Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Call to Unity and Difference Equity

Taking a look at the human development index, Belgium is a good country to live in. In 2007,  we were in a better position than 91.3% of the rest of the world. Even if our position has already been better, there is nothing we could complain about. Does it capture all our reality? Of course not. For the one who knows about our political situation, it is obvious that this index - which is barely a statistical tool based on some selected criteria - is loosing some information like political stability and/or discrimination mechanisms, whatever they be positive or negative. I'm ashamed, terrified and bewildered to see how much time politicians can spend to stigmatize some differences or minor facts instead of worrying about major issues of our society. And when I mention "our society", I really mean, by order, the World, then Europe and finally Belgium. While most of us agree, the world is now global, some - politicians included - forget to change their priorities and point of views to be able to govern sanely!
That's because of such a disappointment of our political tool that I decided to wrote a letter to almost all belgian media. I hope that this one won't be only a message in a bottle. Here is a transcription of it (French version, Flemish Version) :




Belgium, country where I happily grew up, born in Bruxelles from a mother of flemish origin and a walloon father. Belgium, having "Strength Through Unity" as its motto. Belgium, internationally recognized as the heart of Europe, representing the greatest adventure of international unification of History. Belgium, country of surrealism! While some are globally unifying themselves, others are locally quarreling, pushing to an unbelievable separation. Unbelievable?! No! Surrealist! The Heart of Europe split in two! Even Magritte had not thought about it : "This is not Belgium".


If Magritte invite us to the hypersensibility, I shall remember, it is just purely theoretic. Gentlemen politicians, it is yours, and not only to the King, to keep the unity of our Belgium we have entrusted to you. Universal suffrage is not a toy you can use and abuse without sanctions. You are responsible for this virtual border that has gradually turned unavoidable, representative of a symbolic segregation of some differences in our nation. Today, this segregation becomes more and more concrete. The announcement of this scheduled discrepancy by some lead us in a no through road. Surrealism is an entertaining mind game, it is not and never will be a political solution!


As in any conflict, the solution primarily lies in understanding each other. Nothing is more destructive nor negative that withdrawal and ignorance or rejection of the other. In our arsenal? An infinite number of actions, symbols of tolerance, understanding and cooperation, all we can execute in our everyday life to demonstrate that we did not yet come at a surreal impasse that some would like us to follow and that there is another path.


So today, I invite to cooperation of all national and regional media, Flemish and Walloon, to take a step toward understanding of each other, releasing a regular and at the same day - as  a symbol of our union - a topic related to the "other region" and translated in both languages, symbols of the acceptance of the differences of our nation. Hoping that one day, this won't no longer be considered a subject related to the "other region" but as a topic on our united country! And yes, when that day comes, we will happily exclaim "This is not a region!".




Kind Regards

Een oproep tot eenheid en verdraagzaamheid omtrent verschillen



België, land waar ik het geluk had te zijn opgegroeid, geboren uit een moeder met vlaamse voorouders en een franstalige vader. België, die “Eendracht maakt macht” als leus heeft. België, internationaal erkend als hart van Europa, vertegenwoordigster van het grootste avontuur van internationale eenheid uit de geschiedenis. België, land van surrealisme ! Terwijl men zich  enerzijds totaal verenigd, gaan de anderen lokaal gaan ruzie maken en een onbegrijpelijke scheiding gaan doordrukken. Onbegrijpelijk?! Neen! Surrealistisch ! Het Hart van Europa in twee gesplitst ! Zelfs Magritte had er niet aan gedacht : “Dit hier is geen België.”

Indien Magritte ons uitnodigt tot overgevoeligheid, moet ik eraan herinneren, dat dit slechts iets theoretisch is. Heren politici, het is aan u, en niet aan de koning alleen, om de eenheid te bewaren van ons België dat wij u toevertrouwd hebben. Het algemeen kiesrecht is geen speelgoed waar u zonder sancties kunt van gebruik maken of misbruiken. U bent verantwoordelijk voor deze virtuele grens die beetje bij beetje een onvermijdelijke wending heeft genomen, vertegenwoordigster van een symbolische scheiding van de verschillen van onze natie. Heden ten dage wordt deze scheiding telkens concreter. Het verkondigen van dit door sommigen geprogrammeerde gebrek aan overeenstemming leidt ons alleen naar een doodlopende weg. Het surrealisme is een spel van de vermakelijke geest. Het biedt geen, en zal ook nooit een politieke oplossing bieden!

Zoals bij elk conflict ligt de oplossing hoofdzakelijk in het begrijpen van de andere. Niets is meer negatief noch meer destructief als het in zichzelf gekeerd zijn en de onwetendheid of het verwerpen van de andere aan zijn zijde. Ons arsenaal? Een oneindig aantal acties, symbolen van verdraagzaamheid en begrip, die wij dagelijks kunnen realiseren om aan te tonen dat wij nog niet terecht gekomen zijn in de surrealistische patstelling die ons wordt voorgeschreven maar dat er een andere uitweg bestaat.

Het is daarom, vandaag, dat ik de medewerking vraag aan alle nederlandstalige en franstalige nationale of regionale media, om een stap te zetten naar het begrijpen van de andere, door het regelmatig en allen op dezelfde dag – als symbool van onze eendracht – een onderwerp in verband met de “andere regio” te publiceren, vertaald in beide talen, symbool van aanvaarding van de verschillen in onze natie. Hopend dat een dag dit niet meer zal gezien worden als een onderwerp dat alleen de “andere regio” aanbelangt maar als een onderwerp over ons verenigd land! En ja, dan, die dag gekomen, zullen we vrolijk kunnen uitroepen “Dit hier is geen regio!

Vriendelijke groeten.

Un Appel à l'Unité et l'Equité des Différences

Selon l'indice de dévelopement humain, la Belgique est un pays où il fait bon-vivre. En 2007, nous étions en meilleure position que 91,3% du reste de la planète. Même si notre position a déjà été meilleure, nous n'avons vraiment pas de quoi nous plaindre. Cela capture-t-il toute notre réalité? Il est évident que non. Pour celui qui connait la situation politique en Belgique, il est clair que cet indice - qui est un outil statistique se basant sur quelques critères sélectionnés - perd quelques informations notamment, stabilité politique et/ou mécanismes de discriminations, qu'elles soient positives ou négatives. Je suis honteux, terrifié et abasourdi de constater ô combien nos hommes politiques peuvent passer de temps à se tendre des embuches les uns les autres et stigmatiser certaines différences ou faits mineurs au lieu de s'occuper des problèmes majeurs de notre société. Et lorsque je fais mention à "notre société", je parle en ordre de priorité du Monde, ensuite de l'Europe et, finalement, de la Belgique. Alors que tout le monde s'accorde à dire que le monde s'est globalisé, certains - hommes politiques inclus - oublient de changer leur priorité et angle de vue pour pouvoir gouverner sainement!
C'est parce que j'ai une telle déception de notre organe politique, que j'ai décidé d'écrire une lettre au "courrier des lecteurs" de la majorité des médias belges. J'espère sincèrement que celle-ci ne sera pas qu'une bouteille jetée à la mer. En voici la retranscription (Nederlands versie, English Version):




Belgique, pays où j'ai grandi avec bonheur, né à Bruxelles d'une mère d'origine flamande et d'un père francophone. Belgique, ayant comme devise "L'union fait la force". Belgique, internationalement reconnue pour être le coeur de l'Europe, représentante de la plus grande aventure d'unité internationale de l'Histoire. Belgique, pays du surréalisme! Alors que les uns s'unissent globalement, les autres se querellent localement poussant à une séparation incompréhensible. Incompréhensible?! Non! Surréaliste! Le Coeur de l'Europe séparé en deux! Même Magritte n'y avait pas pensé : "Ceci n'est pas une Belgique."

Si Magritte nous invite à l'hypersensibilité, dois-je le rappeler, ceci n'est qu'une vue de l'esprit! Messieurs les hommes politiques, il est à vous, et non au Roi seul, de garder l'unité de notre Belgique que nous vous avons confiée. Le suffrage universel n'est pas un jouet dont vous pouvez disposer et abuser sans sanctions. Vous êtes responsables de cette frontière virtuelle qui peu à peu s'est vue incontournable, représentante d'une ségrégation symbolique des différences de notre nation. Aujourd'hui, cette ségrégation devient à chaque fois plus concrète. L'annonce de cette discordance programmée par certains nous mène dans une voie qui ne peut être que sans issue. Le surréalisme est un jeu de l'esprit divertissant, il n'est pas et ne sera jamais une solution politique!

Comme lors de tout conflit, la solution réside principalement dans la compréhension de l'autre. Rien n'est plus négatif ni destructif que le repli sur soi et l'ignorance ou le rejet de l'autre à ses côtés. Dans notre arsenal? Une infinité d'actions, symboles de tolérance, de compréhension et de coopération que tous nous pouvons exécuter au quotidien pour démontrer que nous ne sommes pas encore entrés dans l'impasse surréaliste qu'il nous est donné de suivre et qu'il existe un autre chemin.

C'est pourquoi, aujourd'hui, j'invite à la collaboration de tous les médias nationaux ou régionaux, flamands et francophones, à faire un pas vers la compréhension de l'autre, en publiant de manière régulière et tous le même jour - symbole de notre union - un sujet en relation à "l'autre région" et traduit dans les deux langues, symboles de l'acceptation des différences de notre nation. En espérant qu'un jour, ce ne soit plus considéré comme un sujet touchant à "l'autre région" mais comme un sujet sur notre pays uni! Et oui, alors, ce jour venu, nous pourrons nous écrier gaiement "Ceci n'est pas une région!".

Bien à  vous.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Economy Of Liars

Reading the article "An Economy of Liars" in the Wall Street Journal, I've been surprised by the fine analysis made by Gerald P. O'Driscoll Jr.

He's telling us that we're in a crony capitalism because government and business collude. Wow, what a surprise to hear that from someone having worked as VP of Citigroup and VP at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, isn't it? He argues that indeed Congress is charmed by lobbyists, experts backed by the industry, and so on... Plus, it seems that the regulators failed to see the obvious (Madoff and others). I would then wonder why this occured, but he's not really answering this point. He concludes that this scheme would be closer to Benito Mussolini than Adam Smith.

He then continues by a theoretical vision of how that should work (price system as information-transmission mechanism, honest pricing, ...) based on "Nobel laureate" Hayek's research. He states that communism failed because it did not rely on prices to allocate resources and that - roughly - this crisis could have been caused by the government because it controls 90% of housing finance. WTF?! Wow! Well done! Government is the bad guy having created the crisis because of some of their policies. That's a beautiful one! It means government is the culprit because some banks have created and sold toxic assets!

The conclusion is that we should return to free market by restoring truth-telling on markets. Of course! I'm ready! What a perfect world! Uh! But, just wait a minute ... Who was lying to us? Government? Who has created these toxic assets? WTF, Gerald! You therefore are continuing to lie to us?! I can't believe it ...

I have some questions for Gerald. Could you tell me why these lobbyists or experts exist? Or more accurately, what are the reasons behind their existence? What would your vision of the world change? Would it mean that if we were in your free market vision of the world, institutions would stop to cheat? Really?! Are you *really* selling us this idea? I mean ... *really, really*?

My man, you're just asking the wrong question! You can't rely on a perfect theory nor a perfect world. In practice, theory models are not correct and world is not simple!  The answer is not to tell us that financial won't never fail within this framework or another. They will fail! We are human! Then the real question to answer is "What are our best mechanisms to handle these financial institutions when they (will) come to fail?" Followed by an addendum describing "how smart these mechanisms are" and "what are their limits". Again, when governments are creating some laws telling humans they can't kill someone, they are also creating some institutions being able to catch/investigate the potential infringing cases. These are far from being perfect but who would tell seriously they should not exist?

I agree with you, bailing out these financial institutions should not have been done! This is the natural selection. But what consequences then? Tell me.
More, sanctions should not be something theoretic! Whatever the situation in which you are, people are infringing some rules - whatever they be laws or morale. If free market for you means that there is no way to sue some financial institutions, I would not like to live in the same world. Financial Institutions are already cheating with some regulations, imagine what mess it would be if they were no rule at all for them! Who is fool enough to let the world without any regulations? (to the exception of the ones who are already cheating right now of course ...)

Would free market solve the climate issue? Unemployment? WaterOil price? Or US wealth distribution?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Driving a Car in Porto Alegre is an Art

One thing you should know about driving in Porto Alegre is that roads belong to people, like if it was their kingdom. One different kingdom for each one on the road. It seems to have some kind of feudal rules applying and others present on the roads are seen like the villein.

What does that mean in practice?! For example, Friday morning, I was on the road guessing that I could, in my own right, continue straight my way, although suddenly one of these lords appeared from a road on the left and entered into this 3-way road like a missile and almost threw me away of the road. Fortunately enough, I was not checking the radio nor reading my emails on my iPhone nor twitting something and I've brake enough to avoid an embarrassing situation. I admit, I've tried to - as gently as I could at that time - tell the driver how I've been disappointed by his behavior. You know, the kind of names I can't mention here because I've not asked if you are above 18 years ... When I told you here above, that it seems that some feudal rules applies in Porto Alegre, it is because these kind of guys are not trying to excuse themselves. Why would they? They are the lords! And what is doing a lord with their villeins? Oh yeah, they're just telling them how much the villein was wrong and next time, they'll do exactly the same way!

Oh, I already see some telling me : "C'me on, it happens from time to time!" Of course, it might! Although, words do not relate the story so well as reality and the way it happened should already be a sign of complete inaptitude to drive a car but ... Problem is that these lords are everywhere in Porto Alegre.  I could have mentioned tenths of these stories where one lord is driving like a ... lord! And who will tell you how you, the villein, should have driven to let him reign on his kingdom quietly!


That's why, in Porto Alegre, it's an art of driving a car. Not the art of driving but the art of Zen. Indeed, you have to open your mind, meditate a bit, relax and above all, take a deep dive into philosophy of life.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My goal is already not sufficiently challenging anymore!

2010, year of all the challenges. I decided that, as I'm seriously thinking to build some kind of cloud, I would build one of around 100.000 servers. A challenging goal, isn't it? Well, at the time, I thought Google had 450.000 servers. Already lost a bit of sex appeal, isn't it? Though, it was yet a real challenge for ... a first step!

Well, after having read this, I have to admit it would be better to review my goal! Indeed Google probably owns more than 1.000.000 servers which is around 2% of all world servers. Gosh! My goal seems so ridiculous now!

What about having 1% of all world servers in let's say, 5-10 years! That's challenging, isn't it?

What a good S.M.A.R.T. goal! I've some doubt about the R meaning though ... hmm!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

About US Diplomacy (In-)Efficiency







A quick reaction on an another article in Newsweek, "Leaning on Lula", from James P. Rubin, who is "an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and an informal foreign policy advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. Having served in the State Department during the administration of President Bill Clinton, he became a Sky News television news journalist."


This article, way better than the one from Stefan Theil, is defending - in a very rough summary - the following thesis : if "International Atomic Energy Agency [which] made clear in its most recent report that Tehran still refuses to suspend its nuclear enrichment programs [...] and notes that there are substantial grounds to believe that Iran's program is intended to build a nuclear weapon" then "countries like Turkey and Brazil [...] should respond when a U.N. agency issues such a report."

Mr Rubin then continues with "if countries like Brazil want to play a more prominent role, then they have to shoulder the responsibility of upholding those rules. When the IAEA declares Iran is flouting those rules, responsible countries must respond and punish the rule breakers."

Seems obvious, isn't it? Though, I would say "What you have to understand is that there is a real world and an ideal world."isn't it Mr Rubin?

Of course from an ideal point of view, one might think such an argument could not be clearer and fair. Meanwhile, I would like to make people think about something.

We are living in a world of diversity. It has been thought for a long time capitalism and globalization would expand occidental values like democracy and liberalism to the rest of the world. It appears to be a naive view of how nations are reacting/behaving and negating identity differences from each other. A more real picture would be that each nation has its own culture and because of this, its own idea of how politics and commerce should be run whatever it be democratic or not and/or liberal or not.

BRIC is growing fast and raising their voices each time a bit more. Brazil, 10th economical power in the world, made it clear he wanted to be a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. From these two points, you can deduce that Brazil has its own view on how the world should be run and they would like to show how it could be done. Probably even more after Brazil easily overcome the global crisis despite the international specialists telling them they would be hit severely by the second wave like in a tsunami.

Of course, from an ideal point of view, the argumentation of Mr Rubin seems to be clear and fair. Indeed, if the IAEA responsible to warn U.N. who is wrong in every subject related to nuclear arsenal, then Brazil should listen to it without saying a word. However, it is without taking into account this new necessity to show the world how powerful they could be and even more without taking into account some details of what USA has done these last years.

Indeed, these last years USA has shown several times that he is going alone against International Community. At the U.N. Security Council, it has vetoed a lot more resolutions than any other 4 countries and last time they went to war against Iraq, it was also against what International Community was wishing with some slogans like, "you're with us or you're against us". Worst, it appears they lied and few are really convinced now - I hope none - it was a war against WMD. Guantánamo is of course, by no means a better picture of what USA is capable of. These kind of actions, taken into their context, is of course just throwing discredit to any US diplomat/journalist desiring now to give a  lesson of how others countries should react when U.N. reports something. And it appears to me that at a first sight, the article could appear to be fair. But, in fact, I've been in a position of rejecting the whole idea because of these actions taken by USA these last years. And unfortunately for the US diplomacy/journalism, I fear that I'm not alone and that there is probably no quick heal to this situation.

At last, Mr Rubin concludes with "Sometimes even friendly countries must understand that they will pay a price for defying the United States."

The conclusion Mr Robin is so clumsy. This last sentence is just showing the world how USA is aggressive when it comes to disagree with them. Why again playing the pitbull and remember to everyone that USA policy can be "you're with us or against us"? Besides of probably not being the most efficient way of negotiating something, I fear that this kind of strategy is not the one which will accelerate the healing process.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Europe attacking capitalism? Best joke of the year!




This week I read an article in the Newsweek from Stefan Theil, "The No-Growth Fantasy : Europe's attack on capitalism".

The thesis of the whole article is that because of some circumstances (worst economic crisis in 60 years, apocalyptic warnings of climate change and erosion of West's predominance) you get some "radical new ideas" - though not so new - and being stamped by the author as no-growther's one. He then spend the rest of the article to demonstrate these ideas make no sense and are the wrong path to take ("no-growth fantasy") or that's even an "attack on capitalism".

Let's take a look at what he tries to show/demonstrate.

First, to clarify, it is not because ideas are not new they are wrong. Like I already wrote in another post, historically, most of radical new political ideas took a long time - sometimes even more than 100 years - to reach a mature state and be well accepted by the population. By default, people - whatever they be politics or journalists - don't accept easily radical new ideas because it changes their comfort zone.

The background of the article is a rough summary of 3 "new" ideas, Britain and French political ones and a German book. Without agreeing with them, I would at least recognize that some people think about valid and serious issues and if I had to negate the correctness of these solutions, I would well prepare my arguments.

He admits these issues raised are valid like growth financed by unsustainable bubbles, resource depletion (food, oil) - so easy and basic questions to solve, right? - and GDP as a valid measure of human progress. For which latter, he admits there are not much more economists thinking GDP is a valid measure of the progress but on the other hand it has obviously not reached all the layers of the society otherwise it would not be an issue raised today, correct? Well, OK. We only stick with 2 issues out of 3 'cause the French idea makes sense since even "economists are the first to admit that GDP is at best a proxy for prosperity, not an end in itself". Why having taking time to mention French then?

He starts however his argumentation with a somewhat poor relation between these new ideas and predictions made by people (Thomas Malthus or Club of Rome) about some issues which have not occurred within the timeframe they warned it could occur. I don't understand why using this as an argument to demonstrate that the new ideas would be wrong because some other predictions have not occurred. It makes almost no sense. Even less when you know that the issuess raised by these predictions are still hanging out above our heads today!
When he comes to potential solutions, he simply mentions two points :
  1. these "no-growthers" would not take sufficiently into account technical evolution, environmental regulation, greater efficiency and behavioral change. What I would like to emphasize here is that if nobody is raising an issue, nothing will ever be done to try to change the situation. Plus, the issues we're talking about requires political regulations and time. These are not the kind of issues one can change alone, nor be solved from one day to another without any cooperation between nations. A good example is the Copenhagen conference for which results have been a global disappointment.
  2. Genetic engineering has also been mentioned. Well, yes, genetic engineering could help humankind to feed itself. Though, 'til now Monsanto has not convinced me it helped humanity in any way. But one day it might and I do bet it will be because some governments will regulate the way they'll have to do their job.
IOW, some unfounded criticism but no proposal of concrete solution for bubbles or resource depletion. Well, ok, let's continue maybe there are some later.

Next paragraph is probably my favorite. I learned that French president Nicolas Sarkozy would lead a european marxist movement. Would you expose that idea to any european that he could think you're trying to launch a new kind of one man show comedy. No, Stefan, seriously! I hope you're joking when you're trying to bind Sarkozy and Marxism in the same sentence, don't you? Oh but wait a minute, why do we speak about French again? Don't we have let them out of the game since they were right about the GDP? Oh nooo, Stefan is a man of suspense and surprise. Indeed, French people would be indoctrinated by a schoolbook because containing the sentence "economic growth imposes a hectic form of life that produces overwork, stress, nervous depression, cardiovascular disease, and cancer". Do you know how many students have read this schoolbook? It should be near from zero. Reading this kind of argumentation from someone writing articles in Newsweek is so disappointing. I really think it's at the same level of what has been related by Fox News about "indoctrination" of some children at school because they were "singing praises of President Obama".




He also raised an interesting affirmation which could be formulated like : "Do you really think this now famous sentence in French schoolbook about economic growth would not sound crazy to these 2.6 billion people living with less than US$2 per day?' Well, I'm living in Brazil for 3 years now and I have worked in some its slums, I know by experience, that people there are much closer to Marxist ideas than capitalist ones because they're living in a country with one of the highest GDP in the world though they're not seeing any practical improvements for them. Plus, helping one each other is something natural in their situations and nowadays, helping one each other is something closer to communism, right? :) Brazil is unfortunately a country where wealth redistribution is not working well. iow, capitalism promises are not working the way theory told us. To continue at the same level, I know people from Eastern European countries who would like to get back to communism era because their situations were better back then. Does that mean these people are right? Not sure. What I'm sure about is that it's not much more valid argument than the one from Stefan telling that because 2.6 billion of poor people might think economic growth might be positive for them that by induction the idea of capitalism can then not be improved. It's a lot of unfounded "might" to try to convince us that one idea could not be improved.

Whether the Britain or French government or the German book are right about the solutions they would put in place, I don't know. What I'm sure about is that they would not try to put in place a "no-growth" solution. If you're seriously believing it, you're completely missing the point. These 2 states because of some bad situations, created by faulty capitalist institutions and because economic development is limited, are trying to find out mechanisms to improve our system by defining some regulations - within capitalist framework - in order to reach a growth with sustainability and stability in mind! Selling us France and Britain are attacking capitalism?! Com'on Stefan! Who is foolish enough to buy that idea?!  


I've not read Benjamin Friedman's book, "Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" and I don't know if it's because the article's author oversimplifies his ideas but it does not take me 1 minute to know that economic growth is not equal to unlimited resources nor of intolerance and populism disappearance. Take a look at what happens in the USA right now with the health coverage system reform. Do you think that some of the well-educated Republicans are acting like if they were tolerant and not populist? Let me laugh (or in fact cry) once again. I would like to be in a world where people are tolerant and not populist, it seems we currently are not and it is independent from having growth or not.

BTW, while we're speaking about USA. I would not be surprised the author thinks USA is a good example of how capitalism should be driven. At least, "Europe Philosophy of Failure" let me guess it. The question is then : "Would I be proud to sell the benefits of economic growth of a country which has the highest rate of poor people of all developed country?". I won't even speak about health coverage system, I might be stamped of communist! I don't think it is really something faulty for others countries to have 1) their specificities because world is about diversity and 2) trying to avoid to make the same mistake others could make. Does that mean these countries are perfect? Of course not, nobody is and everybody should constantly learn from mistakes. Some should learn about humility.




Conclusion : not a clue of a solution about unsustainable bubbles, not even about rate of resource depletion, poor argumentation, generalization or statements coming from nowhere. Everything to make a "good" article. I do prefer and by large reading some articles with well built argumentation from Le Monde Diplomatique (also Stefan preference, right?) than that kind of article which just tries to demonstrate something so badly and without exposing decent arguments. Stefan, tell me if you need some contacts to program your next one man show. I would be your first fan!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Tweet on "Success"

I've read a tweet today which got my attention : "Sucesso? Entregue rápido e de forma frequente, receba feedback contínuo, mude a direção conforme a necessidade.E seja transparente."

An English version : "Success? Release quickly and frequently, receive continuously feedbacks, change the direction following the needs. And be transparent."


I know smart and experimented people will understand this sentence the right way. However, they probably already know these concepts. I then take as hypothesis that writing this sentence on Twitter has a purpose mainly for people not knowing it. In this case, I feel uncomfortable in the sense this sentence might be misinterpreted in so many ways. I would like then to clarify some implicit concepts behind the ones in the sentence : 

  1. Release quickly and frequently : 
    • you then adhere to incremental methodologies (like agile ones ... you don't?).
    • quickly :
      • does not mean that you should release something which does not bring anything valuable. 
      • advantage it allows you to receive feedbacks sooner
    • frequently :
      • does not mean releases are mandatory.
      • It means that you should release any added value stuffs of what you're working on frequently (time-to-market, feedbacks sap)
      • corollary, don't try to release frequently any bullshit ... it is just waste of time, money, etc...
      • added value is something which already answers some needs (see next point on following needs)
  2. receive continuously feedbacks means
    • exists at least one way to receive feedbacks (or if it is possible, asking for them pro-actively)
    • you take really these feedbacks into account
    • you take actions
  3. change the direction following the needs
    • means you know how to explicitly identify the needs at their roots!
    • for instance, for customers you need to measure what they need.
      • Avoid try to feel what they might like. Prefer being a scientist and discover/measure what are their needs. 
      • Avoid trying to artificially create some need and pushing it to them!
  4. Be transparent : from the communication, value and morale point of views.

Of course, all this could not be written in 140 characters ... but I thought it deserves a small post. (thoug this post is not meant to be exhaustive neither.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leading for Changes

World is so interesting. We can bet that the world is way better than let's say 50 years ago or even 20 years ago, right? Less dictators, more democracies, more freedom of speech (of course nobody says if there are more people to listen :)), huge number of technological innovations, more Free Software... OK, almost nobody cares about this last one. Though, everybody seems to agree that the world is moving (too?) fast, right? Right?

Jeez, am I the only one to think things are in fact moving slowly? After all, there are yet some dictators, freedom of speech issues, poverty (oh yeah, sorry, we don't really want to solve this one, right?). When I read "History of political ideas", it has been put so clearly how humans are slow to change their minds. One political idea might emerge at some time, being [strongly] rejected by people aware of this new idea, disappearing for a while - up to several decades - and then this idea may reappear, discussed and incorporated into this new society, 100 years or more after first appearance. Time might vary depending on the type of ideas emitted. I would love to see a graph which would be basically a distribution of the ideas along history for which time between emergence and implementation is X years. We could even differentiate idea with the categories defined for innovation, to know incremental, semi-radical and radical ideas. It would give us a better picture of how fast (occidental) politics is going! Better, we could define some S.M.A.R.T. metrics for our politics to check whether they are doing a good job! But I'm digressing ...

Of course, dissemination mechanisms of new ideas intervenes in the time spent between first appearance to implementation. With the arrival of global communications, human has been a lot more able to be aware of new ideas faster than before. I'm excited to see the impacts of this new communication era in let's say 20 or 30 years from now. I'm however somewhat not expecting radical changes about underlying human behavior. Plus, we all know that problem has shifted from being able to access knowledge to find out what knowledge is relevant.

At a really smaller scale, I've been confronted to some walls remembering me from time to time how some love their comfort zone and don't want any change in their life! Worst, some don't want to know new ideas exists! I don't know all the psychology theory behind this behavior but I though know it is there, inside us. I'm not entirely satisfied with the fear/anxiety thing. I suspect that intrinsic motivation plays a role in all this but that's another piece of the puzzle I would probably talk about in another post.

The book Fearless Change changed radically my vision of how things works. In fact, I first saw a Master Thesis presentation which subject is mainly based on this book. (Don't miss it if you understand portuguese.) Indeed, it showed me a categorization of who and how many of us are reluctant to change/new ideas :
  1. Innovator (2.5%)
  2. Early Adopters (13.5%)
  3. Early Majority (34%)
  4. Late Majority (34%)
  5. Laggard (16%)
In a very short and rough summary, it means that only 16% are happy when new ideas are presenting to them. The other 84% are reluctant at different degrees. How incredible is that? Everything became clearer after having read that. Yet more interesting is that the book provides a description of some key patterns for the powerless to be used during their quest to change the world.

I'm a passionate guy, I love what I'm working on. At 8 years old I started with Basica on a MSX a monster of 64K with no OS as we know it today, not even close to DOS. It was too much pain to load a game with this f**king tape recorder. But hey! At that time, it was fast. Uh? No, in fact, even back then it was awfully slow! Thinking a bit now, it might be because it was so slow to load the only (so basic) game that I started to write my first program.


Fortunately enough, I've not stopped after having learned my first language and even being kind of a dinosaur today, I try to continue to update myself about BCPs and new technologies. The fact of being passionate clearly gave me some energy others don't have.


Energy! Probably a key point in what people have when easily accepting change in their everyday life. Change is about energy. You know if you read some book about leading change, they will probably have a section about maintaining the momentum. And momentum is about energy, right? In fact, change is energy since the beginning. If we think about it, it is like entrepreneurship. You have something in mind and you must convince people that this idea is worth to be taken into consideration. IOW, you're running like a fool to show the world how your idea is great! Well that book will try to learn you how to run more efficiently! 


I've tried to change some stuffs in some companies, that's one of my characteristics. Be warned, it takes time. You know, the "Rome has not been built in a day" thing? It's even more true for the powerless. Strange, isn't it?


In a previous life, I tried to show how we could use some additional language, Python to name it, in a company paranoiac about scalability. The kind of company in which it is impossible to release a product without having thoroughly thought about scalability otherwise it does not even reach one second of life in production. You just hear BzzZZzzzzzz ... if you're lucky! Yes, that one kind of company.


Have you ever read Steve Yegge about an attempt to check whether they could try another language where he works? Here's an excerpt :

... You get lynched for trying to use a language that the other engineers don't know. Trust me. I've tried it. I don't know how many of you guys here have actually been out in the industry, but I was talking about this with my intern. I was, and I think you [(point to audience member)] said this in the beginning: this is 80% politics and 20% technology, right? You know.

And [my intern] is, like, "well I understand the argument" and I'm like "No, no, no! You've never been in a company where there's an engineer with a Computer Science degree and ten years of experience, an architect, who's in your face screaming at you, with spittle flying on you, because you suggested using, you know... D. Or Haskell. Or Lisp, or Erlang, or take your pick." ...


I  loved reading this because I've been in a very similar situation. Some people were really yelling at you in there! How can you dare think you could improve over than one decade of experience in this company?! That was more or less the message. In the case of Steve, he recognizes his company was right in maintaining a small set of languages for many reasons you can read in his post. In my case, we were basically using only one language in my team and I was trying to show that it was, first, possible and, second, worth using at least 2! If you want to know more about the reasons behind, you can read the slides of my presentation at Python Brasil [5].


When I started with this quest, I was unfortunately not aware of the fearless change and the patterns described, even if some are somewhat obvious. Let's see what happened during this long journey showing what patterns have been used. Everything started with a Python prototype [Just Do It] I wrote because of a C process which overnight had to service 10 times more users and it did not scale! This prototype worked so well, that it is now in production.


I spread the word around me [Evangelist, Personal Touch, Brown Bag(lunch time)]. Some liked the idea and had been impressed [Respected Techie] that some Python process might perform better than its C brother. But you know, for me, it had been like a bomb effect. Indeed, I had written 6 times less LoC, iow improved productivity, and this Python process had gone way better than previous C version. Well, something with a potential you know? But in fact, only a few people had been really impressed. Now, you know about the 84% reluctant to change, right? It gives you an idea. Even showing something worked has not been sufficient because it was one shot and not integrated with our internal systems (legacy and proprietary systems). 


OK, then I stopped and thought a bit [Time for Reflection] about what are the use cases where Python could be useful for the company and made a planning [Step by Step]. Based on that, I started again to work and made other show cases [Just Do It].


With time I convinced some others to spread the word too [Evangelist, Bridge-Builder]. And after more than one year, I thought it was time to inform a larger audience about the accomplished work. I made a first version of the presentation for my team. Not really good ... probably too techie. Only presenting the facts won't convince all. You need to persuade and persuasion is about feelings (kudos to fearless change author for this). I learned the hard way but hey! that's the best way to remember, right?


I made a flyer with a funny logo summarizing everything accomplished [In Your Space]. I put this flyer to communication walls and at my desk. I distributed to the people wanting to promote this idea. It's an efficient way of sharing the idea to the people who haven't heard yet about it and to maintain the idea present on a daily basis.


Before doing the presentation for the whole company, I've been talking with some of my detractors [Champion Skeptic], they are the most valuable source of information when you try to convince. Indeed, they will rise the facts/ideas you should defeat to convince people. Take every point and think about it and try to find the hole(s) in their reasoning. During one of these conversations, I even convinced a conservative manager that it was worth evaluating more thoroughly this idea [Local Sponsor]. I have to admit it has been a good jump forward in my quest.









At this point of the game, fame should come - otherwise there is probably something wrong -  and people should start speaking with you about this idea [Smell of Success]. It's a crucial time to further convince some or simply answer their doubts. You must be available for these people. They are making the first step to speak with you about your new idea, it's therefore crucial not to reject them else you might end with an adversary and potentially a fierce one.


Afterwards, an official Python User Group [Study Group, Ask for Help, Involve Everyone] has been created inside the company with its own maling-list. It helps to centralized everything related to this change and giving opportunity to everyone to be involved in the whole continuation of the process.

I left the company a bit after this idea having won popularity inside the whole company. Appearing at this time was the [Right Time] because there were some VPs asking whether we could improve our way to deliver faster product to the market (time-to-market).

Well, dear reader. How much time do you think I've spent in this process? The whole process 'til the moment I left this company almost took one year and a half. And it is not yet finished. Most of the metrics derived from my initial plan have been reached but not all though. How much energy do you think I spent? Too much too count ... but it was so good! I felt so well in this Evangelist position and trying to show the world one idea was worth being taken into account!

I have to admit that after having left the company, I was wondering whether this idea would continue in the company. I spoke several times with some convinced people and they told me that they were continuing the quest and the idea was pushed further. That's probably the greatest news of all this : knowing this idea/change has its own life now. I would like to give my congrats to Ruda Moura and Ricardão because they've been both Evangelists, believing in this idea almost since the start and they continue to work hard to [sustain the momentum].

Of course, afterwards, moreover after having learned about these patterns, I would do some things slightly differently. For example, I would probably involve more people or speak with detractors sooner. But all in all, it has been a real satisfying experience. And for sure, I won't change and will take on every challenges which I'm believing in. This time, having read the right book, I would probably run more efficiently


Now I hope, you'll try to run - efficiently - as well and maybe lead some bigger changes. You know the sentence "Another World is Possible" ? You should!


Cheers!