Consensus decision making — WORT-FM, 1975

This is a piece by Jeff Lange in Volume One, Number Three of “Spread the WORT” — the newsletter of WORT-FM (Madison, WI) just as it was going on the air in 1975.  I’ve always loved this description of the consensus decision-making process we used to run the station.  All due apologies to Pogo…

The big deal?  The sentence that really catches it for me is “we ad WORT don wanna tred up on the wee miroridy vuponts, so we jus wade undill eberyone am finely agreed.”  Still works for me today, some 35 years later.  Thanks Jeff!

Here’s my translation, since many of you aren’t native-English speakers and might find this pretty tough to read in Jeff’s native Pogo-style language.  Apologies to Jeff for any mistranslations.

Yes, it’s a curious fact, that nobody is ever able to quite explain, how decisions get made at this particular radio station.  But they do.  This is a grievous hard and ticklesum thing for newcomers to digest.  Take, for example, the familiar caller who, in a fever pitch of excitement, has phoned up the station with his or her (or “it’s” for that matter) idea for a program.   Rnnng.  He (let’s just say it’s a “he”) says “My dog can bark heavy metal rock n’roll — can he have 5 hours on Tuesday nights?”   Well, the person at the station (say it is a person) says “Isn’t that the same thing as what’s on WBRK every night?”  The caller replies “Yes, but my dog barks badder!”  Then that, says the person, is a question for the Program Committee.

The best thing then is if the caller hangs up, thinking all is well for the Program Committee will do its duty.  But if the caller says “Oh, what’s the Program Committee?” then the person has to explain: The Program Committee are all the people that come to the Program Committee Meeting.  You can come.  So can your mother.  It’s Friday at 8pm.  No, they never vote on anything.  Voting is against the rules.  So is parliamentary procedure. They just talk about things until everyone is agreed, and that is consensus — the highest form of unanimity.

Then the caller says “oh.”

Then the person at the radio station should continue: “Yes, it’s a curious fact, but it seems to work.  So far, at least.  We at WORT don’t want to tread on the wee minority viewpoints, so we just wait until everyone is finally agreed.  Nope, it’s never failed yet…  which just goes to prove: you can make some of the decisions all of the time, and all of the decisions some of the time…”

Then the caller says, “can you put me through to the general manager?”

“No, there isn’t a general manager.  Would you like to talk to Sarah-Gene?”

“She the owner?”

“Nope.  She’s just another volunteer.”

New volunteer job — 37-word long title

I’m thinking another fold-out business card may be required;

Volunteer
Vice Chair of Finance and Operations (of the)
Commercial and Business Users Constituency (which is part of the)
Generic Name Supporting Organization (which is in turn part of the)
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

Can you see why ICANN has a bafflegab problem?

I’m quite excited about this one — it’s got lots of tasty issues and it’s the ops and finance stuff that I love to do. 

I had another fold-out business card job back in the early ’90’s.  That fold-out business card read;

Temporary Interim Acting Assistant Associate
Vice President (supervising)
Administrative Information Systems
Business Operations
Quality Management
Operations Improvement (for the)
University of Minnesota

or…  Vice President of Stuff that is Busted.  This new gig is a lot less complicated than that one was.

Infrastructure security – some useful ideas

I was on a panel talking to a bunch of infrastructure-security type people yesterday and came away feeling like we didn’t deliver on our promise to provide practical hands-on stuff.  So I’m tossing a couple Powerpoint slide decks up in this post by way of making amends.

This first one is the deck we used in Saint Paul to rally people around the “get ready for Y2k” initiative.  It’s an example of how to do non-scary, what’s-in-it-for-me? conversation around a pretty tough topic.  Maybe some of this kind of thinking can help the security folks when they’re pitching to their customers.  Click HERE for the file (no warrantees — scan it before you open it).

This next file is a huge deck I put together when I was first briefing the Big Kids at MnSCU about their enterprise security initiative.  This was the basis of selling senior management that this was a Good Thing and showed them how security could make them more money, make them more nimble, improve quality and oh by the way reduce costs.  This is an “everything including the kitchen sink” deck that might have a few ideas for people to steal.  Click HERE for the file (same warrantee as above).

There.  I feel like I’ve lived up to my advance-billing now.  Hopefully some security mavens will find some useful stuff in these.

Visualization techniques

This link is running all over the place in blogs that I follow. I’m sticking it in here so I don’t lose track of it.

Periodic table of visualization techniques

Completely nifty set of different ways to visualize information. I got lost in it for about an hour this morning. I sure wish they would put the graphics out in a list so I didn’t have to hover the mouse over them, but that’s just a nit. A great source of new ideas.

A great blog

Dang I like Guy Kawasaki’s blog. I keep sending snippets from it to people. And I keep finding myself muttering to myself “dang! I’ve said those exact words myself. Why didn’t I think to blog that.” Here’s the link to his Let The Good Times Roll blog.

Business types will like it. Non-business types, you might too — Guy’s a bit more well-rounded in his approach than the typical heads-down business blogger.

RSS as a replacement for databases

Safe Haven's not getting much attention these days because I'm still getting my sea legs with the podcasting stuff. Sex and Podcasting is gonna be getting a new post a day, at least for the next week.

But I ran into a cool thought while listening to The Gilmore Gang yesterday (what happened to them by the way — a great series of podcasts that seem to have trickled off to nothing back in February).

Here's the idea — why not use RSS on a manufacturing shop floor to let machines and work-centers tell each other (and us) what they're up to. Machines could “subscribe” to upstream machines, and “publish” for downstream machines and let each other know what's going on — feeds could talk about what came into (and left) the machine/work-center.

I spoze this could be expanded to anything that has stuff moving through stages — paperwork processes, hospitals, etc. All kinds of real-time applications come to mind.

One thing that would be neat is that we'd get away from the huge central database notion and so adding a workcenter, or rearranging them, would be easy. Simply a matter of changing who subscribed to what. Sortof an object-oriented model that us regular people could understand…

It could be really visual too — lots of cool UI possibilities there. Not to mention fitting in better with the notion of lean manufacturing, and visual management.

Now, back to podcasting.

Blink – a cool "thin slicing" concept for intuitive managers like me

Malcome Gladwell (the guy that wrote The Tipping Point) has a new book out called “Blink.” The NYTimes just ran the first chapter of the book in their cunningly-named First Chapter section. Fersure hit this link to Blink on Gladwell's site where he outlines the broader themes of the book.

I like it. I've spent my whole career being accused of jumping to conclusions (so I've gotten better, although not great, at keeping my mouth shut until a little supporting data rolls in). I think a lot of us have run into the same problem. You know what the situation is, but if you blurt it out, you're likely to get beat up by people who need lots of supporting facts.

Maybe you've just got a really rich set of experiences that your subconscious is taking advantage of. Perhaps you're just good at “blink.” I like this book's premise because it reminds me to value those 2-second blinks, and gives me a way to rationalize those leaps of cognition to other people.

"how to be creative" and other manifestos from ChangeThis.com

I hang with a short-attention-span crowd — so we're always changing our job/direction/passion.

I like this “How To Be Creative” manifesto a lot. It encapsulates many of the ideas that I share with folks when they are in that creative, unfrozen, floating period between gigs. This is kinda like Powdermilk Biscuits — gets you up and doing the things you need to do.

I also like the whole Change This site — comprised mostly of “manifestos” by irascible opinionated curmudgeons like me.

I came across a web-development manifesto – “One Minute Site” – which spoke loudly enough to get me up off my rusty dusty and plug some changes into my sister's web site. One Minute Site is a great rant against the overly-complex, overly graphical/technical sites that “web developers” foist off on their clients. I've been making the same rant for ages, as have many of my good web-dev friends, but One Minute Site does a great job of presenting the argument.

I'm happily pecking my way through the rest of the site — I bet a few more manifestos make their way into this blog.

Applying lessons learned during Y2k, I rediscover Peter de Jager

I'm heading into a big project, and as part of preparing for it I revisited the site I maintained while participating in the Y2k preparations for my home town of St Paul, MN.

Just about every single Y2k link on that site is busted now, although one is selling some strange kind of medical nostrum that's not likely to live up to it's claims of Improving My Life In Every Way.

But one of the links led me to the new site run by Peter de Jager. For those of you who don't remember, Peter was considered by many to be the person who first voiced the Y2k problem in terms that were compelling enough to get people off the dime. Opinions vary — some think Peter was a nutcase, sounding the alarm for a non-problem — and I agree, Peter got a little shrill at times. But I also think he's a very good thinker and did us all a great service by sticking to his guns.

I'm glad to see that Peter is still thinking, writing and active. I recommend his publications pages if you are interested in large-scale change management projects (like I am).

"IT doesn't matter" debate

I missed this rumpus when it first happened. Nick Carr wrote an article in Harvard Business Review in 2002 called “IT Doesn't Matter” which triggered a heck of a debate.

I ran into the debate yesterday when CNET published this summary and rebuttal on their site.

I like the premise — that IT is becoming a commodity and needs to be managed that way. Lots of interesting parallels to other industries — electricity, railroads and (a new one for me) machine tools. There's been a very healthy debate over the article, which Nick has collected on this page for your reading enjoyment.

This is another angle on my earlier rant about why tech startups are a dead end.

Rhetorical (and visual) dishonesties, and their countermeasures

It's been kindof a slow week for the blog — I dunno, just nothing much catching my eye. But this piece is a great list of ways to lie — both words and pictures — as well as countermeasures.

Here's the sample (via Boing Boing) that caught my eye

(8) The argument that we should not make efforts against X which is admittedly evil because there is a worse evil Y against which our efforts should be directed (pp 50-52)

Dealt with by pointing out that this is a reason for making efforts to abolish Y, but no reason for not also making efforts to get rid of X.

(9) The recommendation of a position because it is a mean between two extremes (pp 52-54)

Dealt with by denying the usefulness of the principle as a method of discovering the truth. In practice, this can most easily be done by showing that our own view also can be represented as a mean between two extremes.