Another Piece of the Puzzle: Human Resources [en]

[fr] Réflexions sur le travail, sur mon travail, et pile de liens intéressants.

I was reading this, this morning: Screw Finding Your Passion. I read it because I was pretty sure I’d agree with it, and I was pretty sure I knew what it would say. I was right.

Every now and again I have a relapse and lose time and energy wondering what my “true calling” is. But largely, I’m very much aware that:


In the little “in-between” space I’m in right now, I get these relapses. I wonder if I can continue doing what I’ve been doing up to now (hi there, imposter syndrome). I wonder what it is that I’m really good at, or that I really enjoy doing (as work). I try to think of new “products” or “services” and remember that in the past, this has never been a successful way to do things for me. I remember how much energy I put into Going Solo, for an event that was indeed a success for those who took part, but that didn’t earn me any income. And how the year before that, I’d been dreaming up new wonderful things I wanted to do with clients but for which there was no market. (Sorry for all the Markdown in these old posts, by the way, Jetpack’s Markdown is on strike here.)

If I try to think about what I’m already doing with my time, let’s see:

  • reading (fiction and online stuff)
  • tinkering with computers (misbehaving, or improving, or helping their humans get along with them)
  • meeting people and having long conversations on a variety of topics (some personal, some professional)
  • just “living” (gosh, it takes so much time, specially when you’re alone to do it all: cooking, eating, shopping, dealing with admin, thinking about putting new kitchen in, bills, plants and cats to take care of, car broken down, organising stay at the chalet, walking dogs with neighbours, digital maintenance…)
  • blogging
  • trying to figure things out (me, others, the world, the meaning of life, reluctant computers…)
  • not doing my 2015 accounting, getting my business site back online and updating it, preparing feedback emails for my students (coming, I promise)

One of these long conversations, last week, helped me make another step forwards in understanding where some stuff I was thinking of doing fitted in the global business ecosystem. I mentioned these digital workshops already, didn’t I? Well, I was struggling with their business model. As they are not proper training led by business needs, I couldn’t imagine who would pay for them.

And now the answer is obvious: Human Ressources. More precisely, Compensation & Benefits. Yes, HR’s job is also to keep employees happy to be working for the company, provide attractive benefits, and offer opportunities for development. (If you’re working in HR and cringing, my apologies, as you can see I’m only just discovering this area of business.) It’s falling into place. I can offer packages of 5 or 10 workshops for a set fee, for example. These workshops could also come and complement preexisting workshops in other areas which would benefit from the inclusion of digital topics.

Another area I was thinking of developing a couple of years back was some kind of “digital/productivity mentoring” for managers. It never really took shape, mainly because I was rather quickly too busy to put energy into this idea — but thinking about it again now, I realise it’s probably also a “Human Resources = client” offering.

(If you’re in HR I would love to talk to you and see if these ideas hold water or not. Do get in touch.)

Another interesting idea that came up during this discussion was that what I’ve been calling my “mediation” or “bridge” skills, for lack of better word, could in fact be called “coordination”. It’s close, in any case. I am good at absorbing information, I understand and learn fast, and once that is done, I am good at putting it in words that “external” people can understand. I keep together people with different backgrounds, languages, cultures, in a way. I’m still thinking what this can be useful for, apart from the obvious “coordination” of multi-disciplinary teams and the like. Where is the entrance for this?

Promenade lac chiens 38 2015-12-13 17h36

So, all these lunches seem to be getting me somewhere. Not quite sure where, though. Six months from now it will look painfully obvious with 20/20 hindsight.

In other news:

Heck. It’s already tomorrow.

Here Comes Everybody: Organisations and Transaction Costs [en]

[fr] Je lis "Here Comes Everybody" et je blogue mes notes. Un deuxième chapitre fascinant (en tous cas pour moi) sur les coûts organisationnels.

In an effort to be a better reader, here are some notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky‘s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Making a decision inside a large unstructured group is hopeless, as you’ve most certainly experienced if you’ve found yourself caught up in a spontaneous “dinner party group” of 15 people or so at the end of a conference (a larger group is more complex). What ends up happening is that somebody steps up and seizes power, either by dictating a venue and giving marching orders, or proposing a decision-making process for the group. If that doesn’t happen, you can bet that some group members will get tired of the situation and head off in their own separate sub-groups, in which it was possible to reach an agreement for action more easily. (I personally usually end up playing “friendly dictator”.)

“More is different” (Philip Anderson, 1972). Aggregates exhibit novel properties which their components did not have. Scale changes the nature of things. This is super important.

At some point of group size, it becomes very costly to maintain connection between each member of the group, and so the “everybody interacting with everybody” dynamic of a small group breaks down. Add more employees to a late project and it will make it even later, because more people involved means higher cost of coordination for the group (Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month). But it’s an inevitable problem: large groups have to be managed in some way, and that’s why people gather together into organisations.

A hierarchical structure simplifies communication between organisation members, but also requires resources to maintain itself. This means that job number one of any organisation is self-preservation, as if it breaks down there is no way in which it can fulfil its stated mission.

Preserving the organisation requires work, and comes at a cost. It’s worth it as long as this cost is lower than the gain from having an organisation (i.e., the organisation allows us to do stuff that would not be possible in an open market of individuals, who would all have to independently agree on how to work together: higher transaction costs).

The Coasean ceiling (Ronald Coase, 1937, The Nature of the Firm): when the organisation grows so much that the cost of managing the business destroys any profit margin. There is a cost whether your hierarchy is flat or deep: if it’s flat, each manager has more subordinates, and so has to spend more time communicating with other people; if it’s deep, there are more layers, and information has to transit through more people.

The first org chart, probably: Western Railroad (McCallum, 1855 or so). It’s a management system designed, amongst other things, to produce “such information, to be obtained through a system of daily reports and checks, that will not embarrass principal officers nor lessen their influence with their subordinates.” No wonder the head so often seems disconnected from the hands and feet in the organisation!