Please take a couple of minutes and read the fabulous essay Sabrina Orah Mark wrote in her Happily Column. Her Blog focuses on fairy tales and motherhood. Within the many things that resonate in her post, one thing struck me most:
It’s about learning. Why are fairytales so important for learning, and why you need to curse “fuck the bread” sooner or later!
Enter Japanese Martian Art – Aikido. Shu-Ha-Ri is a concept describing the steps to mastery. I came across it a couple of years ago, when Alistair Cockburn took away my Scrum blinders.
This is the very first stage of learning, you apply traditional wisdom, you learn fundamentals, techniques, heuristics, proverbs. Think of children baking their first simple cake. Mine was a marble cake (“Marmorkuchen”). You strictly follow the recipe (If you’re not into baking, watch Karate Kid):
Mix 125g of butter until it is creamy.
Add 3 eggs and 120g of sugar. Mix until creamy.
Add 170ml of milk and half a pack of baking soda
Split in two bowls and add cocoa powder into one half
Fill in buttered cake tin and fill with alternating dough
Bake 50mins at 180°C
It fits like a shu (“shoe”). You do exactly as said, you’ll get a consistent result. It’s like a fairy tale. You walk through a dangerous forest, you don’t leave the path, you are ok.
Scrum is another great example for a Shu recipe. You create a backlog, you estimate and prioritize stories, you do sprintplannings, daily standups, reviews, retros. Timeboxed, with the right roles present. If you follow exactly the rules it’s guaranteed that you’ll have a consistent result.
Ok, we’re done with learning! You’ve learnt a technique. Many people stop here. And like in a fairytale they live happy until the end. But, Oh wait!
In fairy tales, form is your function and function is your form. If you don’t spin the straw into gold or inherit the kingdom or devour all the oxen or find the flour or get the professorship, you drop out of the fairy tale, and fall over its edge into an endless, blank forest where there is no other function for you, no alternative career.
No worries. There is more! Sometimes it’s necessary to yell “Fuck the Bread“. And break with the habits. Maybe Hänsel and Gretel walked the forest 100 times. And at some point they dare to take a different path, and guess what – it’s safe as well and more beautiful, and even faster! In this stage, curiosity, or the limitations of the given technique (think of cooking) cause you to experiment. Break with the norms. You’re collecting techniques. It’s the learning stage.
Back to cooking: After dozens of marble cakes (ask my mom!) I gradually left common recipes and I consider myself being a chef at the ha level in most cases – I can comfortably leave the exact recipe, I’m experimenting (and failing) – and in some rare moments I’m creating exciting new things! For complex szechuan recipes or a Ottolenghi masterpiece with dozens of ingredients I might fall back to shu level.
Throughout this stage you gradually separate from the strict form of the shoe “Shu”. Make sure you work on your habits, because:
In the first 30 years, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your live, the habits make you.
At some point you are able to fully detach from the form. You can’t say why you chose a specific technique. You just do it naturally, no recipe, no preparation needed. Martin Broadwell describes it as unconscious competence. The easier you can leave the form, the more often you detach from it, the closer you are to the ri level.
Translated to learning, you now invent and blend techniques. The magic happens at your very own “You at your best” moments, where there are in the flow and time and space disappear. Earlier I spoke about “Fuck the bread”. You’re past the point where you care about that. But you’re anything else but careless and you’re neither ruthless as well.
Dalai Lama state? Can anything come after? The Shu-Ha-Ri ends here,
but Alistair Cockburn (mentioned earlier) is on the journey to dive deeper and find out what could come after:
Kokoro is used in the writings of the 17th century samurai master Miyamoto Musashi to refer to the essence or heart of the samurai. It’s the radically simplified essence of a skill area. The figure below shows how practice starts off simple (Shu, learn one technique), grows more complicated as one learns more techniques (Ha, collect), becomes indescribably complicated at the Ri level (invent and blend), and finally takes on a simple form (Kokoro) when given by the advanced teacher.
By teaching others you improve your mastery. Kokoro represents the teaching stage of the advanced practitioner. It is characterized by the advice “Just master the basics.”
The marble cake.
Hänsel and Gretel following the path
Following the essential rules of Scrum
“You know what, Mama?” he says. “You’d make a really good teacher.” “Thank you,” I say. And then I show him how to draw a bet.
I received some feedback and questions about my post on leadership decisions at a workplace, and why I believe that many societal and political topics don’t belong to my workplace. (A clarifying side note: I wasn’t saying Basecamp is right or wrong. And banning and forbidding speech is a bad idea in general).
I’ve been chewing parts of this post for a while. But as about one third of the Basecamp workforce left after their leaders Jason/David announced some cultural changes and today Melinda and Bill Gates announced their separation, it was time to push it out.
All of these separations really moved me and over the weekend I spent several hours in reading and researching. It moved me because I can personally relate to that very well. In November I left my previous company (~60 employees like Basecamp) and over the last few month ~25 people – of which most of them I hired personally – left the company too.
(Just to be clear and explicit: I’m not making hints, propose conclusions or draw any parallels to my former company or people involved there. This is rather based being a curious, learning entrepreneur for 30years).
Companies and their leaders have the right and duty to make decisions. To set their leadership style and their culture. To change it gradually, radically or not at all. And to take the consequences. This isn’t good or bad per se. This is just how it is and how it has to be.
At the point a decision is taken (“Culture Changes”/”Quitting the Job”) – it was the right decision for the corresponding party. At the very moment to decide, everybody will take the best decision this person can take, based on the (limited) facts available.
Software engineers in the tech space are well paid (in Basecamp’s case ~220k/year, paying at the top 10% of San Francisco market rate and will receive up to 6 month of salary if they decide to leave). So they can also decide freely if they want to stay and adopt to the new situation/culture or if they want to move on. It’s also very unlikely they have to pee in bottles while driving delivery trucks or being in physical danger. So it’s pretty safe to assume:
Strong companies are built around strong cultures. And they will be highly individual, but they will share a couple of patterns. Often they are built around the leaders that craft them. I bet you’ve seen this comic:
Organisations need structure and leadership. This is a good thing and isn’t contradictory to self-organisation, empowerment of the individuals,… Modern leadership styles/principles fully embrace that. I’m stressing that because I strongly believe that so much of a happy/fulfilled workplace is dependent on that connection.
It’s as simple as that. Different cultures attract different people. Sometimes leadership changes, and therefore a change of talent follows. Or culture starts drifting away and gets recalibrated, which results in churn.
Nothing to worry about. just to be aware of.
As leader you need to know what employees enjoy. Where a person can work at their best. People aren’t resources that are slotted into a position. Remember, we spend a good portion of our time awake at work. We need to support everybody to craft their optimal experience at work.
You need to design around them. If people are engaged and come to that energized state that is named flow, magic happens. And magic results are just magic! This is only possible if people are in a safe space, where they don’t have to worry about many things. Without trust a safe space can’t exist. But how to create trust (Yes, mistrust leads to people quitting their jobs)?
Strong cultures are memorable and based on a set of rules. The simpler and more explicit they are, the better. Because if you’re operating on these set of principles reliably it creates trust. An additional benefit of trust is that it makes communication way more effective. Because, if you don’t trust me, all my talking would be useless.
A few of my personal rules that randomly come to my mind: “I do what I say, I say what I do”, “I communicate decisions, as soon as they are taken and don’t hide them.”, “In case of mistakes I’m focussing on avoiding it in future, not on finding who’s guilt it was.”, or to close that heading “Assume every decision is right, as you assume best intentions.”…
Never forget: It’s hard to earn trust and takes time. It’s easy to destroy trust and takes no time.
Lack of Appreciation
A healthy company has a good, diverse mix of individuals. The doers, introverts, fighters, dreamers, caretakers, listeners, thinkers, tinkerers, silent ones, critics,… As leader I often felt like a Zoo director.
Assume everybody is doing her/his best. All the time. Therefore everybody deserves their share of appreciation and attention. A “small beaver” can be equally important to a “big roaring tiger” but will leave if he’s not seen and appreciated. No matter how long an employee is with the company, or how important their role is.
Lack of growth perspective
Bill and Melinda Gates separated after 27 years of marriage because they “no longer believe they can grow together as a couple”. So, if an employee is asking: “What is my perspective at the company?”, you already missed the point of proactively managing that. If these answers are missing, one will sooner or later quit. On the other hand – providing a clear growth path can do wonders!
As Leader, don’t delegate diversity and inclusion. It’s your job. As soon you reach a point, where DEI is done for it’s own purpose you lost the connection to the company culture and this leads to dissatisfaction.
There are assholes out there. They might be inside your company. Manage them well. Recognise that you won’t be able to change them. Make sure they do as little damage as possible. As long you have the power. Don’t look away, act.
Oh, btw. I’m about to put together a new team as we speak.
Mail me or call me if you’re ready to make a choice.
Over the past 6 months I’ve been in the luxury position to take time to further center myself and better live my equilibrium.
Among other things I’ve continued to dive into stoicism (a journey that will never end). Meanwhile the Daily Stoic iBooks meditation is the first and last thing I read in bed every night and morning.
Over the last few days I’ve been thinking a log about this meditation:
As Ryan Singer in the book mentioned above put’s it:
“First, we must look inward.
Next we must examine ourselves critically.
Finally we must make our own decisions – uninhibited or by bias”
I had the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time with trusted people and collect precious feedback. That resulted in positive affirmation for some things I had a gut feeling about.
And that helped me to be clearer in my thoughts and trust my gut feeling even more. So today, when I read the changes at Basecamp David and Jason at Basecamp announced, my heart was jumping to see how they have the guts to make decisions!
And my inner self was smiling because I’m generally strong in making decisions and much of what they decided on resonated with me (and I already had decided on). Partially out of rationale, partly out of gut feeling:
1. No more societal and political discussions …
The work place I’m responsible for is a work place. It’s no family, and it’s no club. It’s as open and welcoming as possible. Regardless of sex, gender identity, nationality, color, race, religion, ancestry, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, age, marital status or disability.
Societal and political discussions are essential! And we should have more of them. But outside and disconnected from the workplace. Still we are one holistic individual, we’re not schizophrenic and turn off one character when we enter the work world. We should be authentic, but be very aware in which context / role we are acting every moment.
2. No more paternalistic benefits.
I’ve tried to motivate / incentive employees to e.g. do more sports by paying fitness benefits. This felt good and at the time I was proud about it. But these things are highly individual choices and it isn’t the responsibility of the company to influence them.
However, in my personal feedback talks with employees I often referred to the “Wheel of Life” or “Wheel of happiness”. And that I like that concept and encourage people to assess their happiness state. However I made very clear that me and my business can only help in the areas “Business/Career” and partially “Personal Growth” and to some extend in “Finances”. The rest is happening outside work.
There is a german saying: “Wenn du nicht mehr weiter weisst, gründe einen Arbeitskreis.”
A lot of committees take speed out of an organisation and discourage decision making. Decision making is vital. It’s up to a leader to take decisions that can’t be taken by individuals or a team. No need for additional overhead, just take a decision (or escalate it).
This is also slightly related to the non-politics or societal discussions at work. Not at my business. Google seems to have a strong culture for that (but also reaches it limits if the wine lovers group starts fighting the breast-feeding-moms or they disagree with the group of people bringing their dogs to work and the pastafarians). I believe in a world where all of these discussions are welcome, but outside the workplace.
4. No more lingering or dwelling on past decisions.
Let me just quote and repeat what Jason wrote: “It’s time to get back to making calls, explaining why once, and moving on.”.
5. No more 360 reviews.
Yay! Finally. I’m happy I resisted to that trend for so many years. Constant manager/employee feedback it is. I promise, for the near future I’ll continue to stay away from them.
6. No forgetting what we do here.
I believe in a world where each individual can make it’s own choices (as long it is in accordance with the law and not discriminating/hurting others – also see above). And it’s also everybody’s personal decision which movements to join and where to spend energy. But at my workplace we’re making mostly software and that’s a big enough problem to solve.
Mein Freund Boris Gloger ist ein besonderer Mensch. Mich verbinden viele Sachen mit ihm. Wir wollten und wollen immer noch mehr gemeinsam unternehmen. Ein erster kleiner Schritt ist, dass wir es endlich geschafft haben, einen ersten Podcast aufzunehmen.
Hört euch an, was wir zum Thema “unternehmen” plaudern:
“Die Ideen gehen mir nicht aus”, Jodok Batlogg ist Gründer und Geschäftsführer von Crate.io in Dornbirn. Außerdem ist er Informatiker und mehrfacher Entrepreneur, der bereits sieben Unternehmen aufgebaut hat und nun das achte Jahr im aktuellen Unternehmen Crate.io angeht. Ausgehend von einer – für ihn – glasklaren Idee einer hochskalierbaren Datenbank für maschinengenerierte Daten (z.B. Sensordaten, Daten in der industriellen Produktion) gründete er das Start-up Crate.io und fing dafür wieder einmal bei Null an.
Ich unterhalte mich mit Jodok darüber, wieso er es nicht lassen kann, was ihn antreibt und welche Hürden er überwinden musste. Er erzählt uns ein wenig über seine Produktidee, was seinen Lebensstil als Unternehmer ausmacht und wie er das gesamte Unternehmen denkt. Silicon Valley spielt natürlich auch ein Rolle.
Hi, welcome to the team. I’m so glad you are here at Crate. You’re now a Cratie!
You’ll need at least one cycle to figure this place out. Maybe even two cycles. That’s totally o.k. – take your time. Uh? a cycle? What’s that? Let’s call it 1-2 quarters (of a year) for now. When entering a new environment, the first impression is really important. And we’re working hard to make the first experience a good one. But as we’re a bunch of curious, different and complex people solving complex problems this will take some time. Btw. complex is still better than complicated1. Be curious, meet everyone, look around, ask all the questions, write and talk to whomever you want. I bet there are many new acronyms, habits and rituals to learn. This will time until you’re fully productive. We expect that. In case you feel unsafe or don’t dare to ask someone, you have multiple fallbacks: your onboarding buddy, your lead person or just me.
Company culture is reflecting the people working there. What you do is who you are2. It started based on the belief of the two founders – Christian and me. Over the last 6 years we kept a lot of principles, but also carefully changed others. The following paragraphs are a user guide to navigate Crate and navigate it. It captures what you can expect out of working as part of the team, our aspirations and the leadership values that influence our culture.
My intent is to accelerate the working relationship between all of us with this document.
Our Average Week
People work from where they want and when they want. It might seem this is less efficient than having all people at one place for fixed hours. But we’ve deliberatly decided to craft a remote-friendly culture that even allows people in different timezones to be included. It makes us resilient and adaptable. It is sustainable. We’ll do as many things asynchronously and in written format as possible. People working in one of the offices have the advantage of meet at the espresso machine – and have random chats. But even if you are remote or in a different office you will be able to see and talk with your team mates at least once per day: During the daily coffee – a video call that the team does once a day. This call is about social interaction, staying connected and getting better known to each other. The teams decide themselves how to organize the rest of the work and agile methodology. One nice weekly ritual worth mentioning for the people sharing a location is the weekly team lunch – we cook something together in Dornbirn and invite you to go for lunch in other locations.
It’s up to you and your lead to agree on a schedule to set expectations, about cadence and structure/tools of 1:1s and related topics.
We have a bi-weekly all-hands meeting (attendance optional) where the leadership will present a summary about what’s going on in the different areas of the business and is also open to questions. The meeting is also recorded in case you can’t attend.
You can contact the founders 24hours a day. Don’t worry. We’re used to that and have tuned the notifications of our phones and other tools in a way that is in harmony with our private life. If we don’t want to be disturbed we’ll manage to not be disturbed.
If one of us is traveling, out of office, ill or on vacation, we update our status beforehand in Pingboard3. All our meetings still occur albeit with time zone considerations.
Some of us work now and then on weekends, evenings or early mornings. Some start later, some leave earlier. This is their choice. We do not expect that you are going to work on the weekend, evenings or early mornings. We might be sending mails and Slack messages, but unless the thing says URGENT, it can always wait until work begins for you on Monday. It’s up to you to find your work/life balance, be an integrated part of a team that delivers results. We’ll help you to do so.
We all take vacations. You should, too. Disconnected from work is when we do some of the best work.
North Star Principles
Simply Sustainable takes a major concern and common claim – simplicity – and qualifies with the ultimate payoff: sustainability, an application and a business that can scale and maintain itself ad infinitum. It’s forward looking – in a world of data overload, this is how we do more than survive: it’s how we thrive. Sustainability demands balance, playing well with others, moving forward with peace of mind. And who doesn’t want it to be simple??
Crate is a team of passionate, experienced people who’ve crafted a bold and clever database for the fast, data-intensive world, making speed, scalability super simple, open, and accessible – a solution that’s built to be sustainable for all.
Crate.io Brand Story
Clever. We’re passionate people with a love of technology and a lot of experience. But technologic breakthroughs don’t just come from knowing your stuff. They come from looking at things from different angles and flipping the situation around: they come from being clever.
Bold. We believe in being bold, in the power of having a vision and the gumption to realize it, however radical. Being bold means seeing the big picture and believing you can impact it, shape it, make it better.
Open. The best solutions come from people listening to each other as they share information, insight, and experience. Which is why we are fanatically open and honest — listening to our customers, being good citizens of the open source community, building with others to make solutions better.
Simple. It takes a deep understanding of the craft, coupled with human empathy, to render the complex simple. To make it accessible for all. In everything we do, from how we configure data and integration with existing systems to user dashboards, documentation, and support, we aim to keep it all super simple. Because data should work for everyone.
Sustainable. We believe the best solutions are sustainable, supporting communities and businesses as they grow. Which is why we believe in working together, building on each other’s advances, all in order to create open and accessible solutions that are sustainable for all.
Our System Of Values
Our Values are the guiding principles that lead to what we do on a daily basis. They are the parameters that tune our decision process that results in how we behave if no one watches. This is what we call culture. You can rely on those values, and you can demand them at any time.
Meaningfulness. At any time we offer to explain the meaningfulness and relationale of tasks, goals and measures.
Success. We strive towards and celebrate joint success.
Colleguality. We offer a work environment based on collaboration and cooperation. At the same time we respect everyone’s individuality.
Esteem. We appreciate and respect each and everyone and their opinions and provide open and honest feedback.
Challenge. It is our aspiration to provide everyone with the opportunity to grow by taking on new and challenging tasks.
Self-determination. There is as much room for self-determination as possible.
Joy. By Living Our Values above we gain happiness and satisfaction.
Expectations and Feedback Protocol
We firmly believe that the process of setting, expressing and matching expectations is at the core of building trust and respect in a team. This requires the continuous process of giving and receiving feedback.
At Crate.io, there is a formal feedback cycle which occurs twice a year. We have outlined the structure of an appraisal interview in a separate document.
Meetings take time, we take care about our mutual time. Therfor we have a couple of principles for our meetings. First of all we deliberately run our calendars publicly visible. If you have a question about any meeting on any calendar, just ask. If a meeting is private or confidential, you’ll most likely just see a placeholder. The vast majority of meetings are neither private nor confidential.
Each meeting has to include an agenda and/or intended purpose, the appropriate amount of productive attendees, and the expected contribution of the parties invited. If Craties are attending a meeting, they prefer starting on time. If Craties are running a meeting, they will start that meeting on time. If it’s not clear to a Cratie why they are in a meeting, they will ask for clarification on their attendance.
If you send a presentation deck a reasonable amount of time before a meeting, we will read it before the meeting and will have our questions ready. If we haven’t read the deck, we will tell you.
If a meeting completes its intended purpose before it’s scheduled to end, let’s give the time back to everyone. If it’s clear the intended goal won’t be achieved in the allotted time, let’s stop the meeting before time is up and determine how to finish the meeting later.
Nuances (and Errata)
Being a diverse team is a priceless advantage. Because tolerance creates creativity. And creativity is the most precious ingredient of the future. It’s essential to have different personalities in a team. We embrace this fact – but also move out of comfort zone when needed.
We don’t put people into boxes. But to concern oneself with different scientific models helps us to work better together.
We always assume positive intent for all involved. Whenever a person takes a decision, it’s the best decision that he/she can take in that moment.
If someone of us is on the phone during a meeting for more than 30 seconds, say something. It’s easy to get distracted nowadays.
This document is a first braindump of myself – speaking as one of the founders and CTO. This is not my creation, but I was privileged to work as part of a system of people that shaped our culture and my thinking. When I came across Rands in repose article „How To Rands“, I decided to take this as template, rework it and use as basis for a wider discussion within the Crate.io Team, but also the public.
I would like to update it with you, make it a shared thing all of us can underwrite, and therefor would appreciate your feedback. I‘ll turn this into a Github document in case we need to improve tooling to collaboratively work on that document.