I didn’t know.

Three little words.

A valid excuse.

Or a possibility to grow into.

I didn’t know…

I cared enough to set that right.

And now I know!

PS: this started off because I didn’t know both Joe Biden & Amanda Gorman have a speech impediment. To get up on stage in front of people is hard for most, but to do it when you have a speech impediment, & still nail it, is inspiring.

[Link] Never too late

Alison Barnes, writing in the Guardian, about joining art class:

When you leave work you’re usually an expert in whatever you did. Then you start something new and everyone is younger than you, they know more than you do, they’re probably better at risk-taking, I think they’re better educated. It’s easy to feel intimidated. But remember you have skills that you’ll be able to build on.

Little hopes

With the world under lockdown, it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that the end is near. After all, there’s no hope at all, is there? Uncertainty everywhere, especially in the economics of life & living.

And yet.

Today, a colleague & his young son shared with a small group of people & their kid(s) how to learn to solve problems using MIT’s open source project called Scratch. It may not seem like much, but for the kids, it was a transportation to another exciting world. I know of at least three kids who went straight into their new-found tool & were still exploring it a couple of hours later.

The kids show us the way.

PS: Thanks Rod & Archie.

A month of writing

Despite following its journey since it’s launch, I had no idea what to actually expect from the AltMBA.

I’m glad I leaned into the experience after the first conference call, because it has been, without doubt, one of the two best courses I’ve done in the last decade (the other being Dr. Barbara Oakley’s Learning How to Learn). I’ve met some amazing people, dismantled several assumptions I’ve held:  both about myself & about how connections between people happened in general, & discovered how much time I actually have in the day that goes to waste. 

I’ve written every day.
Whether it was responding to the 13 “prompts”, or feeling some sort of emotion that needed to be transferred from my brain to paper, I’ve been writing incessantly. Cathartic, in many ways.

The AtlMBA officially ended yesterday.

On Learning habits

I’m sure I’m not alone in doing this.

Something catches my attention, & I want to learn more about it.
I immediately jump to the resources that seem to appeal to me.
I try to do it.
I fail.
I give up.
Ad infinitum.

I think there’s a word for it: dilettante. A pejorative.

Occasionally, something sticks with me long enough that I learn the basics well enough that they become habits. “know enough to be dangerous”.

On a quest now to figure out, mid-life, what motivates me to want to learn something new, and how to learn about it so it sticks.

Learning to type

My son, all of 8 years old, has started learning to type.  He’s figuring out what the home row means, & how his fingers don’t have to move all that distance to type just one letter, that he can do it with both hands, and things are not as complicated as the jumbled letters on the keyboard.  Sure, it confuses the bejesus out of him, but he keeps going on.

What’s the point of this post? Who knows, I just found it fascinating that age is just a number when it comes to learning. Kids probably learn much faster than than we give them credit for.

Looking back

It’s been just over two years since I started my role at Australia’s largest infrastructure project. My title suggests I’m a finance analyst, supporting the revenue earning arm of the Government Business Enterprise behemoth that is the company. I’m about to wrap this two year stint to move on to another role shortly.

I’ve been asked a few times: what has it been like?

The early days:
The team I joined two years ago had three other analysts, so it was a really small group. Our manager has a reputation for being one of the better managers around, and it was quite evident right from the first week. 

It so happened that I joined right in the middle of the annual long-term forecasting cycle, so I was right in the thick of things. Despite my previous experience in a similar industry, the  tasks I was assigned were new, different & frankly sometimes quite obtuse. I also had a regular role that I was to shoulder, as well as take over the weekly & monthly reporting. To top it all off, one of the team was going on leave for three weeks so it was a definite baptism by fire.

I did have a few things going for me:

  • I knew many of the people I needed to interact with (staying in the same industry helps enormously!) or could fairly easily build a relationship with through introductions from mutual connections
  • Data wrangling & analytics were two of my secret weapons & I wasn’t shy about using the right tool for the job. I also knew my way around the IT department, thanks to a couple of my good friends who’d preceded me into the organisation. 
  • I do have a commercial background after all, so I knew precisely what the numbers I was reporting would mean to the recipients
So while the first few weeks felt overwhelming (I also got the distinct impression that I was being pushed to the limit), I had landed on my feet within a couple of weeks, & was learning the ropes quickly.  My manager was regular with both feedback & praise, building my confidence & helping me get very clear with what I needed to deliver. 
It’s been my personal mission to learn something new every week.  While still early days in my new job, I still kept up with my learning. I had also just finished reading Nancy Duarte’s blog post on slidedocs, so was messing around with the corporate slide templates the organisation had recently issued to see if I could use them more effectively in my work. I had just started reading about the Google Places API. I wasn’t quite sure if I would ever use it but it seemed interesting to me. 
By the end of month one, I’d put up a template (with some VBA) that made preparing & presenting the long-term budget a far-more effective & efficient task. The solution was simple: make the presentation a book-like form, laid out in landscape, with the even-numbered page showing the graphic & the odd-numbered page showing the numerics. While there was some initial resistance (finance processes, anyone?), the exec team loved it when shown a draft, & it was a resoundingly successful production effort. 
Less than 2 months into my primary job supporting a team with commercial reporting & analysis, I was told of the peculiar challenge that this team faced: they had no idea who their end customers were. It was like a light-bulb went off when I heard that.. why couldn’t they use Google Places API? I spent the next few train trips to & from work using R (another tool I was teaching myself to use) and the Google Places API for R building a prototype that might possibly be a solution.  I shared my prototype with my manager, who immediately sent it on to the head of that team, but also reminded me that it was not my job to solve that specific problem.  Let’s just say that prototype, & a few follow up actions on my part, earned me a trip to Google offices in Sydney. 

note to self:  Solve problems, even if they aren’t in your specific job description. The value gained personally in the learning far far outweighs the politics of the situation. 

By the time I had completed my official probation period, I had already made my presence & value felt around the organisation. I’d saved a bunch of people a few hours of work, & not just in reporting, showcased some analytical capabilities, & build a bunch of reporting frameworks that made reporting very boring 🙂 
What does a good manager do? Find a challenging project, & throw it the bored employee’s way. Alongside my day job, I was thrown into a pricing project that was struggling for modelling skills. Three months or so of intense optimization modelling later, the proposed pricing structure went into the market and dramatically changed the industry’s behavior, but without endangering the revenue prospects of the company.  I value the learning on this project hugely – the mental models of thinking about problems, the approaches to solving them, & the wide variety of factors that were considered in the final solution, all within a deadline that seemed insane at the time. Most importantly, the relationships that were built in that project have grown into friendships. 
I’ve since been involved with some mind-mending business problems. I’ve been thrown into projects that seem irredeemable in the time available to solve them. I’ve learnt to see the problems of a behemoth operating at scale in many different angles – regulatory, commercial, operations, strategy, financial, and human. I’ve seen many of those angles considered and ignored, ideated & forgotten.  In any case, I think these last two years have shown me how much I can accomplish in a very large organisation, how much I can collaborate with people far smarter than I will ever be. I’ve also learnt about (& felt the impact of) the politics that accompanies a large organisation, of rewards & recognition (or the lack thereof), of personal & team motivation, of technological opportunities & technology’s self-inflicted wounds, and a whole heap of things that won’t ever make it to a blog post. 

Feynman notebook

I’m tackling calculus, with Silvanus Thompson’s Calculus Made Easy. A subject that I entirely detested, but have since found beauty in. But learning is hard.

Cal Newport has a blog post about a study hack method called Feynman’s notebook. The idea is simple: translate your growing knowledge of something hard into a concrete form and you’re more likely to keep investing the mental energy needed to keep learning

A notebook with handwritten notes has sprung up. THINGS I DON’T KNOW ABOUT. Indeed.