Software, technology, sysadmin war stories, and more. Feed
Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reader feedback: fixits, the median, and Kakonomics

It's reader feedback time!

I received a suggestion that fixit days might be caused by some other problems. Imagine a situation where someone becomes starved for individual recognition at a job, so they find some problem and call for a fixit day. In order for them to seem successful, their fixit day must succeed, and so they rig things to get people to do things because of that fixit event.

This is where those cheap little plastic turtles and other prizes for participation enter the picture. Further, it seems to stem from a culture which measures the individual and never looks at teamwork involving those same individuals.

This is why I love feedback. That possibility never occurred to me.

Another reader wrote in to say that half of all things are below the median: team management, configurations, developer skill, and so on. Further, there is no solid test of competence to keep incompetent people from getting into this industry.

They went on to mention that there would also be people above the median out there somewhere, so I should not fret too much.

I appreciate the feedback message, but I really do not see the benefit in a "cheer up!" message. I'm not writing about these situations merely because they exist. I know there are a great many broken things out there. I'm just sticking to the ones which have actually resulted in some kind of actual negative effects on other people.

Some of the biggest web sites/apps in the world have huge holes in them, but since they haven't been tripped yet, I have nothing to say about it. If I did nothing but write about every possible failure point that could ever blow up, I'd blow out my hands and have to switch to dictating these posts with Siri.

By focusing on the ones which made it far enough to annoy someone else, I can hopefully connect with that part of the brain which makes you feel sympathy for someone's else's pain. Then hopefully it will encourage everyone (especially developers) to not generate those same pains in their own products.

Of course, if a product is being built by someone who feels no pain in others, there's not a whole lot which can be done. You'll just have a lot of barfing birds and blackboards.

Speaking of low quality, I received a pointer to an interesting page from another reader. Kakonomics refers to a situation where the participants both generate and desire low-quality goods. From my reading of this, it looks like Alice will be less-demanding of Bob so that Bob might reciprocate and demand less of her. If they both "play ball", so to speak, then they wind up in a nice little agreement to be below average. The rut of mediocrity wins again.

I find this one particularly interesting since it hints at a situation which may actually exist. It's the one where a bunch of people have an unwritten (and possibly unspoken) agreement to not "blow the curve" -- excel when the others do not -- and to further not "call each other out" -- raise the alarm when others under-deliver.

I suspect this exists because I know I've walked into situations which were clearly underperforming and started (gasp) talking about it. So no, in that regard, I am "not a team player". I refuse to just sit there and watch people slack off and conspire with others to generate a culture of mediocrity.

Is it any surprise I tend to piss people off in corporate life?

You'd be pissed off too if your dark little cozy corner of sloth was suddenly exposed by some chick wielding a spotlight. After all, if not for her, you'd still be all warm, comfy, and hidden!

Demand better. Life's too short to settle for less.