I’m more popular than porn

It’s a little hard to discern (because of a bug in display of popularity ranking), but my slidecast, The Experience is the Product, is the most popular slidecast on Slideshare, with, as of this post, 90040 views.

The second most popular slidecast, Kamasutra (NSFW), has 85489 views.

What’s strangest about this is that my slidecast was not even breaking 10,000 until a month or so ago, and it has since gone through the roof. My efforts to figure out why have gone for not — I cannot find a popular website that has linked to it, or embedded it. And Slideshare doesn’t offer stats. If anyone out there in Blogland can help me figure this out, it would be much appreciated.

Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, and I’ve decided I’m voting for Barack. He and Hillary are nearly identical on matters of policy, but there’s an important distinction when it comes to tone and approach.

The poisonous behavior of the Bush administration has sparked an anger and anxiety in the national psyche that is perhaps unparalleled in American history. Hillary’s nomination (and thus presumed election) would do little to dispel this negativity — she has proven to be a divisive personality (intentionally or not), and when I imagine an America under her leadership, I foresee the same feelings of general hostility that sadly pervade this country. Barack, though, has demonstrated himself as a fomenter of shockingly positive feelings — while he may or may not unite, he doesn’t divide. A future with him a president strikes me as one where the tendency among Americans is to imagine the possibilities, the potentialities, to in turn imagine how to get to a better future for later generations.

The United States desperately needs cleansing of the noxious atmosphere it currently breathes. I fear that Hillary, all her good actions and intentions notwithstanding, wouldn’t clear the air. Barack would.

Yahoo! has a mission?!

I’ve been intrigued by the discussion, in the media, on blogs, and on mailing lists I’m on, about Microsoft’s move to acquire Yahoo! The initial reaction from most folks is a knee-jerk negative — folks basically don’t like Microsoft, and so they don’t like the idea of Microsoft acquiring Yahoo!.

Today’s SF Chronicle continues the story, and features this statement from Yahoo! CEO (and co-founder) Jerry Yang: “We can’t let any of the noise we’re hearing around this situation distract us from our core mission. It’s critical that we continue to focus on running our business, executing our strategy and delivering value to all of our users, advertisers and publishers.”

I would bet money that you could ask a sampling of Yahoo! employees what their core mission is, and you’d never get the same answer twice. This has long been a problem with Yahoo! Google, for example, has a pretty clear core mission: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Whereas Yahoo!’s values are a mess of pabulum.

This is the thing that those of us who work in or near Silicon Valley, and who know folks at Yahoo! know: it’s a mess. It’s been a mess for years. It’s been drifting and directionless. It’s made moves that seem to only compete with itself. It’s spread itself too thin.

Pretty much the only savvy things Yahoo! has done in the past few years is acquire Flickr, del.icio.us, and Upcoming.

So, what I’ve realized, is that acquisition by Microsoft might actually be a very good thing. Say what you will about MSFT, but they’ve been around for awhile, and have a pretty stable, solid corporate culture. They know how to run a business. They’re even innovating in some interesting spaces (physical computing, social computing.) They might just be the tonic to shake Yahoo! of its ailments.

Thinking about team dynamics

Some of the the most crucial elements in successful product and service design are the dynamics of the team that is working together. Sadly, I hadn’t been seriously thinking about it when we were writing our forthcoming book, Subject to Change (pre-order today!), but maybe the following is fodder for the second edition?

Team dynamics has been in the back of my mind ever since we started Adaptive Path in March 2001. The seven of us who came together fit remarkably well as a team for a surprisingly long time (Mike left after a few years, and everyone else stuck around until the 6th year, with Jesse and I now the only founders remaining). During that time, I considered team dynamics was largely about a spread of skills and perspectives — successful teams are those that can bring to bear a range of skills, and where people come at problems from different points of view. Such diversity ensures a more robust and considered approach than if everyone thinks the same.

In the last few months I’ve been realizing there are other aspects of the dynamics that are essential in order for the team to work well. A petri dish of sorts was our UX Intensive workshop last November, which was the first I had attended. We get over a hundred people each day into those, and much of the workshop is spent in small group activities. The teams typically have a pretty random mix (which we encourage by getting people to move around and not work with just their colleagues), and, in these activities, three types of teams emerge, and they emerge roughly in even proportions:

  1. Those who work together perfectly fine. Nothing special, but they engage in the activity and come up with a decent result.
  2. Those whose collaboration just sings. These teams produce an amazing amount of material in a short time, and typically have a blast doing it.
  3. Those who go nowhere. These folks typically sit around, unable to get beyond talking about what they’re doing, never willing to commit to ideas or creation.

I haven’t done deeper research on these teams, but my observations indicate that the successful teams usually have two factors — a shared desire to suppress ego and truly work as a team, and some individual who steps up as a leader and helps provide the team focus or encouragement.

On other project work I’ve observed, this is crucial to success. And the only way you’re going to get there is through mutual respect. In our multidisciplinary environments, we can’t all be experts in everything. So, we have to trust the expertise and intent of others. In other words, we have to respect one another. This has been crucial in our growth at Adaptive Path — mad skills are only part of the package we need in a person to bring them on. Passion for the cause, and respect for others with that same passion, even if they have wildly different approaches and perspectives, are just as important.

I’ve been fortunate, because I’ve had a very direct hand in growing our team. In the world outside Adaptive Path, sometimes one doesn’t have that opportunity. I’ve been thinking, in particular, of teams that get a new leader, and what often transpires. It’s perhaps easiest to think about this in terms of sports teams.

I’m a fan of the Golden State Warriors basketball team. I became a fan shortly after moving to Oakland a few years ago, which was a dire time for such fandom. They hadn’t had a winning record in a decade, and the team was simply a mess. After a couple years the coach was fired, replaced by NBA legend Don Nelson. For a while, Don tried to make do with the team he had, and it didn’t go so well. Then, in a storied trade in the middle of last season, the Warriors got rid of a few non-producers, and acquired some players that many thought were too mercurial to be trusted. And what happened? They started winning. They made it to the playoffs, and even beat the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks in the first round.

Or look to football, and what Bill Belichick has been able to do with the Patriots. Because of salary caps and other equalization measures, a dynasty is supposed to be impossible in the NFL. But the Patriots are a dynasty (even though only 5 players remain from the team that won that first Super Bowl). Because it’s clear that Belichick demands that his players suppress their egos, respect one another, and work as a team.

I’ve seen this happen in user experience. A new manager was brought to lead a group, a manager who was not a designer, but (gasp!) an MBA. When she arrived, this UX group she lead was doing okay, but was no great shakes. They definitely weren’t cohering as a team — every member had their little piece of territory and didn’t seem to really get along well together. Within a year of her arrival, all of the practice leads that reported to her either left or were let go, and she replaced them with staff that understood how crucial it was to engage one another. Since then, this team has grown, both in size and stature within the organization, evolving from an execution-oriented design group to one that helps drive strategic decision-making.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to say that I suspect it’s remarkably difficult for a new leader to inherit a team not of their own making, and have it succeed. Teams have to be brought together under a common sense of purpose. I suspect it’s nearly impossible to assemble a team for one thing, and then try to get it to behave in a new way.

The Wire: it’s bullshit.

Given all the hoopla at the start of the latest season of The Wire, I thought I’d give it a go–the writers’ strike is definitely encouraging me to seek out new television. I’d heard about the show in all my media outlets, particularly the blogs that I read, and, somewhat surprisingly, all over public radio.

Well, I just watched the first two episodes of the fifth season, and I can say with little reservation: it’s bullshit. I’m not at all surprised that this show gets terrible ratings. It’s sanctimonious, stereotyping, ham-handed, but mostly, really, it’s just boring.

All I can think is that people with intellectual aspirations think that liking this show reflects well on them, the idea being that only The Wire is daring enough to address the complex challenges facing society. Also, because it’s politics mirror fashionable urban liberalism (corporations=bad, politicians=bad, management=bad, labor=good). But really, the show is remarkably simplistic, perhaps most evident in these first two episodes by the Parade of Stereotypes pawned off as characters: the mercenary weaselly white mayor; the alcoholic Irish cop; the wise-cracking charismatic African-American news editor who is always right, and is always sticking it to the man; the silver-haired sensationalist condescending newspaper publisher; etc. etc.

And I don’t think I’ve ever watched a talkier show. It’s kind of like a soap opera in that there is a lot of commotion, but nothing really happens.

So, please, spare me the fawning criticism of the gritty reality and causal complexity depicted by this show. It’s little more than polemical claptrap to encourage self-back-patting. And while I largely share the creator’s political views, I don’t need them beating me over the head.

Wow. This post got quite screedy. It’s just that all I’ve seen is adulation, and no negative criticism.

God, I wish Battlestar Galactica were back on the air. Another couple months, I guess.