The Curious Case of Scott Berkun
The word curiosity comes from Latin whose root word also means “careful”. Today, it is a word that describes a quality in humans and some animals for their impulse to explore, investigate, and learn. When Scott Berkun, a best selling author, blogger, and speaker, learned that Automattic, Inc., the company behind WordPress.com, runs it 100 percent distributed, he became curious. Usually, popular writers like him would carefully investigate perhaps by conducting an interview to learn how it is done. Instead, he decided to work for Automattic as a team leader.
Scott Berkun is not a stranger to the corporate IT world. As a computer science, philosophy, and design graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, he worked for almost a decade at Microsoft in different roles such as an engineer and lead program manager. He was part of user interface design in many of Microsoft’s products such as Windows, IE, and MSN. He left to pursue a writing career, and has become a best selling author of several books, four of which are rated 4.5 out of a possible 5 at Amazon. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, to name a few. He also taught creative thinking at the University of Washington and has been called a “thought leader”. He speaks at events such as TED and teaches in seminars about creative thinking, managing projects, and leading teams. He blogs about different topics which includes writing reviews about books and movies. He has a social network presence on Twitter and Facebook.
Scott discussed lengthily about the importance of project planning in his book The Art of Project Management (2005) and its 2008 updated version Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management (Theory in Practice). He opens the third chapter by a shocking (but truthful) remark that much time spent on planning projects is actually consumed by getting people to agree on how planning should be done.
In The Myths of Innovation, the fourth chapter is titled “People love new ideas”. However, upon reading the first few paragraphs, it becomes apparent that what he is really saying is the opposite. He gave several examples of how famous people were rejected at first for introducing new ideas. Instead he stated that what people really prefer are good ideas that other people have already tested.
His latest book Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds shows the same wit in this collection of his writings, guaranteed not only to make people think but also smile at his ideas and insights. For example, in the first chapter, he shared how he initially thought that busy people are those that are important or successful. He then states that the opposite is most likely true, that people who seem to have more time to pause, reflect, and relax are those that have more control of their time and more effective at achieving their goals.
Scott’s other best selling book Confessions of a Public Speaker shares techniques with many amusing anecdotes of how to be a great communicator. He also has a soon-to-be released book titled The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work. More about these and some testimonials can be read on the Books section of his website.
The Blog section of Scott Berkun’s website is full of variety. He gives book reviews and movie reviews. He has blogs about management tips such as the value of making a list. He shares that no matter how complex a project is or how problematic a situation is, making a well written list improves it tremendously. He even guides the reader step by step to first make an unordered list to describe tasks that must be done in a language that can be understood by everyone. The second step is to figure out in which order should the tasks be done. And last, people can decide which tasks should be prioritized.
Other categories of his blogs include innovation, creative thinking, design, and software development. Scott recommends studying a different field to get new management insights. For example, he shared how the Polaris nuclear missile management team was able to design a breakthrough technology against stiff competition, with short deadlines and at such a great stake.
In the Speaking section of Scott’s website, he writes that he makes his living also from fees from speaking for hire. Organizations from different countries invite him to speak about the ideas and concepts of his books. He has appeared on programs of NPR (formerly National Public Radio). He has spoken on TED about creativity, on being passionate about work, and has given practical tips on how to work through moments of doubt.
In his talk about “Saving the Creative Soul,” he identified a flaw on how people consume ideas from others, making them passive. In reality, people encounter a great deal of difficulty in translating their idea into an actual thing, which is very different from stories they hear about successful people and their products. He then described how these success stories were told retrospectively, an already somewhat edited version of the real story. But in the end, the keyword to success is “work”.
In an interview made by the O’Reilly FYI Community website, Scott Berkun answered what the site calls the O’Reilly Proust Questionnaire. The humor and wit that is found in his works was also evident in this interview. He was asked if he could change one thing about himself, what would it be, and his answer was his willingness to let himself make more mistakes. Scott Berkun is a very curious person. Careful may not be the right word to describe him, but he is a diligent person who values creativity, work, and feedback, which are traits of not only an amazing author and speaker, but also of a great project manager and team leader.