I voted in the US elections last week, through dropping off my weirdly assembled printed out ballot envelope at a post office in Stratford. I’m not religious, but by all things holy, I hope we wake up next week with a new president and a peaceful transition of power. Am trying to limit my media consumption at the moment, but Masha Gessen is characteristically brilliant in this piece. Imagine being that clear.
Anyway, the raging shitshow of the US election in general and the genuine challenges of actually getting my vote to the electors has me thinking about the Utopia of Rules again. This is a pretty good summary, if you haven’t read it. I can’t be bothered with the Cass Sunstein section of this review (surely it’s time for him and the Nudge people to fade away? Have yet to see an example that couldn’t be explained by other variables.)
Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom gave such a concise, and brilliant counter argument to an excessive belief in the importance of “intelligence” and education that I felt I’d share it:
I believe that we ascribe “smart” and “intelligent” post hoc to power. I believe that powerful people, particularly white men, believe that their power is justified by their genetic endowments. I believe that they operate from the assumption that whatever wins, is also smart.
I believe that powerful interests pretend to believe in democratic social institutions like schools and a democratic interpretation of “smart” (i.e. one can become smart) because it serves them to do so.
I believe we learn more by observing how powerful people actually use these institutions for personal gain and social reproduction, despite what they say.
I have an entirely exaggerated belief in my ability to read the entrails of software. I try not to do it, because it doesn’t help with my tendency to anthropomorphize pretty much anything, and read intent into accident. If I did that full time, maybe I’d end up advising politicians, and then where would we be?
Anyway, using Microsoft Calendars has almost made me go full haruspex, Hocus Pocus style.
Like, it’s just undeniably optimised for someone else to manage your calendar if you’re under any time pressures whatsoever. Clearly, that’s what the people those Microsoft teams can get to do research for them are doing. I have a really hard time seeing American upper-middle management taking the time to do a user research session.
I get that Microsoft are incumbents and just need companies not-to-leave. But damn, finding out how to do things like auto-declining meetings in Microsoft Calendars is really hard.
And look, Google calendars are no better for this. They’re designed and optimised for people who want to run their own calendars (useful) and it’s super optimised for that.
But the Google calendar designs fail to show sensitivity to what it’s actually like to work in a big organisation. Like: you can’t just autodecline big shared meetings, because you look like a jerk. You’d want more granular controls (“Accept all meeting requests from my boss and my team during this time period, as well as any requests from outside the organisation, and politely reject all others”).
Not being able to do that is pretty damaging if one of the ways you manage your time and mental health is through automated calendar settings.
The result is, of course, that it becomes a person’s job to sort calendars for people who are senior in organisations. Everyone else who has to balance maker vs manager time is frazzled. Basically, the different design-is-politics choices between those two calendars end up with almost the same results.
Same sh*t, different day
It reminds me of the Kitchen Debate between Khrushchev and Nixon in 1959. It’s one of those Cold War events that sound made up until you realise it really happened.
I love the deep ridiculousness. An American president thinking that what’d REALLY sell capitalism is a lemon squeezer, and the Soviet premier asking Nixon why he looks so angry or saying American houses are too expensive for workers to buy (ha!) and that they don’t have any good military technology. Khrushchev himself criticized a lemon juicer to Nixon:
What a silly thing for your people to exhibit in the Soviet Union, Mr. Nixon! All you need for tea is a couple of drops of lemon juice. I think it would take a housewife longer to use this gadget than it would for her to do what our housewives do: slice a piece of lemon, drop it into a glass of tea, then squeeze a few drops out with a spoon. That’s the way we always did it when I was a child, and I don’t think this appliance of yours is an improvement in any way. It’s not really a time‐saver or a labor‐saver at all. In fact, you can squeeze a lemon faster by hand.
But here’s the thing. Even though Khrushchev criticised American misogyny in other parts of the meeting, both he and Nixon believed that tea would, inevitably, be prepared by women. For men much like the two of them.
Much like Microsoft and Google calendar designs, there was more that united them than separated them when it came to technology and power relations.
Things I’ve done this week
I’ve gone back to using this excellent template from Nobl for my 1 to 1s. I otherwise find the coaching bit of 1 to 1s a bit tricky, because I’ve had a pretty non-linear career. I’ve had some brilliant bosses that I’ve learned a lot from, but both due to personalities and generational change, I’ve never really had that coaching relationship with any of them. (They might beg to differ). Which works brilliantly for me. But doesn’t for everyone. So! Trying to offer that, if wanted.
It takes about 45 minutes to talk through, which at best leaves us time to agree what to do next, and for one of us to type up and share notes. It feels important to share the responsibility for documenting it, but it’s also something that’s hard to keep up. So we’ll see. My notes are almost always pretty cryptic.
Plus, if you’re a tiny bit evil, the Americanness of asking British people to start off with their strengths is ever so slightly funny. But, esteemed colleagues reading this: I’m not just doing it because I’m evil and mean (although I’m that too, ha).
It’s also just really helpful for people in tech and design jobs to be comfortable talking about what you do and what you’re good at, especially in organisations where your job title might be a bit unfamiliar.
Anyway, it reminds me of this brilliant article that I keep coming back to:
Good jobs used to be ones with a good salary, benefits, location, hours, boss, co-workers, and a clear path towards promotion. Now, a good job is one that prepares you for your next job, almost always with another company.
Oh, and it’s really fun to start seeing things like a design-inspo Slack channel start to form. I miss the one where David and I would nerd out about things that looked cool, and Boxall and I sending videos to each other. So this feels really nice and familiar. Has anyone used Flourish for data visualisations at all? We’re thinking of giving it a go, budget and infosec dependent.
Have also been encouraging a couple of members of the team to put together a Bill of Rights for how we work with people with lived experience of poverty. The excellent people of Simply Secure have a great example of one, and I’ve been admiring it from afar for a while. There’s an open source one, too.
Had a good chat with Richard, who is on the board of Transport API with Emer, about doing some work together for a couple of deep tech start ups. It’s not quite the right time before Christmas, but looking forward to checking in in the new year.
Oh, and I wrote a thing for Amy’s project this morning.
I’ve been writing explanations of what terms like CRMs and “End of Life” mean, and what that means in practice for organisations. I nicked the analogy of the Ship of Theseus from either Anna Shipman or Maggie Nelson for the End of Life one.
And then I tried to explain that a clunky CMS limits what you can achieve in a similar way to a hippo not being all that credible as a prima ballerina.
We’ll see how it lands.
Companies! Hire in-house tech-explainers
It remains weird to me that actual tech and design companies have such a limited view of how and where it’s useful to have writers around. So much of the explainer content on the internet isn’t all that accurate, or relevant to most situations you’d actually find yourself in.
I’m not saying that my explanations are especially good. (Though, look, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think they’re pretty good.) But I *am*saying that it’s weird that companies don’t bring in people to focus on this all the time.
It strikes me as pretty cheap due diligence, and could probably save a fortune in training and other problems that come from people knowing different things. An on-site tech explainer is as useful as a taster to the Emperor. But hopefully a job with better workplace security. But everyone squeals with pain at the thought of paying more for writers who are good at this sort of thing. Feels like it’s going to happen, though.
Come be a trustee!
Also had another Local Welcome board meeting this week, which Dr. Dittus described as a “moment of growth for the organisation”. When we started a couple of years ago, we’d have these day-long arguments and discussions. All that forming and storming stuff. Now we’re all grown up and have timeboxed conversations about hard stuff, disagree and then find a way out of it. We’re also looking for new Trustees. Please apply! And message me if you want to talk about it?
And seriously, if you’ve gotten this far, you have both the patience and indulgence for flights of fancy that we’re looking for. YOLO!
One of my sisters (same father, different mother) sent me this link to a trailer, with the words “Does this remind you of someone? 😉”.
And wow, though Bill Murray looks nothing at all like our father, it reminds me so much of him. He died a long time ago. It was nice to see some of that energy out in the world.