Friday, April 22, 2011

Reconnecting to the past, work edition

One of the amazing things about my job is that I've been with my company (minus a 3-month hiccup) for nearly 12 years now. In that time I've lived on both sides of the US, worked on 3-5 software products (depending on how you count my projects), held at least three or four different titles, had half a dozen amazing mentors, and gone from the most junior person around to an experienced design practitioner. I've worked with hundreds of people in many countries, learned entire new industries and fields, and been able to grow my skills and knowledge a ton. All while with one company. And this isn't really unique to me. A lot of people stay with my company for long periods of time.

So, given the way my company holds on to people pretty well, I think an extra fun thing about that is how people from past positions, past offices, and past work can come back into my up-and-coming projects. People I worked with 11 years ago, and haven't worked with in the last 10 years (although Facebook makes for an easier keeping-in-touch!) are now people I get to talk to and work with again. They have new and different roles, I have a new and different role, but we get to build on what we already know about each other. And that's just really neat.

It also gives me pause to thank my young self for not getting into too much trouble! :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

The progression of logic puzzles as entertainment

Logic puzzles have been a source of joy for me since I was a young child. Not riddles, where there's a piece of information you have to infer or a trick you need to grasp. Logic puzzles. Those classic grids and tables with x number of houses and x number of pets and x numbers of colors that all match up 1 to 1 to 1. The kind where you have all of the information you need, you just have to work through it to make it line up correctly. When I was in elementary school, our teachers would sometimes give them to us and I always asked for more of them.

That joy carried through school and into my career and life since. In fact, the love of logic puzzles has shaped how I approach problems I'm facing in day-to-day life. Be it figuring out a home improvement process, or working with a group to come to a resolution at work, I approach it the same way: with the belief that all of the information exists such that a solution can be worked out correctly for all involved. It's just a matter of figuring out the pieces, the overlaps, and the differences so that things line up correctly.

The spark for this particular reflection was the dinner party we hosted last night. Of the six of us, there was one vegetarian, one vegan, one omnivore with many food sensitivities, and some general food dislikes from one person or another.  As I worked on the menu the night before, I found myself approaching it much like I did those logic puzzles in elementary school. Where are the intersections? Where are the places where things are different? And what are the tastiest options on the list that provides several choices for each person? The difference in this scenario was the goal of having the maximum number of common solutions, rather than a one-to-one match for each person. Still, the approach worked, and once I had narrowed down the main ingredients, finding recipes to support those ingredients was just a simple search for things that sounded good. A few substitutions, and voila! A lovely dinner for a wonderful group of people!

Over dinner we spoke about the imaginary Venn diagram that resulted from the various diets. While it's not in the form of a logic puzzle solution, the actual Venn diagram was still fun to put together.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The hidden talent surfaces

Remember that hidden-to-me talent? After multiple conversations with my fiancĂ©e, my best friend, my mom, and my manager, I have a better understanding of what others were seeing that I was not. The talent has surfaced! And has also given me a realization.

With a competency "strength" that I am aware of, I also have an awareness that not everyone else has that same strength. This is important because it helps me realize that others' strengths, which are different than mine, may make them react differently, care about different things, or discuss issues using a different style.

Photo by runintherain
But because I wasn't aware of this particular strength that I have, I made the assumption that most people would approach certain situations with the same mindset as me. Now I see that it's not only a bad assumption, it's actually a dangerous one. I might miss entire reasons and motivations behind why people are doing something. Even more important, when I'm considering how to make an impact, discuss an issue, or help change a process, this bad assumption could undermine my efforts.

And I cannot describe how great the feeling is to have an ah-ha! moment about that. I love learning new things about myself and I love every little piece of information that makes working together with others more effective. Now to put that knowledge to use!

Are you being hamstrung by a hidden talent?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Further motivation for working out

If self motivation isn't enough for you to get your workout in, you can try paying for it. I mean, paying for when you miss it. Chris Shugart recently wrote about this phenomenon over on T-Nation. Gyms actually charge you for your no-shows! 

Chris also wrote one of my favorite explanations of how you get to the point where working out becomes a habit, even enjoyable: Do it until it doesn't suck

He says, "I remembered then some of my first serious workouts years before. I remembered dreading going to the gym, hating every second I was in there, and being glad each workout was over. I remembered having to force myself to go." 

Yeah, who doesn't know that part of building up the habit? In fact, I'd say I've kind of slipped back into that point. But I'll still go. And I'll be glad I did. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hidden talents

Have you ever had a talent that was hidden? No, not hidden to others, but one YOU didn't realize you had?

Today was my performance review. It was a really nice conversation with my manager, and an extension of the many things we have spoken about throughout the year. As it should be.

In terms of development areas in reviews, I probably spend a lot more time thinking about my weaknesses than anybody else does, so I don't find that I'm usually surprised in this part of the talk. I try to be realistic, but not too hard on myself. In the discussion of strengths, I'm generally quite confident in the areas I'm strong in and I believe I have a pretty good self-awareness about what those areas are (though I completely believe I have tons to learn in them).

But today during my review, I found myself in the rare situation of being a bit surprised by a strength recognized in me by others. Apparently I have a positive quality/competency that others see in me that I... I have never thought about. I'm almost not believing it, but I guess I've just never thought of it in the way that some of my peers have.

It's fascinating, really. I have a hidden talent. Only, it's hidden to me and not others. I spent years with hidden talents that I had that others weren't aware of, but this orientation of it is pretty unusual. And it makes me wonder how I can build on it now that I know about it.

It also makes me wonder how I can help other people see the talents they have. Not the ones they know about, but the ones that are hidden to them.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Meeting across the time zones (a very minor observation)

New and oldWe have a wonderful group of people in our Shanghai office. I really enjoy working with them, and I'm lucky enough to have visited that office and spent time in person with my collegues there. But I have to be honest and say the time difference can be tough for scheduling meetings! Right now we're 12 hours apart, but the winter is spent with Shanghai 13 hours ahead of the east coast of the US. You can do morning meetings and you can do night meetings. Everything in between is not going to happen.

Yesterday I had a 7am meeting and a 9:30pm meeting in the same day. Usually I'm clever enough to avoid this, but in this case it really was my own fault. I forgot to check my morning when I scheduled the 9:30pm meeting! Since it's important to me to include some downtime during my day, yesterday was a rough one.

So my lesson is to verify both ends of the calendar before scheduling the meeting. This is also the case for a late night followed by an early morning!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fitness inspiration at any age

One of the main reasons I started working out regularly a few years ago was that I knew I wanted my old age to be under my control as much as possible, health-wise. To me that meant entering my old age (herein defined as older than around 80 or 85) in good shape. I felt it would be easier to start a real habit of it in my early 30's than it would be in my 50's or 60's. Bonus points for the extra years of being in shape! Not that I ever thought that people couldn't start habits at a later age, just that I wanted to get over the hump so that it was more about sustaining when I'm older.

I may or may not have mentioned my affinity for lifting weights. I was lucky enough to get instruction on lifting in college, and when I've been working out regularly (which I admit has not been all those years in between then and now), it's always been a part of my program.

But in case you think you've missed the boat on getting into weight-lifting and worry that it's too late for you, I give you this article: Experience: I am a 91-year-old bodybuilder

So, in addition to feeling strong, changing your body shape in a good way, and burning more calories (additional muscle does that), you can also think about how much better you'll look at 91!

[Author's note: I have since become hooked on the many other benefits of working out, including less stress and sleeping better. But that's another post]

[Author's note extra: Thanks to Batty for the original link!]

Monday, April 4, 2011

Some favorite Harvard Business Podcasts

Every few months I go through a spurt of listening to a backlog of podcasts from the Harvard Business Review Ideacast. For every one that is not really of interest to me, there's one that sparks many ideas in my brain, gets me going on a topic, or makes me think about something that happened at work in a different way (I LOVE when that happens!). These podcasts typically come in around 15 minutes and are great to listen to while doing household chores. At least that's when I get to them!

Here's a few of the ones that struck me today:

  • Women are over-mentored (but under-sponsored). This one I actually found interesting less because of the woman angle (though that's certainly something to think about), and more because of the distinction the interviewed author makes about mentoring versus sponsoring. Mentoring, in this view, is supporting somebody to get acclimated to a new position or organization. Sponsoring is fighting for somebody and helping give them opportunities and get their name out there. Interesting.
  • The new era of empowered employees. In the era where everybody is online and into social media, it's wise to build on the initiative employees already have to use those avenues to connect to customers.
  • Leading through a major crisis with Admiral Thad Allen. You don't need a crisis to admire the leadership lessons this admiral talks about. Some brilliant insights and admirable qualities on display here.
  • Why a happy brain performs better. This author (and one of the folks who ran the Happiness class at Harvard) speaks about studies done on how improving one's happiness has a significant impact on the ability to perform tasks and be successful. Plus it has some good ideas for sharing happiness, which is something I love to do. If I notice something somebody does, says, is wearing.... whatever... and I like it, I always give the compliment. It's fun! And it makes somebody smile. Especially counter workers in chain stores.
I always end up jotting down some notes when I listen to these (which usually means putting down cooking utensils or the laundry I'm folding). The next step is to take those notes and turn them into actions!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Links to good things (working with people edition)

In going through some of the articles/posts online that have caught my interest, I thought I'd pass on links to some great items from the last week or two. For the most part these relate to working with others to get things done. Please note, there is no April Fool's joke tucked in here. I'll leave that to folks like Google

  • Straight from one of the MIT alumni emails...This woman is doing some cool things related to using Improv skills in Business. There's even a CNN article about it.
  • As I mentioned in a previous post, I admire the resiliency of Japan. One of my inspirations when it comes to presenting, Garr Reynolds, lives in Japan and wrote a post on a similar theme. Fall down seven times, get up eight.
  • Paul Tevis did it again with this post, which struck me as a wonderful and succinct version of "You control your own destiny. Now what do you want to make happen?". Choose Wisely. Though, to get the full view, you should also read the follow-up post.
  • I caught on to McKinsey Quarterly after becoming a manager, and there's lots of great stuff in their archives. In the lastest "most popular from this quarter" round-up, they linked to Seven steps to better brainstorming, which has some great tips for getting concrete results from one of my favorite activities. I love brainstorming! (The site may require registration, but there's no fee for general access)

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Spring" in New England

I think I was spoiled by growing up in the mid-Atlantic area. Maryland had four whole seasons. Winter got cold, summer was hot, spring was long and beautiful, the fall was lovely, and they all lasted an appropriate amount of time.

[Actually I think whatever you grow up with seems "appropriate" to you, so that's my norm]

So in comparison I find that, living in New England, I am harshly reminded of how different the whole idea of "spring" is here every March and April. For example, tomorrow (or rather, starting a couple hours ago and going through tomorrow) we're supposed to get 6-12" of snow. On April 1. This isn't actually unusual, but every year I get to the end of March and think it should be warm. Because down in Maryland, where I grew up, March is warmer and flowers are starting and there's.... SPRING!

Alas, I'll have to wait for mid-May to see that around here.