Category Archives: kaizen

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Kaizen: unsqueaking

It’s really kinda strange. Seven hundred people? Not a problem. I can deliver a presentation. Two people? I get a lot more fidgety.

When I’m talking about something I’m passionate about, I find myself speeding up, flicking through things, jumping on tangents, even shaking ever so slightly. This is good for infecting people with enthusiasm, but a little more challenging for comprehension. ;)

It would be good to be able to control this so that I can match other people’s paces, and so that I remember to breathe. ;)

There are several aspects I can work on, and several ways I can work on them:

  • Topics: The more I write or talk about a topic, the more comfortable and familiar I become with it. I learn about what I want to say and how I want to say it. Maybe after 10,000 hours of talking about networking, I’ll get the hang of talking about it. ;) I’m good at not boring myself, so lots of practice won’t be too much practice.
  • Voice: I still tend to squeak when excited. ;) I wonder if voice coaching or lots of iterative feedback will help me bring that under control. It’s a good thing that enthusiasm is part of who I am!
  • Pacing: I need to get better at putting in pauses. I can work on that by practicing saying things slowly and with more breaks between thoughts. Perhaps audiocasting or videocasting? That way, I speak more often.
  • Vocabulary: I blog and speak with a conversational tone. It’d be good for me to be able to shift into a more formal (but not boring) mode as needed. =)
  • Listening: I definitely need to work on pausing at least one or two seconds after people say things. =)

Someday, I’ll get to the point where I can talk to people at any level without anyone feeling nervous or overwhelmed. =)

Book workflow

David Seah asked people how they process books. Here’s what I commented:

I read a _lot_ of books, and I frequently refer other people to books that match their interests. When I do so, I love being able to point people to the exact page or quote they should check out, or to send them a summary of the key points in each book. I also enjoy giving books away.

Detailed book notes and a good workflow make this easy and convenient.

ACQUISITION: I often go on reading sprints, checking out lots of books on one topic from the library. Reading many books on one area allows me to read them faster, because many books contain fluff and things I’ve already read in other books. All I’m doing when I’m scanning a non-fiction book is looking for the nuggets of information or insight that are unique to that book.

READING: I keep track of pages with interesting passages on them. Sometimes, if I’m diligent, I use slips of paper as bookmarks. Most of the times, I dogear the lower corner of the page, folding the small dogear towards the side of the page I want to remember, or double-folding the corner if I like both sides of the page. Again, I’m just scanning for “the good stuff.”

CAPTURE: After I finish a stack of books, I scan relevant passages into my computer. I usually do this on Sundays or on days before my books are due. I review each page to see whether I still want to capture the information on it, and then I place the book face-down on a flatbed scanner and scan passages with the 600 dpi line-art setting required by OCR. All of the images get saved into a directory. Sometimes I’ll dictate passages to my computer instead, using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to transcribe.

TRANSCRIPTION: I use the free and open source Tesseract optical character recognition program. It’s pretty darn good. I’ve written a batch file that processes all of my pending images, filing finished images in one directory and text in the other.

ORGANIZATION: When I find free time, I review the transcribed text, narrowing it down to just the passages I wanted, and organizing items into more of an outline. I make any TODO items for follow-up actions, too. I also take that time to think of who else might be interested in a book or excerpts from it, and I recommend the book to those people. (I picked up this tip from Love is the Killer App – handy!) All of these notes go into a somewhat structured text file on my hard disk, where quotes are indexed by books and page numbers, and tagged by topic. When I remember, I write down the ISBN and other edition information as well.

REVIEW: Every so often, I flip through random book notes. Handy way to refresh my memory and think of other connections the books remind me to make.


I’ve started copying my book notes into a custom book-notes management system I’m building. That book-notes management system also automatically builds my reading history based on the books I’ve checked out (handy because I’m too lazy to update sites like LibraryThing ;) ), and eventually it’ll help me see which books are in which stage of processing.

One thing that would make this even better would be for me to figure out what to do during book-scanning so that I don’t get distracted but I still use that time productively. ;) My hands are occupied because I’m scanning books, and I find that if I’m reading something else (either online or offline), I get distracted and I forget to finish scanning my books. Maybe listening to great music or to a podcast will do the trick. =)

Another thing that would make this process even better would be to hook it into a web-based book review system, which I may build into that system I’m putting together. That way, I can easily share my book recommendations.

The book “How to Read a Book” has many tips on choosing the appropriate approach for books and processing them effectively.

OCR works really well for me. Try it out!

Recording of Enterprise 2.0 and Knowledge Management lecture

So here’s my first experiment with publishing a picture-in-picture recording of one of presentations – specifically, the presentation I did last night.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://sachachua.com/notebook/2009/talks/200802-enterprise2.0-and-knowledge-management-3/200802-enterprise2.0-and-knowledge-management-3_controller.swf?csConfigFile=http://sachachua.com/notebook/2009/talks/200802-enterprise2.0-and-knowledge-management-3/200802-enterprise2.0-and-knowledge-management-3_config.xml" height="355" width="560" /]

Slides and class notes
Planning the talk

Lessons learned:

  • The audio from the webcam turned out to be much clearer than Camtasia Studio’s recording, because Camtasia picked up only the audio from the computer’s microphone. I need to fiddle with the settings some more to get Camtasia to listen only to the webcam. The audio was better than the audio on my voice recorder, too. That’s probably because my voice recorder was on the table behind me, and I didn’t have a lapel microphone. If I add a belt clip to my voice recorder and dig up that lapel mic I bought some time ago, that would be a good experiment.
  • I remembered to set everything up! Hooray! Voice recorder, webcam, and Camtasia recording of slides.
  • Splicing the slides and the webcam video was easy, although I kept running into weird problems – my silenced audio still kept showing up in the finished video. I deleted the Camtasia recording of my presentation and manually inserted my slides.
  • I lowered the video quality to 3 frames per second. It’s a bit jerky, but it does shave off some 20MB of disk usage. What do you think? I could also try rerecording this (or recording a different talk) with a close-up webcam video.
  • I’m hosting everything on my own site, as I haven’t found a good place to put things like this yet.
  • I spoke slower this time. Occasionally sipping water reminded me to slow down and breathe. This is good.
  • I enjoyed answering and asking questions. If I were to do this talk again, I’d probably trim this down to five or seven items and then have more of a discussion.
  • It was a good idea to get someone to promise to take notes and share them. Yay! I should build up a store of things to give away.
  • My computer was at stage left, so I could read the screen without looking back.
  • I suspect I’m right-biased in terms of eye contact, so I can make more of a conscious effort to look to the left. I did make sure to make eye contact with folks there some of the time.
  • My left mouse click is still broken (it’s software, not hardware; very strange) and my wireless mouse ran out of battery. Fortunately, I figured out how to use Microsoft Windows MouseKeys, so I could still set up everything I needed to set up before the presentation.
  • W- was there for transportation and moral support. I’m so lucky!

To make this even better next time, I can:

  • Put the webcam on stage right instead of stage left, for a more natural orientation when viewing the video and slides. This could be a challenge, because projecting stations are usually on stage left.
  • Offer other incentives for people to take notes and share them
  • Figure out better hosting for the video
  • Experiment with different video and audio settings
  • Start saving up for a digital camcorder?

Kaizen – relentless improvement! =)

Reflections on presentation; looking for a coach

Photo (c)
helios89, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license

“So, who’s your mentor? Who’s on the hook for you?” asked my manager during our one-on-one session. He had been reading my posts about presentations and meetings, and he wanted to know what–or who–could help me take it to the next level. I was very good at sharing my enthusiasm and technical knowledge with others. If I could figure out how to communicate with managers and executives, I can do even more.

I told him that I still get nervous in small meetings and I still let my enthusiasm run away with me, and that I’d like to learn how to talk to different perspectives, personalities, and learning styles. I also shared how I’d been thinking about getting a presentation or speaking coach. I enjoy giving presentations and it seems I can create a lot of value with them, so it makes sense to learn how to do them really, really well. I’m particularly interested in learning how to do remote presentations and small in-person meetings well. Remote presentations and video will give me much more reach, and small in-person meetings are similar to the kind of work we do in consulting.

After our meeting, I thought about what could help me get even better at communicating in both large presentations and small meetings.

I’d been to Toastmasters in the past, and I had completed the ten-speech introductory program that earned me the Competent Communicator designation. I appreciated the structure of each meeting and the clear objectives for each speech, and the contests and international conventions were great places to see good speakers. In my weekly Toastmasters meeting with a downtown club, though, I found myself wanting more. I needed:

  • feedback that focused on deeper skills, not just delivery techniques,
  • inspiring role models who could deliver effective interactive presentations remotely as well as in person, and
  • insight on structuring longer talks or remote talks to keep people engaged and to build on interaction.

Presentation skills: content, organization, and delivery

Many public speaking courses focus on the mechanics of delivery. There’s certainly a lot of value in polishing technique: eliminating “ums” and “ahs”; learning how to use pauses, body language, and props; using rhetorical structures and dynamic voice. If you want to improve your delivery and gain confidence, Toastmasters is a good way to do it.

I’m pretty happy with the way I deliver presentations. I can improve my delivery in small-group meetings, but that’s probably a matter of practice. I’m a good presenter, regularly receiving high ratings. Although my current toolkit of delivery techniques don’t cover all situations, I do pretty well.

What would make a real difference, however, is getting _really_ good at content and organization. Based on my Toastmasters experience, I think it and other public speaking resources are great at teaching delivery, but don’t go into as much depth when it comes to content and organization.

There’s no shortcut to developing good content. I need experience, and I need to learn as much as I can from other people. I’m doing several things to increase my chances of stumbling across good content:

  • I read a ton of books and blogs, looking for insights and stories. This gives me raw material for talks and helps me draw connections between topics.
  • I ask and answer lots of questions, learning a lot in the process. This gives me a sense of what people are interested in and learning more about, and I learn about their perspectives too.
  • I constantly test ideas by posting them on my blog, volunteering to give presentations, and creating other material. This gives me feedback on what people want to learn more about and what I can teach them, helps me improve my communication skills, and grows my network (often leading to other speaking opportunities). Over time, ideas grow from mindmaps to blog posts to articles to presentations to related ideas.

Good content is good, but good content combined with good organization is memorable and effective. This is where illustrations, mnemonics, alliteration, storytelling, and other structures come in handy. If I can learn how to get really good at organizing ideas, I’ll be able to apply that skill to writing, speaking, and other things I do. Here’s what I’m doing to learn more about organizing content:

  • I practice illustrating complex ideas with photography, sketches, and diagrams. This helps me understand topics better, engage visual learners, and communicate more effectively.
  • I take apart and reassemble other presentations, reflecting on how I would’ve structured them. Example of my reconstruction
  • I mindmap, write and speak a lot. This challenges me to structure what I’m thinking and what I want to say. Once I’ve gotten things out of my head, I can refine the structure to make it better.
  • I read articles and books, check out presentations, and watch talks, keeping an eye out for how people structure their communication. (It’s quite meta.)

Stay tuned for more posts about role models, long or remote talks, and coaching!

Scaffolds and structures

I often talk about leverage and scale: creating as much value as I can for as many people as I can. Now that I’ve been with IBM for a while, I see the personal benefits of that practice in the assignments I get and the help I offer my coworkers. In a way, I build scaffolds to help people to do more.

Scaffolding Photo (c) 2008 Kevin Dooley (Creative Commons Attribution License)

One of the ways I’ve contributed to my team is by integrating a regression-testing framework into our Drupal project.On the team call last Tuesday, the project manager asked if everyone had seen the e-mail he had sent about testing, and if anyone had any comments. I reported that I had built the features that were assigned to me, but I was waiting for someone else to confirm testing. He asked if we could look into automated regression tests, too. I laughed and said we’d had them for months. I had even integrated them into the build and deployment script I’d written, but the other developers said that running the whole regression suite of project-related tests took too much time, so I turned that off. Still, I regularly ran full regression tests on my system, using customized versions of Drush and Simpletest.

I enjoy doing things like that: completing my tasks ahead of schedule and using the rest of the time to think of ways to optimize how people work. =) Kaizen – relentless improvement!

What does wild success look like? Kaizen and life; tweaking mornings

Photo © 2009 david.nikonvscanon (Creative Commons Attribution License)

“What does wild success look like?” I often ask that question when I want to clarify what we want to do and how we want to get there. I ask myself that question as well. If I could be wildly successful at whatever I want to do, what would life look like? Sketching a picture of what I want or writing about how it feels helps me figure out what kind of life I’d like to grow into, and the vision helps me figure out what I need to do to get there.

Sometimes I think about grand things, like the kind of difference I’d like to make. Sometimes I focus on the mechanics and the details – what does the day feel like? What are my routines? Who do I talk to? Both perspectives help me flesh out my sketch.

Sure, there are erasures as I change my mind, smudges as I blend different colors together, and lots of different versions of wild success depending on what I’m thinking about or how I’m feeling, but it’s a terrific tool for thinking long-term.

For example, here’s something I scribbled down on my iPod Touch while on the subway:

I wake up at 5:00 AM to opera, light, colors, cats, kisses, or whatever gives me a great start to my day. I exercise a little to get my blood flowing, and I have a healthy breakfast of steel-cut oats or fresh fruit. Then I gear up for a morning of creative work, settling into a comfy chair or setting up on the kitchen table for a four-hour session of brainstorming, writing code, and preparing articles and presentations. I snack on fruit and nuts along the way. I have a light lunch or head out to lunch with friends. Then I tackle more routine tasks: responding to mail, following up, editing and formatting documents, testing code, taking care of chores, reviewing delegated work, and other things. I make dinner and enjoy it with people I love, and spend the rest of the evening reading or enjoying people’s company. After tidying up and taking care of other things, I go to bed, happy with the work I did that day.

There’s more to it than that, and there are multiple versions too, but this is the one we’ll focus on for this blog post.

One of the advantages of envisioning wild success is that you often realize that it’s not too difficult to make it happen. The routine I’ve outlined doesn’t look too different from my typical day working at home. Because I’ve sketched the different components of my “ideal day”, I can start testing those parts to see if I can fit them into my life and if they really do contribute to happiness.

For example, I’ve been testing out this early-morning wakeup thing. I know that waking up and rushing through my morning routine is Not Fun. I also know that I enjoy creating “flow” space to do creative work in the early morning, and that I enjoy making breakfast for W- and J-. So an early morning wake-up time makes sense to me. But there are a couple of things I need to figure out in order to make this really work:

  • I don’t like waking up and bearing a grudge against the alarm clock. I’ve heard that gentler wake-up systems that use light and music to ease people into wakefulness are helpful. Dawn simulators (daylight alarm clocks) are a bit pricey and I think I’ll get more use out of an iPod clock radio with speakers, so I’ll go for that instead. Gradually waking up in the process of making breakfast seems to work too.
  • I feel guilty about disturbing others when I set the alarm clock very early, particularly as I’m also prone to hitting the snooze button. The way to deal with this is to fill my mornings with stuff that makes me want to jump out of bed. =)
  • My timing is not quite right. If I wake up really early and go to bed really early, I might get too out-of-sync with the rest of the folks. If I wake up early, but not early enough, and I need to go to the office, I don’t get as much flow time because it gets broken up by breakfast and the commute. I prefer commuting during daylight because it’s a bit warmer and brighter then. Given that, there are a couple of ways I can tweak my timing:
    • I can let myself wake up naturally, have breakfast and go to work, and then have a late lunch (buoyed by a morning snack). This gives me flow time.
    • I can wake up at 5, stumble through breakfast, eat something quickly, and work from home in the mornings, coming into work in the afternoon if needed.
    • I can wake up at 5, stumble through breakfast, eat something quickly, commute to work, get lots of stuff done, come home early, and enjoy people’s company at dinner.

So if I want to wake up even happier and have even more productive mornings (which is difficult if I feel tired or stressed), I can tweak my life so that:

  • I experiment with ways to wake up gently
  • I wake up with a clear idea of things to look forward to and some activities to do as my brain warms up
  • I never commit to anything in the late evening so that I can go to bed whenever I feel like it

Then I’ll be a little bit closer to figuring out what a wildly successful day looks and feels like… =)

What does your ideal day look like?

Photo © 2009 david.nikonvscanon (Creative Commons Attribution License)