Monthly Archives: September 2012

On the casual workplace


Before I left my last job, I moved interstate and the company set up a local workplace in a serviced office. We had a room with four desks and a separate meeting room, hosted by one of the dominant providers. Simple and effective, but also spartan and completely soulless. While that certainly wasn’t why I left, the thought of working in that office for the foreseeable future wasn’t uplifting. At best, a spartan office encourages focus by lacking distractions, but, as humans, we like environments that reflect our personalities and perhaps even our imperfections.

Now take cafés. I love a good one. Not coincidentally, I find that 80% of my work meetings, both internal and external, take place over a coffee in a café. It removes some formality, which encourages more open discussion, and can build better relationships. Sometimes there are almost back-to-back coffees with people through a day. Over-caffeination is a real risk. I also find a cafe an excellent place to work solo, away from office interruptions, and I find my best creative or strategic thinking seems to come from such an environment.

So, the idea… a serviced office in a café. You turn up, maybe to a reserved table, and pay cover charge to the café, maybe $20 an hour. For that you get some decent wi-fi, access to a wireless printer, a power outlet for your laptop or phone charger, and a clean bathroom. The music is discreet, you order drinks and food separately, maybe to a minimum spend. Conduct your business, meet associates and customers, do your work, all in a relaxed environment and without the need to consistently pay your way with coffee and sandwiches. It’s not a substitute for a corporate office, but I suspect good enough for many, particularly solo workers or mobile sales reps.

Maybe it exists already, it’s just not here yet. Either way, I see opportunity.

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On The Lean Startup

Not long ago, I considered the “Lean Startup”
a bit of a fad, and author Eric Ries a poster boy of the deeply fashionable
IT startup movement. I’m cynically wary of populism and what the majority
wants so I stayed away. But recently facing the job market again has
encouraged me to think (yet again) about what I can and want to do, and the
book needed to be read, if for no other reason than for topical discussion
in networking coffees and interviews.

On a slightly less cynical note, I am indeed a long-standing if sometimes
cautious advocate of agile approaches to delivering software, and
enthusiastic about the extensions to lean, Kanban, and systems theory. But
I’m no spring chicken hotshot developer either, so my skills and experience
are best served in exploring the enterprise–software boundary, using my
diverse if not generalist technology experiences. Still, like many others,
I am intrigued and impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the (mostly
web 2.0) startup movement, so I made my A$9.99 Kindle purchase of “The Lean
Startup” and began.

The book has been on the one hand a resonant experience. The ideas have
reinforced my agile inclinations, even outside software, my engineering
mindset, and above all confirmed that we live in an uncertain world, where
any dogmatic view or strategy is suspicious until tested. And on the other
hand it has been a surprise because it speaks to me less about startups
than reigniting agility and innovation in existing enterprises of any size.
It’s about taking a more humble approach to markets and customers, and
elevating learning to a primary activity for everyone in an organisation.

For that reason, I’m recommending it to just about everyone I’ve talked to
lately in the IT business, as an approach to engaging both their customers
better, and also their own organisations and their colleagues. Like big-A
agile, it’s a framework of principles and suggestions, not a recipe, so it
needs individual thought and adaptation, but it’s been the most
thought-provoking book I’ve read all year.