Archive for the ‘random thoughts’ Category

Agile Creative Teamwork at Trojan Horse was a Unicorn 2016

Trojan Horse was a unicorn colabs, THU Colabs
For this years THU you could sign up for an experiment called Colabs. I was lucky enough to be one of the 40 attendees participating in this agile creative experiment.

Team building

First the Colab members have been grouped randomly into teams of eight people each. Every team was then assigned two media industry veterans, who would be coaching the team. There was no formal hierarchy or strict role assignment apart from this. The only objective for the teams was to create an idea for a media product and actually pitch it to the rest of the Colab members in the end.

Hm … where did you hear that before?

If you have any experience with agile software development this will already sound familiar. Even if the roles of scrum master and product owner weren’t formally defined. The main focus of the two veterans was to herd the team into a direction and ease the decision making during the project – thus optimising the process and increasing the probability of a successful outcome.

Possible Improvements

During the project the following points struck me to be valid targets for improvements, in case the colabs return next year:

  • A team size of eight creates a lot of discussion overhead. A smaller team might work more efficiently.
  • Choose an odd number as team size. This way it would be easier to simply cast a vote when making decisions, since you will never run into a draw this way.
  • Having the project work time in the morning hours of every day of the THU event lead to many members rather working on the project than actually attending the THU talks in the afternoon. It would be better to have the colabs en bloc upfront before the main event.
  • Considering the actual creative work the hardest part was to agree upon a story. Maybe that should be part of a brief, if the colabs are to be repeated next year.

Apart from these points I really enjoyed the experience. I was actually wondering for some time before THU 2016 if an agile framework can work at all in a purely creative work environment. The colabs at THU proofed that point.

P.S.: I wonder if the THU playground will have an agile structure once it is up an running.

How to Create a Creative Environment

Creative Environment, painting by Ingmar DrewingThis is a follow up-post to my trance-and-creativity-post and a collection of links to articles and papers about creativity that might be useful when designing a creative environment.

I always loved the night …

There is a study from 2013 by Steidle and Werth about the influence of light on creativity. The authors found that “dim illumination and priming darkness improve creative performance”. According to them that’s because “perceived freedom and creativity supportive processing Read the rest of this entry »

Aquitaine

I’ve been visiting France lately. And as travelling often opens the path to a epiphany, this journey also did: I am living in the wrong country …

Soulac

Two main features here: beaches and bunkers. Actually World-War-II-bunkers at the beaches, being extensively used by graffiti artists:

Soulac-sur-mer bunker graffitiSoulac-sur-mer bunker graffitiSoulac-sur-mer bunker graffitiSoulac-sur-mer block haus - bunkerSoulac-sur-mer, bunker, graffitiSoulac-sur-mer, bunker, graffitiSoulac-sur-mer, bunker, graffiti, block hausSoulac-sur-mer, bunker, fort des arros, graffiti

Some bunkers are already taken by the sea, like this one here. There is a bit of an unreal air to the scenery, if you ask me: the ocean as as symbol of the unconscious swallowing the remains of the worst collective outbreak of the it:
Soulac-sur-mer sunken bunker

And I don’t really know what this rail track was for, but now it has quite a symbolic weight:
Soulac-sur-mer, rail track into the sea

But we also have a lot of beautiful beaches without bunkers or other traces of martial world history, though you do see that the ocean is eating away at the coastline everywhere:

Soulac-sur-mer, beach, eveningSoulac-sur-mer, beach ameliéSoulac-sur-mer, beach ameliéSoulac-sur-mer, beachSoulac-sur-mehr, beach

I guess pano style photography is better suited for the landscape:
soulac-sur-mer, dunes
Soulac-sur-mer, beach pano

Bordeaux

A really beautiful city with an incredible variety of little shops and book stores and (most important) at least two comic shops. If you’re coming from a developing country in terms of comics like I do (Germany), France is really a revelation: A whole society with a vivid visual culture!
And the architecture is also stunning:

Bordeaux, ArchitectureBordeaux, architectureBordeaux, architecture, city, small streetBordeaux, architectureBordeaux, architecture

I’ve actually seen people spontaneously starting to dance to the music of a street musician there.
And when it comes to to a bit of architecture which hasn’t been that well attended to it’s provoking artistic expressions (yes, these are artificial bracket fungi):

Bordeaux, architecture, Bracket fungus (artificial)

And then there is this beautiful park:
Bordeaux, park

And in the train station (in Paris as well as in Bordeaux) you see these pianos standing around. The SNCF invites anybody to play, if he or she wants to. And people actually do this! I’ve heard several people playing while waiting for my train:
Bordeaux, SNCF, Piano

Castingfehler

Seit etwas über drei Jahren bin ich bei einem Arbeitgeber angestellt, der naiv genug ist die agilen Werte realwirtschaftlich umzusetzen. Vermutlich hat den Seiberts einfach nie jemand erzählt, dass das neoliberale Propagandalügen sind, die für die Akzeptanz bei den ArbeitNEHMERN gedacht sind.

Jedenfalls hat die Situation für mich den Vorteil, dass ich nebenher zwei Lehraufträge an zwei unterschiedlichen Hochschulen im derzeit laufenden Semester annehmen und weiteren (un-)sinnstiftenden Tätigkeiten nachgehen kann.

Aus der Warte des Storytellings gesehen, war ich daher etwas verblüfft, dass der Spiegel ausgerechnet die Seiberts für die Rolle des kontrollwahnsinnigen Sklaventreibers 2.0 nimmt: Wer würde Darth Vader mit Woody Allen besetzen?

Ernsthaft: Meine Kollegen und ich haben unbefristete Arbeitsverträge, können kommen und gehen wann es uns passt und haben eine erfreulich schlipsträgerfreie Zone um unseren Arbeitsplatz.

Gibt es also doch ein richtiges Leben im falschen?

Sagen des klassischen Managements
Schaut man sich die Erfolgsquote von Softwareprojekten an, so kann man auf die Idee kommen, dass dieser Bereich der wirtschaftlichen Realität irgendwie defekt ist. Kernel panic sozusagen, oder besser: Blue Screen.

Um die Gründe für diese Seltsamkeit nachzuvollziehen, versetzen Sie sich am besten mental zurück in Ihre Schulzeit, Mathematikunterricht:

Szenario A:
Sie müssen einen mathematischen Beweis führen. Der Lehrer stellt sich neben ihren Schreibtisch und schreit fortwährend aufbauende Dinge wie: “Schneller, du Null! Wer hat dich überhaupt auf’s Gymnasium gelassen?”

Szenario B:
Sie müssen auch hier einen mathematischen Beweis führen, allerdings dürfen Sie mit Ihren Mitschülern sprechen. Zudem hält sich Ihr Lehrer zurück und antwortet freundlich auf Fragen, wenn Sie sie an ihn richten.

Nun übertragen Sie das in die Softwareproduktion, wobei A dem klassischen Management und B dem agilen Ansatz entspricht. Unter welchen Bedingungen entstehen wohl die besseren Ergebnisse?

Genau.

Menschenwürdige Beschäftigungsverhältnisse im Bereich der agilen Softwareentwicklung sind nicht durch Nächstenliebe motiviert. Sie sind vielmehr eine, wenn auch aus Sicht des Arbeitnehmers sehr willkommene, Nebenwirkung.

Die berufliche Tätigkeit in diesem Bereich ist nicht nur sehr abstrakt und formal logisch fordernd. Sie ist zudem auch in vielen Fällen auf ein bestimmtes technisch/fachliches Umfeld (a.k.a. IT-Landschaft) speziell zugeschnitten. Der Softwareentwickler wird durch den Code, dessen Funktionsweise er und nur wenige andere Entwickler kennen, deutlich schwerer ersetzbar.

Meine finstere Vergangenheit …

Nun habe ich vor meiner Anstellung als Softwareentwickler bei //SEIBERT/MEDIA einen andern Beruf ausgeübt.
Nach meinem Diplom 2004 war ich sieben Jahre freiberuflich als Designer tätig. Die Arbeitsrealität im Medienbereich, so wie sie sich mir zeigte, hat nichts mit den Bedingungen in der Softwareentwicklung zu tun. Gestaltung wird meist als abgeschlossene Einzelleistungen beauftragt. Das macht Arbeit- wie Auftragnehmer in Gestaltung und Werbung leicht austauschbar.
Das Resultat: Während man als „IT-Professional“ sozusagen in Schweden lebt, fühlt man sich als Designer in sehr, sehr vielen Fällen als sei man in Nordkorea beheimatet (nur dass man als selbstständiger Designer weniger Freiheiten hat).

Vor diesem Hintergrund scheint mir der Artikel des Spiegels die falsche Branche und ganz sicher das falsche Beispiel herausgepickt zu haben.

Advertising …

DevAbo.de Skyscraper Ad #1

… can actually be fun.
If it’s your own product, that is.

Right now I am experimenting with Google Analytics (the real-time feature is seriously cool) in conjunction with AdWords and projectwonderful.com, with the latter being a lot more convenient than AdWords (though it’s also an auction-based pricing algorithm). Plus it’s big in online comics anyway.

Speaking of which I added DevAbo.de to some more web comic indices. belfrycomics.net had a pretty big impact through their “new comics” category. And I found some readers on piperka.net, which led me to place the banner there (yes, the one on the left – right now having a ctr of 2%).

Ah, and if you want to do me a favour: could you vote for my webcomic on topwebcomics.com? Thaaaaanks! 😀

Webcomics: Fact and Fiction

You can find the slides for my session at the BarCamp RheinMain 2013 here (German only):
Webcomics: Fact and Fiction – Session für das BarCamp RheinMain 2013 (Dieburg)

Meme Spreading And Uncertainty Avoidance

I recently read “Why Being Certain Means Being Wrong” (a brillant blogpost by Ted Cadsby) and started to wonder how the urge to avoid uncertainty influences communication and meme replication.

Once the mental wave function of uncertainty collapses the person who made the decision will likely explain his choice to himself (these rationalisations are made up ex post) and perhaps talk to his friends about it, i.e. he creates a meme about his decision.

If we assume a larger group of people facing the same uncertainty concerning some relevant issue, I’d guess that the meme which reduces the uncertainty most effectively will spread fastest und widest within the group.

IQ-Test

Student corresponds to lecturer, as sheep to …

a) … wolf
b) … dog
c) … shepherd
d) … wool
e) … butcher

Please write a comment on this post with the solution of your choice, if you want to take the test 😉

Drawing Portraits: When Meaning Hinders Accomplishment

Having almost completed lecturing this term, I am right now very aware of the troubles the beginners in portrait drawing are facing.

Since the class consists of design freshmen at the University of Applied Sciences Wiesbaden, there are some participants who haven’t been drawing portraits before. Ever.

The resulting drawings are reminding of hieroglyphs – the beginners are rather writing than drawing the image or, semiotically speaking, they are creating symbols, not icons.

Psychologically this “automatic” abstraction is totally healthy and necessary for survival: imagine one of our ancestors in the wild facing a predator, e. g. a lion. Stopping and examining the way the sun illuminates the beautiful fur of the feline beast might not have been the most successful strategy for survival. Instead interpreting the given situation contextually like “this cat is going to eat me, so I’ll better run like hell” is more likely to be favoured by evolution.

Luckily my students are having a fairly low percentage of maneaters in their neighbourhood, thus I may lead them safely back down to the formal level without getting sued 😉

Random Thoughts On The Value Of Skills

While preparing the lectures for the current term, I came to think of the economic value of different skills.

The first question to answer would be “how to measure the value of a skill?”. Possible criteria could be:

  • economic relevance (does it help to sell my service or product?)
  • lifetime of relevance (will it be outdated tomorrow or will it still feed me when I am 64?)
  • age of the user (can I reach a usefull level of aptitude within the time I’ve left to live and if so: will the time left after acquiring this level be worth the effort?)

Though the majority of the economic relevant skills are certainly subject to specialication, there are obviously some skills of general relevance. Among these are, in my opinion:

  1. Arithmetics
  2. Foreign Languages
  3. Computerskills
  4. Presentation
  5. Negotiation

I’ll regard point 1 as agreed upon, since anyone not able to calculate properly will have a really bad time living in any society that has already invented money.

Point 2 is a bit less self-evident than it appears at first glance. A network effect seems to apply to languages, though with an economic twist. The more people speaking a certain language the more useful it is … right? Does anybody here speak ancient Greek? 😉

Seriously: this would render Latin and ancient Greek useless, but for some professions (or anyone pursuing a humanistic approach to education) these languages are still highly relevant. And a language spoken by a lot of (living) people doesn’t need to be automatically valuable to everybody, since this depends on the languages spoken by his or her business contacts.

As far as I am concerned the next point is ambivalent. A profession, which has really nothing to do with computers, is rather seldom nowadays. Yet, the problem with a lot of computer-related skills is: they are becoming useless breathtakingly fast.

As long as one stays in userland (read: is dependend on ready made applications) the changes within a new version of an application will almost always wield a bunch of rather unpleasant surprises: menuitems aren’t where they were in the earlier version, hotkeys have changed (especially nasty if no external, transferable config file exists), interoperability with other programs or operating systems (!) are not yet sufficiently testet and the resulting incompatibilities lead to crashes … I assume we all know the tragedy.

On the other hand, if you invested some time in the 70ies learning the C programming language, you are still able to use this knowledge to your advance. While the language itself has developed throughout the years, the concepts and syntax have been adopted by a lot of newer languages . And if you invested the time to learn object oriented programming (okay, C++) and mayhaps delved into design patterns, you’ll very likely have found these to be even more useful – since these principles are applicable to a whole class of languages (anything OOP).

This leads to the following assumption: if a skill is of a very abstract nature, it’s likely that it will keep on being useful for a long time.

Still, the points left on the list are more concrete in nature. Presentational skill, i. e. being able to copy information from one brain to several others (plus a lot of watzlawickian interaction), is rather concrete or even artistic (btw.: have you seen Steve Jobs presenting the iPhone? Amazing!) and anyone who tried to negotiate with a really tough business-man will tell you that abstract thinking has very little to do with the way of the world.

What do you think on the matter?