Sri Lanka, in lovely black and white...

I'm working with a partner in Sri Lanka. Found this on BoingBoing today. Very cool.

Sri Lanka, when these pictures were taken, was called Ceylon. Before that, it was the island of Scerendip, whence the word scerendipity.

A few miles to the North, Chenai used to be Madras.

Mumbai used to be Bombay.

Growing up in the South, I'm well prepared for this dichotomy. The Battle of Antietem used to be the Battle of Sharpsburg. Bull Run, Manassas.

It's all just a binary form of victor's justice.

Anyway, the pictures are very cool.


Post-It Notes

So, about a month ago I wrote the following on a post-it note:

"write blog entry about small-set intersection theory of macro-economics"

Okay. I'll do that.

Except I have no idea what the small-set intersection theory of macro-economics is.

I do have my own global macro-economic theory, but it has little to do with set theory, much less "small-set intersection theory". Which while being made of words is basically a bunch of gibberish.

I clearly need bigger post-it notes.

Until I get bigger post-it notes, or until I remember what I meant by small-set intersection theory, I'll just post a link to this site.

It's a map company. The maps they make and sell are just really really cool. They show global trends (things like poverty, imports, exports, fuel production, fuel consumption) by inflating or deflating the sizes of each country on the map. Brilliant way to show a lot of quantitative information quickly.

Google News

If you have a team of people working for you in India, you really need to pay attention to what's going on in India. For instance, if you ask your team in a status call if everyone has been able to make it to work and home safely during a week of bad monsoon rains, you show your team a few things -- you're a decent human being -- you are paying attention to their welfare -- you know what's going on around your team, even though it's in India -- you're a responsible business person.

It's real easy to stay up on this kind of thing.

Any number of end-user portal sites can keep you up to date and in the loop. For instance, Google News lets you configure and save a custom news feed page, with feeds from almost anywhere on the planet.

My "Google News" page, which I check every morning when I get in to the office, has links for US Business, India general news, Sri Lanka general news, and Argentina general news. (I work with teams in India and Argentina, and my company has a partner in Sri Lanka...)

I find out about mergers and acquisitions in our space, bombings and floods and cold-war with Pakistan on the Indian sub-continent, Tamil rebels in Colombo, and soccer scores in Argentina. (either not much of merit goes on in Buenos Aires, or I picked a weak news agency...)

5 minutes every morning, skim skim skim, and I'm up to speed. Once every few days I find something worth a deep dive, and I come away better informed.

It really does go a long way with the teams, to pay attention to their worlds.

And as a business owner, you really need to understand geo-political risk, and pay attention to anything that could take your team out of commission for even a day.

Google News (or Google Desktop, or any of a number of other sites or tools) can let you do this for free.

Ask, don't answer

This is a continued meditation on the difficulty of multi-shore communication.

I sat in on a status call with one of my teams today. We had one manager and three subject matter experts on our end, and a team of about 15 engineers and team leads on the conference phone in India.

I'll preface my commentary by saying that Monday morning quarter backs have the easiest job in the NFL. I've been leading calls with teams in India for a few years. I seldom get to sit and listen to my guys lead calls. So this is likely a case of "do as I say, not as I do".

My guy, who was leading the call, was doing a good job. He was holding our India team accountable for some very tough technical stuff. He knew what needed to be done, and clearly wanted to make sure that the guys on the other end of the phone were on the ball. So he asked a bunch of probing questions:

For example, he asked:

- What versions of Outlook are you testing this feature against?

Good question, I thought. Let's see what they say...

Then he continued...

- You're testing with Outlook from an Office 2000 and an Office XP installation, right?

Oooooh. Bummer.

Of course, they answered:

- Yes. We're testing with Outlook from an Office 2000 and an Office XP installation.

What did we learn in that exchange? Not much, really.

I'm cynical by nature. Communication, when based on cynicism, becomes a matter of "trust but verify". The guy leading the call missed a big opportunity. He asked a tough question, and proceeded in the same breath to give the folks he asked the answer. He got assurance that they were doing the testing "right", but he doesn't really know if they get it or not.

A better approach would be something like:

- Can you tell me what versions of Outlook you're testing with?

It's a simple change, but it's critical when attempting to communicate and lead without being in the room with the people doing the work. In that model, you get to find out exactly what the folks on the other end are doing and thinking.

I sum it up with a simple, easy to remember missive: ask, don't answer.

It gives the folks on the other end a chance to be smart, and if they don't get it, it gives you a chance to learn that and correct it, before it's a big problem. It may seem kind of mean spirited and distrustful, but I really think it's a win-win.

Ask, don't answer.

And by the way, do as I say, not as I do.