I'm bringing this up on my personal blog rather than my blog about Lojban
because its lessons are broadly applicable to things that a lot of you are interested in, so I'd like to get your feedback.
Do you like my new icon? I made it after camgusmis
talked me into being the cat-herder for Lojban's language debugging committee. (Yeah, a speakable human language has a debugging committee, is that not neat?) I don't possess expertise in linguistics or logic. I do not intend to arbitrate disputes over language, discuss linguistic issues, or even possess voting rights in the debugging committee-- just keep it moving. The Lojban word for "captain" is "jatna", pronounced "zhat-nah", but "Shatner" is my mnemonic device. Scotty, Spock and McCoy are the ones who know how to do things; I just keep them from sitting on their butts.
The job of herding cats is what I do with the vast majority of my free time, so I feel uniquely qualified. I define "herding cats" as "coordinating any project whose workers are true volunteers, are not obligated by compensation". (I feel the phrase is inappropriate to refer to paid employees, no matter how catlike you think software engineers are. You are not a cat herder if you have the power to fire or penalize someone. But that's another matter.) Cats show up only when they want to and are motivated by friendship and/or personal fascination.
What I am not
qualified to do is design a constructed language. Just as in running a science fiction convention, my role is limited as follows:
1. Understand what tasks await doing, not necessarily knowing how to do them.
2. Assign tasks and track who is assigned to what.
3. Set deadlines and warn of their approach and arrival.
4. Keep current with everyone's contact info and preferred means of communication.
5. Talk to the volunteers a lot, asking for reports to check if they're active.
6. Seek replacements for the ones who went inactive or lost motivation.
7. Motivate active volunteers with vision, encouragement, small gifts, public thanks, or incentives tailored to their unique motivational drives.
And that, my friends, is herding cats. However, in the current traditional structure of a science fiction convention, there is a lot more that goes into being conchair, which is why I am not a conchair. It really is two totally unrelated jobs, which could be split. The second set of conchair responsibilities is:
8. Set the budget. ($$$)
9. Negotiate the hotel contract. ($$$)
10. Make long-term strategic decisions. What constituency to extract money from. What message to use to extract it from them. Where to best invest money to attract them. How to reduce the expenditure of money. ($$$)
"Oh, Matt, you can easily be conchair!" quoth he and she who have smoked crack and uttered a counterfactual statement.
The reverse side of that coin, to speak candidly, is that deeply savvy and wise decision-makers (tasks 8 through 10) do not always have sufficient personal availability to create and nurture a concom (tasks 1 through 7). Vital concom slots go empty, and we sort of coast along because we can't afford to have a leader who can create an active concom only to lead it right off a cliff. I am not speaking of any convention or any year in particular: it's fairly common.
In spite of being a cat herder, the reason I am not, have not been, and do not want to be conchair, is that I do not have opinions on 8 through 10 and money bores me. Paying attention to such matters would drain all interest out of me and make me want to GAFIAte
. I would stab randomly in the dark at budgets, contracts and strategic decisions. I would be held responsible for the resulting failure, and I would be rightly blamed for having asked people to fail along with me. I will not, and constitutionally can
not, evangelize anything that I don't believe in. When I mentioned this to Sal and Heather of Aegis Consulting, Sal remarked, "You don't like guessing, do you?" If I were to find out that those I trusted had staked my time and energy on a guess, I would be livid. So no, I can't evangelize guessing.
You may have noticed by now that my trust is of vital importance to me, and its dissappointment (to put it gently, I will not say "betrayal") is a recurring theme of this blog. I hear horror stories from avt_tor
about conrunning politics in other regions, in which people actually compete to be in charge, and yet what an embarrassment of riches that must be. By contrast, in Michigan nobody wants to do anything. This is our harmonious blessing and lethargic curse. One issue with conventions in Michigan is that the number of people I trust enough to recruit as concom workers dwindles every year. You can't successfully build a concom if you say to people "Where have you been?" and "Have you gotten anything done?" as if to say "I don't have confidence in you." But it's true, I don't. As Head of Programming, there are two individuals to whom I say almost nothing but those things, every time I see them, because the success of my responsibility depends on it! I even tried adding someone to the "team" to shore up the task, and this third individual is doing nothing that I can see. (Don't worry, the vast majority of the programming team is completely present and it's going great overall.) Meanwhile I'm fielding inquiries about these tracks of the schedule and am helpless to do it myself since I know nothing about the topics. I feel I'm doing all I can as a cat herder, but at the end of the day, the cats are really in control.
I just keep reminding myself that the dysfunctionality is a necessary tradeoff for what I like so much about cat-herded groups.