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As a former software developer, I am aptly aware of the term technical debt. When you are under time pressure and do short cuts while programming, such as hard coding certain values, leaving out the documentation in the code, and doing other quick and dirty fixes, you may have bought time. But eventually this comes back and will hit you. The same shortcuts that you did will make your software less scalable, more error-prone, less understandable when you have to review it later. The time that you saved then you will lose by a magnitude later.
Let me give you an example. When I had no time, I just used simple letters for naming variables. Months later, when I had to revisit the code, I wouldn’t understand anymore, which variable contained which value. It took me much more time to figure out my own code, because back then I wanted to save time and not think about a proper variable nomenclature.
A similar concept can be found in management. The management debt is accrued, when you make an expedient, short-term management decision with an expensive long-term consequence. An example here is not doing regular one-on-ones with your employees, because everybody is so busy. What this causes is that employees will lose their knowledge on why they are supposed doing certain things, or what they should do to improve. Over time they will make decisions that are counter to what managers had set as goals. Or the employees won’t know where to improved and may chose areas that are not mission critical.
Barely a week passes without yet another Silicon Valley gender discrimination or sexual harassment lawsuit. Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins, now Tina Huang vs. Twitter, not to forget the Uber and GitHub meltdowns a few months ago. These cases seem to follow the same pattern: a female employee is denied a promotion, salary increase, or leadership position by male managers. This sometimes comes in combination with sexual favors the male manager or colleagues demand from the woman.
This is bad not only for the women discriminated against, and women in general, but also for the whole economy because we are losing out on engagement, productivity, and innovation. What contributes to the problem is the opacity of an employee’s accomplishments. Our performance tracking techniques are patchy at best, non-existent at worst. And they are always too subjective. This can be seen in the arguments put forward by the defense attorneys in these cases, who cite poor performance rather than discrimination. But what are the measures of poor performance? If a woman isn't given opportunities to begin with, how can she excel? What if she is given a negative evaluation by the very manager who is harassing her?
But here is the thing: a great solution against workplace discrimination is already here. And it is called Gamification.
When you live in Mountain View, Google's self-driving cars are a common view. The white Lexus SUVs with ever changing sensors sticking out on both sides and a LIDAR-system - either a rotating "pot" or most recently a glass-covered half-dome - on the roof, keep roaming the city to gather experience in different traffic situations.
I effectively stopped taking and posting pictures of videos of my encounters with the cars, as my Facebook friends let me know that it started annoying them. Which of course contributes to the overall traffic safety, as this is one of the most common - and dangerous - things that drivers of other cars do: getting out their phones and snapping pictures while driving.
But I am getting distracted. The questions is: is Google really going to build and sell self-driving cars, and if yes, why?
To answer this question, let me go back to the time when Google launched Google Maps. When I first saw Google Maps, I couldn't wrap my mind around why Google would do a mapping service. After all, Google's mission was to collect and make information accessible. What does a map service have to do with this?
The answer came after I saw the first use of the Google Map API. A real estate company had put markers on Google Maps listing their open houses. And that made it so obvious. Google just had made the step from virtual world information to real world information.
As a search engine, Google's bots had crawled websites to collect information and bring it back to Google's servers. With Google Maps the virtual information could be merged with real world information. Location information such as addresses of restaurants, schools, parks and many other things popped up on maps. And then Google Street View enhance the offering. Cars, bikes, bag packs, and even diving sets equipped with cameras roamed the streets and planet to collect images of the real world. Even more information was put on the maps and mashed with other information.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is one of the most infamous research experiments that has ever been done in peace time. Stanford professor Philip “Phil" Zimbardo assigned students to be guards and prisoners in a fictitious jail. What you may already know is how the relationship between students serving in the roles of prison guards and prisoners deteriorated within a few days into the experiment to such a degree, that Phil had to stop it. The students role-playing the guards had started to display authoritarian behaviors towards the students role-playing the prisoners and after a few days several students had nervous breakdowns.
What may be unknown to you is that the two dozen students were selected from over 70 applicants. They mostly were from wealthier backgrounds, well educated, and displayed anti–authoritarian behaviors. Don’t forget that this was the middle of the hippie and peace-movement and those students were part of it.
Given that it is even more astonishing how the students had developed attitudes and behaviors that dehumanized the situation for the “prisoners” within a few days. By giving power and insignia of power such as uniforms and titles to the guards, the researchers were forced to prematurely stop the experiment.
In real life we easily blame one side or the other for being bad, evil or sadistic. But that’s a too easy way out. In fact, not that the students aimed at turning into evil creatures, it was the framework that nudged them to display behaviors and attitudes that led to the downhills development of the situation.
Innovation and Attitude
When we consider innovation and why it is so hard for many companies, we can take some cues from this experiment. Behaviors are a result of how the framework was set up. Selecting the wrong titles, roles, or guidelines dooms an innovative environment in your organization. Let me give you an example from Brazil: