I don’t know about you but at some point in time I had to start asking my self why am I working at Yahoo! I am still to this day filled with joy that I ever had the chance to work here in the first place. When I was 12 I can remember thinking how cool it would be to work in Silicon Valley, never once did I think that I could actually do it, and now on regular basis I drive past the Yahoo! sign on my way to work. That’s cool, and will always be cool.
Past the warm fuzzys I get working at Yahoo, there are some fun technical challenges. Getting to work on websites of this scale will always be something that is challenging. Learning how to get work done in a beaurocracy is also a good thing.P ast that, why do I work at Yahoo, over say a startup. I have looked around, investigated working at startup, I have even been offered positions in startups, but turned them down. The biggest reason has been job security. I have two kids, and a wife, and Yahoo! is seemingly enough secure, but that’s not enough for me.
When you think of the reasons why people leave Yahoo!, which is complete speculation on my part, it might be place, you may not like Sunnyvale, you may live far away. It might be pay, but more then likely it’s not. Maybe that chance to strike it big, possibly if you are a very early employee. But, I think it rest’s mostly on one thing, the work. The work of startups seems to be more fun, at least from my outside looking in perspective.
Startups scan the horizon of innovation, pick a problem and attack it. They find really smart people, give them a salary, and hope that those smart people can solve the problem. The other part of there innovation, is there ability to turn on a dime, if there main product fails, they start over on something else.
So these two things innovation, and agility are something that I personally admire about startups, but I am here at Yahoo.
What can I do about it.
Well, we need to take what is awesome about the startup, and put it in Yahoo, and this change needs to start with us, the employee’s of Yahoo. I can’t do it alone. And here is how I think we can start.
Well, hold on, I am low in the chain here, for technical Yahoo’s there is a 1 to 8 scale, 8 being the “best”, and I am a 2. So, I can speak for no one but my self. Okay on with it.
This is a suggestion, it is a couple ideas I think we can use as individuals to get better at what we do.
One last note, I say hacker, but I don’t mean it has to be code hacking, just hack at whatever you want. Get better at hacking, food, or movies, or whatever. The important part is that you don’t let the corp dictate your innovation, do it on your own time.
What that hell is innovation? Is it something you can plan for, is it something you can work towards? I thin, yes, you can, but it can’t be a line, or a box. You need to sneak up on it, kind fool it with misdirection, play hard to get. There isn’t a straight line from here to innovation. My bet is that if you can think of one idea right now that is innovative, it’s not, no matter how great it is, because if it’s innovative today, and you haven’t built it, if so you are getting passed by. My theory is that you don’t aim at innovation, but that you fall backwards into it. The only way you can do that is if you build a place where it can happen. I think this “place” starts with “hacking”.
4 ideas, 4 people, 4 steps - How we can be the innovation at Yahoo
I have 4 ideas I want to share, all are related to “hacking”, practically, and metaphorically if you will. These are ideas that I think have been guiding people for a long time, they aren’t incredibly new, but now they just so happen to have famous people talking about them.
The Medium is the message
If you have known me for any length of time, then I have brought this dude up, Marshall_McLuhan. This dude blew my mind with one sentence, “the medium is the message”.
The story on yesterdays front page doesn’t matter, its that the frontpage of the news paper is important that matters, its matters that we have this thing called a news paper that matters.
Think about how big The Beatles are, think about how they got here. Now take away from our world newspaper, TV, radio, records, and telegraph for good measure. Where would the The Beatles be now. My guess, a really great band in Liverpool.
How the hell does this relate to us, what it tells us all is that the medium matters. If we aren’t breathing, and sleeping our medium then we won’t be able to understand what the medium means. I don’t think we are in short supply here, but the next time you think you are wasting time watching a youtube video, or using facebook, start asking your self why, what about this experience is awesome, why do I sit here? This also means that we need to start being the master of our domains, which means hacking. We need to take these mediums that we use, and that we are expected to build and use them, we don’t have to use them like we are told either, that isn’t the point, but the point is can you hack this. Being a hacker is more then just writing code. We need to be hackers.
Step 1: We need to be hackers
Charlene Li wrote Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, along with another book. Charlene Li, is talking right now about how to use open, and not just transparency open, like we get to know how the company is doing open, or our CEO talks to us on a platform at all hands, but open like letting people use social media with out restrictions, letting the wave wild inside companies, and how that can help companies get better. But that isn’t the idea I want to talk about here, she has this great example of a pyramid.
Her idea is that we all start down at the bottom as a consumer, and work our way up to producer, but you don’t just leap from consumer to producer, you slowly work your way up the pyramid. Maybe you start by curating letting other people know about awesome stuff, having a link blog it doesn’t matter. Then you start be come a meta contributor, making comments on other peoples posts, and building relationships with other people on there way up the pyramid, then finally you get to producer.
The pyramid matters, because producers are the ones who drive innovation. The people out there in the wild, driving the conversation are the ones who are innovating. We need to be those people.
Step 2: We need to be producers
step 2 on our way to innovation domination is to become producers. Being a “producer” in our field is being a hacker, someone who plays with technology, someone who can help sort through all the different options in a knowledgeable way. They get there because they are hacking, and sharing there ideas about hacking. This gives them credibility, and a platform.
Clay Shirky, is quite possibly my favorite thinker about the internet. This dude has written more papers that helped me to understand social media, then anyone else. To really understand why tags are awesome read his paper Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags
In his latest book Cognitive Surplus he investigates such things as LOL Cats, and this thing called Ushahidi, you can watch his TED video, and it will be more awesome then what I am going to say but, here is the baseline. We watch 200 billion hours a year of television, which boils down to 20 hours of televisions per person in america. It as much as a part-time job. The amount of time we watch TV has grown steadily since TV was invented, until now. Young people are the first generation to watch less TV then there parents. Question #1, what are they doing with their time. Well they are making LOL Cats of course, but really they are using Facebook, they are watching youtube videos, they are building this thing called Ushahidi, which is a crowd-sourced online collector for reports of violence, that originated in Kenya during the election unrest a couple years ago.
What are you doing during that time. I have tried to tame this down, because I don’t want people to feel like harassing them, but really think about what you are doing during this time. I have two kids at home, and after I cook a meal for my family, and play with my kids, I want to hack on something. Mostly it’s code, but now it’s writing, blogging, tweeting, and curation.I take that extra time I have and I hack, you can all hack. You have the time, we as 20th century americans have some of the most free time on the entire planet, we should harness that time to help us work on awesome projects.
Step 3: Use a piece of your free time to hack
Ira Glass is the host of “This American Life”. In each episode they have a theme, and then they have certain number of acts all related to that theme. That’s it. Within those rules, they make one of the most well-informed, well-thought, provocative pieces of media today. It never fails to disappoint. Mr. Glass has spoken, and written outside of the show, and has created meta narrative about the making of the show. One of my favorite ideas of his is that no matter how good you are at something, it still takes a shear act of will to make something great. He believes there is the law of nature that everything wants to be mediocre. This is the reason so much of what we see, hear, and watch is mediocre, because it’s really hard to make something awesome, you have to really work hard.
Hacking isn’t always going to be awesome, we aren’t always going to end up with a piece that even works, but that is not the point, the point is that we need work hard, and fast to try and make something great. If you keep hacking, and you build projects faster, and you fail faster, you will start to understand what is good, and what isn’t. Not just from a technically stand-point but holistically understanding if what you are working on can lead towards to innovation.
Step 4: Iterate, and work: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
Honorary mention: Time
None of these steps can happen overnight. That is why I love the pyramid idea, it takes time to move up the pyramid, but at some point in time you have to head towards it if you want it. It’s like watching TV, and forgetting the remote control in the other room, you might just sit there for awhile, the channel may not be so bad, but eventually you will want to control what you watch, and you might be tired, and you have to talk your self into getting up 3 or 5 times, but once you do it you are going to be happier.
I started actively reading blogs 4 years ago. It took me a good two years before I started to want to share what was finding, another year before I was doing what I would call active curation. Really, trying hard on a daily basis to find some great stuff, and writing good headlines for the stuff I found. In the last 6 months too a year, I decided that I wanted to start writing, I wasn’t sure what about, but I took the time to put some stuff together, with out being paid, and found that I liked it, and over time opportunities started coming to me, I thought I might want to write a book, I had some ideas. Finally out of the blue I had the opportunity to work on a book proposal, while the first publisher turned me down, I found one eventually, and I am going to write a book. I didn’t, 4 years ago, tell my self that in 4 years you are going to write a book about HTML5 Apps, what I did was set myself up to fall into it.
I think that if we focused as a team, and as individuals we could start to make some noise, and with noise comes opportunity, so you know lets see what we can do.