Seth’s Blog: Back to (the wrong) school

A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labor. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults.

Sure, there was some moral outrage at seven-year olds losing fingers and being abused at work, but the economic rationale was paramount. Factory owners insisted that losing child workers would be catastrophic to their industries and fought hard to keep the kids at work–they said they couldn’t afford to hire adults. It wasn’t until 1918 that nationwide compulsory education was in place.

Part of the rationale to sell this major transformation to industrialists was that educated kids would actually become more compliant and productive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence–it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

Large-scale education was never about teaching kids or creating scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system.

Of course, it worked. Several generations of productive, fully employed workers followed. But now?

Nobel-prize winning economist Michael Spence makes this really clear: there are tradable jobs (making things that could be made somewhere else, like building cars, designing chairs and answering the phone) and non-tradable jobs (like mowing the lawn or cooking burgers). Is there any question that the first kind of job is worth keeping in our economy?

Alas, Spence reports that from 1990 to 2008, the US economy added only 600,000 tradable jobs.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

Do you see the disconnect here? Every year, we churn out millions of of workers who are trained to do 1925 labor.

The bargain (take kids out of work so we can teach them to become better factory workers) has set us on a race to the bottom. Some argue we ought to become the cheaper, easier country for sourcing cheap, compliant workers who do what they’re told. We will lose that race whether we win it or not. The bottom is not a good place to be, even if you’re capable of getting there.

As we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable and mediocre factory-workers?

As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.

The post-industrial revolution is here. Do you care enough to teach your kids to take advantage of it?

as usual, a thoughtful piece from Seth Godin

Lessons from Blair’s years of delivery

new shiny standardised IT-dominated factory processes fail to absorb the variety of customer demand; in other words it becomes hard for customers to get what they want. When customers can’t get what they want they return, especially for public services about which they have no choice, until they do get what they want. I call this ‘Failure Demand’ (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer). It represents a massive cost, failure demand can run as high as 80% of all customer demand in industrialised shared services projects, locking in costs for many years

Distributed software development can be productive

Distributed software development can be productive

This doesn’t mean that all outsourcing of software development is uneconomic. As Jeff goes on to explain in that video, a Dutch firm, Xebia, has successfully grown hyper-productive teams using Scrum that are geographically distributed.

But Xebia’s teams, some in The Netherlands and some in India, are set up in a counter-intuitive way: instead of having complete teams in each country, each team is split between the two places, with half its members in The Netherlands and half in India. The dispersed teams were at least as productive as colocated teams and sometimes more productive than the teams located wholly in the Netherlands.

Apparently splitting the teams geographically forced more conversations among the team about what the client really wanted. Being forced to explain to the developers in India each day what the client wanted helped everyone get clearer and so the teams as a whole tend to become more productive

so co-location isn’t always the best answer – with good management.

Letters: Are today’s youth denied hope? – The Independent

In that period of soul-searching that typically follows any instance of social upheaval, we shall no doubt hear many explanations for the events that overtook the streets of Britain last week. One which will surely elbow its way to the front is the notion that, in some ill-defined sense, the disaffected youth of this country have been denied any “hope”.

What hope is that, precisely? Is it the hope that, despite having set one’s face against the acquisition of even the most elementary formal qualifications in literacy and numeracy, or of basic English language or personal skills, one should be able to find an employer who will offer one employment in preference to buying a fork-lift or taking on a migrant?

Even as late as the 1980s the relative prices of capital and labour in the UK favoured those with low skills and a willingness to work, over expensive machines. That factor-price ratio has now changed, probably for ever. Globalisation, technological advances and a downward rigidity in the wage that is deemed “acceptable” in the UK mean that the mass-produced merchandise that so appeals to street thieves can no longer be produced economically in this country. The relatively low-skill jobs that are involved in such manufacturing are the preserve of people who are willing to work for less than their counterparts in the UK, and to do so more reliably. The future of UK manufacturing will increasingly lie in goods and services embodying training and skills.

Those who wish to have any hope at all should first be clear about their aspirations.

R Rothschild, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Lancaster

Excellent letter from the father of a friend of mine.

User Stories: “As a… I want… So that” story format considered harmful.

Einstein apparently said. “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

He would probably have said “Never use a tool you do not understand”.

From experience, most stories I’ve seen use the “As a… I want…” format with “So that…” added to improve their appeal to business investors. A bit like lip stick on a pig.

Consider these “So that” examples from a super duper tip top team I know…

  • “So that I can start using the system”
  • “So that I can cover my arse”
  • “So that there is less risk to manual error”

The problem with “As a… I want” format is that business value is an afterthought. However, it is a dangerous after thought. Seeing it there leads the business to think that some thought has been put into value when the reality is it has not been.

A subtle but more insidious problem with the format is that the user is the starting point. This means that the target solution starts by assuming certain roles will perform certain functions. Often a project will result in responsibilities being re-distributed to different roles. This situation needs to be handled with care and delicacy. By stating who will perform which roles, you may be signalling to a user group that they are losing or gaining new responsibilities… both of which may be unpopular.

Although I do not use the formats, I prefer “In order to… As a… I need” which places business value up front as the primary concern. Check out Antony Marcano’s blog post for more detail.

Which way do you do stories? Is it just about shared understanding? – see: http://practicalagility.blogspot.com/2011/07/whither-requirements.html

Trolls – Anonymity – A Better Web? – what about your corporate presence? #btot

If you use social media for your employer and you use a “corporate” voice. You are in effect a troll too.  You seek to interact with real people but you are not present at your end. If you seek to have influence, you too must have a name and be you.

Thoughtful post from Rob Paterson espousing honest conversations, real voices and authenticity. Many places could learn from this.