You can always get want you want. And then don’t want it. 

Kierkegaard’s courting of Regina Olsen was pretty weird  (and downright creepy given the age when he first started work on her). He didn’t think he could have his desire and was at times told her couldn’t have her.

However when after a number of years he finally got her love and the permission to marry her he decided that he didn’t want her. His motivation to not take the thing that he had wanted so much was about him losing something by being fulfilled. Having a complete life would not be compatible with a lifestyle of angst, dread and despair. And mean he would not be the person he was. 

I don’t want to compare myself and my life to Kierkegaard but sometimes you can reflect on events and think ‘bloody hell’ this seems familiar ! What’s philosophy if it doesn’t have relevance to you. 

Change is both good and bad but always memorable. Whether it’s the day your to be ex wife asks for a divorce or when you complete a long walk or run its more memorable than the mundane. You need these events to feel alive not the mundane. 

Work for many is mundane. For me it’s part of life and that means fun and getting a sense of achievement. However it’s sometimes politics and individual personalities.  If you are told that your job is losing some of it’s remit and you are in effect demoted,  the fear kicks in and you start applying for roles on Linkedin.  

Your ego and pride doesn’t want a loss of prestige and position but you will take it if there is no choice and that you keep a decent percentage of your salary. The recently retired boss started 13 years ago and one of the first things he did was change my salary and reduce it to make it more consulting rather than sales focused.  It was a 10% reduction and I took it as I didn’t have an interest in anything else and I liked the job. It paid off in the long term because the company did well and I got pay rises as I was doing a good job.

So back here again. After being resigned to being screwed over, in particular by your manager who was looking to pass on the pain of him being screwed over you do start to think about ways of keeping role. You become a little political and start canvassing support for the job you are doing from you peers and from your team. In the organisation I work in this is recognised and is potentially more powerful than ‘managing up’ where you spend time making sure you have support from above. 

Self belief and confidence are a key factor. In a previous demotion situation 5 years ago I simply took it without complaint as the previous 12 months had seen me separate from my wife and kids and start the divorce process. I wasn’t too focused on work and the demotion (to drop down a reporting line and lead a much smaller team) was acceptable and to some extent deserved. 

However,  this time was different. The team was doing well and had grown significantly. I had also realised that any demotion was not down to my own performance or in fact down to anyone else’s as the company is doing well. It was down to adjusting an organisation which had two people who wanted to run it, where the new guy had won so to speak. 

So a period of politics continues and my decision to keep my role was made based on the fact I would enjoy it less if I didn’t have it. However as it seems I am on the cusp of actually getting a slightly increased set of roles and responsibilities I do wonder if this is the right thing. That like Kierkegaard that on the cusp of getting what I wanted 1 month ago that it might be better if I didn’t get it. There are industry changes afoot and looking to tackle these with a smaller team might be better for me than taking a larger team in a more steady direction. 

What is best for you is sometimes not what you think it is and only by stripping away pride and ego can you get a true sense of value. My life has had a tendency however to think that other people are better than myself and their views count. Whilst not a doormat I have potentially lost out through a lack of self belief. So rather than Soren I might let my ego take a hold this time.

In flight tomato juice

What is it about ordering tomato juice to drink on a flight ? Ice, Worcestershire Sauce, Salt / Pepper and its a cabin crew nightmare. It’s not a preserve of British Airways flights (where you still get a complimentary drink), as Lufthansa sell as much tomato juice on flights as they do beer, but why ? Do these people have those panelled bars at home with a fridge full of tomato juice bottles ? I don’t think so.

There are some scientific arguments for this, but there’s more to it. Being on a plane for many is a special event and in an environment which isn’t usual for many. Why order a drink that you never drink at home, let alone order in the pub. I’m probably old enough to have expected Cinzano Bianco to have dominated as the inflight drink of choice (well in the 80’s).

People still feel special on flights I think, if they are regular business travellers or the infrequent holiday traveller. Maybe a bit like a Snowball at Christmas, you’ll save it for a special event. The demise of the free drinks on planes means that it’s the realm of traditional airlines (not sure if Ryanair stock it on flights, but their move to business travellers might make it happen. It could be the big differentiator between flag carrier and economy flights. However, is the tomato juice (or any free drink or a small sandwich) worth the extra cost over a budget airline. No, I doubt it.

This is a thread for further discussion. I could potentially recommend a tomato juice over an alcoholic drink, which when not free I’ll not have. You might say that Aer Lingus charging for a transatlantic tipple isn’t a bad policy. Good for the airline and good for your health.

Nothing to say, then lets talk about me….

There is a great quote from Betrand Russell, which I’ve quoted a few times.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

You can attend any conference and you’ll always come across a speaker with a case of morettes; this is where they spend a significant amount of time (more than speaking on the subject matter) and references to the self come in small chunks (ettes, little bits) throughout the talk. You can usually be certain that someone with a job title involving ‘evangelist’ or ‘analyst’ that works for a IT company has a gift of talking about their status, past work, who they’ve worked for, papers they’ve published and their own importance rather than the subject matter. On the extreme side, this has take 40 minutes of a 60 minute presentation. Recently, an ex-Gartner employee made 13 references to his work at his former employee from 3 years before, to justify current predictions for the future of the cloud computing market. Yes, this confirms his status and there is no denying that he knows the market, but what wasn’t discussed was Gartner’s failure for most of the time up to 2011 to completely ignore, rubbish and then reluctantly accept open source.

You might may say however, that my focus on themselves rather than on the message they have to say, ie their existence is in fact an embodiment of what this website is about. However they are pure aesthetes who in many cases are fabricating an alternative reality in which they live, primarily for instant pleasure. This type of alternative reality can be taken to extremes, see a recent Guardian news article. What you notice is that sometimes that there is utter self belief in people, even in their own personal rewritten history of achievement, meetings and name droppings. Some of these of draw dropping, when you listen to a supposed CTO of a large tech company claim the investion of Data Centre as a Service (DCaaS I guess) whilst drinking in a San Francisco bar with a couple of other beautiful people. Even it’s true, its usually completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

We are all guilty of embellishment and the slight adjustment of history, but its the fools and fanatics who make a career from it. Whilst not the problem with the whole world, it is one that can really change your working environment.

Authenticity : self over organisation

This week it’s Red Hat’s annual sales kickoff meeting (in a very wet piece of Spain about 1 hour south of Barcelona), what is always interesting is the difference between the sales focused teams and those in Consulting. It’s the second year that Consultants have been invited along to the SKO, with about 1000 people in total. Lessons learned from last year is to provide very technical, focused tracks for the Consultants and Architects and apart from some key note talks to keep this separate from the main sales tracks.

This therefore provides some interesting philosophical issues of note:

  1. communication from the aesthetes (sales) to consultants can be poor (and of course vice versa); no ones fault but what resonates with them doesn’t resonate with people with a different view of the working environment and with different values.
  2. that some people, in the services organisation need to look both ways, be understanding of the services side of the business (ie consultants, delivering projects etc) and the needs of sales and their own business drivers.

Issue 1 is interesting and is avoidable with preparation and an effort. Taking time out to understand your audience, their motivation and areas of concerns is not hard but means you have to listen and process. Not sure if Red Hat is atypical, but there is a lot of time spent talking to audiences that may not be listening; but this is usually because the talker hasn’t listened or understood the feedback already provided. Personally, I’m probably too quick judge and switch off if I think the speaker is wrong. They might be wrong, but I should take the time to listen, interpret what they say before jumping in and condemning it. I’m getting better at it, but still have a lot of work to do.

For those people between Sales and Services, with two masters there is duck/rabbit situation as discussed by Wittgenstein with Sales and Consultants viewing their roles differently; the Sales group who are going to see the RSM/SDM/TSM or Architect as someone to help them ‘sell’ solutions (by finding resources, writing documents etc) and the Consultants seeing them as the allocators of their time, managers and people who will ensure good delivery on a project. This is a difficult role and one where the person has to look at themselves subjectively, through the eyes of the person they are talkng to. Of course, the people providing the most pressure, through demands, escalation etc will obscure the judgement and this external view. Its a case where not necessarily the right thing is done, but the one that is the path of least effort for the individual.

Choosing a path

You find them in the back of airline seats and the otherwise desolate receptions of tech companies, but the business magazine still holds a place, even in this day of serial bloggers. The recent appearance on Red Hat EMEA GM and Senior VP Werner Knoblich in CEO Magazine is a good example of a polished piece of writing and advertorial placement. Whilst of course focusing on 55 quarters of continued growth it does reference the ‘open organisation’ and the fundamentals of successful business around open source. It’s easy to write-off this style of puff piece but its interesting to look more closely at the readership and aim.

Do CEO’s read CEO Magazine ? Or is it wannabe CEO’s or other aspirational tech company executives ? Would love to know what the click through rate is to get from the outline of the article to the downloadable PDF. Taking a look at CEO Magazines website you have to be curious about what is the Business and Lifestyle of the Executive. For Kierkegaard this would have typified the businessman and their quest for instant pleasure, identified clearly with the automotive, leisure and other luxury items that wealth through career provides. It is what most people aspire to and there is no wrong in that. Having a strong sense of security through financial wealth is not to be derided.

However, there is a sense of something missing. A great article in The Guardian this week on Billy Muir, the man with 20 jobs. He doesn’t make as much money as even the poorest CEO doing these all these jobs but he is trying to keep the small community of North Ronaldsay in the Orkneys alive. There is a sense of other worldliness, of a greater good, that you don’t get when you review the success and wealth of a businessman.

Read both articles and it will help you understand where you want to be and to understand the purpose of your life. Neither are wrong, but you’ll understand if you have chosen an Aesthetic or an Ethical path.

Technical humility versus Business (over) confidence

Through the Guardian’s websites promoted links from around the web (Outbrain) I stumbled on this article on the difference between tech and finance people as part of a blog, It takes about ‘imposter syndrome’ and can be summed up by the Betrand Russell quote it cites “The trouble with the world is that the stupid people are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”..

In the bloggers case, he’s moving from working in a financial industry that is full of self confidence with a strong belief (or is that faith, given the lack of emperical evidence) that people like fund managers, will always make money through shear self confidence. That the techies, developers, coders etc are full of doubt is a strong generalism, but one that has some merits. As also previously discussed on this site, Jim Whitehurst The Open Organisation provides a number of examples, that when given the right conduit and opportunity, the measured thought of the technical part of Red Hat can have an impact of the whole company.

Like any organisation, Red Hat does suffer from escalation syndrome, where confident people within the sales organisation look to obtain the resources and time they need for their customers (and some might argue their bonuses) from the technical part of the organisation. Sometimes a lack of transparency in the request (leave a few pertinent facts out), stamping of feet and citing ‘this is one of the most important deals/customers’ means that the technical teams are being drawn into a game that they are uncomfortable with. This is one of politics where words speak a lot louder than actions. The key issue is that the responsibility for actually producing something is with the technical teams, not the sales teams who are really the facilitators of what’s being produced. Escalations can get the results wanted by the sales and business teams but at the cost of credibility and trust from the technical organisation, which places this higher than many other areas of work.

Technical humility is part of being authentic; presenting a brutal truth to customers and colleagues is far more satisfying irrespective of the consequences, than covering over issues with a thin veneer.

Price and Prejudice

When it comes to buying and selling, one thing is clear. You want to sell at the highest price and buy at the lowest possible price. What you notice when you are at something like the Classic Dirt Bike Show at Telford, is that people are trying to do this simultaneously, and in turn looking to rip off buyers and sellers at the same time.

You could buy a 1977 CZ with work for less than £600, and (try) to sell an early 1960’s Twinport CZ for more than £12000. In many cases its a questions of perceived value rather than market prices and a wishful hope that some idiot is going to make an appearance with loads of cash, or having that rare Husqvarna that you’ve been longing for. Having bought and sold a few classic bikes over the years, the process is one of mixed emotions and that roller coaster ride that goes from elation (“wow, I’ve really found one”) to a post coital low (“it’s got no piston, what have I bought”) through to a later joy (“really, it might have been a works bike”).

I think a lot of people are actually looking for a number of things when dealing with a buyer/seller:

  • a price; there is nothing more frustrating that sellers saying ‘make me an offer’. If they don’t have a price, they don’t really want to sell it
  • sensible pricing; people sometimes put on a unassailable price in the hope they can haggle down to something still too high
  • genuine buyers : sometimes there are too many tyre kickers and the seller will quickly become frustrated with the endless dialogue which might start with “I’ve always fancied one of these” or “I had one of these when new”.
  • genuine seller : someone who really wants to sell the bike; at Telford in particular its common to find people who’ve brought along a bike to sell, but don’t really want to sell it but want to see either someone say ‘how much !’ or ‘wow that must be rare’.
  • .

Then there is the use of the word rare. I think a well known importer of US bikes (in Worcestershire) has used rare as a description as part of all his ebay adverts. Obviously this leaves you with a problem if you have something that actually rare. You need to move to ‘very rare’, ‘extremely rare’ or ‘super rare’. Being ‘rare’ is also subjective. At Telford, a Honda TLM250 was described as rare as there were only 850 made, whilst to me a 1964 Bolt Husqvarna might be seen as rare as there were only 100 made, and only one ended up outside of Sweden / Norway. This one, owned by Dave Bickers who decided to pick it up from the factory after breaking his Greeves (again) at the Finish GP that year, actually starts of another discussion.

That is the ‘famous person’ bike. Steve McQueen seems to have owned multiple copies of every type of dirt bike manufactured between 1960 and 1974. However, the high value attributed to a CZ at the 2015 Telford Show because the owner has a picture of an elderly Dave Bickers sitting on it probably pushes the limit when it comes to celebrity value.

Rare might be subjective, but of course so is value. Finding a bike you trialled or raced in your youth will be worth more to you then just another punter. This whole discussion is true for any collectable commodity (like vinyl records) but like any fair, bourse, market, it amplifies the good and bad practice.

Living in a sphere

Kierkegaard outlined 3 spheres of life, Aesthetic, Ethical and Religious.

My interpretation. The Aesthetic is the person who lives for personal pleasure and gain, typified by the businessman. The ethical individual sets up a life mission and agenda, with some level of purpose and one that he then aspires to. Kierkegaard saw the Religious sphere as the highest level, where a higher being (aka God) guides you on the right way. The Ethical Sphere is where you believe in something (as it’s something tangible that exists), the Religious sphere involves faith and more specifically faith in God. As you cannot definitively say if God exists (no evidence really) then you need faith, not belief.

A more in depth interpretation.

To move between Ethical and the Religious sphere\ requires a “leap of faith”, where belief in what you can measure extends to faith, in something you can’t. For many, this faith in God or something else which cannot be measured, brings either increase anxiety (due to the lack of tangible) or a satisfaction through faith. Having faith in something is to acknowledge that you cannot influence what will happen and there is some uncertainty about it also. If you believe something will happen, that’s because you’ve good reason, through evidential assessment, that something will happen.

However, an individual might not just occupy a single sphere at a particular time, though there might be a dominant one. The businessman (or salesman, a more tangible example for this observer) will live predominately in the Aesthetic sphere, but many people (lets say developers, engineers etc) might have career or lifestyle choices made on what they see as Ethical grounds. In the case of Red Hat employees (and it’s always an interesting organisation to look at, see, many people have was they see as Ethical reasons to work there; they believe that the model Red Hat has for open source software is the right one, based on fact and their own experiences. Some people seem to have a more religious view about the company, where the follow the mantra and messages of the organisation closely and are its leading advocates. However, to Kierkegaard, the Religious life is something very personal and that a church or other organisation isn’t needed, but a strong belief in ones self. Whilst everyone can be an Aesthetic, following pleasure and self-gratification selfishly, people can aspire to an Ethical way of life, where the greater good is more important, but obtaining the Religious Life is virtually impossible.

All 3 spheres are focused on the self, looking inward to what oneself is and that external guidance isn’t going to be helpful.

You might find this video interesting as it provides a quick understanding on the spheres, or stages or life.

No cock, just bull

Just re-reading Gerald of Wales, Journey Through Wales and Description of Wales and came across the following paragraph.

A certain knight, name Gilbert, surname Hagurnell, after a long and unremitting anguish, which lasted three years, and the most severe pains as of a woman in labour, at length gave birth to a calf, an event was witnessed by a great crowd of onlookers. Perhaps it was portent of some unusual calamity yet to come. It was more probably a punishment exacted for some unnatural act of vice.

This comes early on in the book somewhere between Hay on Wye and Brecon and in the midst of other stories relating to punishments exacted for thievery and misbehaviour (getting you hand stuck to a stone wall of a church for attempting to steal its pigeons. Gilbert Hagurnell’s story is an interesting one, as a man giving birth isn’t that common and giving birth to a cow less common. There are few references to this story, but one of the more expansive is on the slightly esoteric In The Medieval Middle blog which converts this to more of a love story (for Gilbert) and evidence of Gerald of Wales interest in the close relationship at the time with man and his beasts.

The lack of online references to this incident is no surprise. Google had managed to search 60 million pages by 1998 (about the same time I selected Altavista for a UK government project), however Gilbert wrote about the incident as part of his travels in Wales in 1188, so 820 years BG (before Google). We now rely on Google and other sources and suggest they are statements of fact. But as with verbally retold tales and stores of the Medieval era, information now is no more reliable. Whether it be embellishment, simply not true or perverted from the original, even if Gilbert gave birth to a bovine in 2008 there is still no certain that it was true. If it did happen and was recorded in some way, I’m sure the Conspiracy Theorists would put the event in the top 10 and put Gerald of Wales in the same category as David Icke.

This weeks Conspiracy Theory is about the search phrase “Conservatives are” when using Google. But as some articles have argued, rather than a conspiracy theory there is probably some fact or reality. In this case Google have added ‘Conservatives are’ to the autocomplete blacklist to say thanks for the £130m tax deal they’ve done in the UK. Not a nice thing, a bit of mutual slapping of backs, but not a theory.

The Open Individual : its not just the organisation

Working for Red Hat, it’s nice to see a book about what makes the company tick and why its different from (most) other organisations that sell software and solutions.

Jim Whitehurst has written The Open Organisation very much in the style of other business and management books, and it focuses on his adaptation and development of the Red Hat culture that has been developed since the company was founded. He’s clear these are not his ideas but as an incoming CEO in 2008 he’s been able to adapt to the company and can now record it.

It has some great anecdotes and observations, which might be in the category of ‘bleeding obvious’ to some people who have worked in open source IT, but will be a revelation to others most used to the traditional, hierarchical world of large corporate business. It’s written in an approachable way, with the use of characters in Red Hat to support some of the key arguments. Jim also admits where he made mistakes by making management decisions (like the virtualisation Qumranet/libvirt one) which were not solidly based on open source.

A few things are interesting:
– the sales organisation is run and is staffed in the same way as any other IT companies and is probably the area where the open organisation is least noticable. If you looking from engineering to sales, you see the normal set of suits more motivated by commission than the ethos of the company. If you are sales person and have worked at Oracle, HP or Microsoft for example, you see this relatively informal organisation missing the big stick and an element of direction. Neither view is covered by the open organisation; can you have a sales team without formal structures and traditional management trees and the facility for self determination ?
– the culture of Red Hat cannot be reproduced easily by other organisations, as it stems primarily from the individual not corporate instruction. There is an element of nurture but its the individual that forms it. Red Hat is a collective noun for a group of authentic individuals, so you need to transplant people (and the right people) into your organisation to replicate Red Hat. No surprise then that this is what a lot of companies have done.
– leadership is a myth sustained by leaders. That’s a harsh view by compared with many organisation, the leader is more of an ‘organiser’ than manager or leader. Many leaders (in terms of technical skills or work achieved) sit within the organisation rather than above. Knowing you are a coordinator, not a manager is something all Red Hat managers have to work out.

Being authentic at Red Hat is something that some people, when joining the company, have a problem with. Interviewing for authentic people (that is they act on what they feel is right, rather than what they feel they should be doing) is relatively hard. However many people true approach, authentic or not, only comes out when they join the company. Some people have joined a successful IT company as it means they will be successful and potentially make good money as an employee, whilst others will be joining Red Hat because it lets them have their career of choice.

However for me, there is a questionable flaw in the premise of the book, that it is the culture, the techniques and the way things are done that makes Red Hat what it is. However in an existentialist sense, it is the individuals rights to exist in their chosen way that is the core of what Red Hat is. This notion, that existence precedes essence is a premise argued by Jean-Paul Satre and which may be at the core of what Red Hat is. A number of organisations have asked for guidance on how they might copy the Red Hat way of contributing to open source and ask what policies, tools and methods, the essence, does Red Hat have in place. They are surprised that rather than having a written policy document, Red Hat tends to trust implicitly how its developers interact with the community and rely on the inherent judgement on the right way of doing things. This is in part because doing something they don’t believe in is living according to bad faith for many Red Hat employees. By choosing to do the right thing they have consciously decided to continue toexist rather than live a false live defined by rules they don’t believe in. Where you have an organisation based solely on essence (the way things are done) then you need policies.

Furthermore you can argue that many Red Hatters don’t see themselves working, not for Red Hat, a community project or for anyone. For them this is there life and how they’ve chosen to live it. Red Hat gets the benefit from this and pays for it. Based on Kierkegaards spheres of life , some Red Hat staff like very much in the aesthetic sphere (businessman, worldly goods orientated), whilst other, more technical people like in the ethical sphere. A smaller subset of employees live in the religious sphere, which means that whilst remaining ethical they are also evangelical about their way of living. More on the evangelists for another article.

For a further review of The Open Organisation.