The Heist Model: Not hiring anybody

We’re seeing this more and more among the edgiest of shops. The Netherlands has already had a massive shift towards freelancers (ZZP’ers). It is only natural that they would band together regularly to accomplish company level work but without the ties and inertia normally associated with employment.

Anil’s last point in “Upgrades” triggered me to write this, because this is the way we’ve (i.e. Hubbub or Monster Swell) been working together for a while now (and yes Spry Fox is great!) and trying to figure out what the best way moving forward is.

Trying to recruit people seems to me to be a fool’s game. I always feel a bit sorry if I see good people posting jobs or people posting good jobs, because I know how hard those are to fill. At this stage in my life, I wouldn’t work for a company unless they were ridiculously special and made me an extremely good offer. If I look around I don’t know anybody with skills looking for a job.

In short: I wouldn’t want to work with anybody who would work for me.

This isn’t to say that people who work at companies don’t have skills, but those that do are highly sought after and usually have no trouble shaping their own career paths without help from online job postings or head hunters. Of course there are exceptions and if you are serious about hiring and growing a company that way, you would do well take a look at Netflix’s playbook.

Really Networked

The way we have to do it both practically from an overhead, financial risk and skill mix point of view as from a conceptual stance where project demands and excellence drives organizational structure is a kind of networked agency. But as Spry Fox explains, this is a newfound model compared to the old networked agency. Which used to be mostly agency cores supplemented by more than occasional freelancers.

The way to work with the best of the best: usually fluid usually creative partnerships, open for repeats, trust and transfer of agency. People need to be rewarded both financially but also with work that is worthwhile. Trust means accepting the edges of your collaborators as a tradeof for their ability and trusting that what they do will be the best to all your ability

To be able to do this, some basic structures need to be in place both physically, infrastructurally but also conceptually. Aligning cognitive wave lengths with a suitable group of people and keeping hold of freelancers with meaningful availability is hard enough as it is.

What seem to me to be important ingredients for building these structures are:

  • A strong thematic focus so that everybody participating knows what it is you are doing and why you are doing it. A repeatable but also scalable back story.
  • Buy-in. Ensure that everybody has enough skin in the game for it not to be a 9-to-5 commitment. The success of the project is shared success. They are partners not employees or outsourcing shops.

There are tons of issues which I’m going to leave out for now. I don’t have the time or the ability right now to write the end-all on this subject and we’re inventing most of this as we go along anyway. Your experiences and questions would be helpful.

Update: after a late night conversation, we dubbed this the Heist model of collaborating.

Update: James Governor points to a Business Week article on the same trend “Entrepreneurs: Struggling to Recruit Software Engineers” (without much of a solution though).

Week 184

Last week was mostly busy with getting http://playpilots.nl to talk nicely to the Stereoscoop live game and make stuff work (mostly) properly back and forth. Synchronizing physical installations with websites is always fun.

Monday we also saw the launch of Stweetfightr, a game by the friendly people from Carsonified. The mechanic is mostly the same as PLAY Pilots, with roles, moves and turn taking except that theirs is resolved by a straight roshambo mechanic (one which we considered, but rejected).

Quantified Self Amsterdam

Monday I also attended the first meetup of the Quantified Self Amsterdam chapter co-organized by our office’s Maarten den Braber.

The second half of this week was taken up mostly by PICNIC which was a great event again. Criticism aside, Amsterdam should celebrate a cross-over event such as this that combines various disciplines and gets so many luminaries to coalesce within its borders. The conference was great and even better the catching up with various people from across the world.

Dutch Data Drinks

Friday the Stereoscoop was launched oficially at the Dutch Film Festival. I unfortunately could not attend this because I was organizing the first Dutch Data Drinks for Monster Swell. A resounding succes and the first of many events focused on the coming Big Data trend.

P1050479.JPG.scaled1000.jpg (1000×750)
Uploaded with Skitch!

Friday our friends from the Utrechts Uitburo also launched their integration with Foursquare (the first in the Netherlands), something which has been a long time in the making. Writeup: Foursquare Page for Utrechts Uitburo

PICNIC taking a large bite out of the week’s productivity, the weekend suffered (in a good way).

Urban Lenses

On Saturday I sat on the terrace of Two for Joy catching the last rays of the sun, while sketching out a concept model for an ethnographical study of metropolitan minorities in the Netherlands with regards to digital services and informal economy.
This was partly prompted by the Urban Lenses panel at PICNIC where certain panelists displayed an inexcusable amount of cultural insensitivity and simplistic thinking. This is a tendency among many of our colleagues to see their affluent, technologically able, privileged selfs as the model for which to design. Not to mention to see the disconnect between the nation’s policies and its ethnically diverse periphery high streets.
I propose going into these burbs and talking to these people to see what their lives are really like and how they use technology. Think Jan Chipchase but without the permafuck. A project for fun, but I can’t guarantee we won’t make any profit. Up for it?

Model

You may have noticed the transition of Monster Swell from a static placeholder site to a full WordPress installation of its own. That is the first improvement on that domain for it to become a fully scalable information consuming and producing entity. How that will impact this weblog remains to be seen.

Sunday was occupied by taking the Urbanode integration at the Melkweg to a next step and learning more and more about lighting systems. Also project mérida started with some custom django deployment more on which later.

Hard to be a God

Wednesday I went to a performance by a Hungarian theater group showing “Hard to be a God” by Kornél Mundruczó a famous Hungarian director after the story by the Soviet Russian brothers science-fiction writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

I brought my bike with me to Rotterdam because I figured it was only slightly cheaper to store my bike at central station and get an OV-fiets, while having my orange fixie with me in Rotterdam would be a lot more fun.

It’s always a pleasure to take the Maastunnel to the South part of town:
Wood Escalator

And I seemed to have grossly misjudged the time it would take to bike out to the venue so I had to blast full speed for fifteen minutes to make it in the nick of time. Glad I brought my race bike at that moment.

The venue is the same of the Onderzeebootloods, our new Dutch gallery hall which I’d still planned to visit, but which seems to close its current exhibition tomorrow. Pro-tip: tomorrow is also the yearly testing of the Maeslantkering, so you should be able to see both if you’re headed that way (which I’m not).
Magazijn Marine

The play was great. Hyperrealistic: no. Shocking: only slightly (anybody with a modicum of exposure to the internet has seen much much viler stuff). Touching: yes after a while. Our performance was heckled by some senile old bastard who did seem to think it was shocking. Interesting use of a second stage and video transmission as a way to mediate the action to the audience.

Biking through the port of Rotterdam during night time is a pleasure and I would like to repeat it, further out up to the Maasvlakte would be nice. I’d planned on doing it while I still lived in the area, but never got around to it.

I wrote a quick mini review in Dutch at our great theater site Moose.

Dutch Data Drinks

There’s a lot of stuff happening in the Dutch Data Scene and more communication and consolidation of efforts is in order.

Quoting from the Facebook event (Plancast) I created:

Open drinks for the Dutch Open Data / Dataviz Community next to PICNIC ( http://www.picnicnetwork.org/ ) both for conference attendees and those that want to attend but can’t.

There are more and more people busy with data in the Netherlands, but most of the efforts are widely disparate. PICNIC seems like a good focal point for various efforts to come together.

This is an informal Friday afternoon drink meant to get everybody together and talking about data. Topics include: open data, government information, data visualization, cartography, statistics, data mining, journalism and pretty much anything generating, processing or consuming data.

This will probably be the first of a recurring event. I know a ton of people in various domains very busy with data and it will be to the benefit of us all if we talk to one another. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to this one. There will be more.

Event details:
Friday, September 24 · 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: het Ketelhuis

Pazzanistraat 25-29
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Weeknotes 183

We moved in our new desks and got rid of the old ones. This clears up a lot of space in the studio and we now have a fifth desk open for lease. If you’re design minded and interested in a great place in a creative hub of Amsterdam, get in touch.

New desks!! (Gispen, for you Dutch Design enthousiasts)

Monday I visited the finissage of fashion and architecture at ARCAM and went to the Typekit meetup organized by Adaptive Path.

Dresses

Tuesday we resumed development on PLAY Pilots to integrate the website with the Stereoscoop game being built by Zesbaans. I spent a good part of Friday at their studio working on further integration and communication between our systems.

Design Problem

Today's View

I’m planning an informal data drinks this Friday after PICNIC called the Dutch Data Drinks. A ton of people I know are busy working with data in some fashion or another. It is about time these people got to know each other and work together.

Wednesday there was a small victory. I’m busy as a local operative for the Urbanode project and working on the intermediary layer between the application server and the club lights. After fiddling a bit in the Melkweg, we got some lights to be controlled by a Python script, which was very nice.

Thursday I visited the Boffel by our Dutch digital civil liberties organization Bits of Freedom who were celebrating their first year anniversary. I cosigned a letter by them against web censorship. After that I also visited a Speed Show of net art curated guerilla style in a local internet café.

Art

Saturday went to see the Next Big Thing exhibition by the Sandberg Institute which was pretty much the archetype of a mixed bag.

Mind the Gap Berlin

Also busy writing a piece for NRC, which is progressing slowly.

Supremacy

I went to the penultimate day of the Matisse to Malevich exposition in the Amsterdam Hermitage for some visual inspiration.

Stunning works by Matisse, especially his red room:

Red Room

Not much a fan of the inbetweenist fauvist works on display, though most of them looked nice. The various Picassos strewn about were a welcome distraction.

Like I tweeted, you have all this colour and style and visual artistry, and then you get: Malevich. Black Square; game, set and match.

Hard to imagine a bigger “Fuck you!”

Brief tegen censuur

Ik ben mede-ondertekenaar van een brief van Bits of Freedom tegen verregaande bevoegdheden van de overheid voor institutionele internet-censuur. Het kunnen killen van websites zonder tussenkomst van een rechter is een bizar gegeven.

Er loopt een internetconsultatie, dus je kunt de punten in de brief overnemen en zelf ook voorleggen aan de minister. Dit is een kwalijke zaak en het is erg dat het zover is gekomen.

Week 182

The belated weeknotes for the last week. My apologies. Another inbetween week, with a ton of events.

Monday was Mobile Monday on design with great performances by Arnall and Webb. Good to see our Dutch friends exposed to real design (i.e. not solving problems). Let’s hope interesting and valuable stuff comes from it.

Tuesday I read into a bunch of arcane protocol stuff for Urbanode and went to a lecture by landscape architect Ronald Rietveld (my notes).

Wednesday I got to talk with some of the chief creative minds in the Southern Randstad. Expect some awesome visuals headed this way sometime soonish.

Thursday marked another bunch of wrap-up and attendance of the UX Cocktail Hours (which were hosted by SapientNitro and quite ace).

(Friday was occupied with more of the above.)

Ronald Rietveld ARCAM lecture – “People go to Berlin because they think there’s all that free space there, while there is more than plenty here in Amsterdam.”

Alexander and I attended the ARCAM lecture tonight where landscape architect Ronald Rietveld (Rietveld Landscape) sketched a future for Amsterdam that isn’t dormant and touristic, but somewhat ambitious even.

These are the rough notes from the presentation:

Going to explain his fascinations by way of his work.

Starts with Amsterdam party scene and scenes from the RoXY. Amsterdam used to be very dynamic in the early 90s.

Fascinated by the underground. Also did an exploration of the meatpacker district of NYC. Holes in the urban fabric allow for dynamism to arise.

Freestate Amsterdam project for the Rotterdam biennale to see about a different way to think about urban planning in the West Port of Amsterdam. It’s a massive port that is mostly unknown and unloved.

The importance of fertile ground for the creative city. In the 80s city center was the freestate of Amsterdam. Roxy became an exponent of the House Revolution and a focal point of the creative industry.

Roxy’s produce:

  • Decor
  • DJ and VJ as export products
  • Graphic design
  • Gay-parade/capital
  • Amsterdam Dance Event
  • Inspiration

His isn’t the city as defined by top down city marketing but by bottom up creation.

After that the IJ shores became the new freestate. With the following progression:

  1. Old industry
  2. Emptiness
  3. Recolonization by festivals
  4. Metropolitan connection
  5. Trendies start to arrive (MTV)
  6. Urbanists and architects arrive

There is now a collective feeling that there isn’t space anymore in Amsterdam to execute creative ideas.

Stubnitz: the boat of the hundred subcultures where different people meet each other (and that has been closed down by the city)

Pluk de Nacht: empty plot of land, 20000 people in 10 days

Amsterdam should notice and cherish it’s talent instead of running it out of town.

Shouldn’t a city that wants to become a creative capital have a different approach to city planning?

West port has a bunch of environmental advantages:

  • Free sound
  • Free height
  • No Stadsdeel
  • Lots of free space
  • High diversity of terrains that are temporarily empty

Houtveemloods near Westerpark
Used to be a public swimming area in 1954
Proposals to move abandoned oil rigs from the North Sea to behind westerpark (massively high structures). They are waiting to be repaired in the Waddenzee and costing money.

New Amsterdam Park

Another island was planned near java eiland. A park was necessary.

Focus on different subcultures instead of ethnicity. Shared interests. Try to look for the tension between the subcultures.

Social affordances, the affordances an environment offers for social interaction. (Thesis by his brother.)

Moor a bunch of barges (duwbakken) there with a every barge hosting a different taste/vibe/culture module of the park. Every container is connected with each other. Temporary park.

Another inspiration is: trip through emptiness

Road trip through the flyover states and national parks of the USA

Same phenomena can be applied to the port of Rotterdam. Removed shame green to emphasize the emptiness of the landscape and the activities of the port. Add a flyover highway also to make the port more visible.

Recognize the existing qualities of a place and try to add to those without detrimenting from the original experience.

Asfalt dune where you can drive out onto the sea but in fact do not.

Nice datavisualization of the drive trail of how freely people use the road to go to the Maasmond.

Bunker 599
Cut a bunker in half to make the inside experiencable.

Vacant NL
Dutch biennale pavilion

Empty public buildings. Not the empty office buildings. The period between emptiness and repurposing. The time it takes our policy makers to talk about plans. Combined with the knowledge and innovation agenda of the Netherlands to be in the top-5 of the world.

Why these buildings?

  • Old stuff inspires new ideas
  • Unique affordances for use
  • Less rules present
  • Affordable space for talent

Show affordances for reusing the empty buildings temporally in a creative economic context. It seems that Groningen is already quite far ahead with this compared to the Rim City area.

Blood sweat and tears to get the entire thing up and running.

There is enough creative potential to fill this up. People move to Berlin because they think there’s space and opportunity there while there could be more than enough of both in the Netherlands.

There’s a ton of architectural experience in the room that is very skeptical of temporary reuse, Dutch civil servants’ risk avoidance and slow moving government processes.

In the Netherlands people start inventarizing what could go wrong and nobody wants to take responsibility.

Update: Streamlined a bit more and added links.