Posts Tagged ‘Scott Berkun’

Waiting For The Bus

January 24, 2015 Leave a comment

I’ve been following Scott Berkun for at least a decade. Every month or two, I mosey on over to his site to get my Berkun fix and see what he’s up to. I’ll read some of his blog posts and/or watch a video of one of his great talks.

While watching Scott’s lecture to MIT students on innovation, I paused the video to steal this insightful graphic:

tip of innovation

People (especially in western cultures) love short and sweet stories of epiphanies and overnight success – the tip of the iceberg. They yearn to believe that world changing innovations happen in flashes of instantaneous insight, no preparation required, all glory and no sweat.

Scott’s research for his Myths Of Innovation book busts the misconception of all mental play and no work. Oh sure, the epiphanies and eureka moments do indeed occur. But odds are that the innovator has been obsessing over a specific problem; immersing herself in the meticulous details of the problem and its enveloping context. The innovator has likely been exploring solution paths for months, years, or even decades. The hard, persistent, sustained, work of mulling over ideas prepares the innovator to receive the proverbial epiphany as thrust down upon her from the heavens.

But alas, doing the hard work can only get you to the bus stop. It doesn’t guarantee that the bus will arrive – ever.

Bus Stop

Heroes And Admiration

October 25, 2014 4 comments

Every person has at least one hero whose work they admire. If you’ve glanced at my “about” page, you may have correctly assumed that one of my heroes is writer/speaker Scott Berkun. I’ve followed Scott and read all of his books since he made the scary leap long ago from a safe job at Microsoft into the unforgiving jungle of self-sufficiency.

I like Scott’s work so much because I think he’s genuine, transparent, sincere, and down-to-earth. In short, his ideas and insights are helpful to his readers. That’s why I got a kick out of this twitter exchange:

berkun twitter exchange

Scott’s brand new, kickstarter-funded, book is titled “The Ghost Of My Father“. It’s a radical departure from his other books in that it’s a deeply personal treatise on growing up with an absentee father. Go out and buy it, pronto!


If I ever get my lazy ass out of “blog only” mode and hunker down to write some kind of unsellable book for my own personal satisfaction, Scott will have been a huge influence on the transition.

Simply Atrocious

January 17, 2014 2 comments

Via a twitter tip from Scott Berkun, I read Matt White’s “Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History“. The book is a truly impressive and meticulous compilation of man’s inhumanity to man throughout the ages. It’s not only chock full of body counts, it attempts to describe why each atrocity was precipitated. The book also contains lurid details of some of the tactics and methods used by the “victors” to obliterate their victims.

According to Mr. White, here are the top 3 atrocities that have occurred (so far) over the course of human history:


While reading Matt’s book, my feelings oscillated uncontrollably between repulsion and gratitude. Repulsed at the insidiously diabolical forms of death experienced by bazillions of fellow human beings, but extremely grateful I wasn’t physically present during any of those maelstroms.

Tradition and Progress

September 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Continuing on with a series of posts fueled by the inspirational content in Scott Berkun’s newly minted “The Year Without Pants“, let’s explore the relationship between tradition and progress:

There is nothing wrong with tradition until you want progress: progress demands change, and change demands a reevaluation of what the traditions are for and how they are practiced…. The responsibility of people in power is to continually eliminate useless traditions and introduce valuable ones. An organization where nothing ever changes is not a workplace but a living museum. – Scott Berkun

In poorly led institutions, as the number of management (“management” is simply a euphemism for “control“) layers increases, new “special interest” traditions are continuously introduced into the environment whilst old and useless rituals are rarely eliminated. Policies, directives, processes, procedures, taxes, fees, laws – pick your poison. The pile of behavior constraining rules just gets bigger and bigger, suffocating all intrinsic motivation and instilling learned helplessness. Damn, that Kafka dude got it right. So did Ackoff:

It is easier to start something new than it is to stop something old – Russell Ackoff.


Num Rules

The Confusion Of Roles

September 23, 2013 1 comment

Scott Berkun’s books have always been lucrative gold mines for bloggers wanting to explore novel ideas and insights. His latest release, “The Year Without Pants, is no different.

In TYWP, Scott discloses a major cultural malady that plagues corpo America: “The Confusion Of Roles“.

One major mistake Schneider (Automattic Inc’s CEO) had seen was how companies confused supporting roles, like legal, human resources, and information technology, with product creation roles like design and development. Product creators are the true talent of any corporation, especially one claiming to bet on innovation. The other roles don’t create products and should be there to serve those who do. A classic betrayal of this idea is when the IT department dictates to creatives what equipment they can use. If one group has to be inefficient, it should be the support group, not the creatives. If the supporting roles, including management, dominate, the quality of products can only suffer. – Scott Berkun

The “Confusion Of Roles” is simply not a problem at Automattic Inc. That’s because there are no legal, human resources, finance, quality assurance, or information technology silos within the flat-as-a-pancake company.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy for a cozy, small company like Automattic. But there is no cure for the “role confusion” disease in big borgs like yours, right? Bzzzzt!

HCLT CEO Vineet Nayar wrote about the exact same productivity and morale killer in his shockingly titled “Employees First, Customers Second” book. Taking the bull by the horns, Vineet corrected the “confusion of roles” epidemic at his 30,000 person Leviathon by inverting the pyramid and instituting a transparent system of reverse accountability called the Smart Service Desk (SSD) .

The SSD is where front line employees can submit problem tickets against the (so-called) support functions. Each ticket has a deadline date and the submitter is the ultimate judge of results – not some self-important manager. Shortly after its introduction, the SSD was receiving tickets at a rate of 30,000 per month – one per employee. D’oh!


Why, you may be asking, aren’t there more “unconfusion-of-roles” change efforts taking place in the land of a million pointy hierarchies? It’s because the pinnacle dwellers who rule the roost don’t see it as a problem at all. It’s the way it is because it’s always been that way and, more importantly, it’s the way it’s supposed to be.

pyramid inversion

The Drooping Progress Syndrome

September 21, 2013 Leave a comment

When a new product development project kicks off, nobody knows squat and there’s a lot of fumbling going on before real progress starts to accrue. As the hardware and software environment is stitched into place and initial requirements/designs get fleshed out, productivity slowly but surely rises. At some point, productivity (“velocity” in agile-ese) hits a maximum and then flattens into a zero slope, team-specific, cadence for the duration. Thus, one could be led to believe that a generic team productivity/progress curve would look something like this:

steady increaseIn “The Year Without Pants“, Scott Berkun destroys this illusion by articulating an astute, experiential, observation:

This means that at the end of any project, you’re left with a pile of things no one wants to do and are the hardest to do (or, worse, no one is quite sure how to do them). It should never be a surprise that progress seems to slow as the finish line approaches, even if everyone is working just as hard as they were before. – Scott Berkun

Scott may have forgotten one class of thing that BD00 has experienced over his long and un-illustrious career – things that need to get done but aren’t even in the work backlog when deployment time rolls in. You know, those tasks that suddenly “pop up” out of nowhere (BD00 inappropriately calls them “WTF!” tasks).

pop up task

Nevertheless, a more realistic productivity curve most likely looks like this:

decreasing productivity

If you’re continuously flummoxed by delayed deployments, then you may have just discovered why.

productivity cycle

Where Are My Freakin’ Pants?!!!

July 24, 2013 1 comment

I’ve stated my admiration for Scott Berkun’s creative work several times before on this blawg (here and here and here and more!). Since he will be hatching his latest book soon, it’s time for BD00 to schtump for Scott once again.

Although BD00 would have preferred Scott to name his book with the same title as this post, it’s more respectfully named “The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work“.  Cool cover, aye?

TYWP Cover

In TYWP, Scott will tell the tale of his temporary flight from total self-reliance back into the real world – working for one year as a project manager for’s creator Automattic Inc.

Like his previously penned, delightful, page-turners, I expect TYWP to be yet another delicious mix of insight, sage advice, comedy, and drama.

Tweet TYWP

If you’re gonna go a year without pants, you might as well don some funky red skivvies, no?

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September 25, 2012 1 comment

A left uppercut to the jaw (ouch!), a right jab to the kisser (D’oh!), a left hook to the kidney (Blech!). I’ve just been Berkunated and I’m down for the count – yet again!

I just finished reading Scott Berkun’s fourth book, “Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds“. It was as delightfully painful  to read as the other three of his books that I’ve read. Here’s what I mean by “delightfully painful“:

Was it as delightfully painful for you as it was for me? Got a cigarette?

Respect From The Top, Disdain From The Bottom

May 17, 2012 5 comments

In Scott Berkun‘s blog post, “Why Project Managers (PM) get no respect, he gets to the heart of his assertion of why “output producers” don’t harbor much professional respect for “output managers“:

The core problem is perspective. Our culture does not think of movie directors, executive chefs, astronauts, brain surgeons, or rock stars as project managers, despite the fact that much of what these cool, high profile occupations do is manage projects. Everything is a project. The difference is these individuals would never describe themselves primarily as project managers. They’d describe themselves as directors, architects or rock stars first, and as a projects manager or team leaders second. They are committed first to the output, not the process. And the perspective many PMs have is the opposite: they are committed first to the process, and their status in the process, not the output.

If one doesn’t understand the “project output” to some degree, especially what makes for a high quality output, there is no choice but to focus on process over output. And as one goes higher up in the corpo status chain, the preference for concentrating on process and its artifacts (spreadsheets, specifications, presentations, status reports) over output tends to increase because meta-managers have much in common with lesser “output managers” and not much in common with “output producers“. It is what it is, and unless so-called process champions are continuously educated on the specific types of “outputs” their institutions produce, it will remain what it is.

Magical Transformation

March 11, 2012 4 comments

In this interview of Scott Berkun by Michael “Rands In Repose” Lopp, “Rands In Repose: Interview: Scott Berkun“, Scott was asked about his former stint at Microsoft as a program manager. Specifically, Rands asked Scott what his definition of “program manager” is. Here is Scott’s answer:

It’s a glorified term for a project leader or team lead, the person on every squad of developers who makes the tough decisions, pushes hard for progress, and does anything they can to help the team move forward. At its peak in the 80s and 90s, this was a respected role of smart, hard driving and dedicated leaders who knew how to make things happen. As the company grew, there became too many of them and they’re often (but not always) seen now as annoying and bureaucratic.

Americans have a love affair with small businesses. But due to the SCOLs, CGHs, BUTTs, and BMs that ran companies like Enron, Tyco, and Lehman Bros, big businesses are untrusted and often reviled by the public. That’s because, when a company grows, its leaders often “magically” morph into self-serving, obstacle-erecting, and progress-inhibiting bureaucrats; often without even knowing that the transformation is taking place. D’oh! I hate when that happens.

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