On “My Vote Doesn’t Matter” and “Voting Your Conscience”

The other day I was listening to talk radio, where the host was encouraging people to vote regardless if they felt that their vote mattered or not. If you’re in a state that regularly votes one political party (Democrat or Republican) you may feel that your single vote will not contribute to the final outcome.

I can understand that line of reasoning and the feeling.

So I propose that you think differently about how a vote “matters”.

Think of your vote as part of a team, your political party’s team. Now forget that you are in a different physical location and figuratively put yourself on the same playing field as your team. In a team competition, every position matters and everyone has a job to do. And the strength of a team is defined by the size of the group that shows up to play.

Now that you are on the same playing field with a team, you don’t have the luxury of saying your vote doesn’t matter. Be committed to your team, show some empathy and put yourself in their cleats. Think about how you would vote now that your vote does matter!

If you think your vote doesn’t matter, then rethink. Your vote matters to your teammates, and you would have the same expectation of them if the situation was reversed.

Some may suggest that if their vote “doesn’t matter” (meaning it won’t alter the outcome) that they can instead “vote their conscience”.

If you would vote one way when your vote “matters” by living in a swing state and vote another way when you don’t live in a swing state, then this is equivalent to putting on a different jersey just because you have some sort of liberty to do so. If you really are giving up on your old team then admit it to yourself. But you don’t have the liberty of “voting your conscience” and staying on the same team.

How will you make your vote count? Is there a difference between voting your conscience and making your vote count?

I submit that your vote always “matters” and says more than you may think.

A Lesson from Jon Lester and the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs about Focusing on Strengths

Honestly, I thought Jon Lester was strange when I saw him pitch during the World Series.

What is peculiar about Lester is that he will not throw to a base if he doesn’t have to. He’d even throw his entire glove and ball instead of just the ball if he must (see above). And his definition of “have to” was way different than my definition until today because I learned again the value of focus.

Lester won’t check the runner at first nor second and rarely gets off the mound to field a ball unless it practically hits him. Lester isn’t particularly bad at fielding, and in fact he’s just as good or better than ever.

But Jon Lester is his best when he is pitching. During the post season this year he pitched nearly his best of all time. He helped his team be more successful when he was doing what he had strengths to do.

I yearned for Lester to check the runner at first because 20 million people watching the game knew the runner was going to steal second. But when Lester decided to NOT check a runner at first during the World Series, it made me pause.

By examining how peculiar Lester is on the mound, we learn a valuable lesson. Lester focuses his energy where he has strengths, and that is pitching, not fielding.

When runners do get on base, they more easily steal on him because they get such a good jump on his pitch. And if Lester allows the runners to distract him or get him nervous it impacts his throwing.

What seemed alien to me when compared to my expectation of a pitcher’s behavior, was familiar, permitted, and even agreed upon by his team and management. Those who depend on him know his strengths and expect him to play where the numbers give them the best odds.

Likewise, what expectations should you have of each person on your team, of yourself? Are you playing to your strengths that give you the best chance of success, or are you playing to someone else’s expectations?

You Keep Using That Word. I Don’t Think it Means What you Think it Means.

What we say and what we do can be very different. By looking at our operational execution, we can be enlightened about what we actually do well. As we see how we engineer and operate, we can determine if we are executing for the customer we intend to have.

For example:

A popular web host who specializes in “WordPress” hosting describes themselves this way in their sales content:

[Company name] is the industry leader in managed WordPress hosting. All we think about is how to run WordPress in the best way possible. Our WordPress hosting platform keeps sites fast, scalable, and secure. Our team has spent years perfecting our WordPress hosting platform. Every feature, from [product name] and staging sites, to [product name] and [product name], has been built specifically for WordPress users.

As a potential customer that sounds pretty good. It gives you the general impression that all your WordPress hosting problems will be solved. You are promised they can provide the best possible way to have a fast, scalable and secure website. 😀

However, in the comments of their must-use plugin they state:

// Should we cache database queries for logged-in users?

// Normally no, but for high-admin sites it does help and might be worth the risk.

Implied in this code comment is the idea that: a) caching database queries for admin users is a bad thing, b) users with a lot of admin or dashboard activity consumes a lot of resources and caching queries reduces the load on their infrastructure/servers, and c) caching database queries will degrade performance and upset some users.

Caching database queries can make the admin of a website faster, but it contradicts the idea that a website is scalable. Cached database queries can inhibit the ability of an admin to have consistent expectations that the data they are presented with is current. It can also require additional actions by the admin to retrieve the more accurate data, if they are even given that option at all.

😖

Writing the Sales Pitch from Operational Execution

Does the operational execution match up with the sales pitch? In this case it’s ironic that the sales side of this company touts their commitment to performance, while their operations attempts to throttle power users.

If you were to re-write the sales pitch from the actual operational experience, I believe their sales pitch would read more like this:

[Company name] is the industry leader in managing an infrastructure dedicated to the WordPress application. All we think about is how to run servers and WordPress in the most efficient way. Our hosting platform keeps websites online. Our team has spent years perfecting our WordPress hosting platform. Every feature, from [product name] and staging sites, to [product name] and [product name], has been built specifically for hosting WordPress.

You would add an emphasis on infrastructure, and efficiency while de-emphasizing scalability.

The Operational Execution Targets a Different Customer

When you read the revised description of their services, who would find those services attractive? A website owner is never attracted to cached database queries, especially if their WordPress site is more data intensive where the data changes  often (think e-commerce). However, a hosting company is attracted to the expertise to try and maximize their fixed-cost resources.

A Tale of Two Departments Trying to Keep Their Jobs

The Sales Department is incentivized to acquire customers and they do that by telling customers what they want to hear. The Engineering or Development Department is charged with keeping sites online and doing it in the most efficient way possible.

Both departments think they’re doing the right thing, but to what end? Will customers who sign up for an infrastructure that is specialized for WordPress sign up and stay even after they experience caching? Or will an investor looking to acquire expertise in efficiency be interested in the original sales pitch promising performance above all?

In the end, without new paying customers, a business dies.

Confusion Breeds Mediocrity

If the management team of this WordPress host was serious about the message they pitch to new customers, they would align the engineering processes to match the goals. They wouldn’t engineer their platform to decrease data reliability and scalability, especially in a way that is so hidden from the normal WordPress user (making that decision in the code). Instead they would figure out how they can make their platform more reliable and scalable, and more transparent.

We work with the customers of this WordPress web host and we’ve taken notice of their tactics that renege on their sales promises; or at least we assert that they don’t recognize the disconnect between what they say and what they do.

Are Sales and Operations aligned?

What do you do well? What will always be in style to your customers? Can you do more of what people want?

I’m not saying we have this perfectly worked out at Event Espresso and Event Smart. But, I’d recommend discussing with your team whether you’re engineered to fulfill your promises. If your sales and engineering are not aligned, can you change the engineering to match the sales pitch, or should you target a different customer based on your current engineering strategy?

crushing pressure

Should Temperance be A Higher-Valued Leadership Quality?

As a Co-founder at Event Espresso and Event Smart, I function in many roles: project management, sales rep, technical support, accountant, marketer, counselor, etc. I’m faced with handling challenges from just about any area. This is where my formal education has come in very useful, by the way. Too, I am rarely fully informed about a situation and I often have more questions than answers. However, I often struggle with determining whether something needs my attention or not, now or later, whether my team is being distracted or mislead and how I lead our team through the situation. It’s not an easy task to be clear and level-headed, and the way I engage (or not) in a situation influences my team.

I enjoy road cycling, and am motivated to ride harder by the beat of Eminem’s song Toy Soldiers. More importantly though, I often ponder some of the [clean] lyrics:

I’m supposed to be the soldier who never blows his composure
Even though I hold the weight of the whole world on my shoulders
I ain’t never supposed to show it, my crew ain’t supposed to know it
Even if it means goin’ toe to toe with a ______ it don’t matter
I’d never drag them in battles that I can handle unless I absolutely have to
I’m supposed to set an example
I need to be the leader, my crew looks for me to guide ’em
If some ____ ever does pop off, I’m supposed to be beside ’em…

While Eminem intended to communicate his own expectations as a leader, I feel he adequately conveys my expectations for myself in my role professionally. I should also feel this responsibility in other areas of my life too, like at home.

I believe a certain level of transparency is good, but leaders also have a special responsibility to bridle our emotions that can affect others in a negative way. Our emotions can lead us and our team to over-emphasize details or over-react to situations that can influence us to focus on the wrong things and make the wrong decisions.

To help me be the leader I want to be, I have a sticky note on my monitor that reads: “Do I need to react? How should I respond?”

That message helps remind me to more deliberately decide whether I need to react to a situation and how to do so. If I do decide to engage, the second sentence encourages me to pause just a second to think about how I should get involved. I can’t fault my team for how they feel about a situation, but do I contribute in a positive or negative way? Do I clarify the situation? Do I calm the situation? Or do I add fuel and confusion to the fire?

It is rare when we immediately and completely understand a situation. Instead, we usually comprehend a situation gradually over a period of time. The challenge for us is to recognize when we are fully informed or lack the understanding to make a decision at all. Once we are more self-aware we can better understand the context and respond.

In software development you are faced with a nearly infinite number of possibilities, scenarios, conditions. So one of the challenges is determining what to actually worry about, what to be motivated by, and when to act. Are you scared and do you freak out every time your competition releases a new product or secures a big client? Are you debilitated with each bug in your program or when someone leaves your team? Do you need your team to react like you, and are your emotions rubbing off on them, or are they allowed to respond differently?

We can’t be so naive to think our emotions don’t matter. Some people will absorb emotions more readily, while other people will be more temperate. Whatever your decision making process, as a leader make sure that you are intentionally and skillfully applying the right positive pressure to encourage focus, or reduce pressure to diffuse a situation.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get emotional, rather it means you have to use emotion with skill and responsibility.

When have leaders in your life shown temperance or the lack thereof?

Lastly, are you a leader? Aren’t we all leaders, in our jobs, at home, school, church, on even on the road? And if you think you are not a leader, you underestimate yourself.

software-warfare-attack

Do you Respond to a [Software] Attack with Unarmed Fighter Jets?

You can’t entirely prevent an software attack, but you can be prepared to respond.

In 2015, we learned an interesting fact about how prepared the United States Armed Forces were to respond to an attack. During the attacks on September 11, 2001, after three other airplanes attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon, all flights were ordered to land immediately. But Flight 93 continued its course towards Washington, D.C.

In response to Flight 93 disobeying the orders to land, the government ordered multiple F-16 fighter jets to scramble and fly towards Flight 93, presumed to have been hijacked due to its refusal to land. What we did not know until 2015 is that the fighter jets were not equipped with munitions to shoot down the plane. Consequently, the only option was for the pilots to ram the jets mid-air to stop them from approaching Washington D.C.

Apparently, the U.S. was more focused on threats farther away and had disarmed their domestic fighter jets. I don’t want to second-guess or comment on their military strategy, but did they ever play the game of Risk?

Prepare to Respond to Attacks in Modern Software Warfare

The September 11, 2001 attacks are similar to and an example of how it is nearly impossible to see and detect every threat. Likewise with software, as programs get more complex, users get more creative, and inter-connectivity increases, it leaves applications vulnerable. Software developers should do everything they can to protect their applications. However, I subscribe to the philosophy that if your applications are popular enough, eventually your systems will get hacked.

When your application is hacked, how you respond to those attacks will be just as important as protecting yourself in the first place. It’s a sad but true reality that we can’t anticipate all threats. But, I do believe that we can be more prepared to respond.

At Event Espresso and Event Smart we have a fairly rapid release process where within a minute or less of fixing a security hole we can release updates to our products. While that won’t stop the attack from happening in the first place, it does allow us to quickly block the attack and move on to damage control.

While an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as software developers we should have a process in place to manage an attack of various types that was unable to be prevented.

Ultimately, we were fortunate that the passengers of Flight 93 were able to neutralize the plane and do what the U.S. military was not very prepared to do. But we should not find ourselves in such a vulnerable position so that when an attack happens we are not even prepared to respond.

What is your process for responding to an attack on your software, platform or infrastructure?

whole foods peeled oranges

Whole Foods’ Irony is an Example of Making it Easy for Customers

It was a true irony when Whole Foods started selling peeled oranges by replacing the natural peel with a plastic container. For an organic and natural food retailer, this was a cardinal sin.

Whole Foods quickly recognized their mistake and retracted the product.

It should be obvious how critical it is to meet BOTH the tangible needs and core values of your customers. Selling plastic-packaged peeled oranges makes very little sense when you evaluate that product from the point of view of their customer’s core values (generally, they value natural, organic materials and wish to minimize their burden on the environment). At first glance, this seems like an obvious mistake of Whole Foods; a moment of insanity by the produce manager. 😱

But less obvious from Whole Foods’ mistake is a hidden lesson: What can we do to make it as easy as possible for customers to consume our products/services? 💡

At this point in my life, I would never purchase a peeled orange. I don’t want to spend the money on it, plus it doesn’t seem as sanitary, and it does seem wasteful to have to throw away the plastic packaging. However, for a segment of customers with specific needs (use-case) the peeled orange was very helpful. Assuming it’s easier to open these plastic containers, pre-peeled oranges can be a great convenience to people who have limited use of their hands from injury or diseases such as arthritis or rheumatism. And for customers who have a preference for traditional, non-peeled oranges, those are still available for purchase.

The lesson I learn from Whole Foods’ mistake is to make it as easy as possible for customers to access your product. The easier it is to consume the more people will buy AND/OR you’ll attract new customers who will now be able to buy your product.

What do you learn from this?

remote controls commercials and team cadence

What I Learned about Team Cadence When My Wife Had the Remote Control

If you’re a sports fan with DVR, you usually have a queue of recorded sporting events to catch up on before you accidentally come across the scores in the ticker tape, headlines, get a score notification on your mobile device, or a text from a friend ruining the surprise. 😖 And, if you’re going to get through that queue of excitement quickly but without missing the action, you have to be skilled with a remote control to skip the commercials and intermissions.

There is Skill to Using a Remote Control

I have mastered just such a skill.  I have a sense of knowing when to start and how long to 4xfast-forward (>>>>) the recording before I need to push the play button again just as the commercials end and the sporting event resumes. I have the muscle memory for knowing how many taps of the fast-forward button and how long to let it fast-forward before pushing the play button. This muscle memory has developed because the commercial breaks are predictable enough that I can almost anticipate when they start and stop.

It wasn’t until I let my wife hold the remote and be responsible for skipping the commercials did I realize that she was still learning the higher ways of using the remote control. She didn’t fast forward right at the beginning of a commercial break, so we were stuck watching lame commercials for a while. Then, sometimes she fast forwarded too much and we missed part of the game when it came back on. If you’re Type A like I am, it is a little painful to refrain from taking over. 😱

Are You That Familiar with Your Team’s Cadence?

Because of enough experience with television programming, commercials, and the remote control, I can skip commercials with ease. I also have a sense for my team’s cadence of accomplishing tasks. Do you have a sense for how fast your team is moving? Does your team have a rhythm, a fairly consistent burn down rate or velocity? Would you notice when things change? I did.

We have a new project that is running over time and over budget. This new project has been particularly challenging because it has required a new development skill-set, new tools and new service. It’s an important project, but our approach has taken us out of our normal expertise. We had a chance to re-evaluate that project and decided to slow down development on that project and re-focus on our core projects.

Within two days of redirecting our development toward the tasks that we normally work on, I noticed we were completing the development we are more familiar with at a much faster pace and more predictable rate (cadence).

I also noticed a change in the demeanor of those affected. We had added motivation and energy because we were able to get things done.

When I have the remote, we watch fewer commercials and more sports. When my wife has the remote, we watch more commercials and less sports. Likewise, when your team is taking on tasks that they are not familiar with doing, you will get less accomplished and perhaps be frustrated.

My Wife Helped Me Connect the Remote Control and Team Cadence

I’m not throwing my wife under the bus. She is amazing. ❤️ She just wasn’t doing what she does best (baking cinnamon rolls is where she really excels). She was actually trying to help me relax and watch games while my hands were full typing blog posts. But then she also taught me something:

If your burn down rate or development velocity is not what it normally is, then you might reconsider whether what you are doing now is what you are best at doing.