Hearing aids: left, right. Disposable batteries lasting two days each.
A tiny Bluetooth remote + condenser mic paired to three devices, as well as both hearing aids. Rechargeable battery somehow lasts for 10-14 hours (depending on how desperately I claw at those radios).
An iPhone whose battery is always drained 18 hours later. iPhones are for people with short days and simple lives.
An iPad. Sucker can hold a charge. I use it for reading and writing. It is a screen for words, and words are what we have. Also, the iPad’s little keyboard, which has disposable batteries that change with the seasons.
A Macbook Pro. Several golden hours. Many more if I’m just looking at the computer rather than doing anything with it.
A Nintendo 3DS. Rechargeable battery, good for four hours or so. More than I ever play, these days. More than enough for a trip through the cataclysmic end of a pocket universe. Last days, last rites. This world collapses and is not rebuilt, again and again.
A small faceless watch (also pedometer and sleep tracker). Disposable battery lasting about two months.
Living with these devices means that I take a short midnight stroll around the house before bed, setting small, expensive objects in place and plugging them into various chargers. It means I have a nest of whatever-to-USB cables that I drag with me when on the road.
Because of these objects I can speak with the people around me and the people far away from me. I can make things, and try to understand and explain them. I can listen to music. That’s good enough for me, and I am grateful for them.
Because of these objects I am reminded that we are all set against the clock; that we can be renewed, albeit temporarily; and that we can only do what we do a certain number of times before the possibility for renewal is itself depleted.
TRIZ is a half-hour scavenger hunt for things a system is doing that are actively keeping it from serving its purpose or intent. It’s one of the greatest liberating structures. In TRIZ, a group will:
come up with processes or methods to consistently ensure an unwanted outcome (e.g. sales prospects are lost, all patients are infected, each software release has errors);1
think about things they are already doing that resemble the methods devised in the previous step; and
figure out how to stop doing those things.
TRIZ is always funny, sometimes terrifying, and often directly useful. I rely on it for software products. Rather than making “usability improvements” or adding speculative features based on inadequate research, TRIZ helps me find aspects of a product that actively frustrate and defeat customers so I can yank those suckers out.
I closed Different Chairs in order to make room for something else. Too many aspects of being a sole proprietor kept me from creating the experiences I wanted my clients to have.
In order to do better work, I had to find great people to work with, and, somehow, I fell in with the best. I’ve joined my friends, co-conspirators (and, now, colleagues) at Koné Consulting.2
Forget chairs, let’s look at the whole damn table:
It’s a tiny, distributed group; we work remotely. But when we gather in person now and again, this is the inevitable configuration.
What does this mean?
For existing clients, this is all old news: I’ve been working to ensure continuity for those that want it.
For everybody else — well, it’s simple. It means that when you ask for help, or work with a product I make, or we sit down to figure out something tricky, you don’t just get me, even if it’s only the two of us at the table. You get Alicia’s commitment to quality and humanity, Sharon’s ability to create space for decision-making, Christina’s talent for taking care of any problem, Alicia H.’s focused execution, Devin’s rolled-up sleeves, André’s unlimited energy and relaxed discernment, and whatever scattershot nonsense it is I scrabble together. If that’s not Voltron, it’s at least the Sea Team.
And for me? Means I’m feeling lucky. These people make my work better in all the most difficult ways: by opening space for action and contemplation; by challenging me to keep that spring in my step; and (the hardest one) by actually helping me become a better person.
Please enjoy this photograph of a beautiful location at sunset.
The trick here is to look for methods that produce reliably bad results, rather than those that fail catastrophically, sometimes. ↑
n.b. Yeah, that web site is not too great. We’re working on it… ↑
I started Different Chairs after finishing grad school in the Potemkin village of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I didn’t know what I was doing; I made mistakes continuously. Wherever it was possible to do something wrong, I did, and maybe half of the time I managed to learn from it and improve my work.
Here’s one thing about running a small business: it’s never easy, although it’s sometimes good. Here’s the other thing: even a sole proprietor can only be as successful as the people whose support, collaboration, and friendship make it all possible. You know who you are. Yes, you. I don’t say it often enough, but I’ll say it now: thank you.
In the end, I solved problems. I made clients happy. I treasure every moment of it, even those I won’t miss. Today’s the last day of Different Chairs, and tomorrow is the first day of what’s next.
Ten years ago today, a colleague said, by way of explanation, in a meeting of people talking about software under fluorescent lights:
“An object is any physical thing in the directory.”
The person was referring to a software construct and its relationship to another software construct. It was just a passing comment, and I don’t remember the intent of the meeting or its outcome. (Given the organization, let’s assume the meeting had no purpose and that we did not meet it.) But I do remember writing the remark down, and mulling it over, and knowing that I was ready to move on; it wasn’t long before I’d quit that job and started things that were at least different and possibly even better. That said, I sometimes find myself returning to that phrase, while waiting for a train to arrive or a phone call to end: What is an object? Any physical thing. Where do you find such physical things? In the directory. What is the directory? — and so forth, until the train whistles or the call is finished and it’s time to move on to the next physical thing.
The optimist says that the glass is half-full.
The pessimist says that the glass is half-empty.
The lean consultant recommends finding a smaller glass.
This parable, or joke, is a pocket-sized exemplar of what’s good — and what’s
insufficient — about lean thinking.
There’s an acknowledgement of contingency. People have their own beliefs,
perspectives, and intuitions. These can be respected without reference to
validity or necessity.
It’s a response to the situation as encountered. No part of this story is
about finding individual culpability or placing blame. Neither is there any
discussion about how things “should” be, or even how much water is
“enough”. (Although how much water people want is a different matter
It’s about making a discrete, intentional change. You know, given an
existing situation that isn’t to everybody’s satisfaction, even an arbitrary
change might wind up making things better.
The proposed resolution isn’t necessarily a useful improvement all
by itself. It could be meaningless tidying up, and could in fact be valuable;
either way it’s disconnected from the
larger environment and intents shared by both the optimist and pessimist. The
basic principles that were bundled up into lean (a) have to do with correlating
the work everybody is doing with the actual purpose of the organization
they work in and (b) very rarely come up in “lean work” or “lean projects”.
There’s a tremendous amount of fatigue out there related to lean thinking and
lean transformations. We’ve all seen this kind of thing before:
feel-good rearranging of deck chairs; a dollop of anal retentiveness over
box lunches and cheerful whiteboards.
Unfortunately, that’s skepticism that lean has earned over the
decades, and you have to respect people who feel that way.
Lean and related jargon are terms that have reached peak fluff. (Example: last week a
trainer for a proprietary, nightmarishly over-complicated content
management system told me that the product in question was lean because
“you can administer it from a web browser and not a desktop application and it
has great ROI.” That is a direct quote.) All this damage is the reason I try
to talk around the term “lean”, and prefer instead to focus on the underlying
practices and motivations — which, ironically, are usually as novel and
exciting to people as lean itself is overtired and stale.
No capital L
What is lean, anyways? Is it a system, a tool, or a cult? As always, depends
on who’s buying, and who’s selling. Here’s my advice:
If you want to learn about lean, read only books from before
01980, with one exception: W. Edwards Deming’s Out of the Crisis. This
was published in 01982 but is in fact a retrospective of his decades of work.
If you do read the book, count how many times he uses the word “lean”, and then
use it about as often as he does.
Also, you might want to get yourself a smaller glass.
We live, and live again. We live many lives each day. Dying is what we do just the once, and that’s not so much fun to tweet about.
Who has time to live once? That sounds like it’d go on for years. Nobody can deal with all that in this world of months, weeks, and days, each more hardassed and unceasing than the last.
The English majors among us know that all you have to do to live another life is to pick up a book or watch a movie or play a video game; that we’re consciousness-stricken animals who can’t help but pluck narrative out of the ether — the old thing about slowing down a vampire, just dump out a sack of rice whereupon its rampage is overridden by a sudden need to count the grains? That’s us. Just give us a TV show about a hardened criminal / family man throwing pizza onto a roof and bam we’re transported.
I live in a nice little neighborhood. Houses small and old but well-kept. The 01920s were the key, here. Before, it was sort of where the mill pond used to be, up the road from the streetcar. Afterwards: a part of a neighborhood, part of a city. Today, in 02014 —
Let’s talk for a moment about what it means to live, however many times, in 02014. This is one year before RoboCop, based on every single cultural input I received as an impressionable child, is scheduled to throw countless 99%ers into toxic goo “back home”. 02014 is the future. We made it. Only five short years remain to turn Los Angeles into an interminable, undifferentiated nightscape (check), kill all the animals (we’re working diligently, here), and build some replicants (instead, we have fast-follower telephones designed by advertising companies and manufactured by shipbuilding conglomerates [this is actually kind of amazing, in a near-future dystopian kind of way]). The very best science fiction novel, Stand on Zanzibar, is set in 02010. Anyways:
Today, in 02014, I have neighbors who know as an incontrovertible fact that they will live again after death. They literally have that old-time religion. It’s a country where a full third of adult humans believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time”. All this to say, there are a lot of perspectives on the question of how many times a person lives, and many of them are pretty dumb.
To be fair, humans and other living things are no great shakes. We haven’t been here long, and we probably won’t stay long either. We showed up late to the dance, and we’ll be gone before the music stops, give or take six thousand years.
We, as a species, only live once.
We, as individuals, live as many lives as we can stand.