The Long Tail – book and idea review

Cover of the Dutch version of the book

I just finished reading Chris Anderson’s classic “The Long Tail” from 2006. (also blogged at http://www.thelongtail.com).

The main idea is that different people actually like different things. Not so controversial, perhaps, but the clue is that internet helps buyers to find producers in a better way. Interest (and money) will move away from the Top Ten Blockbusters and away in all different directions.

I recognize this clearly from my experiences in the Magic arts community. In the end of the nineties, I was part of the Gothenburg magic scene as an upcoming young part-time magician. I was devouring all books, VHS tapes and bundles about new magic tricks. But they were really hard to find.
Once a year, on the congress in Lund, the Dealers showed up with meters of books from mainly American magicians. Once a year, I had the opportunity to browse through the material and select a handful of quite expensive works. Unfortunately, most of the books dealt with aspects of magic that were not very interesting to me.
Most of the books on Magic, I had never seen. Until I came to Dresden in 1997 for the FISM World Congress on Magic. I was overwhelmed by the width and depth of the genre.

Tommy Wonder's classic. Now available at Amazon.com.

Now there are online catalogs and an unparalleled availability which will help passionate wannabe customers to find what they look for, even at Amazon.com. (And not just buy the book that happened to be available.) The niche is thriving!

I think that the Magic community is similar to other kinds of subcultures. I am convinced that there are harmonica players, pole dancers and macramé knitters who now get connected to hitherto unknown suppliers and can purchase/license what they need at much less effort than previously.

The book has a funny side in a sense that I did not expect, and that is the short half-time of the Internet examples. It was written only five years ago, but that was before Bit-Torrent, PirateBay and Facebook hit hard, and Bing was not launched. Google Maps was really new and yet to become as useful as it is today. Therefore, the book seems oddly outdated, even though it tells of a revolution still in unfolding.

Recommendation – read it right away!

Visual Project Control and Motivation

One of my favorite tools of “Lean” is visual control. The idea is that visual information on the wall next to the workplace communicates better than intranet pages or databases.

Projects Wall - Objectives, Status and What to do Next

For each project I run, I have a whiteboard of roughly 1 square meter per project, with the most important information, updated at least weekly. I include: project objectives, deliverables, team members, status, decision log and maybe most important: What are we working on now?

At least half of the project team is located in the same room, so they will invariably see what is going on in the project.

Typically, we have pulse meetings once or twice a week, to get alignment on what we are doing and who is doing what.

For me, this spices up my motivation.
Once in a while there are slow days, when the brain goes on half speed and the weather outside looks alluring. Then it is tempting to log on to [Your Favorite Social Network Site] and just click around. Or read another article about PyUnit, or a long email about a policy document change from HR.
But then I glance at the project wall and I see my name on a task, I am back in focus again.

I think that all tools that remind us about what we should be doing are useful.
And, by aligning weekly with the rest of the team, we can scrap some activities that we actually should not be doing, at least not now.

It is also more fun to finish tasks that have been self-assigned than diffusely delegated!