In-sights

Where do insights come from? That’s the subject of Gary Klein’s book “Seeing what others don’t”. It’s also the question I’ve been pondering on.

One of the jobs I held was titled “Insights Analyst” – a role I felt unsuited for at the time. I had about zero experience in the telecommunications industry in this country. I had little understanding about the business climate in the country as a new migrant. I also had no idea about what was expected of this role – and it appears, neither did the good folks in HR who crafted that job description!

And yet, I have remained in this industry for 13 years. The Occam’s razor explanation is that I’m so poorly skilled that no other industry or company will hire me. The story I tell myself is because I enjoy it. It’s got the right blend of challenges, opportunities, people, technology, and personal purpose that works for me.

Challenges & opportunities: Do a field visit with an expert or field technician from the industry, ask questions, and listen. The pits and pipes and equipment in the ground or hanging from the poles take on a magical appearance when I do. I’ve learnt the history of telecommunications, looked at the equipment from the very early days of the industry, understood the scale of the physical challenges, empathised with the scale of the emotional challenges of poorly paid yet invaluable technicians, listened to their ideas for improvement, and where I could, translated them so that the ‘leaders’ recognise the opportunities to save money.  The relationships I’ve built through these continue to this day. When I don’t understand something, or want to learn more, I have a network (pun intended) to ask questions and learn from.

Technology: My weakest area as a non-engineer.  I don’t know the maths, or the physics, or the chemistry involved in how the network operates. Yes, there is chemistry involved: cables rot too. Technology spans a wide range of things: the hardware that does magical things with data, the fibre that hauls this data at speeds of light, and the software can enables all sorts of weird and wonderful things to be done with it. This is even before what users do with the technology. In industry parlance, Layer 2 of the OSI model, is as fascinating to me as the software that enables everything at and above that Layer.

People: are the driving force for me. I’ve met so many experts in this field that work alongside me. I’ve learnt far more about the industry, the technology, the challenges and the opportunities than I ever could have done from either a university course or an apprenticeship. I’ve been introduced to people in ancillary fields that I’d have never met otherwise through these people. Many of these folks have become dear friends, folks who’s opinions I ask and value on subjects other than the industry or the work.

So insights. Where do they come from? Gary Klein suggests it’s from keeping an open, curious mind. It’s from being able to be shocked out of our assumptions. It is in building new connections between things not usually connected. It’s in observing and identifying anomalies that don’t fit our belief systems. Insights are disruptive. They don’t allow you to see the world the same as you did before.

 

Assembling

Not knowing what to write about is a common obstacle that stops me from writing even a word. Even this sentence took an enormous amount of will to type out. Editing as I write, feeling like the words aren’t right, the idea isn’t right, the flow isn’t right.. and backspacing till all I’m left with is a blank screen, again. Doing it a few times is the only way to get something, anything typed out, whether it makes sense or otherwise.

Distractions are always lurking. That music playing in the background? Check out that guitar lick, watch it again. What’s the lyrics again? What just ran past my window? Why are the kids screaming. Distractions pour like waves upon the beach, always wanting to change the direction of the flow in the moment. It’s easy to feel the pull of the distractions, much like the water’s pull at the beach. Just standing there, in the moment, feeling the sand shifting under my feet.Knowing when the water’s run out, I am still in the same spot. The analogy breaks down here?

I’m struggling. My back’s causing a lot of grief, weeks later. Words aren’t flowing as well as I’d like them to. My fingers aren’t doing as well on the fretboard and in the picking. My eyes aren’t coping with the glare of the screens. My soul feels tired. Is tired.

Daylight savings kicked in this morning. The clocks are turned an hour ahead, whatever that means. I’ve had much to be grateful for; including a guitar+double bass blues jamming session this morning with the 11yo, who’s getting pretty good at it. The 16yo is listening to a sax solo from Dire Straits’ Your Latest Trick – a change from the usual ignoring dad’s recommendations 🙂 We got the chicken coop assembled, and in the garden.

Getting back on track…

Reaching out to people I find interesting has never felt easier than in the last few months. People who’ve taken the time to write and publish their work. People who’ve created something I found cool. Have taken a stand on something they deeply believe in and written about it. People who’ve shared their own processes (& demons) of creation.

I’ve been helping heaps of people with a platform to share their voice and ideas at work. It is of course a lot of work that is not a part of my “job”. I get to help craft their stories, sometimes showing how they can do it themselves. Other times I help with designing their presentation (and learning concepts of design along the way). Helping someone has become far more satisfying than doing things for accomplishment.

My own creative endeavours – calligraphy & writing – have taken a back seat in the process. Procrastination, poor choices, and “owning experiences that aren’t mine to own” are some reasons.Ill-health has been another.

It’s again ~100 days to the end of the year, and a good time to re-energise myself with sprints. I’ve begun one already: 100 days of code with Replit.

Music:
I have just begun learning to play Mr. Spontaneous thanks to Gareth Pearson’s lessons.
10 minutes on the cello,
10 on the double bass,
10 learning to read sheet music

Small steps to get back on track.

Renewal

Elections are finally over. Six weeks of agony for both the candidates and the voters, and on Saturday Australia voted for a change of government. Loads of ink and pixels are devoted to hypothesizing what drove the change, and what the future might hold.

The implication on work, particularly for those entities and people dependent on the government as a source of funding or livelihood, will start to manifest quickly.

Despite all the changes though, I sense hopefulness. A renewal of sorts. That things might have seemed dark for a while, but they can be brighter. That the opportunity has opened up to do good work, that helps more than the handful of rich people who’ve been the beneficiaries of the largesse seen in the last few years.

That is an uplifting feeling for now at least.

Grateful

I have much to be grateful for.  The kids are at the top of the list, for different, maybe even contrasting reasons. One’s driven me mad with their creativity, the other proud with their effort.

 

I arranged and accompanied a few of our grads to see the plant and equipment out in field today. It was the first time (for most) that they’ve been out to see the world through the lens of the work that they do. I hope that a little of the excitement that old farts like me and my colleague rubbed off on them.. the enthusiasm for the incredible technology that we all can’t imagine living without.

Through a series of unplanned (or rather poorly planned on my part)  logistics, I was able to volunteer a little time at the local community food bank. It is distressing to see how much food goes waste in this country, while thousands of people go hungry. It’s also distressing to see how many of the truly needy can’t show up at these food banks for a variety of reasons. The ones that do sometimes don’t really need the helping hand, I have realised from personal conversations.  The volunteers who help out seem to know these challenges well, and have their own desire/agenda to care too much abuot solving some of the structural issues within their control.

 

An Old Dog’s Walk

Whenever I feel stuck, meeting people from an entirely different realm seems to help me get unstuck. I had two conversations today that gave me the nudge needed to think about my problem differently.

What to do when such people are not around, or when there is no time available? Nature today provided an answer too. Look up, and look out. Even when the weather isn’t right for a walk, watching the rain and listening to it patter down on the roof allow the space to come unstuck.

The old dog next door was the nudge I needed to go for a walk when the rain broke. He needs the walk more than I do, and can only walk a wee bit. That short walk was enough for both of us old dogs.

Okay

It’s nearly midnight. I’ve had the fortune of listening to an insightful talk tonight by Joi Ito. The time I’ve spent on screens today is also a reminder that there are several analog activities that didn’t happen. Rains put paid to the walking.  Overrunning meetings put paid to the cello practice. No time at all to listen to the Game Theory talks. I didn’t get to sketch or do my Spencerian calligraphy. And I’ve been spending an awful lot of time on a work presentation that is driving me nuts.

With all that going on, I’m okay with giving myself a break. Breathe deeply, accept the streak isn’t that anymore. And do my best tomorrow.

 

LOMA: Learning on my ass

I threw away an opportunity today to try something new.

The family went ice-skating at the local rink, a mother’s day gift from the kids. There was great excitement for a few days leading up to this. When we all got our skis on, the 16yo who’s done this several times before was off to a flying start. The 11yo was keen as mustard, and dashed off, fell down multiple times, dusted himself off, and kept going.  Mum had a shaky start, but found her balance quickly, and was off too.

It could have been a combination of things: painful feet, ankles and calves, a fear of falling down and breaking a bone, even just falling and looking like a fool.. in any case, it took me over 15 minutes to push myself along the walls till I came to the first possible exit and got off. I was sore already at this point, and the struggle of not having figured out how to keep my balance and move forward had gone from the merely physical to the attitudinal.

I got new skis, hopefully they’d fit me better? They did, but only slightly. I got onto the rink, and landed right on my butt. I was sore in more places now, and my mood had darkened very quickly.There was another exit nearby, and it still took me 10 minutes or so to get to it and get off the ice. I spent the next 90 minutes being the photographer, and being cold.

I could have persisted. I should have persevered. I might have learnt something new. I also realised, painfully, how unfit I have gotten. How the lack of exercise in the last few months has affected both my ability to move around nimbly, and my abilty to get off the ground once I land there. Daily walks, even if alone, will come back into my routine.

The ice has definitely kicked my butt.