When Good Things Are Bad Ideas

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

In Project Management there’s something called the Iron Triangle or the Project Management Triangle.  A project has to balance between Time, Scope, and Cost to keep up quality.  You can have two the way you want at best, but the third will become unpredictable, unlimitable, or you’ll have to accept some serious changes.

If you want things done your way on time, get ready for it to cost more.  If you want something at a set cost and scope, get ready for time to get a might out of control.  If you want things on time and for a set cost, get ready to reduce your scope.  Play too fast and loose and things will fall apart.

We’re taught that doing things Fast (time), Accurately (Scope), and Cheap (cost).  But those things aren’t always good and can’t always be done together.  We Project Managers remind people of this again and again, often with “I told you so.”

Which leads me to our current crisis in social media where everything is, well, rather dumb.  I have no idea where the hell Twitter is actually going.  Facebook keeps trying new things, but the core experience is kinda ad-filled and unpleasant.  There’s not a lot of innovation out there, and it’s becoming more and more clear we’re the product.

But when you think of the Iron Triangle it all makes sense.  Social Media companies want to have it all ways – making money (cost) do everything to keep people and advertisers (scope) and do it all fast (time).  As people like me constantly remind folks you cannot do this.

Sometimes cheap, effective, and fast are bad ideas.  My job – my own habits – lead me to wanting to be cheap, effective, and fast and I know they’re not always good.

Social media is “free” but the money has to come from somewhere and people invested in it want to make money.  This means the enshitification we’ve seen is near inevitable.  People don’t want to pay, advertisers aren’t always happy, and executives want to make the big bucks.  That may not be sustainable.

Cost is a problem in social media (and that cost isn’t always money).

Social media has to provide some service but there aren’t a lot of new ideas (look at all the Twitter clones), and way too much seems to be well we got used to it.  I’m suspicious that a lot of social media we love now is habit not it’s stuff we actually need.  Throw in companies trying to do everything or anything regardless if it can work or people want it?

What’s the scope for social media?  Hell, who’s the real customer?  The users aren’t exactly unless you charge appropriately and that brings in the cost problem.

Finally, sure social media is efficient in some ways – you do a lot, fast, in a unified interface.  Sure technology lets us deliver features fast.  But is fast good?  Who needs new features we don’t care about?  Is it really vital we be able to reply immediately to someone’s movie opinions?  So we need to do everything from one app that’s also potentially vulnerable?

What’s the real timeframe we need with our social media – if we need social media as we know it now?

Social Media has walked face-first into the Iron Triangle which would normally collapse projects and businesses.  But they got enough of a footprint, did enough right at first that they can keep going, maybe forever.  But at best right now a lot of them are a mix of pet projects and money extraction machines, and maybe lawsuit fodder.

Some of us might even get to say “I told you so.”  Well, more than we have.

Steven Savage

Five Words To Victory

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

Serdar’s latest book (which I assure is a doozy) is a challenging one for him to write.  It’s the kind of challenge where writing it requires trusting yourself, as he notes in this blog post.  As he explores this need for self-trust – a factor he and I have both written on – he said something tangential that is very important in facing challenges:

“That said, every single time I’ve started to work on a project on a sentence-by-sentence basis, as opposed to all the plotting and planning I’ve made ahead of time, the sentence-by-sentence work is what brought everything together.”

These words reminded me of a rule I’ve heard again and again – when facing a challenge, break down your work enough that you find something you can do in five minutes then do it.  That lets you get going, take a step towards your goal – and possibly figure what to do for the next five minutes.  String together enough five minutes and you’re done.

At the start of a project things look insurmountable.  You doubt you can do it, but five minutes is all you need to realize maybe you can.

You can do this as writing as well when you’re not sure you can do a particular work.  You don’t have to write for five minutes on a project you’re not sure of – try five words.  Then five sentences, even if you have to do it five words at a time.  Then maybe five paragraphs.  Then, well, see how far you can go.

You don’t have to use what you’ve written.  You’ll almost certainly change it, edit it, or even throw it the hell out.  But at least you’ve got something to explore what you want to make and figure out how to do it.

But you have to start with those five words.

Most success is due to momentum.  You don’t really know what you have to do to complete a book or any other writing project.  You just have a start, a finish, and maybe a vague roadmap if that.  Even if you have a detailed plan it is going to change as you write and make discoveries about your work. 

So you might as well start with something small, like five words.

Steven Savage

Let’s Get Irresponsible!

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

I belong to a writer’s group where people can become “accountability buddies.”  The  idea is you and your buddy check in with each other on progress and encourage/support each other.  It’s a great idea, but one I rarely do as my own planning/overplanning does the job and then some.  If anything I need someone to help me to slow down.

I joked to some friends that I needed an Irresponsibility Buddy.  Shortly after making that joke I realized it’s probably a great idea.  

Here’s how I see it working.

Pair up people in whatever creative group or groups you’re in as Irresponsibility Buddies.  Your goal is not to encourage productivity – far from it.  Instead your weekly checkins would ask such things as:

  • What did you do to relax?
  • Are you having fun?
  • How’s your stress level?
  • And so on as long as it has nothing to do with “hey, how much did you get done?”

Again, I am serious.  I certainly could have used this, except too many of my creative friends are as driven and anal-retentive as I am.  It would be nice to have someone check in on you without risking taking a friendly check-in as more pressure to perform.

Other creative groups – writers, cosplayers, etc. – could also build Irresponsibility into their meetups and checkins.  What did you do not related to your project?  What is a fun thing we can do together that is totally a waste of time?  Is everyone slacking off appropriately?

When I look at these ideas – which I would have laughed at ten years ago – I think they’re more needed now than ever.  This is because creative hobbies and efforts have changed in the age of the internet and late-stage capitalism.

We’re under more pressure to monetize things all the time – and have the tools to do it.  We’re in a social media microscope and feel accountable, pressured to perform, and in competition with everyone.  Everything is moving fast and we’re just trying to keep up (without asking if we should).

As many of you know around the middle of the year I slow down, doing less “scheduled” projects, taking time to experiment, etc.   In short I’m going to have fun and get in touch with my creative urges that are all-too-often yoked to a schedule.  Of course as I find Project Management fun, I cause my own problems a lot, but I recognize it.

Let me challenge you – how can you get irresponsible and unproductive?

Steven Savage