5 Easy Questions for Scott Berkun

The easier the question, the harder the answer.

I recently had the idea of asking a number of people in our industry the same five questions. 5 questions that are easy to ask. 5 questions that are important for software development managers like me. 5 questions that are probably a little hard to answer…

So I emailed this idea to a number of celebrities, and behold… I got several replies! I already published the answers given by Johanna Rothman and Alistair Cockburn. Now I'm giving you the interview with Scott Berkun, who was so eager trying to avoid his more important work that he replied to my request in just 30 minutes!

Scott Berkun is the author The Myths of Innovation, and of course Making Things Happen, the book that finished at #35 in the Top 100 Best Software Engineering Books, Ever. Scott is author and public speaker. He worked as a manager at Microsoft from 1994-2003, on projects including (v1-5 of) Internet Explorer, Windows and MSN. Scott has his own site at scottberkun.com.

These are the five questions I asked Scott, and the answers that he gave me…

1. What has been the toughest challenge in your past?

Learning how not to be an asshole. I was very good at managing people, but it took a while to realize in every situation, no matter how tough or confrontational, there is a way to handle it where you are not a jerk. It takes more wisdom and poise to find it, but it's there. And if you can be effective, direct and decisive without pissing people off, you are truly a master of leading people. I'm not saying never get people mad or angry, sometimes it is unavoidable or even beneficial, but most of the time there is a way to achieve what needs to be done without that happening. Good leaders in the long run find that way. Any leader, no matter how successful, who depends on being an asshole is in serious need of therapy.

2. What is the main source of inspiration for what you do?

I'm going to die! What a rare thing in this universe to be alive. I'm inspired by the fact that I'm here, that the third planet from the sun happened to support this life thing and that I get to play around for a few decades. It seems a waste not to try and help things along, you know? If you can't be inspired by being part of this huge universal experiment, a tiny spec of sentience and cupcakes and sex within an infinitely dark dead soulless universe, I'm not sure you deserve a ticket on this particular ride.

3. What activity should be on every manager's daily list?

Take a break. Go outside, look at the sun and the clouds, and think about something other than work for a few minutes. Grab your team and get them to do the same. Laugh. Go have coffee together, or go out for lunch, something human, social and pleasant. We are not robots. We benefit from simple, fun, social interactions at work. If you don't lead your teams in taking breaks, and showing them the benefits of escaping a problem (it often helps finding solutions, believe it or not), they're less likely to do it. But simply by modeling the behavior and asking people to get some coffee now and then, you make it ok for everyone else to do the same. If you truly focus on results, and not the means, who cares how many hours people are working or how many breaks they take? Do an experiment: lead your team in a social break a day, for a week, and track the performance results. I bet you'll find performance went up that week. And even if it didn't, morale sure did.

4. What can we learn from you in the near future?

Hopefully how to write a third book. But I'm bad at predicting the future, so perhaps you'll learn from me how *not* to write a third book. That would be much easier to teach you I think.

5. What is more interesting than software development?

Oh dear. Isn't that a backward question! Software development is a means. Never ever obsess about the means. The world is a mess from people never picking up their heads to ask about the ends. I find art, film, food, sex, travel, secrets, rants, tragedies, intimacies and triumphs way more interesting than software development. However, I'm extremely interested in software that makes any of those good things easier to find, experience, share and remember. Know of any?

Well, these are the answers given by Scott Berkun. I hope you liked them. Next time I will show you Steve McConnell's reply to the same five easy questions.

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