Video: 10 Avoidable Community Management Mistakes

Video: 10 Avoidable Community Management Mistakes

Community management is hard work. It requires a careful balance of technology, psychology, workflow, and building organizational capabilities.

Fortunately, as the Internet continues to spread, more and more people are building communities. As such, we have a growing corpus of experience, and importantly, mistakes we can learn from.

Learning from failure is a critical component of how we grow. Community management offers rich potential here because it is chock-full of strategic and tactical decisions. We have to build a diverse tapestry of experience that weaves together strategy, growth, incentives, psychology, and more to net an overall successful community. There simply isn’t a way to do this without making mistakes: it is human nature.

Here are 10 key avoidable mistakes I recommend you swerve around as you kick your communities into action in 2019:

Can’t see the video? Click here.

I regularly post these kinds of nuggets of information and best practice. Be sure to join as a member: it is free and it will keep you in the loop with new articles, exclusive content, free consulting opportunities, competitions, and more.

Featured Image Credit

Using The ‘IKEA Effect’ To Improve Collaboration

Using The ‘IKEA Effect’ To Improve Collaboration

There is an interesting psychological pattern wedged into all of our brains called the IKEA Effect.

Put simply: we overvalue the things we either created ourselves or had a role in creating. It is named after the Swedish furniture manufacturer that puts you to work building the furniture you buy with “usually intuitive” instructions.

Not available in stores.
Credit

In true honor of the Swedish giant, I am going to see how many Ikea products I can reasonably weave into this post. May the HAMNSKÄR of recommendations open.

The core of the Ikea Effect is based on our relationship to labor. Some previous studies found that the more effort we put into something, the more we value it.

This all has an interesting impact on collaboration which is at the core of how we build communities, companies, and teams. Harnessed well, the Ikea Effect can produce pride in creation. If ill-managed, it can cause infighting between collaborators.

So, how do we harness this in collaborative environments such as communities, companies and teams?

Here are my five pragmatic recommendations:

#1. Encourage customization

Pride of ownership doesn’t just have to relate to producing entirely new things (such as a rock-solid MÖRBYLÅNGA). It can also relate to customizing something.

We see this everywhere. When you buy a new car you can choose the seat materials, trim, color, entertainment options, and more. When you buy a computer you can select the processor, hard disk, and memory. When you buy a TÖRNVIKEN you can select the counter-top material and color.

Or, buy this desk. They are brilliant, but much pricier.

We see this in video games where players can customize their characters, cars, and weapons. We see it in exercise programs where you can tune workouts based on fitness goals.

When you think about your products, culture, and communities, evaluate how you can provide clear, customizable options. These options should be simple, map clearly to outcomes, and not be overwhelming. Optimize for a simple set of options, not a ridiculous airline cockpit of buttons.

#2. Have clear, objective collaboration and quality guidelines

Many communities, and all companies, are collaborative in nature. People need to work together to produce something of shared value (e.g. an open source project in a community, or a product in a company.)

This requires people to take something that exists and improve it. This could be a codebase, a product, a book, a website, or anything else.

One of the risks of the Ikea Effect is that someone contributes an improvement (which they over-value), and then they struggle if other people either don’t see the value of that improvement or are critical of it. In the short-term it can ding their motivation and in the long-term it can generate bottled up ill-will to the people who criticize them.

The solution here are clear collaboration and quality guidelines.

We see this with how many open source projects require that 2 people approve each new code contribution before it is accepted and merged in. TEDx events have very clear requirements on how the events should be organized and run. Online app stores have stringent requirements for new apps.

These collaboration requirements won’t stop people over-valuing their creations, but clearly agreed light-weight collaboration and quality standards will help to reduce ambiguity and potential conflict over contributions.

#3. Be overtly collaborative in decision-making

As a community strategy consultant, my goal is to not just provide high quality guidance to my clients, but to also wire this guidance up so it can be easily used and applied in their business and with their teams.

This can be trickier than you might imagine. Consultants have influence (which is why they hire me), but no actual power. As such, for my guidance to be used, my clients (and their teams) need to be bought into the value of it.

I have consistently found that (while situated at a GRÖNLID with your feet up on a TRULSTORP, lit gently by a HEKTAR) my clients utilize my advice more when I incorporate them into the strategic process and they play an active role in forming the decisions. Some consultants simply go away and produce a report by themselves, but I generally don’t do this.

This taps into the Ikea Effect because they then feel a sense of ownership of the strategy, as opposed to feeling they were just handed a strategy by some balding English guy with a strange beard and great taste in music.

When you build strategy, make decisions, and make changes in your company or community, try to integrate people as much as possible. It will wire up the Ikea Effect for your benefit and make them value their contributions to it (which in turn has a dramatic effect when people feel they are doing meaningful work.)

#4. Socialize what “high quality” means

One of the risks of the Ikea Effect is that people may produce something that is a bit shonky and poor quality but they think it is the bees knees.

We have all seen this. The musician who produces an awful song seemingly weaved together from 35 cats being electrocuted at the same time into a microphone. The poorly written, ram-shackle book held by a beaming author. Every cake on Nailed It

Err…
Credit

We also see this when people sell things. They will often over-price their possessions because they value them too much. This is also what can lead to hoarding.

The solution here is to communicate clearly what quality means (which is hopefully the opposite of a MARIUS). What does a great product improvement look like? What does a great process look like? What is a great community contribution?

This is obviously harder said than done, and it is important that this definition of quality is repeatedly reenforced. It needs to present in your collaboration requirements, in how people work together, in how mentoring is delivered and more.

#5. Integrate identity and team spirit into collaboration

Our sense of identity plays a primary role in the Ikea Effect. The pride of creation is intrinsically linked to you, your self-image, and your character.

This is a powerful emotion we can tap into. We see countless examples of people producing work and taking great pride in showcasing it. Athletes hang their medals on their wall, professionals put their qualifications in their office, proud parents plaster Honor Student stickers on their cars, and more.

If the Ikea Effect means we overvalue our creations, it also means we take pride in what we produce (such as a plate of delicious ALLEMANSRÄTTEN). As such, temper the “over-value” element of the Ikea Effect with my other suggestions, but bolster the pride component by highlighting great work when it occurs.

When people create such great work, think about how you can celebrate it. How can you help them shine? How do you validate them?

Peloton do this when they call out riders who hit milestones. Software projects do this for first-time contributors. HackerOne highlights top security researchers in their initiatives. Teachers do this when kids reach new academic achievements. We all need great work to be celebrated; it builds our confidence..

Like so many other psychological patterns, Ikea Effect is powerful if we are careful in how we integrate it into our communities, communities, and teams.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to join as a member (which is free) to keep up to date with other articles, exclusive member-only content, consulting sweepstakes, competitions, and more.

The featured image in this post is from here.

Lego, Blocks, and Better User Interfaces

Lego, Blocks, and Better User Interfaces

Lego is an ingenious invention in that there is value in the individual blocks, but unlimited value in what you can build with them. Sure, you get the instructions with a new set to build the race car, but what really rocks is the super jet-powered drone boat that you come up with yourself. Oh, and that drone boat? Yep, it has lasers attached.

This notion of plugging bricks together is becoming more and more prevalent in technology. There are tools such as Zapier, which allow you to connect together different components to automate business workflow:

A zap being produced. Source.

There is Axe Edit, which is used to produce audio patches for the Axe FX line of guitar processors:

Axe Edit III. Source.

We have even seen this model in action for teaching kids rudimentary methods of programming and logic, such as with Scratch:

A Scratch scene in action. Source.

Part of the reason this block-based model works is that building things is intrinsically intuitive to us. There is a reason why Lego has been so popular with kids for the last 69 years: we like to build things from a very early age.

There are also various psychological benefits with this kind of block-based collaboration, such as increased communication between builders of their intention and key concepts, generating social capital for active participation, increased speech and communication, and a focus on central problem solving and implementing and testing hypotheses. It is no surprise that Lego is increasingly used in team building and problem solving workshops.

This block-based approach clearly works. What I find interesting though is just how powerful of an approach this is not just for structuring collaborative tools, but also how you can build engagement and communities around it.

Why This Works

There are 5 key areas that I think are important to highlight here.

#1. Connecting together blocks is simple and intuitive

As mentioned above, clicking together blocks is a fundamentally intuitive approach to building things. We think about what we want to do, select a block, connect it to another block, and see if it works. We do this via trial and error and it builds a mental model of not just how the blocks work, but how combinations of blocks work.

For example, in Zapier, once I understand (1) what two blocks do (such as Google Docs and WordPress), and (2) how to click them together, I can immediately generate value and improve my business. This results in a very low learning curve, and a very quick route to experiencing value (which is often not the case as products get more and more complex.)

#2. Each new block expands the potential and value of the tool

When I understand this core approach of how to connect blocks together, it also generates a sense of unlimited potential.

“All I need to do is learn what all the blocks do, and I could build anything!”

This is the same “aha!” moment many kids have with Lego.

As such, when a tool adds new blocks (such as when new services are added in Zapier) it expands this sense of potential.

This is enormously gratifying. It converts the tool from being a very specific Swiss army knife with a very specific set of blades and applications, into this:

I cannot believe this monstrosity is actually real.

Importantly though, because we already understand how to click together blocks, each new block provides expanded value with a limited cost in understanding how to harness it: you already know how to plug them together.

#3. This model maps well to seemingly very specific problems

When most people evaluate a tool or service, they have a very specific set of problems they want to solve, but they want to ensure the tool or service can serve them well into the future (and with unseen future problems.)

This can be frustrating. For example, there are a zillion marketing tools all of which have great features, but all of which are missing something key to my specific work. I just deal with it, presuming that only I need that specific feature as opposed to the general audience needing it.

With this block-based on model, you just connect together the right blocks that are very specific to your needs. Zapier is another good example here: I have used it to automate elements of my business that are likely completely specific to me.

All of this means that evaluating and choosing a tool is much easier: we know that we can ultimately solve almost any problem if we have the right set of blocks available.

#4. We have to do the creative thinking for prospective users/customers.

Speaking of which, the risk of the block-based approach is that you need your audience to be able to have the creativity to come up with the right combinations of blocks to solve their problems. They need to be able to understand the components of their problem and how they map to the tool.

I love how Zapier solves this. On their website you can click on the tools/platforms you use (here, I selected Google Sheets and Gmail), and it will suggest combinations:

Zapier

This is really important. While the suggested zaps might not map to problems the user has, it will start to seal in their brain the notion of how these blocks can be combined to generate interesting outcomes. I suspect the conversation rate from that page into new trials is pretty high. 🙂

#5. There is a clear opportunity for segmenting and building communities

When I work with clients in the early stages of a community strategy engagement, we discuss what kinds of community they want to build. Building a community of users is very different to building a community of contributors.

The communities that succeed provide a simple way of adding value to the broader ecosystem around the product/tool. With these kinds of block-based tools, putting together a combination of blocks and sharing it with your fellow community members is a really simple way of participating. We have seen this, for example, with the AxeChange community which has hundreds of submitted patches for sounds that you can load into your Axe FX:

Axe Change

Interestingly though, you could also produce communities where (1) people could contribute blocks that could be available in the tool, and (2) people contribute to the tool itself (such as with an open source community.)

These three communities (block combinations, contributed blocks, and tool contributions) require very, very different community strategies, but all have very clear (yet different) potential for generating value with varying degrees of technical expertise.

I suspect we are going to continue to see more and more companies taking this approach to using blocks to build combinations and pipelines. It is one of the most elegant approaches I have seen for not just providing an intuitive way for people to work, but also for quick and efficient on-boarding, clear community participation, and always expanding value and potential.

What do you think? Have you seen other examples of these kinds of interfaces that work well? Have you seen some examples that don’t work well? Share your insight in the comments!

10 Ways To Up Your Public Speaking Game

10 Ways To Up Your Public Speaking Game

Public speaking is an art form. There are some amazing speakers, such as Lawrence Lessig, Dawn Wacek, Rory Sutherland, and many more. There are also some boring, rambling disasters that clog up meetups, conferences, and company events.

I don’t claim to be an expert in public speaking, but I have had the opportunity to do a lot of it, including keynotes, presentation sessions, workshops, tutorials, and more. Over the years I have picked up some best practices and I thought I would share some of them here. I would love to hear your recommendations too, so pop them in the comments.

1. Produce Clean Slides

Great talks are a mixture of simple, effective slides and a dynamic, engaging speaker. If one part of this combination is overloading you with information, the other part gets ignored.

The primary focus should be you and your words. Your #1 goal is to weave together an interesting story that captivates your audience. 

Your slides should simple provide a visual tool to help get your words over more effectively. Your slides are not the lead actress, they are the supporting actor.

Avoid extensive amounts of text and paragraphs. Focus on diagrams, pictures, and simple lists.

Good:

Bad:

Notice how I took my company logo off, just in case someone swipes it and think that I actually like to make slides like this. 🙂

Look at the slides of great speakers to get your creativity flowing.

2. Deliver Pragmatic Information

Keynotes are designed for the big ideas that set the stage for a conference. Regular talks are designed to get over key concepts that can help the audience expand their capabilities.

With both, give your audience information they can pragmatically use. How many times have you left a talk and thought, “Well, that was neat, but, er…how the hell do I start putting those concepts into action?

You don’t have to have all the answers, but you need to package up your ideas in a way that is easy to consume in the real world, not just on a stage.

Diagrams, lists, and step-by-step instructions work well. Make these higher level for the keynotes and more in-depth for the regular talks. Avoid abstract, generic ideas: they are unsatisfying and boring.

3. Build and Relieve Tension

Great movies and TV shows build a sense of tension (e.g. a character in a hostage situation) and the payoff is when that tension is relieved (e.g. the character gets rescued.)

Take a similar approach in your talks. Become vulnerable. Share times when you struggled, got things wrong, or made mistakes. Paint a picture of the low point and what was running through your mind.

Then, relieve the tension by sharing how you overcame it, bringing your audience along for the ride. This makes your presentation dynamic and interesting, and makes it clear that you are not perfect either, which helps build a closer connection with the audience. Speaking of which…

4. Loosen Up and Be Yourself

Far too many speakers deliver their presentations like they have a rod up their backside.

Formal presentations are boring. Presentations where the speaker feels comfortable in their own skin and is able to identify with the audience are much more interesting.

For example, I was delivering a presentation to a financial services firm a few months ago. I weaved in it stories about my family, my love of music, travel experiences, and other elements that made it more personal. After the session a number of audience members came over and shared how it was refreshing to see a more approachable presentation in a world that is typically so formal.

Your goal is to build a connection with your audience. To do this well they need to feel you are on the same level. Speak like them, share stories that relate to them, and they will give you their attention, which is all you can ask for.

5. Involve Your Audience (but not too much)

There is a natural barrier between you and your audience. We are wired up to know that the social context of a presentation means the speaker does the talking and the audience does the listening. If you violate this norm (such as heckling), you would be perceived as an asshole.

You need to break this barrier, but to never cede control to your audience. If you loose control and make the social norm for them to interrupt, your presentation will be riddled with audience noise.

Give them very specific ways to participate, such as:

  • Ask how they are doing at the beginning of a talk.
  • Throw out questions and invite them to put their hands up (or clap loudly.)
  • Invite someone to volunteer for something (such as a role play scenario.)
  • Take and answer questions.

6. Keep Your Ego in Check

We have all seen it. A speaker is welcomed to the stage and they constantly remind you about how great they are, the awards they have won, and how (allegedly) inspirational they are. In some cases this is blunt-force ego, in some cases it is a humblebrag. In both cases it sucks.

Be proud of your work and be great at it, but let the audience sing your praises, not you. Ego can have a damaging impact on your presentation and how you are perceived. This can drive a wedge between you and your audience.

7. Don’t Rush, but Stay on Time

We live in multi-cultural world in which we travel a lot. You are likely to have an audience from all over the world, speaking many different languages, and from a variety of backgrounds. Speaking at a million words a minute will make understanding you very difficult some people.

Speak at a comfortable pace, and don’t rush it. Now, some of you will be natural fast-talkers, and will need to practice this. Remember these?:

Well, we now all have them on our phones. Switch it on, practice, and ensure you always finish at least a few minutes before your allocated time. This will give you a buffer.

Running over your allocated time is a sure-fire way to annoy (a) the other speakers who may have to cut their time short, and (b) the event organizer who has to deal with overruns in the schedule. “But it only went over by a few minutes!” Sure, but when everyone does this, entire events get way behind schedule. Don’t be that person.

8. Practice and get Honest Feedback

We only get better when we practice and can see our blind spots. Both are essential for getting good at public speaking.

Start simple. Speak at your local meetups, community events, and other gatherings. Practice, get comfortable, and then file papers at conferences and other events. Keep practicing, and keep refining.

Critique is essential here. Ask close friends to sit in your talks and ask them for blunt feedback afterwards. What went well? What didn’t go well? Be explicit in inviting criticism and don’t overreact to them when you get it. You want critical feedback…about your slides, your content, your pacing, your hand gestures…the lot. I have had some very blunt feedback over the years and it has always improved my presentations.

9. Never Depend on Conference WiFi

It rarely works well, simple as that.

Oh, and your mobile hotspot may not work either as many conference centers often seem to be built in borderline faraday cages. Next…

10. Remember, it is just a Presentation

Some people get a little wacky when it comes to perfecting presentations and public speaking. I know some people who have spent weeks preparing and refining their talks, often getting into a tailspin about imperfections that need to be improved.

The most important thing to worry about is the content. Is it interesting? Is it valuable? Does it enrich your audience? People are not going to remember the minute details of how you said something, what your slides looked like, and what whether you blinked too much. They will remember the content and ideas: focus on that.

Oh, and a bonus 11th: turn off animations. They are great in the hands of an artisan, but for most of us they look tacky and awful.

I am purely scratching the surface here and I would love to hear your suggestions of public speaking tips and recommendations. Share them in the comments! Oh and be sure to join as a member, which is entirely free.

Speaking Engagements in Tel Aviv in December

Speaking Engagements in Tel Aviv in December

I am excited to share that I will be heading to Tel Aviv later this month to speak at a few events. I wanted to share a few details here, and I hope to see you there!

DevOps Days Tel Aviv

Dev Ops Days Tel Aviv Tues 18 December 2018 + Wed 19 December 2018 at Tel Aviv Convention Center, 101 Rokach Blvd, Tel Aviv, Israel.

I am delivering the opening keynote on Tuesday 18th December 2018 at 9am.

Get Tickets

Meetup: Building Technical Communities That Scale

Thu 20th Dec 2018 at 9am at RISE, Ahad Ha’Am St 54, 54 Ahad Ha’Am Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Tel Aviv District, Israel.

I will be delivering a talk and participating in a panel (which includes Fred Simon, Chief Architect of JFrog, Shimon Tolts, CTO of Datree, and Demi Ben Ari, VP R&D of Panorays.)

Get Tickets (Space is limited, so grab tickets ASAP)

I popped a video about this online earlier this week. Check it out:

I hope to see many of you there!

Forbes Piece: The Five Ways Peloton Weave Community and Content Beautifully

Forbes Piece: The Five Ways Peloton Weave Community and Content Beautifully

This is an article I wrote for Forbes, which I wanted to share here too.

Peloton are a fascinating company. Founded in 2012, they started selling their spinning bikes in 2014. These bikes are not your usual spinning affair though, they have large touchscreen wedged on the front:

The Peloton Bike

The Peloton Bike

The screen is used to stream live classes to the bike. A rider can see a calendar of different classes, opt-in, and join an instructor who guides them through the different aspects of the class, such as increasing speed and resistance, and even arm exercises with the companion weights. Can’t make a class? There are a huge library of classes on-demand, including floor exercises, and even yoga.

There is little doubt that Peloton are killing it. They are valued at $4billion, with an IPO likely happening early next year. At $2000+ for a bike, they don’t come cheap, and you also need to throw in the $39/month subscription to access the classes and content. The price hasn’t put people off though, and they have sold over 300,000 bikes.

Interestingly, when they raised the price of the bike, they sold more. Why? I believe it is because they have married convenience with carefully crafted community and gamification.

Unlocking Competitive Spirit

Psychologically, competition is an important component of how we behave. It is often extrinsically motived: we become competitive because we want the reward…the prize, the new job, the recognition, or something else. There have been a number of examples where this competitive spirit has been used to harness positive outcomes such as the Orteig Prize, the Ansari X Prize, and many others.

Fitness is tough because it typically rests on intrinsic rewards: you want to feel better, lose weight, or get faster. There is no gift basket for feeling better, losing weight, or getting faster, unless you are an athlete. For the layperson, they need to be willing to invest significant effort in exercising to generate these intrinsic rewards. For many, this is a bridge too far.

The Peloton Approach

To think of Peloton as an exercise equipment manufacturer is a mistake. They are a content company, and it is their library of content at is the driver of their success.

Exercise content and bikes have been around forever though. It is the integration between the bikecontent, and importantly, unlocking personal and social competition that is where their secret sauce is brewed. There are five key areas in which they are doing this.

Click here to read the rest of this piece on Forbes.

Interview with Matt Keller about the Global Learning XPRIZE Progress, Finalists, and Field Trials

Interview with Matt Keller about the Global Learning XPRIZE Progress, Finalists, and Field Trials

One of my proudest achievements when I worked at XPRIZE was playing a role in the Global Learning XPRIZE. This is a $15 million competition to produce an Android app that teaches children to read, write, and perform arithmetic using a tablet, and without the aid of a teacher within 18 months.

The prize is currently in field trials, and I recently caught up with Matt Keller who leads the prize, talking about the progress of the teams, the finalists, the field trials and more. Check it out:

I think this prize shows enormous potential in producing autonomous learning in the remotest of regions in the world.

Video: 10 Avoidable Career Mistakes (and How to Conquer Them)

Video: 10 Avoidable Career Mistakes (and How to Conquer Them)

I don’t claim to be a career expert, but I have noticed some important career mistakes many people make (some I’ve made myself!). These mistakes span how we approach our career growth, balance our careers with the rest of our lives, and the make the choices we do on a day to day basis.

In the latest episode of my Open Organization video series, I delve into 10 of the most important career mistakes people tend to make. Check it below:

So, now let me turn it to you. What are other career mistakes that are avoidable? What have you learned in your career? Share them in the comments below!

My Clients Are Hiring Community Roles: Corelight, Scality, and Solace

My Clients Are Hiring Community Roles: Corelight, Scality, and Solace

One of the things I love about working with such a diverse range of clients is helping them to shape, source, and mentor high-quality staff to build and grow their communities.

Well, three of clients Corelight, Scality, and Solace are all hiring community staff for their teams. I know many of you work in community management, so I always want to share new positions here in case you want to apply. If these look interesting, you should apply via the role description – don’t send me your resume. If we know each other (as in, we are friends/associates), feel free to reach out to me if you have questions.

(These are listed alphabetically based on the company name)

Corelight Director of Community

See the role here

Corelight are doing some really interesting work. They provide security solutions based around the Bro security monitor, and they invest heavily in that community (hiring staff, sponsoring events, producing code and more). Corelight are very focused on open source and being good participants in the Bro community. This role will not just serve Corelight but also support and grow the Bro community.

Scality Technical Community Manager

See the role here

I started working with Scality a while back with the focus of growing their open source Zenko community. As I started shaping the community strategy with them, we hired for the Director Of Community role there, and my friend Stefano Maffulli got it, who had done great work at Dreamhost and OpenStack.

Well, Stef needs to hire someone for his team, and this is a role with a huge amount of potential. It will be focused on building, fostering, and growing the Zenko community, producing technical materials, working with developers, speaking, and more. Stef is a great guy and will be a great manager to work for.

Solace Director Of Community and Developer Community Evangelist

Solace have built a lightning-fast infrastructure messaging platform and they are building a community focused on supporting developers who use their platform. They are a great team, and are really passionate about not just building a community, but doing it the right way.

They are hiring for two roles. One will be leading the overall community strategy and delivery and the other will be an evangelist role focused on building awareness and developer engagement.

All three of these companies are doing great work, and really focused on building community the right way. Check out the roles and best of luck!

Linus, His Apology, And Why We Should Support Him

Linus, His Apology, And Why We Should Support Him

Today, Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, which powers everything from smartwatches to electrical grids posted a pretty remarkable note on the kernel mailing list.

As a little bit of backstory, Linus has sometimes come under fire for the ways in which he has expressed feedback, provided criticism, and reacted to various scenarios on the kernel mailing list. This criticism has been fair in many cases: he has been overly aggressive at times, and while the kernel maintainers are a tight-knit group, the optics (not just of what it looks like, but what is actually happening), particularly for those new to kernel development has often been pretty bad.

Like many conflict scenarios, this feedback has been communicated back to him in both constructive and non-constructive ways. Historically he has been seemingly reluctant to really internalize this feedback, I suspect partially because (a) the Linux kernel is a very successful project, and (b) some of the critics have at times gone nuclear at him (which often doesn’t work as a strategy towards defensive people). Well, things changed today.

In his post today he shared some self-reflection on this feedback:

This week people in our community confronted me about my lifetime of not understanding emotions. My flippant attacks in emails have been both unprofessional and uncalled for. Especially at times when I made it personal. In my quest for a better patch, this made sense to me. I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry.

He went on to not just share an admission that this has been a problem, but to also share a very personal acceptance that he struggles to understand and engage with people’s emotions:

The above is basically a long-winded way to get to the somewhat painful personal admission that hey, I need to change some of my behavior, and I want to apologize to the people that my personal behavior hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development entirely. I am going to take time off and get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.

His post is sure to light up the open source, Linux, and tech world for the next few weeks. For some it will be celebrated as a step in the right direction. For some it will be too little too late, and their animus will remain. For some they will be cautiously supportive, but defer judgement until they have seen his future behavior demonstrate substantive changes.

My Take

I wouldn’t say I know Linus very closely; we have a casual relationship. I see him at conferences from time to time, and we often bump into each other and catch up. I interviewed him for my book and for the Global Learning XPRIZE. From my experience he is a funny, genuine, friendly guy. Interestingly, and not unusually at all for open source, his online persona is rather different to his in-person persona. I am not going to deny that when I would see these dust-ups on LKML, it didn’t reflect the Linus I know. I chalked it down to a mixture of his struggles with social skills, dogmatic pragmatism, and ego.

His post today is a pretty remarkable change of posture for him, and I encourage that we as a community support him in making these changes.

Accepting these personal challenges is tough, particularly for someone in his position. Linux is a global phenomenon. It has resulted in billions of dollars of technology creation, powering thousands of companies, and changing the norms around of how software is consumed and created. It is easy to forget that Linux was started by a quiet Finnish kid in his university dorm room. It is important to remember that just because Linux has scaled elegantly, it doesn’t mean that Linus has been able to. He isn’t a codebase, he is a human being, and bugs are harder to spot and fix in humans. You can’t just deploy a fix immediately. It takes time to identify the problem and foster and grow a change. The starting point for this is to support people in that desire for change, not re-litigate the ills of the past: that will get us nowhere quickly.

Young Linus Torvalds

I am also mindful of ego. None of us like to admit we have an ago, but we all do. You don’t get to build one of the most fundamental technologies in the last thirty years and not have an ego. He built it…they came…and a revolution was energized because of what he created. While Linus’s ego is more subtle, and certainly not overstated and extending to faddish self-promotion, overly expensive suits, and forays into Hollywood (quite the opposite), his ego has naturally resulted in abrupt and fixed opinions on how his project should run. This sometimes results in him plugging fingers in his ears to particularly challenging viewpoints from others (he is not the only person guilty of this, many people in similar positions do too). His post today is a clear example of him putting Linux as a project ahead of his own personal ego.

This is important for a few reasons. Firstly, being in such a public position and accepting your personal flaws isn’t a problem many people face, and isn’t a situation many people handle well. I work with a lot of CEOs, and they often say it is the loneliest job on the planet. I have heard American presidents say the same in interviews. This is because they are the top of the tree with all the responsibility and expectations on their shoulders. Put yourself in Linus’s position: his little project has blown up into a global phenomenon, and he didn’t necessarily have the social tools to be able to handle this change. Ego forces these internal struggles under the surface and to push them down and avoid them. So, to accept them as publicly and openly as he did today is a very firm step in the right direction. Now, the true test will be results, but we need to all provide the breathing space for him to accomplish them.

So, I would encourage everyone to give Linus a shot. This doesn’t mean the frustrations of the past are erased, and he has acknowledged and apologized for these mistakes as a first step. He has accepted he struggles with understanding other’s emotions, and a desire to help improve this for the betterment of the project and himself. He is a human, and the best tonic for humans to resolve their own internal struggles is the support and encouragement of other humans. This is not unique to Linus, but to anyone who faces similar struggles.

All the best, Linus.

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