Tabula rasa & menti rasa

…or how valuable is really the empty mind / the beginner’s mind?

Hi guys,

Firstly, I’m not a latinist, as you know; you will have to excuse me… “Tabula rasa” is frequently translated as “blank slate”, to that I wanted to add “blank mind” and I don’t know if “menti rasa” works, but now you know what I was going for “Blank slate & blank mind”.

Now, this matter is like an untangled string in my mind, it has been with me since before I identified with it and before I saw it as “a thing”. Perhaps you can help me untangle it. And may I boldly suggest that perhaps we will untangle or tangle each other’s strings in this process. This is my aspiration.

I’ll simply share my personal experiences and thoughts without much judgement and hopefully a narrative will emerge.

Since early I have been turning to philosophy. If you ask me which philosophers I like, or who influenced me the most, I have no idea; I’ve barely read them. In fact I have been afraid to. I thought that their definitions and descriptions of things would limit my thinking and my view of the/my world. I still think like this; still I don’t read them.

So, I wanted (and want) to understand the world on my own terms as far as possible. This is perhaps complicated and not all that relevant. I bring it up because it was my first experience with the will to stay pure/untainted or stay with my “blank mind”.

For about 10 years I think philosophy was the only subject getting this treatment in my life. And then I remember having similar thoughts in late Lavasoft. These thoughts were, I think more concerned with Method rather than world view. And I think this is where it may become more interesting to you …but before that, I want to share with you my most resent experience and the trigger for this post.

As you know I’m screwing around in Asia. However, my recent experience is not of a philosophical nature (as you might guess from the Asian context). Instead I started to think: Fictional writing. This is a new source of pleasure, pain and curiosity.

Two days ago, with recaptured ambition I started describing the world, circumstances and the conflicts of the universe where I wish my story to play out, I believe this is “Outlining”. I am not sure and I don’t want to know because I want to try and fail with the facilities I already control before I see how other people do it. This is key. Do you think I am wise in this thinking?

To look in a more familiar direction: Before drinking software methodologies we often/hopefully see that something is wrong. And then we take somebodies else’s word for a solution… a solution we think we grasp, sometimes we kind of do. But do we grasp the difference between their and our situation and do we see the core of the principle (in many cases the preachers do not even see the true nature, but merely his/her situation in relation). In large there are big assumptions regarding cause and effect. (But as you know: true conviction alone (confused or not) is stronger than most problems).

Wow, I have no idea where I am right now. Did I had one golden camel? …which one am I?

Can you perhaps help me figure out where I’m trying to go here? And if so, what do you think about it?


Definition of success

Dear Mattias and Jeff.

I am writing to you as I can not sleep and I fell to thinking, or perhaps it was the other way around. Anyway, I remembered Jeff asking me to elaborate on my definition of success idea. And I can imagine you would like that too Mattias.

Questioning, distilling and trying to see a bigger picture have intrigued me for some time. At Lavasoft this drove me to discover and learn many things. This is one of those things.

At one point, trying to do things as smart and effective as possible no longer seemed good enough; there was simply no way to keep everybody happy, there were fewer of us and seemingly more work to do. A new approach was due. Taking a step backwards I asked myself with sincerity: Why are we doing these things? What is the intention? What are we trying to accomplish?

At the time I wrote the following:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we almost never evaluate the end result of our work. We complete stories then we demo to evaluate the end product, then we have a retrospective to evaluate how we worked to realize the product. We almost never evaluate the effect or the success of our projects. In the end this is what really matters. I also find it very likely that doing this will be how we learn what kind of projects to accept, question, investigate, initiate and so forth.

Self-quoting, isn’t it sweet? 😉

At the time I called myself a Product Owner, however I found no guidance from agile in how to deal with these matters. Instead I found inspiration in the idea of Retrospectives and a concept: Definition of Done. The later is essentially an aid in the question “What are we making?” Asking in the same way: “Why are we making?” and I got Definition of Success.

The quick and simplified answer to these questions were usually: We are trying to make money (for the company). The particular answers turned out to be of no interest, asking the question however was paramount.

This is how to use it
in order to better understand Why to build What When.

[ TODO Big bad advice here, something like: “Or don’t. Don’t follow other people’s advice – it is too often harmful…” It’s turtles all the way down! ]

Whenever someone would ask us to put something in our backlog we would talk to them to make sure that we and everybody involved understood why this should be done. In some extreme cases the person with the request was “stuck in the middle” and there because a third party wanted something that none of us really understood. Walking over to this third party generally made things clear for everybody, futile efforts was avoided and everybody had cake. There is nothing new to learn here.
Often however, the people involved came straight to us, and usually we all quite quickly understood why something seemed like a good idea. A “good idea“ isn’t good enough if you have too many. So this is where we would try to understand the intention or the desired effect more clearly…
Wow! Hi Mattias! I forgot that I’m writing to you and Jeff. I think I’ll keep this style though, the sparse usage of Software Development and Agile lingo forces me to think.

  • Fixing a problem in an internal tool might have the desired effect “Reduce hours wasted by support personnel circumventing this problem”.
  • An alteration to the web store might have the intention “Increase number of upsells” or “increase conversion rate after user adds products to cart”.
  • A mailer might have the desired effect “convert free users to paid”.
  • Updating outdated information on the front page might have the intention “make people trust us.”

(I know, this is scary; we ask our colleagues and ourselves to summarize complex things in simple words and recognize these as the truth. Though very helpful to catch the most crazy of things and the least questioned assumptions …if done too far or too systematic I’m sure you will arrive at a soulless place with no business.)

Wait… There is still nothing new to learn here.

This is usually where we make estimations from the gut. I would estimate the time required from us and the other party would put a measurable outcome, like: I expect to…
“Eliminate 2 hours wasted by support every day.”
“Increase number of upsells by 20/week, can be checked after one month.”
“Convert 2 000 free users to paid (can be checked 8 days after the campaign has gone out).”
“Make people trust us more(!?).”. This one obviously doesn’t fit the framework. I think this is where you should see that measuring things needs to live side by side with sense, emotion and instinct. (Don’t be a scientist).

Sometimes this is enough information to agree if the thing is a “Go” or a “Gone”. For example: The time required is small and the effect is really good. Or the time required is substantial and the effect is unknown and unmeasurable.
Often though, the discussion has to be delayed until more accurate estimations can be gathered.

After everybody agrees that something should be done the task/story/project may be updated to include the most relevant information, like this for example:

Fix problem with cake getting stuck in cakemaker tool
in order to reduce hours wasted by support.
Definition of Success: Support no longer waste ~2 hours per day on this.

Restructure the web store
in order to increase upsells.
Definition of Success: Increase number of upsells by 20/week, to be evaluated after one month.

Perhaps you can see the bigger idea here:
Build a habit that encourages everybody involved to talk about and understand what they are going to do/make and why. Encourage people to think and talk about what kind of outcome can be expected.
Furthermore, build a habit that encourages reflection and discussion on the effect of projects after they have made a dent in the business and the world. “Has it been a month since the web store updates?” – “Yes, it has and we have seen a trend in the number of upsells. We now have around more 100 per week!” – “OMG that is amazing!” …Or: “The campaign to convert free users to paying, converted 400. That is great … we expected five times that but it was still a success.” And everybody has cake.

If you use a board, such as Scrum, Kartoffel or Kanban, you can make sure that cards/stories have a “Definition of Success” before they move into “Ready” (unless too small to bother investigate or somebody used a “veto card”). Furthermore you can add a column: “To be evaluated” after “Done” on your board. Cards and their effect may then be evaluated together with stakeholders before being archived (the cards, not the stakeholders).
Understand that your Definitions of Success will be off. Like crazy. This doesn’t matter, the point is to talk about and recognize why we do things before and after.

I didn’t feel like I saw this through. Good things came of it for sure and I had a strong feeling that more good things would come had I not submitted to …fear?

Most of this information is probably only potentially useful in less than ideal situations. In a better scenario I think there is room for less science and more Power of the Flower.

This post grew into a crooked. And I can no longer see clearly. Posting now before this gets further out of hand.


How Bret Victor changed my life

Hi Mattias,

Do you know who this Bret Victor guy is? Actually I barely do, I heard he made the Al Gore iPad book amazing, that he did some cool stuff over at apple and yeah… more cool stuff somewhere else. But most important, after watching a video recording of him speaking at some conference I got renewed hope.

He speaks of a choice between Craftsmanship, Passion and Cause. Where most people choose craftsmanship, many speak of passion but few speak of or live by a cause. The later is of course what he describes; you can choose to live by a cause even if your work is not related to social activism or politics. He himself want creative people (like himself) to have a direct latency free connection to their work. He says: If I get an idea and make an adjustment to my work with the intent to realize that idea I need to see the result immediately! Without this ideas die. He hates when ideas die.

Do you have a cause? Do you want one?
I want one, I’m probably that type of person. I even think I have one but I can’t distill it to words, can you?

Written but not Read,
Sincerely yours,

PS. Perhaps the title should have been: How Bret Victor potentially changed my life, but that just isn’t as catchy.

How to earn loads of money

Pick up a peice of technoligy, like a phone or a computer. Locate the most frequently used applications, usually found on a home screen, in a dock or perhaps in a start menu. Now go through the applications and ask yourself if you like them or if they annoy you, are they a bliss to use or do they suck? If the answer is “no” you must be doing something wrong, you need to enter a state of critical thinking.

Now, take your pick from the (presumably) steaming pile of applications. Build your own, let it be great, simple, easy to use and a bliss to interact with (to be honest you might even make it whitout the bliss; bliss is’t mandatory but highly recommended).

Make it available for purchase and tell a friend.

Now repeat from the begining until satisfied.

What do you think Mattias? An option to consider?

Take care,
Your friend, The Rant Machine

The value of perfection


I thought that this would be a good subject for a post written on my thirteen minute ride from the city to my home. During thirteen minutes there is no time for perfection (there is not even spell checking in the interface that I am using) which makes this pretty meta in a potentially uninteresting way.

I try to accept that perfection isn’t an omnipotent solution. I accept that, I am perhaps willing to accept that it is not the answer to anything. Despite this I think the asspiration has great value. This is what I want to talk about; the balance between perfection and what you think is needed from what we might refeer to as reality.

I have almost never created something that I think is perfect, as I set out to I usually try but it never happends. But trying hard and being persistent and “failing” (but really sucseeding) will make you better at what you do. That is the essence, that is the value of aspiring perfection.

I didn’t get deep into the core of this issue and if I were to read it from the begining I probably wouldn’t like it much. Anyway, this was my practice beta post; a first attempt at battling the need for perfection and in deed a controdicting meta post. Look forward to the follow up on thw value of inperfection…

Good night,

Russian pomodoroulette

Hi Mattias,

I would like to share with you an experiment I performed last Tuesday. Knowing that you too have been using the Pomodoro Technique lately, perhaps this twist will interest you.

This day started like many others with processing of inboxes and grooming of the to-do list. Ending up with a short list of quite differing tasks I felt like no prioritization would make me satisfied, some items where small, some larger and some open ended… I did however find that they could be categorized into three projects. The natural instinct was to leave the digital and move the tasks to three project cards along with more detailed notes and related activities. Great, so I had brought order, I had categories but I had not accomplished anything at all! All three projects felt important but in different ways, all were also open ended or huge, making it even harder.

Here comes the thing. Wanting to work on all projects but incapable to find a way to order or prioritize I gave them each a number from one to three and went over to to get a random number between one and three. I then worked on that project for 25 minutes (one pomodoro), took a break, went back to, worked on whatever project it gave me next …and so on.

The most interesting thing about this process was perhaps that everything became much more fun. It feels a bit silly to admit this, but after each break randomizing to see what’s going to happen next was actually kind of …very exciting. The more boring project even became fun, perhaps because I knew that something else was likely to come in a very short while.

Another thing I found interesting with this was the peace of mind I experienced after accepting a random number generator to make the decisions for me, delegating to random you might call it ;). Worth mentioning might be that these decisions were not important. Somebody once said “Don’t think too much before making reversible decisions…”. I’m now proposing: Don’t think when making decisions; let decide! 😀 …or perhaps a dice.

Well, that was just some random thoughts.

Take care,

Ambivalence, confusion, work and culture

Hi Matte,

Being my first post I can’t quite decide how to move forward in this very interesting open letter concept we have going here. I think I’ll response to one of your posts.

Finding your Do I need my own desk? very interesting I would like share my view on the subject. I see the question boiling down to two parts: The level of creativity required by the work and the culture you and your organization want to foster. Mixing things up, like people, surroundings and even routine might be beneficial for creative worker. For the less or none creative worker these things might be nothing but distractions and impediments. Further more, everybody is different, this is where the culture part comes in. If you want “free spirits” and people being creative all over the place (with everything), perhaps none personalized open spaces is the way to go. If you on the other hand want to deliver on time, on budget and according to the client’s detailed specification, there is less value in people being be creative all over the place and maybe a more traditional approach will work better. Maybe.

Personally I like mixing things up, working from different locations, with different people, during different hours, following different processes and so forth. I think this has done good for me and my work (on smaller, more or less creative projects) the last 6-8 months. Working with you lately I’ve got more of a traditional office experience, in shorter bursts. This felt like the right working conditions for the job and I would not want to change it. Most working conditions seems to have their rightful place. Worth mentioning might be that I am not in a team and most people can probably not work like I do, but more probably could…

I feel like I’m rambling and my brain keeps reaching to the same conclusion over and over: “it depends” and everyone should do whatever they like, as long as they like it …If they don’t like it they should try something different and if they do like it …they should try something different.

Over and out,