💬 Issue #41 - Things That Go Bump in the Light
Happenstance at Philz is the mother of invention
Boo! The bumper car theory of innovation, purchased popularity at GitHub, and DropBox’s “virtual first” 90/10 rule. Grab your fun-sized candy bars, it’s Friday.
Most studies of the effects of remote work have understandably focused on elements easy to measure. Think daily emissions pegged to miles logged in the car, employee satisfaction measured on the Leikert scale, and empty office space counted by the square foot. But what about less quantifiable effects?
Emily Badger writes in the NYT about one of the more intangible effects of living and working in dense, urban spaces – the serendipitous encounter. Originally identified by the great urbanist Jane Jacobs, economists call these meetings “knowledge spillovers,” the knock on effect of being forced into conversation with people outside your company or industry because you all live inside the same pinball machine (so to speak). And a city like San Francisco tends to have more opportunities for “agglomeration” -- these serendipitous encounters -- than a place like Wyoming, where you’re more likely to bump into a cow than a person.
Is knowledge spillover possible when people work remotely, particularly if that work is happening outside of cities? Is there such a thing as planned serendipity? Can we get away with running into each other just a few days a week? As Karen Chapple, the director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, puts it, “Agglomerations in space still matter — but agglomeration in time maybe we got wrong. … Maybe you don’t need to agglomerate every day.” Cue the attempts to figure out how many in-person days would be necessary for creative benefit.
Of course, as fun as agglomeration is to say, it’s not the whole picture. Badger points out, “it is hard, though, to ask workers to give up flexibility with child care, or more affordable housing in another city, in the name of agglomeration and innovation. Maybe that trade-off isn’t worth it.” And hey, maybe cattle have more great ideas than we think!
All That Glitters
What’s that old chestnut? Winners never cheat, and cheaters never reveal that they’ve boosted their GitHub popularity by paying for stars? Because VC firms look for growth above all else, and because open source projects don’t necessarily generate much initial revenue, investors look for measures like GitHub stars to get a sense of the enthusiasm and engagement around a project.
For example: Runa Capital’s ROSS benchmarking index ranks companies by annualized growth rate of GitHub stars. This is likely one reason “an ecosystem of online stores and chat groups openly sell GitHub stars,” including to WIRED’s Kari McMahon, who easily “bought 50 stars for a dormant GitHub project via the straightforwardly branded site BuyGithub.com.”
Then again, as anyone who attended Carrie’s high school could tell you, popularity isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be (call it Carrie’s Law). “‘Metrics can invalidate themselves,’ says Stuart Geiger, an assistant professor at UC San Diego … ‘The more a metric is used in decisionmaking, the more it will be manipulated (Campbell’s law), and a metric that becomes a target ceases to be useful (Goodhart’s law).’”
AI will certainly make identifying fake accounts and reviews trickier; in happier news, however, with the proliferation of cheaters come new tools to root them out.
A Golden Ratio?
Call it Houston’s Law. Eager to define the parameters of remote work, Drew Houston of Dropbox uses a 90/10 rule: the company’s employees are 90% remote and 10% at one of the company’s off-site locations. That translates to being in-office once every two weeks.
Unlike some famously dogmatic approaches to RTO – JPMorgan now tracks attendance by monitoring ID swipes – the San Francisco-based company notes that the 90/10 rule promotes retention and a very different culture of management. “You need a different social contract and to let go of control,” Houston says. “Trust over surveillance.”
Elsewhere on the Internets
An obituary for bureaucracy (Medium)
What could go wrong? Microsoft rolling out AI for infosec (The Register)
A game of "halfsies" (Brilliant)
Patagonia's awesome jacket made from garbage (Fast Company)
Out of gas by 2030 (Slashdot)
Yesteryear tech of the week
The powerhouse of the late naughts, all for $250:
See ya next week,
– The EiT crew at Status Hero