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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…
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?
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).
I took part in the 20th altMBA group, April–May 2018. A wonderful experience! I highly recommend it for folks looking to challenge themselves, grow into leadership, and meet motivated folks with a similar mindset.
The altMBA is an intensive, 4-week online workshop designed by Seth Godin for high-performing individuals who want to level up and lead.
I found the course a larger time commitment than expected, much more than 2-3 nights a week and all day Sunday. Ended up being every day for me, at least a few hours of homework, if not more. The main task of the smaller group you’re assigned is to review each others’ work—three to four homework assignments a week. My altMBA experience, like many things in life, gave me back much more when I put in more.
What I didn’t expect was that shipping my homework wasn’t all; I also reviewed and commented on my group members’ work, then had two more steps for each assignment: rewrite mine again based on the feedback, and then publish it publicly.
The small group cohort style and tools are familiar to those working remotely at a company like Automattic: Zoom, Slack, WordPress. There are coaches that help out at various times, but most of it is self-study or a small group effort. The altMBA team sends you a box of books ahead, and if I had to do it over, I’d read them more carefully. I referenced them a ton during the coursework and group sessions—and have continued to use many of the books as a reference.
Overall, the course was worth the investment in my case. I still keep in touch with my small group, including on the alumni website, and made a few great friends there. People still connect with me on LinkedIn to share stories, ask for advice, and check in on the work I shared—much of which related to taking bigger steps in my career. Indeed, the “forced” growth via the exercises and homework became essential to taking a bigger leap at work last year. I’m grateful.