December 2009

Living in the sweet spot

December 1, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, life, reflection, sketches

The sweet spot is the intersection of what you’re good at, what you love doing, and what the world needs. This idea shows up in lots of career books because it’s so powerful. Find your sweet spot, and you can make great things happen.

I’ve written about changing the world before, and it becomes more real every day. I do more and more of the things that make me happy in life and at work. This is what my current diagram looks like:

intersections

There are more skills I can include in these, though, but these are the most important ones.

I love what I do, I get better and better at it, and I create value by doing what I do. How did I get to be so lucky? =)

If you look at the posts I’ve shared on my blog through the years, you’ll notice that I frequently think about what I love doing and how I can do those things even better. Interests blossom into passions through practice and experience. The more I learn about something, the deeper I appreciate it. I share what I’ve learned at work, too. That almost always results in people finding some way to take advantage of my skills and passions, which is how I end up getting paid for all these things I love to do. If the company ever decided to phase out my group, I can see myself creating a business around these core skills.

How did I get to this point? One idea led to another. It started with coding. I taught myself how to program in grade school. I joined competitions throughout high school and college, and I learned a lot in the process. My interest in programming led to open source software, which got me interested in Emacs and personal information management. That led me to blog, which resulted in a new interest in writing. I’d never enjoyed writing essays for English class, but I loved writing about what I was learning. This turned into public speaking when I found out that the things I was learning also interested other people. The more I learned, the more I could help people brainstorm new ideas. The more I wrote, the more I found myself connecting with others, which also helped me brainstorm. The more I wrote and connected, the more people asked me to coach them on how to do the same. I started playing around with drawing when a friend asked me to explain something, and that kicked off yet another interest. I picked up other hobbies like photography, sewing, and cooking along the way. Then I was asked to facilitate sessions on emerging technologies, and here I am. And paperwork, well, everyone has to do that. =)

Where do I go from here? With a strong foundation like this, I can see opportunities to grow almost everywhere. I’m looking forward to improving my facilitation skills. I’m not bad at facilitation. I’m not consistently good yet, and someday, I might be. I love working on my core skills and adding new ones. I can’t wait to figure out what I’ll learn how to do next, and how I can share that with everyone!

Learning about my grandmother

December 2, 2009 - Categories: family, life, sewing

When I told my mom about the hooded fleece bathrobe I’d made for W-, she laughed and told me a story about how her mother used to make her dresses. My mom would beg my grandmother to make some time to work on the dress, which was low priority compared to running a business and keeping everything sorted. Sometimes that meant finishing the dress the day of the party, I guess!

My mom also told me a story about how my grandmother bought my mom a new dress. When the top part was too worn to wear, my grandmother replaced the top, keeping the skirt. When the skirt part ended up being too worn, my grandmother replaced the bottom. My mom asked if that meant she had a new dress.

I’d never met my maternal grandmother, but it was great hearing stories about her, and seeing my mom smile as she told stories. =) Just as I like coming across things or stories that remind me of my parents, my mom probably enjoys hearing about my newly-discovered hobbies and thinking about her own parents. =)

I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy sewing. I like making things I can wear, and W- and J- humor me occasionally by asking me to make things for them and enjoying things I’ve been experimented with. ;)

I wonder what other common hobbies I’ll discover along the way…

Reflections on passion: Don’t let your job get in the way of your career

December 3, 2009 - Categories: book, career, ibm, passion, purpose, reading, reflection, work

“We criticize senior management when they focus only on short-term issues, allowing quarterly results to interfere with longer-term developmental needs. We should be equally tough on ourselves when we allow our jobs to get in the way of our careers.”

- a consulting client quoted on p.25 of

Million Dollar Consulting
Alan Weiss, 2009 (4th ed)

(Disclosure: The book is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

In my two years an at IT specialist / consultant at IBM, I’ve been lucky to have excellent engagements that helped me develop my skills and create real value. I have a great job, and I’m sure it will get even better as I learn how to consciously build a career. What kind of career do I want to grow into?

I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate. I want people to be able to contribute their talents from anywhere in the world, and I want to help organizations get better at finding and tapping those skills. I want to reduce the friction in collaboration and make it easier to get leverage on time and effort. I want to increase the serendipitous connections and innovative cross-pollinations that come from diverse conversations. When people can connect with others who are passionate about the work that they do, energy spreads and is reinforced, and people can make things happen faster and more effectively. People are happier, too.

The past two years at IBM have been almost a perfect curriculum for this. I started out by building systems with social components. Then I moved into providing consulting services to our clients, sharing the lessons we’ve learned about strategy and adoption. My current engagement is an even better fit for my passions. Now I’m learning even more about tapping the strength of a global organization, finding experts and resources in response to client needs. I’m not only building training communities and facilitating global conversations, I’m describing how we do this and working on training other people on how to make the most of these social networks.

In addition to that, I’m helping develop leadership training materials around virtual communication and connection. This has multiple benefits. The better we get at leading online through virtual presentations, meetings, and collaboration, the more effectively we can share help our globally distributed workforce develop skills, learn from insights, and create value. The better we understand how to do this, the more we enable people in far-flung places to step up and lead from wherever they are.

It all goes back to that passion: helping people connect and collaborate.

Looking ahead, how do I want to develop this over the next few years? What do I want to grow into once we’ve done the heavy lifting of training a thousand specialists around the world?

I want to figure out how social tools can help us transform our processes and interactions, and what those processes and interactions look like. I’m doing a little of this now, experimenting with and documenting how we use the tools. I can’t wait to see what this will be like years from now, as the tools improve and the culture adapts. I’ll get better and better at seeing patterns, suggesting improvements, documenting practices, helping people change the way they work, and measure the results. I want to create value both inside and outside the company.

I want to not only connect people, but also help other people connect people more effectively. I’m doing a little of this now by directing people to communities and sharing tips on how to reach out, but it would be amazing to help hundreds or thousands of connectors add more tools to their toolbox. It’s like working on the connective tissue of an organization. The better we get at this, the faster and more effectively we can respond to the changing environment.

I want to help people get that Aha! moment. This is why I love learning about communication. Good questions and good explanations open up new horizons of possibilities, simplify complex issues, and energize people. I can get better at this through practice and through learning new skills.

IBM is an excellent laboratory in which to learn about all these things. Even tasks that don’t seem to align with my passion end up being related to it, as I’m good at drawing connections to things I like. If I was forced to do work that drained me and I couldn’t flip it around and figure out the kernel that’s related to my passion, I can see myself exploring this passion independently. After all, you shouldn’t let your job get in the way of your career.

How does your work support your passion? If it doesn’t, what could?

Visual notes – Gary Vaynerchuk and Democamp Toronto 24

December 4, 2009 - Categories: democamp, entrepreneurship, notetaking, passion, sketches, web2.0

Funny aside: When Jay Goldman handed Gary Vaynerchuk a bottle of water, Gary offered it for sale. Little things like that reinforce story.

Key take-aways: Passion and patience are everything. Hustle. Out-care others. Offer good stuff. Pay attention to everything. How do you scale? By trying.

image

Notes from the demos and the pub, before I broke my fountain pen:

image

Explanations for scribbles upon request, or when I can make time for it! =)

Of storytellers and pattern-makers; Book: Solitude: A Return to the Self

December 4, 2009 - Categories: career, passion, reading, reflection

Of the three phrases in my e-mail signature and business card, storyteller draws the most smiles. People visibly relax. They ask me questions. They talk to me in a way they might not talk to an IT specialist or a consultant. Geek gets grins from people in the know, but storyteller is the one that crosses boundaries.

I added storyteller to my self-descriptors when I noticed technology evangelist needed a lot of explanation. The idea was simple: you can’t get people to explore social media by just showing it to them. You have to show them real people using it to create real value, and stories are a great way to do that. I collected examples from different industries and business units, and I used anecdotes to help people understand.

I was reading Solitude: A Return to the Self (a psychoanalytic exploration of introversion and creativity, drawing on historical examples), and I came across an interesting distinction between dramatists and patterns: people who retell stories and relieve experiences, and people who focus on patterns and regularities.

I stopped, reflected on it, and recognized more of myself in the patterner than the dramatist. At the family table, my father and my sister were always the ones telling stories with accents and sound effects. I spent more of my time thinking and reading, drawing connections among the dozens of books I read on a topic, teasing out common topics and threads.

I didn’t fully recognize that part of myself until I had the words to describe it.

I am more of a pattern-maker than a storyteller. Yes, I sprinkle anecdotes through talks to make them more alive, and I share stories through my blog. But the real value I find myself creating at work is in documenting and improving the way people do things. I build Drupal systems, and more than that, I build people’s ability to build Drupal systems. I use social software, and I train people how to do so. I facilitate workshops, and I improve the way we organize and facilitate those engagements.

What does this mean in terms of playing to my strengths? I’ll write about more processes and look for more ways to improve them. I’ll organize what I create so that it’s easy for people to learn and contribute. I’ll work on being able to see and being able to communicate. I’ll learn about lots of different kinds of patterns, so that I can bring them together.

I’ll still work on storytelling skills. Stories are essential for leadership and connection. I’ll keep blogging, and I’ll keep using lots of examples in talks.

But it’s nice to have a name for what I do.

Here’s a link to the book:

Solitude: A Return to the Self
Anthony Storr

(Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

Most of it is about Freud and Jung, and various writers and poets who’ve had solitary lives (mostly troubled solitary lives). The key message is probably that being alone isn’t as bad as people think it is. =) And you might pick up something completely different, like I did…

Superpowers and vision security

December 4, 2009 - Categories: passion

What kind of superpower would you like to have?

When I answered this ice-breaker at a women’s leadership session last week, I said that I wanted to be in multiple places at the same time so that I could explore all sorts of great opportunities and learn all sorts of great things. Most people mentioned time-based powers: having more time in the day, freezing time, and being able to instantly teleport. Me, I wanted to scale.

On reflection, though, I realized that the superpower I really wanted was different. So when the facilitator used the same question with a different group (I was there because they were going to discuss my Remote Presentations That Rock video), I was ready.

I want to have the superpower of being able to effectively teach everything I’m learning to people, to be able to package whatever I had learned and to share that with others.

I realized that what I really cared about isn’t filling the world with clones of myself so that we could explore different things, it’s building foundations so that I can learn from whatever else people create on top of it.

I’m going to figure out how to gain that superpower. And as I figure more of it out, I enable other people to figure it out even faster and go even further than I can.

My passion is helping people connect and collaborate. My vision is a world that’s truly flat, where people can work together and lead from anywhere, where we can fully tap the talent of people from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and geographies. To make any real progress towards this, I have to create exponential change. I can’t do that alone. I need an army, and I need to build things so that they transcend me.

People used to think that job security was about keeping knowledge to yourself. Me, I think that vision security is about sharing as much as you can with as many people as you can, so that the momentum transcends you. The more I learn and the more I can help others learn, the more likely it is that the vision will happen, whether or not I’m in the picture.

Fortunately, I don’t have to wait until I’m an expert in order to do this. I can move towards that vision as a beginner and a learner. I have a lever and a place to stand on. I can move my world. As we get better at this, we can move bigger things.

What superpower are you working on?

Scenes from a geek life: Duel

December 4, 2009 - Categories: geek, life, love

W-: I just have some more to do.

Me: Can I help?

W-: It’s okay. I’m faster in vi than you are.

<I do a mock eye-narrow emphasized with hand gestures> <we both do the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly>

Me: <laughing hard>

W-: Our kids are going to roll their eyes. “Ncurses was so fifty years ago!”

Me: <laughing even more> <mock-crying> “Oh no, I just had an integer wrap!”

W-: 16-bit or 32?

Geek love. It’s like xkcd with much less angst.

A toolbox of questions

December 5, 2009 - Categories: life, passion, planning, reflection

Darius Bashar asked Gary Vaynerchuk an interesting question at last night’s DemoCamp24: What questions did Gary ask himself? (Not quite answered, but it might’ve been hard to get the gist across.)

After the event, Darius posted some of the questions he uses to figure out more about passion.

I was thinking about the questions in my toolbox, and I realized that I approach things very differently from the way that many bloggers I’ve read (particularly those who push personal branding) approach this discovery process.

I do ask people about their passions when starting a conversation, but that’s an opener that’s there so that I can see if they light up. It gets them away from the name-occupation spiel. If people stumble and don’t have a clear passion, that’s okay.

Looking at the questions I see on these personal development blogs, I often feel that questions assume you need to have a clearly definable passion that you can easily differentiate from other things you think about. While many people respond to that challenge, others might feel even more discouraged.

Me, I like discovering my passions through small steps. I’m not looking for a huge flame I had been previously unaware of. I’m just looking for a spark I can cultivate. That often emerges when I focus on relentless improvement and on sharing, two of the categories I’ve listed here. Other questions help me clarify, develop, and expand that interest. Passion isn’t something I expect to spring full-formed (Athena from Zeus’ forehead?). It’s something I grow into.

Discovery is shaped by the questions you ask. Some questions are sheer rock faces that are hard to get a grip on. Some questions are paths already marked by others so you know where to go. Some questions give you a lot of holds so that you can work your way around tough parts. Some questions are the shortcut walking trail a sherpa points out to you. ;)

Maybe some of these big-picture questions might help you think about your interests and passions, and maybe some of the more tactical ones will help you think about other things you do. Here’s a Swiss Army toolkit of small questions I use to think about things, and I hope to add more as I learn!

Thoughts on the brain drain

December 6, 2009 - Categories: love, philippines, reflection

The specter of brain drain has haunted me since high school. As students at Philippine Science High School—one of the best schools in the country, and publicly-funded at that—we were regularly reminded of our responsibilities as scholars of the nation. Our names were on hold lists at airports, and we needed to post bonds assuring our return before we travelled. Throughout university, too, I heard from frustrated teachers who’d seen their students settle down in far-off countries.

I decided that I could just as easily create opportunities in the Philippines as I could in North America. Although my alma mater and the competing schools I asked gently encouraged me to take my masters overseas so that I could learn, I resolved to come back and make things happen. I was really uncomfortable when some of the Filipino immigrants I met in Canada dismissed the Philippines and said it didn’t matter to them. I didn’t want to be like them.

Towards the end of my master’s degree, I fell in love with someone who could not move to the Philippines with me. So I chose love, even though it meant being away from family and old friends and becoming part of the brain drain I’d felt so strongly about. Besides, after having gone through the trouble of uprooting myself and making myself at home in an new environment, I wasn’t about to insist that someone else go through the same ordeal.

Still, there’s the occasional twinge of guilt, of uncertainty, of negotiating my identity between worlds. Not many people are caught in between like this—most people seem to have just embraced their new lives—so there aren’t that many people I can talk to. But the tension can be creative, too; it helps power my passion to make it easier for people to learn, collaborate, and lead from anywhere. That way, people don’t have to go through being between worlds like this unless they want to, and they can build roots more quickly if they do.

So it was good to read this analysis of brain drain from a magazine about foreign policy that concluded it wasn’t all that bad, and that it could even strengthen source countries.

I am not lost. I am not mis-placed. I am here, and I’m making things happen.

Behind the scenes: Livin’ la Vida Emacs

December 7, 2009 - Categories: democamp, emacs, geek, presentation, speaking

In October 2006, I gave a short presentation on Livin’ la Vida Emacs (or the Emacs editor as a way of life). It was well-received—in fact, so well-received that folks in the audience anticipated my punchlines and I ended up shifting parts of my talk around. ;)

People said:

Last, and certainly not least was Sacha Chua. If we could harness it I’m pretty sure we could power a few small cities of the energy that’s contained in this one, tiny person – especially when you get her talking about Emacs. Sacha’s demo, entitled, “Livin’ la vida Emacs” was hands down the most entertaining of the evening. Sacha has basically taken this simple, extendable text editor and pushed it about as far as it can go – at DemoCamp10 she pulled back the curtain and showed us all her little systems and apps she’s created in it. I like my GUI/Windows so the whole text-based thing isn’t for me but it certainly was interesting to see just how strung out she’s got that machine.

Ryan Coleman

Sacha Chua showed off what can be done in the scriptable environment, in this case emacs, as she went from Text editor, to a.i. doctor, to game engine to task / email organizer and beyond. Sacha was six feet tall on that stage, even though she did not actual levitate at anytime (although she came close, as always). A Tour de force of the Emacs, a text editing tool built in a interpreted lisp language environment, bascially a personalized productivity platform which allows for massive customization. Sacha had the crowd entertained and enthralled. (Sacha blogged her own impressions and mentions that Emacs was speaking to her!)

Ian Irving

Within Toronto’s Web community, Sacha Chua has become one of the leading “personalities”. Armed with infectious enthusiasm, charm and smarts, she would be an excellent person to hire once she graduates from UoT. The key question is how best to use her talents. It would probably be as a customer service rep, who can come into a bad situation and get everyone happy by the time she leaves. If I was an HR person from Microsoft, IBM, etc. I’d be knocking on Sacha’s door ASAP.

Mark Evans, consultant

Why? Probably because in addition to my natural sugar high, I was also presenting something that was awesomely, arcanely geeky. =)

I hadn’t figured out how to make a screencast on Linux, so the actual display on my screen is lost to time. I do, however, have the source code that I used to step through my speech–including speaking cues, as I didn’t want to mess up the presentation in front of Toronto’s technorati! So here’s the source code, for your amusement. I set up two of my function keys to go forward and backward, executing the parenthesized expressions. I also set up a hidden window that could handle my speaking cues so that Emacs could remind me what the next “slide” was before I transitioned to it, for smoother flow. emacspeak-speak-buffer is a function that reads the current window’s text using the Emacspeak speech interface with the Festival synthesizer I’d configured. At some point, I switched to a more interactive demo, but I still had the speaking cues remind me of the sequence. So yes, Emacs really was telling me what to say. ;)

;; Emacs as a text editor

(progn ;; Setup
  (defvar democamp/presentation-file "~/democamp.el")
  (defvar democamp/cue-buffer "*DemoCamp*")
  (defun democamp/next ()
    (interactive)
    (let (start sexp)
      (with-current-buffer (find-file-noselect democamp/presentation-file)
        (setq start (point))
        (forward-sexp)
        (setq sexp (buffer-substring-no-properties start (point))))
      (eval (read sexp))))
  
  (defun democamp/previous ()
    (interactive)
    (let (start sexp)
      (with-current-buffer (find-file-noselect democamp/presentation-file)
        (setq start (point))
        (backward-sexp)
        (setq sexp (buffer-substring-no-properties (point) start)))
      (eval (read sexp))))

  (defun democamp/repeat ()
    (interactive)
    (let (start sexp)
      (with-current-buffer (find-file-noselect democamp/presentation-file)
        (setq start (point))
        (backward-sexp)
        (setq sexp (buffer-substring (point) start))
        (forward-sexp))
      (eval (read sexp))))
  
  (defun democamp/say (text)
    (with-current-buffer (get-buffer-create democamp/cue-buffer)
      (erase-buffer)
      (insert text)
      (goto-char (point-min))
      (call-interactively 'emacspeak-speak-buffer)))
  (global-set-key (kbd "<f12>") 'democamp/next)
  (global-set-key (kbd "S-<f12>") 'democamp/previous)
  (global-set-key (kbd "C-<f12>") 'democamp/repeat)  
)

;; Window register a
(progn
  (menu-bar-mode 1)
  (tool-bar-mode 1)
  (set-face-attribute 'default nil :height 200)
  (find-file "~/hello.txt")
  (democamp/say "I don't know why people are so intimidated by Emacs. It's a text editor. It has menus and toolbars and everything.")
  (frame-configuration-to-register ?a)) 

(progn
  (democamp/say "Spell-check, too.")
  (load-library "flyspell")
  (load-library "emacspeak-flyspell")
  (setq emacspeak-flyspell-highlight-personality nil)
  (flyspell-mode 1))


;; Emacs learning curve
;; Frame configuration b
(progn
  (find-file "~/tmp/learningcurves.jpg")
  (democamp/say "So why are people terrified of Emacs?"))

(progn
  (set-face-attribute 'default nil :height 700)
  (delete-other-windows)
  (sit-for 1)
  (animate-sequence (list "Livin' la Vida Emacs" "DemoCamp10" "Sacha Chua" "Oct 23, 2006") 1))

(progn
  (set-face-attribute 'default nil :height 200)
  (democamp/say "Emacs comes with a psychotherapist.")
  (doctor))
(progn
  (democamp/say "an adventure game")
  (dunnet))
(progn
  (democamp/say "random geek stuff")
  (hanoi 3))
(progn
  (democamp/say "even Snake")
  (delete-other-windows)
  (snake))
(progn
  (democamp/say "And of course, my favorite game, Nethack.")
  (load-library "nethack-config")
  (nethack))
(democamp/say "Some of it is useful")
;; Flashcard
(progn
  (democamp/say "Flashcards")
  (load-library "flashcard-config")
  (find-file "~/notebook/japan/japanese.deck")
  (goto-char (point-max)))
;; With fortunes
(progn
  (democamp/say "And you can mash things together")
  (load-library "fortune")
  (setq fortune-file "/usr/share/games/fortunes/computers")
  (fortune)
  (delete-other-windows))
(progn
  (find-file-other-window "~/notebook/japan/japanese.deck")
  (goto-char (point-max)))

;; Planner
(democamp/say "Now the wild stuff starts.")
(progn
  (planner-goto-today)
  (delete-other-windows)
  (democamp/say "Emacs: more than just an editor. It's a way of life."))

;; - Show tasks
(democamp/say "I use Emacs to manage my tasks with Planner.")
(democamp/say "I can even keep detailed time logs!")
(progn
  (load-library "/usr/src/planner-el/planner-timeclock-summary.el")
  (planner-timeclock-summary-show (planner-today)))

;; - Show notes
(democamp/say "... blog...")
;; - Jump to URL in w3m
(democamp/say "... surf the Web (with tabbed browsing and a custom keymap!)")
33;; - Jump to URL in Firefox
(democamp/say "Although sometimes you really want Firefox.")
;; - Jump to task from mail message
(democamp/say "I can hyperlink to pretty much anything.")
(democamp/say "People's contact information")
(democamp/say "E-mail, etc.")
(democamp/say "Which comes in handy when I need to create tasks from mail messages.")
;; Add note to BBDB from mail message
(progn
  (democamp/say "Keeping track of the number of recipients")
  (planner-visit-link "pos://~/.gnus#19820"))
(democamp/say "BBDB indicators")

;; Reply to message with nickname,
(progn
  (democamp/say "CRM in e-mail: Nicknames...")
  (planner-visit-link "pos://~/.gnus#16025"))

;; and show how it shows up in BBDB record and ping code
(progn
  (democamp/say "... notes...")
  (planner-visit-link "pos://~/.gnus#18804"))

(progn
  (democamp/say "... pings...")
  (planner-visit-link "pos://~/.gnus#16932"))

(democamp/say "... filters...")
(democamp/say "So those are just a few examples of the crazy stuff you can do if you have an infinitely tweakable environment.")
(democamp/say "Sacha, remember to plug in the speakers.")
(democamp/say "Demo Campers, welcome to Emacs. What else do you want it to do?")

I love pushing the envelope. I love getting to know my tools inside and out (I enjoy reading source code!) and then making them do things other people can’t imagine. I love tweaking processes in real life, too, making them better and better every time. That’s just part of the way I work have fun. =)

How can you rock your next technical demo?

Lotus Connections Communities topics+replies feeds to OPML

December 7, 2009 - Categories: geek, lotus, ruby

Keeping track of discussions in Lotus Connections Communities can be difficult, so I thought I’d use a feed reader to read new forum topics and replies. Instead of subscribing to each community by hand, I wrote a Ruby script that generated an OPML file, which I then imported into FeedDemon. Win!

Here’s the script:

#!/usr/bin/ruby

email = ARGV[0]
password = ARGV[1]

require 'rubygems'
require 'rexml/document'
require 'open-uri'
require 'cgi'
require 'net/https'
base_url = 'https://w3.ibm.com/connections/communities/service/atom/'
url = base_url + 'communities/my'
opml = REXML::Document.new('<opml version="1.0"><head></head><body></body></opml>')
body = opml.elements['opml/body']
while url
  # Fetch the page
  $stderr.puts "Fetching " + url
  begin
    my_communities = REXML::Document.new open(url)
  rescue OpenURI::HTTPError
    begin
      my_communities = REXML::Document.new open(url, 
                                                {:http_basic_authentication => [email, password]})

    rescue OpenURI::HTTPError
      url = nil
    end
  end  
  my_communities.elements.each('*/entry') { |x|
    # Add it to the OPML
    $stderr.puts "Found " + x.elements['title'].text
    if x.elements['id'].text =~ /communityUuid=([^&]+)/
      uuid = Regexp.last_match(1)
    end
    body.add_element 'outline', {'title' => x.elements['title'].text,
      'xmlUrl' => 'https://w3.ibm.com/connections/news/atom/stories/public?source=communities&container=' + uuid
    }
  }
  # Set the URL to the next one
  url = nil
  if my_communities.elements['feed/link[@rel="next"]']
    url = my_communities.elements['feed/link[@rel="next"]'].attributes['href']
  end
  sleep 5
end
puts opml.to_s

If you want just discussion topics and replies, use this instead of the xmlUrl line above:

'xmlUrl' => base_url + 'community/forum?communityUuid=' + uuid

The shy connector’s guide to business travel

December 8, 2009 - Categories: tips, travel

As an introvert, I often find business travel quite stressful. I know I should be making better use of the time and money spent getting me there by meeting lots of people while I’m in town, but the workshops and presentations I’m in town for are usually intense, so I don’t want to overcommit. Here are some things that have helped me with business travel:

  1. Fly with just a carry-on. With some clever packing and trimming, you can fit all of your needs for short business trips into a single carry-on piece of luggage (or maybe one piece plus a small bag, which many airlines will allow). Not only will you never have to worry about dealing with airline customer service when it comes to tracking down lost luggage, you’ll usually be able to skip the lines by checking in online and or through a kiosk. This makes it easier to avoid rush hour, too.
  2. Leave space in your schedule. You’ve already invested so much on travel and lodging. You might be tempted to maximize your trip by cramming every break, morning, and evening with meetings. Don’t. Give yourself time to recharge, especially on your first day in and before any important presentations. It’s okay to spend some quiet time in the hotel room or walking around. You can experiment with meeting people, too. Find people on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Doppler and arrange something beforehand, or use Twitter to plan something on the fly. I tend to prefer organizing things on the fly because that lets me adapt to my energy level.
  3. Ping people. You might not have time to meet everyone (see tip #2), but a trip gives you a natural excuse to reach out to people in the area and tell them you were thinking of them. Check your address book and social network, and send off some notes to say hi. If you share a few details about why you’re in town, you might end up making unexpected connections.
  4. Find a local spot if you want to shake up your routine, or keep it consistent if that works for you. Find out what you like. Staying in interchangeable hotels and eating at chain restaurants can make business trips blur into each other, but that can be a good thing. On the other hand, local favourites might lead to new discoveries. Figure out your style, and work with that.
  5. Have little rituals to ease the transition, and enjoy the silence. It might be the way you pack your bags. It might be the kind of book you take on the plane. It might be the long bath you take after you reach your hotel. Enjoy the silence. You’ve got a hotel room to yourself and no chores to do. Relax in the bliss of being alone, and come out of your shell when you’re ready.

What other ways do you make travel easier?

Process: Using Activities to organize workshop-related information

December 9, 2009 - Categories: process

We regularly organize Innovation Discovery workshops that bring together experts across IBM and client decisionmakers to explore emerging topics. In the past, this involved a flurry of e-mail, particularly if we had last-minute substitutions. The flurry could get confusing, as we usually plan several workshops simultaneously. I refuse to keep all this information in my inbox. I’ve been setting up Activities for each of the workshops I keep an eye on, and we’re getting better at using the Activities to organize information.

Here’s what the workshop Activity needs to do:

In addition to storing information, the Activity can also help:

It’s easier to set up and add people to an Activity than it is to set up and add people to a TeamRoom, and with Lotus Notes 8.5, you can sync Activities for offline use.

NOTE: Although it works best when lots of people use it, the Activity works well even with just one person updating it (me). I keep others in the loop by using the e-mail notification features. This is good to know if the lack of adoption among your team members has been holding you back from using Activities or other nifty tools. They don’t need to use it if they don’t want to. It works even better when other people use it, of course, and someday it may even reach the point of mainstream acceptance. We’ll see. =)

Here are the ingredients we’ve been working with, and some improvements I’d like to try the next time we organize one:

I love refining these tools!

Weekly review: Week ending December 6, 2009

December 9, 2009 - Categories: weekly

Whoops! Nearly let a week slip past me.

Plans from the previous week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Editing feedback on The Shy Connector

December 9, 2009 - Categories: delegation, kaizen, writing

Here’s the detailed feedback from one of my editors on The Shy Connector. Lots of stuff to work with here! I look forward to improving the presentation. =)

I really think the presentation is pretty awesome. Others obviously do, too, from reading the comments.  :-) I think if you left it as it is, it’d be just fine. However, I’ll write down my observations, from line-by-line editing to overall suggestions. You can then accept or implement whatever you like and ignore the rest. :-) Having not gone through and read every archived blog etc on your sites, I hope I don’t miss the mark by pointing anything out that’s already been covered in another post. And I figure that while most of the observations might seem obvious, the more you give people so the less they have to think upfront, the happier they are. And it should be presented as if going to someone who’s never read or seen anything you’ve done before. So…
My editing suggestions are more along the lines of making a transition smoother or just simplifying so the reader’s brain doesn’t have a chance to stumble. No glaring errors. :-)
Editing thoughts:
On slide #3: Add “They say:” or “I’ve heard:” before “2000 Twitter…”
Slide #4: Change “I’m an introvert.” to “But I AM an introvert.”

  1. 8: Change “You’re okay.” to “You’re okay as you are.”
  2. 14 & 16: add , before too: “and help you, too.”
  3. 17: Change “liked” to “like” and delete “great” in “(checkout people’s great comments!)”

For the overall suggestions:
Would it be too much to add some info on WHY I need to be a shy connector? Why do I need to be able to talk to strangers? How does that help me? Who would benefit by that? Why bother? In other words, what’s the value of connecting?
You have a “How?” slide. Would some of the above points be answered with a “Why?” slide and subsequent answering slides? (Define the value of connecting and why you want to help them overcome their fears.)
What about a section on “What if I’m so shy that the ideas you suggested simply terrify me?” or “What if I try and fail miserably?” or “How can I measure if it’s working?” That sort of line of thought…
Specific points:
Slide #7: You say it took you “a while to figure that out.” I assume you meant it took awhile to figure out that you’re shy. Did you think other things were wrong with you before that revelation? Did you blame others? Have any successes despite the shyness? How DID you figure it out?  Anything you can add here that would bring others in deeper (cuz they have that in common with you)?
“Maybe I can help you or somone you know.” Can that be expanded? Some thoughts a reader might have: Do I need help? Is there something wrong with me? What can you do for me?
Slide #10: Excellent!

  1. 11: I like having all the points together but it is fairly crowded. Any way to reorganize so the text fits more easily with the appropriate images? I read it a couple times before I saw the lines linking the images to the text. Afraid of messages getting lost in the crowdedness.
  2. 12: Same thing here. From the layout, with the line dividing the slide into top and bottom, my eye wants to read the whole first block on top, then the second block on top,then go to the bottom. The text, however, seems to make more sense if I read the top left 1st sentence only, then the whole second block on top, then the bottom of the first block, then jump down to the bottom sections.

That is, it makes the most sense to me this way: What can you bring to a conversation? You can ask good questions that draw people out and make them think. You can recommend books and websites that help people learn. You might not be the life of the party but… you can remember (should it be “find out”?) what people need. As you learn more and as you meet more people… you’ll be able to put the pieces together.
However, the layout, I think, makes it read this way: What can you bring to a conversation? You might not be the life of the party but… You can ask good questions that draw people out and make them think. You can recommend books and websites that help people learn. You can remember what people need. As you learn more and as you meet more people… you’ll be able to put the pieces together.
It doesn’t make any LESS sense this way, I guess… just food for thought.

  1. 13: Can you link somehow the first point and the sub point of that: “Write it down”? Again, eye wants to read top top, bottom, bottom. I like the green text inserted for highlights but I think that’s why my eye automatically moves to the right instead of down for the subpoint (it sees 4 blocks each with green and assumes left to right, top to  bottom).

What about inserting the “people, ideas, tools, books….” in parentheses into “The more you add [insert here], the more connections you can make”??  Only one block of text so easier on the eye and brain to put it in logical order: “The more you add (people, ideas, tools, books, links, blogs, interests, groups, patterns, notes …), the more connections you can make.”

  1. 14: Excellent
  2. 15: Excellent

Only thing here is should it read “the happier you’ll be!” or “the more connected you’ll be!”??

  1. 16: I like the idea of the summary slide. But then the presentation “message” just ends abruptly. What about taking the last point on this slide, “share your tips and read more” with the star and links, and moving it to its own slide after thie summary?

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll keep it in the back of my head and send anything else I think of along to you. Let me know if you want me to do more or less or whatever.

Thinking about improving the connective tissue of organizations

December 10, 2009 - Categories: connecting, ibm, kaizen, passion, purpose, work

Even though I’m a recent hire, people often come to me to find other people in the organization. It’s a powerful way to create value. I’m not the expert they’re looking for, but I can point them in the right direction.

I want to not only to improve my networking capabilities, but to build this knowledge into the organization so that it transcends me. This reduces my direct influence, but strengthens the organization and makes more things possible. Improving the connective tissue in organizations increases efficiency, effectiveness, and happiness. A fully-connected organization allows people to bring together the best talent and the best resources no matter where they are, and it enables people everywhere to develop their full potential.

Little steps matter. Relentless improvement matters. How can I help make that happen?

It may seem counter-intuitive to spread valued skills, especially if the organizational model is that knowledge is power and scarcity creates job security, but I need to create exponential value. Instead of accumulating and holding skills close, I want to push as much value as I can into the structure and into other people. I want to braindump everything I’ve learned and am learning, opening it all up so that other people can take the next step.

I want to see this smarter, truly globally-integrated workplace become reality. I need to help lots of people know more than what I know and do more than what I do.

I can help make that happen from where I stand and with the levers I have (and build). I’ll get even better as I learn more about different parts of the organization, respond to more requests, and find ways to align my work even better with the organization’s strategies. What we learn here can help other organizations and networks, too.

It’s a worthwhile goal. I’m looking forward to seeing how the adventure will unfold!

Book: Making Work Work

December 11, 2009 - Categories: book, productivity, reading

 

Making Work Work: New Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the Office
Julie Morgenstern, 2004

Making Work Work

In every industry I consult in, I’ve noticed that the top-tier performers are deeply committed to their work/life balance. They may be working long hours, but they are very thoughtful about their leisure, so that they make excellent use of time away from the office. This is a critical skill—especially if you’re working long hours, because you have fewer hours to play with in the first place.

The most successful workers create a balance that ensures they are energized, refreshed, and renewed every day. Their balancing act isn’t perfect, and it requires constant attention — but they are vigilant about maintaining that balance, because they appreciate the continuity between home and rest, work and productivity.

p21, Julie Morgenstern, Leading Out Loud

p136 to 139 have a great table of tips on how to make meetings more effective, whether you’re the chair or a participant.

The book also contains an excellent chapter on mastering delegation. The suggested tasks focus on face-to-face assistance, but there are many great tips that you can apply to virtual assistance as well.

Lots of great advice. Well worth re-reading as you apply tips.

Fall down intentionally

December 11, 2009 - Categories: canada, life, sketches

image

We had circled the ice twice. Hadn’t fallen yet, just wobbled about in the way beginners do.

Mel stopped. She flopped down. “Might as well get it over with,” she said.

Sounded like a great idea, so I did.

Skating got a lot easier after that.

Fall down intentionally. Get your fear out, then go.

Notes from VizThink video on Visual Notetaking 101

December 12, 2009 - Categories: notetaking, sketches, visual

Visual notes from VizThink video on Visual Notetaking 101

Click on the image to view a larger version.

Next actions:

Three hours summarized on one page!

Informed Judgment, Terrence Hickey

December 13, 2009 - Categories: ibm, leadership, sketches, work

informed-judgment-terrence-hickey

Here are my notes from the Top Talent call on informed judgment, one of IBM’s leadership competencies. Click on the image to see it full-size.

The speaker recommended checking out Blink. Blink is a good read, but compared to Gladwell’s other books, it doesn’t have as much meat as, say, “The Tipping Point.” One of my favourite problem-solving books is Ken Watanabe’s Problem Solving 101, which was written for schoolkids and is therefore very practical and easy to read.

My key take-away from this talk was to improve the traceability for my decisions by documenting the assumptions, data, experiences, and previous decisions I am basing new decisions on.

Hope this helps!

Lessons from 2009 and plans for 2010

December 13, 2009 - Categories: reflection, yearly

There is something incredibly powerful in being able to look back and see how much you’ve grown in a year. You can’t help but wonder what adventures the next year will bring.

It seems that every year of my life must be the best year yet. 2009 was no exception. It was the year of experiments that paid off and crazy ideas that turned out awesomely.

Here are my long-term goals:

Here are some of the things I learned in 2009:

How can 2010 be even better? Here’s what I’m planning to do:

What have you learned from 2009, and what are you looking forward to in 2010? Please share! =)

How I find and learn from mentors

December 14, 2009 - Categories: connecting, learning

Would you be willing to describe in more detail how those relationships came to be, and how you’ve gone about fostering them?  Do you have any advice for someone looking for a mentor?

Duncan Mortimer

I don’t ask people, “Will you be my mentor?” People come forward when the time is right. So if you’re too shy to ask someone to mentor you, there’s hope! But you have to give them other reasons to step forward and care, and asking for help still helps.

How did I find my mentors? A university relations manager gave me advice on my thesis and on the company. I borrowed his books. He read my blog. I met an independent tech consultant at Toastmasters. I bumped into him again at tango. He joined my tea parties and talked to me about entrepreneurship. I tweeted about taking care of a stray cat. A friend offered a litter box. We chatted about business and life.

All my other mentoring relationships grew out of similar self-selected connections. I found my mentors through the questions I asked, the ideas I shared, and the relationships that grew from there.

What sparks that initial connection? Maybe it’s my passion. Maybe it’s the questions I ask. Maybe it’s the urge to share. The blog helps build those potential relationships to the point where people care enough about helping me grow that they’ll volunteer their insights. They can see my enthusiasm, what I want to do, and how they can help. I become a way for them to share what they’ve learned and make a bigger difference.

How do these mentoring relationships work? Mostly asynchronously, like much of my connecting. I like thinking things through by myself, and I’m comfortable sharing most of my thoughts on my blog. My mentors often read my blog, and they occasionally comment or bring it up during a discussion. It’s a great way to learn more. I read their blogs too, and I comment or mention it if I come across something that nudges my mind.

Many of my friendships are like that. We don’t get together often, but we’re peripherally aware of each other, and I consider them friends. Likewise, I don’t check in with all of my mentors regularly (hi Bernie!), but I continue to learn from what they share and feel grateful for their insights.

I seek out my mentors when I come across specific ideas I know they’ll want to explore too, or when the topic requires specific contextual knowledge not appropriate for the blog.

I also have regular chats set up with some of my mentors. I enjoy bringing people together over tea and biscuits, and I try to set those up often as well. I particularly like it when I can bring several mentors together with other friends. The conversations are fascinating, and I end up filling pages of notes.

Now my mentors introduce me to other people who are learning what I’m learning or who are interested in my passions, which makes the conversation even richer!

What can I help you learn? Looking for mentees

December 15, 2009 - Categories: life, mentoring, teaching

Update 2013-07-17: Fixed contact form link

As awkward as “mentee” sounds (I feel like I’m looking for minty sweets), it’s the preferred word at IBM. Protégé smacks of the old boys’ club, I guess.

One of my priorities for 2010 is to share what I’m learning with even more people. The slow way is to reflect on what I’ve learned, write blog posts, and package that up as presentations and podcasts. The fast way is to find people who want to learn what I’ve learned (and am learning), braindump ideas in response to their questions, and make them responsible for writing up notes and further sharing what we’ve learned.

Mentoring people is much better than braindumping things on my own because:

Some of the things I’d be happy to explore through mentorship or peer-mentorship, roughly in order of interest (top interests first):

  1. Patterns and tools for community interaction through social media
  2. Presentation organization
  3. Presentation design
  4. Blogging (topics, editing/wordsmithing, exploration, general website ideas, but not technical help with WordPress)
  5. Presentation delivery (particularly remote)
  6. Visual thinking, notetaking, mindmapping, and information visualization
  7. Connecting and networking, particularly as an introvert
  8. Figuring life out, finding and following your passion
  9. Scaling up and getting better personal ROI on your effort
  10. Delegation, virtual assistance, outsourcing, and working with coaches
  11. Creativity and brainstorming
  12. Technology adoption and evangelism
  13. Editing and wordsmithing
  14. Productivity
  15. Cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, and other aspects of domestic bliss
  16. Getting on board as a new hire
  17. Getting used to life abroad
  18. Frugal personal finance
  19. Social networking (which tools to use when)

I can give occasional tips on Drupal and Emacs, but I’m not focused on Drupal development at the moment, and there are much more active Emacs geeks out there.

If you think of a topic that you’d like to learn about that you know I can help you with, suggest it too. =)

How it might work:

  1. Leave a comment on any relevant blog post with your question, use the handy contact form, or e-mail your questions to me at sacha@sachachua.com . No mentoring relationship required. =) I like questions! I get to think about them and blog what I’ve learned.
  2. Contact me with an introduction and what you’re interested in. I prefer to communicate through blogs, e-mail, or the phone (with blogs preferred the most). We can set up a 20-minute or 50-minute call and chat about what’s on your mind.
  3. If it turns out we’ve got lots to talk about and we mesh well together, let’s set up recurring calls and have an ongoing conversation. If lots of people have similar questions, it would be interesting to set up group conferences or a community so that we can all learn from each other.

“Pay me back” by sharing your thoughts and actions taken. =)  I don’t want ideas to disappear into single conversations. If so, I might as well just blog about it myself, and help way more people. Share as much as you can of what we learn. At the minimum, please send me your notes. Better yet, blog, podcast, videocast, or otherwise share what we talked about. We all win!

So, how can I help you or someone you know?

Conversations with a mentor: chat about plans, mentoring, and knowledge sharing

December 16, 2009 - Categories: learning, mentoring

Conversations with David Singer are usually more laid-back, but I was buzzing with a few things I wanted to pick his brains about, so he graciously let me flood him with questions and ideas.

I shared my realization about what I want to do at IBM—or where I want to help take the organization, to phrase it boldly. I want to build a truly interconnected organization where people can work together and lead anywhere. I told David how my short-term plans support that goal, and he helped me think about medium-term options. He understands my passion for collaboration, so if he comes across opportunities that might be a good fit, he’ll be able to recognize them. I have a long timeline, and where I am is as good a place as any when it comes to making a difference. =)

Prompted by my recent reflections on mentoring, I asked David about his thoughts on mentoring.

David talked about the difference between formal and informal mentoring. Formal mentoring relationships usually develop from existing working relationships and focus on specific goals. Because it’s formal and usually involves working with a superior, people hesitate to start these kinds of mentoring relationships. They worry about being a burden. Informal mentoring could develop from lazyweb requests, friendships, blog connections, and so on. These relationships could turn into formal mentoring, or they might stay casual. Both parties learn a lot from the exchange, and the conversations are not only productive, but also fun. I’d like to have more informal mentors (it takes a village!) as well as build informal mentoring relationships with more people. That’ll be one of my objectives for 2010!

I also shared one of my other projects for next year: document and share what I’ve learned at work, or as much of it as I can. We talked about the difference between formal and informal knowledge sharing as well. I’m interested in sharing a lot more of the informal knowledge at work. Formal assets like presentations and papers are great, but a lot of insight is missing in the middle. Social media is a great way to find role models who work on sharing what they know. There’s so much to learn!

We talked about a lot of other things: seasons, USB drives, headsets, VOIP, holidays, life… Lots of fun!

Learning plan for 2010

December 17, 2009 - Categories: learning, life, planning, reflection, yearly

Here are my priorities for 2010:

  1. Share as much as I can at work and in life. I want to share as much as possible so that other people can build on that foundation. At work, this means creating enablement material, blogging, organizing the shared content, and helping communities and individuals.
  2. Learn more about drawing, animation, and video. I want to get even better at thinking things through and communicating what I’m learning. The better I get at sharing, the more I can help people learn.
  3. Continue living an awesome life! I can’t wait to explore the experiment opportunities that are sure to come up. I’m looking forward to further building my relationships with W- and J-, family, friends, communities, and the world, too. And I’m definitely looking forward to bringing my cat to Canada as I complete the permanent residency process. I miss her! =)

What do I want to learn to support that, and how can I go about learning?

1) Share as much as I can at work and in life.

I want to share patterns for social software use, organizational knowledge (connecting the dots), skills I’ve picked up, and ideas and insights I’ve collected along the way. I can learn through:

2) Learn more about drawing, animation, and video.

I want to communicate better. Visual skills complement written skills and can be quite engaging. I can learn through:

3) Continue living an awesome life!

I can explore this further through:

One post a day, or the value of a bottleneck

December 18, 2009 - Categories: blogging, productivity, writing

Why a goal of only a single post a day, when I want to write many more?

I started with the idea of an editorial calendar. Magazines plan their issues; why shouldn’t I plan my blog? Storing ideas in a TODO list made perfect sense. When I separated “What am I going to write about?” from “How am I going to write about it?”, I wrote more.

I used to post blog entries whenever I wrote them. Some days had four posts. Other days had none.

Then I started setting aside 8 AM to 9 AM ET for writing morning pages, which worked out pretty well. Blogging was still a bit uneven, though.

On a whim, I thought I’d try scheduling posts and spreading them out one per day, aiming for publication some time between 8 AM and 9 AM ET.

That made a big difference. I thought about what I was posting, and whether one post was more useful than another. I rearranged posts depending on interest.

There’s so much to write, though! I read Write Like Hemingway and decided to try shorter sentences. Advantages of writing fewer words: I have to focus. I get my point across. I’ll probably go over these posts and rewrite them in more detail someday. In the meantime, writing fewer words means I end up writing about more topics.

But now that I’m better at capturing short snippets of thoughts, I have even more of a publishing backlog. This is not a problem, as it just means I push the things I care about more to the front. On the other hand, if something happens to me, my blog will spookily keep publishing, which could mean that my incapacitation/death would go unnoticed for longer. That would be bad, so I’ll try not to get into trouble.

I still write as much as I can, and I capture the rest of the ideas in my TODO list. Life is much too interesting to let it slip by. Even then, there’s so much that goes unrecorded and unshared. There are so many potential stories. I have to prioritize.

When I have lots of good things in my backlog, I think, “Oh, I want to hear what people say about this!” I learn a lot from what people share, and it seems I help people be inspired or more productive, too. It’s hard to wait. But I’m trying something new out, so I make myself be patient.

Maybe when I get to the point of having good stuff lined up for a month, I’ll think about posting more each day. =)

Who knew bottlenecks could be so useful?

If you blog: have you thought about limiting yourself to one post (or a few) a day? Don’t stop writing. Keep those posts in your pipeline. Just prioritize. It might be a useful experiment.

My next step: I want to show people my post queue, if it’s not too much of a tease. Even cooler if people could vote on which things they’d like to see first. My post queue keeps getting rearranged, but that’s interesting too. When I’ve got a ridiculous backlog (one month of posts I really want to get out, perhaps?), I might move to two posts a day.

Books mentioned:

Write Like Hemingway: Writing Lessons You Can Learn from the Master
R. Andrew Wilson

(Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

(Thanks to @kittenthebad, @luxocrat, @madwilliamflint, and @eric_andersen for nudging this post forward in the queue.)

Book: The Hamster Revolution for Meetings

December 19, 2009 - Categories: book, management, productivity, reading
The Hamster Revolution for Meetings: How to Meet Less and Get More Done
Mike Song, Vicki Halsey, and Tim Buress, 2009

(This link is an Amazon affiliate link, but if you’re near a public library, take advantage of it. I borrowed this book from the Toronto Public Library. =) )

Reading voraciously—almost indiscriminately—has its benefits. Despite cheesy gimmicks, The Hamster Revolution for Meetings turned out to have surprisingly good tips that take virtual meetings into account.

Tips for all meetings are on page 20, paraphrased here:

For Web meetings, she suggested a number of things we already do (use Web conferences, chat channels, surveys, etc.). She added a few more tips I’m going to think about and try, including a Mystery team member icebreaker (p61). She also provides an excellent checklist for managing virtual meetings on p77, which include tips for preventing problems and controlling damage. The key ones I’m going to add to my routine are:

Worth reading and summarizing in your personal notes.

After the tea party

December 19, 2009 - Categories: connecting, life, party

Almost six hours of conversation over tea and assorted goodies. (I made home-baked vegan apple pie and non-vegan biscuits!)

Somehow, the numbers always work out. Just enough people to fit around the kitchen table, perhaps with a few extra chairs and a piano bench.

Now the house is quiet. The dishes have been put away. I don’t feel tired, as I sometimes do after social events. I don’t feel like I’m buzzing. I feel grateful.

It’s amazing that in just three years, we’ve built these friendships. It’s amazing that when new people join us, they feel at home.

I enjoy this a lot. I enjoy creating a space where people can connect, and where they can wander off to bookshelves or puzzles when they need a break. People don’t worry about how to start a conversation because there’s usually one or two to join, and people ask questions to draw others in. It’s a very different dynamic from cocktail parties, and I find it to be a lot more fulfilling.

It took us a bit of experimentation to get here. Lunch and dinner parties were fun, but timing was complicated. I wanted people to be able to drop in whenever they were available and leave whenever they needed. Tea is so much better. When guests arrive, I simply pop home-made biscuits into the toaster oven and heat up the water. Potluck tea is much easier, too. Potluck lunches and dinners take coordination of entrees, and many of my friends don’t have good cooking set-ups yet. With tea parties, people can bring different kinds of teas and sweets, and everything goes well together.

I’d like to host a tea party every other month. It’s a great way to hear from my friends, meet people they know I’ll get along with, and see everyone grow.

I wonder: how can I translate this to other spaces? Can I create this feeling online?

Copious free time? Carefully protected!

December 20, 2009 - Categories: life, productivity, reflection

While we were chatting about hobbies, one of my mentors joked about my copious free time.

“My carefully protected free time,” I said, and I realized it was true.

“Free” time is valuable. Limiting my work time forces me to work more effectively and efficiently, while giving me the space to explore things that often turn out to be surprisingly useful.

So much depends on how you approach life. Some people tell me I do a lot. Some people say I have too much time on my hands. I think I’m okay. It’s the same life, the same 24 hours.

I try to be intentional about how I spend time. Life is short. There’s so much to learn and share. I think a lot about time. I care about work-life balance. I limit the overtime I work. I plan what to do with blocks of free time. I think about what I do well and how I can do things even better, which helps me free time and smoothen routines.

I play. I relax. That’s important as well. 

There are more things I’d like to do than I have time to do, but I’m happy because I can spend time on what matters to me. In order to do the rest, I help other people learn as much as they can so that they can help make things happen. That’s the superpower I’m working on.

Consciously choose how you spend time and arrange your life to do so, and you’ll probably be happier with the time you have. We all have different priorities and commitments. Some people have fewer responsibilities, and others have more. It doesn’t matter how much or how little other people do. All that matters is what you do, whether you’re happy with it, and how you can be even happier.

I think that’s the difference between feeling overworked and feeling that you have enough time to breathe.

My week starts with Mondays, and other ways perspective influences life

December 21, 2009 - Categories: happy, life, reflection, work

On my blog, the calendar week starts with Monday. This is standard practice in Europe, but not in the Philippines or Canada, where the calendar week typically starts with Sunday.

I like starting the week with Mondays more, though. It’s the same week, but the framing changes subtle things. Mostly, it means seeing my weekend as a block of unstructured time, instead of split up into two individual days.

Seeing my weekend as a weekend makes it easier to plan productive things that take time. I don’t see my weekdays as an interruption of my weekend. They’re part of a cycle, a rhythm. I even like Mondays. I see weekdays as a chance to dig into things I’d like to do at work.

I like starting my week on a Monday. I like thinking of it as investing time and energy into work, and then rewarding myself by investing time and energy into other things I love. I like that more than starting my week on a Saturday (which feels like I enjoy myself first, and then I have to work) or a Sunday (which feels more fragmented).

It’s funny, but little things like that matter. How you frame things determines what you see.

When does your week start?


Thanks to David Singer for the nudge!

Weekly review: Weeks ending Dec 13, 2009 and Dec 20, 2009

December 21, 2009 - Categories: weekly

Clearly, my Weekly Review task isn’t prominent enough on my task list. Looks like I need to set up a recurring calendar appointment.

Week ending Dec 13, 2009 – plans from the week before:

Work

Relationships

Life

Week ending Dec 20, 2009:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week (week ending Dec 27, 2009)

Work

Relationships

Life

Moments of truth

December 22, 2009 - Categories: life, reflection

What are your moments of truth? What are the crucial moments when you make the most important differences?

Get It Done Guy’s podcast on where you can improve to get the most career boost got me thinking about moments of truth at my work and in life.

If you can identify your moments of truth, you can look for ways to get even better at them.

Here’s a first pass at some of my moments of truth and how I can improve, with the really valuable ones in bold:

Problem-solving

Service

Creative

Life

(It’s an interesting question to ask in conversation, too. Hmm…)

What are your moments of truth? What could help you improve those moments?

Learning about note-taking

December 23, 2009 - Categories: blogging, life, notetaking, productivity

Extra value comes from taking notes when learning. Exponential value? From sharing those notes.

When you take notes, you understand things better. You express ideas in your own words. You condense thoughts and expand tangents. You reflect on how to integrate concepts into your life.

When you share your notes, you create value. You build relationships. You learn from what others share.

Someday, I would like to be able to share everything I learn.

Other people are working on this too. There’s even a free e-book on how to make a complete map of every thought you think. The main challenges are: How can I capture the essence of what I’m learning? How can I organize what I’ve shared to make it easy to find? Maybe some of the things I’ve learned about capturing and organizing learning can help you share more effectively, too.

Capturing thoughts

There is no shortage of things to share. In a typical week, I may skim 10 books from the library, looking for key insights. I read countless blog posts. I listen to podcasts and participate in conversations. I experiment. I experience. What I learn provides me with material. The interconnections among things I’ve learned provide me with even more. People’s questions and ideas yield even more.

Capturing the essence is easier than most people think. I scribble a few keywords into a notebook, sketch an idea, type in staccato sentences or mental shorthand. My task list is infinite, although my priorities are few. Then I publish without polishing. Better to have something out there than to have drafts cluttering my head. I’ll learn more about a topic when I write about it again, anyway.

The mechanics of how? A laptop if the words are already in my head, open to a blog editor, a drawing program, or an outliner/mind mapper. A tablet for drawing ideas. Pen and paper if I need to explore. On the go: a notebook and fountain pen. A voice recorder when I need my hands free. An outliner on my iPod Touch.

I think about how I capture what I’m learning, like my book workflow.

Find whatever works for you. Publish early. Publish often. Get something out there. You’ll learn from the questions people will ask you if you’re unclear. Just get enough of your thoughts down so that you can use it for recall.

Organizing notes

I want to build a map of what I know so that people can find things. I used to publish a personal wiki. Maybe it’s time to do that again.

I use search engines and tags to find my old notes. I keep an index in the back of my paper notebooks. I take advantage of similarity and randomness on my blog.

Links and memories from other people help me rediscover myself. They find things I’ve long forgotten.

Every so often, I review what I’ve written and summarize what I’ve learned. The more links there are, the easier something will be to find later on.

I don’t have an index or a table of contents yet. I want to build one. Do you have any role models you can point me to?


Thanks to Dror Engel for the question!

Happy-do, epiphanies, and relentless improvement

December 24, 2009 - Categories: happy, kaizen, work

It’s funny how much the way you think influences what you experience. I think of this as happy-do: the martial art of happiness. It gets even more interesting when you reflexively do it.

I was never much of an auditory listener. I used to fall asleep in lectures. Without visuals, I find it hard to concentrate on phone calls and teleconferences. I’d rather read than listen. I’d rather text than talk. I’d rather blog than podcast.

But we couldn’t get people to make time to share their insights through e-mail, so I volunteered to interview people on the phone. I recorded the interviews with people’s consent. Knowing how impatient I get when listening to podcasts, I decided to remove ums, stutters, and long silences so that other people could have a better experience.

Editing used to be something I hated about podcasting. Then an epiphany snuck up on me and flipped my perspective around.

Mid-way through editing an interview, I realized that editing helps me help people hear what “better” sounds like. They can hear themselves speak freely, fluently, and coherently. Who knows? Maybe it’s the extra polish they need to get their ideas across. Maybe it’s the resonance that helps them figure out what to say and how to say it. Maybe it’s the confidence boost that nudges them towards public speaking.

It’s like sketching. Start with something that’s roughly the right shape. Refine it, and it looks like you can draw well.

Take a speech with stutters and pauses. Keep the good parts, and it sounds like you can speak well.

A large part of improvement is knowing what “better” is. Maybe I’ll take up podcasting as a way to practice and learn. =)

Gifts

December 25, 2009 - Categories: family, life

Christmas gift-giving tends to be a little stressful for me. My defence used to be that holidays shouldn’t be about gifts unless Santa Claus is involved. Those adopt-a-family gift drives at work? It sounds like a good idea, but I feel uneasy about requests for Xbox games or branded clothes.

I’m working on that, though. I do get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I’m surprised by a gift, and I’m coming to realize that gift-giving is a neat little way to build relationships.

I’d still prefer it to be spread out over the year, though.

When I come across something I think someone will enjoy, I can’t wait to give it to them. For example, I could have stashed the micro-fleece sheets somewhere in the house, waiting until Christmas to give them. I decided more days of warmth were better than more days of anticipation. (Okay, so that was also a self-serving gift, but you get the point. ;) )

In addition to my impatience, I find it difficult to think of things to give people. I don’t shop recreationally (easier to avoid temptations and practice frugality!), so good deals or interesting items seldom cross my radar. My parents and sisters can buy whatever they want.

I don’t really need anything, and I like saving up for experiences and tools. What I really want for Christmas: Shared time. Shared fun. Donations to philanthropic organizations. More people sharing what they know.

My middle sister and her fiance, on the other hand, have a real flair for gift-giving. They think about all the staff at the office and all the people they meet on trips, and they come up with wonderfully individual gifts for each.

Me, I’m glad that my middle sister and my mom sent me their wishlists. I don’t mind learning about gift-giving using training wheels. I’d like to get better at noticing people’s interests. I suspect that my gift-giving will involve horrible puns. I’m giving my eldest sister and her husband a gift for adventurous people who’ve been there, done that. I’m giving my dad a gift related to passion and energy.

I’d rather make things for people than buy people things, though. I’d rather give people jams and jellies, cakes and cookies, biscuits and bars. I want to learn how to sew organizers, make scarves, duct-tape wallets.

So we’ll see how this gift-giving thing works out. Has anyone deliberately tried learning this? Any thoughts?

Getting ready for a long trip

December 25, 2009 - Categories: geek, life, work

My flight is at 1 PM tomorrow. I’ve checked and re-checked my luggage weight, reviewed my list of things to bring, ran through scenarios in my head. I’ve scanned and photocopied my passport, numerous visas, work permits, immigration paperwork, and proofs of funds. I have an encrypted copy of the scans on my server and another copy on our desktop at home.

I’ve fretted over the size of my cat carrier and possible litter-box options for my 8-hour Detroit layover. I’ve practised my Japanese in case I need to explain myself at the Nagoya airport on the way back. (Neko wa watashi to Firipin kara Kanada e ikimasu…)

My coworkers have step-by-step instructions for the different tasks I do. “Just in case I drown,” I said. They probably thought I was joking. I’ve set up my out-of-office message with a link to a mindmap that captures most of what I know.

I’m not too stressed out about travel, but I do like making sure that we have solid backup plans.

I have blog posts scheduled for the next two weeks or so. Enjoy!

How you know your training sessions are working; Remote Presentations That Rock

December 26, 2009 - Categories: leadership, presentation, speaking

We facilitated “Remote Presentations That Rock” for the second women’s leadership group a few weeks ago. After watching the video, one of the participants (Ruhuni) said that the tips sounded very familiar. She asked us if our executive sponsor (Sharon) had been in the previous session. Ruhuni said that she had been working on a presentation for a number of weeks. Then Sharon came in with a bunch of fresh ideas and tips for making the presentation even better. Ruhuni recognized the tips in the video, which made her laugh.

That’s when you know a training program works. People not only implement the ideas, they tell other people about them!

We’re developing a series of virtual leadership sessions. Remote Presentations That Rock is the first. The next sessions will cover facilitating remote meetings, collaborating across cultures, and working with virtual teams. Please feel free to reuse the material and organize your own groups! I’d be happy to answer questions through blog comments, conference calls, e-mail, and so on.

Meeting resolutions

December 27, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, productivity, work

I want to participate in and facilitate better meetings. Here are some resolutions I will strive towards:

Looking forward to adding to this list as I learn more!

What do I delegate, and why?

December 28, 2009 - Categories: delegation

Delegating to virtual assistants started out as an interesting experiment in learning how to tell people what to do. In the ten months since I started, I’ve learned a lot about working with virtual assistance for personal tasks. Here’s a brief reflection that might help if you’re thinking of exploring virtual assistance yourself.

For an entrepreneur or a small business owner, delegating to virtual assistants makes perfect sense. You want to focus on revenue-generating activities, and you can’t waste your energy on tasks you don’t enjoy. But even if you’re not self-employed, you might find virtual assistance useful.

I work with different kinds of virtual assistance services. For generic skills and routine tasks, I use Timesvr, which charges USD 69 for “unlimited” 15-minute tasks (really, 6-8 tasks per day). Here are some notes:

I really appreciate being able to stop worrying about some things, like following up on appointments and renewing library books. I also like saving a lot of clicks when it comes to checking out multiple books from the library, saving the time it would take to log in, find the book, check it out, confirm the request, etc.

My routines include four daily tasks that probably take a total of half an hour to do, three weekly tasks that take a total of another half hour to do, and one monthly task that takes all of five minutes. This works out to around 17 hours a month, or about USD 4 per hour. Then there are the one-off tasks I assign as well, which are included in the USD 69 fee. Even when you add in currency conversion and other fees, it’s not bad. If they raised the price, I might shuffle my budget, or I’d automate more of my tasks (time to break out Perl!) and go with a dedicated assistant instead.

For specialized skills such as editing and illustration, I hire people on oDesk, mostly on an hourly basis. I post job openings, review people’s profiles and portfolios, pick several candidates, pay them for short trial runs (because spec work is not nice!), and keep track of providers I like the most. I love hiring people who are much better than I am at something, because I learn so much in the process.

Works for me. =) If you’d like to learn more about delegating to virtual assistants, leave a comment or contact me!

(Thanks to Dror Engel and Irina Patterson for the nudge to write about this!)

I hate flying

December 29, 2009 - Categories: family, life, travel

Long flights are the worst. New security restrictions and winter mechanical problems meant delays at the gate in the Pearson International Airport. That meant sprinting through the Detroit airport to catch my connection to Nagoya, a 14-hour flight on which I got stuck beside a talker—an American who told me he initially assumed I was some teenager on a trip with her parents and who, upon finding out I was in IT, showed me a picture of a pile of computers he’d refreshed and tried to impress me with the certs he was going for: CCNA, MSCE, etc. “ASP – you know Active Server Pages?”

I was polite. I made conversation. And I made it very clear that I outgeeked him, in the hope that would get him to stop trying to namedrop technology or military jargon.

I hate flying. I hate the expense of airfare and the time commitment of a trip. I hate the rigmarole of airport security. I hate the paperwork and queues. I hate lugging heavy bags around. Why did my work laptop have to be so big?

As the flight from Nagoya to Manila touched down, the passengers around me broke into applause. Filipinos, glad to be home.

Home. I slipped back into it like a second skin. Home. Family; long-running in-jokes with friends; conversations in Tagalog; even ads that I can relate to. Even my cat remembers our old routines.

How strange and wonderful it is to have two homes, and to know what I take for granted in either.

I write because I cannot waste time

December 30, 2009 - Categories: blogging, life, reflection, writing

Writing is not a luxury for me. I do not find time for it. I do not make time for it. It is part of how I do things.

I write because I cannot waste time.

I cannot waste the time that I spend learning something. If I do not write, if I do not share, it stops with me. If I share what I’m learning, other people can build on it. I learn from what they can do. We all grow.

If I do not share, it stops with me. Six months later, I’ll need to relearn. Two years later, I’ll spend time explaining the same things to different people, things I’ve long forgotten. I’ll wonder where the days went, where the weeks went, where the years went.

I cannot waste time, so I must write.

If I take a few minutes to write a note, if I explain it to myself or to others, it becomes a seed that can grow into something bigger. As I revisit it, as I understand it better, I help it grow. And someday, someone might come across it and find it useful.

But if I do not share, it stops with me.

My frustration then, is not about finding the time to write. My frustration is that there are so many stories and so many thoughts that I am too slow and unskilled to capture.

But even so, I can share something that sparks people’s imagination and inspires people to learn. Imagine what could happen if you started earlier, knew more, learned more. What I share becomes the launchpad that others can use to take flight.

On one hand, the scarcity of time drives me to share. On the other—far-reaching possibilities! Even now, I learn more from the unexpected ripples of my life than I have ever shared.

I stand on the shoulders of giants. I write so that others can stand on mine, and so that I can learn from the heights we lift ourselves to.

(Thanks to Dror Engel for the nudge to write about finding the time to write)

What will you stop doing?

December 31, 2009 - Categories: life

New Year’s Day is just a day, a chronological convention. The long holiday season is a good time to reflect on the past year and plan the next one, though. One of the things I’d like to think about is: what will I stop doing?

What can I deprioritize, eliminate, delegate, or defer in order to simplify my life and focus on what matters more?

I will take public transit less and bike more.

I will buy fewer clothes and make more items.

I will stop keeping things I don’t need and organize things I do.

I will do fewer in-person presentations and get more value out of the remote presentations I do.

I will write fewer words, but mean more in them.

I will write fewer posts and I will draw more.

I will stop making excuses to myself when it comes to connecting with people (“I’m not good at names; I’m not good at gift-giving”) and deliberately improve.

I will stop hitting the snooze button and I will tweak my bedtime.

I will stop worrying about stalling and learn how to drive.

I will stop racing ahead. Instead, I’ll slow down and be in the moment so that I don’t get as distracted.

I will delegate appointment-setting.

I will delegate spam-checking.

It’s funny when you think of it. They’re not promises to do something new, just decisions to clear some of the barriers in the way. Perhaps it takes less effort to stop doing something than to start doing something. It’s like digging little downhill paths for yourself, so that action is easier.

Or in this case, inaction in areas that hold you back. ;)