The Heirloom Lounge

by Venkat on July 30, 2014

A short story. A sci-fi short story. A kitchen-sink sci-fi short story. You’ve been warned.

The flight had been delayed for another hour and my glasses had just been bricked by yet another update. Plus the rim was cracked from when I’d sat on it earlier. There was a printing and service station at the other end of the terminal, but I didn’t feel like leaving the lounge and weaving through the crowds of uncannies to get it fixed, just so I could read. So I sipped the free coffee, fiddled with the glasses, and looked around idly.

The SeaTac heirloom lounge had been renovated since my last trip. There was now fake wood paneling. The snack selection was more varied, but cheaper. No more fresh fruit. Worst of all, sections of the opaque corridor-side walls had been replaced with floor-to-ceiling etched glass sections. You could see passersby peering in through the gaps in the etching.

Well, I had nothing to hide, let them watch. At least I didn’t have to see bits and pieces of the uncannies if I sat facing the back wall.

The older man across from me was pretending to read a magazine, but he seemed bored and annoyed by the delay too. We were the only ones in the heirloom lounge. He tossed his magazine aside.  I glanced surreptitiously at it. Real paper. Letterpress. What looked like hand-stitched binding. Nice.

He looked me over with a benign, patrician air.  Sixty or seventy, I guessed. Not much anon there.

His eyes rested for a moment on my hat, making me wish I’d worn my other hat. The one not emblazoned with the chain logo, and without transcranial leads showing under the fraying band. But I needed to do some thinking on this flight, and the older hats still worked better than the cheap new ones.

He seemed to hesitate for a moment. Then he spoke.

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Structure Follows Context

by Venkat on July 23, 2014

I like mirroring principles in business a lot. My two favorite ones in business are Conway’s Law (product structure follows organizational structure) and Chandler’s Law (structure follows strategy). In conversations about business in recent years, I’ve been adding two more principles to complete a loop of sorts: market structure follows product structure and strategy follows market structure. The whole thing is what I call the data-driven death spiral, and is the reason I’ve become a partisan on the question of product-driven versus customer-driven thinking.  It operates through unimaginative leaders navigating entirely on the basis of market signals, which ultimately leads to businesses chasing their own tails. The only way a maturing business can break out of the death spiral is through the actions of a very strong leader. One capable of injecting a stiff dose of imaginative authoritah from the top.

dddspiralThat said, I’ve been sensing that my model is incomplete in a significant way. The biggest mirroring effect is the one it is easiest to miss: structure follows context. A context is the evolutionary environment (which is not the same as the competitive environment) within which a business grows, and which they shape to serve their needs as they grow. A city is the classic example of a context, but there are other kinds, such as ancient trade routes, or github (for purely virtual software teams). Contexts host businesses, but are not themselves primarily or necessarily businesses.

A context  is the sum of all history rolled up into a present-day operating environment, like a canvas with an evolving painting already on it. A new business must be painted onto some such canvas, just as software must be compiled for a specific machine. Only dictators have the luxury of razing a living context, creating a blank canvas (a dumb thing to do in almost every case).

Let’s look at the example of Seattle to see what I mean.

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Close Encounters of the Missing Kind

by Venkat 07.16.2014

My daily routine is a strange attractor.  Every morning, I decide whether to hit one of the cafes on my regular circuit or work at the desk I rent from a local business. After lunch, and sometimes a nap, I pick a different location for my second work session. My most frequent cafe choices are as follows: […]

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A Koan is not a Riddle

by Jordan Peacock 07.09.2014

Jordan is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf on Google+ and The following is a break from my Marginally Acceptable series. Venkatesh asked for a review of Gilles Deleuze’s Difference & Repetition. This is what he got instead. Philosophy has long had two distinct approaches, embodied in the approaches of […]

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Roundup: January – June 2014

by Venkat 07.02.2014

Here’s the mid-year roundup. Not counting procedural posts, we’ve had 23 essays in the first six months. The Now Reading page also been updated for the year, check it out for the current state of the ribbonfarm reading radar. Free, as in Agent Consent of the Surveilled The Poor Usability Tell (Jordan) Technical Debt of the […]

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Portals and Flags

by Venkat 06.25.2014

The point of complex debates is not to prove your side right and the other wrong. Smart people make this mistake most often, and end up losing before they ever get started. The point of complex debate is always seduction: winning-over rather than winning. You do this not through logic or even novel insight, but […]

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The Physics of Stamp Collecting

by Venkat 06.18.2014

Ernest Rutherford’s famous line, “all science is either physics or stamp collecting,” has bothered me ever since I first heard it. I’ve used it to make fun of biologists, and I’ve used it as a critical perspective on physics. Rutherford almost certainly meant it as an insult to non-physicists, but there is a deeper and non-prejudiced […]

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The Deliberate Practice of Disruption

by Venkat 06.11.2014

Recently, I concluded that our understanding of expertise, especially in the sense of the 10,000 hour meme, is seriously flawed. Even though there is something real there. And I don’t just mean the understanding conveyed by Malcolm Gladwell, who popularized the idea. I include the primary researchers such as K. Anders Ericsson on whose work the popular […]

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Saints and Traders: The John Henry Fable Reconsidered

by Venkat 06.04.2014

I only recently learned (from Sarah Constantin, whose new blog is worth checking out) of the American folk legend of John Henry, a steel driver who raced against a steam drill and won, only to drop dead right after. Wikipedia tells the story thusly: He worked as a “steel-driver”—a man tasked with hammering a steel drill […]

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Artistic Forestry: 2014 Annual Letter

by Venkat 05.29.2014

For the past three years I’ve been doing a sort of annual letter to shareholders/call for sponsorships a la Warren Buffet’s Sage of Omaha act, roughly around March-April. I am about two months late this year. I am just going to start calling this my annual letter from now on. I plan to make it approximately […]

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