Neckties are for heathens

I don’t wear neckties. Haven’t for years. The last time I wore a tie was probably 8 years ago. One of my previous bosses died, and I had a ton of respect for her, so I suited up and went to the funeral. Haven’t worn one since.

Fortunately I work in an office where nobody really blinks if I come to work in a hoody. Even for me, though, a hoody is a bit lowbrow for work. And I’m careful to look at least marginally reputable if I’ve got visitors scheduled. But no neckties.

Heres’t the deal. I loved neckties back in the day. A nice tie made me feel like I was going to work, man. Reputable and responsible, and all grown up. A man to be reckoned with, even if I did drive a VW bus. Jiminy, I was such a tool. Anyway, neckties. After a while I started having a hard time spending $50 on new ties (I know…). And close on the heels of that revelation came comfort. I could not believe that the IT guys didn’t have to wear a tie to work! Even the marketing guys were squeaking by without ties, on Friday at least. So I took a bite of that forbidden fruit and I liked it. It had everything to do with comfort and nothing to do with theology. Who said anything about theology, you ask? Hold onto your hat, we’re getting there…

There is a whole Quaker theology about “plain dress.” I think it’s weird, and I’m a Quaker. What I find most odd is that there are some people who are so serious about this that it becomes their “idol.” Which kinda seems to defeat the purpose. My guess is that those folks are in the minority, though, which is why they stand out. Anyway, I think there’s something worthwhile about dressing plainly as a statement of faith and solidarity with those who are unable to dress any other way. Scott Holmes wrote a great essay about his own experience as a lawyer and Quaker and refusing to wear a tie in court. He makes many good points, but I resonate most deeply with his comments about the ways a necktie can become a class barrier between people. Guys with ties can easily be perceived as being in a different (read: better) class of people than those without.

For me, what started out as a comfort rebellion many years ago, has since aged into a pretty clear sense that by wearing a necktie I’m erecting a barrier between myself and others. Christ calls us to live among people, not apart from them, and it’s my sense that for me alone, neckties as daily work apparel get in the way of my ability to serve those to whom I’m called. There is a balance, though. People expect me to have some degree of expertise in my field and, like it or not, what I wear can help ease anxiety. If I look and act like a “professional,” I’ll have an easier time working with those who seek my assistance. If I look like I just got back from the skatepark it’ll be more difficult to quickly gain trust.

Image credit: Touzeen Hussain

When to tweak the system

Nice short, pointed post over at A. King in Society about being being productive and tweaking productivity systems. I sometimes get sucked into the trap of tweaking systems and it’s definitely a game of diminishing returns. And, after all this time of trying stuff out, being on the GTD bandwagon, and falling off, and getting back on, I still can’t really put my finger on when it’s really necessary to tweak the system.

For my own part, I’ve been very happy for quite a long time with Taskpaper on my Mac and iPhone. It’s simple, fast, and synchronized. I saw that Notational Velocity allows a basic strikeout using an @done tag, and I checked it out to see if it could do strikeouts with something like @done(2011-03-30) which it can’t. I could’ve spent more time hacking up a workaround just to get my task list into NV, but I didn’t. That’s where I’m different today than I was even just a couple of years ago.

I don’t really have any groundbreaking information that hasn’t been shared by others. I guess I’ll just leave you (myself, really) with the encouragement to be mindful about the work at hand. Keep an eye on the 80/20 and aim for the 80% to be actually getting stuff done, and not just moving deck chairs on the Titanic. That is all.

Maeda’s First Law of Simplicity: Reduce

I’ve been following John Maeda’s work for years. He’s slowed down on the blogging since he became the Prez of Rhode Island School of Design, but his thinking on the laws of simplicity remain solid. His first law of simplicity is Reduce, for which he says, “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

I’ve got a bluetooth device that has just three buttons. But depending on how long you press them, and in what context, I can pair up the device, turn it on, turn it off, raise the volume, lower the volume, stop an audio track, pause audio, skip ahead one audio track, skip back one audio track, redial a number, answer a call, and end a call. Twelve functions with three buttons. Not bad. Someone clearly spent some time on thoughtful reduction.

At my job we put on an annual conference. For years we’ve bent over backwards to provide attendees the most granular options for registration, which has made creating online registration forms a bit of a nightmare. This year we’re cleaning it up a bit. For one track in particular, we’ve eliminated basically every option, and simply narrowed it down to a single price. Register and get everything you need, or don’t come. That’s going to polarize some attendees, for sure. What remains to be seen is whether the quality of attendees, and by extension the quality of the conference, will change due to the simplification of pricing.

Reduce is a killer concept for me. Super easy to forget, and way too easy to ignore. Scope creep in particular is a monster that I feel like I’m always fighting. But if I can remember to attend to the “thoughtful reduction,” and remain willing to spend the time working through the tradeoffs, Reduce often pays dividends.

Decision Tools: Pair Ranked and Weighted

We all make a lot of decisions, big and small. Most of the time we don’t need to over-think the process, right? I mean, if the printer is out of paper, just get more paper. No need to construct a T-chart with pros and cons. Sometimes, though, the effort it takes to build out a structured decision process totally pays off.

Here’s a method I’ve used a bunch of times, in a bunch of situations. Though I’ve used it in many contexts, I find it to be particularly helpful during a hiring process, especially with a group. It takes time to set up, and it takes even more time when you’re working toward consensus with a group (a whole different blog post), but if the decision is important, it’s time well spent.

Step One
Brainstorm criteria: whatever your decision is about, brainstorm a list of no more than a dozen criteria by which to judge your alternatives. So, if you’re looking at painting your living room, you might have a list like this: low VOC, high coverage, low carbon footprint, low cost, easy to source.

Step Two
Pair rank your criteria. Take your list of criteria, and compare each one to all others. Decide, one at a time, which is more important to you. So, between low VOC, or high coverage…which is more important? Now compare low VOC against low carbon footprint: if you could only choose one, which would it be? As you run through the list, put a hash mark next to the criteria that “wins” each comparison. By the end of the exercise, you’ll have a clear view of which criteria is most important to you.

Step Three
Weight your criteria. If you initially brainstormed a list of 12 criteria, you’ll see that some criteria didn’t get any “votes.” You can eliminate these from consideration. You might only want to consider criteria which gathered 3 or more hashmarks, or “votes.” So of the original 12 brainstormed criteria, maybe you’ve got 5 remaining criteria with at least 3 hashmarks. Add up all the hashmarks for all remaining criteria. Let’s say there are 18 hashmarks. If “low VOC” has 5 of 18 hashmarks, then it’s weight will be 5/18, or 27% (5 divided by 18, multiplied by 100). Do this calculation for each remaining criteria, rounding as needed so that your final percentages add up to 100%.

Step Four
Evaluate alternatives against criteria. Now this gets a little technical. A spreadsheet is probably best for this step, since you’ll be arranging stuff vertically and horizontally. Since you’re usually more limited along the horizontal view, use whatever you’ve got the least amount of, criteria or alternatives, along the top row. Whatever there’s more of should be arranged vertically along the left side. Now you want to compare each alternative against each criteria. So, looking at Paint A and Paint B against the “low VOC” criteria, which would you choose: Paint A or Paint B? Now compare both against the next criteria, and so on. When done, move to Paint B against Paint C for low VOC: which would you choose? As before, as you make your choices, place a hashmark in the intersection of alternative and criteria to indicate your “vote.”

Step Five
Calculate results. Now that you’ve brainstormed your criteria, pair ranked them, then pair ranked your alternatives against your criteria, you should start to see a decision emerging. At this stage you’ll need to multiply each alternative’s total hashmark count by the weight of each criteria. When finished, add up all the numbers accumulated for each alternative. You should see a clear “winner.”

Step Six
Gut check. Once you’ve done all the math and you see where it leads you, how do you feel about it? As much work as this entails, it is an imprecise method. There are plenty of opportunities to make pair ranked selections based on emotion, rather than fact, and that can lead the entire process astray. Take a look at your results. Does it feel about right to you? If you or your team have any unresolvable reservations about the outcome, scratch it and start over. It’s a pain, but if the outcome is important, it’s worth the investment of time.

I know this looks like a lot of stuff. And for run of the mill decisions, it’s too much overhead. But if a decision matters, and you want to be able to justify your process down the line, this kind of process is pure gold.


I’ve been running a lot lately, training for my first 10k race. Some of these runs are longer than I’ve run before…did 7 miles today and it took a little over an hour. You know, it’s good to listen to music when you run, but unless you’ve got a huge library, or buy lots of new music, it can get a little old. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the Bootie and Hood Internet mashups.

I started thinking that maybe I should listen to audiobooks, but that gets either expensive, or troublesome if you try to check out an audiobook at the library (don’t get me started). So during spring break with the family, I poked around at some of the podcasts I’ve subscribed to but never listen to. You know what I’m talking about. Somehow I bumbled over to the B&B Podcast (great, btw) and one of their sponsors was Instacast. Never heard of it, so I grabbed it and gave it a try. It is excellent.

First of all, it’s for your iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, this is probably reason enough to get one. I’ve got a 16GB phone, and I’ve got a lot of apps, and pictures I keep making but never delete. So space is at a premium. This thing, Instacast, it lets you subscribe to podcasts, but stream them over the air. So smart. You can d/l podcasts, too, if you think you’ve got manky reception coming up or something. But this streaming dealio has been great for me. Saves me a ton of space, simplifies podcast discovery, I can subscribe to a bunch more podcasts without affecting available space, and it makes my long runs way less tedious.

Excellent product, highly recommended.