Modus operandi

I’ve started to wonder increasingly what my ideal modus operandi would be, and how I can find or create the most optimal environment for it.
For one, I like sharing information. However, I’ve learnt over the years that not everyone reciprocates or uses the information for good. That’s when I share my ideas selectively with those who do respond positively – for instance, with some Gahmenbloggers and the Social Media folks. Otherwise, I’d feel stifled. Web 2.0 begins in the mind, and not in a line of AJAX code.
For another, I realise that I increasingly look at the origins of rules and don’t just follow them blindly. If we did, we’d be no better than Pharisees, to borrow a Biblical term. I recall vaguely, from what I learnt in law school, that some judges interpret the law by looking at its raison d’etre, while others go by the book, word for word. That explains the difference in judgments, some lenient and understanding; others harsh.

I love brainstorming, and as some of you will know, making quick puns. On occasion, they have ended up as taglines which are still used today. I used to love designing and could work on user interfaces for half a day without noticing the time. While I still appreciate good design, I’ve moved on to planning. I love making things ‘click’ together, and likewise with different people, pairing them up based on their strengths and personalities. One of my best roles was as a technologist or ‘integrator’ between designer and developer, laying out back-end systems and making them look beautiful. CSS trainer is another role I played, which I’m still capable of today.
Recently I’ve started mentoring, and while feeling slightly inadequate, am glad for being with fast learners (you know who you are). I never thought I was a great teacher, because most of what I know has been self-taught, so I tend to expect others to do the same with themselves. Now I overcompensate by explaining things in great detail and repeating myself, knowing that a thorough initial briefing means less time spent rectifying mistakes later. So far, that theory is working.
I’m starting to wonder if, despite many years of living by the book, I’m rebelling in many aspects of my life. For instance, I used to be afraid of being late. Now I’ve become more afraid of saying no and ending things punctually, thus making me late for the next appointment. Another part of me has just become blasé about it.
Someone important in my career just told me, “You’re too nice.” In short, I take on too much, beyond what I really need to do, because I want to accommodate everybody. I always feel guilty when I can’t do something for someone right away, even though I know it is insanely impossible. When things are done at high speed, the quality usually suffers.
And while people are first impressed with the speed of response, what lingers is their memory of the quality of the product or service. Thus I see myself compromising my personal time, building up a reputation of approachability and openness but also causing increasingly later nights and solitude.
But I’m a give and take person. I’ll do favours to people I trust, because I know one day they may help me in return. If I can help out, I will. I just have to remember that if I really can’t commit to something, just say no outright and don’t feel guilty about it. Sometimes I prefer to go with gut instinct, because the head just spends too much time calculating and not making a decision. I believe in the Speed of Trust and an Army of Davids, the Wisdom of Crowds but also the Paradox of Choice.
I believe it is harder to be simple than to be complicated, because the former requires much more thought and planning (think iPod). There is a lot of value in the ability to simplify things and make life easier for everyone. I try to do that as far as possible.
Also, we’re living in the Conceptual Age and have to adapt. If times change and processes don’t, we’re left behind. While I may seem aloof, I do place a lot of value on friendships. I don’t like to leave people hanging and will take up my time to make sure they’re all right. I try to be empathetic, even if I’m not the most sensitive to nuances.
I’ve considered politics or activism. I would campaign or crusade for something or someone I feel is worthy. The only time I did run for office and made a speech, excitement coursed through my blood. I won, beating two other candidates. The thought of going on stage, being in the limelight, even being scrutinised for controversy, was something I was willing to embrace. That same feeling came over me last year when I again wooed voters with music. I won, too. But I wonder what kind of creature this type of work would turn me into.
When it comes to money, I’m careful but feel there’s no need to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. If you feel like treating someone, just do it. If everyone goes dutch and somehow there still isn’t enough to pay for the meal, just top it up a little. I don’t see it as ‘losing out’ unless it happens all the time. For a couple of bucks, you can learn a lot about the character of your companions, which is priceless. If I buy something and realise it’s a few cents cheaper elsewhere, I won’t moan but will note it in future. Often, the cost of going to a cheaper place in itself will cancel out the savings. And I never regret what happens on the stock market. Just move on.
I’ve also thought about the differences in all the jobs I’ve had so far and how I adapted to them. In a large commercial company, the pay’s good, the opportunities are there, but if your unit consistently loses money, be prepared to say goodbye – even if you do good work. The shareholders have spoken.
In a very small private company, you become a jack of all trades. Opportunities are more limited, including career progression and training, because funds are usually tighter. However you may have more room for creativity and experimentation, which is one thing I like. It is much the opposite in the public sector, where sufficient training is provided and you do get paid on time. Rules and processes are necessary due to the nature of the work.
So, that leaves me still with the question: What’s my ideal working environment? Nothing’s perfect, especially myself. Just that I’d like to reach an optimum pH level one day, and balance out my life.
What’s your ideal working environment?


  1. ralph

    It’s an interesting question. I’ve spent most of my career working at a very large corporation, and I am increasingly convinced that it’s as far from ideal for me as it’s possible to get. The main force influencing the actions of people in this environment seems to be fear. The corporation doesn’t let anyone other than their officially sanctioned representatives speak for them in public for fear that others might give the wrong impression, or reveal secrets to rivals, or embarrass the company, or whatever. People are unwilling to make decisions without approval from superiors. Bureaucracy rules the day. At some points in my career, I had the support of my bosses who would provide cover and I was able to accomplish some interesting things, but at other times I worked for people who were more interested in just getting through each day without taking any risks or drawing any attention. I suspect things are much the same, if not worse, for someone working for the government. But hey, they do pay on time all the time.
    I spent the better part of a year working for a 15 person startup a few years ago. The atmosphere was much more of an “all hands on deck, whatever it takes to get it done, whoever can do it, just do it.” It was invigorating, even if I believed the products we were working on were something of a joke. Working in that kind of atmosphere, I learned a lot more than I was able to in many of the situations I had at the large company. But money was a problem. They would go two or three months between paychecks. That had more to do with the fact that the person who started the company was a con man than being an inherent problem of that sort of company, though. If I had known he was a convicted felon before I started, I would have been a lot more careful.
    I think my ideal would be closer to that startup, except run by honest people.

  2. (O_o) nickpan

    My ideal working environment would be near a beach with good wireless connection while creating wonderful websites for clients that i choose to work for. 🙂 Of cause i’ll be in flip flops all the time when not jetting around to provide my uber consultancy/training services… urm… but i think super long way more. lol…

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