today’s default tools

I have written many flavors of this message many times. You can tell from reading this blog—even just scanning it—that the below analysis is of a topic that I am interested in better understanding. I care to understand not purely for understanding sake (though that would start to put my neurotic mind at some level of ease) but also to drive action. Action that would impact me (and how I live my life) and also society at-large (yes, I am soon to be calling for a grand re-orientation of sorts, though I am not yet CLEAR upon what I want, and thus I am not yet calling for it).

The message, the one I believe in deeply, is that the state of coordination amongst the “modern” knowledge workforce is abysmal. Bad. Really really bad.

I think our great great grandparents would be laughing at us. And I would be truly embarrassed if our great great grandkids had to deal with THIS.

What is THIS?

This prompts a lot of words. I will not be able to write all of them but I will try my best to get a decent chunk of them out (either in this essay or in the combination of essays still to be written). Easier said than done but I think once the ideas get flowing this thing will all sail quite easily.

A comment I will make before this is that none of my commentary, which will read a lot like complaining about things and potentially even criticism, is not a commentary on any particular person. In fact, there are things I admire about many of the people and things I notate down below. The intention is not to bring attention to the mistakes that I believe have been made but rather call out some of the ridiculousness as a tool for driving change and spurring ideas and dreaming of an “objectively” better future (objectively is to say that yes I do believe we can make things materially better). There are certainly tradeoffs. I am looking to better understand those, and that is the purpose of this schizo-analysis style essay.

Coordination is also a really broad topic that impacts much of society on many different levels of abstraction. I am starting at a fairly random place, if we were to look at all the places one could start, not because it is strategically the *right* place to start but rather because it is the area that is top of mind for me. Convenience is really the only driver.

And the place my head is starting with today is a commentary on some of the generally accepted/defined as “acceptable practices” amongst “modern” knowledge workers. When I say generally acceptable practices, what I mean is that if you were to walk into most all startups nowadays, you would see the following practices as default/commonplace. Startups I define as like venture backed companies that lean into the Silicon Valley trend/culture/would be categorized generally as technology businesses. They tend to represent what is on the leading edge, or so we thought, of innovation and acceptance of modern best practices.

I tend to believe and this belief kinda permeates in my tone and writing is that “tech” gets most everything wrong about company building besides basically one thing which is that if you could build something people wanted, then you could create a lot of enterprise value (and thus build a valuable organization, albeit not necessarily a long term sustainable one, especially not on the timeline of decades if not centuries). Time changes the equation, but that is not the point of this essay. I know we are entering a large wind up here but the framing for the points matters to me as I hope to make the points as clear as possible. The success of the building something people want mantra, made crystal clear by the folks at YCombinator, has trumped all other best practices. And thus we have arrived where we are today (which I am about to dive into).

Where we arrived today is an organizational nightmare. It starts with a lot of the technical and also cultural infrastructure that governs the “way things work.”

An example of this would be the presence of a tool called Slack. If you don’t know what Slack is, well you probably do not work in tech in the year 2023. Slack is the default communication tool for how “modern companies operate.” The vision of the company as written by its founder Stewart Butterfield (someone I admire) was to be a productivity “unleasher” of sorts for businesses. I call it a communication tool, not a productivity tool, because I genuinely do not believe it helps increase productivity. Using Slack, anyone can message anyone, at any time, using any format. Extreme flexibility makes it fun – you can create public and private channels. But if the goal of work is getting shit done, probably could be said more elegantly but if we boil the job to be done as basically getting things done, I would actually categorize Slack as a DISTRACTION tool. I think it is ridiculous for example that anyone can message the CEO at any time. The cost of their time and the cost of distraction and the cost of not being able to get back into flow state. Like cmon! That is so expensive to a business. The lack of rigidity leaves people just making things up and as a result working extremely ineffectively (and extremely inefficiently).

Another example is the state of meetings. The modern tech business has tons of meetings (both recurring and one off). I think they approach them way too casually. Meetings are really expensive. Why do we have so many of them? And why do we treat them so unintentionally? Like how can we have meetings without a pre-read? Without an agenda? How can we use people’s time so casually? How are there no roles pre-defined before the meeting starts so people know exactly how they should be working together.

The state of coordination is abysmal.