This week was the deadline for the latest piece of coursework in the masters that I’m working on (senior leadership, which is fun). That meant a scramble – with COVID tiredness affecting how much focus I have and plenty of other work to do I have to juggle and ration my time to keep everything in balance.
Doing the masters has given me a different perspective on many of the pronouncements from the government on work. It makes it obvious how outdated a view they have of management and leadership.
Consider, for example, the “everyone needs to get back into the office to get back to work” approach that Johnson and friends are so fond of talking about. Offices are Victorian, as much an invention of the Fordist Industrial Age as the production line. They are production lines for information: work passed (physically) from desk to desk in paper form. As the Information Age took over, we retained the same models because the documents we worked with had become digital, but they were confined to the physical office network.
Now, the documents and workflow are freed from this constraint. You can work from anywhere, and the information is where you are.
All this means that role of the office is now about social space, more than work space. The serried ranks of desks are no longer required, but what is needed is to retain the high-bandwidth emotional connections with the colleagues you work with and that turns a collection of workers into a team. And none of this requires you to commute in every day and sit at the same desk, eating the same Pret sandwich1
Forgotten history: How the Mac nearly ended up running on Windows NT
One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is how much folklore of the early internet age we continue to lose.
Take Apple. Such a lot of the history of Apple has never been documented properly. It may exist in the company’s archives, but knowing how company archiving works when you’re talking about events of 25 years ago, I’m not hopeful.
For example: I don’t know how well known it is that Apple considered using Windows NT as the basis for it’s “next generation” operating system, what became Mac OS X.
Everyone knows the story of how the company ended up in with a two horse race between NeXTStep and BeOS, and how BeOS lost. But they weren’t the only contenders: both Windows NT and Sun Solaris were considered. The idea was to take one of these and use its multitasking foundations to build an OS which would have a Mac “personality” running on top. It would look like a Mac, and, at least in theory, they could find a way to run Mac applications, but it would run on NT or Solaris foundations.
Even after the NeXT acquisition, inside Apple some agitated not to use the NeXT kernel:
But insiders say Jobs and Hancock have argued bitterly over the “kernel,” the code that will become the core of the operating system. Jobs has pushed Hancock to swiftly adopt Next’s kernel and move to other pieces of the software, especially the modification needed to make Next’s software compatible with that of the Macintosh. Apple has promised that new machines would be able to run older Macintosh applications in a window on the computer’s screen.
But Hancock is conducting a study of Next’s kernel, comparing it with Copland’s as well as Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Solaris. She had promised that a decision on a kernel would be made by the end of January, but nothing has been announced. Should Hancock choose a kernel other than Next’s, Apple’s engineers would face the difficult job of merging software from two different sources.
And meetings took place with Microsoft which had this on the agenda, even with Steve Jobs there:
One item of discussion was the possibility of Apple’s licensing Windows NT, Microsoft’s industrial-strength operating system for the corporate market, sources told the Times. No further details on the topic were disclosed.
Stories like this exist online, but unless you know to search for them, you’ll never find them. Digital archeology in action.
Stuff I’ve been reading this week
Apple won’t ship all its tracking blockers for a while
Apple should have stood its ground on ad tracking, but when you’re faced with the likes of Instagram’s CEO crying bitter tears because they will no longer be able to spy on you, it’s easy to see why they didn’t.
One word: projection
Why Are Conservatives Obsessed with Pedophilia Right Now?
I feel sorry for Pret: they have become a symbol of dull commuter life over lockdown, through no fault of their own. ↩︎
jamescousins: @ianbetteridge Liked the point about returning to offices, I messily collected similar ideas earlier today (https://jamescousins.com/2020/09/the-mysteries-of-organisations/). We are stuck with this idea that what we have (or had) was some perfect norm to which we must return. Too few people, at least among decision makers, are challenging how things could and should be different. via micro.blog
ianbetteridge: @jamescousins I think companies are way ahead of the thinking of the government on this one. I don’t know many, at least in London, that have a significant appetite to return to office work as-was, partly because making the average tight London office COVID-safe is hard or impossible. And they would prefer not to have an outbreak which (beyond simple humanity) would affect a lot of their staff all at once. via micro.blog
ianbetteridge: @jamescousins Really interesting post, by the way! I’m going to have to read that paper now 🙂 via micro.blog
jamescousins: @ianbetteridge On reflection I think you are right. My experience is mainly public sector which takes a lead from government (indeed, we’re about to move into a new office where we will have to wear masks) so I’ve probably gone for the availability heuristic. Thinking about friends outside the public sector they are all home-working or, at least, on a home-working rota. via micro.blog
jamescousins: @ianbetteridge It is an interesting paper, not least because in it I can see my own (different) reactions to various change projects I’ve experienced at different stages in my career. via micro.blog