10 December 2004

This is funny, though probably best in small doses. Sigmund and friends analyse the blogosphere.

Posted 10:01 AM

09 December 2004

I do a lot of my most focused work sitting on a futon in my office. I sit down with papers to read or a draft to edit, and I'd be lost for hours if I didn't get up to change the CD player.

While sitting in front of the computer, on the other hand, I have the attention span of a hummingbird on speed. Part of the reason is situational: the tasks I'm doing are often shorter and less demanding to begin with. But this morning a huge cartoon lightbulb appeared over my head and I realized that the real reason is I let myself be distracted.

Once I'm curled up on the futon, often with a cat curled up in my lap, it's just too much trouble to get up every time I have an idea. So I jot it down on a notepad I keep handy, and get back to actual work. On the computer, all the resources of the Internet and every game I've ever played are just a mouse click away. A simple excursion to look up the specifications for a Class 1 cleanroom can quickly become a fascinating but pointless quest on the scale of, say, Homer's Odyssey.

Yes, I realize this is blindingly obvious. I'm sure many of you are snickering in your coffee, secure in the knowledge that you avoid such distractions. (But then why are you here?) For the rest of you, I've found that the old advice about shutting down windows you aren't actively using really does work. Keep one open as a notepad, or even use a paper notepad to catch those brilliant flashes of insight, and get back to work.

Posted 12:04 PM

The most secure possible password is a random string, containing letters, numbers, and special characters, changed at least every month or two.

Unfortunately, that's also the most difficult password to remember. The more closely a company forces employees to conform to that ideal, the more likely the employees are to simply write their passwords down. Which of course creates a whole new security vulnerability.

(Wall Street Journal article, paid subscribers only.)

Update: Microsoft is tackling the problem by issuing smart cards to employees. These require both physical possession of the card and some identifier like a PIN to gain access.

Posted 10:25 AM

08 December 2004

In chess, many mistakes happen at transitions. One player is still developing his pieces while the other is mounting an attack, or fails to protect his own weaknesses because he has too much confidence in his attack. The nature of the game changes, and the winner is often the person who responds to the change first.

Similarly, businesses need different kinds of managers at different points in their evolution. The founder of a ten person startup is rarely the CEO once it becomes a Fortune 500 company.

Yet business tools rarely manage the transition well. The software tools needed to manage inventories, vendors, and customers for a Fortune 500 company are massively overcomplicated for a startup, and few vendors offer a reasonable transition path.

Individuals face much the same challenge. Entry-level employees and CEOs face much different challenges and need very different productivity tools. Three years ago, with one major client and only one or two projects on my plate at a time, I could track progress in my head. I now have four deliverables for three different clients due by the end of December (not counting the one I finished yesterday), with four more projects in various stages of evolution. I can't manage everything in my head any more, yet each of the projects individually is far too small to justify a Fortune 500-oriented monstrosity like Microsoft Project.

So far, MindManager is looking like a possible solution. I've been using it for brainstorming and visual outlining for a long time, but am only just now discovering how to use it for planning and scheduling. Lots of tools let you drill down to the minutiae of each individual project. Lots of tools let you group similar tasks together, for instance so that you can make all of your phone calls at once. Not many integrate both capabilities in a way that makes as much sense to me.

Also worth a look is ResultsManager, a MindManager add-in to automate the filtering and reformatting inherent in this approach. ResultsManager is designed for use with David Allen's Getting Things Done methods, but could support other time management schemes as well.

Posted 11:39 AM

Malaysia has been a major center for packaging and circuit board assembly for a while now. Now, Infineon is building a fab there. Groundbreaking is planned for early 2005, with production in 2006.

Posted 09:29 AM

The US military is often accused of preparing to fight the last war. There's some truth to that, but there's a lot to be said for trying to learn from one's mistakes. The Wall Street Journal (paid subscriber link) looks at the lessons learned in Iraq.

Posted 09:11 AM

07 December 2004

It isn't really a surprise to find out that innovators network across company boundaries. What's interesting is just how tightly bound those networks are. Half of the patented inventors in Silicon Valley can trace a collaborative path to each other.

Posted 09:50 AM

Writers argue about talent a lot. Who has it, who doesn't, and how much does it actually matter?

I've always thought that talent (or lack of it) was mostly irrelevant. What matters is how you use the tools you have. Still, I never would have dreamed that talent can actually be a negative.

In an article that's mostly about Enron, Malcolm Gladwell looks at research by Columbia University psychologist Carol Dweck:

In a similar experiment, Dweck gave a class of preadolescent students a test filled with challenging problems. After they were finished, one group was praised for its effort and another group was praised for its intelligence. Those praised for their intelligence were reluctant to tackle difficult tasks, and their performance on subsequent tests soon began to suffer. Then Dweck asked the children to write a letter to students at another school, describing their experience in the study. She discovered something remarkable: forty per cent of those students who were praised for their intelligence lied about how they had scored on the test, adjusting their grade upward. They weren't naturally deceptive people, and they weren't any less intelligent or self-confident than anyone else. They simply did what people do when they are immersed in an environment that celebrates them solely for their innate "talent." They begin to define themselves by that description, and when times get tough and that self-image is threatened they have difficulty with the consequences.

Talented people inevitably fail and get rejected, just like the rest of us. Just like the rest of us, they need to develop the psychological tools to deal with it, and the sooner the better.

(Link by way of Evelyn Rodriguez, whose common sense I appreciate a little more every time I read her site.)

Posted 09:33 AM

06 December 2004

Across the pond, the Telegraph is campaigning to give citizens the right to defend themselves in their homes. To which my response is, "Huh? They don't already have it?"

Posted 09:52 AM


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