Category Archives: happy

Patternicity, how things come together, and happiness

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!

Happy-do, epiphanies, and relentless improvement

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. =)

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

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!

Work-life balance and the good life

Over a two-hour Skype conversation, Jason Watson (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia) picked my brain for ideas for a Web 2.0 course. One of the things he mentioned was that reading about gardening, sewing, and all these other non-work interests on my blog reassured him that people didn’t have to spend all their time blogging, bookmarking, or otherwise building a digital presence. You can share things online and do your work and have a life (an awesome one, even!).

Score one for the benefits of work-life balancing, then. Not only do I end up with lots of interesting stories, but I also help people see that these things are doable. =)

The conversation reminded me of how my manager sometimes thinks I must be under-reporting my hours. He occasionally says something like, “But Sacha, what about all the other learning that you do? I know you might feel guilty about writing down all those hours…” To which I often respond, “Err, umm, I actually do have a life.” ;) A quiet, at-home-ish life, but a pretty darn good life nonetheless. (And if this is a career-limiting move, that’s good to know–it’ll mean I’ll find or make opportunities somewhere I and other people can flourish!)

I sometimes spend my evenings and weekends exploring technology. More often, though, I spend those precious concentrated blocks of time on other pursuits: spending time with W- and J-, experimenting with virtual assistance or presentations, working in the garden or on my sewing, inhaling vast quantities of books from the library, preparing the groundwork. Certainly some of these things can benefit my company, but the connection might not be direct or immediate. Besides, I already have so much fun at work–coaching people, developing systems, sharing what I’m learning, influencing people’s behaviors and moods along the way. I like giving myself the freedom to let my thoughts explore all sorts of directions without necessarily focusing on work.

I suspect this has a large part to do with the happiness and energy people find so remarkable. =) And if I could just figure out how to help people try this out, that would be awesome.

Personal finance and work-life balance are surprisingly similar. Many people feel starved for both time and money. They live from paycheque to paycheque and moment to moment, stressed out by what they lack. Their conditions impose limits on them, and they end up without the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities. If you don’t have savings, you’ll find it hard to respond to emergencies or take advantage of a good deal. If you don’t give yourself time, you’ll find it hard to respond to changes or to fully enjoy each moment.

The combination of a healthy emergency fund, long-term savings, and an opportunity fund is tremendously liberating. Time is even more precious. Giving myself the space to explore, learn, to grow, to share, to live–that’s what allows me to enjoy all the other moments, too. It allows me to appreciate the wonderful people I get to share these moments with and the fantastic experiences we have. It allows me to experiment with new tools and new ideas, so I always keep learning.

Work-life balance is a personal thing. For some people, their ideal life might involve a whole lot of work. That’s totally okay, too. If they’re happy, they’re happy!

I don’t know if you can just give this kind of experience to someone else. Many lottery winners commit suicide. Giving people the gift of time doesn’t quite do the thing, either. What questions can I ask and what stories and experiences can I share so that people can explore this?

Even the dentist’s assistant thinks I’m happy =)

I remember brushing my teeth under the watchful gaze of a small wooden sign on which was painted these words: “Be true to your teeth or they will be false to you later.”

I’m a little paranoid about my teeth. I once spent a good twenty minutes obsessing about a particle stuck in my left inferior molar because I didn’t have a toothpick or toothpick-equivalent handy. (W- came to the rescue with some chewing gum, which eventually solved the problem.) I can’t go to bed without flossing. I run to the dentist at the slightest hint of a potential cavity.

Which is why, just a few months after my last general cleaning, I was back in the dentist’s office for some preventive maintenance.

I walked into the office a few minutes before my appointment. The office manager looked up and asked, “You have an assistant?” We had a great discussion about delegation and virtual assistance. I gave her the short URL to my summary post (http://bit.ly/va101), and she scanned through the first few pages of my blog. She saw my entry on Taking the Stage, and we talked about leadership and mentoring. I pulled out my iPod to take notes, and she asked me about my favourite iPod applications. I told her about CarbonFin Outliner and Toodledo, and she showed me the piano program she’d been using.

We chatted for about fifteen minutes. By this time, the dentist had long finished with the previous patient, and was just standing in the doorway, shaking his head and laughing at the two of us chatting away.

When I finally went in and settled into the dentist’s chair, the dentist joked that he’d have to put in really expensive fillings to make up for all the new iPod applications and services he would have to get. ;) So we had a good laugh about that, too, and I told them a few stories about my aforementioned concern about teeth-related things, sharing bits and pieces during the times when I didn’t have pointy instruments in my mouth.

The assistant leaned over and said, “Happy girl, eh?”

I grinned (carefully).

So yes, it is possible to be happy at the dentist’s. Going early and going often tends to help. =) Oh, and experimenting with interesting ideas (like virtual assistance) leads to interesting conversations. And sharing things on your blog can lead to other interesting conversations, too. It’s all good stuff.

Enterprise 2.0: The business value of social networks

Both our internal Social Networks Analysis community and Colleen Haikes (IBM External Relations) tipped me off to some absolutely fascinating research on the quantitative correlation between social networks and performance based on an analysis of IBM consultants. You can read the research summary and view the presentation, or read the research paper for all the details. Highlights and what I think about them:

  • Structurally diverse networks with abundance of structural holes are associated with higher performance. Having diverse friends helps. The presentation gives more detail – it’s not about having a diverse personal network, but it’s about connecting to people who also have diverse networks. I suspect this is related to having connectors in your network.
  • Betweenness is negatively correlated. Being a bridge between a lot of people is not helpful. The presentation clarified this by saying that the optimal team composition is not a team of connected superstars, but complementary team members with a few well-connected information keepers.
  • Strong ties are positively correlated with performance for pre-sales teams, but negatively correlated with performance for consultants. Pre-sales teams need to build relationships, while consultants often need to solve a wide variety of challenges.
  • Look! Actual dollar values and significant differences! Wow. =)

    Here’s another piece of research the totally awesome IBM researchers put together:

    A separate IBM study, presented at the CHI conference in Boston this week, sheds light on why it’s easier said than done to add new, potentially valuable contacts to one’s social network in the workplace.  The study looked at several types of automated “friend-recommender” engines on social networking sites.  The recommender engines used algorithms that identified potential contacts based on common friends, common interests, and common hyperlinks listed on someone’s profile.

    Although most people using social media for the workplace claimed to be open to finding previously unknown friends, they were most comfortable with the recommender engines that suggested  “friends’ friends” — generally, people whom they already knew of.  The friend-recommenders with the lowest acceptance rates were those that merely look at whether people have similar interests — although they were the most effective at identifying completely new, potentially valuable contacts.  Friend-recommenders that took the greatest factors into account were deemed the most useful.  (IBM’s Facebook-style social networking site, Beehive, uses this type of friend-recommender engine.)

    Personally, I don’t use friend recommenders to connect to completely new people, but they’re great for reminding me about people I already know.

    Check out the research – it’s good stuff. =)

    (cross-posted from our external team blog, The Orange Chair)