February 2010

Always look on the bright side of life

February 1, 2010 - Categories: canada, life


The winter chill is tough.

But it does mean that pork and vegetable wontons, buns, and other frozen food are sold on the sidewalk in Chinatown. It’s like having a big outdoor freezer, and not having to worry that your groceries will spoil.

Always look on the bright side of life! =)

Weekly review: Week ending January 31, 2010

February 1, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:


  • [/] Capture lessons learned
  • [X] Create overview visuals
  • [/] Revise wiki structure
  • [X] Shadow David Ing on client interviews
  • [X] Give presentation / facilitate discussion on microblogging – that was lots of fun!
  • Also: Shared “Take Two” women’s leadership resources at work
  • Documented big picture of information flow
  • Reimaged my computer
  • Shared lessons learned from training communit
  • Sent plans for taking the lead on enablement


  • [/] Send thank-you notes
  • [/] Send care package
  • [  ] Plan February tea party
  • [X] Mentor and be mentored
  • Also: Pamanhikan! And picked out wedding rings! And looked at restaurants for the reception!


  • [X] Scan my notes
  • [  ] Start grouping Siargao pictures into a story
  • Also: Bought a waterproof/shockproof camera and have started taking more pictures
  • Took Neko to vet

Procrastinated some things in favor of others. =) Still happy!



  • [  ] Revise wiki structure
  • [  ] Follow up on lessons learned


  • [X] Book wedding chambers
  • [  ] Try out restaurants
  • [  ] Book reception
  • [  ] Look for photographers / videographers
  • [  ] Look for cheongsam (there’s a nice one for $75, but it’s probably available for cheaper)
  • [  ] Start collecting guest addresses
  • Life
  • [  ] Group Siargao pictures into a story
  • [  ] Plan crafts
  • [  ] Send care package
  • [  ] Plan February tea party
  • [  ] Send thank-you notes

Learning more about interviewing

February 2, 2010 - Categories: ibm, mentoring, work

David Ing let me tag along on a client interview for a Smarter Cities engagement. He and Donald Seymour interviewed the CIO and other staff of a region in Ontario. In the afternoon, David gave us a crash course on Media and Entertainment to help Donald and another consultant take over that area of responsibility. It was fascinating to watch their easy rapport and interviewing style. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Working in pairs makes interviews much easier. When David interviews, he usually asks someone else to lead the conversation. He asks the occasional question and focuses on recording notes, staying as close to the actual words as possible. This frees him from having to think about processing the words. He does this instead of recording the interview because listening to the recording would require lots of additional time.
  • Keep the conversation-setting presentation as short as possible, so you can focus on the conversation.
  • Don’t plan too much up front. Let the conversation take you to where it needs to go.
  • One-slide summaries with the question structures nudge the conversations in the right direction and help you ensure you cover everything of interest.
  • Capture notes on your computer to make it easier to share those notes with others.
  • Working with one client can be seen as self-serving. Working with several client organizations and bringing them together to learn from each other—that has a lot of value.
  • Hollywood is a strange and interesting place.

David, thanks for sharing!

Survey responses for TLE: Remote Presentations That Rock

February 3, 2010 - Categories: ibm, kaizen, learning, presentation, speaking, work

Last year, I gave my Remote Presentations That Rock presentation at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange. The survey results are finally in!

Dear Sacha Chua,

On behalf of the TLE executive and content management teams, thank you for your significant contribution to the 2009 Technical Leadership Exchange.  Thanks to your efforts, we were able to deliver high quality, business relevant content that supports the strategic development needs of IBM’s global technical leadership.

Your active participation in the first-ever virtual TLE is a great example of Leading through Change!   Please accept our congratulations and sincere appreciation.

Following is the feedback received after your presentation

Session ID: LDR-407
Session Title:  Remote Presentations that Rock

Total number of attendees:  108
Total Surveys:  77

Rating Scale:

Value Net Satisfaction Index ranges (applies to questions 1-3 below) Net Impact Index ranges
(applies to questions 4-5 below)
Excellent 85 – 100 60 – 100
Good 75 – 84 50 – 59
Fair 65 – 74 40 – 49
Poor 55 – 64 30 – 39
Very Poor below 55 < 30

1. Value of the content
Total Responses: 77    Net Satisfaction Index Rating: 88.64   (Excellent)
2. Speaker’s ability to deliver the material
Total Responses: 77    Net Satisfaction Index Rating: 94.16   (Excellent)
3. Technology used for this session
Total Responses: 77    Net Satisfaction Index Rating: 91.56   (Excellent)
4. This session will help me achieve my business goals
Total Responses: 77    Net Impact Index Rating: 70.45    (Excellent)
5. This session helped me understand IBM’s strategy in this area
Total Responses: 77    Net Satisfaction Index Rating: 61.04    (Excellent)

SWG – 16
GBS – 13
Corporate – 7
S&D – 8
ITD – 8
GTS – 7
ISC – 5
STG – 10
MBPS – 2
Research – 1       

North America IOT – 59
LA GMT – 4
NE IOT – 5
SW IOT – 3       

Tenure (years)       
21+ – 19
6-10 – 18
11-15 – 15
1-5 – 15
16-20 – 9       

Job category       
Software Development & Support – 11
IT Architect – 11
IT Specialist – 18
Project Management – 7
Hardware Development & Support – 6
Other – 7
Technical Services – 4
Consultant – 4
Sales – 3
Project Executive – 3
Research – 1
HR/Learning – 2       

  • Comments and/or suggestions for future activities or topics
    I liked the idea of using a personal avatar in the slides.
    challenge I always face is providing the “technical meat” of the presentation and still keep slides “simple” …
    It’s a little distracting that the video and sound are not in sync.
    Great tool and presentation!
    This is great lots of interaction. Thsi is an everyday tool/skill we need. Sachae is so full of energy!
    Very often, we present remotely without a tool. All we have is a phone line and a presentation file which has been distributed.
    I think it was actually well done and helpful. Probably more so to some people. I got the sense it was to help with internal presentations vs customer presentations, and wonder whether a client facing version of this education would be valuable to the IBM team.
    By far the best Presentation I have sen in many years – subject material was right on and Sacha has an engery level when presenting that is engaging and the use of the web cam was brilliant made me feel like we were in the same room!
    Great introduction to Elluminate.  Hopefully Lotus Live will be as robust….
    EXCELLENT Session!!!  Sacha Chua did an awesome job…Her passion was evident throughout her presentation, and her use of technology was fabulous.
    the video was not in sync and thus very distracting .. so I turned it off
    A very good presentation.  The tips provided are not new but can easily be forgotten in the rush of a presentation.   I think the value of this presentation is to re-familiarize the content to the group.  Overall very helpful.
    Can we use the Elluminate instead of LotusLive (Unyte) for remote presentations?  We are told to use Lotus Live for our meetings as it is our technology.
    My Job Category is People Manager – why isn’t that one of the choices on the drop down.
    Loved the interactive response on the opening charts.
    good presentation – not enough tips on how to structure content
    practice is key, no substitute for that
    Networking at IBM
    Very much enjoyed the presentation.  I had no temptation whatsoever to multi-task!  Thank you and you gave me some great ideas to adapt to my own style.
    This demonstrated an excellent approach to delivering presentations, with many great ideas that would increase the value

Comparing this with my previous survey results for the first TLE talk I gave (I.B.Millennials):

1. Value of the content
87.21 (Excellent) –>  88.64   (Excellent)
2. Speaker’s ability to deliver the material
92.86 (Excellent) –> 94.16   (Excellent)
3. Technology used for this session
70.93 (Fair) –>  91.56   (Excellent)
4. This session will help me achieve my business goals
63.37 (Poor, on previous scale used) –> 70.45    (Excellent)
5. This session helped me understand IBM’s strategy in this area
(not previously asked) ->  61.04    (Excellent)

Improvement all around. Following  through on the next steps I identified when reflecting on those presentations in 2008, I worked on my visual communication skills and on identifying concrete next actions. End result: people have been making changes in their presentation style based on my tips! =)

Relentless improvement. Yay!

Monthly highlights: January 2010

February 4, 2010 - Categories: monthly

What a great start to the year! A vacation to Siargao gave me a chance to get to know my family better. I brought my cat on the return flight (that was quite an adventure!). It took me a while to recover from jet lag and a sore throat, but it was good to get back on track at work. W- and I formalized our engagement, and our parents have been helping us plan the wedding (August!). I bought a new point-and-shoot camera so that I can take more pictures. What a month indeed!

Here are some of my favourite blog posts from January 2010:

Useful work-related stuff:

Weekly reviews:

Monthly highlights: December 2009

I’d like to build the post-connector workplace

February 5, 2010 - Categories: connecting, enterprise2.0, ibm, social, web2.0

In a large organization, there are two ways to create great value: you can know a lot, or you can know a lot of people. Even within formal hierarchies, there are connectors who influence without authority. As organizations take advantage of social networking tools, connectors can keep in touch with more and more people.

Even new hires can be connectors. It’s a great way to get all sorts of interesting opportunities.

It can be tempting for connectors to try to hang on to that power. They might introduce people to each other, but not share their organizational knowledge of who’s where.

Me, I want to build the post-connector workplace.

I don’t want the power that comes from being the relationship or information broker. I don’t want to be the perpetual go-between. I want to build what I know into the foundation, so that everyone can use it. For me, that means building strong communities and knowledge maps.


Even connectors who can remember thousands of people are biased by recall and limited by their networks. Passing a question through personal networks take time and result in a lot of duplicates. Networks that depend on connectors lose a lot when those connectors leave.

I’d rather look for new talent than just refer people to the people who come to my mind first. I’d rather build the capabilities into the organization so that everyone knows where to go and how to connect. I try to share everything I’m learning, and I work on connecting dots in public instead of in private.

It’s not about how many followers you have or how influential you are, but about how well the organization and the world works even after you move on.

Thanks to Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the nudge to think about connectors!

Moving from testing to development

February 6, 2010 - Categories: career, development, ibm, mentoring, sketches


One of my coworkers asked me for advice on shifting from a testing role to development. Inside IBM, cross-role experience can often be picked up within a project, on a BizTech opportunity, or by assignment to another role (if the project manager really, really believes in you). Here are some tips if you’re considering the shift yourself:

Although you can build your skill in steady increments, building expertise can be a long and frustrating process. You’ll make a lot of progress in the beginning, but you’ll probably hit a plateau. Don’t be frustrated.

Unless your project manager is okay with taking a risk on you, you probably won’t be able to immediately spend time developing those skills on the job. Here’s how you can free up some time to work on improving your skills:

  1. Look for ways you can work more efficiently and effectively, so that you can save time.
  2. Document those processes so that you understand them better and so that other people can take over your role when you leave.
  3. Automate as much as you can, saving more time and enabling more people to do your work.

You want to be replaceable. You can’t spend time learning something else or move on to another project if that would leave a big gap in your previous team.

How can you learn more about development when you’re testing?

  • You can improve your processes, learning more about available tools along the way.
  • You can learn how to script while automating tasks.
  • You can learn an in-demand skill and get pulled into projects that way.
  • You can focus on providing additional value while testing. For example, if your project is okay with it, do whitebox testing in addition to blackbox testing. By reading the source code, you might be able to think of test cases that should be covered. You can try helping with problem identification, using tests to narrow down where the bug might be. Once you get good at that, you can try documenting your problem-identification process and commonly-encountered bugs. When you’ve got a good feel for the structure of the program and how things are generally fixed, you might even tentatively propose fixes.

What other advice would you give to people who want to move from testing to development?


February 7, 2010 - Categories: life

The teapot beside me is white Corelle stoneware. Nothing fancy, just a teapot.

I bought it when I was a graduate student, along with a set of Corelle plates, bowls, and saucers. I had grown tired of mismatched plates handed down from roommate to roommate. Having my own settings made me feel more grown-up, while Corelle reminded me of my childhood. Old and young at the same time.

I smile when I see the familiar patterns in other people’s homes. Corelle Livingware Apricot Grove – that’s the style I remember most. It tickles me pink that W-‘s mom has the same style of mugs.

It’s funny how simple things evoke emotions.

Lessons learned from microblogging talk

February 8, 2010 - Categories: presentation, speaking

I gave a talk on microblogging to approximately 150 people at IBM. It was fantastic! There was so much energy and engagement, it was all I could do to keep up with the free-wheeling discussion.

What worked well:

  • My entire presentation (excluding the title slide) consisted of a single-slide summary. That was really useful, as it meant that people knew the structure and what I was going to talk about right away.
  • The chat conversation was lively. Really lively. =)
  • Having someone else watch the conversation definitely helped. Also, treating it as a river of thoughts, or a jumping-off point for further discussions… It’s like a big brainstorming session!

What I’d like to improve further:

  • My quick overview (plan: 5 minutes) ended up taking 20 minutes because I responded to people on the fly. Totally okay. I wonder if I can make the set-up presentation shorter so that I can open it up for Q&A even earlier.
  • I’d planned to switch to screen sharing and go through things dynamically, but I went with the static image because I didn’t want  to interrupt the conversation with more moving parts. ;) Maybe if I can get to the point of quickly doing visual notetaking in real life (like Minna does!), then I’ll be able to keep up with doing it virtually too.
  • This presentation/interaction pattern is new and powerful. It can feel like a chaotic bazaar sometimes, though! I wonder how we can manage this better. I’d love to use a tool with a bigger chat box, for example. That would make the backchannel easier to see and read.

That was exhilarating!

Weekly review: Week ending February 7, 2010

February 8, 2010 - Categories: weekly


  • [/] Revise wiki structure
  • [X] Follow up on lessons learned
  • Also: Coordinated regarding logo
  • Explored archetype analysis spreadsheet – understand it better now
  • Created archetype presentation for an upcoming workshop
  • Created Idea Lab for another upcoming workshop
  • Documented Idea Lab preparation
  • Set up community for industry maestros
  • Gave a new team member the overview of how information was organized; documented this for the team
  • Posted follow-up/analysis of  backchannel conversation from microblogging talk
  • Had fun documenting things right before people needed them ;)
  • Signed up for the Art of Marketing seminar


  • [X] Book wedding chambers
  • [X] Try out restaurants – looked at 12 restaurants!
  • [/] Book reception
  • [/] Look for photographers / videographers – decided against wedding photography package, will go for family portraits instead
  • [/] Look for cheongsam (there’s a nice one for $75, but it’s probably available for cheaper)  – may opt for simple red dress or brocade jacket
  • [  ] Start collecting guest addresses – will go for small wedding instead
  • [  ] Send care package
  • [  ] Plan February tea party
  • [  ] Send thank-you notes
  • Also: Met up with Quinn while she was in town
  • Helped J- with her homework
  • Chatted with Jeff Widman about business, life, virtual assistance
  • Ordered book for mom


  • [  ] Group Siargao pictures into a story
  • [/] Plan crafts
  • Also: Had regular eye checkup, ordered glasses
  • Made orange marmalade
  • Sewed a number of zippered pouches
  • Made a little felt case for my iPod
  • Bought two pairs of jeans (it’s about time…)
  • Read lots of books
  • Stocked up on zippers and cloth

The week went by so quickly. I postponed a number of items on my task list so that I didn’t go crazy trying to fit everything in. At work, I prioritized supporting upcoming engagements and improving our process documentation. One of our new team members was impressed by the way we’d written down lots of stuff – hooray. Outside work, I focused on planning the wedding and on exploring crafts.



  • [  ] Support upcoming workshops by setting up Idea Labs and doing archetype presentations
  • [  ] Braindump more of what I know at work
  • [  ] Organize teleconference for people working in my neighborhood
  • [  ] Give “Shy Connector” presentation to WITI audience


  • [  ] Try another restaurant
  • [  ] Check out portrait photographers
  • [  ] Hand-write invitations and include in care package


  • [  ] Sew more zippered pouches
  • [  ] Sew wrap-around zippered pouch
  • [  ] Work on Siargao scrapbook, really
  • [  ] Send invitations for February tea party (end of month-ish?)

ACM Hypertext conference in Toronto this June; paper deadline Feb 14

February 8, 2010 - Categories: conference, event, research

My research supervisor is chairing the ACM Hypertext conference that will be held in Toronto from June 13 to 16, 2010. The conference focuses on linking and interconnectivity, and will have sessions on Web 2.0, social computing, and the semantic web. Tracks:

  • Social computing
  • Adaptive hypermedia and applications
  • Hypertext in education and communications

The deadline for paper submissions is February 14.

ACM Hypertext2010

Bug-hunting spreadsheets

February 9, 2010 - Categories: geek, ibm, work

There’s a certain delight in working on obscure problems. In my case, I was trying to debug an old spreadsheet that statistically analyzed survey responses in order to match them to innovation archetypes. It started when I noticed that a few chart labels were incorrect. In the process of trying to figure that out and make handling multiple survey responses easier, I ended up deep in Visual Basic code, untangling algorithms that didn’t make complete sense to me.

The spreadsheet had been created three years ago, and it was hard to track down people associated with the project. Documentation was practically non-existent. Working with the source code, sprinkled comments, and formula auditing tools, I figured out what was going on.

So I knew what the code did, but I wasn’t sure it did what it was supposed to do. I asked two team members and a third consultant to refer me to someone who could explain the manual procedure and provide the missing information. If I could figure out how to do the analysis by hand, I could find the bugs and update the spreadsheet.

Even if we end up discarding the tool, I had fun following the logic through the code. There’s something about understanding a small piece of the puzzle well, and then expanding your understanding until you can hold the program in your mind.

Notes from WITI: The Shy Connector

February 9, 2010 - Categories: connecting, presentation, speaking, women

100 people and I chatted about networking for introverts in The Shy Connector, a webinar hosted by Women in Technology, International.

I’d love to hear from you. If you have any thoughts, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to post a comment or contact me privately. If you attended the presentation, please fill out the survey, suggest improvements, and tell me about other topics you would like to learn more about!


Jump to the text chat

Speaker’s notes:

Hi, I’m Sacha Chua, and I’m an introvert. <clapping>

You might be, too. Do you prefer bookstores over bars? Puzzles more than parties? Close friends instead of crowds? If so, you might be an introvert.

It can be hard to connect as an introvert. LinkedIn and Facebook can feel like popularity contests. How many friends do you have? Should you say yes to invitations from strangers? Meetups can be overwhelming. So many choices to make, so many people to meet…

So what can you do if you’re shy?

There are plenty of books and blogs about social networking, because success and happiness often depend on whom you know and who knows you.

“Sell yourself!” “Brand yourself!” “Attend as many events as you can!” “Talk to people in the elevator!” they advise. Right.

Most of the networking tips I’ve read are geared toward extroverts who don’t need tips on how to talk to strangers.

Me, I hate starting conversations. I find it hard to make small talk. I’m too shy to reach out. Following up takes focused effort.
Sound familiar? Ever felt that way, too?

Here are seven things I’ve learned about connecting as an introvert. I hope these tips will help you play to your strengths.

Tip 1: It’s okay to be an introvert.

You don’t need to fake being extroverted. You don’t need to be a glad-handing, business-card-throwing networker in order to connect. Just listen and ask a few questions during conversations. Give yourself quiet time to recharge. Connect online if you feel more comfortable that way. Figure out what works for you.

For me, blogging often works out better than going to events. Now that I understand that about myself, it’s easier for me to say, “No, I’m planning to stay home” when faced with an invite. I’m much more comfortable blogging than partying, and I can share in a way I simply can’t do in person.

Tip 2: Change your perspective.

It’s not about selling yourself. It’s not about marketing your personal brand. It’s not about figuring out what other people can do for you. It’s about focusing on what you can do to help other people.

Focus on what can help other people be happier and more successful. Ask questions. Explore ideas.

Focusing the spotlight on the other person makes it easier to make conversation and get to know others.

Tip 3: Give people reasons to talk to you, both online and offline.

Most people find it hard to start a conversation, too. Do them a favour and give them an excuse to approach you.

An interesting hat makes you easy to find in a crowd. Accessories with character draw remarks. Keywords on your nametag lead to conversations.

Online? Share your interests and thoughts. People can find you through search engines and reach out to learn from you.

My favourite? Giving a presentation. Talking to a hundred people at once is easier than talking to two at a time because I can rehearse what I want to say. I reach way more people this way, and I don’t have to start any conversations!

Tip 4: Look for ways to help.

While you’re listening, think: What do I know? Who do I know? How can I help?

Have I read a book they might like? Have I talked to someone they should meet? Do I have an interesting idea that can save them time?

Even if you can’t help right away, if you make it a point to remember their need, you may be able to connect the dots later.

Tip 5: Give yourself homework.

Following up with someone is easier when you’ve promised to send them a link or introduce them to someone else who can help.

That’s why you should always carry something you can use to take notes. Why worry about forgetting when you can write things down?

Tip 6: Make it easy to get to know you.

So you’ve met someone, learned about their interests, and followed up. How do you build the connection from there?

Even if you don’t like talking about yourself, you can make it easier for other people to get to know you.

Share your interests, skills, and goals. The more people know about what you can do, the more you can find opportunities to help them.

A personal website or profile page is a good way to start. Link it in your e-mail signature and put it on your business card.

A blog is even better. If you share tips, ideas, and a bit of a personal touch, people might even subscribe and really get to know you over time. They might even help you grow! =)

Tip 7: Keep growing, and your network will grow with you.

As you develop your passions, improve your skills, and grow your network, you’ll be able to create more value — and more, and more, and more.

The more you understand your passions, the easier it is to communicate them.

The more you improve your skills, the more you can help others.

The more people you know, the more introductions and connections you can make.

If you share what you’re learning with people, your network can grow along with you.

Then you won’t have to fake being an extrovert or drain yourself of energy; people and opportunities will simply flow to you.

Which of these tips would you like to focus on, practice, and learn more about? How can I help you explore your networking potential?

Notes from the text chat:

General notes

I’m an introvert in a business environment and an extrovert outside
The whole marketing myself through social media is a real challenge

Giving people reasons to talk to you

The name tag words are a good idea!

I want to see your funny hat
I think people would think I was strange if I walked in with a funny hat
I would be more shy if I have a hat on
Depends… sophisticated hat = empowering. goofy hat = loss of professional credibility

Living in an extroverted world

I pretend to be an extrovert all the time. People think I know what I’m doing but I am a mess inside.
People think i’m extroverted and don’t understand when i try to explain that i need down time or can’t overschedule myself
What about someone who complains all the time about personal issues?
Being a person that does not watch a lot of TV, I find that I need to watch the news more in order to be able to converse and stay up on current events, all over, including in the entertainment world. To be more well-rounded.

Conversations with introverts

Sometimes people just don’t talk back. I may start the conversation asking questions, but get yes/no answers.
I hear that!
Yes — when you’re trying to talk to other introverts!

Starting the conversation

What do you say when you first see someone besides “how are you”?
Instead of people “how are you” I ask them what brought them to the event, which has worked for me
brava i like the question, what are your passions
I’m a new grad and I work in a team with members that have been working in the company for 15+ years. I have a hard time connecting with them and often times i feel intimidated to even start a conversation that isn’t work related… : |
In a corporate environment, how do you initiate the connection – i always feel awkward inviting a “stranger” to lunch
I agree that it is hard to start non-work-related conversations.
new grad; ask one of those people to help you / take you under their wing

Leaving conversations

I have a hard time exiting a conversation gracefully…
How about “It was great talking to you…”
What about saying, I have to go, I have a few other people to meet with


How can you calm yourself down if you have to lead a conference call, or even worse, make a business speech in front of your peers?
I jump up and down about 20 times to get rid of nervous energy.
Don’t think as talking to peers. Talk to a friendly face or voice you already know.
Talk to “A” person.


I’m coaching a very shy young woman who is starting a business where she has to invite people to hear about her new business. She isn’t in WITI. Where could I get other information to help me help her?
Joining a local Toastmasters club is an excellent way to improve personal communications as well as giving business presentations.
Yes, Toastmasters is great. We used to have one here. You’re able to get feedback.


What are techniques to interrupt people in a meeting when you want to make a point but everyone is talking and there’s no break in the conversation?
What about making more of an effort to speak up in meetings (especially remote)? People could incorrectly interpret shyness or quietness as lack of interest.

Voice and speaking

I get more nervous because I can’t get the “quiver” out of my voice. Any suggestions?
Doesn’t matter how prepared I am.
I get so nervous my neck and chest get red with hives!
When I speak in front of crowds, I stammer over my words. HELP!
Practice with a friend.
Practice in front of a mirror.
When I hear a speaker having trouble, nervous, stammering, I always, always feel I want them to do well, and I usually try and pay attention to them and smile to give them confidence, maybe knowing others (strangers) are on your side might help with the jitters

Personas – professional and social

How do you mix personal and business in social media?
I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting my personal site in my business signature
I use LinkedIn for professional networking and Facebook for personal networking and try not to blur the line
Social networking is big; however, I believe that you need to be careful with what’s put on there, especially in the business area. I’ve seen it used against people too.

Can you say something about posture? How do we show a positive posture?
I meant posture as far as your attitude
How you present yourself


I had a friend share with me recently at a networking dinner that I had my hands clasped near my chin a lot, and she said that made me appear disengaged… so I had to watch that.
Here’s my favorite tip & it allows your first impression to be a strong one even if I don’t feel that way– Be the first to extend your hand to say “Hello, I’m Vickie.” You appear to be an extrovert
I did a Krispy Kreme fundraiser for Haiti at work for them to put a face to my name. :D One of the executives came by to pick up a couple of boxes and it was good to meet him!

Keeping your spirits up

How do you stay positive if people don’t respond or turn you down?
That is hard for me too – to stay positive.

Presentation style and delivery

This is the first entirely visual presentation I’ve seen and appreciate the clarity in ways it portrays the message
These are great slides. Simple and clean and really get the point across.
Thank you Sacha your presentation was great!
This is the best webinar I have ever participated in
Thank you so much, Sacha — I totally relate to your perspective on being an introvert — thanks for doing this!
My first experience with this type of presentation – it was very helpful
I feel like the ‘It’s okay’ smiley guy right now :)
thank you!
Great presentation. Thanks Sacha.
Very helpful–thanks
excellent presentation – great innovation with your deployment

From the interaction: Challenges people faced: Fairly even spread, more emphasis on small talk and building the relationship


From the interaction: Tips to take forward: Perspective and growth


Previous Shy Connector discussions

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Post a comment or contact me privately!

Next step for me: Blog about the different topics we discussed, then plan follow-up presentations or articles. Stay tuned!

Harvesting the backchannel bazaar of insights

February 10, 2010 - Categories: ibm, presentation, speaking

One of the things I love about virtual presentations is the richness of the backchannel conversation — the chat that accompanies a presentation. When people don’t have to worry about interrupting others and they’re free to discuss things in parallel, the conversation explodes.

It can be overwhelming for speakers and participants alike, but it’s a great way to capture a lot of insights, answer many, many questions, and start an ongoing conversation.

A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation on microblogging. There were 150+ participants. 51 people actively used the chat to share their thoughts during the presentation, typing in 461 messages in total. Topics ranged from beginner questions about getting started to advanced questions involving multiple tools.

I saved the chat transcript and uploaded it along with my session materials. Another participant converted the text transcript into a spreadsheet that also summarized messages by author. The spreadsheet also tagged replies with the ID of the person being replied to.

I reviewed the chat spreadsheet and categorized useful messages, assigning the following keywords:

  • Value: related to the value of microblogging (13 messages)
  • Process: incorporating it into your day (15 messages)
  • Network: growing your network (12 messages)
  • Tools: discussion of specific tools to make things easier (26 messages)
  • Challenges: what’s difficult and how to deal with it (15 messages)
  • Adoption: meta-conversation about microblogging (10 messages)
  • Personas: managing multiple personas (10 messages)
  • Takeaways: short summary (14 messages)
  • Next: things to explore next (12 messages)


There were many messages I didn’t categorize because they repeated information, were related to the teleconference itself, or were part of the general back-and-forth.

As usual, IBMers like talking about tools and sharing tool-related tips. You should’ve seen us during Dan Roam’s presentation on the Back of the Napkin – we were fascinated by the drawing tools he used! ;)

It’s interesting to see how people cluster around topics, too. When I look at the spreadsheet, I can see who cares a lot about adoption, who’s interested in personas, etc.

I’m sure there’s been research on the analysis of conversations. The backchannel is like Internet relay chat (IRC), after all, and IRC has been around for decades. I wonder how the real-time extra channel of speaking influences the flow of the backchannel and vice versa. I wonder how we can get better at picking up ideas and following up on them. I wonder how we can get better at strengthening the newly-formed connections.

In a real-life presentation, it would be difficult to have all these conversations and to get this kind of insight into what people care about. A presentation backchannel where people can chat is an incredibly powerful tool, and I’m looking forward to helping learn more about making the most of it!

Writing for love and fun

February 11, 2010 - Categories: blogging, writing

I hated writing. Reading was my favourite thing in the world, but I chafed at analyzing the irony in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and I hated writing formulaic compositions. End result: Ds in English literature classes.

My sister went from run-on sentences to witty travel stories. I had the technicalities down pat, but I didn’t have that spark.

Technology pushed me into writing for fun. I worked on open source projects when I was in university. On a whim, I extended the obscure project I was working on so that it could produce a blog. I posted my class notes and code snippets on that blog, writing more for myself than for an audience. Other people read my blog anyway.

I learned that writing could start conversations and connect me with people I would never have met. So I wrote more, and more, and more. Instead of writing essays that went into the recycle bin after the term ended, I was writing notes that other people found useful even months after I posted them. Wow.

Now I can’t think of not writing. It’s part of who I am.

I don’t think of myself as an author. Authors write literature. ;) I don’t write to entertain or to provide deep insights into the human condition. I describe. I document. I capture. I braindump. I write because it’s a good way to think, and I share because it’s a good way to teach and to learn.

My “home” form is the blog post. Flirting with microfiction and poetry was fun. I loved the constraints on expression. It was like writing small, efficient programs. But the blog post feels right for me. Not an essay, not a magazine article, just some notes on a life in progress, some half-conversations and thoughts.

So what do I write about? Whatever I’m learning, whatever I’m curious about, whatever someone else nudges me to explain… All sorts of things might be useful. I post tips and solutions because I might need them again, and because they might save other people time. I share as much as I can because I learn so much in the process, and besides, you never know what might help.

I think other people have so much to share, and I’d love to help nudge them to write more. Looking forward to reading people’s stories!

Thanks to Ross Laird for the nudge to write about this, jdornberg for the education idea, and hi to the writers’ workshop participants!

Wiki information architecture thoughts

February 12, 2010 - Categories: organization, tips

Even though a wiki is a free-form, unstructured, organic information repository, it needs to be organized so that users don’t get overwhelmed by information. So, how do you organize information on a wiki?

Wikipatterns is a great site for people and adoption patterns, but it doesn’t give tips on how to organize the information. So here are some tips to help you organize your wiki:

Visual identity

A banner, customized colour scheme, and a sidebar may seem unnecessary. When you’re creating lots of pages, it’s a pain to copy-and-paste the template. But a visual identity for your wiki helps people recognize when they’re looking at one of its pages and it gives them a consistent way to navigate to the major parts of your site. Tip: If your wiki allows you to include other wiki pages, put template segments on separate pages and then include them. This saves you from editing hundreds of pages whenever your navigation menu changes.


Write the homepage content for a general audience instead of for specialized roles. Provide information about your team and about the wiki. Save the detailed links for other navigation pages that are linked to from the homepage. Link to other resources people might find useful, too.

Multiple navigation pages

Create multiple ways to navigate through the same information space. For example, if project managers need to access certain kinds of information quickly, create a page for them with shortcuts to the resources they need.

Contact information

Always have a contact person for the wiki. Encourage people to edit the wiki themselves if they feel comfortable, but provide a way for them to contact someone else with changes or new resources if they’re not comfortable working with the wiki themselves.

Related resources and the big picture

Link to other resources your team or community uses (other websites, file repositories, Lotus Notes teamrooms, communities, etc.). Show the big picture: when do people use the wiki, and when do people use other resources? What’s stored where?


If you need to store information that doesn’t have a proper home yet, have a area on your wiki where you can store snippets that are still being worked on. That way, the rough drafts don’t confuse people browsing through the rest of the wiki. Use this space to store administrivia about the wiki as well, such as snippets for the sidebar.

Handling information requests

When people ask you for information that’s on the wiki, ask them where they looked for it and what they searched for. After you send them the resource, build the missing links so that people can find it easily.

Duplicate information

If you need to copy and paste information instead of including it, pick one place where the latest information will be, and provide links to that place when you paste the information into other pages. This will help you resolve conflicts in the future. If you can, provide backlinks to where the information has been copied, so that you know where you need to update it.


Document what you need to do in order to update the wiki, where things are, and how information is organized. This helps you teach other people how to use the wiki.

Automatic lists

Many wikis can automatically list the children of a page, pages in a given category, or pages with a given label. Use this feature to save you from manually updating lists of pages.

Pretty vs. editable

Pretty layouts tend to be difficult to edit without breaking. Simple layouts tend to be plain. Depending on your target audience, decide where your wiki will be. Do you expect lots of participation? Keep the page layout simple and avoid advanced macros. Do you work with a finicky group that will only use polished resources? Invest in styling, and accept that you might be the only one adding to the wiki.

Internal vs. external links

When linking to other pages in the wiki, try to use internal wiki links instead of copying and pasting the URLs. Most wikis indicate external links with icons. If you use internal wiki links, you avoid the visual clutter and show people that they can expect to have the same navigation when they click through.


There are more things to share, but this braindump is a good start! Have you come across something like this (preferably with more detail)? I’d love to learn from what other people are doing.

Visualization of my blog categories

February 13, 2010 - Categories: blogging, visual

This visualizes how often I blogged something with a tag in a given year, sorted by all-time popularity. There are more categories, but I skipped them. The height of each block represents how many blog posts I wrote in that category, while the different blocks represent the years, ending with 2010 at the far right. The graph reflects changing interests and recurring themes.


This visualizes some of the things I’ve been writing about in 2010. We’re only a month in, so the last line is pretty small, and in some cases (n < 4) not even visible.


Sparkline bar graphs created with Sparklines for Excel. Initial categories table created with the following SQL incantation:

select p.post_date, p.post_title, terms.name from wp_posts p inner join wp_term_relationships tr on p.id=tr.object_id inner join wp_term_taxonomy tt on tr.term_taxonomy_id=tt.term_taxonomy_id inner join wp_terms terms on tt.term_id=terms.term_id into outfile '/tmp/categories.csv';

then imported and tweaked in Microsoft Excel.

How not to propose marriage

February 14, 2010 - Categories: life, love, story

More correctly: How to not propose marriage

During the formal meeting of the two sets of parents, my mom asked us to tell the story of the engagement. W- and I looked at each other, puzzled. Fortunately, our videoconference ran into some technical problems, and we took advantage of the break to formalize the proposal. He asked me to marry him, and I said yes. Tada!

What? No dramatic tension? No wondering about what’s next? No getting down on one knee and not knowing what the answer is?

The most Hollywood-uncertain moment we’ve had was at the start of the relationship. We had just watched Rigoletto, and we were talking about how reading the libretto with English translations had helped us recognize some words during the opera. “You can call me buffone,” he said. “Or even buffone mio.”

His last word couldn’t have been accidental, knowing the delight we take in the subtleties of words. We had been good friends for a while, and I was resolutely ignoring a crush on him. In a movie, this would have been the point at which soaring music would play, we’d kiss, and then credits would roll.

None of that happened. Instead, I blinked a few times and babbled, preoccupied with figuring things out. Later that evening, when I was alone again, I mindmapped what I wanted to say and wrote him a letter to clarify what he meant. On gridded paper, too, as that was all I had. The next day, I read his reply confirming his feelings. So that’s how our formal relationship began.

Since then, we’ve had many, many conversations, which gradually included longer-term plans. Marriage isn’t so much a big change as it is a useful formalization of our plans and a commitment to work things out together. I might have even started the process by bringing up long-term thoughts. Technically, I guess that means I proposed to him, but it was less of a “Will you marry me?” and more of an “Okay, let’s look at where we want to go with this. If we want to do B, we should probably do A first.”

No fancy engagement story. No engagement ring, either. (I think diamonds are overpriced and there are better ways to use that money, such as saving for long-term goals.)

The difference between “Will you marry me?” and “So, when do you think we should get married?” is fascinating. I love how our conversations grew into the second question rather than the first.

So that’s how it happened!

(Reflecting on it now, I remember those lessons on assuming the sale: instead of asking people if they want to buy something, ask questions like if they prefer to pay cash or use their credit card… ;) )

Kaizen: WITI: The Shy Connector

February 15, 2010 - Categories: kaizen, presentation, speaking

Around 100 people attended the Shy Connector webinar I gave for Women in Technology, International. It was lots of fun!

What worked well:

  • You know, I might be on to something with this topic…
  • People liked the webcam, the interaction, and the visual approach.
  • The text chat was lively and there was plenty to talk about.
  • Quickly installing my own survey system let me get more feedback.
  • The Camtasia recording provided a useful backup for capturing the interaction images as well as the text chat.
  • Having shyconnector.com and theshyconnector.com helped.

What I can do even better next time:

  • Refer to interesting hats instead of funny hats. There’s nothing inherently funny about my cool Tilley hat, the word just got stuck in my head (nervousness?).
  • Have one of the said hats handy.
  • Use shyconnector.com instead of j.mp, as some companies block URL shorteners.
  • Have an announcement up on my blog to make it easier for people to find information.
  • Save the text chat before sending out the URL. InstantPresenter closed unexpectedly, boo!
  • I still lean towards LivingAnAwesomeLife.com instead of LivingAwesomely. LivingAwesomely feels a little abrupt.

Follow-up actions:

  • Write about thoughts from the text chat.
  • Prepare introvert guide to public speaking (must come up with catchy title: Two Hundred is Easier than Two?)

Weekly review: Week ending February 14, 2010

February 15, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:


  • [X] Support upcoming workshops by setting up Idea Labs and doing archetype presentations
  • [X] Braindump more of what I know at work
  • [X] Organize teleconference for people working in my neighborhood
  • [X] Give “Shy Connector” presentation to WITI audience
  • Added exploration workshop guide to wiki
  • Learned about issue maps
  • Braindumped my go-to people
  • Coordinated development of logo for training program


  • [/] Try another restaurant
  • [X] Check out portrait photographers
  • [X] Hand-write invitations and include in care package
  • Also: Took cats to vet
  • Joined my godparents’ tea party
  • Had Chinese New Year dinner with W-‘s family
  • Made chicken pot pie from scratch
  • Prepared next week’s meals
  • Gave J- a warm gift
  • Read lots of books on marriage
  • Helped W- organize negatives


  • [X] Sew more zippered pouches
  • [/] Sew wrap-around zippered pouch
  • [/] Work on Siargao scrapbook, really
  • [X] Send invitations for February tea party (end of month-ish?)
  • Practiced bay parking
  • Learned more Cantonese
  • Went biking

Plans for next week


  • [  ] Use new training program logo where appropriate
  • [  ] Help team members send out Idea Lab invitations
  • [  ] Learn from IBVA team


  • [  ] Bake more awesomes
  • [  ] Smoothen household routines


  • [  ] Upload Siargao pictures to photo-book making website
  • [  ] Compare photo book to getting prints of favourite Siargao shots
  • [  ] Sew more pouches

Personal blog? Don’t worry about your strategy

February 16, 2010 - Categories: blogging, writing
This entry is part 10 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Personal branding seems like such a big deal these days. If you’re a beginning blogger, you’re supposed to pick a topic and focus on it, carefully considering how you want to present yourself. Come up with a catchy tagline. Imitate your favourite blogging stars. Polish, polish, polish.

Over lunch, one of my friends told me she envied how easily I write and asked me if she should plan her blogging strategy or just post whatever she could.

Here’s what I think: Don’t worry, just write. Don’t focus on a niche. Don’t hang on to drafts forever. Don’t write like a magazine. You might want to think twice about posting things you might regret, but there’s plenty of other material to share.

Writing is a skill. You won’t know how to do it right away. In fact, if you do it right, you’ll never stop learning.

Don’t write for other people. Write because you want to understand.

When you start, you’ll be boring. You’ll wander around, looking for the point you want to make. It’s okay. You’re still figuring out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Write. Write. Write. The more you write about something, the better you’ll understand it.

Don’t write something a million people could write. It’s better to be unfocused than to be generic. I generally don’t take guest posts from other people because far too many guest posts are soulless entries written more for search engines than for people. Be yourself. Write until you know more about who you are, then write some more.

It’s okay to tell one story twenty times in order to learn how it’s told. Experiment.

The real challenge isn’t coming up with one thing to share. Once you open your eyes to the world and discover writing, the challenge is choosing among the many, many stories to tell. You don’t have to tell the best story. Just make a choice and get out there.

Fixing SIOCSIFFLAGS: Unknown error 132 for Karmic wireless on Asus Eee 1008HA

February 16, 2010 - Categories: geek, linux

I was having problems with wireless on the netbook-oriented version of Ubuntu Karmic Koala. ifconfig wlan0 up returned SIOCSIFFLAGS: Unknown error 132. Thanks to Ubuntu’s bug database, I found the following solution:

rmmod ath9k
rfkill block all
rfkill unblock all
modprobe ath9k
rfkill unblock all

Experiments in awesome

February 17, 2010 - Categories: cooking, cookordie, life, reflection


The long weekend gave us plenty of opportunities to pursue projects. W- set up his new negative scanner and hired J- to scan her baby pictures. He also roasted the turkey we’d stashed in the freezer last Christmas, and I helped prepare other meals for this week. I sewed a shopping bag using floral canvas and blue bias tape, made chicken pot pie from scratch (including the pie crust!), and experimented with making these delightful mini apple pies using honey crisp apples. The pie crusts I made using the food processor turned out nice and flaky. By golly, I think I’m getting the hang of it.

Sometimes I wonder if I should spend my unstructured time building something that scalably creates value instead of developing skills that focus on our immediate, local experience. There’s always more to write, more to code, more to explore. Why spend time, money, and energy learning how to make things that can be easily and cheaply bought?

But I enjoy making things, and I love experimenting with making things that suit our lives. I’m working on the hobbies I’d like to enjoy in ten years.

It’s not what you can’t write, it’s what you need to share

February 18, 2010 - Categories: blogging, reflection
This entry is part 7 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

We like scaring ourselves out of complex opportunities. Take sharing, for example. Sharing too much online can backfire badly, so many people don’t. College graduates worry about drunken parties and griping about jobs. CEOs worry about disclosure and giving away competitive advantages.

We like scaring other people, too. It’s because we worry that they’re not smart enough to avoid mistakes, or that they can’t deal with growing pains. News articles warn people about the workplace consequences of personal blog posts. TV shows rant about Facebook and Twitter.

The infinite memories of search engines and Internet archives scare most people into silence.

People fear loss more than they get excited about gains.  This can screw up your decision-making.

Whenever I talk about sharing, people often bring up that fear. It’s a valid concern, but it’s the wrong focus.

The real challenge isn’t dancing around what you can’t write. The real challenge is figuring out what you need to share.

What can you share that can save other people time?

What can you ask that will open up new perspectives for other people?

What can you express that will let other people recognize themselves in it?

You don’t have to come up with something universally and timelessly insightful. Just share one thing that one person may not know. Just share one thing that you didn’t know a year ago.

Sometimes it’s the littlest thing that solves someone else’s problems or sparks someone else’s epiphany. Sometimes that someone is you, six months down the line.

It’s not about what you can’t write. It’s about what you can. As you explore that, you’ll discover your passion—what you need to share.

When you’re focused on the negative spaces – all the embarrassing things that you don’t want others to know – it’s hard to see the good stuff. When you’re focused on the good stuff, you’ll be too busy sharing to worry about the bad stuff.

It’s very hard to share the wrong thing when you’re focused on making people’s lives better. And if you happen to do so, well, that’s part of the learning experience. Sometimes it’s the other person’s ruffled ego. Sometimes it’s you, unconsciously blaming others, or stepping over a line you hadn’t realized. The conflict helps you understand more.

When someone challenges what you’ve shared, you can think about it more. Sometimes you’ll change your mind. Sometimes your thoughts will become even clearer.

Changing your mind is good, too. You’re human. Change is a sign of growth.

So don’t worry so much about being embarrassed. Focus instead on finding out what you can share with others. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. You’ll see the benefits at work and in life.

Focus on the good stuff, and share as much as you can.

Thanks to Devon Jordan for the nudge to write about this!

The sweet spot at work

February 19, 2010 - Categories: career, ibm, passion, reflection

I had a wonderful conversation with my manager’s manager the other day. She wanted to know more about what I was working on with Innovation Discovery, and the other things I was doing at IBM. I told her the story of how I joined IBM after getting to know so many incredible people throughout the organization. Two and a half years later, I’m even more in love with the amazing people, talents, and opportunities within reach, and I’m doing work that’s exactly in line with my skills and passions.

“You’re so lucky,” she said.

Yes, I am. But it doesn’t have to be luck. I think we can help many, many people have these kinds of experiences, particularly as we get better at bringing down the walls of geography and organizational division. I want to figure out how other people in IBM and in other organizations can have these kinds of wow moments.

It reminded me of the “career best” moments described in The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders. “Career best” experiences are the highlights of people’s work—when they contribute something of significance and they feel successful. The concept was researched by Kurt Sandholtz and further developed by Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson. Dalton and Thompson wrote, “If individuals don’t understand their unique strengths or interests, they don’t have any basis for deciding whether a job or an assignment make sense for them.” Knowing what to say no to is as important as knowing what to pursue.

In The Extraordinary Leader, Zenger and Folkman share a model for leadership sweet spots: the intersection between competencies, organizational needs, and passion. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that Venn diagram is very useful in all sorts of life situations. I’ve used it to think about the sweet spots in life, too. It’s the intersection between what you do well, what the world needs, and what you love.

What would it take for more people to find those sweet spots for themselves?

I think self-awareness plays a huge role. I think a lot about what I like and don’t like, in what I excel and in what I’m merely mediocre.

Communication matters, too. My manager, my organization, and my clients know what I care about and what I’m good at. I can show people how what I do meets the organization’s needs and our clients’ needs.

My blog is my primary tool for both self-awareness and communication. Blogging solutions, tips, ideas, and reflections helps me think through things and share them with other people. Reading what I’ve written and what others have shared helps me understand even more.

So this is one of the reasons why I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate. The more we can encourage people to reflect and share, the closer they can move to their sweet spots.

There’s still a lot of fear and resistance when it comes to sharing. People are afraid of embarrassing themselves, or they tell themselves that they don’t have time, or they think they don’t have anything to share.

I used to say that maybe the reason why I share so much is that I’m new. I’m learning a lot. I don’t have the established networks or reputations that other people have. I don’t have a choice – I need to share as widely as I can, in order to catch up.

But not many new hires have embraced sharing, and they’re having a hard time finding their sweet spots. So maybe it’s not that. Besides, I’ll keep sharing even as I grow in responsibility and reach.

What is it, then? What can help people find those sweet spots?

How can we help people build those serendipitous relationships with unexpected mentors?

How can we help people reflect, share, and grow?

Or should I focus on finding people who already have that spark – who already know it’s possible, who know a little bit about their sweet spots, and who want to grow even more – and help them do amazing things?

What if more people could be fully engaged? How wonderful could this be?

The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders
John Zenger and Joseph R. Folkman, 2009
ISBN: 9780071628082

This is an affiliate link, but please feel

Google Books: The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders

Patternicity, how things come together, and happiness

February 20, 2010 - Categories: happy, reflection

I’m fascinated by how things come together. When we look back, we weave almost-random elements of our lives into a coherent story, one thing leading to another.

For example: I’m marrying W- this August. I can trace this all the way back to how I got interested in computers and reading as a child. It’s a long story through three countries, with plenty of choices and chances along the way – and yet, looking back, there’s a certain inevitability to it, a flow, an internal logic.

I know it’s my mind playing tricks on me. Humans are good at patternicity, finding meaningful connections in randomness. I wonder:

Do people have varying levels of patternicity?

Is it a skill that gets developed and reinforced?

How does it affect happiness?

One of the things that always comforts me when things go wrong is that I’m sure it’ll all come together somehow. A seeming failure turns out to be the building-block for something great. More religious people place their faith in challenges being part of an overall plan. I don’t, but I trust that things will work out.

So I’m very good at patternicity and almost reflexive when it comes to justification. Did I burn the pasta sauce? Oh, well, that helps me learn more about paying attention to details. Did the cats throw up on the carpet? Time to break out the carpet cleaner and think about fond memories. Yes, I have fond memories involving vacuuming liquids out of carpets: W-’s basement got a little damp one time when we were just friends, and I helped him out. I occasionally get those “Oh, that’s interesting, so that’s another reason why that was useful” moments, like when my Argentine tango explorations led to building a friendship with someone who has been my mentor for a few years.

I think patternicity plays a big role in amplifying both happiness and sadness, which is why it’s important to practice it consciously. If you’re good at seeing connections between things, you might see the whole world as against you, or you can see how things come together to help you.

I play with patternicity. I don’t fool myself into thinking this is part of a Great Destiny or that I’m living a pre-determined fate, but I’m amused by how the different threads come together. New interests grow from of long-dormant seeds. The more I practice explaining things and tracing the paths, the easier it gets. It’s like a mental puzzle, like those word games that ask you to get from CAT to DOG by changing one letter at a time, using only English words in between. (That one’s easy.) It’s like those brainstorming exercises, when you think of the similarities between two wildly different things. (How is a cat like a dishwasher? Both clean their plates.)

Maybe it’s why I like connecting the dots so much. Playing with patterns exercises your ability to hold multiple things in your head, to free-associate and find connections, and to make those connections visible and plausible. Connecting people, resources, and tools—that works much the same way too.

When you look back and trace your development, can you build a story out of it?

Thanks to Jeffrey Tang (the Art of Great Things) for the nudge to write about this!

Circuses, pots, and cathedrals: three key stories

February 21, 2010 - Categories: passion, reflection, story

There are three stories I refer to again and again: taking the first circus, making more pots, and building a cathedral. They form part of my approach to life.

Taking the first circus

My parents told the story of the first circus to us when we were growing up. On her blog, she wrote:

It came from an anecdote that my husband and I read in the Readers’ Digest about a little girl in a town soon to be visited by three circuses. Her father explained to her that the family was not financially able to take her to all three circuses and could take her only to one. The first circus would be just a small one, while the third would be the best and biggest, and presumably the most expensive. “I’ll take the first circus,” she said, and so her parents took her to the first. A few months later, when the second circus came, the family’s finances had improved and they were able to take her to the second. And finally, they found that they could afford to get tickets to the third and most expensive circus.

Harvey Chua, I’ll take the first circus

The story of taking the first circus reminds me to take opportunities when they come up. I tend to be conservative and frugal, but I’m also good at figuring out when it’s time to take that leap.

Making more pots

In a previous blog post, I wrote:

There’s a story about a pottery teacher who divided the class into two groups. A student in one group would be graded based on the quality of one pot that they turned in at the end of the semester, while a student in the other group would be graded based on the sheer number of all the pots submitted throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, students in the second group–those measured only on quantity–had produced better pots than those who had focused on quality. In the process of creating a large number of pots, the second group had learned from their mistakes, while the first group had been paralyzed by endless theorizing about what a perfect pot would be.

Me, Of sewing more dresses and making more pots

I use the pot-making story a lot. For example, when I struggled with writing, the pot-making story reminded me to just get something out there. The pot-story reminds me that even mistakes help you move towards mastery.

Building a cathedral

Several builders were on a construction site. A visitor asked the first worker what he was doing. The first builder replied, “I’m laying bricks.” The visitor asked the second, who replied, “I’m building a wall.” The visitor asked the third, who proudly answered, “I’m building a cathedral.”

The cathedral story reminds me of the power of vision. Good vision can turn any work into a joy. The lack of vision can make even the most talented lost.

The story also tells me that vision can be created by anyone. Even though I’m a recent hire, I have a strong vision for what I want to help the company and the world become, and I have a strong vision for myself and who I want to grow into.

Circuses, pots, and cathedrals – shorthand for how I live. What are your key stories?

Thanks to Paul for the nudge to write about this!

Weekly review: Week ending February 21, 2010

February 21, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:


  • [/] Use new training program logo where appropriate
  • [X] Help team members send out Idea Lab invitations
  • [X] Learn from IBVA team
  • Also: Helped Jennifer Nolan with Drupal installation
  • Got a tour of the virtual analytics center from Jack Mason
  • Learned tons from IBVA mentors =D
  • Gave a former mentor advice on marketing independent consulting and coaching services
  • Joined a great conversation on leadership
  • Started UK visa application, may be there in mid-March
  • Loaded questions into Idea Lab


  • [X] Bake more awesomes – chicken pot pie and apple tarts, dough made using the food processor = flaky and yummy
  • [X] Smoothen household routines – made a week of meals in advance
  • Also: Checked out a few restaurants. Had huevos rancheros at Dr. Generosity, pretty yummy. Cheerful servers.
  • Learned more about great perspectives from W-


  • [  ] Upload Siargao pictures to photo-book making website
  • [  ] Compare photo book to getting prints of favourite Siargao shots … clearly this is low on my priority list, so I should just ‘fess up and either drop it or do it
  • [X] Sew more pouches
  • Also: Attended Seedy Sunday and picked up lots of seeds
  • Sewed a box-type bag
  • Tidied up a lot

Next week:


  • [  ] Conduct IBVA interviews (eep!)
  • [  ] Finalize preparations for Idea Lab
  • [  ] Create leader guide for Discovery Workshop
  • [  ] Finish UK visa application


  • [  ] Bake more pies
  • [  ] Send invitations to my family
  • [  ] Assemble more things for care package


  • [  ] Survive having my wisdom teeth extracted
  • [  ] Re-explore a liquid diet =(


February 22, 2010 - Categories: family, gardening, life, passion, reflection

It was sunny and almost spring-like on Sunday. I rode my bicycle 5km to the Artscape Wychwood Barns, shedding my winter jacket and fleece along the way, enjoying the ride in a light turtleneck and thermals. That 5’C is warm must speak to the reality-distorting powers of winter, which will make a return in the next few days. But today was like spring.

I wanted to check out the Seedy Sunday event I’d learned about on one of my favourite Toronto gardening blogs. The converted barn bustled, hundreds of visitors flipping through seed packets and comparing cultivars. I slipped into the attached greenhouse for a seminar on seed starting, marveling at the rows of young plants sheltered from the cold. After wandering around to see what was available, I bought almost twenty seed packets: cherry tomatoes, assorted carrots, bok choi, bitter melon (W- loves it), and various herbs.

With the exception of bitter melons, equivalents for the herbs, fruits, and vegetables I plan to grow are readily available at a supermarket that’s within walking distance. I can buy bitter melons in Chinatown or ask W- to pick up some from Lawrence Market on his way home from work.

But there’s a certain thrill in turning over the soil and watching earthworms squirm back into the ground in search of more nutrients. Seeing something grow and remembering that just last week that patch of soil was brown and bare. Tasting something fresh and knowing that it doesn’t get much better than that.

Also, the supermarket doesn’t stock purple carrots or yellow cherry tomatoes. =) And I hate throwing away herbs if all I need is a small bit of it (I’m talking to you, parsley). Much nicer to just snip a few from a plant that can keep on growing.

This year, I’m learning how to plan ahead. I’d like to start as many plants from seed as possible instead of buying plants from the nurseries of nearby hardware stores. It promises to both be cheaper and more wide-ranging. It’ll be fun. And if it doesn’t work out, I know where to get plants that are ready for transplanting, and I know those will work in our garden. =)

I suspect gardening’s one of those hobbies I’ll grow into. I want to be like that older lady down the street, the one who grew rows and rows of bok choi, tomatoes, lettuce, and other assorted goodies in the front yard of an apartment building. I always peeked at her garden whenever we walked by.

I enjoy gardening a little bit now, and I can imagine how much more fun it will be when I can appreciate the difference between cultivars and know what kind of environment I should provide to help the plants flourish. It all begins from a seed of interest.

Looking back on her years, my mom wondered what she did with her free time and why she can’t identify any particularly physical hobbies. She ran a business and raised us—that must count for a lot of time and quite a lot of exercise. But of the different hobbies she explored, she wrote:

Embroidery, sewing, pottery, carpentry, cooking, baking – I’ve tried them all but could not go beyond introductory levels – there was not one that I was passionate about to pursue through the years.

What I’m learning about passion is this: most of the time, it doesn’t spring full-formed from the ground. Passion comes from skill and appreciation. The more you know about something, the more you can appreciate it. It’s okay to be interested but not passionate about something as you explore it.

I’m interested in gardening and sewing. I enjoy baking, and I’m getting better at it. They’re not my passions yet, but perhaps someday, they will be. I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate, and about sharing ideas through writing and presenting. It took me a while to be able to really enjoy it, but now it totally rocks.

Passions develop from seeds of interest. They benefit from a little care, thought, and time. Maybe some potential passions have longer “times to harvest” than others. Some seeds don’t germinate at all, or they grow and they don’t flourish. Others are like zucchini and can take over the rest of your garden if you don’t pay attention. Some passions go well with other passions, like companion plants. Other passions don’t go well together at all. So you do a little planning, but you can’t plan too much, because life happens and you just need to figure out how things work out.

Sometimes you need to put in the right support structure. Sometimes you need to build a protected environment – a greenhouse of time and motivation – so that new interests can survive until they’re self-sustaining.

Cultivate the ground, plant seeds, and see how things grow. Keep what you like and think about replacing what doesn’t work out. And enjoy the process, always. It’s not about the fruits of your labour (although that’s yummy!), but also all the experiences along the way.

(Tangent: My dad is an awesome gardener of opportunities. ;) )


February 23, 2010 - Categories: life

This winter feels a lot milder and happier than the others I’ve been through.

A large part of that comes from being able to work at home. I like being able to opt out of snowstorms.

Fleece bathrobes, fleece sheets, fuzzy socks, fuzzy slippers, gloves, handwarmers, apple pie, warm milk… Things might not give you happiness, but they can certainly help.

Cats and their quest for warmth.

Cooking, baking, preserving, sewing, writing, drawing — hobbies for those indoor days.


So maybe it wasn’t seasonal affective disorder after all, just the need to adapt.

Wiki organization challenge – thinking out loud

February 24, 2010 - Categories: ibm, organization, work

I’m working on organizing the training material for three workshops that we’re bringing together. Our goals are to share common practices and tips, while making it easy for people to find workshop-specific information. I should store the information in a Lotus Connections community wiki, as WikiCentral is deprecated. Lotus Connections wikis don’t have the {include} macro yet, so I can’t reuse chunks of material easily. My challenge is: how can I organize the information so that people can easily find what they need?

Here are a few options I’m considering:

  • Create lots of individual pages with links. I can create pages for common information and other pages for workshop-specific information, tying them all together with links. I can create multiple pathways through the information by using links, and I can create navigation pages too. Colour-coding the links makes it easier for people to pick out which link they want to follow. When Lotus Connections adds support for includes, I can use that to create master pages that include all the relevant information. Advantages: Each page is simple and short. Editing is easy. Linking between pages is easy. Disadvantages: People have to view at least two pages in order to get the information they need for a single workshop. Browsing will require a lot of clicking.
  • Organize information by common steps, and put workshop-specific information in sections or tabs. The main organization would be the common steps in the process, which works best if there are lots of common steps. Each page would start with common tips, followed by hyperlinks to sections on the page with the workshop-specific information. Advantages: People see both the common tips and workshop-specific information on one page. They can browse through steps in chronological order. Disadvantages: Including all three workshops on a page makes the page longer. Navigating to the right section still requires more clicks.
  • Organize information by workshop, and provide links to common tips. There would be one page per workshop, with links to additional information and common resources. Advantages: It’s easy for people to see all the workshop-related information. Disadvantages: The pages will get really, really long. People don’t like scrolling.

Fortunately, I don’t have to do things correctly the first time around. I think I’ll experiment with creating lots of individual pages with links. It feels more wiki-like for me. It also makes it easier to grow the wiki as we add more material. If we find that this involves too much clicking, then we’ll have a good idea of which pages we need to combine.

Thinking about indexing and connecting the dots

February 25, 2010 - Categories: connecting, ibm, kaizen, reflection

Because of my presentations and my “Enterprise 2.0 evangelist” description in our corporate directory, people e-mail me to find out about Web 2.0-related resources. I usually don’t have the experience or the materials they’re looking for, but I can often refer them to someone who does.

If I’ve seen documents matching their interests (usually through people’s shared files and on wikis), I point them to those documents directly. If I don’t know of any relevant resources, I direct people to the large Web 2.0 for Business community, sending them a link to my tips for asking communities for help as well. I also help by posting the help request for them, if they are unsure about posting in communities, and by following up through e-mail if they don’t get enough response.

W- and I often talk about “indexing” resources, like the way a search engine indexes web pages. When we go to a new store and we have some time, we usually walk the aisles. We aren’t planning to buy anything, but we want to get a sense of what’s out there.

I index information as well. I’ll read a lot of things that may not be immediately useful because I may be able to connect the dots later on. I slurp in computer help files, lists of available software, nonfiction books, other people’s blogs, and so on. I don’t remember all of it, but I usually remember enough to point people in the right direction.

If lots of people ask me similar things, I build better pathways. I bookmark resources that I refer people to so that I can find things faster next time. If I frequently refer to those bookmarks, I might create a wiki page or blog post that organizes information better. If I find myself connecting dots even more frequently, I document what I know and push that out into the community. That way, I focus my resources on things that are frequently used.

My role takes advantage of this strength, which the Strengths Finder book describes as the strength of Input. I create and organize enablement material, reach out to subject-matter experts, and help people answer all kinds of questions. I help other consultants find material and people for workshops, and I occasionally facilitate workshops as well. Because I can pull examples and ideas out of my collection, it’s easy for me to respond to people’s questions or build on people’s thoughts.

There are a number of ways I can get better at this:

  • I can cast a wider net when learning about resources. For example, I read almost all the blog posts inside IBM when the volume was still manageable. Now that the internal blogging platform is too lively to watch, I can use filters to focus on topics I care about. I can also look at other places like shared files and profile updates.
  • I can keep track of mavens and connectors in other areas. Being able to go to other people to learn more about their specialties saves me a lot of time and helps us all create more value. If I can figure out who’s passionate about what, that helps us optimize the network.
  • I can braindump more, and I can organize those thoughts more effectively. The more I write down and share, the more efficiently I can look things up again, and the more people can help themselves.

I really like exercising this strength at IBM. There are so many resources and so many talented people around the organization. Because it’s such a large company, people can’t hold the entire network in their head or remember where all the assets are. There’s also a lot of infrastructure that helps us connect people, with a culture of strong communities and emerging tools for social networking.

So that’s one of the things that I get to do at work, how I do it, and how I can do it better. =)

The Shy Presenter: braindumping an introvert’s guide to public speaking

February 26, 2010 - Categories: braindump, presentation, speaking

Why speak

  • You’ll learn even more about your topic
  • You’ll meet lots of people without having to start the conversation
  • You can make a bigger difference


  • Don’t know what to share
  • Don’t know how to share it
  • Don’t know whom to share it with
  • Anxious about reception

Typical approach (scary!)

  • Practice with friend or mirror
  • Join Toastmasters and other speaking groups to work on confidence and delivery
  • Typical advice doesn’t help you figure out what you want to say, how you want to say it, and how to get up there

Here’s another way

  • Write (journal or blog) until you figure out what other people ask you for help about or something that can save other people time
  • Test your material by writing a blog post.
  • Share a lot of blog posts so that there are plenty of opportunities.
  • When you see that there’s interest, test your topic again by making a short slide deck. Share this on Slideshare or some other presentation site. Keep your presentation short and simple. Less to remember, less to forget.
  • Share lots of those and see which take off.
  • Based on interest, decide which ones you want to turn into a webinar. Webinars are a good way to start because you can refer to your notes and not worry too much about body language.
  • Propose your webinar to a virtual conference or webinar series organizer.
  • If accepted, revise your slides, rehearse your ideas, and go for it!

Why this works

You’ve already done the hard work of thinking through your topic, checking for interest / sense, and preparing your slides.

You don’t have to worry about people not being interested or people not finding value in your work because you’ve tested the topics beforehand.

You can connect with a friendly audience before and after your talk.

Next steps

Make a list of things you know that other people might benefit from.

Write a journal entry or blog post that explains one of those things. Repeat.

On vintage portaits and wedding photography

February 27, 2010 - Categories: Uncategorized

With my dad and my sister both professional photographers, I have a deep appreciation for the way pictures can bring a story to life.

W- and I are getting married on August 21. We’ve been thinking about whether we want to do the full-blown wedding photography package or go with something simpler.

I don’t particularly feel the urge to have every little detail of our small ceremony memorialized. Pictures would be a nice way to share the spirit of the celebrations with friends who couldn’t make it, but then again, we’ll probably have plenty of snapshots from both our camera-happy families. Given a choice between budgeting for fancy photographs (which can go well into thousands of dollars) or, say, helping my family come and experience Toronto, I’d pick snapshots + experiences.

I do want to have some formal pictures, though. I’ve always liked the look—no, more than that, the story—of vintage photographs in family albums. Pictures of parents and grandparents when they were young and just starting out.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Photo uploaded in 2007 by dlisbonaCreative Commons Attribution Licence 2.0

Photo uploaded in 2008 by Spiterman – Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic Licence

And just imagine, now, people can actually smile instead of holding a stiff expression for minutes!

I’m happy to skip all the other typical wedding pictures – the rings casting heart-shaped shadows on a book, the bridal party getting their hair done, the bouquet, and so on. I just want a few good portraits of us and of our combined families. Given that people managed to take these great photos back when they didn’t have speedlights or Photoshop, it should be so much easier now.

But I’m having a hard time looking for a photographer who’s okay with large groups and simple set-ups, who knows a lot about working with light, and who’ll do just a few set-ups instead of a full wedding package.

It would be nice to have a picture with everyone. If we have to, we’ll fiddle with the self-timer or remote. There’s gotta be some way to do this. We’d be happy to pay someone a reasonable amount to get great pictures with less stress. So, know anyone who can make ~25 people in Toronto look timelessly good?

Getting ready for a new adventure

February 28, 2010 - Categories: life, love


I didn’t think about weddings when I was growing up. I didn’t clip pictures of pretty dresses or fantasize about flowers. I thought I had to choose between making a big difference and living a “normal” life—with a great relationship, perhaps, but still constrained by the obligations of joint decision-making. I didn’t dream of white gowns and lace. I dreamt of living in an apartment, perhaps near a university or a library, and perhaps with two or three cats.

I was surprised to learn that a great relationship can help you grow in unexpected ways.

For example: I was beginning to feel the tic of stress building up around the typical tensions of planning a wedding. We had wanted to keep the guest list small in order to avoid overwhelming ourselves and our guests. Limiting the guests to just our families seemed to be the easiest and least stressful way to do it. A clear boundary. No difficult decisions about who to include and who not to. And perhaps W-, I, and our two families would get to know each other better without the distraction of other friends. I still wanted to host a get-together thanking my friends for helping make Toronto a second home, but a second party could do for that. Limiting the wedding and the reception to family seemed like the least stressful way to plan that day.

Then my mom asked if we could invite four close family friends, people she hadn’t seen in a while but whom she has kept in touch with and who have been wonderfully supportive throughout the years.

I wavered. Should we offer to host another party? Should we include them, even if they might feel a little left out? Should I then go ahead and invite some of my closest friends as well?

I explained the situation to W-.

He said: “It’s their wedding, too.”

In that moment, all that stress went away. All it took was the right perspective.

As much as all those wedding planning websites and blogs would have us believe that it’s our day—or worse, that it’s the bride’s day—our families are the reason why we’re celebrating a wedding instead of heading down to City Hall with two witnesses.

It’s our wedding. By that, I mean it’s not just W- and my wedding, but it’s our families’ too. And friends. And worlds.

(Friends are wonderful and I’d love to include as many as possible, too, but once I start including friends, I get tempted to throw a party for 150+ people, and then my introverted side hides under the imaginary table and eats chocolate. So we’ll plan one party at a time, and maybe have lots of small parties instead of one big one. =) And there are even more friends I’d like to include as a way of thanks for helping me get here as well as for future insights and advice. Challenge: I don’t know everyone. It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child, and y’all are an amazing village.)

English is quite limited when it comes to this idea of “ours”. A tangential story: My mom once told my sister, “We’re going to Hong Kong.” My sister was excited about the idea of going there. My mom clarified: “No, we—your dad and I—are going to Hong Kong.” In Filipino, it’s the difference between kami and tayo. We-exclusive versus we-inclusive. Namin versus natin. Our-exclusive versus our-inclusive.

And I love that W-, for  whom English, Cantonese, and French do not capture that distinction between our-exclusive and our-inclusive,  reminded me of that and helped me get an even better perspective on things.

See, this is one of the wonderful things that gives me a lot of hope about the scary thing called commitment. Making decisions with another person, having another person’s perspective, sharing experiences with another person, and being inspired by another person—by golly, that really can make life even more amazing.