Weird Ideas That Work

Weird Ideas That WorkIn the past few months, I have had to study up on how to be a good manager for my day job and one of the business professional books that I happen to stumble upon is Robert I. Sutton’s Weird Ideas That Work (How to Build a Creative Company). Many readers probably know of Sutton’s more recent book, The No AssHole Rule, which illustrates the problems in the workplace when people act like jerks. Weird Ideas That Work sets out to describe a set of ideas that can help companies and even creative individuals to jumpstart their creativity, and while the ideas themselves sound very simple, from experience I concur that they are almost always never executed at most companies.

The Ideas

First up, Sutton suggests that creativity is needed if your business is to survive. No company can stay at the top of its game, unless it invests its employees in being creative and working on future products and services. Given that much this is why you really should execute some of these ideas, because in the long run they will lead to future business growth. The keyword here is future, not present market share or current profits.

The first two ideas are all about hiring people who you will have a difficult time. Sutton suggest that you need to hire “Slow Learners” (people who do not adopt themselves quickly to the workplace code) or people who make you feel uncomfortable. This does not necessarily mean critical people, for example in my own experience, just hiring an intern for our department made a significant difference in our everyday workplace. It allowed us to see a different perspective on why we had certain procedures, which eventually lead to us rethinking some of them. Secondly hire people you do not need. This may sound idiotic, but it actually helps. Hiring people outside of the field of work, can bring different perspectives and expertise to projects that may have become routine and less innovative than they were originally.

The third idea is to use job interviews to get ideas. This is something I hope to try next time we have an open position. This is actually pretty interesting. I had never thought of presenting a real problem to a job candidate and seeing what they could come up with. If nothing is gained, it can at least make the interview process more interesting than your usual interview questions.

At number four, Sutton recommends you encourage defiance in your employees. This does not mean letting people come in late and leave early, it means employees should follow their instincts and their passions and work on things that get them excited even if their managers do not like their project or ideas. Sutton gives many examples of when employees defied management and the end results were big profits and innovation for the companies involved. This makes me think more about how you want people to be independent thinkers and not obedient drones. In everyday life, independent workers will correct your managerial mistakes, but drones always do what you say, even if it your decisions are the wrong ones to execute.

While happy people are great to work with, they may not be creative? Sutton suggests that you should seek out happy people and get them to fight, for idea number five. This actually makes sense. The workplace should be about conflict and letting the best ideas win. How else can you make sure you are getting the best widgets if people do not fight about how to make the best widget in the first place.

Perhaps the hardest thing for companies to do is to reward failure. Sutton points out that to be creative as a company or individual, means you have to fail thousands of times before getting a few good products. In other words success only comes from learning to fail literally many times before. If people are not failing or succeeding, then it usually means they are inactive, and inactivity definitely needs to be punished. I do not know of many people who think this way, but inactivity is exactly what is wrong with many work places. For idea number six, Sutton recommends you reward people who fail often and punish inaction.

At number seven, we have the idea that thinking positive can indeed bring success. This is based solely on the fact that negativity kills productivity, but positive feedback is contagious and can literally inspire people to actually believe they can succeed where others fail. The suggestion is that as a manager you should decide to do something that will probably fail, then convince yourself and everyone else that success is certain. This goes along with idea number eight, which is to think of ridiculous and impractical things to do and then execute them. I see this as brainstorming, but it also can work to wake people up and get them out of their boredom.

Number nine is all about deflection. You should try to avoid, distract, and bore customers, critics, and anyone who just wants to talk about money. This should be done in order to let your people nurture their ideas and projects. Most often when an idea is genuinely innovative, it can take a while to develop. Showcasing something before it is ready is never a good idea, and so you should keep others away until you are ready to unveil your pet project.

Sutton suggests for idea number ten, that you should stop trying to learn anything from people who seem to have solved your problems. Obviously there is merit in learning from other successful coworkers, but to be creative, you have to approach problems in as many different ways as possible. Gaining the same perspectives about how to solve something is not going to yield creative results. The one exception would be if you asked for advise from someone outside your area of work.

Lastly Sutton champions forgetting the past successes of your company. There is not much value in reinventing the widget if the widget is now common place. Instead your focus should be on new ideas and products that perhaps your company never thought about. After all, IBM started out selling type writers, yet today, it is much more than type writers.

The CSS Anthology

The CSS Anthology BookI finished reading Rachel Andrew’s The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks and I have to say, that this is a very well written book.

There is nothing more frustrating for me than to buy a technical computer book and find out that it was totally useless. I often run into the problem where most computer books are either too easy, (like explaining how to install something or edit a preference), or they are tomes of reference material which I get bored with very easily. It seems like everything is written for the absolute beginner or experienced professional, perhaps publishers do not like to market to articulate readers who can do multiple things well. However Rachel Andrew’s book happen to be a welcomed and exceptional computer book.

To begin with this is a CSS book, and in case you do not have much experience with CSS, this is a very intimidating subject. CSS does two things for html web design, it removes the layout leaving only the content for you to write, and it styles the content. CSS layout and CSS styling are where most web designers are aiming for these days, but if you are just learning CSS, you will soon find out that CSS styling is the easiest concept to grasp and CSS layout is quite the opposite. Given this, every CSS book tries to conquer both layout and style, and usually fails miserably when it comes to explaining layout. Part of the problem is that there are multiple browsers and each one supports CSS positioning in different ways, and you end up having to find a layout that works well in most browsers, while with font styles, even if a font does not display quite right, it still displays, so web designers has an easier time with CSS styling.

Although the title of this book states to have a 101 essential topics, while reading it cover to cover, you do not have the impression of counting each topic and that some topics are not all that essential. Rachel Andrew’s writing style makes each topic seem important and relevant to the overall discussion which is important, because it also allows you to read the book in multiple ways. Most computer book authors tend to reiterate the same things over and over again too, because they know most people will not be reading the entire chapter at once, as if they also know their book is boring; Rachel Andrew avoids a lot of repetition which is good, but obviously some points have to be restated for clarity. Personally I found the book a better read if you can finish the whole chapter at once, and this tends to work very well until you get to the later chapters which tend to be less consistent and have more random points.

Chapter Thoughts

As usual the first chapter covers CSS fundamentals, but it does it very well and even if you have experience with CSS, you should glance this chapter over, as Andrew’s explanations for browser layout and elements are very good, in fact it is the best explanation of CSS I have ever read! After this Andrew covers font styles and images, which most experienced designers will probably be familiar with. A good chapter to read is the chapter on navigation, as it explains how unordered lists are essential for making good navigation menus. For the chapter on tables, I found the subject interesting, and probably it will be something I will come back to, but I do not do much work with tabular data of late. I found the chapter on forms to be more immediately useful. About 40% of the book, is devoted to CSS layout positioning and while the beginning chapters are pretty clear, the last chapter is kind of a muddle of different browser specific problems which of half are essential and useful. I will still give Andrew credit though for remaining consistent until now and not boring me.

Sitepoint has the complete chapter list on their website, so if you would like to see the specific chapter titles you can.

Problems, Complaints

EasyRiders has quite a few CSS books on the market, some of which are in color and written by CSS guru Eric Meyer, and in certain places, it would have been nice if the CSS Anthology was in printed in color instead. Some of the tips would have been easier to see if you could have seen a better graphic in the book. However given that some of those colored books are around $50 and Rachel Andrew’s book is considerably cheaper, this complaint might not be so valid to some readers.

I am sure some readers would have liked a reference chapter, or a nice cheat sheet graphic which they could use as they are learning layout, but to be honest, some of this is more easily found on the internet and if you really want a colored cheat sheet, you should be able to find one and print it yourself.

Summary Review

Rachel Andrew’s The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks is a good book aimed at beginners and experienced designers who want a concise and very readable CSS manual. I recommend it highly.