I was amazed at how closely this article about product development at Facebook tracks with how I approach it: “PMs are 100% accountable for the results of your team.”

I’m doubling as EM/PM for a bit and engineers in my team fully own some of our projects. This is a combination of high demand and high trust that I think is working out well.


There is a lot of truth to this Economist article about German humour and I refer back to it a lot.

Shortly after moving back to Germany in 2012 after decades of absence, mainly in Anglo-Saxon countries, I took my kids to the Berlin zoo. The children were two, four and seven at the time, and had already developed a keen sense of irony – or at least they understood that dad doesn’t always mean things literally, because, you know, it’s funny. So we queued for our tickets, trading silly jokes. Like me, the kids are dual citizens of America and Germany, though at that time, fresh from California, we still felt more American and more at ease in English. But we deliberately spoke German, to help us acclimatise to our new home. In a mood of levity, we approached the ticket window.

The lady behind it informed me that the price for the elder two was such-and-such and the littl’un was free. “What if I pay you a bit extra and you keep them?” I suggested. The kids chortled and started naming prices that might clear the market.

The lady stared back, horrified. Then, slowly, she leaned forward to look at my children, who stiffened. “Your dad does not really mean that,” she said. “He does not really want to sell you.”

That pretty much killed the mood for all four of us until somewhere between the giraffes and the polar bears. “Why did she say that?” my daughter asked, in English, as though out of an instinct for cultural self-preservation. As I pondered the question, I couldn’t help but think there was something peculiarly German about the lady’s reaction. First, Germans really, really struggle to grasp non-literal meanings. Second, Germans really, really can’t help but say when they think you’re wrong.


This opening story on literalism is great but there are more points in there, like the need to correct people and how isolating and grating this is for foreigners.

The point I take from it which also relates to the fact that street slang is segregated in Germany (as opposed to France). Educated Germans will not use words from the street register in normal conversation for fear of looking uneducated. You can see this for instance in the criticism Rezo gets for his use of mixed language in his serious videos. ‘Wrong’ use of language is used as an excuse to put people down. This happens to me as well every time I make a mistake.

The counterpoint is that anything said in High German is considered to be true or at least intended to be a statement of fact. The literalism is the baseline for all interactions at that level. They are literally incapable of feigning.

You can imagine the problems this creates and how unfixable they are because they are so deeply embedded in the culture. The only way out is through. The Rezo generation needs to create a new culture and the old needs to die off.

Most of the time, elites do what they want, influenced by their own ideological commitments and powerful lobby groups. In times of crisis, when people do pay attention, they can be manipulated pretty easily by the media or other partisan sources.

You don’t add much to your understanding of the world by finding those with low IQs who can’t do cost-benefit analysis and adding them to the conversation.


Barrels and Ammunition

I keep referring back to this distinction which though coarse remains extremely useful. The barrel-like qualities of Understand, Ideate, Take Initiative, Recruit Others, Deliver Results can definitely be nurtured in people.

Barrels take initiative. They don’t wait for approval or consensus.

Barrels ship high-quality work. They constantly looking for ways to improve.

Barrels value speed. They get the proof of concept out the door quickly and iterate on it.

Barrels take accountability. They are not only willing but excited to own the plan and the outcome.

Barrels are seen as a resource. Teammates frequently seek them out for help and advice.

Barrels work well with others. They know how to motivate teams and individuals alike.

Barrels can handle adversity. They push through friction and obstacles.


Of course it still makes sense to defend yourself, but if you have any idea how software functions, it should be obvious that the number of known and unknown vulnerabilities in our devices number in the thousands and a lot of them are and remain exploited by all kinds of organizations.

Why would any device that you own not be fully infiltrated if a mid to high level service had an interest in it?