Snake oil, clubs, and real solutions (with thanks to Matt)

A noteworthy device.I’m no expert on blog software.  Dave’s Whiteboard uses WordPress because that’s what my son recommended.  (He’s the kind of guy who builds a foot switch for Ableton Live [electronic-music software] out of a spare keyboard and a couple of those rubber furniture disks, so he’s a primary resource for me.)

If you don’t have your own blog, you might be unaware that there’s always an “admin side” — the behind-the-scenes stuff where the blogger creates posts, reviews comments, tinkers with the appearance, and so on.

On my WordPress dashboard, I noticed a link to a post by Matt Mullenweg, the founding developer of WordPress.  The post itself is about how to keep WordPress (meaning your blog) secure from hackers, worms, and other malware.  Matt uses an analogy that seems to apply to helping people acquire and strength skills at work.

Whenever a worm makes the rounds, everyone becomes a security expert and peddles one of three types of advice: snake oil, Club solutions, or real solutions.

Snake oil is usually obvious (unless you’re in a tight spot and desperate for whatever promises to get you out fast).  Any easy, no-effort, guaranteed way to have people learn is pretty much snake oil.  In more sardonic moments, I’d include any “better training” approach that has a trademarked name or a book on the New York Times best-seller list.

A club with a specific goal.By Club solutions, Matt means things that work like the anti-theft gizmo for your steering wheel.

There’s nothing wrong with The Club, any more than there’s anything wrong per se with formal training.  A Club solution, he suggests, is like using a complex password (“admin” is not complex). It’s good, but it’s not great.

As someone said, the Club deflects theft (to a non-Clubbed vehicle). In other words, it’s more tactical (for you) than strategic (for vehicle owners generally).

So, what’s a real solution? For WordPress, it’s regularly and promptly upgrading.

WordPress is a community of hundreds of people that read the code every day, audit it, update it, and care enough about keeping your blog safe that we do things like release updates weeks apart from each other even though it makes us look bad, because updating is going to keep your blog safe from the bad guys.

On the job, this means figuring out what can help people acquire and increase skills that help them produce things of value.  To modify the old story, it’s systems all the way down (and up).  You’ll find any number of ways of looking at this–the human performance technology model, for instance, or Harold Jarche’s emphasis on integrating how we work and how we learn.

Sure, you’ll find plenty of snake oil, and a whole parking lot filled with cognitive Club efforts.  When you keep the bigger purpose in mind, though, you don’t slip, and you know there’s more than one route available.

CC-licensed image of The Club in action by modenadude.

2 thoughts on “Snake oil, clubs, and real solutions (with thanks to Matt)

  1. I’m a big fan of Mr. Mullenweg, but what he doesn’t mention in his “real solution” is that you have to balance the risk of exploit against the almost-certain problems that you’ll encounter by installing his hastily written updates.

    I’d like to get back all the time I’ve spent trying to fix my blog, after updating broke something. Lately I’ve been backing it up well and hoping for the best, and then updating after a little time has passed.

    But mine is a tiny blog, and the loss of it would mostly affect shut-ins and lunatics like you, Dave.

  2. I do tend to the not-at-the-first-moment school of thought, Dick. I like somebody else to be the update beta-tester.

    After the scary hack that happened to me, though, I tend not to wait too long.

    You’ve got good stuff on your blog, Dick, and I don’t why I hadn’t already added it to my blogroll. Fame is just around the corner now.

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