Weeknotes 299

This week I did

Online courses

You know what’s a challenging industry to be in right now? Online courses. There was a bit of a good rush during lockdowns when people couldn’t attend in person education and had more time, but now the average completion rate for online courses is 12%. So, how to make a product that achieves more than that? That’s what I’ve been working on mostly this week.

The balancing of big tech

What if only big tech can regulate big tech? I don’t mean big tech companies regulating themselves, I mean governments deploying big tech solutions that enforce policy rather than the current approach of creating rules within a system that enables rule-breaking and then maybe punishing the company after the damage is done. This week’s Irregular Ideas was about a vague vision of future governments having the technical capabilities to go into an online war with corporations.

Virtual art

I visited the Van Gogh Virtual Experience. It was good, and the VR part was really good. I sat on a swivel chair with a headset covering my eyes and ears and floated through a van Gogh inspired landscape. I went into buildings, down stair cases with a physical sensation of descending, turned around to look up and down and behind me. It was pretty cool. It was also a bit of a look of what VR technologies and environments might be like in the future for work, leisure and social lives. As the hardware improves and becomes less cumbersome (just like mobile phones and laptops did) I can easily see headsets and gloves replacing laptops as the interface with the internet. We would we want that? Depends on your point of view.

Magix teams

I’ve been experimenting with creating an emerging practice to organise flexible teams around multiple projects in resource-constrained environments. And magix.team is my attempt to share what I’ve learned and some of the experiments.

Not sure what you want to achieve?

Most goal setting systems rely on the person having a known goal at the start and then focus on what to do to achieve it. But what if you don’t know exactly what you want to achieve? AmbiGOALity is a goal system that starts with a vague goal, takes a step towards it, asks whether that step was in the right direction toward that goal and whether you know more to refine the goal a little. It repeats the cycle using feedback loops and course correction to figure out the right goal and the right way to achieve as it goes. Ambigoality.com will (probably) let people sign-up for an email course to learn this technique.

And I read:

A Web Renaissance

Anil Dash talks about a “moment of possibility” that is taking place on the internet as a result of broad cultural forces, including a mistrust of big tech companies and the interest/hype about web3 which he sums up as, “People should have ownership and control of their data online. Users should be able to connect to services and then move between them freely without having to ask permission from any big tech companies. Creators should be fairly compensated for their work. Communities and movements should easily be able to form groups and collaborate together to achieve their goals.” This feels like a timely and optimistic view of what the emerging internet is trying to achieve.

Fish strategy

Because strategy is infinitely interesting, this thread about XP being a strategy for dealing with risk (in software development) is weirdly thought-provoking. The analogy is that “Fish don’t have a strategy for dealing with water, they are a strategy for dealing with water.”, just as XP is a strategy for dealing with risk and so doesn’t need a strategy for dealing with risk, creates lots of “yeah, but…” points about the definition of terms, but that aside, it’s interesting to think about how things (like risk, for example) are or aren’t included as part of how systems and processes are designed to work.

How does DALL-E 2 actually work?

Digital transformation at scale

I finished reading Digital transformation at scale. I thought it had a few really interesting parts (especially catchphrase comms) but as it was aimed at government departments it didn’t feel super relevant to me. It did however, make me think about what the charity version would look like and who would write it.

And thought about:

Team memory

Teams need memory. They use memory to help them make predictions about the world. They need short-term memory for things like which tasks are to be completed and who made what decisions, and they need long-term memory to apply the lessons they’ve learned to future situations. Some of what the team learns is externalised in documents, etc., but most is internalised into behaviours. If teams learn like brains do then they’ll try to resist long-term learning to conserve energy (or admin overhead), they’ll be more likely to retain general rules than specific details, and they’ll want to be able to relate new knowledge to existing. All of this, and lots lots more, makes it hard for teams to develop memory.


The more I think about it, the more I come to believe in the power of processes for handling uncertain situations flexibly versus frameworks that fix our thinking. Frameworks have edges which mean things are either in or out, and they are almost always designed by someone else for a specific context which makes applying them to your context an unhelpful that looks misleadingly helpful.

Will a dominant design emerge for digital work?

Based on the work of Utterback and others, we expect new things to start with multiple different designs and over time a dominant design emerges and after that all things designed adhere to that pattern. Look at all the different mobile phone form factors we used to have but now the vast majority of handsets look the same. So, I’m wondering if digital ways of working will follow the same pattern or whether the rate of change will prevent it. The timeline of modern work is part of thinking about this question.