Beyond (Data) Contracts: A Response to Benn Stancil
September 23, 2022 § Leave a comment
This essay by Benn Stancil provoked me so deeply my intended “comment” evolved into a full-fledged blog post:
Fine, let’s talk about data contracts
Benn’s “rant” feels profound on so many levels, especially if I can assume he’s captured the zeitgeist of our industry as accurately as he usually does.
My first observation is that he seem to (wisely!) invert Postel’s Law for data: be strict in what you accept, and generous in what you emit. The profound truth here is that we cannot control other people. We can only honestly and gracefully fail, if we are not getting what we need to succeed.
I can’t help but wonder how much of the energy around “data contracts” is the desire to avoid facing exactly that reality.
Next, the corollary to this is something I literally wrote last night in an internal planning document: “transparency is more important than compliance”. The context is that don’t want employees worried about “appearing” to reach nominal goals. I want them to be ruthlessly honest with us about the true risks to delivering genuine impact.
Third, the profound implications of this is that we must shift power from centralized hierarchies to decentralized networks. We have to stop chasing Xanadu — the mythical demo of reliable hyperlinks — and embrace the chaotic generativity of the World Wide Web. That is the only kind of system that ever truly scales.
Finally, Benn is right that it is foolish to replace a technical problem with a human problem. But I fear you can never avoid the human problem, only squish it somewhere else. The challenge is finding the “right” human problem to solve, so the rest of the system can support that as efficiently as possible.
I think Benn is calling for pipelines to “fail quickly” when it is better for consumers to get explicitly old data versus implicitly wrong data. But that implies non-fatal errors must be communicated transparently yet efficiently throughout the stack.
This is literally impossible (née Masnick), but I believe it is THE human problem that must be addressed — even if we can never solve it! Once we embrace that ugly truth, we can devote all of our effort to doing the best we can technically, while giving each other grace to recognize our human limits.
That’s a contract I’m willing to sign up for. How about you?
Three Steps to Startup Success (in 15 syllables)
August 17, 2018 § Leave a comment
- Own a big problem.
- Make measurable progress.
Entrepreneur Club, Week 4 “The Hidden”
July 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
- In the management context, particularly, it behooves us to ask ourselves constantly: How much are we able to see?
- we would inevitably be subject to those same delusions at Pixar unless we came to terms with our own limited ability to see.
- I resolved to bring as many hidden problems as possible to light, a process that would require what might seem like an uncommon commitment to self-assessment.
- the leaders of these companies were not attuned to the fact that there were problems they could not see. And because they weren’t aware of these blind spots, they assumed that the problems didn’t exist.
- If we accept that what we see and know is inevitably flawed, we must strive to find ways to heighten that awareness—to fill in the gaps
- making room in my head for the certainty that, like it or not, some problems will always be hidden from me has made me a better manager
- This universe of unknown stuff will intrude in our lives and activities, so we have no choice but to deal with it.
- Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
- Proverbs 28:26 Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.
- Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
- Matthew 13:14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
- John 9:41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.