2017 Daily Reads: Dalio and Drucker

Two books made a big impact on my year in 2017, transforming my thinking. One for a massive amount of new insights and the other for improving my thought patterns.

Both books I’d buy again and give away—both are now open on my reading table each morning.

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A photo of two books that became a daily ritual in 2017.

The Daily Drucker by Peter Drucker (2004)

(Edited by Joseph Maciariello—note: Drucker died in 2005, soon after this book came out.)

Here’s an example of a daily insight I wrote about: A Decision Without Action Is Only a Hope.

This book is now a “daily devotional” for me; less holy scripture and more mindset for effectiveness in business, life, relationships. The improvement on my thought patterns was immediate: I noticed the ideas and principles coming up in daily work and life conversations, the mindset for effective time tracking and outward focus on contributions accelerated my career growth, and I deepened my understanding of business and how best to run an organization.

My all-time favorite — now well-worn and bookmarked — is September 4, “Practices of Effective Executives.” A distilled summary from his bestselling book of the same name.

The September 4 “Daily Drucker” reading details the five practices for effectiveness: 1) know where your time goes 2) focus on outward contributions 3) build on strengths 4) concentrate on superior performance and 5) make effective decisions.

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A photo of the Daily Drucker reading for Sept. 4th, with a handwritten card I used to hold the spot.

Which ties perfectly into Ray Dalio’s masterpiece where decision making is a key theme.


Principles by Ray Dalio (2017)

See a brief example of the insights I gained: Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively.

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A photo of the Principles book open to page 336; talking about meaningful work and relationships.

As I said in the beginning, this book hit me with a wall of new insights. I’m still processing it after 3 reads! Hat tip, Matt.

Top highlights of the book for me:

A winning formula: meaningful work + meaningful relationships + making a living. This ties in well with the freedom and mission that WordPress and Automattic stand for—a livelihood for anyone in the world with a website, blog, or shop.

Good principles are effective ways of dealing with reality.

Beware ego block by remembering that you’re looking for the best answer, not simply the best answer that you can come up with yourself.

Use pain to trigger quality reflections, learn what causes your pain and what you can do about it. This is the most effective habit Ray developed over 40 years.

Practice being open-minded and assertive at the same time, and think about your and others’ believability when deciding what to do. Find the most believable people possible who disagree with you and try to understand their reasoning.

Ideas versus decisions. Meritocracy is for hearing everyone’s voice — not for everyone making the decision.

You’ll find much, much more in the book; see also the book’s website: principles.com and social media. On LinkedIn Ray’s been sharing the most popular principles as readers give him feedback — with short audio clips.

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A screenshot of Ray Dalio sharing a top insight from his book, on LinkedIn.

I suggest buying both electronic and the hard copy. In 2018 I’ll share more thoughts and insights from the book, plus share experiences and learnings from putting the principles into practice.

What were your top books from 2017? Did anything become a must-read or daily habit?

A Product Lead is a Quality Driver

As my product lead role evolves I’ve started to see patterns emerge in my work across WordPress.com teams at Automattic. Two that keep coming up for me are focus on people, not technology and be a quality driver. I’d like to dig into the Quality Driver aspect in this post.

A Quality Driver navigates all the levels, end-to-end

Here’s a recipe for success as a product lead that I’ve now written down on a paper card near, and placed on my desk. I’m working on internalizing it as I put it into practice.

+ Obsess over customers.
+ Know how we want to communicate our message.
+ Understand our business goals and core mission.
+ Keep in touch with where the technology is headed.

Driving quality as a product lead takes place at many levels, from strategy to operations to tactics. At the highest level we write stories — sometimes framed as bets — to set the vision. Then working with teams on projects, schedules, organization — all the way through to the details of design, engineering, marketing, and support.

The key for me as I grow into this role is to synthesize everything as I navigate through the various levels. (For more, see my previous post on Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively.)

Another way I’ve to frame this Quality Driver  is in the form of a job description. A bit aspirational and ambitious to motivate me to grow and scale my product leadership. It’s my new mindset.

Quality Driver as a job description

Strategic — Raise awareness for the top issues facing our customers, and coordinate with teams to make the needed product changes. Pay attention to the end-to-end experience of our products, acting as the chief quality officer. Hold a holistic view across the business and own every aspect of the customer journey.

Operational — Act as an effective facilitator between developers, team leads, and company leadership. Align team resources to company goals and product initiatives. Engage with product teams for effectiveness, motivation, and project management. Build a culture of trust, quality, and high performance.

Strategic — Communicate a strategic vision and turn it into action. As a compassionate and effective product steward, use the ability to succinctly communicate our CEO’s vision to teams, as well as communicate everyone’s aspirations to the CEO. Find the gems, bring them to light, and move the needle. Work on the right things, avoid crashes, and be a few steps ahead of everything — knowing how every change fits in with our plans. Help everyone understand the context of their work and the broader vision for our products.

Knowing my success

Following the recipe I started with above, I can measure my impact as a product leader by watching for:

  1. Business growth for a sustainable and profitable future.
  2. Better customer engagement and satisfaction.
  3. A natural and healthy flow of communication.
  4. The happiness and effectiveness of teams.

On Self-Management and Energy

My word of the year for 2017 seems to be energy — some days I have, some days I have not. With clear results depending on the day and my energy level.

The following thought comes to my mind each day as I face the first decision of the morning: get out of bed and exercise, meditate, and read — or sleep in and feel more rested?

Use energy to get energy. George Leonard in Mastery

In the past my decision hinged on whether I thought one choice or the other would lead to a better Lance-at-work or Lance-at-home. Of course the right answer is both (chuckle).

Here’s the full quote.

The long road of always learning trumps a quick-fix mentality. To avoid burnout use energy to get energy, maintain physical fitness, tell the truth, set priorities, and stay on the daily path. Find joy in goalless practice itself. The plateau isn’t something to avoid; in fact, it’s one of the most important parts of the journey, and where you’ll be the happiest.

 

energyLike skipping meals, missing key rituals I’ve set up to start each day — habits that provide me with energy — means that I don’t perform at my highest level. High as measured by my presence and output at work. Not to mention the negative effect on my relationships and mood and self-esteem resulting from a lack of energy.

I’ve deepened my understanding of what this “energy” means. Leonard’s Mastery taught me about giving energy to get energy. How to Think About Exercise by Damon Young reminded me that fitness can bring much more than just bodily pride: it leads to intellectual and spiritual results: “We shouldn’t exercise only for health.”

This year another thoughtful deep-dive on energy came my way in The Making of a Corporate Athlete (2001) via Matt and Cate.

Extensive research in sports science has confirmed that the capacity to mobilize energy on demand is the foundation of IPS [ideal performance state].

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Screenshot of an oldie-but-goodie HBR article. (And ,where would be without this treasure trove?).

The sports metaphor is appropriate. As knowledge workers we also train, exercise, and grow. Here are my takeaways from the research:

  • Energy is defined most simply as “the capacity to do work.” Training starts with the physical level because the body is the primary source of energy and “the foundation of the performance pyramid.”
  • The enemy is not stress but linearity: the failure to oscillate between energy expenditure and recover. And stress can be a motivator and positive thing. I recommend looking up eustress if you want to learn more. “The problem is not so much that their lives are increasingly stressful as that they are so relentlessly linear.”
  • Physical stress can be a source of greater endurance as well as emotional and mental recovery: work fewer hours and get more done. In one case a manager saw success by increasing the good kind of stress in her life. “Because [Clark] no longer feels chronically overburdened, she believes that she has become a better boss.”

View the full article for the visual description of the “High Performance Pyramid” — for now, here’s how I understand it:

The performance pyramid is a mental model of energy, starting at physical and moving to cognitive, and finally to spiritual. Connecting everything with a higher purpose.

TOA (Thoughts on Acronyms)

Have you ever seen an acronym in a work chat or read it in an online article — or anywhere — and immediately had to Google it?

“Like, ummmmmmm, WTH does this mean? SMH.”
“Ohhhhhhh. I see. OK. TIL.”

The utility of acronyms is proven when the resulting phrase is easier to parse. The details are abstracted away nicely, hidden from view, and the reader gains quicker understanding. If the details aren’t essential to understanding and you don’t need to know what the concept is behind each word to grasp the bigger picture, such as DNA. — Douglas Hofstadter in Surfaces and Essences

Just like we don’t know all the inner workings of a cell phone, yet can understand how to operate it. We don’t call it a “cellular transmission device” — just “phone.”

Simpler is better, usually. WFM.

If acronyms are popular enough they can become common and useful — often lowercased — words such as radar, scuba, modem, or yuppie. These are considered “dead acronyms” because most people won’t know a) that they are acronyms at all, and b) if they do know they probably don’t remember the exact words represented. Which is fine.

Insight from REAMDE by Neal Stephenson, “Among geeks, the cool-soundingness of an acronym is more important than the existence of what it refers to.” Note, case in point: SCUBAT. Fun to also redefine existing like John did with PHP (People Helping People).

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Oh my gosh, get me outta here! Credit: computergear.

My tips and guidelines for acronym usage. YMMV.

    1. Consider your audience. Posting for an entire company? Assume no knowledge of your team’s insider lingo. Consider both your existing coworkers plus future hires that will join later and read back in the archives.
    2. Expand and explain at first use.

      In formal writing for a broad audience, the expansion is typically given at the first occurrence of the acronym within a given text, for the benefit of those readers who do not know what it stands for.

      Define the term the first time it appears in your text using longhand, with the acronym in parentheses. Then use the acronym, the shorthand, in the remaining text of the same post or page. “This week we launched The Awesome Sauce (TAS). Since inception TAS has truly been a team effort.”

      A perfect act to follow is The Economist. The magazine has a particular style that encourages an inline definition for the first appearance of a new word, something possibly misleading — not just acronyms — unknown or proper nouns, too. For example, “Automattic, a web platform company, announced today…”

      If you don’t define it — ideally using expansion at its first appearance — I will have fun with it.

    3. Use HTML title attributes. When publishing hypertext, say on your WordPress website, take advantage of hyperlinks and tooltips to give acronyms meaning and a visual explanation. You can use the abbr tag with a related title attribute. Here’s an example: WP. Here’s a good visual example of the HTML code, from Mozilla:mozilla-abbr-examples
    4. Beware lazy abbrevs such as pw, ty, yw. This may save you time in the moment, yet if you’re following along you’ll already be considering others’ needs above your own. Avoid the confusing usage by either typing the words out, or use a tool like TextExpander to do that for you. You’ll be known for your helpful attitude by using clear, unambiguous communication. If in doubt, spell it out.
    5. If you see something you don’t understand, just ask. Fun tip: you can play with your own version of the acronym’s meaning while you wait for the author to explain. At Automattic, when I see an acronym I don’t understand I’ll ask — but sometimes I can’t resist sharing back my phony interpretations on the thread, too.

Bonus acronymivia, HTH.

A recent fun acronym seen in my hometown, Tucson: BRO (Breault Research Organization, Inc). Heh, say it out loud. LOL.

More acronym geekery on Wikipedia — my favorite in the list there is PAYGO (pay-as-you-go). I learned the word “initialism:”

“Initialisms” are words where you can’t pronounce the resulting “word.” The spelled-out form of an acronym or initialism — what it stands for— is called its expansion.

FYI: this video is a funny take on how badly acronyms could go: “Corporate Acronyms: You may not know it, but some of the world’s most recognizable apps and brands are all acronyms.” YOLO.

TTYL.


A quick list of all the acronyms I used in this article, in case you’re like me and still learning a new one each day. In the order they appear above:

WTH: What the heck/hell (can also have an F at the end for f***)
SMH: Shake my head
OK: Okay
TIL: Today I learned
DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid
WFM: Works for me
SCUBAT: Scaffolding contigs using BLAT and transcripts
YMMV: Your mileage may vary
HTML: Hypertext markup language
WP: WordPress
pw: Password
ty: Thank you
yw: You’re welcome
HTH: Hope that helps
BRO: Breault Research Organization, Inc
LOL: Laugh out loud
PAYGO: Pay-as-you-go
FYI: For your information
YOLO: You only live once
TTYL: Talk to you later

Thriving, With Room for More

The calm and quiet at the end of year is a great time to evaluate progress, see what’s working well, and what’s not working. I love that Cate posted her Habits that Helped in 2017.

Her words reminded me of a lovely message I received from a Top Performer survey:

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Screenshot from a Top Performer survey. I’m mostly thriving with more room to thrive.

Microsteps, eh? Mmmkay.

One small yet impactful change I’ve made successfully in the last several years is focusing more on my health and wellness as a foundation for focus and energy at work. “Use energy to get energy” as George Leonard says in his book Mastery. [I’ll share more thoughts on energy — and that quote — in another post.]

These “Top 5 Listicle” articles are a dime a dozen, but this one from Inc sticks with me: increasing employee productivity starts with you as their manager.

You must thrive personally in order to lead others effectively,” she said, “whether you’re a top-level executive or lead a team. Kerry Alison Wekelo, Actualize Consulting

 

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Screenshot from an Inc.com listicle on productivity.

Our teams, our company, our customers — and our family and friends — need us to be strong and on our feet. Ready to tackle the next challenge.

Is Your Product The Hero?

Craig Menear, CEO of The Home Depot, used a phrase I’d never heard before in business or marketing, “The product is the hero.”

Via NPR’s Marketplace “Corner Office” podcast, How The Home Depot became an e-commerce giant (December 20, 2017).

Update: Mike Davidson made a great point via Twitter about improving this to frame the customer as the hero:

The tools are not heroes to be used by you, the hero. You use them to win. Great point.

Inspired by Doug Glanville’s Triple Threat: Baseball, Journalism, and Social Justice

A modern-day baseball anthropologist, Doug Glanville is a former Major Leaguer whose activism and advocacy for social justice is as inspiring to me as his incredible talent as a writer and journalist.

For years I’ve enjoyed his essays and reporting on sports, society, and life from The New York Times to ESPN to The Atlantic to speaking at TEDx. Check it out — now he’s debuting as a college professor.

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Whether you love baseball metaphors or not, Doug’s a triple-threat.

(Hat tip, Tom Willett — aka my Dad.)

Head of HR Lori McCleese on Automattic’s Learning and Development

 

I’m excited to see that Culture Amp’s blog features Automattic’s Global Head of Human Resources Lori McCleese sharing our latest efforts for learning and development: Three tested approaches to driving learning and development.

As an Automattic employee and team lead I’ve benefitted directly from these perks and benefits — from private leadership coaching in a 1-1 setting to in-person training course led by Reboot to diversity & inclusion speakers and courses. We’ve upped our game and it’s already born fruit in my own teams and relationships, as well as given me new resources and ideas.

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Footnote: I highly recommend following Lori’s personal blog, too — her photos, stories, and thoughtful essays on life and travel and friendship bring joy to my life. For example, see this fun inside look at her recent move across the US from San Francisco to Asheville, NC. 🌰

Leadership Gap: Scaling Presence With Distributed Teams

In my practice as a team lead at Automattic I keep coming back to the challenge of scale. Scaling up both in scope and in size, taking on larger projects and bigger teams with more overhead and management. Going from a small team paying attention to one product all the way to a group of teams across a many channels.

One reason it’s a been a difficult challenge for me is that with the increase in scope and size, my time to give individual attention to people and projects decreases. I find myself asking, “How can I best scale up my presence to keep in touch with everyone on everything they’re doing?”

The second part of the challenge is our particular work style: Automattic is fully distributed, biased toward text communication, and most interactions are asynchronous because of time zones. Our culture is optimized for personal flexibility as we set our own work hours and schedules — and office locations change daily.

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I’ve started writing down the principles that lead to my mindset for being present — plus the techniques that have worked well so far. I’m sharing them here publicly to keep myself accountable for the practice.

To scale my presence on distributed teams, I will:

  1. Build connections to build trust.
  2. Conduct pulse checks on a regular basis, including skip-level chats¹.
  3. Share regular updates to the group to expose my thinking, highlight important messages, and provide insight into what I’m tracking both internally and externally.
  4. Ask everyone to share their observations with me.
  5. Make coaching a priority, so others can learn to help themselves.
  6. Delegate more. Can someone else do it?
  7. Be true to my word.
  8. Be visible.

Your ability to have influence at a larger scale within your organization starts with knowing how to connect and influence people in your immediate team. Alyssa Burkus in How to Be More Present With your Team (Actionable.co)

But wait… these are all practices for any leader, even when located in the same building, same city. The last one — being visible — is the key to solving the difficulty of a distributed, async workforce.

Ideas that I’ve tried for improving visibility include connecting more over video, to “share a tea” virtually as we chat. Posting short personal updates on what I’m up to outside work. Jumping into short, high-fidelity check-ins over voice and video to unblock a communication gap, which is a boost to the human bond. The view into someone’s office can lead to questions like, “What’s that book on your shelf?”

Teams and individuals at Automattic socialize together via chat or photoblogs or videos or GIFs. Whether that’s around hobbies and shared interests, building cultural awareness, and following each others’ lives via social media. As my coworker Cate says, “Make it feel like a team.” Ultimately it’s about humanizing the distance.

Making it feel more human means involving myself in the connection over the distance. It’s not just a transaction — we’ve bridged the gap to interaction.

I’d love to hear from you, too. What’s worked best for you to be more present for your team?


  1. Footnote: the vocabulary of scaling teams is fun. Learning to scale my leadership also means picking up industry lingo around scaling teams and companies. Everything from skip-levels, business units (BU), direct reports (DR), individual contributors (IC), org chart, directly responsible individual (DRI), “manage up,” and more. Not all the buzz words are new to me, but I typically avoid using corporate-sounding vocabulary. As I seek to understand everything at scale, I find myself using these phrases and acronyms more often now with certain audiences. I’m picking it up as I go! Something new each day.

 

Get Involved: Engineering Managers Community

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If you manage technical teams, are looking to grow and learn and broaden your network — you might enjoy connecting with this community of peers from all around the world: Engineering Manager Slack.

I’ve enjoyed participating in the discussions around books, conferences, remote companies, and more. Useful to both get a new perspective once in a while as I’m exposed to fresh ideas outside my own company’s culture and norms. And also to get a zeitgeist feel of my industry, my “people.”

Co-organizer Cate’s put up a brief recap of the first year or so in New-ish Eng-Manager Slack, >1 Year On.

I believe in community, and the value of peer-mentoring, and it’s been great to create a space for that and have others value it too.

Join us!