Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mission and Permission

This is why Rick King is way up the corporate chain and I'm down where I am. I've spent all sorts of time trying to explain to Erik one of my pet passions about engaging developers, that it's not just telling them they can steal time to work on new technologies and patterns, that it's not just telling them here are two dozen ways to get kick started, and if they can't think of one on your own, pick one of these and I'll even provide a sample app and test data, that it's not enough to tell them you expect them to try something new and you support them and will make sure they get the resources and the confidence that failing is an acceptable outcome, you also have to give them a sense of purpose, a belief that whatever it is they're doing aligns with bigger objectives, not just project objectives, but corporate objectives, and that it's part of the grand design. If you work at a cube farm, you don't want to code Ajax, or REST, or new web services, or semantics just because it's new. You want to do it because you see it as fitting into the big picture and contributing to a vision the CEO and Board have that's usually opaque from where you sit. Fun is fun, but without that big picture, it's just a hobby. You need more than just permission.

So, I attend the MHTA Spring Conference, and Rick King says "Mission and Permission". He states, there's the goal. I don't care what sort of boat, plane, car, trike or transporter you use to get there - I expect you to use creative transportation. Two words if you throw out the noise, and he sums up all my rambling dribble.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a politician at the end of the conference noted that we should have more erector sets and fewer Nintendos. Is that what it's like to be old? Or is that what it's like to be a politician? It's a conference on innovation. Does he not see that Nintendos can be a substitute for erector sets? That they can be a step forward and that if they're not, it's a lack of innovation on the part of a programmer, not a deficiency in the technology? If you have a Wii, and it has an erector set program, you simply slam two Wii remotes together like you're building an erector set. You never run out of pieces. You never have to throw away rusty pieces or bent plastic. If you need a motor to make the erector set kinetic, you draw one with the remote and power up your contraption. If you want to share your construction project with Ashan on the other side of the planet, it's possible. If you feel it requires six more experts, some of them college students in architecture and engineering, that may be an option. If things are set up as they should be, you have a few dozen erector pieces that are Wii capable, and interact with the programmatic portion, blending virtual and real. Go a step further and teach your program the mechanics of erector pieces, and allow the computer to seamlessly blend them across a virtual world so that you can manipulate everything like it's an erector set. It surprises me when I realize people can't imagine this sort of world. It's not something in the distant future. It's immanent reality. There are already specialities in vibration - products that monitor their own state down to the sound wave and compenstate and report their status to both humans who can intervene and machines that can correlate and offer more precise ways to resolve issues human-free in the future. Great big tinker toy systems that are self-monitoring. Try modeling that with a few bits of metal.

I'm not denying the power of imagination. But imagination also benefits from innovation, and throwing out trite quotes about how we'd all be better off with blocks and metal bits because that's how you envisioned the future makes you a prisoner of the past. You certainly shouldn't be speaking at an innovation conference.

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