Discretionary effort is critical to business success. You need enthusiasm, time, and energy from dedicated employees to make your team or your product a winner.
Knowing how your team spends discretionary effort is important. For this reason, you should ask the question in the title of this post. Ask it before the outset of any significant effort or the adoption of new tech.
There are a lot of reasons why people choose technologies. Carefully guiding selection is an important part of the technology leader's job description. Managing and directing discretionary effort should be part of that calculation.
So, why do people choose different technologies?
This technology is a good fit and here's why ....
Sounds lovely doesn't it? Technology is chosen to meet the needs of the project. Nothing more, nothing less.
Our team already knows this technology.
This can be an excellent reason. Efficient, lots of knowns, starting with some pre-baked design work - very good.
We already know this other technology that looks a lot like the one we're choosing.
This can also be a perfectly acceptable reason to choose technology.
We like where this technology is headed and we believe it will help us meet our future needs.
A little bit riskier - when will the future arrive?
This technology is neat.
Neat is fine. As long as it is also good fit and we can get things done.
This technology is new.
See also, Neat. Beware of the following Trojan horse: everyone will be doing it in 5 years, so if we want to be able to hire people we better choose it.
Here's the trouble with new and neat technologies. You don't know them and you have to learn them.
Will this require discretionary effort on this project? Who is paying for it?
As I said above, discretionary effort is important. Nothing of significant value gets done without it. There are late nights for someone somewhere if this (or any) project is going to be successful.
The trouble with new and neat is that they can use up all the discretionary effort that people have to give.
When this happens, it's bad.
Especially if the value of a product doesn't reside in the new and neat technology that was chosen. If the value is in the logic or time-to-market or ease of use or anything else, then spending discretionary effort learning a new technology is ...
I wouldn't necessarily call it wasted effort as it probably benefits those learning it.
But it isn't high business value in the short-to-medium term. It's a long term investment. It may be that the investment is in people or infrastructure that benefit the product or project or business you are building.
The post header image is a large (about 20 feet tall) skeleton that was used in Kubo and the Two Strings. It is, by their account, the largest stop-motion model ever created. It was amazing to see it in person and imagine them using it to create the movie.
These movies have been a cornerstone of our family entertainment since ParaNorman was released. So, when I heard that Portland Museum of Art was hosting an exhibition I knew that I wanted to make the trip to see it.
Laika really opened the vault - providing character models, complete scenery (including the garden from Coraline), detailed break downs of models and processes, and videos with explanation of how they approach various aspects of film making.
A favorite detail was the locker scene from ParaNorman where you can see the scale model junk accumulating on top of and next to the middle school locker room:
The amazing detail in creating the overhead projector and mop bucket and paper on top of the lockers shows the kind of time and detail that Laika invests in to make the movies feel real.
When you watch the movies, they are full of detail like this.
It's clear from the exhibit that Laika invests a lot of time in money in the movies they make. This investment takes the form of details (as mentioned above), ambition (they don't rest on their laurels or just do things they know work), and technology (their use of 3D printing to create facial expressions is amazing).
Here is an image of a small portion of the 'wall of faces' showing 3D printed details that were used to create facial features for a number of characters across their films:
It's often surprising how a great stop-motion studio or artist can produce wonderful emotional depth in their characters - think Wallace and Gromit.
Laika have their own special brand of this, and the 3D printed facial features are part of that capability.
That's at least partly a technological achievement in their case.
The exhibition was well put together and enjoyable. I don't think you had to be a fan of the films to enjoy it, though it helps.
I admire the work that they do and I hope for many more films to enjoy in the future.
Leadership Angle: Laika pushes themselves relentlessly in their art. They search for larger obstacles to overcome, better stories to tell, and more exciting ways to overcome them. Check out all 4 movies to see how they've evolved as storytellers, animators, and innovators.
Vance Kirkland's art has a goregous new home in Denver.
Kirkland was a painter who lived and worked in Denver for most of his life and career (roughly 1930 until his death in 1981).
Kirkland Museum opened in Denver in 2003. It incorporated Kirkland's original studio building with additional gallery space. It was an amazing, but small, museum with many wonderful pieces.
The museum was closed for nearly two years and reopened recently in their new home, a new building at 13th and Bannock St. in Denver. This move included moving the old studio building to the new location.
What will you see if you visit?
Kirkland was a modernist. If you think that modern art is challenging, his work has a universal appeal that often makes an impression beyond the normal core audience for modern art. This appeal comes from 3 places:
His late-period dot paintings are large and spectacular. They have visual force.
Kirkland's career spanned many decades and styles of painting. Though all of those styles are modern, there is a variety to his work and a visible evolution that attracts casual visitors. Kirkland did not stop evolving, challenging himself, or creating new things. Late into his life he was experimenting and breaking new ground. This life-long quest and variety are visible everywhere you look in the museum.
Even though it is modern, it is still landscape painting. From early, more traditional landscapes, to later surreal, fantastic, and other-worldly pictures, the art remains rooted in landscape. This is true even when there is no 'land' in it. Some late work can be considered pure abstraction, though he gave them names suggestive of science fact and fiction: Explosions of Energy Near Mars 10 Million Years B.C. Or Five Red-Orange Suns in Space.
The studio building that was moved contains Kirkland's unique 'over the table suspension' rig that he used to paint. It allowed him to lie down and work suspended above the painting for long periods of time. This piece of the museum collection is something that people often comment on.
I've been a member of the museum for more than 10 years and I am really happy about the move to the new location and facility. And I am also happy the museum is open again.
It is remarkable art, and now it has a remarkable building to live in. The new building has room to allow a visitor to view larger canvases from a greater distance than was possible in the old, smaller building.
If you are put off by modern art, and my points above don't convince you, there is a lot more to the Kirkland. Kirkland Museum has 3 major collections:
Paintings by Vance Kirkland
Mid-Century Modern Design
The Mid-Century Design collection includes some furniture and other home decor with very broad appeal. A sofa that looks like lips? Yep. Lamps shaped like pharmeceutical capsules? You know it.
They also have a TV that looks like a space helmet and a 'marshmallow sofa'.
The Kirkland used to be small and a little out of the way in Denver, and with the move they've changed all that.
It demands a visit if you're local or visiting Denver for some other reason. It's central location makes it easy to get to. It's also easy to combine with a visit to the Denver Art Museum or the Clyfford Still Museum, both less than a block away.
Seeing these three buildings and their housed collections are worth a visit to town, all on their own.
Leadership Angle: Kirkland didn't stop pushing himself to do new things and didn't rest on his laurels, even late in his life. Also, he chose Denver as his base of operations. He could have chosen a more cosmopolitan location - New York, Paris, San Francisco - as an artist might today. He was drawn to the city and to the landscapes of Colorado and chose to make this his home for more than 50 years.
HTML and CSS are the guts of the web and they do a lot of neat things. Usually they're used to make menus, position buttons, display data, animate things, and do other heavy lifting tasks of the web.
Most people who wanted to make an image like this would go into a graphics or drawing program (or get out some paints) and draw the picture, which would then be converted to an image file.
What this artist (her name is Diana Smith) has done is to use the same technology developers and designers use to position a 'Save' button on a web page, and she's used it position every single strand of hair (and everything else), as well as color and shade all of it.
If you look closely you can even see veins in her skin.
This is incredible talent with this technology, and a willingness to do something more and see what a particular tool can really do.
It also shows the versatility and power of HTML and CSS to do almost anything when it comes to display and visuals on the web.
As a leader ask yourself, "Do I ask enough of myself and those around me? Am I prepared to put this type of discretionary effort to my own work and art?"
This came up in a meeting I attended. I described something a development team was working on as fun, and I was informed that it (creating peer-to-peer connections between Android devices) was Type 2 Fun, at best.
A lot of our work (hopefully) falls squarely into the Type 2 Fun category. Not that fun at the time, but fun to remember later, usually because I learned a lot and became better because of the work.
This is worth aspiring for in a career. If you find yourself having a lot of Type 1 Fun (regular, fun-while-it-is-happening fun) you probably either work at a skating rink and really enjoy the YMCA, are a little delusional, or a very self-actualized person.
Should you have some Type 1 Fun on a regular basis? Yes, you should. Can some of it be at work? Absolutely.
But a better achievement for our society is if a lot of us can sit around and say, "You know I learned a lot from that and it helped me excel in my career." If we can say that a lot of the time about a lot of the work we did, we've come a long way from where we were even 100 years ago.
Type 1 Fun is helpful and helps make people more productive. Type 2 Fun is necessary for the success of our companies and careers. And I do mean necessary - things that are a slog (Type 3 Fun) are unsustainable, in the long run.
I've certainly come acrosss some Type 3 Fun, also called, "Let's never do that again." But then, they are still jobs, even when it is your career.
Here's a quick reference, updated for the workplace:
Type 1 Fun: Remember that project where you learned a lot, everything was on time and on budget, and no one got frustrated ever? Me either. Remember that time you won the Fantasy Football League or had a great time at the Christmas party? Type 1 Fun all the way, and work related.
Type 2 Fun: Remember the difficult project where you started behind the 8 ball, worked long hours, but pushed yourself and came out the other side with a ton of knowledge? And you shipped a great product? Remember that time when you got fired and worked hard in your time between jobs so that once you landed a new job you were a changed person with different goals and a new outlook on life? That's Type 2 Fun.
Type 3 Fun: Remember having to do arbitrary work that didn't matter because it fit into someone else's system? Remember the client who used personal attacks on people because they were very unprofessional? That's Type 3 Fun, and it isn't migrating to Type 2 any time soon.
I just finished watching 2001: A Space Odyssey with my kids and it's a good reminder that technology and tools may not always be what we expect.
Not every tool looks like a cell phone or an AI algorithm. Sometimes a club is a tool also. Hopefully, as business leaders, our use of clubs (both literal and figurative) is rare.
It is useful to consider the club in the following way: A club is different from a spaceship, but they are both tools. Perhaps, as the movie suggests, both rudimentary tools in some sense. If not today, then tomorrow.
People will always make more tools and they can use them in new ways. So people are the real asset in the long run. Humanity.
Humans are tool makers and the mind, while itself a tool, is capable of not only altering the world around it, but of altering itself for the better.
Today's spaceship is tomorrow's club and humanity today is not the same as humanity 1000 or a 100 years ago.
This is our challenge as humans and business leaders - people evolve. Customers get more sophisticated. Spaceships become clubs. Humans persist.
How will you use this to motivate and unlock discretionary effort in your organization? Hint: not like the picture.