WordCampSTL 2017 – some notes and thoughts

What better excuse to overcome the recent dearth of posts here on the Phrontistery than sharing my notes and thoughts from a WordCamp event. In this case WordCampSTL 2017. I had hoped to present a talk this year but wasn’t sure if I’d actually be able to make it when the deadline for submissions came around, so I volunteered instead.

Some notes and thoughts from the talks I sat in on, as well as the many great conversations between sessions.

(Here are the sessions I attended, will fill in notes throughout the day (and beyond))

Keynote: WordPress, not just software but LIFEWARE


Navigating a Career in WordPress


User Empathy with Advanced Custom Fields (ACF)


Herding Cats: Tips for Leading Technical People


Demons In the Closet


WordPress Theme Code Reviews


AMA: WordCamp St. Louis


Complexity, Chaos and Creativity: A Journey beyond System Thinking

System thinking is goal-oriented: there are always pre-defined goals and objectives, which system must achieve, and there are always prescribed requirements and criteria, which system must satisfy. As the achievement of any goal happens always in the future, system thinking is obsessed with prediction and generating plans, blueprints, time-schedules and scenarios.

Complexity and chaos focus their attention on the present, because even tiny perturbations in the process of self-organization occurring at present can have enormous impact on the further development of this process. It is an impossible task to make the ‘butterfly effect’ follow any goal-oriented strategy and any targets’ setting anchored in the future.

Source: Complexity, Chaos and Creativity: A Journey beyond System Thinking (Dr. Vladimir Dimitrov)

Jurgen Appelo – Complexity vs Lean the Big Showdown

Lean software development promotes removing waste as one of its principles. However, complexity science seems to show that waste can have various functions. In complex systems things that look like waste can actually be a source for stability and innovation; Lean software development preaches optimize the whole as a principle, and then translates this to optimization of the value chain. However, I believe that complexity science shows us a value chain is an example of linear thinking, which usually leads to sub-optimization of the whole organization because it is a non-linear complex system.  — Jurgen Appelo

Exactly. Somewhat reflects my own thoughts and is something that has been on my mind quite a bit of late amidst an organization and projects hell bent on removing not just the optimum amount of waste from a process but removing all white space from the environment in pursuit of maximum efficiency toward the achievement of what they already know how to do. (breathe, Brett…)

As I wrote in KM vs LSS vs CPI, too often “improvement” is seen as requiring a single, all or nothing approach. When, in fact, improvement and optimal performance comes from a mix of techniques. Sometimes waste is a hindrance, and sometimes it’s where you find the gold.


Design decisions – Shuffle Play as default on Spotify

I am really enjoying Spotify since signing up a month or so ago, but one thing really* irritates me – the default play mode is “Shuffle Play”. There’s a big button at the top of every list of songs, be it a playlist, radio station, or an album. And when you click on a song to play, it seems to automatically assume that you want to shuffle the songs.
This may be OK for most albums, but it’s a bit jarring when you go from “Speak to Me” to “Any Colour You Like” when what you were expecting was the seamless transition to “Breathe” on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Which really needs to be listened to as an album, not a random mix of songs.
I don’t know how the conversation went when they set this as the default, and put that big-ass button at the top of each list of songs, but I’m going to guess it is just a reflection of how music is produced, distributed, and consumed by a large part of the music consumer base.
Maybe I’m old school, but coming from an age when you listened to albums, and not just songs, I still prefer to listen to albums straight through, the way they were put together and intended by the artists. Sure, some albums are just collections of songs, but even with those it is comforting to hear them in their proper order. Nostalgia alert :)
I also tend to gravitate towards and listen to albums that are meant to be listened to in a specific order, concept albums such as the aforementioned Dark Side of the Moon and concert albums in which an entire performance is captured.
Which isn’t to say I don’t appreciate shuffle play. Over the holidays, for instance, shuffle play got plenty of use with the various Christmas and holiday playlists we had playing as we decorated, cooked, and celebrated. I just wish it wasn’t the default. Or that I could change that default.
tl;dr Is it possible to change the default play setting in Spotify to be not shuffle play?
* A lot of other little things just kind of irritate me

Hello world! – Thinking In Bits

After more than a few years of mucking about with WordPress, I’ve decided it’s time to get serious about developing  a better understanding of how it all works under the hood. And to use that newfound understanding to  design a theme (or two) and a plug-in (or two) that will help me build exactly the type of site I want.

Source: Hello world! – Thinking In Bits

Systems thinking and complexity

One of my earliest blog posts was a simple reference to complex adaptive systems. The concept was (is) fascinating to me, on many levels. Not the least of which is my unquenchable curiosity about the connectedness of everything, and an early realization that the world can be seen as a collection of systems. A systems thinker, in other words.

I think I first came across the formal concept of systems thinking in The Fifth Discipline. I was a young Army officer in the Signal Corps, responsible for leading and training young soldiers and for planning and executing communications support missions. Many of my colleagues approached the role from a very rigid, very structured, very “mechanical” perspective. Not unexpected, of course, since military units in general are very highly structured and driven from the top down by command and control – “Here’s what you should do, and I’m going to watch you to make sure you do it so we achieve this very specific outcome.”

As if anything ever works out the way you plan. Understanding my job, the role of my unit, as a component of a larger system that could be manipulated helped me to provide the best support I could to the units that depended on what we provided. (The beginnings, perhaps, of my understanding and application of human centered design, perhaps?)

I really don’t remember what triggered my interest in complexity. This, I think, is something that has always lingered just below the surface in my mind. If I had to pinpoint a single starting point for the beginning of my slow hunch about complexity it would have to be Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach – A Golden Eternal Braid. I came across this book in my latter years of high school and made my way through it as best I could. Though I didn’t really understand much of it at the time, it primed my thinking to be more receptive to a different way of viewing the world.

Then came James Gleick’s Chaos and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. My interest in the science and philosophy of Richard Feynman led me to Murray Gell-Mann and the Santa Fe Institute. Eventually I found my way to the work of Dave Snowden and his insights into the application of systems thinking and complexity science to the world of work, however broadly or narrowly you might define this. (Though I have some of this documented in my notebooks from the time (90’s), I wish I had been blogging back then so I had a better record of my thinking.)

Systems thinking and complexity have thus spent a lot of time in my mind, side by side as I try to make sense of them and understand how to apply them to life and work. To be sure, I have often simply treated them as “basically the same thing”, without much effort to distinguish between them. Though they share some key characteristics they are, of course, different. But what are those differences, and why does it matter? Heading in to the new year seems to be a good time to delve into this.

Fortunately for me in this regard, I recently discovered an article from 2013 by Sonja Blignaut that has pointed me down a good path for this exploration. Titled appropriately enough 5 Differences between complexity & systems thinking, the article is a summary of her notes and thoughts from some time spent with Dave Snowden as he presented workshops and worked with clients.

In the coming days I’ll be looking at those 5 differences in detail.