Welcome a New Director of Farset Labs and Some Parting Thoughts from an Old One

Presidential letter on Resolute desk
A passed note from Incumbent to Incoming.

With my imminent departure for Nicaragua looming, I have the immense honour of welcoming Conor Robinson as our new incoming director, having been voted-in by the community. Conor, congratulations and welcome to the fray. I did a little air-punch when I saw that Conor had registered for election. Now Farset is getting an upgrade: replacing its most aged part with a new, faster, more functional one.

I have for years referred to myself as a “wannabe geek” to avoid anyone thinking that I actually know how to do anything technical. And, well, Conor’s one of those guys who does. But directing an experimental organisation like ours needs much more than tech credentials, and I think Conor brings the full set of tools to the table. He’s calm, friendly, organised (or at least he looks like he is because he’s always carrying a notebook!), and damn smart.

As Conor steps-up, I am stepping, well, kinda sideways. Quite a way actually. 8,341.14km in fact. I hope you will forgive my self-indulgence at taking this opportunity not only say hello to our new director, but also to offer some thoughts from a parting one. You know, like the private note the old president traditionally leaves for the new one… except it’s public. And not in the White House. And probably not as useful.

Remember You’re a Director, not a Manager

Your limited time in this life is priceless. Of every minute you can spare to help the cause, keep the long-term objectives in mind and try to steer this ship with nudges here and there. You’re aiming on an approximate course towards a bigger goal, rather than getting bogged-down by other people’s demands, little niggles, emptying bins, and all manner of bureaucratic chaff.

That said, don’t forget the details. Sometimes they make all the difference.

A director, I think, should have a clear vision. I have my own idea of what Farset could and should be in future. Each of my colleagues on the team has a personal idea too. There’s a lot of overlap and no shortage of deviation. Conor, I invite you to design your own vision before you get spoiled by familiarity. Hold it close when things get messy.

Reinforce The Positive

When it comes to motivating people, it seems that the science stands in favour of reward over punishment. Positive reinforcement beats negative reinforcement. So get behind those who help, shine a light on them. Incentivise and reward the pro-social, hold fast against the anti-social.

Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s working and what isn’t. And when something seems to work, it might have just been luck. Try to test and measure, try to understand the data. But in the end, you’ll never truly know what made the difference so don’t worry about it. When you look back the outcome was probably just Regression to the Mean.

And anyway, it’s nice to be nice.

Nurture the Friendships

Some high-flyers on the West Coast say that the worst thing you can do as a business founder is hire your friends. But those people will die lonely and disappointed in their overpriced homes. OK, so I’d concede that it makes sense to build a team of the best people possible and avoid nepotism on grounds of convenience or selfish aims. But I’d rather run into the unknown with people I can call in the middle of the night.

I’ve made some dear friends at Farset and now I can trust them to tell me when I’m being an idiot, without causing offence. Better still, I know they’ll cut me slack when my faults slow us down. Above all, I know I have their support, and they mine, if we go on to launch any more moonshots in the future.

Hack Your Way

We are constantly trying to figure-out how to make this work. Just when we get something nailed down, someone gets the bright idea to take it apart and turn it into something else. The processes, guidelines, lessons and resources, form a constantly shifting sea through which you can try to navigate but will never reach the other shore. There are best practices, not just from the global hacker/maker community (who will help if you ask them) but from wider industry and society. But sometimes you just have to deal with things when they happen. So hack the process. It’s a project in itself. And, like any good engineer, please do a better job than me at documenting your progress!

And Lastly, Don’t Listen to Ben

I’ve always advised people of this point, on which I feel quite strongly: people who have strong opinions and give confident advice probably don’t know what they’re talking about. The world is a strange, and strangely complex, complexly beautifully place. Running a venture that is novel, technologically & creatively pioneering, and built on an eclectic, slightly anarchic crowd of fabulously smart and weird people, probably doesn’t make things any simpler. I think you’ll enjoy it. I have.

We’re all confident that Conor will be a great asset to the organisation and its members. He’s been on the Farset scene since it was just an idea so he knows the score. It will, I’m sure, take a little time to settle into a productive rhythm. Soon enough it will become clear where to be of most use. Everyone else will pick up the rest.

You know what Mitch Altman and the guys at Noisebridge (or for that matter Bill & Ted) would say: be excellent to each other.

Buena suerte Conor, y hasta luego todos mis amigos.

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