Computational Kindness

People are almost always confronting what computer science regards as the hard cases. Up against such hard cases, algorithms make assumptions, show bias toward simpler solutions, trade off the costs of error against the costs of delay, and take chances.

These aren’t the concessions we make when we can’t be rational. They’re what being rational means.

Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

The last chapter on computational kindness in Algorithms to Live By is worth the entire book.

Review: Aware, The Science and Practice of Presence

A visual look at the Wheel of Awareness.

This book by Daniel Siegel guided me beyond the popular meditation apps like Calm and Headspace into something different, the “Whole of Awareness.” The idea is to integrate all types of meditation and awareness training practices from focus attention, to open awareness, to connectedness—non-duality.

The core practice involves visualizing a center hub of awareness, a spoke of attention, and a rim which holds all possible focuses. From the 5 senses, body awareness, thoughts/emotions, and feeling connected to other humans, beings, and things.

Dan repeats a phrase over and over to underline why a practice like this leads to improved well-bing: “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.”

Increase neural integration in the brain, enabling more coordination and balance in both the functional and structural connectivity within the nervous system that facilitates optimal functioning, including self-regulation, problem solving, and adaptive behavior that is at the heart of well-being.

For online resources including narrated meditations (short, medium, and long) visit: Dr. Dan Siegel – Resources – Wheel Of Awareness.

Practical and insightful. Hat tip: Akshay Kapur.


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Quick Fix Days and Hack Weeks

At Automattic we’ve redefined our hack weeks to focus on product changes for customer kindness: fixing flows, removing dead ends, and pay down technical debt.

In The big secret of small improvements Tal Bereznitskey explains how to improve “quick fix days,” where software teams take time to make small improvements. Those small changes can together mean a big win for customers and the business.

At Automattic we’ve experimented with both 1-day bug scrubs in one team all the way up to a full “hack week” — so Tal’s principles strike a chord with me.

Framing the problem is halfway to solving it — I love how he suggests rewording the subject line of a software change to fix a bug as something actionable, not just a description of the problem.

6. Well defined. Only work on tasks that are defined properly. Prefer “Make content scrollable” over “Bug: can’t see content when scrolling”.

Create positive feedback loops — I remember during my days answering WordPress.com Themes bug reports and how rewarding it was to hear directly from the people I helped with a bug fix.

7. Thanks you. There’s nothing like hearing a customer say “Thank you!”. When a quick-fix was suggested by a customer, let the developer email him and tell him the good news.

This is the work: customer kindness — Our latest iteration at Automattic speaks to this customer focus as the goal of the maintenance work — it isn’t just polish or cleanup, this is the product work. We even have a fun acronym for it now! H.A.C.K. — Helping Acts of Customer Kindness.

Aaron Douglas: Being Mindful During Video Calls

Tips from my coworker and prodigious mobile app maker Aaron Douglas on being mindful during video calls. Great tips, not just for remote workers, either. “I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.”

The Dangling Pointer

Working remote means I’m on a lot of video calls. I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.

Look at the camera often

When you’re in person you look at people’s eyes to show them you’re listening. Doing that on a video call requires a bit of counter-intuitive body language by looking at the camera. You won’t be looking at the person but they’ll see you looking directly at them. It’s a subtle difference but I’ve found it highly effective.

Also try to place the video call window up the screen towards the camera. Also decrease the size of the window so the person’s eyes are naturally closer to the top of the window (closer to the camera). When you’re not looking at the camera while the person is speaking it’ll still look…

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Kerry Liu on Team Leadership: Three Important Things

Insight on team leadership and management from my colleague and technical team lead extraordinaire Kerry Liu.

Remember these three things: don’t fall into the safety of your old job, listen, and provide useful feedback.

These are the three most important insights I gained from working as an Engineering Team Lead at Automattic. 

Read the full article: Three Important Things.

Product Management: Active Questions

I’m a fan of Oblique Strategies for triggering a new perspective when I get stuck. To me this method brings active questions to trigger better thinking.

This practice comes up for me frequently in product management when working on both short and long views of a roadmap. As part of any decision making process, whether by myself for reflection, or in a team working on a product change, I might ask something like:

What is the end result for our customers?
Where are we going in the long term?

The purpose of active questions, like Oblique Strategies, is to trigger more questions until you get a better answer. A truer answer. An honest answer. To find the why is to find the signal that drives everything else forward.

Who is it for?
How will they understand it’s for them?
How will we know if it’s a success?
What do we expect to see change?
How are we measuring it?
What would be a surprise here; something that we don’t expect?
Have we considered doing the opposite?
Who has the most to gain?
What’s the context?

What questions do you ask to find the why?

Making the Future

Objectives are always based on expectations. And expectations are, at best, informed guesses. The world does not stand still.

Objectives are not fate; they are direction. They do not determine the future; they are a means to mobilize the resources and energies of the business for the making of the future.

Via Daily Drucker for November 14.


Editorial note: Speaking of the future, I created this post with a beta version of the new WordPress editor experience, Gutenberg.

Untying the Knots of Language

Untying the knots of language begins with seeing that whenever something is said, other communication is carried along with it. Sometimes the sender is aware of the unsaid, but often they are not… The unsaid but communicated includes assumptions, expectations, disappointments, resentments, regrets, interpretations, significance…

The message of the impact of clarity in language from the book The Three Laws of Performance by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan hit home to me this week. I often find myself “bound by the knots of language” in work and in life.

No matter how smart or insightful people are, we are all prone to being hijacked by what is unsaid — especially the unsaid about which people are unaware.

To misunderstand or not listen or prejudge is to be human, and yet I’m frequently surprised about the assumptions and judgements I bake into my own words. Resentment is there; disappointment, too. Sometimes simply saying the words out loud, and getting feedback from other people, reveals everything.

The process starts with becoming aware of what people are not saying but are communicating. The unsaid and communicated but without awareness becomes linguistic clutter. Thinking about cluttered physical spaces offers insight into what happens in situations where people are bound by the knots of language. Such situations occur as tiring chaotic and unfinished. The key to performance is not pushing new conversations about strategy or reorganization into an arty cramped space. Instead, it is about clearing out the clutter. Almost universally, it is the unsaid that is cluttered for individuals, groups, and organizations. Before anything you can happen people need to do the linguistic equivalent of clearing out closets. This means moving issues into the light of discussion, saying them, and examining them in public. When people can address and articulate the unsaid, space begins to open up.

For the full context of these quotes, see the source: Three Laws of Performance Review (PDF) by “The Business Book Review” (Copyright 2009 EBSCO Publishing Inc.).


With a nod to my colleague and friend Ian Stewart who wrote on the wisdom of duplication this week, here’s a duplicated audio version of the context for the quotes (reading from the PDF).

(Video) Indistractable, Nir Eyal

Being indistractable is a super power. Nir Eyal started out his Mind the Product SF 2018 presentation by sharing that in the five years since his book Hooked came out he’s kept up with everything, gathered feedback, and learned even more about the neuroscience and behavior that drives our motivations and attention.

My main takeaway from his message is simple. You’ll know when you’re distracted by planning ahead. Using DND (do not disturb) mode to plan your time grants you freedom for what author Cal Newport calls “Deep Work” and Nir Eyal names “Traction.”

Working to your input each day rather than output to get important work done. Nir mentioned the “Forest” app to stay focused. In the few weeks after I attended Mind the Product my colleague Rachel McRoberts also mentioned this app to me. It’s a simple concept: each focus period grows a virtual green tree. If you interrupt the focus, the tree dies and you have to start over. Nir also uses the “Time Guard” app which allows you to set sensible limits to time spent on distractions.

I highly recommend watching this 28 minute video to hear and understand Nir’s latest work and pick up practical tips on decluttering and avoiding distraction.

Video courtesy of Mind the Product.