Lesson: Moats and Flywheels

April 30, 2016 – 10:18 pm
It's bloody hard to build something new into the world.  Don't let anyone tell you it's easy: there's a lot of unfunded and unrecognised work that you have to do before you can get to the point where fame and/or fortune arrive.  And once you've finished the painful birth of your new service or product into the world, maybe even defining an entirely new product category or unserviced market segment, dozens of unimaginative parasites will appear from nowhere and try to eat your lunch. Hapara had this: we have a track record of beautiful firsts.  First Education solution for Google Apps, first device management for Chromebooks.  And, sure enough, as soon as we'd proven that Google Apps could be improved for educators, Google popped up and entered the space with Classroom.  Dozens of companies sprung up to help educators manage Chromebooks.  I like to think that the Hapara team do it better ...

NZ Herald’s “News” Is Shit and Lazy

April 12, 2016 – 2:58 pm
tl;dr: Today's NZ Herald drove me to this analysis/rant.  I'm giving the damn thing up and will get my news from other sites, Radio New Zealand and NewsHub.  You should too. I can't imagine how disheartening it is to work as a journalist in New Zealand.  Almost as disheartening as it is to be a news consumer in New Zealand. The newspapers are shit.  I include Stuff, owned by Fairfax, in this as Stuff has become indistinguishable from the NZ Herald—they race to cover each other's stories and make sure nobody sees a different set of "news" when they visit the other's pages.  There are two rays of hope, though: Radio New Zealand and NewsHub.  I'd never have picked it, but TV3's NewsHub seems to cover more actual news than newspapers (or, perhaps, features Real News more prominently than Rugby Player In Celebrity Vajazzling Tragedy And What Does It Mean For Your House Prices stories). What do ...

On Villains

April 10, 2016 – 10:51 pm
[I posted this on a Slack recently, and would like to give it a longer life than Slack's 10,000 line scrollback. --Nat] Socially constructed roles like “douche-bro” and “rock star teacher” are generally strongly viewpoint dependent. The rhetoric of continuous improvement is part of self-help, get rich quick, professional development, factory management, military training, science, and more. What separates these is the outcome they’re working towards, and how we judge those outcomes. So sales bros high-fiving each other in startup land are heroes of their own story, which is about self-improvement and making the world better through optimised supply chains of just-in-time whatever; and at the same time their goals of corporate success and self-aggrandisement makes them villains of our stories where meaningful work is in service of others, where empathy and humility are treasured, and where personal profit is awkward and not to be pre-eminently sought. So if you want more ...

Art and Education and WTF is Engagement Anyway?

February 11, 2016 – 2:06 pm
This post is prompted by The engagement era - and the artist's place within it, written by Courtney Johnston (director of the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt).  She has been pondering the shifting fashions for 'collection' vs 'education' vs 'engagement' in museums and galleries, trying to make sense of the swirl of ambitions and activities around those words and shifting focus and behaviours in GLAM institutions.  She's an incredible thinker and a brilliant leader.  Subscribe to her blog. Go read her post.  ​Wow.  It is a wonderfully chewy piece of thinking. It triggered education thoughts.  Education is full of "WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE DOING?" panic attacks.  The same shifts and conversations are visible: we're here to do our thing and teach ​we need to personalise what we do to each kid we need to put the kid in charge and create experiences that are opportunities to learn we are creating new citizens we impart functional knowledge for ...

The Best You Can Be

January 28, 2016 – 6:15 pm
I write a short daily series for O'Reilly Media, Four Short Links, which I've done for years.  I recently posted a link to someone's "10 Golden Rules for Becoming a Better Programmer" and said "what are your 10 rules for being better in your field? If you haven’t built a list, then you aren’t thinking hard enough about what you do." Dan Meyer cheekily tweeted "Money where your mouth is, Nat! What's your top ten list for becoming a better link farmer?". Here's what I've learned in my umpty-years.  I'm tempted to say "if only I'd know when I started ..." but the fun has been learning these things. ... Know what you're hoping to achieve by blogging.  This is "know what success is" or "begin with the end in mind" kind of advice, but it still holds.  Four Short Links started as a heartbeat for the O'Reilly Radar blog, so there'd be a post every day ...

Lesson: Presume Good Intentions

January 18, 2016 – 12:55 pm
Teamwork shares a lot of good practices with parenting.  This lesson was no exception ....  I realised fairly early on in my time as a parent that I had a tendency to fail, bigtime, by blasting my kids for something they hadn't done.  The pattern became evident: I see something, I conclude they are rogues and bad actors, I give them both barrels, then after the tears are mopped up it becomes clear that I didn't see what I thought I saw, or they were actually doing the right thing when they did it. The defence to this is pretty obvious: I learned to notice when I concluded that someone was a moron, and worked on asking instead of blasting.  "It looks like you ___ ... is that really what happened?" or "I see ___.  I'm afraid that ___.  What were your reasons for doing it?" or even simply "Are you ___ ...

Lesson: Track What You Learn

January 9, 2016 – 8:27 pm
When I was recruiting the fabulous Chris McDowall for a job, he asked me "why do YOU work here?"  I replied that I was learning lots.  He then said the most important thing anyone has said to me this decade: "what are you learning?" I goldfished for a few seconds and then had to say, "I can't remember right now, but it's all GOOD STUFF."  See, I was learning but I wasn't paying the right amount of attention what I was learning, so it wasn't sticking.  This matches good educational practice too: after you do something, take time to reflect on what worked well and what didn't so you can be more deliberate in improving the next time you tackle it. That day, I started to record what I was learning.  I use EverNote, and keep a single note.  Each day I might learn several lessons, so there are several entries.  The lessons range ...

Kiwi Startups in Silicon Valley

January 4, 2016 – 11:57 am
I was asked for comment by Bill Bennet from the NZ Herald, for a piece on Kiwi startups moving to Silicon Valley.  He built a nice little article, in which "Torkington says" features heavily.  My policy is that if I email journalists, I'll blog my side of the conversation for transparency's sake. I had two more comments responding to ideas he'd thrown in email, but I'll wait to see if they make it to print before blogging them (don't want to steal his thunder--I know there are millions poised on my every word and I'd hate to deny him traffic *wink*). My take ... Growing startups need capital, connections, customers, and a clever crew. Most startups find all those in America.  In particular, Silicon Valley is full of other companies doing the same thing.  This means there are great people to hire (but they're expensive); there are incredible advisors and people who have done it ...

Some Things Don’t Change

October 20, 2015 – 8:32 am
In this internal 1972 DEC memo (PDF) about the PDP-16 re-release, modern tech companies should find plenty of familiar territory: While the PDP-16 has been marginally successful to date, some problems have been noted. 1. Since the product, in its present form, is relatively complex, it is difficult to train salesmen. 2. Since the product is currently offered as a set of options uniquely configured for each situation, the salesman does not have the feeling of security of a predefined box that he can see and feel. 3. Although the PDP-16 has been well received by computernicks, it is still somewhat of a mystery to neophytes. All of these hang-ups can be traced to a single source, namely, inadequate product identification. There's also a chart that goes up and to the right, hand-drawn grids that would eventually be spreadsheets, and an org-chart.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

“Work” continued

July 10, 2015 – 10:45 pm
I moderated a panel today at Gather on the topic of "Work".  We had representatives from different types of work: self-employed, salaried employee, startup, and investor. As moderator, my role wasn't to share my opinions. Fortunately, on the Internet I'm also blogger, and my role as a blogger is to share my opinions. So: opinion follows. The whole concept of "work" is fraught. We treated it as "how you make your money", but that's a concept that comes with a pile of baggage. If I make money from a lot of things (one panelist had her IT business, her music, and her writing all contributing) then which, all, or none of those are my "work"?  Our language opposes "work" with "play", but what if I like what I do? If I volunteer, is that work? If my partner earns money and I contribute my labour to upkeep of the family and house, ...