Self Descriptions made Easy

I have a „Manual of Me“ in my professional e‑Mail signature for a while now. That describes when and how to reach me, and how I communicate or set tasks.

What it doesn’t do in depth or any detail is describing what I’m really good at or what I’m bad at.

And that is something that no team should ever ask from its members. Forcing people to write down or reveal what they are good and bad at is… bad. For multiple reasons:

One reason is that a lot of times, people don’t really know what their relevant weaknesses are. Or they don’t like to face them. Or they know them, face them internally, but won’t ever admit to them to their boss or coworkers. Because, let’s face it, there is a real risk that this will be used against them.

In those cases, you’ll end up with weaknesses as „too driven“, „too detail oriented“, „not taking breaks enough“, with the hopes that they’ll look good.

The other thing is that what I might perceive as a big weakness might actually be insignificant in the team dynamic. Who cares if I can’t do math in my head at the speed of thought, I have a calculator app and a spreadsheet available at all times anyway!

So instead, I recommend thinking and talking at length within a team about how one communicates, decides, and documents things. There are lots of differences on how this can happen, especially if you cross cultural borders by having a diverse multinational team. (see https://​erinmeyer​.com/​b​o​o​k​s​/​t​h​e​-​c​u​l​t​u​r​e​-​m​ap/)

Putting those differences and preferences out into the open is really useful.

Things that are good to explain about oneself

Get your folks to explain themselves in these terms:

  • what are their productive/waking hours? Are they night owls, early birds, or something in between?
  • Do they prefer face-to-face, synchronous, asynchronous or just written communication?
  • How do they like to separate documentation and decision-making?
  • What is their instinct when it comes to looking for information? Which systems do they use, who do they ask (if they ask someone at all)?
  • What are their notification etiquette? Are there times where you shouldn’t try to call them, or is that something you don’t need to worry about?
  • How do they want to get tasks assigned and reviewed, how do they do this themselves?
  • What are their preferred ways of addressing them? Honorific, nicknames, full names, pronouns, the works.

A tangent on leadership

I strongly advise that the team lead or most senior person of the group leads by example here. Don’t put the onus on the others to find out what is appropriate to share or tell, don’t let them guess what is necessary information. This is absolutely a managerial responsibility, to set the tone and expectations in a way that doesn’t discourage people, or makes them write in supplicant answers, in the hope to not look bad.

Communication can and should be trained, but it needs to start honest and open. If your team thinks they cannot be that way, you won’t get anywhere with them.

And power imbalances, even if you’re the most approachable manager of all, are still a thing. Subordinates will always have the next firing/hiring/promotion round in the back of their minds. Individual members of your team might thus not only worry about how they are perceived by you, but also by their peers, who could gleefully exploit any (perceived) weaknesses of others in order to get that promotion for themselves, or to prevent being axed when the inevitable downsizing comes.

Back to self descriptions

Self descriptions are useful. They make unspoken assumptions visible and clear, they highlight the differences between individuals in a way that makes them useful instead of a source of conflicts.

And they provide the basis on which to improve communication and collaboration within a group of people.

These self descriptions are not an end to themselves, they are a tool to figure out future collaboration and communication. Ideally, you encourage everyone to revisit their and other people manuals every now and then too.

I’m not a Warhammer player, but…

…I unironically like the old Warhammer 40K universe depictions and canon. You know, the Rick Priestley, John Blanche era. Where everything was bad, grimy, gloomy and evil.

This is peak Leman Russ, as he should be:

A black and white pencil portrait of "Marine Commander Leman Russ", taken from the first edition Rogue Trader book - his face is warped from scars and cybernetic implants, everything looks distorted and gloomy

Not this:

A colour illustration of a very heroic looking Leman Russ with flowing blonde hair, taken from https://warhammer40k.fandom.com/wiki/Leman_Russ

Warhammer 40,000, as depicted and conceived in the 80ies absolutely was a satire and reaction to Thatcherism in the UK, quite in line with comics like Judge Dredd and other things from the 2000 AD magazine. Space Marines were fucked up purposefully mutated humans that were fighting fucked up accidentally mutated humans.

And in that take of the universe, I think it is fine to have uber-macho all-male Space Marines, to have a devoted cult of the emperor, to have the humans shout „death to all xenos“. Because it is clear from the artwork alone that this is a fucked up world, full of fucked up decisions. No one in there looks or stands in for anyone in our real world, which is a neat thing to have when the game is about wholesale slaughter. (Of course, a lot of the „human factions“ take on decorations and themes from armies from our real-world past. But they are so exaggerated, that I don’t really think a matching and identification is possible.)

So, yes, I actually like this take. It brings me back to the 80ies, to crusty Punks and Hair Metal, to counterculture and rebellion.

But today, as the artwork starts to become squeaky clean and actually heroic. Games Workshop is clearly trying to focus on about how cool the Space Marines are. Nothing on the surface tells you that they would be fucked up, and the lore keeps telling you that they have to be the way they are, that the xenos threat is real.

And with that, the satire looses its teeth. Games Workshop of course knows this, so they end up having to make the good guys, you know, actually good. These toy soldiers cannot be doing warcrimes left and right anymore, they become more good-looking, and (and that is where the sad puppies start howling at the moon) you start making figures that your whole audience can identify with.

And that means including people of colour, a variety of gender being represented outside of Slaaneesh cults, and so on. Because the factions aren’t all villains anymore.

This change is the natural consequence of the slow-but-sure transition of the Space Marines from „crazed fanatics willing to die for the cult of a dead Emperor rotting on his golden throne“ to „somehow heroic, noble and virtuous. As good guys.“ (quotes from freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngul)

So, if you want the Space Marines and the Empire of Man to be „the good guys“, you have to embrace the good sides of humanity too. And that means including ALL of humanity, in all its multi-gendered, multi-skin-hues, multi-anything glory.Sorry to the sad puppies, I don’t make the rules, I’m just telling you how it is.

Living in the suburbs

Slightly more than a decade ago, I moved from one of the more out there parts of Hamburg back into a more central part. And I loved it. I gained about one to two hours of free time thanks to a shorter commute, I had all the shops and places to eat I wanted in walking distance, things felt more lively overall.

Back then, I vowed I would never go back to that awful place at the periphery.

Two years ago, I moved back to that part, and I love it. What has changed?

Well, for starters, I work from home full time now. That means that awful commute has completely disappeared.

The other reason is that I moved not into the same house as before, but to a place that has all the necessary daily needs within walking distance: Supermarket, bakery, hairdresser, doctors, pharmacy, public transit connection. It is all there and can be reached by less than 5 minutes of walking. Most of them actually under a minute.

At the „awful place“, I had to take a bus (that would leave right from my doorstep admittedly) to the city, but there was no direct connection, and it didn’t leave as often as one would love to.

The new place has a bus and a train, and it is a more direct connection too.

But the cincher really is the fact that all the important bits of infrastructure are right here. That is what people need — not more car lanes into the city, but infrastructure for daily life in walking distance. Really, learn this lesson, dear city planners!

I have my own Mastodon instance now

One of the cool things of federated social media is that each instance can have their own rules and conventions.

One of the bad things of federated social media is that each instance has their own rules and conventions.

What do I mean? I started out on octodon​.social and felt pretty good there. Then I realized that a lot of people I followed initially went silent. Turns out that they were on infosec​.social, and for $reasons (reasons I understand, but don’t necessarily need to adopt myself) , the admin of octodon​.social blocked that instance. So I eventually and very reluctantly moved to hachyderm​.io. Turns out, the same thing is happening there too, just with different servers.

Fediverse moderation has several levels:

  • end user self-defense: „This person did something bad and I prevent them from interacting with me.“
  • moderating local content on a personal basis: „This person on the same server as me did something bad, so here are the consequences for them“
  • moderating external content on a personal basis: „This person on a different server as me did something bad, so I limit how they can interact with people on my server“
  • moderate external content on an instance basis: „I find this whole other instance suspect, so I limit how everyone on that whole instance can interact with people on my server“

If my personal sensibilities and those of the people who moderate my insteance differ (and they will absolutely differ to some degree!), you will at best just miss out on a bit of content but at worst will suddenly be cut off from people you interacted a lot.

This is compounded by the fact that there is no documented consensus for moderation across instances. (Like darcy​.is would have provided, btw :) ) You won’t know what’ll happen until it actually does.

So, for me, the problem is this:

A venn diagramm with four circles.  Three circles are arranged so they do not overlap and are labeled A, B, C.  The fourth circle is in the middle and overlaps each of the other three a bit and is labeled "me"

Yep, that is me, in the middle of a few non-overlapping communities. (There are also a lot of communities that do overlap, but let’s ignore those for now) So, when I join a server in community A, and A suddenly decides to defederate from C, I lose that chunk of people. When I join B instead, and they already hate A, I lose out a different chunk.

Finding that elusive instance Z that plays nice with everyone else is gonna be… hard.

And now that folks like Meta and others are opening ActivityPub servers lines are drawn in the sand: „If you federate with Meta, I will block that instance!“ Or „if you don’t protect the children, I will protect them from you!“. Or „We’re sex positive, if you block the furries, I’ll defederate from you!“ 

And here am I, just wanting to talk to my friends and see cat pictures. So, I opt out of the drama and have my own single-person instance now: @jollyorc@social.5f9.de No, don’t ask me if you can join it, I don’t want that kind of responsibility. Take 9 Euros per month and go to fedi.monster, they’ll help you out.