Companies microchipping employees is real – and we should be scared

I just finished reading The Circle, the dystopian view of a world when the next Facebook completely abolishes privacy once and for all. The scariest thing about the book is how real – how possible – it all seems. The world is a few decisions away from being set on that path.

I read today in The Guardian that companies are starting to microchip employees for real:

The tiny chips, implanted in the flesh between the thumb and forefinger, are similar to those for pets. They enable people to open their front door, access their office or start their car with a wave of their hand, and can also store medical data.

It’s super scary. It’s a precedent that leads to a scary future.

Software engineers are more valuable to companies than money

CNBC posted an article last week that really resonated with me.

From their article:

A recent study from Stripe and Harris Poll found that 61 percent of C-suite executives believe access to developer talent is a threat to the success of their business. Perhaps more surprisingly — as we mark a decade after the financial crisis — this threat was even ranked above capital constraints.

I’ve been working on recruiting for FATMAP for the past few months. Whether for internal positions, or freelance, not only are qualified engineers more and more difficult to find, it is increasingly they who are alone dictating the terms of their employment.

When I first started recruiting engineers back in the early 2000s, engineers applied for a position. The employer set the terms of the employment. Now, it is increasingly the engineers who set the terms.

It’s no longer companies interviewing candidates. It’s candidates interviewing companies. Companies must convince the employee, rather than the other way around.

This is of course great for employees. But when I look at the candidates coming through, sometimes I worry that this generation of developers are being conditioned by the extremely employee-friendly environment to respond to the wrong incentives.

With so much competition for engineers, is there less incentive for engineers to focus on doing great work and developing themselves…?

There are so many companies with so much capital, which leads to so much competition for engineers, and when the demand for something goes up, so does the price. That price is being borne out not just in salary, but in an expectation of perks and other benefits.

At FATMAP, we place a lot of focus on finding the right people for the team. We look for missionaries rather than mercenaries. We want people to be in it for the mission; people who share our values but most importantly who believe in our company and want to share in our success.

We believe that building the most talented team of missionaries is the key to success. We’re not climbing on the mercenary engineer treadmill.

I only hope that the next generation of new software engineers follow incentives to build great products that customers love and that make a difference – and don’t just chase the big money and free snacks.

The new way to display outdoor maps on your website

There is a new way to embed beautiful 3D Maps into your website.

Meet the new Map Embed from FATMAP. There is no better way to embed a high-resolution 3D map onto your website.

Chamonix, France

The map is fully interactive: use your mouse or trackpad to move around, and hold the SHIFT key to adjust the tilt and rotation. Or just use the map controls on the right hand side.

Map embeds are super easy to add to a page on your website, or a blog post. You just need to insert a snippet of HTML in an iFrame (similar to how embedding a YouTube video works). You can customise what types of outdoor adventures are visible on the map, whether the map shows summer or winter imagery (where winter imagery is available), and of course what location you want to see.

Map embeds are currently available in Beta for partners. Contact us if you want to be part of the trial program.

COMING SOON: Embeds for single adventures. Soon, you’ll be able to create your own adventure on fatmap.com (by drawing a route on the map, or uploading a GPX track) and then embed that in your blog on your own website. If you’ve wanted to show the world what adventures you’ve been on in the outdoors, or what you’re planning – this is how you’ll want to do it. Adventure embeds will be completely free and available for everyone to use. Email me if you want early trial access.

Kickstarting Potato Salad

In case you missed it (although the tech press have had little else to report on today, it seems), some guy launched a kickstarter project with the ambitious goal of raising $10 to make a potato salad. (Link)

The project description:

“I’m making potato salad. Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.”

On one hand, it’s absurd. It’s something like the tech equivalent of lighting your cigar with a burning $100 bill. It’s opulent, conspicuous consumption. Frivolous and wasteful, it seems to embody at least partly the recent backlash against the Silicon Valley tech industry, and the accusations that money is being invested generally into products and services aimed at making life cushy for the privileged and entitled elite, while more fundamental problems concerning the welfare of everyone are ignored.

On the other hand, why not? If people want to shell out their own hard-earned cash for something so frivolous, and have a bit of fun with it, why not let them? Although gratuitously wasteful, it’s not really doing any harm to the world as we know it. And maybe it might make a couple of people chuckle when they receive their $3 portion of potato salad.

What Stalin learned about incentives (and how most companies are still doing it wrong)

In the 1930’s, in the very early days of the Soviet Union under Stalin, the communist leaders knew they had a problem.

The process of Stalinist Industrialisation forced the majority of the Russian population, most of whom had lived in the countryside, into newly constructed settlements based around factories and industry. People were dispossessed of their land and belongings (which then became property of the state) and were put to work in new industry for the glory of the Soviet state and economy.

Although there were many efficiency gains created by the reallocation of resources to industry and the introduction of new tools and processes to factories, Stalin found that economic growth beyond that created by manual allocation of labour was essentially non-existent.

Why?

Stalin had uncovered the critical flaw of the communist system: incentives. His entire population had been dispossessed of their lands and property and put to work for a stipend salary and subsistence diet, with the entire profit going to the state. Where was the motivation to work hard?

Stalin had an incentive problem.

As early as 1931 Stalin realised that the dream of a society of citizens intrinsically motivated to work hard purely for the glory of the Socialist Party would never be a reality, and he gave up on the idea of creating “socialist men and women” who would work hard without incentives. So Stalin introduced two kinds of incentives:

1. Fear – of being imprisoned, tortured, sent to a gulag in Siberia or shot; and
2. Monetary incentives.

FEAR
Keeping people working was enforced by the absenteeism law, which defined absenteeism as any twenty minutes of unauthorised absence or idling on the job. Even giving the perception of idling was sufficient. But even Stalin appreciated that fear will only get someone to their job such that they do the bare minimum. You can’t scare someone into being extra productive, much less innovative.

And yet, it turns out fear didn’t work so well after all. 36 million people – about one third of the adult population of the Soviet Union – were found guilty of absenteeism at least once between 1940 and 1955. Of these, 15 million were sent to prison and 250,000 were shot.

It seems that fear will only take you so far.

MONETARY INCENTIVES
Stalin also experimented with various monetary incentives. For example, he introduced monthly bonus payments to individuals and companies who exceeded their production output target, and penalties for coming in under. (Sound familiar?) It seemed like the perfect way to motivate workers to produce more.

So what happened? Stalin saw that while in some cases output targets were exceeded, it was relatively seldom, and simultaneously levels of innovation dropped. Why?

One problem was that the monthly targets were always based on the previous month’s achievement – so although people may have been incentivised to exceed their target, they certainly weren’t interested in exceeding it too much, or their next month would only be tougher.

Innovation requires time, effort and resources… resources that would necessarily have to be taken away from producing output for the monthly target. As a result, little extra effort was invested in innovative creative idea creation. Furthermore the monthly targets kept people focussed very much on the present, where innovation necessarily requires investing today in things that will not pay off until tomorrow or next year.

The point is – we’ve known for years that the stick (fear) doesn’t do a great job at incentivising people. The conventional wisdom is to use the carrot. The problem, as this example shows, is: the carrot is broken too, and money is a poor motivator – a fact which countless studies have also shown. (Read the book ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink).

So why do we keep getting it wrong?

Companies who motivate through fear (fear of a bad performance evaluation, fear of not getting that promotion, fear of losing my job), and poorly constructed monetary incentives, will at best achieve only a short-term production increase. These motivators are not, as Stalin has shown us, sustainable for a long period.

It’s time for a new incentive structure. How about: everyone believes in what you are trying to achieve, and is motivated intrinsically by the challenge, the vision, and the passion to win? (Which is, incidentally, exactly the first thing Lenin, Stalin, Kim Jong Il and countless others took away from their people).

On new solutions to old problems…

Edward Bear

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”
— A. A. Milne

Shooting the messenger

Sometimes you have to choose between two or more bad options. Often the perfect choice is a luxury that you can’t afford.

The question is how you respond to this choice, and how you communicate it to your team. I believe you have two options:

  • You can act purely as a messenger, or
  • You can take responsibility and ownership of the decision, and explain to your team enough of the background to the decision that they understand and accept it.

It’s easy to go with option 1 – to throw up your hands and say “well it wasn’t my decision” – it’s always easier to be a victim – but option 1 is poisonous because it builds in your team an inherent distrust of management and a dissolves belief in your product strategy. And in the long run, if you always play ‘the messenger’, your team won’t only lose faith in your company, they’ll lose faith in you.

Option 2 is hard… but get it right, and it’s art. And sooner or later the messenger gets shot anyway.

Bienvenue!

Welcome to my blog. 

My name is Will. I grew up on the east coast of Australia, studied and started my career in Sydney, and 2 years ago I followed my girl and my heart to Berlin, Germany. I now work for Nokia. I am the Product Owner of Nokia’s web social location platform, maps.ovi.com

I thought the best way to start out would be to come up with something of a mission statement for this blog. Basically, I’d like to share:

  • my thoughts and experiences in the world of agile software and product development
  • my observations and thoughts on the web world in general
  • my thoughts on creating change and building products and systems of value

I must admit; my motives are selfish… I want to force myself to consolidate my thoughts. I want to give myself a deadline of one blog post per week (to start with) to make sure I take the time every week to reflect and to learn. 

Despite my selfish motives, I hope you find something valuable for you here, and I hope you find something to take away. 

Thanks for dropping by.

Cheers,
Will.