finally find it at a local store at La Paloma, Uruguay.
For those of you that haven't read this saga, I'll just say it has a heavy psychological and parapsychological burden, which makes it very interesting (I'm not very interested in parapsychology but the use Herbert gives it is quite appealing). The "hero" of the first book ca see glimpses of the future, or the possible futures, which conditions his ability to make decisions, and confuses him to a point where he can't tell what's a vision and what has actually happened.
What I feel identified with is the envisioning part. The way I act, the way I move forward.
Every time I face a crossroad, when tough decisions need to be taken I do a mental exercise. I try to look into the future, guessing the consequences such choices might have. After that I place myself on such possible scenarios and see if I can see myself fitting into those. If I feel comfortable with how I feel and think the outcome will be it might switch the balance towards one way or the other.
This sort of mental exercise is also very helpful when you need to face a challenging task. Being able to see yourself in your mind completing what has been requested paves the way to success; since you convince yourself that you take the request to a good end.
If you convince yourself that a certain thing can be achieved, there is little anyone or anything can do to prevent you from succeeding.
Mark's comment on my post on reply to his post got me thinking on a subject I have long wondered about. Our advances in terms of society and humanity as opposed to technical and technological advances. I have always wondered why this disparity exists, what are the reasons for us not to evolve in terms of society.
Yet arriving to any conclusions on the subject has always been hard. I've never come up with a set of facts I could feel answer this question, not even partially. I have some thoughts on the matter but I'm afraid nothing too fancy or too deep.
I read this inspiring post at Markitude; and I couldn't but let my imagination fly.
I wonder why we don't get this same sense of vision Mark expresses Henry Ford had nowadays. Is it because we only perceive vision as such after it becomes a tangible reality or is it because we are lacking such vision? Is it because the massive amount of changes happening all around us blurs our perception, that things happen and change so fast that we can't possibly try and predict what's the future going to be like? Do we fear having visions in order not to look like class B 1950s SciFi movies look today?
PCs have shaped the world we live in today. We'd have no DVDs, no HD tv , no cell phones, and a lot of everyday appliances would be rather simple, for instance Microwave ovens would work on analogue timers, as they did in the 70's. We'd still be using some form of tapes or vinyl discs (or whatever those would of evolved into if the CD had never appeared). Even science has taken huge advantage of computing power, even some "branches" have appeared thanks to chips being able to do a lot more maths that we would care to do (Chaos theory implications and arguments are based on millions of iterations, something that can't be done manually).
Having a vision is fundamental to achieve great goals. Guy Kawasaki quotes Kennedy with his "we'll put a man on the moon before the turn of the decade". He went further and set both the goal and a time frame. Visions are never diffuse they are quite consistent and strict. "Computer business will change in the future" is not a vision, it's just quoting the evident.
The other striking thing about visions is how absolutely simple and evident they look in retrospective; a man on the moon, a car for every one, a computer on every house; simple and strikingly obvious once they became true.
I feel visions have a lot to do with another thing I'm sort of obsessed about: long term thinking and slowing down. One can only envision something by profound thought and reflection. And those things take time. Even "illuminations" can only happen after aquiring deep knowledge on a particular subject.
I'll take my chances and try my best in the "Futurology" subject; here's a couple of things I envision for the future.
As PCs become cheaper and smaller we have integrated them into ever-shrinking gadgets. This trend is bound to continue. We'll get processors into our toothbrushes in the future.
TV, Radio and web will be integrated in the not-so-distant-future. This will happen when someone comes up with an integration interface that requires as little effort as a common TV remote.
"Old School" Telephony is doomed. We'll see it gone for good in the verge of the next 10 years in developed countries. It will take longer in third world countries, though.
Semi-conductor technology, which has taken us this far, will probably face a challenge when some other non-electrical (probably light) chip is invented. Silicon is starting to get to a point where it might not be physically possible to improve them the way we are used to. And the whole PC industry and derivatives rely on the ever increasing computing power extracted form used-to-be-sand.
Peak-Oil will become painfully evident. This will not evolve in the "doomsday - end of suburbia" way some people have foreseen, but rather it'll affect our everyday lives and economies, forcing them to change in order to adapt to the "new reality". And adapt we will. Once fossil oil becomes too expensive the switch to the next source of energy will happen faster than expected. What this source will be I don't dare to say.
I don't feel I've been very articulate for this post; maybe the explosion of thoughts was too much for me to handle.
Working-web means you have to live in a fast pace. Not only you have to manage to keep up to date on emerging technologies and trends, but with tons of things happening all the time (product launches, price changes, press releases, and about everything you can think of).
Usually everything is due yesterday, can't possible wait and must get done. Sometimes I get the feeling the rush takes over the whole process and it's quite difficult to stop, and see what's going on around and to keep a decent level of quality in what's delivered.
On the opposite end of this is something I've been getting deeper and deeper into. "Slowing Down". My interest in long term, slow pace things began after reading a post at Slashdot which referenced to some article at the Long Now Foundation.
I've already blogged about some of my thoughts on the subject before, but I thought I needed to dive a little deeper on the subject.
Still I haven't been able to find a good way to make both worlds agree on my mindset.
I listen to suggestions.
Further reading (in case you're interested):
- In Praise of Slow. Webpage about the homonimous book, which suggests, amongst other things, a return to enjoying lasting moments.
- Visualizing time. A graphic desinger's idea on putting a face on ethereal time.
- Slow leadership. Blog and Ideas about how slow leadership is important, as well as thought on management in general.