Ming the Mechanic:
Getting other people to do stuff

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Getting other people to do stuff2010-07-20 14:24
11 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

I'm going to give outsourcing another shot. Which isn't easy, because I'm kind of bad at delegating, and I seem to be missing a bit of business sense.

It can all change, of course, but it is somewhat traumatic. There are a number of things I'm very good at. Possibly some things I'm absolutely brilliant at. But I spend a big portion of my time doing stuff I'm not very good at, working hard, long hours, and what I have to show for it is somewhat mediocre. There's some amount of emotion wrapped up in that too. It isn't fair. It's stressful. It pisses me off. I'm kind of apathetic about changing it. Despite my better judgement, I seem to believe that if I just work a little harder, then, maybe, it will all work out, and I can get around to the stuff I really want to do. But generally it doesn't seem to make a lot of difference how hard I work.

I've only fairly recently realized that I need to learn the basic principles of business and marketing. I've always had a certain amount of contempt for a society that's organized around buying low and selling high, around deceiving people into buying stuff they don't need, where most of the resources end up owned by people who do clever tricks with numbers, rather than by the people who work and produce stuff. But I can also change my mind, and notice that some of the principles of business apply to any activity, whether there's money involved or not. To create more value, it makes sense to look for opportunities to shift resources from areas of low productivity to areas of high productivity. Which happens to be one of the definitions of entrepreneurship. Why not get the most bang for the buck, whether money is involved or not? Work smarter, not harder. I'm trying to convince myself here.

One of the sensible and fashionable things to do, if one is independent and makes more than minimum wage, is to outsource as much of one's work as possible, particularly the stuff that isn't one's core competency and that could be done as well, or better, by somebody being paid a lot less. I first have to get over a bit of distaste for doing that, and convince myself that it can be a win-win for everybody. Really, there are other parts of the world where the cost of living is very different, and where there are loads of well educated people who'd love to work for me for a fraction of what a similar worker would cost where I live. I don't have to feel bad about that.

Part of what is hard for me when I employ somebody else to do something is that I have to be able to make decisions based on their performance, and fire them if it doesn't work.

It isn't like I'm without experience. I had my own company already when I was 20, a cleaning services company, with a dozen part-time employees. That worked well, and I hired and fired people without too much difficulty, did marketing and sales, and made a profit. And I've been a manager of IT departments and development teams. That's where part of my problem would start showing up. Even if I have a handful of other programmers to work with me, who're there to do whatever I ask them to do, I have had a tendency to end up doing 90% of the work myself. Which isn't good. I was always very popular with the people on my team, though.

I tried once before to outsource part of my work to a foreign worker over the net, more than 10 years ago, which is one reason I'm nervous about it. I had a guy in the Ukraine working full time for me for $1000 per month. I kind of felt it was so ridiculously little that I shouldn't really complain too much. He was a very nice guy, but so slow and unproductive that nothing he did ever really helped me with anything, and I had usually gotten impatient and solved the problem myself before he had finished his initial study of the problem, which usually took several weeks. Now, years later, he still writes and thanks me once in a while. Really, I had been paying him such a royal sum of money that he could move to a better neighborhood, buy a house, get married and have kids. Which is lovely, and I'm happy for him, but it never really created any value for me.

But I'm going to give it another shot, and test performance before going to the next step.

What it really is about is a transition for me. The puzzle is not primarily about money and work hours and projects for customers, but more about how to move to the next level. How can I be more effective? How can I do what I'm here to do, without getting stuck in the details? How does one start sustainable activities? Even if we're talking about an idealistic non-profit activity, it somehow needs to be financed, by money or time or work or other resources. And it needs to be done in an effective way that actually works, and keeps working.

See, I have a similar problem in non-profit activities. I haven't had trouble drumming up some interest in some things I was working on from time to time, or inspiring people to join up with them in some fashion. But I have a fairly lousy track record in getting people to actually participate in developing and evolving them. Which is not their fault, but mine. To collaborate, it usually needs to be very clear what we're collaborating on. If you want others to do something, it better be very clear what it is. Somehow I've often been very vague about what there is to do, or what I need. Just like I usually have been very vague about what exactly I'm doing. You just can't easily build something precise based on vagueness.

So, I'm working on being more clear, primarily on what I want, and to create more clear interfaces for how one can work with me, and what I'm available for.


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11 comments

20 Jul 2010 @ 14:49 by mortimer : do stuff
Since you started writing again I been thinking about approaching you about work.

Hit me up. Anything I can do help you out.  



21 Jul 2010 @ 07:03 by Ernst @82.93.117.82 : Greiner
Sounds like you are experiencing a "growth crisis" [link]

I've been thinking. If you contract people (instead of hiring), like @redsoda does. You can define the level of "end quality" without having to worry too much about control (you dont have to fire anyone too). Maybe that's an option?

anyway interesting stuff!  



21 Jul 2010 @ 08:52 by swanny @70.65.31.24 : What?
Re: Doing Stuff

Well what I've found from time to time that has worked for me but is rather difficult to ascertain is asking myself, Well what if I could do anything I wanted regardless of what life demands, what would I do for the joy of it?
Thats how I came to building my first solar powered log cabin in the foothills of Alberta in 1978, I just put it out their to family and friends that, yea I'd like to build a log cabin, what do you think? and a friend came back and said well hey I know this lady building one and shes looking for help. Well that was the good part, things got a little messy towards the end but still it stands out as a glory days for me a bit still despite the long hard road of life. Its been a little harder to do lately though given my health concerns but... well best of success to you.  



21 Jul 2010 @ 12:05 by ming : Intent and Organization
It is satisfying to put out an intention and see the pieces come together, and just go for it. I have done that a number of times by just not caring whether it was practical, economical or anything. Now I'd like to be able to do that, and also make sure it is sustainable as an activity.

It is indeed also a growth crisis. One I've run into a number of times and usually not made it past. As to the things I do for a living (mostly programming), I have a hard time moving from a worker perspective to a business/organizing perspective. For somebody with a worker mentality, if more work comes in, it is just more work, working longer hours, trying to get it all done, and more stress and confusion. And maybe more money too, of course. But there's a tendency to resist more work, or get overwhelmed by it, and consider it in a negative fashion. Whereas for a business, at least in principle, more work is always good, more business, more customers, more money, and it simply means one organizes to be able to deliver what people buy, hiring more people, becoming more efficient, etc. Making the jump from one approach to the other is often the hard part for me.

One obstacle is that if I price my services as an individual worker, I often end up painting myself into a corner. My customers have often been somebody who needs a whole system that normally would be the work of a team, produced over a few months. But they don't have the budget for hiring 5 people to do it, and they need it next month. If I accept a job like that, it is of course hard for me to turn around and contract part of it to others. If I had thought as a business from the start, I'd have built all sorts of margins into it, gotten estimates from the people who would do it for me, multiplied them with three, gotten the customer to accept it, and then I'd have a bit of margin to maneuver in. I suppose I'll learn it eventually.

Makes sense to contract instead of hiring, especially if one can have an arrangement where one has a variety of experts in one's network that one can draw upon for particular situations. Like, I'm not terribly good with CSS and layout, but I'll still occasionally sweat over some minor thing for days, which I probably should have given to somebody else.  



21 Jul 2010 @ 14:10 by mortimer : Strategy with Perspective
I'm thinking more along the lines of generating leisure wealth. I want to pitch the price range of about 500k to 2m. And when I get a good solid lead I want to send you in to present it. Your gentleness and articulation is needed for the more lengthy dialog involved in presentation. That combined with your expertise and experience with web apps, you are perfect for the presentation. Somebody is out there looking for the most expensive web design. It might as well be Ming and Friends.

Multiply the baseline by 500

Clients are really paying for two things:
. decisions
. ethics

Doing business on a daily basis comes down to exactly that; how many effective decisions can you make within a daily time span.

I can make about 400 decisions a day with no err.

No matter what you do in the business world. You're getting paid for the decisions you make. So my advice, don’t look at how much the task at hand is worth. Instead, look at how much its worth for someone to make ethical decisions.  



21 Jul 2010 @ 17:34 by ming : Strategy
Well, thank you for your confidence! And just let me know when there's a project I can pitch.

Now, another way of looking at it: People are paying for the value they get, if the price either seems in the right range of what is normal and reasonable, or if they have no choice. All assuming as well that they have the funds to pay with. So, we could say that business is simply about producing the maximum value for the most people possible, and doing so as easily, quickly and cheaply as possible. Even better if the value really is as good as it looks like, of lasting quality, and even better if one is producing something really unique and hard to come by, with little competition.

Whether there's money involved or not, it probably is a good principle to look for the way one can produce the most possible value for the most possible people. I.e. how one can make the most positive difference with the skills and resources one has.  



22 Jul 2010 @ 12:37 by Eden Haiku @70.48.118.200 : Clarity
As a fiction writer fascinated by collective intelligence and narrative fractals, I don't have much to contribute to your questioning but I want to say I thoroughly enjoy your clarity and the way you share your process. It resonates with experiences I had organizing writing workshops, something I finally gave up when I hit some critical treshoId I still can't quite understand. First time I read your blog ( just joined), I'm delighted!  


22 Jul 2010 @ 14:55 by ming : Process
Thanks! Great to meet you.

I find that if I share my process, it creates clarity for both myself and others. But it is also a process to even get started doing that. There are layers to the onion. Even if I try to be clear and honest, it might take several attempts. To me, writing or speaking is an interactive improvised process. I don't really know what I have to say before I start saying it, and I see what happens. I suppose that means I'm an extrovert in that regard. An introvert would tend to figure it all out before saying anything.  



21 Aug 2010 @ 03:41 by Andrius Kulikauskas @68.72.96.213 : Hi Ming from Andrius in Chicago
Greetings, Ming, I'm glad to see you blogging. After 12 years, I've had to stop my online networking efforts at my Minciu Sodas laboratory. I wasn't able to generate a strong enough culture to get work for myself and others. My loans grew too big ($120,000) to try to do that anymore. So I've moved from Lithuania to Chicago and am working as a tutor at Ivy League Tutoring [link] I'm staying with my friend David Ellison-Bey, his home was foreclosed and sold recently, and we'll find out soon how much longer we can stay here.

Please think me if you have any work, for example, web programming or you might best imagine. I don't work on Thursdays and Fridays and I have some spare hours on other days, too.

I also recommend Sasha Mrkailo in Serbia, he was always a reliable online assistant. I think he's earning his Windows network administration certificate.

Last year, after I made my summary video "I Wish to Know", I started focusing on thinking through a culture of independent thinkers. Currently, I'm documenting the more than 120 ways that I've figured out answers to various questions in life. I think that's a good way to write up the essence of this culture of investigation. Here's a diagram in Lithuanian, work-in-progress: [link]  



23 Aug 2010 @ 00:30 by ming : Andrius
Great to hear from you! Sorry to hear that you had to stop your Minciu Sodas activities. I'm glad you have something to do, and that it doesn't stop you from continuing your work in other ways. I'll let you know if I run into anything that might fit for you.  


24 Oct 2011 @ 18:16 by Tee @121.54.54.55 : A good word
this Clarity... :)  


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Other stories in
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2012-01-02 13:52: 2011 Accomplishments and 2012 Aims
2011-11-17 02:20: Your inner piece
2011-02-01 00:05: Slow Mo Flow
2011-01-22 18:40: Recognition
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2010-06-22 00:27: Inventory
2010-06-19 23:10: Conversations
2009-10-28 12:31: Then a miracle occurs
2009-07-27 16:56: Reboot 11 / The Art of Not-Doing



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