Saturday, April 12, 2014

SMART goals vs organic growth

I suppose there is a book on goal-oriented activity vs organic growth. This is a short review of that possibly fictional book.

The basic idea is that there have been two ways of being in the world. One can be characterized as putting Man in the middle. The most important question is what Men want and need, what Men can achieve and get. The other way of being puts Man to the second rank, removes the capitals and claims that men are subordinated to X. What X is depends on many things, it can range from the greater good of humanity to God.

Image by Seier

Both approaches have inspired people to create wonderful buildings, books, and gadgets. And both approaches contributed to bloody wars and injustices. So none of them is right and none of them is better. Both have their strengths and their weaknesses. They have a lot to learn and borrow from each other and this is very difficult sometimes.

There are ages when the one has a lead, at other ages the other has the upper hand. The Medieval Age in Europe was about subjecting ourselves to a higher entity. The Renaissance turned it upside down.
Religion belongs to the organic growth approach most of the time, it emphasizes that the rules of life are way too complex for us to completely understand them. We are small balls on a huge snooker table of greater forces. It’s not something we should be sad about, those balls can have a full and wonderful life. They are just not the main characters or directors of the play.

Rationality, on the other hand, has typically a goal-oriented world view. That’s the dominant and powerful ideology of our age. Since it doesn’t trust any higher forces to arrange things for us, it needs to invent methods to do that. Ethics is replaced by management. What shall we do to others? It’s a question of how me manage them. What shall we do to our life? It’s a question of how we manage ourselves. Spirituality is replaced by goals, even SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant, Time-bound.

The first part of the book goes to great lengths to analyze the two sides of this dichotomy. A number of issues are discussed from both view points. My favorite chapter is about how we make decisions based on these models and how we justify them. The modern way to evaluate an option is to use what the book calls economic justification which is based on a simple (and flawed) syllogism.
If people buy more of something, they think it’s more valuable.
If many people consider something valueable, then it is valuable.

If people buy more of something, then it is valuable.
The second part of the book takes an unexpected turn. It’s basically about software companies and their methodologies. Traditional software development is considered to be an example of a goal-oriented activity with lots of process, systems, all measurable and managed. The Agile turn gave rise to dynamic startups that have a different mindset. They say mantras, like Release early and often which may result, oh horrors, in missing features and buggy code. They say, YAGNI, short for You ain’t gonna need it, when a smart guy implements something for the sake of a possible future request.

But agile startups haven’t realized yet they differ not only in their methodology (and budget), but also in their philosophy. They are to become the new advocates of organic growth. To grow software organically is a humble and controversial approach. It basically says, don’t plan large systems, because they are impossible to implement. Create a small program, share it, find a place in the large ecosystem where it fits. This is exactly how open-source components and repositories work.

The last chapter of the book is a bit inconclusive. What I like about is the idea that software development will fully recognize its potential when the SMART goal will have its organic counterpart. Let me give it a try how it would sound
  • Holistic
  • Subjective
  • It’s done by many people, some of them even anonymous
  • Dreamlike
  • Take your time