Video: The Year Without Pants lecture (@Google NYC)

From this month’s book tour, the good folks at Google posted the video from my talk. Q&A begins at 31:27.

4 Responses to “Video: The Year Without Pants lecture (@Google NYC)”

  1. Bruce Fenske

    Thanks for sharing this video, Scott! You’re such an engaging speaker and I truly enjoy listening & watching you present your creative ideas.

    In this talk, you mention that everybody at WordPress is an excellent writer. Even so, what happens to body language when people are writing instead of meeting in person? As we’ve heard, more than ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. So all this emailing & blogging seems like it would lead to cryptic results – especially in most companies full of average writers. Can great writing make up for lack of body language? Are you convinced that Skype captures body language sufficiently?


    1. Scott

      Hi Bruce!

      The body language thing is a myth. That data comes from a very narrow study that has been taken out of context. You can certainly have a very intimate and deep phone conversation with someone, and if 90% of all the communication were missing, that would be impossible.

      People hate email in part because of how badly people communicate, and that’s even in physical offices. I don’t really know what the answer is to companies that have hired far too many people who don’t write well. It’s not a technological problem.

      The book talks about this in my experience leading the teams. There were certain things that were harder to capture, and I had to go out of way to get them (by asking people to switch to voice), but it happened far less often than I expected.

  2. Phil Simon

    Love the bakery example. I’ve never liked hypothetical questions and it doesn’t take much to find ways to fake behavior-based questions.

  3. Andrew Montalenti

    Great video — provides a nice overview of the concepts you discussed in detail in the book.

    The emphasis on people who write well is a really important insight, one that I think is lost on a lot of people. Many people simply don’t write well, so for these people, remote work will be downright torturous.

    A couple of interesting asides. Elon Musk was recently interviewed by BusinessInsider, and was asked a funny question, “What does the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla actually *do* during the day?” Musk responded by saying his “core competency is responding to emails.” He said he spends most of his day simply communicating — via e-mail — with his staff. Working on engineering & design problems, essentially in a distributed manner.

    This is the part that people need to start understanding. The Googler who asked, “Does this scale?” The answer is — it must, because the *only* way to scale large-scale management is through written communication, of some form. It’s the only form of communication that can effectively go one-to-many, for large numbers of “many”, and especially when “many” are not “a bunch of people all in one place”. Even co-located teams only scale by essentially adopting distributed team principles, at least at a macro level.

    Another interesting aspect — I once hired an intern for our distributed team who wrote very well, but who also ascribed a lot of emotion to written communication that was not ascribed to face-to-face communication. The individual would assume that if someone made a suggestion via e-mail, it was inherently a *critical* suggestion, but if the same suggestion were made by phone or face-to-face (even in a room of their peers), it would be a *helpful* suggestion.

    This person had a lot of experience working in a large corporation (10,000+ employees) that I will not name. By digging into this strange bias, I found that the individual had basically been trained to operate this way at the big company. When people were doing well, they’d be invited to in-person conferences / meetings and collaborate with their peers and managers face-to-face. But when people were doing badly, they’d have their work criticized publicly via e-mail. As if by Pavlovian conditioning, e-mail thus became viewed as “inherently negative” and face-to-face as “inherently positive”. Talk about the medium becoming the message!

    I find what’s great about distributed teams is that we treat communication methods like “tools” — namely, we pick the right one for the job. The workplace equivalent of “when you have a hammer, everything is a nail”, is “when you have a problem, let’s call a meeting”. Sophisticated distributed teams, before embarking on a solution to anything, will ask, “What’s the best way to communicate the requirements for this problem?” and then secondarily, “What’s the best way to deliver the solution.” The former might be a mix of f2f meetings, collaborative specifications, diagrams, the latter might be a mix of wireframes, code, testing plans. But in all cases, it focuses on the *work*, not the meta-work aka red tape (meetings, political buy-in, etc.)

    Hooray to #NoPants for starting a much needed discussion about management and the scaling of creative teams.


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