Measurement

If you work hard on your job, you’ll make a living. If you work hard on yourself, you’ll make a fortune.

Jim Rohn

While I’ve not made a fortune, a reasonably comfortable life for my family is certainly an accomplishment I’m happy with in the last dozen years.

None of us know when our time is up, and the end is near. I feel that isn’t isn’t a morbid thought, it’s a wonderful anchoring reminder that not a single person will make it out of this alive. What we do with my life is a matter of choice, if survival and basic necessities are guaranteed.

What would I do if I had seven more years to live? That is 2555 days from today. What difference would I have made to this world by then? What would the people whose lives I helped say at my funeral? Does it matter what they say? Or does it matter that I’ve lived my life by own measure?

Clay Christenson asked a simple question: “How will you measure your life?” I don’t know the answer yet.

Acceptance

I procrastinated on an important project for a few days, unable to write a short script for an animation. There were several good reasons that served as wonderful excuses, and I kept pushing the one task away as long as I could.

Until today. I got the benefit of having a grad look over my shoulder to see how I did the animation. I pretended that she asked for my help to do the animation, and it was no longer my task to do. I whipped out a text editor to write out the thrust of the topic.  In less than an hour, we had the whole story carved out, voiced-over. Another hour of calibrating voice and the scenes, and we now have a short video to show and get feedback on.

Given my natural inclination to help someone else, even at my own cost, this mind trick is a useful hack to get my own projects done. Pretend I’m helping someone – future me.

***

More evidence of chasms between leadership speech and action today. I’m not surprised at this game of corporate politics of course, and yet every now and then, I discover a new way in which these ‘leaders’ create largesse for themselves.  Large egos and large identities apparently.  With elections right around the corner, the corporate PR machinery seems to wind down, and the public narratives are weaker. Three more weeks to go.

***

Kevin Kelly’s wrote 103 Bits Of Advice I Wish I Had Known for his 70th birthday, a generous gift to his readers. Some of them reminded me of JP Barlow’s “Principles of Adult Behaviour“. Both worthy reads.

***

I spent a few hours compiling the “lens of the week” ideas that the FluxCollective publishes into a presentation. Somehow the presentation has vanished. It’s a chance to redo them, and make them better than my last attempt.  And a chance to practice acceptance 🙂

 

 

 

 

One Third

Four months of 2022 gone by. That’s eight fortnights. Sixteen weeks.

It’s easy to count days. Have those days counted?

It’s a thought I’m always wrestling with. Impostor syndrome kicks on the doors. Sometimes it kicks the door in.

Today, I came across a talk by Brandy Foster “The Rise of the Generalist”.  Her personal story of becoming a Comp Science lecturer with a specialisation in English literature is unusual. She makes the claim that

“professional generalists find themselves in the position of convincing others that their varied experience is as valuable as that of the narrow specialist. In fact, as our economy moves towards even more automation of specialized tasks, the value of a generalist’s perspective is growing. Further, in a world of growing complexity, the advantage goes to the generalist, who may lose to a specialist’s expertise in a single domain, but wins every time when the game continues to span across many domains.”

Leadership skills are primarily about breadth, not necessarily only depth. Some technical expertise helps, I suppose, but more important than that is the ability to “join the dots” across mutliple areas and disciplines. My  experiences with true “general” managers has been awe-inspiring yet rare.  Like Ms Foster, I hope to see more true generalists blossom in our super-specialised world.

Anyway, I’m rambling.

The reason Ms. Foster’s talk resonated with me is because my impostor syndrome kicks in most often when someone asks me why I, a non-technologist, am in a team of smart technologists/developers. I contribute 9% of the team’s headcount. A measurable thing.  What’s fascinating is nearly everyone has the same impostor syndrome about themselves: what value do I bring to this team? won’t I be found out that I’m a fraud?

What would it look like if work was not the only driving force in my life? in all our lives? What would my world look like?

Not Notes

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.

Long day short post

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.

Grateful learning

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.

Clarity and Framing

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.

A little help

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.

More Learning

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.

Cult or Culture?

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!)