PermaLink If there was ever a place that needed IdeaJam...07/08/2008 03:03 PM
Every once in a while I have these meetings at my day job that convince me all the more that gatekeepers need to go away.

Have you gone over and looked at IdeaJam yet? That nice, Domino-based idea-management system Bruce and Gayle Elgort have staked their lives, fortunes and Sacred Honor on?

I'll wait while you do so.


Come on, you can't have possibly gone and had a good look at it that fast. Take your time, I'll still be here when you get back.


OK. I guess you're back. You know what I'm talking about, now, at least. Unlike the subjects of this post.

I'll tell you the great truth of IdeaJam: people with no ideas absolutely cannot stand IdeaJam.

They can't abide it. They want things like it swept from the planet's surface.

Why? Because it robs them of their last pseudo-power: to pretend their sham ideas are actually real ideas and that other people agree.

In my day job, sometimes I'm subjected to these idiotic meetings, often conference calls, where representatives of the user community make apparent that in spite of the fact they may have never actually used or even looked at the systems we build, they reserve the right to shoot their mouths off about them. Worse, they expect their ill-informed opinions to matter, to carry the same weight as those expressed by people who (a) know the technology (b) have used the system and (c) have to do real work for a living, the business-critical work of our organization.

Instead, these people are gatekeepers. Born of what I call a pseudo-egalitarian organizational mindset, they have been nurtured in an environment where having no clue what you're talking about was never a reason not to both voice an untutored opinion and get all pissy when those who do know what's what ignored your opinion on what should and should not be build because what you wanted was (a) technically impossible or (b) organizationally stupid. In other words, not knowing a damn thing about the subject, to them, should not be seen as a barrier to you being taken seriously as a player in the game.

These are the sort of people who, when you tell them in a meeting that something is logically or technically impossible (my phrase is usually, "Google has 200 people working on that, and if I could do it, you couldn't afford for me to work here"), they don't just sensibly say, "oh, okay, never mind." Instead they want to put things on the fucking "back burner." In other words, every three months, nag us about it again, until the absurd request magically becomes technically or logically possible, which is never, or until they retire or die or both. Can't just let a bad idea go, because it might be the only idea they have all week.

There are no collectors of vintage cat turds, at least not to my knowledge. Shit that hangs around a while is still... shit. No matter how many times you update its status in Microsoft Project.

I have, in a couple of situations, explicitly said, "that feature has never been possible. It is not possible now, it will never BE possible, and I will not participate in this project as long as there's any mention of it on that project plan. I don't want to waste two minutes every meeting for the next two years saying again how no, it is not possible to do that." Sometimes that works. Not always.

Another favorite stunt of these people is to start off their dumb-ass requests with "well, I think most people want xxxxxxxxxxx..." I mentally translate that into "well, I think I want xxxxxxxx..." or "I read about xxxxxxxxx in a magazine but I have no idea what it is." The tendency to self-appoint as Representative of the Masses is a truly awful one, one no organization should ever, EVER tolerate now that it's entirely possible for The Masses to speak up for themselves.

Here's where IdeaJam is both an amazing possibility and a mortal threat.

Nothing would take the wind out of these meeting-scheduling waste products faster than to have a wide-open forum where the people who really have to get things done every day can tell them exactly what they think about their idea that "everyone would want."

MAN: It's the influence of television. Now, now Marshall McLuhan deals with it in terms of it being a, a high-- high intensity, you understand? A hot medium--

WOODY ALLEN: What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it.

MAN: -- as opposed to the truth which he [sees as the] media or--

WOODY ALLEN: What can you do when you get stuck on a movie line with a guy like this behind you?

MAN: Now, Marshall McLuhan--

WOODY ALLEN: You don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan's work--

MAN: Really? Really? I happen to teach a class at Columbia called TV, Media and Culture, so I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan, well, have a great deal of validity.

WOODY ALLEN: Oh, do you?

MAN: Yeah.

WOODY ALLEN: Oh, that's funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. Come over here for a second?

MAN: Oh--

WOODY ALLEN: Tell him.

MARSHALL McLUHAN: -- I heard, I heard what you were saying. You, you know nothing of my work. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.

WOODY ALLEN: Boy, if life were only like this.
Annie Hall, 1977

Let these bozos get deflated like this when they post their precious, pulled-it-out-of-my-ass idea and it gets... one "up" vote. And 6,445 "down" votes.

No one needs to speak for your users. They can speak for themselves. The only reason they can't now is if they're stuck in an organization which deems them incapable of suggesting, or unfit to suggest, good ideas about how to improve their own work. An organization where management is all that matters, and any ideas that don't originate from managers... don't originate. They can still speak for themselves in such an organization, but they're not allowed to.

If you work somewhere that still operates like this, expect to be unemployed sometime in the next two or three years. That's not really likely for me, since I work in a public sector job, but that doesn't mean I can't still push for this. The users know what they need and what they want, and how. The "managers" of the users don't. In fact, they're likely in many situations to have fewer good ideas than their users, not more, because "imagination" tends not to be a favored characteristic in the process that selects "managers" in a lot of organizations. And often the "managers" are so far past the days when they actually worked in the trenches, their views of what the users need bear little resemblance to what the users know they need.

If they hired a few more "imaginers" and a lot fewer "managers," shit would get done like you wouldn't believe.

Now, if you're reading this and getting mad, you're probably one of Those People. One whose "power" derives not from your real skills, but only from your dubious "skill" in acting as a pinch-point for innovation and collaboration. One who may, in fact, have been the only one in your old workgroup who wasn't doing anything really vital, so they figured you could be promoted without fucking up the real work of the organization. The least critical part in the chain.

You're still not mad yet? You aren't paying attention.

Or, maybe you're one of the good ones. In which case, you were already mad before you got here, and I'm just stoking it because you can't stand Those People, either.

Channel your anger: go deploy IdeaJam.

Be prepared for the truth.
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Blabber :v

1. Bill Brown07/09/2008 09:47:52 AM

Shit man, I haven't laughed this hard at work in a long time. I had to walk away from the screen after "Shit that hangs around a while is still... shit," I was starting to draw stares, I was laughing so hard.

Thanks Turtle!

It's nice to know the Peter Principle is still valid. Any chance of getting deploying IdeaJam under some pretense and turning it loose on the users?

2. Mike07/09/2008 03:56:19 AM

That post has made my day

Good to know that others feel the same about swimming against the tide of crap whenever they are summoned to a "design meeting"

I would even go so far as to say some people FEAR IdeaJam!

3. Peter von Stöckel07/08/2008 04:45:09 PM

Ain't that the truth!

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