Category Archives: purpose

Figuring out my own path to awesomeness

Following up on a previous reflection about working within my current constraints, I was thinking about multiple models of awesomeness.

  • There’s the 10X Hero Programmer idea of someone who can brilliantly cut through the clutter and write just the code that’s needed to solve the problem you didn’t know you had. Awesomeness might involve being able to perceive the true need, bring together different components, and create something solid.
  • There are architects and team enablers who can work within organizations (both formal and informal) to make bigger things happen. Awesomeness might involve balancing multiple trade-offs, keeping track of complex structures, and using soft skills to get stuff done.
  • There are people who envision products and services, bringing them to the people who need them. They might create things themselves, or they might invest in forming a team to create things.
  • There are people who create bridges for other people so that they can get started or they can develop their skills. Awesomeness might involve presenting things in a clear, logical, inspiring, and useful manner. Plenty of role models doing cool stuff in this area, and lots of ways to grow.

Oh, that’s interesting. That makes sense to me. I can see myself growing into that last one. It fits the things that tickle my brain.

I don’t have to worry about doing Clever Things or Big Things. As I get better at doing what I already enjoy doing, sharing what I’m learning and helping other people along the way, I’ll find my own path to awesomeness.

Reflecting on motives

I’ve been thinking about motives and bigger dreams lately. I have a good foundation for experiments, and I probably should be building something bigger on top of it. But I don’t resonate with the entrepreneurial stories of passion and focus. I don’t start with a vision of how the world should be and then work backwards from there in order to make it reality. I don’t dream of dollars or media mentions when starting an experiment. So if those aren’t the things that get me going, what does?

2014-10-21 Exploring my current motives

2014-10-21 Exploring my current motives

A couple of recent decisions are helping me learn more about my motives. Over dinner, one of the Hacklab board members asked me if I would consider helping with bookkeeping, since the current volunteer was struggling with some of the work. After some deliberation, I agreed to help out. I noticed that my reasons for doing so were primarily because I felt Hacklab board had good people in it, and that solid financial information could help us navigate this somewhat precarious period.

On another note, I’m wrapping up the consulting engagement I’ve been working on for the past two and a half years. I said yes to that primarily because the person who asked me had good karma. He had helped me get into and make the most of IBM, so I wanted to help him and his team as well.

These two decisions helped me realize how strongly I’m motivated by helping specific people, versus being motivated by a grand vision, the desire to help a general class of people, or other reasons. I hadn’t realized the extent before, but now that I look closely, I can see how it plays out. I like prototyping because I can quickly build things with lots of feedback from people who will actually be using the tools. I like automation because I can save specific people time and effort. I like helping people with Emacs because of the individual quirks of their workflows.

I do have other motives, too. Sometimes I do things out of curiosity and because they tickle my brain. Tracking data and tweaking Emacs for myself belong to this category. Sometimes I do things because I think they will be useful, like writing and drawing.

I feel like I have small-m motives rather than the big-M Motives you read about in the biographies of people who change the world. I like working on a small, personal scale. Does that mean I should just focus on small dreams, gradually growing them in size? Are these motives something I can tinker with, work around, or transform into even better strengths?

2014-10-22 People who follow similar motivations well

2014-10-22 People who follow similar motivations well

Fortunately, I can look around me for role models living good lives following similar motivations. My parents also seem highly motivated by helping specific people. For example, my dad wanted to help one boy with autism who was interested in photography. That grew into a large initiative called Photography with a Difference. He’s also motivated by curiosity and crazy ideas, like the way he decided to go on a cross-country ultralight flight. My mom was once asked about passion and work. She replied, “John’s passion is photography. My passion is John.” She focused on building an advertising photography business so that my dad could do amazing things behind the camera. W- seems motivated by helping specific people, too, and he also focuses on doing things well. Many of my friends who are into programming are into it because of curiosity and the joy of creation (it helps that it pays the bills, too!). On my best days, I do what I do because I get to help specific people, follow my curiosity, and build resources that might be useful.

So if you can live a good life even with “small-scale” motives like this (compared to, say, the desire to reshape the world), what does that mean for me? How can I make things a little bit better? And–just to play with the idea–what would it be like if I had different motives?

2014-10-21 Reflecting on my primary motives

2014-10-21 Reflecting on my primary motives

I’m not strongly influenced by everyone, but since I do have that desire to help specific people, I can be deliberate about the people I spend time with and include in this consideration. It works out well if helping people out also helps me build skills and resources. It also works out well if I can expand to a group of good people, so I’m not anchored by only one person. For example, having gotten to know the rest of the team during my consulting gig, I feel like they’re also good people I’m happy to help.

I want to balance the people motive, though. This is such a strong pull on my brain, and it’s so tempting to work on other people’s tasks instead of following my own curiosities or developing my own things. I can de-emphasize this by being selective about the tasks I take on, picking the things that are best-aligned to what I want to learn or do anyway. I can also carve off time for self-directed interests, since I’ll probably benefit from training myself to get even better at following curiosity and making things I can build on later.

It would probably be very difficult to swap out my motives, going from concrete to abstract, even if it would theoretically be interesting to do so. Ah well. I’ll start by working with what I have, but it might be interesting to see if I can experiment with being an Alternate Universe Sacha just in case I discover I actually like it.

Anyway, what kinds of things do I want to be able to do with slightly tweaked motives?

2014-10-22 What would I like to be able to do with sustained motivation

2014-10-22 What would I like to be able to do with sustained motivation

I think it would be interesting to play around with Emacs, open source, and other tools, getting the hang of building more resources. It would probably be good to be able to fully enjoy DIY skills (including sewing) and other things that are good for me, like exercise. If I can notice things about these activities that line up with the things that currently motivate me — or tweak my motivations so that I like more of the things that are good for me — maybe that will make this stuff easier to do and easier to stick with.

Hmm…

Travel kaizen and the meaning of life

What do I want to do with my life? Is it worth the trade-offs? How can I make it more worthwhile?

If I’m clear about the meaning of my life and I know that it’s worth the challenges (like travel!) along the way, then relentless optimism will kick in and show me the silver lining to whatever happens. =)

So, what do I want to do with my life?

I want to share what I’m learning. This matters because it means other people can build on what I’ve figured out, and maybe they’ll be inspired to share what they’re learning, too. I don’t need travel in order to share, but travel helps me learn from other people.

I want to help figure out how people can connect and work together all around the world. This matters because I want people to be able to do their best wherever they are, not limited by the geographic lottery. Someday I’ll be able to do this without travel. Right now, sometimes I need to be there in person.

I want to live an awesome life. This matters because I can train people to do most of what I do at work, but I can’t delegate love or experiences. I worry that travel might get in the way of this, but if I learn how to do things better, maybe I can use travel to enrich life.

What can I do to make travel better for work, relationships and life?

  • I can lighten W-‘s load. This could include arranging for cat sitting or dropping the cats off at a cat hotel, doing extra chores before/after the trip to share the workload, taking transit or a cab, and so on.
  • I can meet up with more people and sit in more meetings, like the wonderful times I had in Cambridge and in London.
  • I can try different kinds of food each time, and make more of an effort to get to restaurants with great reviews.
  • I can take my gym clothes along and use the exercise facilities at the hotel. This might mean checking in, as my carry-on is often tightly packed with electronics and travel-ready business clothes. Who knows, maybe it would be great to bring along a folding bicycle. Mel Chua does that. =)
  • I can skip watching television or old movies. If I didn’t think it was worth finding and watching, then it’s probably not worth watching just because it’s there. I can spend the time writing or reading instead.
  • I can fill my iPod with interesting e-books and audiobooks. Time to go through the classics I haven’t read yet…
  • I can wake up earlier, since I don’t need to worry about disturbing anyone.
  • I can set up a calling card, or pay for the Net connection.

Hmm… I just need to figure out how to look at this, and then everything will move more smoothly.

Training wheels for setting goals

“Do you have any good questions to encourage people to set goals?” my mom asked. She’s been having a hard time getting people in the office to set personal and business goals. She’s tried worksheets, acronyms like SMART, motivational speakers,

I suggested providing a menu of suggestions, if people had difficulty answering open-ended questions. Generic suggestions –> concrete personal goals –> actions they can take to achieve that goal. It can be hard to dream from scratch. Ideas, guide questions, and role models help a lot. They’re like training wheels for setting goals.

When I’m brainstorming what I want to do in life, I find that reading and listening helps. I look for what resonates with me, and then I choose elements to incorporate into my plans.

What helps you set goals? How do you help other people learn how to set goals?

Thinking about improving the connective tissue of organizations

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

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

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

  • I can teach the processes I use to find experts and resources. This enables more people to do what I do, and provides a platform that people can build on.
  • I can map the different communities, groups, and people for the subjects people often ask me about. Making the map visible brings people together.
  • I can cultivate communities and make them the go-to point for requests. Communities can reach a lot more people, bring in fresh talent, and form more connections. Vibrant communities also mean that individuals aren’t points of failure in the network.
  • I can provide feedback to our toolmakers and cultural influencers. Again, the more things we build into the framework, the easier it will be for more people to make things happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

- a consulting client quoted on p.25 of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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