Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think

Team topologies, reading for work vs. pleasure, and the power of Afrobeat.

Hey friends, just a very short preamble this week to say I hope your week is starting off strong! Let’s get to it.

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Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow →

When my wife asked me what book I was reading, I prefaced it with the statement that it’s a book that is as boring as it is useful. And while that might not sound like a glowing endorsement, just hear me out—don’t skip to the next section yet.

I started reading Team Topologies as we are trying to rethink and evolve the way our teams work at Wildbit. Specifically, we want to get away from too much top-down planning and design an organization that facilitates autonomy and bottom-up planning. This book is a perfect fit for that purpose. I learned a great deal about the different ways teams function and communicate, and these concepts will stay with me for a long time.

One of the most important paradigm shifts it helped me make is to start thinking about the team—not the individual—as the smallest unit of organization in a company:

As members of the technology teams managing these interfaces, we must shift our thinking from treating teams as collections of interchangeable individuals that will succeed as long as they follow the “right” process and use the “right” tools, to treating people and technology as a single human/computer carbon/silicon sociotechnical ecosystem. At the same time, we need to ensure that teams are intrinsically motivated and are given a real chance of doing their best work within such a system.

As for the “boring” part… well, the book is really dense and quite dry. It reminded me of the textbooks of my college years (not in an entirely negative way). That is not a reason not to read the book, but it’s good to go into it with that expectation. This isn’t a fluffy business book. It is an academic text with extremely useful practical implications.

Reading for work vs. reading for enjoyment →

Kai Brach, the editor of Offscreen Magazine, also writes one of my favorite newsletters called Dense Discovery. I found last week’s issue particularly relevant as I’m trying to increase my book reading by a lot this year. I’ve always felt a little bit guilty about my sci-fi obsession, but this section he quotes reduced some of that anxiety:

I think we can all agree that what the people creating new technology need more of right now is the ability to step into the shoes of others who don’t think, look, or live like them. I wonder what would happen if tech folk spent less time skimming trend reports and explainer journalism and more time truly trying to understand the perspectives of others. Might we finally see more diverse and nuanced products and platforms emerge? ...

That fifteenth-century glass-blowing novel I mentioned? It’s teaching me deep lessons about the perennial preoccupations of Silicon Valley: hierarchy, belief, ethics, power. The best crime novels can offer a rigorous neural workout, exercising our brains’ pattern-recognition abilities. Even romantic beach reads can provide an insightful window onto a particular generation’s aspirations and anxieties.

Oh, and speaking of sci-fi, I started the Wayfairer series this weekend (kicking off with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet) and it is such a refreshing take on the classic space opera.

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I’ve been thinking about protest music quite a bit recently. That eventually sent me down a path of rediscovering Fela Kuti’s story and music. Fela was a Nigerian musician and activist, and he is best known for pioneering Afrobeat music—a genre blending traditional Yoruba and Afro-Cuban music with funk and jazz. Zombie is considered his masterpiece. Zombie was enormously influential as a political cry as well as a major push forward for Afrobeat’s popularity. But it didn’t come without consequences. Wikipedia explains:

The album was a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers using the zombie metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit and infuriated the government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic (a commune that Fela had established in Nigeria), during which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Kuti was severely beaten, and his elderly mother was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries. The Kalakuta Republic was burned, and Kuti's studio, instruments, and master tapes were destroyed.

The track itself is a 12-minute tour de force of driving, repetitive beats, and funky solos. But the core of it is indisputably the message that so infuriated the Nigerian military:

Zombie no go go, unless you tell am to go
Zombie no go stop, unless you tell am to stop
Zombie no go turn, unless you tell am to turn
Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think

Fela’s message and legacy live on in his children in so many ways. A recent example is his son Femi collaborating with Coldplay on the song Arabesque. Yes, I know how people feel about Coldplay, but this song is a blistering homage to Afrobeat and its influences on other genres. This live version, filmed in Jordan, is fantastic:

Definitely also check out the studio album version as well. Now, this style might sound strange to your ears. But even if you are tempted to turn off Zombie (or Arabesque) after a minute or two, I’d encourage you to sit with it. Hear the immense joy, the catharsis, and the political power that drives this music and the people who make it.

And with that, I wish everyone—especially those of us here in the US where we are going through a very complicated political transition—a peaceful week.