This week I applied to a speculative position to write speeches, which is both my dream job and the thing I fear most of all in the world. You can read my application at the end.
I also pushed harder than I’ve ever pushed before to fix (in my opinion) the biggest, most boring problem in my organisation. If you’re in my organisation, you know what it is. If you’re not, it’s the lack of cats.
Finally: I had another great week at work. I completed my first automation commission, and I’m waiting to see what the ‘client’ thinks about it. I had a couple of meetings where I actually felt confident I added value, which was an exciting novelty. And I iterated my objectives, improving them, and making it clearer to myself what my next steps are for my long term goals.
Really, an absolutely fantastic week. Well done everyone.
Strategos: leading what’s spread out
Strategic work continues. There’s a difficult middle, between the huge overarching strategic objectives, which travel in slow time and are necessarily vague, and the objectives of individuals, which are oftentimes scoped down to the next quarter. Both of these are right, probably? But it’s hard to bridge the gap. Please send me things you think are excellent on this topic.
For now, I’m focussing on the impossibility of “the bank that opens once a year”, as people have recently put it. Funding cycles that look 3-5 years into the future come into violent collision with certain mental models that are less certain about the future: the fuck around and find out approach to solving problems.
A highly valid, deeply necessary approach in certain cases, but one that’s hard to take to a funding approach that believes technology is like churches.
(Technology is a lot like church: deeply personal and often obfuscated by silly architecture. Nonetheless…)
I don’t think we’re ever really going to figure this out, really, so for now I’m going to keep selling the sizzle while cranking the sausage machine as fast as I can.
Automation for the nation
I’ve almost finished my first automation commission. I say almost finished because I want the client to mess around with it for a while, because inevitably it will break in some way I hadn’t considered. It’s been really exciting to write code, or the code-adjacent code that is Google Apps scripting. It’s also the most expensive code I think I’ve ever written, relatively speaking. On a grand scale it’s meaningless, and there’s something to be said for having your own custom-built, in-house person who can fix these things for you at short notice. And, without a doubt, this will solve a tactical problem. It won’t last well though; it will need maintenance as the underlying libraries change; and customer expectations will rapidly outstrip my capacity to add features.
Evolving this capability will require growing the team of people writing custom code for niche customer requirements, or taking my current work and forming it into a business case for proper tools. Even that is a really interesting strategic thing – proper tools that are owned and used by a central ‘consultancy’ team improved the quality of the output but massively reduces the throughput. There’s always more demand than can be met with internal funding. Alternatively, decentralising use of these tools radically increases throughput but usually pushes down quality. Everyone thinks they can write, for example, because they’ve got access to writing tools.
These two approaches fascinate me. The first is the old model of the world – closed-source, scarcity economics, that asks you to put a price on your pain. The second is closer to my world: open source all the things. But you’ve only got to glance at the sheer amount of burnout in that community to realise that’s barely sustainable.
Open-sourcing the underlying tools and offering light-touch training, at differing skill-levels, feels like the beginnings of a useful play in this area. But let me know what you think.
Speechwriting application (250 words)
I like words. I like the sounds they make in different mouths. I like the way they fall in your ears and squeeze your brain into new shapes. I like to find the special, secret, superlative speech to convince or cajole or compel.
I like phrases. I like to find the up and down, the rope-a-dope in-and-out one-two-three phrase that’ll make you sit up or sit down. I like to find the blood, sweat, toil, and tears; the jam-filled doughnut; the phrase that will echo from now into eternity and change the world.
I like sentences. I like them short. I clip them back. I let you in, no! I draw you in. I invite you. I want you to follow me. And then, as you follow, I draw you down and around, lengthening those sentences, coming at last to a point. A point that is short, that is sharp, that cuts through. I like sentences.
And I like paragraphs. Oh, I love the length they give you. They let you wind up and pitch your metaphor straight down the line. They give you a beautiful house to house your elegant sentences and memorable phrases and perfect words. They’re a thing that you build from pauses. They’re the slats of the bridge you build from your brain to your audience’s.
I like words. And I like ‘speechwriter’ most of all.