Hyperbole Much?

From “Introduction to OKRs”, www.oreilly.com/business/free/files/introduction-to-okrs.pdf:

OKR is an acronym, and like most acronyms, the words behind the letters are often forgotten. This is a deadly mistake.

How Objectives and Key Results are life-and-death is not covered on that page or the entire document.

O’Reilly editors, please note:

  • Acronyms as titles, even in short works, rarely drive readership
  • Overuse of the acronym in the text dilutes its meaning
  • Watch the dead space – nothing starts until page 6, four pages are blank, and another page has a two line sentence
  • Getting Started with OKRs is the title of the last chapter?
<li>This is a PDF, not a print pamphlet. Treat it as such.</li>As it is, <a href="https://medium.com/@cwodtke" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Christina Wodtke</a> provides some useful bits if you dig through the dry text. These aren't new. You've seen their like before and will again. Christina needed a narrative (she hinted at stories from her storied career) and a real editor to make this pop.

This piece is a free PDF. Maybe this is new to you. If so, dive in! If not, the only cost is that you could be reading something else. Taking a few minutes to review or reacquaint yourself is valuable, too.

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What’s a senior engineer’s job? – Julia Evans

There’s this great post by John Allspaw called “On being a senior engineer”. I originally read it 4ish years ago when I started my current job and it really influenced how I thought about the direction I wanted to go in.

Rereading it 4 years later, one thing that’s really interesting to me about that blog post is that it’s explaining that empathy / helping your team succeed is an important part of being a senior engineer. Which of course is true!

But from where I stand today, most (all?) of the senior engineers I know take on a significant amount of helping-other-people work in addition to their individual programming work. The challenge I see me/my coworkers struggling with today isn’t so much “what?? I have to TALK TO PEOPLE?? UNBELIEVABLE.” and more “wait, how do I balance all of this leadership work with my individual contributions / programming work in a way that’s sustainable for me? How much of what kind of work should I be doing?“. So instead of talking about the attributes that a senior engineer has from Allspaw’s post (which I totally agree with), instead I want to talk here about the work that a senior engineer does.

— Read on jvns.ca/blog/senior-engineer/

I like this write up as much for what Julia says not to do.

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Some advice from Jeff Bezos

Some advice from Jeff Bezos:

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.

(Via Signal v. Noise)

I was talking yesterday morning with a young new hire. She asked me how I share my opinions with people, the implication being that I do it in an atypical way compared to most Japanese. I talked on a bit, I hope not too long, but in my musings I covered essentially the above.

This was also something we talked about a lot on the late, lamented PVC Security podcast.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.

Mind Like Water, indeed.

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Definition of Team

Definition of Team:

“A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.”

– Simon Sinek

(Via swissmiss)

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Team Dinner

My consulting practice is run by a new Partner who is approaching two months in the role. I’m working directly for and with him, which I like. This isn’t strictly a work post, by the way, except that it is a little bit.

Last night we had a team dinner in the traditional salaryman style – all you can eat and drink for 2.5 hours for a flat fee. There’s chatting about work and non-work. There’s laughing and new connections made.

These events are especially important for me. These give others a chance to talk with me who may feel their English isn’t good enough or who are just kind of nervous to approach. And I get to do the same with them because my Japanese is still MIA and I have a hard time remembering everyone’s name. My social anxiety hasn’t gone away. I manage it better than I did – not perfectly, but better.

Anyway, two things set this dining experience apart from others I’ve attended.

First, everyone in attendance had to stand up and talk about themselves for a tight-ish two minutes. If you put together a video or some slides, a laptop and projector were provided with a sheet hung at the far end of the restaurant. The audience scored the talks on factors like comedy, presence, and staying on time. Prizes were handed out at the end of the night.

Second, and this is something I was used to in the US and Canada but rarely see here, is that we paid for the dinner on a sliding scale based on each team member’s “band” in the organization. The lowest tier, who are typically fresh out of university, paid nothing. Folks at the top of the org contributed significantly, and all of those fine folks in the middle paid accordingly.

All in all, a fun and informative evening.

Chuo, Tokyo, Japan

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Strike When The Iron Is Hot

Strike When The Iron Is Hot:

I introduced a young friend of one of my children to a colleague in the tech business last month. The young friend took a day to reply to the email introduction and by then the introduction had gone cold.

Happily the introduction resurfaced this week and something may still come of it.

That story reminds me of another.

It was 1996 and Flatiron Partners had just relocated to the Flatiron district of NYC (we really had no choice but to locate there). A friend invited me to lunch at Gramercy Tavern which had opened a couple years previously and was one of the most happening restaurants in NYC.

We sat down to lunch and Danny Meyer, the owner of Gramercy Tavern, comes into the restaurant and starts working the lunch time crowd.

When he gets to our table my friend says to Danny “please meet Fred Wilson, founder of Flatiron Partners who has just relocated his business to the neighborhood.” Danny reached into his pocket, took out his business card, and said to me “Welcome to the neighborhood. If you ever need a table please give me a call and we will take care of you.”

That night when I got home I told the Gotham Gal “I met Danny Meyer today and he gave his card and said I could call him whenever I need a table.” To which she replied “go there for lunch tomorrow.” And I told her “I don’t have a lunch tomorrow.” She said “Get one. He will remember who you are tomorrow but won’t next month.”

So I got a lunch, called Danny, got a table, and he again said hello when he worked the lunch crowd (something he used to do whenever he was in town). I became friends with Danny and still call him when I need a table at one of his restaurants and can’t get one on Resy.

Striking while the iron is hot is so important. I often thing of the Gotham Gal saying “get one.” It was absolutely the right thing to do and always is.

(Via AVC)

I do this poorly. I almost never follow up right away, and then let too much time pass before I “get around to it”.

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The difference there is betwixt honor and honesty seems to be chiefly in the motive. The mere honest man does that from duty which the man of honor does for the sake of character.

William Shenstone, Of Men and Manners, 1764

Performance Reviews are a Waste of Time

I dread linking to anything posted on Medium, but Performance Reviews Are A Waste of Time by Xavier Shay echoes much of my feelings about how useless they are.

I enjoyed Jamie Thingelstad’s article write-up:

Formal feedback mechanisms in companies are hard. I’ve come to think of performance reviews as an organizational insurance policy. The process and mechanism for them insures that a bare minimum of dialog is happening. I really don’t know of anybody that feels that they are an effective way of leading and managing teams. I think that is summarized in the common refrain that there should be nothing new learned in a performance review.

(Via Weekly Thing Newsletter Archive Feed)

Back when I was a manager and my direct reports were local-ish (I rotated weekly between the three cities in two countries where they were) I had to do the annual review and instituted formal quarterly reviews.

They sucked. They were one of the many mistakes I made as a manager.

However, I found more value – and I am told my team did as well – in the concept of “Management by Walking (or Wandering) Around”. This was hugely informal and unintentional. I didn’t want to be holed up in my office all day. My team was doing the kinds of technical work I enjoyed but from which I had to step away. And I valued their input and ideas in an ersatz Socratic Method to help with the bigger picture stuff.

I liked, trusted, and valued my team, so why wouldn’t I want to be closer to them than my offices offered?

Many modern workplaces with remote workers don’t necessarily have that benefit. Tools like Slack can’t really make up the gap, especially if your team is global. The formal performance review still fits poorly.

I should have seen the performance review as a company insurance policy back in the day.

Interestingly, I was contacted not too long ago by a colleague who felt “railroaded” by a sudden bad performance review. I advised challenging it with the formal HR process with plenty of CYA (Cover Your Ass). Turns out the supervisor involved had nothing to back up their position but my colleague had plenty to refute.

The bottom line is as always: protect yourself; document everything; use the HR system to your advantage; and don’t accept the premise.

Overboard Evangelizing & Button Pushing

I was in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park on a recent Saturday enjoying the cool weather before the rains come. I found a delightful spot just under tree branches for my blanket where I could enjoy my book while taking time to take in all the joy on display in front of me.

The Laos festival was taking place in the event space, so I walked over to grab food and bring it back. Delightful!

My park departure was a miniature play of my years in Oklahoma.

  • There was a guitarist playing & signing hymns
  • There was a duo playing Christian music
  • There were people handing out Christian pamphlets
  • There were friendly looking evangelicals on hand & ready to convert

The biggest similarity to my time in Oklahoma was the confrontation.

NOTE: Your Faith is yours. I don’t have the monopoly on wisdom or enlightenment or whatnot. If Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism or whatever is your jam & helps you be a better person in and out of your community works for you, then that’s good for you. I don’t care, in so far as that is your journey. Don’t try to make it mine.

Here is where I get irritated: one of the Christian folks handing out fliers opted to engage with me. To be clear, I had headphones in my ears and moved to the other side of the space to avoid this dude. He left his station to come talk at, not to, me.

It did not go well, for either of us. I am disappointed that I was not able to maintain my composure while the other fellow was losing his. Since then I’ve lost my patience a few more times in scenarios where I would normally not have a problem. I’ll get my rationality back under me, but I don’t like how easily or for how long I lost it.

Back in the day I had a director who reveled in pushing peoples’ buttons – especially mine. By “pushing buttons” I mean saying things in a way to elicit a strong reaction regardless of the speaker’s own thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. The undisciplined respond in predictable ways. The disciplined don’t, and use the opportunity to learn something about themselves and the speaker.

It goes back to the idea that emotion and belief, in the absence of reason and logic, is powerful to the point of blindness but only useful in one direction. For example, someone who is fanatically against abortion will not be a good advocate for gun ownership or the death penalty. This is not because the they would seem mutually exclusive. It is because a true partisan toward one will not have the energy to devote to the others.

In my former director’s use, it was about finding the blind spots and better fleshing out rational arguments. Ultimately we had to convince business and finance people about the value of IT and Security in a time when there was much less visibility on the latter and IT was seen as a money pit. That, and he liked doing it, especially when we knew he was doing it and yet we easily fell into the trap.

The Leaders We Remember

Farbod Saraf on Twitter:

The bosses we remember:

1 provided safe space to grow

2 opened career doors

3 defended us when we needed it

4 recognized and rewarded us

5 developed us as leaders

6 inspired us to stretch higher

7 led by example

8 told us our worked mattered

9 forgave us when we made mistakes

(Via swissmiss)

This citation probably trite by now. That’s too bad.

One of my first managers in the ‘90s basically said the same thing but somehow more tersely. I’ve tried, sometimes more successfully than others, to do these things regardless of my title.

And that’s the difference: being a Leader means you do these things. I’ve seen many a manager (or “boss”) to whom I would never assign such traits. And I’ve seen many a Leader who held no title.

Which are you?

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