apt-get install aclue

My boss called a meeting mid-week last week, and if all goes well, there’ll be some changes at work. That’s a very good thing.
I deliberately don’t write about work very often, and only in vague terms when I do, because some things I wrote about work in the past came back to bite me.

I’ve thought blogs were a very useful tool for a long time. When I started my career in 1997, I found myself gravitating towards some embryonic blog-like sites that offered technical information. Eventually enough people egged me into starting one myself. I found myself posting the solutions to my technical problems there, since searching there was much easier than with any tools we had at work. It’s a good way to work in the public eye and solicit ideas and feedback.

Well, my boss took notice. I blog, and so does one of my coworkers (I hesitate to mention him by name, as it might give away my employer, which I’d still rather not do). He visits from time to time, though the only time he’s tried to post a comment, my DSL connection went down (he naturally asked what I was doing to sabotage IE).

At the meeting, where we were talking about new ways to do things, he asked me point-blank to “Set up a weblog like you and [the guy in the cube next to me] have.”

So this morning I asked my mentor in the cube next to me for a MySQL account on one of our Linux servers. Then I installed Movable Type, mostly because both of us have heard great things about it but neither of us (so far) has been willing to risk everything by switching to it. (I know it’s not free for commercial use; call this “evaluation.” For all I know we’ll end up using b2, which is under the GPL, because for internal, intranet purposes, I don’t know that MT offers anything that b2 doesn’t. But if the boss decides he wants us to go live with MT, we’ll fork over the $150.)

The idea is, we can all log onto the blog at the end of the day and write down any significant things we did. Along the way, hopefully we’ll all learn something. And, as far as I can tell, we won’t block our clients from seeing the blog either. That way they can catch a glimpse into what we do. They won’t understand it all (I know I won’t understand all the VMS stuff on there, and the VMS guys may not understand all the NT stuff) but they’ll see something.

We talked about the cluetrain philosophy a little bit. Essentially, both of us understand it as the idea of being completely open, or at least as open as possible, with the customer. Let them see the internal operations. Let them make suggestions. Let them participate in the design of the product or service.

And I think that’s good up to a point.

Robert Lutz, one of the executives who turned Chrysler around before Daimler-Benz bought the automaker and ran it into the ground, wrote a marketing book called Guts: The Seven Laws of Business That Made Chrysler the World’s Hottest Car Company. I’ve got a copy of it on my shelf at work. One of the chapters of the book is titled, “The Customer Isn’t Always Right.” He argued that customers will follow trends and not necessarily tell the truth. Put out a survey asking people if they’d like a heated cupholder in their car, and most of them will say, yes, they’d love a heated cupholder. Everybody knows that a heated cupholder is a useless gadget no one will use, it won’t work right, and it’ll increase the cost of the car without adding any value, but nobody wants to look cheap.

Lutz argued that experts should make decisions. Since cars are the love of Lutz’s life, Lutz knows how to make killer cars. Lutz observed that the redesigned Dodge Ram pickup elicited extreme reactions. People either loved it or hated it. 70% of respondents loved it; 30% of respondents said they’d never go near the thing. Lutz argued that their then-current design had roughly 30% marketshare, so if half the people who said they loved it bought one, they’d gain 5%. So they brought it to market, and gained marketshare.

I suspect the biggest reason why the cluetrain philosophy works is that it helps to make you experts. See enough opinions, and you’ll learn how to recognize the good ones. When you’re clueless, the cluetrain people are right and you look like geniuses. Eventually, you stop being clueless, and at that point, Lutz is right.

The main reason I’m excited about having a blog in place at work isn’t because blogs in IT are trendy and popular and glitzy. (I’d still be using an Amiga if I could get a 68060 accelerator and a Zorro II Ethernet board without spending a grand.) I’m excited about blogs because I think it’ll get us a clue.

My boss typed apt-get install aclue at work today. I don’t think that’ll get us anything. Bgirwf that blog doesn’t get us a clue, I don’t think anything will.

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