project news

So, after a week of slacking off, this week I finally managed to accomplish reading about one hour every day. Of the five working days, I read on four. So, I announce the project to be a success :)
I find continuing self-education after having finished one’s studies very important; after a degree, one is usually poised to enter the workforce as an entry-level employee and that’s it: Any promotions take a couple years even in the best cases. Considering that a typical career lasts about forty years, it’s important to get the most out of one’s time and I think putting in some extra time to improve one’s knowledge can boost the chances of being succesful at work.

Add comment December 2nd, 2007

First week

The first project was not a success: I practiced on monday, wednesday and thursday - and that’s it. That is, out of the seven days I managed to get something done on three…

But I am not giving up. For this week, I am planning on devoting one hour every day to reading technical documents about SAP. Let’s see how it goes.

Add comment November 19th, 2007

Focus again

Struggling to find the energy to pursue all my extra-job tasks (singing, dancing, working out, etc) regularly, I decided to try and focus on a single one of them for each week. I will try to do at least half an hour of said task every day of the week. First in line is singing. So far (monday) I managed to practice for half an hour - let’s see if I can keep it up.

Of course, the point of the exercise is, that my skills benefit enough from these bursts of activity that the improvement will give me the motivation to continue practicing without the artificial focus….

Add comment November 12th, 2007

Does “important enough” make sense?

Seth Godin launches SquidWho, an online, free-for-all Who is who. It seems like the squids are trying to occupy the niche of truly user-generated content opened by the more recent editing restrictions at Wikipedia (’A good friend attempted to post her bio and was rejected, “not notable enough.” ‘).

It seems he believes with all his American idealism that user-generated content should be free (where I agree) and also that there is a meaningful line of defining what user-generated content is (where I disagree). What is user-generated content anyway? What’s the difference to edited content?

Edited content is if only a selected population can create content, such as in newspapers. User-generated content means that everybody can create content… or does it? Alas, that definition includes even spammers in the list. Spam is generated by people (or machines created by people), too. You might say spam is not “real” content, but then so would be other advertising. Since advertising’s role is “remind, persuade, inform”, it cannot really be ruled out as an inferior type of content - advertising informs just like a wikipedia article. It just tries to sell a bit harder.

Now, obviously, most people will notice the difference between an ad and a lexicon article - just like most people won’t confuse spam for legitimate email. My point is not to say that these things are indistinguishable. My point is, that there is no exact line between them. It’s a continuous scale and it would look something like this:

Continuous scale of editing rigorosity

I named it the “Continuous scale of editing rigorosity”. It is not intended to be a measurement of quality as some of the wonderful blogs and lenses or lousy articles would testify!

Add comment August 30th, 2007

Which one of them is lying? ;)

Of course it all boils down to differences in metrics!

Add comment August 7th, 2007

Market metrics and internal metrics

I left this post as a comment on the Personal MBA blog. Seth and Josh were calling for questions on Seth Godin’s new book, The Dip, so here goes:

Hi Seth,

I will argue that choosing the right metric is not always possible.

I find the aspect of meticulously measuring your progress controversial, the problem being in the choice of the right metric. Assuming you want to achieve economic success with your project, metrics of this are numbers of (repeat) customers, revenue, etc. I will call them “market metrics” as they measure things external to your organization. I argue that measuring these, while they certainly capture your success, does not help you in achieving success. Contrast them to what I will call “internal metrics”, such as the number of product revisions you make for your vacuum cleaner or the number of man-hours you put into learning how to sing (26 and a half and counting), that have everything to do with your organization and nothing with your customers. I will also argue, that measuring these “internal metrics” does not help you much in achieving success either.

Isn’t measuring “market metrics”, in some sense, like pleasing Wall Street, just with customers instead of investors? If you focus yourself on your number of customers, your product development will inevitably look very different than if you focus on your vision. It could encourage you to take shortcuts that are lucrative in the near term, but that make you unable to keep a strong position in the long term. A great example for this is mentioned in an interview with Joel Spolsky (six minute podcast) where adding a new feature would have most probably brought his sales up, but then developers would have started to work their way around his system, a gloomy prospect in the long term for any ISV.

Measuring “internal metrics” has caveats in it as well, precisely for what it is: It enables you to focus on your product or service without listening to the outside world. While that may enable you to come up with something extraordinary, it is just as well possible that you will come up with something nobody wants - for those of us who don’t have a Phaedrus-like sense of QUALITY, our own direction might just be something very different from what the market is willing to embrace. I’m not arguing for more focus groups here - they might bury your revolutionary idea in committee-land - but I still think that working in isolation (where isolation can also mean a whole organization, not just a single person) is something that can cause you to hit a dead end while all your metrics are shouting “go”.

I think the problem boils down to going after your head vs. seeking mass appeal. And here’s my question: Do you think this can be tackled effectively by paying attention to “internal metrics” as well as to “market metrics”? Don’t you think that dilutes your focus so much that you won’t be able to accomplish anything? If it does, is the entrepreneur’s only choice to bet on the roulette of either one or the other?

Regards,
Zoltan

Add comment May 10th, 2007

The Right, The Wrong and The Hopeless

I’m convinced it is addictive to work on The Wrong Thing. I see people getting hooked on it like drugs: They start working on The Wrong Thing and see some results, but not enough; so they put in more and more hours, eventually forgetting about everything else just to reach some artificial goal for its own sake.

There are three kinds of tasks in this world (feel free to add your fourth, fifth, etc.):

The Hopeless: These tasks are not dangerous, because no matter how long you keep at them, the results will invariably be (close to) zero. That means, you either do them for fun (which is perfectly okay) or you will give them up before they could do your life or career any harm.

The Wrong: These are the dangerous things to do. Why? After giving them a shot, you will see results - but they will not be enough. Working on The Wrong Thing has two characteristics:

  • You see results, so you keep at it. Seeing results is so addictive that you will devote larger and larger chunks of your time to doing what you do because:
  • The results you see are not enough. It might be great to get a 10% higher salary, but that doesn’t mean you can start working less from tomorrow…

Over time, working on The Wrong Thing can totally eat up all the time you are supposed to be doing something else. The problem with that is, that while modern society certainly allows us to specialize and do one thing better and not bother with all those other things we’re not so good at, this doesn’t apply indiscriminately to all aspects of life. You cannot (or should not) work more on costs of your mental and physical well-being, for example, as it is often the case nowadays.
The other problem with this approach is, that it is not very productive. You will see some results, but working on The Wrong Thing will not change your life from one year to the next; you will not be able to suddenly buy a private plane or a house because you kept doing The Wrong Thing just six months longer. You might eventually succeed by doing The Wrong Thing, but it takes much too long. These are the main reasons why I am a big advocate of working on The Right Thing:

The Right: The Right Thing is not easy to find; The Right Thing cannot be defined easily. The Right Thing is anything where your work pays off in multiples as opposed to The Wrong Thing where you need to invest more and more work in order to get more out of it. Working on The Right Thing enables you to have a much higher per-hour productivity than working on The Wrong Thing. Working on The Right Thing can be anything from sending out a critical memo to holding a seminar to launching a new product line. There is just no good recipe for what The Right Thing is.

Usually, finding The Right Thing takes being able to take a break from what you do, thinking outside the box, getting a breath of fresh air, avoiding the day-to-night grind of working on The Wrong Thing. Whenever I was working on Wrong Things in my life, I felt myself like a slave going on a carved path with no perspectives to fall, but none to fly either; whenever I work on The Right Thing I feel like I am just about to change the world.

1 comment February 19th, 2007

Measuring Paradigm

I was thinking about setting up a framework for measuring learning processes, my first thought being to set up a construct encompassing all parts and aspects of the skill in question. That would, in theory enable to measure the learning process the traditional scientific way: Splitting up a problem in bits of manageable (and also, measureable) size and operate on those.

I am not sure whether this approach would be feasible.

The problem with it is, it seems difficult to model the synergy-effects taking place in learning. If you already know something, you will have an easier time understanding a related concept. For example, if you know how to speak a foreign language, the next one you learn will be easier for you, especially, if it is related to the one you already know (such as Spanish and French).

Besides this, I am just not sure that a skill or a “piece of knowledge” (what is a piece of knowledge anyway?) can be split up in separate parts meaningfully - especially when it comes to hard-to-quantify measures like “style” or, even more so, ”soul”.

One might ask, why do we stick with this logic-based paradigm of measuring? I would say, because it is scientific, in the sense that it is (supposed to be) repeatable: With it, I should be able to figure out, it takes so much time to learn this or that skill ono average and make meaningful predictions about how long it takes for you - as opposed to staring at a Picasso, trying to emulate it your whole life and never getting even close. Usually the very reason for measuring is to make predictions about the future. If there would be another paradigm besides the one dissected above that would yield accurate and reliable results, that would be just as good.

Now the question is, are there any other kinds of measuring paradigms out there?

2 comments January 24th, 2007

Startup rate over the world

The Global Enterpreneurship Monitor published a study (summary pdf) about the rate of the population starting or running new businesses throughout 74 countries in the world. A couple of highlights, in the USA every tenth person is trying to make a living on its own, while in Germany, 24 of 25 people are wage-slaves, so many, that Deutsche Bank is touting the need for more European venture funds (pdf). China and India, the two large emerging markets have similar numbers to the US with 16 and 10%, respectively.

What do these numbers mean?

If you look at the report, the highest quota of adults engaged in enterpreneurial activity is in Peru, with 40% and the lowest is in Belgium, with 2.7%. Yet, Belgium has a GDP per capita of $31,800, a literacy rate of 99% and a life expectancy of 79 years. Peru, on the other hand, has the Machu Picchu, a seemingly amazing climate and much lower levels of GDP. This article says “Peruvians [...] when facing adverse conditions, will rapidly engage in almost any (usually small) entrepreneurial activity to survive; they cannot expect governmental support to help them find jobs or get any sort of allowance” - according to that logic, a higher number of persons running their own businesses would hint on the economy being in bad shape. If you think about what it means to have a job as opposed to being self-employed is, from a point of view that you team up with someone in order to be able to specialize more in an area and hopefully create better products / give higher quality service because you can focus yourself more on what you are doing. Of course, most jobs also include giving up on the part of taking risk (and partially, responsibility) for your actions which has the side effect of getting a salary every month regardless of whether the company makes a loss or millions of profit.

That is, if enterpreneurship is not coupled with prospects of big wins, it really isn’t getting you much further than a job.

Add comment January 23rd, 2007

Measuring learning

Aspiring to a new career in case the software-thing doesn’t work out, I am taking dance and singing lessons since october last year. Since I tried learning to dance a couple of times already and it invariably ended up in me getting frustrated by the lack of progress and giving it up, I set out to enhance my approach this time.
I started measuring my work.
In the last four months I managed to take lessons (and practice) worth 14,5 hours of singing and 56 hours of dance. I would love to be able to tell: An average person needs about 200 hours of dance practice before they get really good, so (being Joe Average) I am 29% towards my goal of “learn to dance”.

No way.

I still don’t have any reliable way of measuring my progress. The only information you seem to be able to get out of people is “it takes many years”, “don’t rush it, give it time” and the occasional “To the dark side, give in thou shalt not.” I know I still can’t sing or dance altough I definitely made a lot of progress in both areas. Of course what I could do is measuring my progress in a sort-of binary way: Either you know it or you don’t. This is not great (I don’t like to get zeros) and I am trying to focus on what I achieved instead (I do not suck as bad as I used to) and setting small goals and figuring out the shortest way to get to a point where it comes together to be something I can actually enjoy. 

Update 3rd of July 2007: In the meantime I am at a little bit more than one hundred hours of dancing (with about 20-30 hours worth of private classes) and the progress has been great - I still have a lot more to learn but now I am able to dance through multiple songs and my dancing is enjoyable both for me and my partners.
Still not much progress in singing though, after about 30 hours.

2 comments January 23rd, 2007

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About me

Zoltan Hajnacs

I’m currently working at a large consulting firm doing offshore software development. I graduated from the Budapest Tech with a Masters degree in Computer Science and reside in Frankfurt, Germany.

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