Saturday, August 30, 2003

NASA and culture change

I know little about NASA, but suspect that it is (rightly) one of the most exclusive elitist intellectual clubs on the planet (and off it). It is hardly typical of an American business.

I suspect that, just as nations get the kind of leadership they deserve, the people who comprise organizations get the kind of culture they deserve. The attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors that are reinforced or rewarded by peers or opinion leaders or managers become the norms. Aspects of culture can be changed by "the people", if there is a driving collective will to do so and some kind of catalyst to get things moving. Or they can be changed by one individual with enough zeal, courage, tenacity, and leadership. The latter is more likely to succeed than the former.

I do not believe that any culture anywhere can be changed by a mandate from a Congressional subcommittee.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Manipulating (and being manipulated by) search engines

Search engines evolve all the time, and of course it is not only "paid placement" that gets listings on the first page. The search engine optimization field is all about understanding the methodologies of each of the search engines and configuring your site to exploit the peculiarities of those methodologies.

So the top listings we see are usually a result of the marketing efforts of the owners of those sites -- they buy a high place or they set up their systems to engineer a high place. There is nothing inherently devious or wrong about this -- when you go to a shopping mall for your own convenience, you know that the stores present pay a premium for being located there. To find the little independent stores, you have to go to the other side of town and search around a little.

Fortunately, many non-commercial sites get ranked high by search engines like Google because (all credit to the Google algorithm folks) the engine favors sites that many other sites link too. So if your content already has a large audience, its popularity will get it even better exposure. If it is not popular, there are always those batteries of dummy links that you can buy into to fool the search engines...

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

NASA - Culture kills? No, denial does.

NASA's culture has been blamed for the shuttle disaster. Things like conflicting goals, the discouragement of - dissent, being driven by schedules, the relaxation of safety vigilance, poor communication, and so on are pointed to as indicators of failures in the NASA culture.

Culture? It seems to me that these are all simply failures of management and failures of leadership. Why is it that we so often blame "culture" instead of singling out the individuals who are responsible for bad decisions, poor policy, inadequate enforcement? We see this deflection in business, we see it in government, and it is part of everyday life (criminals are really victims of their culture). Maybe it is part of the growing American obsession with euphemizing the warts in the world, but to me that's just another form of denial. "Culture" is a scapegoat that makes nobody accountable. And if nobody is accountable, the problems will not get fixed.