For as long as I remember, taking notes – or making notes – has never been my strong point.
I distinctly recollect a trip I made when I was 8 or so with my grandparents, the first time ever I flew on an airplane. My uncle, who we were visiting, gave me a notebook and said I was to keep a record of my visit. I made a few scribbles, and the only memorable notes I made in that book was puns and poems and quotes that another relative shared with me.
I think I make slightly better notes now. But I do love writing out quotes more.
Sharing what little I know with people who reach out to me is satisfying – when I do have the time to invest with them. Today was one such day and I hope I paid forward a fraction of what I was so generously given when I started my career.
It was also a really long day. I do no like the commute, and the exhaustion made it really difficult to do anything productive on the trip home. I’ve learnt how to do basic whiteboard animation this evening so not all is lost. Writing is hard with a migraine in tow.
There are so many wonderful people I’ve gotten to meet, learn from, build a relationship with over the last few years at work. We shared a common goal in building a nation’s infrastructure, and despite the various strengths and perspectives we each came with, it has been an astounding opportunity to work with some of the best minds that I have known in my life.
There has been a steady march of people leaving, and of late the trickle has been a flood of people I respect deeply. Various reasons of course, but one common thread has been the lack of stimulating work, replaced by the politics and the bureaucracy, and a deep sense of feeling unworthy and disrespected.
What do leaders (new or old) do when they find themselves in a situation like this? Individual decisions to leave are obviously not within their control. What is? And how can they take responsibility for the things within their control and act on them? I will continue to observe and learn at close quarters.
The opportunity to learn from this situation is itself something I’m grateful for.
A startling reminder again during a webinar I joined today: what seems crystal clear in my mind doesn’t translate well into words that other people understand in the way I do. We write to clarify things for ourselves. An added benefit of that clarity is that other people too may see it. Over a 100 people were on the call; a fraction did the work required to help themselves – and were brave enough to share it with strangers.
Throughout the day, I’ve also been reminded of Paul Graham’s astute observation that “people can never have a fruitful argument about something that’s part of their identity.” I found myself thinking about how the way I think about myself (an accountant by training) altered the way I approached a particular conversation, and how it went nowhere quickly.
Beyond that, framing a problem well, and then tackling it within that frame was another learning. Having multiple issues in a single conversation is truly hard, unless there is a great deal of trust and safety with the other person.
Another day to be grateful for learning, time, heartfelt conversations, the opportunity to help a few people, and a break in the rain so we could head out for a walk in the dark.
I have been procrastinating by looking through my feedreader. Merely typing that out now was cathartic (even though I will go back to continue reading).
The procrastination has to do with the discomfort of thinking about what the future of work holds. Both at a macro level (“why do we work?”) and at a personal level (“what kind of work do I want to do, and why?”). David Graeber’s article “On Bullshit Jobs” has cropped up in hundreds of conversations. As a contrast, several recent incidents at work have got me wondering about the gatekeeping class, and their ruthless effectivenes at keeping the status quo – or even strengthening it, leading the steady march towards mediocrity.
I choose to introspect: what impact do I want to have on the world? what change do I want to make happen? The answers feel like writing with a finger on a mist-covered mirror. Apparently clear when being written, and illegible or non-existent when I return a bit later.
Thank heavens for the support of the people around me who continue to keep me honest; who help me see me when I cannot (or will not) see myself; and who give their time generously to let me bounce ideas off them.
Should I learn for the sake of learning? Or should it be because I want to apply it somewhere or to something?
At various times in my life, I’ve vacillated between the two approaches. I recollect wanting to learn about things just because I was curious about them. I’d read books – that was all I had access to – and marvel at the imaginative ways I’d find the characters in the books behave. Then came school, and I *had* to learn things because they were on the test. Some things were really interesting but they were “out of syllabus”. I recollect the teachers telling me to shut up with my questions because “you don’t need to know that for the test!”. It must have gotten into my psyche and for a while after, I remember ignoring things I was really interested in.
More recently, I’ve begun learning things that don’t necessarily have an immediate application. I started an online course on “Game Theory” and “Design Fundamentals” (which I finished today). At a cursory, daily, practical level, both have little application. At a deeper, daily, practical level, they will help me understand interactions a little better than I do right now, and to communicate better through my presentations and written communications.
Showing up every day, and doing the work every day. Those are promises I make myself – and have failed to keep up in the past. I’ve got to learn how to do this better, and with a system I can put my efforts behind partly working for me, I put myself and my learning to the test.
I accidentally discovered and listened to Titus Winters splendid talk at the Association for Computing Machinery (moderated by Hyrum Wright). It led me to the book they’ve co-authored (& available to read freely online), in particular, the chapters on Culture, written by Brian Fitzpatrick.
From my experience and close observations of this “culture” thing, I’ve begun to recognise the chasm that exists between leaders who believe their organisations have the culture, and the engineers who are employed who believe it’s just another job. So what does Google (as a tech company) do that is not just a $’s thing? After all, not everyone has the $$’s and deep pockets that G has.
I’m not going to attempt my synthesis of Part II: Culture in this post – it’s a reminder to self to do so. (my excuse: a long day trip to the Powerhouse Museum has left me with much inspiration but little energy to continue writing as the clock nears midnight!)
Thought farts come easy. Long form essays are harder. Morning Pages come easier now. Writing publicly everyday sucks.
My notebook has not been written in much, over the last few months. Not even my daily calendar/log that I did for a while last year. Last week, I began (again) synthesizing and writing ideas out every day in it. A choice of color, fountain pens and otherwise, has made the exercise a joyous one. I captured many ideas from my various readings that otherwise would go into my sieve-like mind to be promptly forgotten. I have a bunch of ideas that are now visible at the turn of a page. They become jump off points to explore in my daily writing/reading – subjects that remain interesting enough to dig into a bit more detail, ideas worth thinking longer about.
The joy of discovering things has been wonderful, and so has the joy of forgetting and re-discovering things.
The hardest thing I’ve had to do all day was to unpin a chat with a human that was steadfastly optimistic, and left the organisation today. I will still be in touch, but the context in which we grew together no longer is common. That feels tougher than it should.
Inspiring people are everywhere. Not merely inspiring, they are generous with their ideas, their advice, and their time. I’m truly lucky to have come across many such people throughout my career. In the early phase of my career, I’ve been guilty of not acknowledging their help, sometimes even brashly disregarding and/or disrespecting them.
It’s only upon reflection that I see how much their support has meant, how much they’ve influenced the way I think and behave. I’ve been able to reconnnect with several of them over the years. It’s lucky that many are still alive, and are accessible. I’ve made the the time to acknowledge their help to me. I’ve regretted deeply that it took me such a long time to understand and acknowledge. Better late than never.
I reconnected with another person today, after being reminded of their support by an article posted about them. They’ve probably forgotten me already, given the number of people they meet on a daily basis. They’ve very likely forgotten the questions they asked at the time, over a decade ago. I have too, but I remember how they made me feel.
It’s been a good day to reconnect. It’s been a good day to pay it forward too.