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Tue 22 Jul 2003
About Hits and How Artists Work
Category : Commentary/hits.txt
Do you know how many people read Jon Udell's weblog at InfoWorld (Jon's Radio)? I believe it's a huge lot, judging by the number of people who hit the Sendmail Enabler page after he wrote about his experience using it. Thanks, Jon, if you ever read this. That, and other nice notes like that, have made it all worthwhile.
I guess that's the kind of high Steve Jobs and the people at Apple feel when they launched something that has been well received. It's addictive. And you want to work towards topping it.
I remember reading in Business Week or Fortune a criticism (perennial aren't they?) of Apple's business model - that they're dependent on a string of hits. One barren quarter and they're sunk. It's like, we're all business here. The only model worth emulating is that of the Microsoft money machine.
But if you do software, you may get an inkling that the business is closer to the chorus line than the production line on the factory floor.
I've just been loaned a book, "Artful Making - What managers need to know about how artists work" by Rob Austin and Lee Devin. From the blurb : "Despite years of trying, businesses have still not learned how to innovate reliably under deadlines. Collaborative artists, however, do it all the time - few business deadlines are as inflexible as opening night for a theatre company, for example. Today's knowledge-based, project-focused businesses can learn powerful lessons from artists about improvisation, innovation, and leadership."
"Collaborative artists" - that's closer to my experience of the mood surrounding good software development teams. You see the acceptance of uncertainty, the creativity to improvise solutions, and the readiness to make the tradeoffs that will keep you close to the deadlines.
This is a much more fun way of working. I believe there's nothing inherently wrong about working towards making hits. If you think back, ask yourself which company of the two, Apple or Microsoft, had invariably delivered OS updates when they said they would? The answer shows which model actually works.