via XKCD

Doers & Talkers: Cultivating Innovation

A few years ago, I wrote a post called Doers and Talkers where I profiled two types of people in the technology space: Those who have ideas and are visionaries (or talkers) and those who implement those ideas on behalf of others (the doers).

I looked back at that post and realized that, while correct, it was a bit simplistic. In fact, in a world filled with shades of grey, there are more than just doers and talkers.

In review, talkers tend to be the ideas people. They have great ideas, whether in technology, business or just life in general. They see big pictures and tend to have lofty goals. They think quick and often take steps to see their visions implemented, often times without thinking about ramifications and potential pitfalls.

Talkers benefit from irrational thinking. They look at the impossible and, in their own minds, they don’t think it’s impossible. They see limitations as challenges and tend to think that road blocks are only minor inconveniences.

via XKCD
via xkcd

via xkcd

These are the CEOs and founders of the world. These are the people like Steve Jobs of Apple who say, “Phones shouldn’t be this limiting. I should be able to use my natural senses and behaviors to make the phone do what I expect it to do.” Thus, the iPhone was invented with a touch screen interface and technologies like the accelerometer that allow manipulation of the device through natural movement.

Doers, on the other hand, tend to not allow creative thinking. In fact, they tend not to be creative people. They are analytical, engineering types that look at data and extrapolate results based on that data. Doers, in the software world, are the engineers who are handed a list of specs, a timeline and budget, and are told to go and execute.

These people thrive on structure and expectations. They like to know what’s expected and, when they know, are exceptional at delivering results. Doers abhor irrational behavior and approach problems from a perspective of frameworks and architecture. They don’t venture outside their tent posts and, by doing so, are the necessary ingredient for Talkers to see their visions executed.

There really are shades in the middle, however, that are a rare breed. It’s the people in the middle, who both have the business savvy to see big pictures and allow for some degree of dreaming, yet have a firm understanding of expectations and roadmaps that make them so valuable.

See, doers rarely engage with the talkers in providing context or realistic expectation for proposals. Doers don’t really want that role. Doers get into trouble because they don’t know how to speak the language of the talkers. They don’t have the confidence, perhaps, or the desire to take a project and drive a sense of reality into a proposal. That’s above their pay grade, in their minds.

Meanwhile, talkers have an inherent nature, generally, that precludes outside input in decisions. Therefore, they don’t ask, or perhaps even think to ask, the doers for input. They create the business plans and monetization strategies, but rarely think about the implementation. By doing so, they often overlook problems that might be incurred. Talkers are usually distant from the details of the project and so, they tend to miss the detailed tactical decision making process that is employed by the doer.

Finding that personality who has the business understanding to see a 50,000 foot view, interface with management to guide a decisions in a productive manner and who also has the background and understanding to talk to the doers and collect their input is a rare, but important breed. These people should be hired immediately. Create a position if necessary but don’t let them escape.

These types of personalities tend to be excellent product managers and, in a technical environment, can really steer a product in a productive direction.

For what it’s worth, Google has instituted, for many years now, 20% time. This is the policy that states that every Google employee, regardless of role or position, is allowed 20% of their work week to work on any project that they want to. Allowing the doers, talkers and that happy middle the opportunity to be creative, to be structured and to foster ideas, has resulted in many Google Labs projects.

Notably, some of the best Google products used today, have come out of 20% time projects: Gmail, Google News and Google Reader. Additionally, many features (such as keyboard shortcuts in a variety of Google products) have also been added to existing Google products as a result of 20% time. There is even a blind engineer who created Google’s Accessible Search product.

While doers are important, and talkers are important, finding a way to foster open communication and understanding between them is essential for innovation.

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Google Predicting the Future?

Geeks among us will recognize the term “chaos theory”. It is a highly philisophical, and yet scientifically unproven, theory of physics that says, among other things, that there is a natural order to the universe that cannot be observed directly, but can be seen in patterns. Popularly known as the Butterfly Effect, it theorizes that though there appears a dissonance and disorder in nature, nature actually behaves in an orderly and predictable way. Examples of chaos can be seen in weather, the flow of currents and even the natural cycle of economic conditions. Though no two iterations of an event happen exactly as they happened before, there is a pattern that is distinguishable if charted or mapped.

Ike Pigott requested my input on a theory he floated last night on his blog. The theory is that Google, in their attempt to meet their stated mission of “organizing the world’s information”, is attempting to predict the future. He framed his argument around the dissolution of many Google services over the past week, in an effort to economically streamline their business and Steve Rubel’s prediction that their Google Reader product is next on the chopping block.

Ike’s argument was that, through Google’s monitoring and recording of key behavioral patterns – such as reading and sharing of stories, commenting, time of engagement, and subscriber base numbers – that Google is able to create a massive database over time that “learns” the patterns of human information engagement. With these patterns (and a nod to Chaos Theory), Google can accurately predict a large number of events, or cultural shifts before they come to be. Additionally, as the only owner of multiple copies of the internet in their massive server farms, Google positions itself to be the one and only benefactor of such information. It could be argued that “the Machine is among us” (in another nod to common science fiction themes),

It has long been my assertation that the tendency of the internet world to easily trust and adopt to Google efforts is a dangerous precedent to set. Increasingly, people rely on Google for mail, calendaring and even productivity. New bloggers tend to setup blogs on Google-owned Blogger and the saturation of video content is due, in no small part, to Youtube. Why? Because Google makes products that are easy and ease of use is more important than virtually any other factor that consumers might think of.

Without raising the alarm bells, folks should be cognizant about entrusting Google with all of their data. Personally, I use Gmail, FeedBurner, YouTube and other services, but the data is yours and should be diversified as much as possible.

Question of the Day: Is this theory of future prediction fact or fiction, good will or conspiracy? Isaac Asimov outlined the rules for robots in his book I, Robot:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Food for thought.

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Organic Feed Reading

There is so much information shooting around on these interwebs that sometimes I have a hard time keeping track of all the conversations I want or need to be a part of.

Yes, of course I use Google Alerts to do vanity searches on my name, but I’ve found that in the past three or four months, I’ve got more value out of subscribing to search feeds. Now I search for everything – particularly on Google Blog Search. I’ve put much less focus on subscribing to individual site feeds (though I do that too), and instead search keywords and track them around the blogosphere. Actually, it’s been a fantastic way of keeping track of conversations and making sure I’d know about the conversations I need to be in.

I could see PR folks making use of search feed aggregation more than site feed aggregation. Do you use search feeds? Do you use them a lot? Have they begun to take up a significant portion of your reading patterns?

In case you don’t know how to get search feeds from Google Blog Search, this video demonstrates how.

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