Reading For Success: Recognizing What Matters

We made it back to Friday! Congratulations for all you accomplished over the last 5 days. (7 days if you’re a weekend warrior.) We have all experienced things this last week that have shaped us and made us more unique. We’ve learned things, we’ve probably failed at things, and we’ve hopefully grown and improved in our growth as individuals. Quick question, can you identify anything specific you learned? Can you identify any particular moments that jump out at you as memorable? Lastly, have you found any way to grow as a result of the world’s new powers?

(I bet you found the last one to be a bit harder to discern what I mean, but hopefully by the end of this post it will make more sense.) This is the next post in our Reading For Success series which I run every Friday. (You can read last week’s post here, and keep following the trail backwards if you like.) Let’s dig into the posts this week and see what we can learn. What’s the common concept threaded throughout these three books?

Common Concept: There are certain moments which stand out as unique in our lives, they impact our thinking and they cause us to change our minds about something, usually driven by some powerful current in today’s technologically-advanced society.

Look at that, this week I gave you the common concept up front! Let’s now look at how I came to this concept through the books read this week.

The Power of Moments

powerful moments and how they impact usThe first book I read this week entitled, The Power of Moments, by Chip & Dan Heath discusses the idea of defining moments, how to recognize them, identify them, and in a business perspective attempt to create them. The authors use some fantastic story-telling to convey their ideas about moments. To begin with here is their definition of a defining moment:

“For the sake of this book, a defining moment is a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful.” – The Power Of Moments

Throughout the book we explore the foundational 4 elements identified in a defining moment: ElevationInsightPride, and Connection. Every defining moments consists of one more of these elements. Here’s a very brief synopsis of each:

  • Elevation: Defining moments transcend normal events; they are in some form or fashion “extraordinary” in the truest sense of the word.
  • Insight: These moments make us “re-think” our situations or see ourselves and the world differently. That “spark” or “aha” moment.
  • Pride: Defining moments are those times when we are personally proud of an accomplishment or achievement. When we exhibit our ideal character.
  • Connection: Lastly, defining moments are frequently tied to social events or occurrences. They involve others and the relationships we share with them.

These defining moments are not completely serendipitous and with a proper definition and understanding of the recipe and its ingredients it is possible to carefully craft a defining moment. The authors give true stories and real life examples to help enforce each of their points above (both positively and negatively). Overall I found the book to be easy to read and created a defining moment for me (as I assume was the intent).

How to Change Your Mind

The idea of changing your mind and depressionThe second book for this week was one that I wasn’t immediately drawn to but felt that even faced with the lack of some visceral positive reaction it would be a good “stretch” book for me personally. I’m glad I did. Although perhaps not immediately apparent the core focus of this book will challenge your thinking and encourage you to re-think (or evaluate) your basis for beliefs.

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan doesn’t have the type of title that just immediately grabs you. In fact, it feels a bit like the author has thrown as many buzzwords as possible into the subtitle for the sake of Amazon search optimization. Regardless, after reading this book I found there were several fascinating thoughts I was able to take away.

The author discusses the use of psychedelics, the misnomers and myths spread about its usage and the resulting mistrust in any useful clinical or medicinal benefits (partly held to this incorrect view of the subject).

Through detailed interviews with scientists focused on revisiting the potential values of psychedelics as a form of therapy for a variety of mental illnesses the case is presented to be entirely possible to reset the mind, and change the way we see the world. Most importantly Pollan challenges himself throughout the book to not make assumptions without facts and to use science to properly set a worldview and to formulate an opinion. Lastly, he encourages the reader to be open-minded about the possibilities of changing your mind.

Changes to consciousness and behavior based on the manipulation and transformation of molecules is possible and understanding this relationship dynamic can teach us about our minds and ultimately how we change our thinking.

Takeaway: After several decades of suppression and neglect, psychedelics are having a renaissance. A new generation of scientists, many of them inspired by their own personal experience of the compounds, are testing their potential to heal mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction. Other scientists are using psychedelics in conjunction with new brain-imaging tools to explore the links between brain and mind, hoping to unravel some of the mysteries of consciousness.
How to Change Your Mind

New Power

living in a hyperconnected worldThe third and final book for this week is entitled New PowerHow Power Works in Our Hyperconnected world – and How to Make it Work for You. This book was endorsed by some incredible entrepreneurs and society leaders. To be perfectly honest, it was the foreword by Richard Branson which convinced me to read this one.

As always, we should start with a bit of a definition, the authors define “Old Power” and “New Power” as follows:

  • Old power works like a currency . It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.
  • New power operates differently, like a current . It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

Throughout the book the authors then proceed to offer example after example of successes and failures related to these two approaches to business as well as community. They don’t advocate entirely for one approach over the other which is a welcome acknowledgement that one-size doesn’t fit all.

Connectors, Crowds, Castles, Cheerleaders

Sometimes a picture (or chart) helps to understand and define things so I’ll share two graphics from the book which might lend some aid in forming an understanding of the topics in this book. This matrix-style approach above is carried throughout the book with a variety of axes. Another style of chart employed frequently throughout this book is a comparison graphic as seen below:

Understand old power vs new power

Ultimately I found this book to be an easy one to read and a very insightful one as well. I’d recommend this book for everyone in management either in a business or in a community. The insights and takeaways are invaluable in learning how to better empower and organize people around an idea and use the thinking and culture of today to carry a movement.

Bringing it all together

I’m always surprised (I know you’ve heard me say that before) how different books which come from completely different sources tend to find a way of working together to help inform my thinking on a particular topic. This week was no different, from a personal study on an individual leading to a book recommendation by Richard Branson, to the well-timed article on Harvard Business Review, to yet another New York Times Best Seller. Inspiration is all around us. 

Serendipity is not as happenstance as one might expect, and all it takes is a little thought, a little careful attention to detail, and a little curiosity to explore the world around us with a desire to learn.

Thursday Thinkers: J.C.R. Licklider

This is the inaugural post for a weekly recurring series I’m starting called Thursday Thinkers. The purpose of this particular series will be to draw out and highlight individuals throughout history that have contributed amazing things to the furthering of our world (usually through math, sciences, technology, but don’t hold me to that.)

In particular I hope to focus on individuals that many might not be familiar with. The hidden or perhaps forgotten thinkers of our past which have impacted our lives in tremendous ways. For those that love history, this should be a wonderful series for you. For those who love “knowing things” (you know who you are) I hope you’ll find these posts filled with useful fodder for your next round of trivia. For everyone else, keep reading, I’m sure you’ll find something you appreciate.

Without any further introduction, let’s jump right into our first Thursday Thinkers individual profile:

JCR Licklider and the Human Brain Interface

J.C.R. Licklider (1915-1990)

The American computer scientist and psychologist was informally known to most as simply “Lick” an affectionate nickname given to him by his colleagues and friends. He also has another nickname which you may hear dropped in conversation by those who are more familiar with his work and his many contributions to modern computing. To these individuals he’s also been called “Computing’s Johnny Appleseed”. This particular moniker is a fair appellation due to the strong and prolific work he did in establishing the basis for information technology.

Lick’s illustrious and comprehensive contributions

Many would consider Lick to be an ‘ideas’ guy. Though he was not directly responsible for contributing to the creation of the internet or furthering its development, his many ideas served as the basis on which much of modern personal computers and the internet were built. He was critically important to the funding and managing of research related to interactive computing and the relationship between humans and computers. The most well-known result of this came by the work of Douglas Engelbart who created the system where the computer mouse was invented.

In addition to this, Lick also played a vital role as the director of ARPAwhich most will recognize by it’s more modern name DARPA, or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. One of his major achievements during this phase was the funding of Project MAC (a mainframe computer sharing resources to up to 30 simultaneous users sitting at different “terminals”)

But his work didn’t stop there, he continued to think about and fund the furtherance of this project as it evolved into ARPAnet, and in 1962 he postulated the earliest ideas of a global computer network. This memo entitled, “Intergalactic Computer Network” described in detail almost every aspect of the internet today, including the theory of cloud computing. 

Whew, what a list, and I only picked up a few of the highlights! Clearly the work of JCR has impacted our world in a positive way. But there’s one area that I only briefly mentioned earlier that I would like to return to quickly.

The human-computer relationship

Did you notice the bold sentence in the paragraph above? The concept of the relationship between humans and computers. Today, we are more familiar with this language if we use the more common vernacular, artificial intelligence. That’s right, Lick predicted very early on the incredible importance and role this would play in the future of our world. But he didn’t stop there. In his paper, “Man-Computer Symbiosis” he digs into this concept into much greater depth and if you are so inclined I would definitely recommend reading this fantastic research paper.

Side note: I found this to be the “aha” moment for me while researching and studying Mr. Licklider and his work. It’s easy to be enamored with modern theorists and vocal entrepreneurs (e.g. Elon Musk) who vocalize their thoughts and opinions on the future of artificial intelligence. I believe it is of equal importance to recognize the historical work and prophetic work of these early visionaries.

Lick described the concept of a brain machine interface. Rather than the notion of a disparate robotic intelligence which would compete with humans in the future, Lick focused on the possibilities of a brain machine interface (a hybrid human-ai). This is the same thinking shared by companies such as NeuraLink and others working today in this exciting forefront of artificial intelligence.

I share the views put forth by Licklider (and by extension Musk) when he describes this symbiotic relationship as the next step in our digital frontier. Here is a brief summary:

“Man-computer symbiosis is an expected development in cooperative interaction between men and electronic computers. It will involve very close coupling between the human and the electronic members of the partnership. The main aims are 1) to let computers facilitate formulative thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and 2) to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs. In the anticipated symbiotic partnership, men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking. Preliminary analyses indicate that the symbiotic partnership will perform intellectual operations much more effectively than man alone can perform them. Prerequisites for the achievement of the effective, cooperative association include developments in computer time sharing, in memory components, in memory organization, in programming languages, and in input and output equipment.”
– J.C.R. Licklider

Lick’s visionary auguration

The absolutely mind-blowing part of this summary is not Lick’s view or method by which the two systems would collaborate (as astonishing as that might be.). No, the truly spectacular aspect lies in the fact that J.C.R. Licklider made these statements in 1960.

For these reasons I could not think of a better first individual to commence our Thursday Thinkers series. I hope you have enjoyed learning more about this revolutionary individual. Mr. Licklider was clearly a thinker. And we are forever changed as a result.

Apples, Oranges, and Communities

“You’re only focused on the developers.” The comment stung but only for a second. I was deep in conversation with a few Mauticians when this supposed truth bomb was dropped in my lap. But rather than devastating me, or causing me to explode in a defensive nature, I let the comment soak in. I rolled it over in my head and attempted to evaluate the truthiness of the words. Here are the conclusions I came to as a result.

What am I focusing on?

I appreciated this reminder about how vitally important it is to focus on the many different type of community member. In other words, not everyone is a developer. I’ve been working in communities and developing communities for the better part of the last decade. And still, still I struggle with remembering this valuable fact.

I’m an engineer at heart. I love creating beautiful code and I love creating process. I love the ability to create order from chaos. Or create functionality from nothing. In addition to just the code I am hyper-focused on the presentation. I’ve written about the topic of UI/UX frequently on my blog (Most recently I wrote about the concept of UX writing). So, code + design are always the first and foremost on my mind.

I’m sharing things about myself in order for you to have a better understanding of what comes naturally simply by default for me. In this situation these are the things which influence my responses and my “top-of-mind” areas of focus when considering community and community growth. I would suspect you are each similar to me as well, albeit with different focus items.

This is the reason why the comment which turned it into a conversation was so important to me. The statement made me look inward and evaluate how I was doing as a Mautic community leader and how the Mautic community was growing. Were there areas in our community being neglected? Were we as a community overlooking valuable contributors and passionate volunteers simply because they didn’t look like everyone else?

And all of that brings me to my somewhat unusual blog post title. I always hesitate to share common idioms in an effort to not bore you with something I assume you already know. However I’ve found there are usually one or two who appreciate the quick response of something they remember only vaguely.

Why are we talking about fruit?

The phrase I refer to in my title says, “Like comparing apples and oranges.” This classic phrase is usually called upon when someone is attempting to compare two items which are clearly different. The point being that the person making this comparison is neglecting or overlooking the rather obvious fact that at the most basest of levels the two items are simply incomparable.

And of course the final item in the title refers to our communities we live and work in. Comparing community members or making the base assumption that every community member looks the same (aka has the same skills and talents and focus) is just as flawed as fruit comparisons.

How does a community grow?

When we reevaluate our thinking about our community and we look with a fresh focus on the diversity found in skills, talents, and abilities we see something more than differences – we see strengths.

These strengths, these unique qualities, when they are recognized and encouraged, result in community growth. And this little secret is what everyone is seeking in community growth hacking. A community typically forms around a common set of shared values (Seth Godin’s Tribe mentality). When we recognize this foundation then we can turn our focus to our differences.

Reference: Tribes and the reality of the worldview.

Why are differences so important?

The previous paragraph leads me to ask this next question. Do differences actually make us stronger and help us grow faster? Isn’t the opposite view, of a unified approach, better and more productive? The seeming contradiction however ignores the fact of a strong shared foundation of values. There is a basis of unified beliefs and a shared vision (this is the why of the community). The differences are the unique additional qualities of each person. And here’s the reason it matters, wrapped up in a biblical expression:

“If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing.”
— 1 Corinthians 12:17 (CEV)

Simply put, if everyone is the same (an eye) in a community (body) then there are all sorts of things (the act of smelling) which cannot be done. In other words, we lose out on incredible and valuable functionality. This implies therefore the inverse is an increase in functionality. Our differences make us stronger.

Mautic celebrates differences

The conclusion of my short mental journey down this path was a realization of two facts. First, Mautic is an incredibly diverse and unique community. We share a common set of beliefs and goals, but beyond that we each have unique talents and abilities. Mautic as a community embraces those differences. Second, while I was reassured after this mental exercise I was not neglecting any particular subset of our outstanding community, I was thankful for the opportunity to review my actions and motives.

If I could leave you with a word of encouragement as you are in a community (or possibly building a community) – consider your differences. Seek to support, encourage, and empower volunteers by highlighting their strengths. Do this and I guarantee you – you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to hack your community growth.

My Favorite Netflix Open Source Code

We’re kicking off Tech Tuesday with this post! I will probably post code discussion (I had a second post I wanted to share but is 2 just simply too many for one day?) on these days. I’ll also post some topics that are more studies of other technical projects, or as in today’s example, share a tech resource I find useful, instructive, or otherwise helpful. In this post we’re going to explore one of my favorite brands. Let’s examine Netflix as a brand and a company separate from the ubiquitous service they provide.

For the uninitiated, Netflix has 149 open source projects listed on Github. Clearly they believe in the philosophy of open source. It’s certainly exciting and refreshing whenever large organizations demonstrate their transparency by open sourcing their various tools. In my opinion this is a great example of a “rising tide raising all boats”…or to use another popular analogy “sending the elevator back down”.

Anyway, the difficulty of selecting a favorite project is dramatically increased by the sheer number of projects to choose from. In an attempt to give a fair representation first, I’ll share some general stats based on their existing projects statuses and then I’ll share my personal favorite. (Spoiler: my favorite is different than the general population.)

There’s a number of ways to explore popularity of projects on Github (where Netflix and millions of others store their open source code), but the main ones are forks and stars. I would go further to say their order of relative importance is also as I have listed them here. By this I mean, someone who has forked the code is more likely to be demonstrating an intent to do something with the code, while a starred repository may simply be a bookmark to reference later or merely to “favorite” the open source code. Regardless, I think it’s not a bad idea to look at both of these metrics in regards to Netflix’s repositories (open source projects) and by this get a feel for which projects are considered the most popular by the open source world.

As a bit of background, I did some digging to begin with to ensure I was looking at the best way to gather this data, because I certainly wasn’t going to attempt to build a list of stars and forks from their main repository page by hand…I’m a programmer by heart, so I’m lazy (although others consider this brilliance). As a result of my Google-fu and my somewhat lacking Github website knowledge, I finally came across the pages I link to below which made my job ridiculously easy.

Forks:

https://github.com/search?o=desc&q=user%3Anetflix&s=forks&type=Repositories

Based on this filtering here are Netflix’s 5 most forked repositories.

  1. Netflix/Hystrix (2,814): Hystrix is a latency and fault tolerance library designed to isolate points of access to remote systems, services
  2. Netflix/eureka (1,361): AWS Service registry for resilient mid-tier load balancing and failover.
  3. Netflix/zuul (1,044): Zuul is a gateway service that provides dynamic routing, monitoring, resiliency, security, and more.
  4. Netflix/SimianArmy (929): Tools for keeping your cloud operating in top form. Chaos Monkey is a resiliency tool that helps applications tolerate random instance failures.
  5. Netflix/ribbon (517): Ribbon is a Inter Process Communication (remote procedure calls) library with built in software load balancers. The primary usage model involves REST calls with various serialization scheme support.

Stars:

https://github.com/search?o=desc&q=user%3Anetflix&s=stars&type=Repositories

Based on this filtering here are Netflix’s 5 most starred repositories.

  1. Netflix/Hystrix (13,920): Hystrix is a latency and fault tolerance library designed to isolate points of access to remote systems, services
  2. Netflix/falcor (8,814): A JavaScript library for efficient data fetching
  3. Netflix/SimianArmy (6,544): Tools for keeping your cloud operating in top form. Chaos Monkey is a resiliency tool that helps applications tolerate random instance failures.
  4. Netflix/eureka (5,570): AWS Service registry for resilient mid-tier load balancing and failover.
  5. Netflix/zuul (5,323): Zuul is a gateway service that provides dynamic routing, monitoring, resiliency, security, and more.

As you can see from the above, the two lists are remarkably similar, and yet they aren’t identical. I’ll leave the debate and resulting inferences for these deviation as an exercise for you. Now, I’ll share with you my personal favorite open source project from Netflix.

My all-time favorite has been around a little while and most recently is also bundled in one of the repositories above in addition to being a standalone project.

Netflix/chaosmonkey: Chaos Monkey is a resiliency tool that helps applications tolerate random instance failures.

To understand why this is such an incredibly brilliant repository and something which demonstrates the sheer genius of the Netflix operations team, you should read this article: Netflix Chaos Monkey Upgraded – Netflix TechBlog – Medium. Here’s a highlighted quote from this post:

“We created Chaos Monkey to randomly choose servers in our production environment and turn them off during business hours.”

…I can’t even begin to explain how cool this is from a programmer’s standpoint. (“Cool” after the utterly terrifying part has been resolved and there’s a sense of confidence in the infrastructure and codebase.) Basically, the name comes from the idea of unleashing a wild monkey in the Netflix data centers to randomly rip apart instances and destroy connections — all while Netflix continues serving customers without interruption.

Now, to be fair, the Simian Army repository above is the evolution of this concept, as in this project they have also included the Latency Monkey, Conformity Monkey, Doctor Monkey, Janitor Monkey, Security Monkey, 10-18 Monkey, and finally the upgraded Chaos Gorilla.

If you’re interested you can find a write-up of each of these simians on the Netflix Tech Blog on Medium (one of my all-time favorite Medium blogs to read…voraciously).

Because their desire is to create a resilient, faultless environment and they are willing to subject their production environments, in real-time, under load, to these types of random chaos tests, this is by far my favorite open source project from Netflix. And then they made it open source so everyone can benefit. This improves (or should improve) the code quality and infrastructure of every major company, product, and team working on the internet.