Category Archives: stuff

Anything else that is not rest of it.

Why I Unsubscribe? Reasons to dump unwanted emails

I’m sure we are all familiar with unwanted emails from variety of services. Every service we have ever subscribed to or provided email address to is sending marketing material, updates, newsletters, useless information, almost a “spam”.

I used to create a label and filter for some of this unwanted mail in my Gmail account. The rest received a Filter of going directly to Spam or a Trash folder.

Spam

When I asked around it turned out that a lot of people were dealing with the issue in the same way.

There was the point when I reached ridiculous level of useless information in my inbox and I decided it has to stop. I did take the time to actually navigate to the bottom of emails and click UNSUBSCRIBE button. Why did I do it?

I thought about it for a while and these are the reasons I came out with:

Filtering

Despite the fact that the unwanted email were labeled by filters and moved out of my inbox, I had to create new rules every some time because the old rule was invalid.

Wasting time

I kept on peeking into the labeled folders as they were indicating number of unread emails and I don’t like that. Sometimes, I found myself brainlessly browsing the Internet, triggered by following the link in the email.

Wasting space

I know that my Gmail account can easily take all my mail, but I felt a bit silly wasting all that space for meaningless communication.

Information loss

There were times when services were actually sending a very important information but I never got to read them as they got lost in my labeled folders along with all the other “spam”. When it happened few times I started to pay more attention to those folders and falling into habit of time wasting.

Waste of energy

This time I don’t mean my own energy. I actually mean electricity. Every mail that gets send cost energy. I know it’s tiny and I know it costs 0.000000001 of a British Pound, but multiply this by thousands of users and 365 days in the year. It felt ecologically wrong to carry with those emails.

If you were thinking about unsubscribing but never got a real good reason for it, perhaps you could borrow some of the reasons I just mentioned.

Greg

Don’t focus on business when starting new company

Over the weekend I watched few presentation about workplace, creativity and motivation. I did some research into mentioned topics before, resulting in number of blog posts. Few hours ago idea started to form in my head. What if the new startup or new business or new company is started with something else in mind, not the product, not the service not the next best Apple-like company that will change the world?

What if the main aim of starting a company would be to gather some smart people and create the best possible workplace environment for them?

Let me explain where I’m coming from.

Creativity, innovation

Creativity and innovation goes along the same path. Creativity is a process of bringing something into existence. Innovation is an improvement of something, creation of a better thing, thus involving creativity.

There are three ingredients into creative soup: expertise, creative thinking skills and motivation. Expertise comes from years of knowledge gathering. It exists in our heads. Creative thinking skills are things like approach, flexibility and imagination when solving a problem. It defines how we attack the problem and arrive at the solution. Behind the wheel of creativity seats the motivation. It is the motivation that makes us work countless hours and carry on until we blast with loud “Eureka”.

A person defines both of the things, knowledge and creative thinking skills. However, motivation is something that is mostly influenced by workplace.

Motivation

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is simply award (money) or a threat (kick out). Unless your company hires employees for physical work, intrinsic motivation is the one you should optimize for. 

Intrinsically motivated person will wonder around the maze of solutions, having a lot of fun along the way, learning from mistakes and successes only to arrive on more novel and interesting idea.

To be intrinsically motivated, one needs to:

  • Feel challenged
  • See the goal
  • Feel enough freedom and trust
  • Get enough resources
  • Diversity of colleagues
  • Be encouraged
  • And supported by organisation

I will not go into more details about it as you can read more in one of my previous articles on motivation.

If I would…

If I’ll be starting a company today, I would like to have very smart people working for me. I would like them to be creative and innovative. To empower Creativity and Innovation I would need to provide appropriate motivation. It doesn’t matter what I will focus on, what industry, service or a product. If I want to become a hit I need to be creative and innovative. For my new business to be successful I need to focus on the ways I motivate people. I need to build a workplace environment that will foster creativity and will keep my employees with me.

Why not focus on those things when starting new company? The best workplace for creativity junkies. Make business objectives a secondary target. I know that sounds crazy, who in a right mind would start a company for the sake of a great workplace, not thinking too much of a business up front?

The truth is, that as a side effect of successful creation of the best workplace on earth, I’ll get creative people motivated to do their work in the best possible way. I’ll get an army of productive and innovative employees.

For sure it would be good to know at least where the business is heading as a goal is important part of a motivation. Have an idea of what industry it will be focusing on. It will attract the right kind of talented and skilled people.

The best place to work

How to create the best workplace on earth? How to foster creativity and motivate people? I got ideas in my head. I leave it to your imagination dear reader. Good starting point is the knowledge on what helps both of them.

There are companies out there that started small, hired a lot of creative people, and provided very motivated workplace. Then, they got successful and got bigger. Changed the culture in the company. As a result there is no more motivation in them and creativity turned into competition. That doesn’t mean that only small companies could harvest the creativity fields. It means that someone lost the plot along the way.

 Perhaps what I’m writing about is a good idea or perhaps I’m just writing rubbish. If I get a chance to start a company in the future, I know what I’ll be focusing on.

I’ll build a company that I want to work for.

Greg

Links to articles on creativity, innovation and motivation:

Summary of 2011

Past

Time for a little retrospective on what I learned during 2011.

Technologies I learned and improved skills in:

  • Gradle – build and release tool.
  • Groovy – dynamic programming language that runs on JVM
  • Coherence – distributed cache
  • Grails – web framework that runs on JVM. Groovy and Spring paired nicely together
  • Gaelyk – another web framework
  • GAE (Google App Engine) – cloud platform from Google
  • Objective-C and iOS development
  • Scala and Clojure, programming languages that runs on JVM

I did some research into Creativity and Motivation that resulted in few posts.

Future

This year I will focus more on functional languages and functional style of programming.

Main target this year for me is the work on GigReflex, Service that I work on with my friend Mike. Service will be deployed on one of the available PaaS cloud services running Grails web application framework.

Bye, bye 2011.

2012, here I come.

Greg

Importance of proper management on creativity – science of motivation

Creativity signI’ve been writing some general ideas about creativity in the last couple of posts (Little creative fingers, Difference between innovation and creativity). This time I would like to touch more on the role of managers and different areas they can influence to foster creative work in an organisation.
First let me start with a little explanation of three important components of creativity.

  1. Expertise – a bag of knowledge. Technical skills, procedural skills and general intellectual knowledge, which exist in our head. Things that we learned and skills acquired over period of our lifetime. All of that exists in our memory ready to be used for greater creation. Nobel price laureate, Herb Simon calls it a “Network of possible wonderings”.
  2. Creative thinking skills – approach, flexibility and imagination when solving a problem. It defines how we attack the problem and arrive at the conclusion. The way could be very different for anyone as it is being shaped by previous creative endeavours, observations and ones personality. Personality plays important role. For example someone more open for environment could be easier seeded with ideas and include it in the solution he or she works on. Someone more comfortable with disagreeing will try status quo ways to achieve desired outcome.
  3. Motivation – that’s the driver of the creativity. It’s something that makes us work countless hours, drink liters of coffee and carry on regardless to the progress. When there is no motivation, people waste energy on doing everything else but not looking for creative solution to solve the problem.

Expertise and creative thinking skills are hard to influence by managers. They can organize knowledge sharing sessions, encourage training, simplify the communication between team members but this will not directly influence ones expertise and creative thinking skills. The easiest to influence component is the motivation. Thus, the following part of this article will focus on the motivation.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

We can distinguish two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Our passion and interests drive intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes as a result of reward or a threat. Here’s an illustration of the difference between these two types of motivation and its influence on creativity.

mazeImagine maze and finding a way out of it as a problem. Two people are asked to find exit from the maze, a solution to a problem. One of them is told that at the end of the maze there will be a reward waiting (extrinsic motivation). The other person is a huge maze enthusiast and enjoys a challenge, is also told to take all the time needed to find the most interesting way out of the maze (intrinsic motivation). Two solutions delivered by both maze solvers could be very different as:

  • Extrinsically motivated person will rush as quickly as possible to get to reward and will use the most common, beaten path out of the maze. Not a particularly very creative solution.
  • Intrinsically motivated person will wonder around the maze sometimes getting into a dead end. This person will have much fun in doing so and after a number of mistakes and failures more creative and interesting solution will emerge.

By influencing the intrinsic motivation in the organization the employees will burst with novel and creative ideas.

Extrinsic motivation will create temporary results and common solutions that will not place any organization on top of the “creative chart”.

Bellow is a list of categories that I think management can influence that would affect creativity. Those categories emerged to me after a little research in the creativity area and my personal experience.

Challenge

Matching people to tasks according to their abilities. When working on a problem we are passionate about, the right type of motivation is triggered. The knowledge and interest possessed by us is being used to wonder around the solution paths that could not possibly be discovered by someone with no interest in the subject of a problem. It’s also better to stretch our abilities and skills so we will be presented with a problem that we never faced before, in the area we care about.

However stretching ones abilities is fragile. Stretching it too much will make problem look impossible to solve. Not stretching it enough will make it look dull and uninteresting.

The most common mistake that kills creativity is when managers assign people to work on whatever tasks are available at the moment. This approach is going to yield some results but they are not going to be the most creative and interesting. Quite often the results will lack on quality if they are particularly uninteresting.

I know that when I’m faced with challenge it makes me work harder and research the subject deeper. It makes work fun and interesting. However, when fixing bugs and just working on “Business As Usual” tasks, I’m not as engaged and I’m looking forward for the day to finish. A good challenge is what makes me tick and come out with new ideas.

Freedom

Autonomy in delivery process. I like to have my targets clear when I’m working. However, clear targets don’t mean that my “personal manager” will hold my hand and tell me what to do, when and how. I need freedom in my work and in the choice of how I’m going to deliver the solution. Freedom gives me the sense of ownership and responsibility. This in turn increases my intrinsic motivation.

freedom

Frequently moving targets require management to guide people all the time and reduces ones autonomy. It also makes anyone afraid to take responsibility for any targets as they are not clear and might change any time.

Quite often people are enchanted with illusion of freedom where delivery process is strictly prescribed and should be followed.

Resources

Time and money management. Legitimate reasons of time pressure will trigger intrinsic motivation. For example, if product needs to be delivered before competition, team will feel the need to rush. Motivation goes up as the bar was raised into a higher level thus making challenge more interesting.

I found that fake deadlines create a feeling of distrust in the team. Deadlines are often imposed with regards to managers personal agendas, with no legitimate reason. Tight deadlines burn people out and there is no chance of creating intrinsic motivation and creative ideas.

Managing resources means also managing money and equipment that team can use in delivery. I’ve seen projects where money was constraint and lead people to find ways of avoid money limits. This also mean that all the creative energy and time was wasted into creating ideas that were not adding any additional value to end product.

Team Diversity

Diversity in backgrounds and skills. I like working in the teams where people have different backgrounds. I’ve been making software for many different industries: media, marketing, communication, insurance, finance and I always find ideas from one industry useful to spawn ideas into another.

Whenever I work with non-technical members of a team they are providing more detached and higher-level view of a problem.  Quite often it opens perspectives that I was unable to see before.

Putting together a team of people with different skills and different background will make ideas combust and burst. Different skills and backgrounds will create different points of view.

Homogenous team will be creativity killer. Everyone comes to the table with the same mindset and leaves the table with the same.

Supervisory encouragement

Everyone likes to be noticed and rewarded for the work done. It’s our ego that needs some pleasing and keeps us motivated. It is important for managers to recognize effort of a team as well as individuals. I noticed during years that my colleagues who were recognized for their creative work and received some kind of reward for it, were even more motivated next time. It appears that commercial impact didn’t create a feeling of a bribe for creative work.

One company I worked for as a consultant had extensive layer of evaluating new ideas. This means that every new idea that someone came up with was immediately criticized by management, put into pile of other ideas to be reviewed and waited there for months just to be rejected at the end. It caused many employees of the company to stop breeding ideas and stop carrying about work at all. Eventually most of the creative people left the company.

Keeping open mind for a possible solutions and removing evaluation layer should be the management’s aim. If evaluation is too long or is to criticizing, people will fear to propose any novel ideas and stop carrying.

More layers and time between idea and its introduction in the organization can cause lost of potential market edge.

Organization support

Entire organizations can be structured in a way that supports creativity. Open communication, clear processes and systems should come along with no internal politics.

Lack of recognition and reward could spawn negative feeling within employees. People will feel used and unappreciated. Using money as motivator can also create a feeling of control and kill any creative endeavors.

Summary

The best way to get creative results in a team is to get everyone intrinsically motivated. If you are a manager or a leader and your aim is creativity of your team, I hope the things mentioned above could give you a starting point.

Greg

There is six people between you and the President of the USA, Barack Obama

Yes, according to “Six degrees of separation”, it would only take up to 6 people to let the President of the USA know about your holiday plans.

People Network

Six degrees of separation is a theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any person by a maximum of 6 steps (6 people). Theory that I was planning to prove via Twitter. Unfortunately the Twitter API has rate limits that would make it rather hard to search through connections.

I find myself saying these days more often that the world is a small place. It didn’t shrink, communication and transport made it smaller.

Here’s a bunch of links that explain more about the theory:

Difference between Innovation and Creativity

The subjects of my recent posts are “creativity” and “innovation“. But what does do creativity and innovation actually mean?Discussing both terms with my colleagues, we couldn’t not notice that we sort of arrived at the same definitions. We did recognise that there was definitely a difference, but somehow couldn’t point out what it was. I decided to consult the Internet :)

Creation

Innovation:

  • A new method, idea, product (Google)
  • The central meaning of innovation thus relates to renewal or improvement, with novelty being a consequence of this improvement. (Wikipedia)
  • Something newly introduced, such as a new method or device (dictionary.reference.com)
Creativity:
  • The action or process of bringing something into existence (Google)
  • Refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new (a product, a solution, a work of art etc.) that has some kind of value (Wikipedia)
  • The act of producing or causing to exist (dictionary.reference.com)
Reading definition of both those terms it is rather clear that the difference is very subtle. However:
  • Every Innovation is a Creation of something new. Innovation is a Creative process.
  • Not every Creation leads to Innovation. Creating new processes/devices/art doesn’t mean that something was renewed or improved.
Thoughts?

Little creative fingers

We all have heard about creativity but did we ever take a moment to think about it for a while. What it really is or what it means? How to be better at it?

Creativity

Definitions of creativity are actually rather simple. Wikipedia states that Creativity is the ability to improve, adding value. Google quotes Princeton University’s website saying that it’s “The ability to create”.

Creativity is a mental process, involving discovery of new ideas, or new view on the old ideas. The process is powered by our conscious and unconscious mind.

With today’s modern psychology and cognitive science, creativity is still rather unknown field. There are number of theories on the process, but all of them can’t explain it precisely.

Graham Wallas presented his theory about creative thinking in 1926. He is dividing creative process into following steps:

  1. Preparation – work on a problem that involves understanding it and exploring different views on it
  2. Incubation – where the problem is injected into unconscious mind
  3. Intimation – it happens when one get the feeling that idea is going to emerge soon
  4. Illumination – where the creative idea bursts into conscious mind
  5. Verification – when the idea is consciously verified, elaborated and applied

My own findings

I started with reading some book on the topic and browsing the Internet. Then I saw TED talk by creativity and innovation expert, Sir Ken Robinson. He inspired me to observe my 3 years old daughter when she was playing. They say that small persons mind is like a sponge. It soaks in all the new encounters.

Things I noticed

A lot of my daughter’s new toys emerged from an item of everyday use, used in a completely new way (laundry basket became a boat, toilet paper roll became a telescope, etc.). She has a great skill to take an item, turn it around, look at it from different angle and than decide what new toy it will be.

My daughter is very good girl and she is hardly ever destructive  (I only assume that boys are more talented in this area). She grabs things that are around her and puts them together. New creation is inspected and either accepted as new toy or discarded (sometimes put together in different way).

Kids have more simple/different way of looking at things. This is what makes them so creative. When “Little Prince” saw picture of a hat, he said it was a picture of giant snake that swallowed elephant (perhaps he was right).

Thinking about the way my daughter creates new toys I came to conclusion that creative adult thinking is very similar most of the times. We look at the things from a different angle, look at it upside down, take tools that we have never used to do different sometimes odd job (using shoe as a hammer).

Putting things together is less physical, more mental. It involves taking pieces of information, knowledge, experience, and combine them together to produce something new. A book, real life observations, notes and mind maps turned into this article.

Recall any music interview that you might hear. Musicians typically mention who is their inspiration. Normally they mention another musician/music style etc. You can recognize in their music, tunes from other musicians, same musical patterns, instruments, etc. This is being creative by combining all the bits together in a new way.

Creativity and software development

Above description of creative processes are sounding very familiar to what I’ve been doing everyday creating software. All my experience from working with other people, technical knowledge I have, domain knowledge I acquired and everything else I know influences the code that I write.

I found that knowledge of different languages and patterns that are present in those, helped me to bring new ideas, become more creative at what I was doing. C# experience helped me to introduce some new patterns to Java. Dynamic and functional languages gave different view on type safety and state. Tools that I typically used in one technology, gave new light to a better use of tools in other technology.

I also found that being brave enough to try new things, use of different tools, led me to a new discovery. For example, swapping build tool to brand new, helped defragment not fully automated release process.

Summary

Everyone can be creative however it doesn’t mean that it is simple. More information you have (including domain, technical knowledge and everyday life things) is helpful. More willing you are to try new and different things the better.

Try to stay open to information but be careful, as it is easy to get overflowed with it in the age of Internet. Be open to new things and listen to other’s ideas, don’t shut them down immediately.

Handfull of links (somehow references)

Books:

Internet: