You've worked at a business for several years, you're really starting to understand how it works. You're grokking it. You're gaining a deep understanding of the innerworkings, outer-workings, and every kind of work-between.
And you suddenly have it - a moment of insight - a blinding flash that helps you to solve a problem you've been stuck on.
They're great when the happen. But how often do they really occur for you? For the lucky, perhaps several times a year. For the rest of us, less often.
One of the great promises of AI is to be able to achieve these types of insights faster and more repeatedly by asking the right questions.
AI will allow us, as it becomes more ubiquitous, to ask better questions and find the answers faster.
Here are the stages of inspiration and insight as we move forward with Assisted Inspiration (we need a new acronym).
Human-Only Insight - the amazing and super-powerful capability that we humans possess to understand our world and make amazing leaps forward. Pattern recognition, dreams, emotional resilience, quantum gravity. It's all part of it.
Tool Assisted Insight - explicit use of math and spreadsheets and literature to figure stuff out, in addition to our own powerful minds.
AI Assisted Insight - use of machine learning and other sophisticated computer tools to value information and create models for problem solving.
As we get better at formulating our questions, generating and processing data, and creating these models - as these skills become more pervasive in the workforce - then the pace of AI Assisted Insights is only going to INCREASE. Think the world is going fast now? Think it's changing? Think we're in a VUCA phase?
Buckle your seat-belt. As our kids join the workforce and spend less time writing code (it probably really will happen this time) and more time thinking about problems and using AI to assist them, the more the pace of change will accelerate.
Will this be challenging at times? Yes, definitely. It also represent a fundamental new phase of work, life, and society.
What an amazing time to be alive.
I've been lucky enough to have some human-only and data-assisted insights in my life. Those moments are joyful when they occur. They are real breakthroughs when you see things in a whole new light.
Imagine having more of those. More breakthroughs. More insight. More inspiration. It will be challenging, and for those of who are willing to face these challenges a broad new plateau of opportunity and human potential awaits us.
I bring this up because it's something that I've heard a few times over the years (including recently) and I think it's worth examining the hidden anxiety behind this statement.
On one level, agile is not anything like communism. Agile practices extend some of the decision making in business to people close to the problem, people who will do the work. In this way, it's much more like a capitalist/democratic system than a communist/authoritarian model. In democracies individuals have agency/a vote/influence in the system (just like agile) and in capitalism individuals/businesses control the means of production and what work gets done, not a central authority (just like agile).
Looked at in this way, the answer to the question above is clearly 'No'. Agile equates to democracy and looks nothing like communist/authoritarian systems. But this doesn't get at the anxiety, which I think is important.
Why the comparison? Why do people say "Agile = Communism"
I think it's because in traditional businesses (a key feature of capitalism) the democratic principles of society don't extend inside the business. Inside the business the business owner and their appointed managers run the business and make key decisions. The businesses themselves demonstrate the authoritarian characteristics that the rest of society does not.
Looking at in this light, I think the anxiety could be expressed thus, "Agile is not like traditional business management and that makes me nervous. So, I will express my fear by equating it to something that also doesn't look like traditional business/capitalism, which is communism."
This fear is not unreasonable. Agile is different. It does distribute decision making differently. I think that it is hard to relinquish control and you should expect this type of reaction to change, as you should expect this reaction to ANY change at all. It's just one more manifestation of anxiety around change.
So, where does that leave you?
Understanding doesn't mean accepting. You understand the anxiety to facilitate the change, not give in to the resistors.
We've seen that the pace of change in life and business is accelerating. Predict and control structures become outdated too quickly. Your prediction will now almost certainly wrong because the assumptions that underlie your prediction lose their currency quite quickly.
Why rely on the assumptions of one person? Why not have a high functioning team working together? In this way, agile can be part of the antidote to the anxiety.
You (and your leadership team) need smart people working on effective teams with the ability to execute. Whether you call it Agile Management Practices or Holocracy or something else, it makes sense when the world changes quickly.
Of course, individual business owners and leaders are free to make decisions to run their companies in whatever way they see fit, that is capitalism.
But, as a leader, don't you want to hire the best people and get the most out of them? Empowering them is one way to do that. It does require you to let go of some control. And it does require you to have enough governance to ensure people don't bet the farm or the business without oversight.
But after that, you WANT people to feel ownership and make decisions. It's going to make them more loyal, successful employees, and it is going to help your business be more effective in the long run.
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?"