August 2010

What’s success, anyway?

August 1, 2010 - Categories: happy, life, reflection

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-30 Fri 08:00

Cate Huston and I are figuring out happiness and success. She wonders if happiness inhibits success, and if that jolt of insecurity is necessary for greatness. I’m happy and successful, so I want to explore what that means, and if being content gets in the way of being great.

It seems like you need that kind of driving ambition in order to live the kind of life that gets written about in books. This is great. History has both happy geniuses and unhappy geniuses, although we tend to focus more on the unhappy geniuses. (Perhaps they make us feel better about ourselves?)

The language that we use to talk of happiness frames it as a pursuit, a goal. People dream of being happy. People work on being happy. People achieve happiness. Or they achieve their previously-set goals, only to find that the goalposts have moved. They thought they’d be happy with a hundred thousand dollars in the bank, and now they want a million.

What if happiness isn’t something to be pursued? What if it just is? What if you just are?

What if you accept the world as it is, and find your serenity and happiness in each moment? What if you don’t need to be entertained or loved each moment? What if you can find the grace in the pain and the joy of life?

I’m happy. Sometimes I’m annoyed on the surface, but I’m generally happy, and it’s fun to grow even happier–to get better at reflexive happy-do. I’m successful: I’m alive, I’m happy, and I love. (This is not dependent on being loved back, although that makes things even awesomer!)

Realization: Growth doesn’t stop when you’re doing well. Your questions change. Instead of asking, “Why does this suck?” or “How can I make this suck less?”, you ask, “How wonderful can it be? How can I help get there? How can I help more people experience this?”

A tangent: One of the interesting job openings at work is looking for people who want to challenge the status quo. Reflecting on that, I realized that my drive is different. I want to share the status quo, recognizing that there are many kinds of status quo. My status quo is that I’m happy, I have a wonderful life, and I work with an awesome organization. Within that organization, there are pockets of status quo like that. Within each person, there are moments like that. I want to bring out those moments. There will probably be resistance, even from people who already want to change, but we don’t have to be adversaries.

It’s different when you start from a perspective of abundance and love.

It will be an interesting experiment to see if I can keep this perspective through the years. Deepen it. Share it.

What’s success?

Dreaming, I could set my sights on a job title and climb the ladder; carve out a name for myself in history through endeavor; become a titan and create an empire. (It would be nice to be like Carnegie and plant libraries all over!) There are people with drive and ambition enough for that. People will do what needs to be done.

Maybe I will explore the little way, the ordinary life well-lived. As my parents’ example continues to teach me, you don’t need an Extraordinary Master Life Plan to make awesome things happen. My ordinary-but-awesome life so far is working well, although occasionally people need a reminder that these things are ordinary and doable.

So: success. What is it, anyway? If I can live, be happy, and share happiness, that should be pretty good. We can figure out how wonderful life can be (for as many people as possible) along the way.

Hmm, time to read up on philosophy again. I need better words and perspectives to explore this! =)

2010-07-27 Tue 19:42

Weekly review: Week ending August 1, 2010

August 2, 2010 - Categories: weekly


  • [X] Support upcoming workshops
  • [X] Re-use Idea Lab results
  • [X] Launch expertise pilot with SMEs
  • [X] Explore possible expertise specialist position
  • [X] Add features to community toolkit plugin
  • Helped community owners learn more about vitality and metrics
  • Added statistics to Lotus Notes community tools plugin
  • Learned how to modify Lotus Notes plugins and use Expeditor!


  • [X] Experiment with more recipes (instead of hiring cooking teacher? More sustainable, and we’ve got the basics sorted out already)
  • [-] Reflect on happiness with a friend, co-writing a blog entry – postponed to next week
  • [-] Follow up with people from tweetup, learning about them and their interests
  • [X] Coordinate with family on new date
  • Helped a friend learn more about cooking
  • Tidied up my computer
  • Had great conversations about connecting, introductions, etc.


  • [-] Organize everything into neat zippered pouches, etc.
  • [-] Declutter: Eliminate one thing a day
  • [C] Sign up for singing lessons – focusing on other things right now
  • [-] Take advantage of free studio time at the Sewing Studio (Sunday, 2pm to 6pm – get all of my cutting and serging and sewing done, and get some exercise on the way there and back too)
  • Also: Cleared and replanted parts of the garden
  • Learned more about woodworking
  • Drew, yay!
  • Explored Craigslist a little more


Long-weekend focus: declutter space, organize information


  • [  ] Organize upcoming Idea Labs
  • [  ] Answer more requests for community toolkit
  • [  ] Package Lotus Notes plugin


  • [  ] Declutter living room
  • [  ] Follow up with people, learning about them and their interests
  • [  ] Catch up with mylifeandart


  • [  ] Draw more! =)
  • [  ] Create an index for images, book notes, blog posts, etc.
  • [  ] Plan next tea party
  • [  ] Price-match blender if possible

Two days of awesome

August 3, 2010 - Categories: cooking, sketches

image I spent Saturday at Lee Valley’s Women and Power Tools seminar. In the process of building a toolbox, we got to use a circular saw, a mitre saw, a table saw, a jigsaw, a band saw, a drill press, routers (both fixed and hand-held), a belt sander, a palm sander, and a portable drill. W- and I used a circular saw, a jigsaw, and a portable drill to build our Muskoka chairs, but I wanted to try out the stationary power tools like the table saw and the drill press. We haven’t set up a permanent workshop, so all of our tools have to be portable enough to set up on the deck.

The class was lots of fun. I enjoyed meeting other women who were interested in woodworking. Our two instructors were both great role models: passionate, experienced, and engaged. I’m looking forward to seeing the list of autumn classes at Lee Valley’s and learning more.

I’m happy with the toolbox I built. The sides aren’t perfectly matched and the wood has knots, but the toolbox holds together, and the little buttons that cover the sunken screws are so cute. =)

I really liked the drill press, the belt/orbital sander, and the table saw. I think our next major tool investment might be a portable table saw, if W- and I find one that we’re happy with. But we’ll buy that only if we get into serious carpentry, like building cabinets. The folding table I’ve got on my to-build list should be doable with the tools that we have.

One of my classmates is into sewing, gardening, and woodworking too. Yay! =) Maybe she’ll come to one of my tea parties? I’d love to connect with other crafters.

imageOn Sunday, I invited Maira to come over and try batch-cooking. The kitchen at her sublet apartment is small and sparsely equipped. W- and I both enjoy cooking, and we have a decently-stocked kitchen. So Maira and I spent three hours cooking up a storm: lemon refrigerator cookies, baked chicken, and chicken with mushroom sauce. There was a lot of food. Maira took home a week or two of meals, and we stashed the rest in the chest freezer.

I’m glad I invited her to come and cook with me. It’s great to try new recipes and realize they’re not so scary, and company turns cooking into a conversation. If cooking batches works for her, then she can repeat the recipes or try new ones and manage her time more efficiently. (I spent many student days living off pans of lasagna I made for myself!) I also repotted some of my parsley for her. The large bunches of parsley in the supermarket made Maira feel bad about the potential waste, but growing parsley will let her harvest a little bit at a time.

After we dropped Maira off, we passed by Walmart to see if they had any sergers in stock. I’d like to get a serger to finish my edges more cleanly and do better rolled hems, but it’s hard to decide which one to buy. The Walmart at Dufferin Mall had two Singer 14CG74 sergers in stock. The Brother 1034D is highly recommended, but I haven’t found out where to buy it in Toronto. W- volunteered to help me do research and check out Craigslist, which is terrific because he’s really good at doing that kind of comparison shopping.


I offered to make him a green monster (vegetable smoothie), but I dropped the blender and the plastic shattered. It was the low-end blender I’d bought during my student days, so I wasn’t troubled by it. After some research, W- and I bought a KitchenAid blender from Home Outfitters. It turned out to be $50 cheaper to order the blender from FutureShop, so I’ll call Home Outfitters after the long weekend to find out if they’ll match the lower price.

As W- reminded me, a blender in hand might beat two in the mail. ;)

I’m starting to like these vegetable smoothies. They took some getting used to when we first made them, but the frozen strawberries and blueberries make them almost a treat, and we go through so much more spinach (and even kale!) than we do if we just have salad.

In other news: you know, this drawing thing is fun. I find it more fun than taking and posting pictures, even. Why haven’t I been doing this more often? Maybe because I’ve been writing about these abstract things that don’t suggest images, but that’s a good exercise for the imagination. Perhaps I can write these slice-of-life posts from time to time. I like playing with colour and ink when I draw on my computer… =)

Success and blogging

August 4, 2010 - Categories: blogging

What’s success when you’re writing a personal blog–not a niche blog which you want to make money from through ads or e-books, not a corporate blog where you want to project a certain brand, but a personal blog, a notebook into which you write whatever might be useful to you and others?

Success is not a matter of becoming wildly popular.

You succeed as soon as you grasp a thought and try to think it through, writing it down. Even if you throw away your draft and never publish it (although please do–you’ll be surprised at how valuable these sketches and attempts to explain can be), you have already gained a little more clarity and understanding.

You succeed again when you share those thoughts, getting over your fear, anxiety, and discomfort.

You succeed again when you look up your old posts for a solution you’d written down or a reflection you’d shared, saving you time figuring things out again.

You succeed again when people read your post–even several years later, brought in by search engines–and they learn something from it. You succeed again when they do something about it.

You succeed again when someone shares their thoughts in a comment, even if it’s to point out that you’ve missed something. (Another opportunity to learn!)

You succeed again when one comment turns into another, and into a serendipitous connection you might never have made.

You succeed again when you learn something, and again when you do something about it.

You succeed again when you build friendships.

There are so many different kinds of success in blogging. Don’t get distracted by all the fuss about increasing your subscriber count, building your personal brand, or making money through ads, products, or services. There’s more to it than that. Enjoy!

2010-07-28 Wed 07:46

Long weekend reflections

August 5, 2010 - Categories: life, productivity, reflection

Long weekends? We don’t pack our bags and travel, or kick our feet up and chill out at our (non-existent) cottage. We work. House-work, life-work, all the projects where investing hours of concentrated time pays.

On Monday, we played a real-life puzzle game in our living room, moving tables and boxes around until we could reorganize everything the way we wanted it. Moved the bicycles to the deck, followed by the woodworking tools and materials. With the floor-space cleared (at least a little), disassembled the table and rolled it out to the porch for donation. Moved the bric-a-brac hiding behind the table to their rightful places, then moved the piano into the space formerly occupied by the table. Moved the coffee table aside. Moved the couch to the space occupied by the piano. With access to the shelves, moved all the books off the back bookshelf, then moved the bookcase to the opposite wall. Moved the bicycles into the space formerly occupied by the bookcase. Moved the books back onto the bookcase, setting aside many books for donation. Moved books from the second bookcase onto the first bookcase and the third bookcase, again setting aside more books. Moved the now-empty second bookcase beside the first bookcase. Moved the third bookcase’s books to the second bookcase, again setting aside books for donation. Moved the third bookcase into the kitchen. Moved the canned goods, baking supplies, and other shelf-stable ingredients from the basement to the bookcase-turned-pantry.

It felt awesome.

On Tuesday, we worked on our Adirondack chairs. I disassembled my chair and sanded the parts to prepare it for painting, while W- and J- worked on J-‘s chair. They were quite a while from painting, so I scanned my sketchbook and tweaked my digital filing system in order to be able to review my drawings more easily.

Our two-week vacation last year? Cooking, canning, sewing, gardening, biking, writing.

After something like that, work feels like an equal pleasure—perhaps even a relaxing treat. It’s not the sharp contrast between idyllic perfection and the cubicle grind, or exotic thrills and mundane routines.

And relaxation? A good day’s work, a good meal’s satisfaction, a good night’s sleep. Self-control to let neither work nor hobbies overrun each other. Love and laughter sprinkled throughout the day.

Why do I write this?

To share that it’s okay if your idea of a great vacation doesn’t involve vacating.

That life doesn’t have to be predicated on a dread of Mondays and a desire for escape.

That house-work and life-work done with intention and love can be fulfilling.

On passion and luck

August 6, 2010 - Categories: career, life, passion

Cate Huston is an Extreme Blue intern who stumbled across her dream project at IBM. She asks:

What if you don’t get so lucky? What if you don’t happen upon someone working on something you’re that passionate about?

Two thoughts. The first: Luck is overrated.

I’m here because of a gazillion coincidences that just happened to turn out this way. I’m working on Innovation Discovery because they liked my work after bringing me in as a workshop speaker on collaboration and Gen Y, which happened because Nicoline Braat recommended them to me, which happened because she read my blog, which happened because she stumbled across me on the intranet (presentations? communities?), which happened because I joined IBM, which happened because I fell in love with the company while doing my research funded by the IBM Toronto Center for Advanced Studies, which happened because I did my master’s at the University of Toronto, which happened because U of T accepted me and offered me full funding, which happened because my future research supervisor met me and was convinced I’d be a good fit, which happened because I met him when we were both in Japan, which happened because I was checking out interesting research groups at U of T, which happened because of my interest in personal information management (and the recommendation of U of T from an old friend who had also been a scholar there), which happened because I got into Emacs and Planner, which happened because I got into open source in university, which happened because I wanted to do more than what we took up in computer science classes, which I took up because I loved programming, which I taught myself when I was in grade school because my sister was doing it and she refused to teach me, which I could do because I loved using the computer, which was because we had an Apple ][e clone in the house, which happened because my parents thought it would be educational… (And there are many other branching coincidences along the way!)

Am I lucky? Yes. Could it have turned out better or worse? Yes. Did I have something to do with that luck? Probably, by casting a wide and deep net: wide in terms of interests that could lead to new passions and in terms of people watching out for opportunities , and deep in terms of building skills that helped me make the most of new opportunities.

You will always walk on the edge of possibilities, an unimaginably complex path culminating in the present and branching off into innumerable opportunities in the future.

Luck. Prepare the soil, plant seeds, and share the ongoing harvest.

Second: Passion is overrated. ;)

By that, I mean that people often hope—or expect—to be swept away by some grand passion, to wake up one morning and find a flame burning in their heart and a job opening that neatly takes advantage of that new flame.

I don’t know much about that because I don’t remember falling in love with my first passion. I’ve been using computers and delighting in how I could use them since before memory.

But I do remember falling in love with writing, because I used to hate it in school. I hated writing book reports and critical analyses that no one else would really read, and that felt like I was just making things up.

Translated into a different context—the very geeky context of sharing code and tips—the love of writing snuck up on me gradually.

Trees start as little seeds and saplings. More often than people expect, passion builds from skill and intention. Sometimes you have to be good at something—or at least decent—before you can love it.

This is not to say that people shouldn’t find work that builds on their strengths and compensates for their weaknesses. Sometimes, though, you can learn a lot about your strengths and surprise yourself with your (non-)weaknesses by applying yourself to something.

No matter what you do, find something to be passionate about and build on it. Build that aspect up as much as you can. When you ride your passion to the limits of your role, you’ll have clues about the next role to take.

On finding a great job

August 7, 2010 - Categories: career, life, passion, work

Cate Huston blogged:

I have put this huge stress on myself because I really want to have a job lined up for January by the end of September, preferably by the end of August. And I don’t want it to be just any job, I want it to be a greatjob. And this is a problem because my ideas of what I want to do are somewhat vagueI want to make things! I want them to be pretty! I want to make the world a better place! Programmers can do that, I know it!

Ah. Time for me to put my mentor hat on and braindump a few things I’ve stumbled across. =)

Great jobs

The second-best job description is the one that’s been written for you. It speaks to your strengths. It pushes the right buttons. It gets you excited about working on cool things and making a difference.

How do you get it? Well, you convince a manager to take a risk on you. A big risk, actually, because hiring is expensive and turnover is even more so.

What’s better than that, and easier to get into?

The best job description is the one you write for yourself. Even if you start with a generic job role, if you’ve resolved to be a star in that role, you probably will be one. If you’re good, people often want to help you make the most of your strengths.

Yes, there will be things that drive you a little crazy. I didn’t like dealing with finicky cross-browser CSS. But I did it, got things done, and demonstrated to the team that it would be even better if someone else did that part and I did, say, the fiddly system administration tasks that other people didn’t like. Flexibility. If you’ve got a good manager, he or she will tweak your role to take advantage of your strengths and trade your weaknesses.

Don’t worry about finding the best possible project or job description. Find a good manager and a good team.  That’s what your side of the interview is about: figuring out if it will be a good fit. Good managers and good teams can help you navigate the system and get things done.

Pick a job that doesn’t make you die inside. Throw yourself into it and figure out what you can love about it. Make things happen. Rewrite your role. Pack as much awesomeness into it as you can. Create your next role, or evolve it out of what you’re already doing.

You might be certain that you would totally rock if all the stars lined up, but it can be surprisingly fun—and a great deal more practical and confidence-building—to take almost anything and rock it.

Besides, awesome job posts are rare. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to anticipate someone’s awesomeness without the risk of overly narrowing the applicant pool, and so it’s nearly impossible to anticipate what kind of role can make the most of their skills.

For example, a job description to find a exact replacement for me in my current role would involve: strong communication and facilitation skills; some graphic design skills; deep Lotus Connections experience; programming in LotusScript, Java, and Microsoft Excel VBA; wide personal networks; automation; speed-reading (seriously, this comes in quite handy); fast typing; a passion for both consulting and development…

Right. If we ever want me to be able to move on from this role, we need to settle for someone who’s a quick learner. =) Maybe they’ll be awesome in entirely different ways, and they’ll take the role in entirely new directions. (Which would be awesome!)

Also: what I’m passionate about might not be the same as what you’re passionate about. Which is cool. Some job descriptions will emphasize your role in making a difference and changing the world. Some job descriptions (implement and maintain widget X in dashboard Y) may sound boring. But it really all comes down to how good someone is at coming up with and communicating a vision, because even implementing a widget in a dashboard can be pretty awesome if you know why it matters.

Here’s the surprising thing: you can come up with that vision,  that reason why this work matters, even if your company doesn’t tell you.

Business books love sharing those stories. The cleaner at a nursing home? Might hate the drudge work, or might be passionate about it because it makes residents happier to be in a neat place.

Meaning is something you can put into your own work.

It means, though, that job posts for awesome positions sometimes don’t look like they are. On the flip side, job posts that look awesome (a hodgepodge of “cool” technologies! hipster language!) sometimes aren’t.

Figure out if you can deal with the core responsibilities, if you like the team, and if you can grow. Take responsibility for finding meaning.

On not knowing

You don’t need to figure out everything in the beginning. Find something that looks something like what you might like. Use it to learn what you really like and what you really don’t like. Experiment. Improve. Let life teach and surprise you.

Monthly review: July 2010

August 8, 2010 - Categories: monthly

Last month, I said:

What will July be like? I want to polish my community toolkit and share it with more people. I want to explore sales and see what I can learn even in my current role. I want to invest more time into developing relationships. I want to build a few projects. I want to learn how to play at least one song on my ukulele. It’ll be busy and fun and amazing.

And it was busy and fun and amazing.

Lots of Idea Lab awesomeness: It’s always such a thrill to bring together so many engaged and insightful people to help our clients innovate. And we’re getting better at the process, too. We pulled the latest Idea Lab together in three weeks or so, and I prepared the summary of the results on the same day. We’ve got a number of Idea Labs on the go, and I even helped a client learn more about how they might do those Idea Labs internally.

I’ve been doing lots of other fun stuff at work, too. The expertise location pilot I’m working on is going well, and dozens of SMEs have filled out their profiles. I’ve been revising presentations, designing simple posters, preparing handouts, organizing information, and updating tracking spreadsheets. Thank goodness for to-do lists, organizational tools, I learned how to extend Lotus Notes with Java plugins. Added a bunch of features to the Community Toolkit plugin Luis Benitez had started, including the metrics tool that people had wanted for private communities. Also added a bucketload of metrics to the web-based tool. Fixed some bugs along the way, too. I’ve started seeing communities weave the output into their newsletters, and it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

I’m checking out another fascinating career possibility – a new digital expertise position that’s just been created. It looks like a great fit, and we’ll see if things work out. It’s amazing how so many of my different passions come together. That position, for example, might take advantage of my master’s work in expertise location, my development using Drupal, my interest in marketing and communications, my passion for helping people connect and collaborate… Another position I’m interested in would make the most of my passion for helping people and organizations collaborate better, my interest in sales, my love of making quick prototypes. Passions can be like LEGO blocks, quickly reconfigured and combined.

Reflecting and mentoring: I’ve been thinking a lot about life, success, and happiness these days, prompted by what other people post or ask. Here are some of those reflections:

Relationships: I enjoyed having people over for tea, and I made a few new friends along the way, too. I’ve also been helping a friend settle into Toronto and learn how to cook. I’ve (slowly) been sending out bottles of jam, and really should set up some kind of packing center so that I can get more of these out the door. <laugh>

Also, moved wedding to October 2 because of delays related to my parents’ visas. I think everything’s sorted out now! =)

Ukulele: Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah – can play it, but haven’t memorized it yet. It sounds very chipper on a ukulele. ;) Woodworking: Not as much as last month, but we did work on our chairs some more. Sewing: Stops and starts, but am definitely keen on sewing more.

What will August look like? I’m turning 27, so it’ll be a great excuse to do that yearly review (and what a year!). Work: Organize lots of Idea Labs, support workshops, attend training, improve our community toolkit, come up with a way for other people to organize Idea Labs easily, explore opportunities, and prepare presentations. Relationships: Sort everything out for wedding, reorganize space, meet up with W-’s family, have a tea party, meet up with friends, mentor and be mentored. Life: Get back into sewing pouches and other organizers. Draw and write more vividly. Have fun. =)

Other blog posts from this month:

Cool mornings
Electronic ears: Using Performous to learn how to sing
Living an awesome life: Not a Greek tragedy
Getting the hang of leading small things
Giving myself permission to delegate again
Troubleshooting my Lotus Notes 8.5.2, Expeditor 6.2, and Eclipse 3.4 setup
Using org2blog to publish Org-mode subtrees
This is a test post from org2blog
Garden riches
Keeping track of multiple projects
Playing the long game: writing, raw material, and backups
Delegation and thinking about what I want to do
CookOrDie: Passing it on with lemon-rosemary chicken
Sooner or later? Expertise and the new
Yogurt, change, and growing oldness
Get-together ideas for Toronto
Career growth in a large company
Blueberry jam, apricot syrup, and kiwi jam
Thinking about dinner parties
Tools, big companies, and collaboration

Weekly reviews:

Last month’s review: Monthly review: June 2010

Sample code for allowing drag-and-drop of Notes/Domino documents (including email) to a table in a plugin

August 9, 2010 - Categories: geek, lotus

Because I had to piece this together from examples on the Internet, and probably other people do too:

Transfer[] transferArray = new Transfer[]{
    transferArray, new DropTargetAdapter() {
        public void drop(DropTargetEvent event) {
            TableItem item = (TableItem) event.item;
            // You can access the object with item.getData()
            try {
                Session session = NotesFactory.createSessionWithFullAccess();
                if ( instanceof URIDescriptor[]){ 
                    URIDescriptor[] droppedURL = (URIDescriptor[]);
                    for (int i = 0; i < droppedURL.length; i++) { 
                        URI uri = ((URIDescriptor) droppedURL[i]).uri;
                        Document d = (Document) session.resolve(uri.toString());
                        // Do things with the document
            } catch (Exception e) {
            } finally {

Use session.resolve instead of db.getDocumentByURL to retrieve a document from a plugin, as both session.getAgentContext() and session.getCurrentDatabase() will return null.

Weekly review: Week ending August 8, 2010

August 10, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

Long-weekend focus: declutter space, organize information


  • [X] Organize upcoming Idea Labs
  • [X] Answer more requests for community toolkit: statistics, bugfixes, etc.
  • [  ] Package Lotus Notes plugin – postponed, but worked on community membership management for Lotus Notes plugin
  • Helped revise slides and posters
  • Helped a client learn more about Idea Labs
  • Gave mentoring advice
  • Talked to potential new team


  • [X] Declutter living room – wow! so different now.
  • [  ] Follow up with people, learning about them and their interests – still haven’t followed up on tweetup or class
  • [X] Catch up with mylifeandart
  • Bought a television and a Playstation 3
  • Bought latest book in Artemis Fowl series
  • Treated W- and J- to Despicable Me, which was lots of fun
  • Experimented with the Litter Robot – wonder if the cats will take to it. Pricey, but if it works…
  • Decluttered living room and gave away a third of our books
  • Harvested our first bitter melon and made pinakbet with it =)


  • [-] Draw more! =)
  • [-] Create an index for images, book notes, blog posts, etc. – scanned my sketches
  • [-] Plan next tea party – maybe end of month?
  • [C] Price-match blender if possible – cancelled because of price differences for colour
  • Posted lots of reflections
  • Replanted large parts of the garden
  • Upgraded to Lucid Lynx

Next week’s plans:


  • Organize upcoming Idea Labs
  • Attend training for Application Innovation Services consultants
  • Work on plugin to make it easier for other people to organize Idea Labs
  • Contact briefing consultants regarding the expertise pilot


  • Send a quick note to people I met at VXToronto and in woodworking class
  • Mail lots of jam


  • Pick up more travel business wear at the Tilley sale
  • Outline my “lifeline of books” (see “Write for Your Lives”)

Television and the push and pull of motivation

August 11, 2010 - Categories: family, life, reflection

For the first time in years, we have a television in the house.

I resisted the idea at first, nervous about the gravitational pull of a large television, the mind-numbing effects of passive attention, the shift of hours away from other pursuits.

It would be nice to play games with W- and J-, though. I remember how much J- enjoyed teaming up when we both had Nintendo DSes, and there were some new games that would be fun to explore on a Playstation 3. And the TV would come in handy when watching movies from the library, which we often do while folding laundry.

So we crunched the numbers, figured out what would be worth it based on a projected use of 1-3 hours per week, and headed to FutureShop to pick up the television. FutureShop was out of Playstation 3s. Walmart had plenty in stock, as well as less expensive HDMI cables and controllers. (You can save a few more dollars by ordering an HDMI cable off the Internet, if you plan ahead.) Having rounded up the gaming parts, we returned to FutureShop to get the TV and a wall-mounting bracket (important for keeping it out of reach of cats).

We’ve had the TV for a weekend. So far, we’re still okay. The chores are done. The freezer is full of meals for the next week. I’ve still had time to read and write. We’ve still had great conversations.

And it was a lot of fun exploring the world of LEGO Harry Potter with J-, who’s getting a lot of practice in solving puzzles, particularly stubborn ones. She and W- have been having fun playing LittleBigPlanet, too.

Here are some things I’ve realized about having a television:

TV is not inherently bad. It’s a tool. However, many people have invested a lot of time and energy into figuring out how to use this tool to engage or sell to others, so we should be careful about how we use it and what we absorb.

Knowing that movies and video games can be very engaging, I want to make it easier for me to make time to do other things. This is where choosing the right perspective really matters.

If I frame it as resisting the pull of the television, that’s going to take energy and wear down my self-control. (More about ego depletion on Wikipedia.)

On the other hand, if I focus on how much I want to do other things, then it becomes much easier to do them. I’m not fighting the television; it’s just the wrong tool for what I want to do. Let’s say that I want to write, which is fun and interesting and helps me learn. Instead of watching a movie, thinking, “I really should be writing,” and then trying to muster the energy to change activities and do it, I’ll focus on how much and why I want to write, and the television becomes irrelevant because it’s the wrong tool.

It’s easier to focus on the positive than to resist the negative. Easier for me to pull myself towards something than to push myself.

Are you avoiding or trying to break a bad habit, too? What if you tried flipping things around – focusing on the good parts of things you would rather do, instead of on resisting the bad parts of the things you don’t want to do?

Networking events

August 12, 2010 - Categories: connecting, reflection

It’s my birthday, yay! (Happy birthday, Mom!) But I’m away at training, so the annual review + sketches will have to wait for the weekend. In the meantime, here’s something I was thinking about the other day…

I confess: I don’t go to “networking events” to meet people.

I go to eavesdrop on interesting conversations. I go to share and pick up tips and ideas. I go to practise avoiding the name/rank/serial number conversations (and in my small way, perhaps show people there is an alternative). I go to have fun connecting the dots. I go to work on remembering names and little details.

I’m not there to find a new job. I have an awesome one. I’m not there to find new friends. If the seeds of friendships are planted there, terrific. The real work happens outside the event, after all.

I’m there to learn from the conversations that people have with people other than me. It’s one of the reasons why I like having a group of friends over instead of talking to them one-on-one. Other people bring out different aspects of people that I wouldn’t see on my own.

What do I hope for? I hope that I can collapse the distance between people. I hope that I can share people and ideas and resources outside the event. I hope that a chance conversation might turn into a weak tie, and a month or several years down the road, into another connect-the-dots experience, another aha!, or another friendship.

So I seldom go to or organize networking events per se. I like going to events with a bigger purpose. DemoCamp, with its promise of interesting startups and ideas. Tea, an excuse for me to prepare treats and create a space for conversation. Conferences. IBM speed mentoring events in Second Life. (Yes, we have them, and they’re lots of fun.) Your typical stand-up-and-meet-people? Sometimes they’re the starting point of interesting conversations and reflections, like the ones I had with Neal Schaffer around sharing and with Judy Gombita about introductions. Sometimes they require lots of digging to get past the surface conversations.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve crossed some kind of tipping point, where the scale effects of the Internet tend to work more for me than the hallway conversations and chance connections of real-life events. (Are search engine results like those serendipitous encounters, except longer-lasting?) I prefer writing and commenting and tweeting over speaking over the din; we reach more people, blossom into more conversations. I could be missing out on subtleties, which is why I go to events from time to time–to see and experience and reflect. But the world stretches before us, and why limit myself to this corner when we could enable aha!s all over?

/Thanks to Dennie Theodore for blogging about large events and nudging me to think about them!/

2010-07-30 Fri 07:40

Reflecting on introductions

August 13, 2010 - Categories: connecting

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-31 Sat 08:00

Introductions. I’m thinking about this because I feel odd when Judy Gombita (@jgombita) enthusiastically introduces me as a tech evangelist rock star, and I need to tease out where that comes from.

I recognize her introduction as a gift, and I appreciate it. Where does this reticence come from?


Part of it, I think, is not wanting to be lumped in with self-proclaimed experts. It seems you can’t throw a link without hitting a social media guru these days. While it’s great that people are excited about this and are working on helping businesses and people learn, I don’t know if we know enough about social media to be experts in it yet.

Relatively, maybe. There are people whom you can help, even if you’re just starting out. You don’t have to be an expert to help. You don’t even need to be an expert for people to find you. (It’s like fame. If you have to say you’re famous, you aren’t. If you’re famous, you don’t have to say it.)

There’s so much mystique about “expertise”–or “eminence”, another term that comes up at IBM often these days. I feel a little weird about it, even though I’m currently working on an expertise location initiative. (I think of it as about finding people. That helps.)

Expert, rockstar, guru, maven, and all of these other “one-up” nouns make me feel odd. I’ve always had a problem with articles listing me as “self-proclaimed geek”, despite the fact that I’ve got “geek” on my card, website, and e-mail signature. If we have to qualify the word “geek”, I’d rather use “self-confessed.” A minor tweak.

In the past, I’ve kidded about “domestic goddesshood” and being a “geek goddess”, but always as a joke.

I like being on the same level as people. It’s hard enough helping people believe that they could write/blog/bookmark/participate in communities/program/draw/follow their passions. It’s almost impossible if they think, “Oh, that’s very well and good for you because you’re you, but I could never do it.”

I remember when I was teaching university freshmen the joy of programming. Some were intimidated by the way I could read a program upside down and ask questions to help them debug it. I told them that was because I had spent a lot of time struggling with my own bugs and reading textbooks I didn’t quite understand. (I didn’t tell them that I started reading those textbooks in grade school, borrowing them off my sister’s shelves.)

Is this a gendered thing, the way women are taught to fold their hands and shrink into themselves while men are encouraged to boast of their achievements? But I wasn’t brought up that way, and I know many male role models who are competent and humble.

Nouns and verbs

Another thought that came up in the conversation with Judy: nouns versus verbs.

I don’t want to be known as a tech evangelist, rock star, or a social media guru. Nouns. Hype. (Where does the conversation go from there?)

I’d rather people focused on how I can help others. “Oh, you want to get started in blogging? Talk to Sacha, she might have tips.”

Not an expert. A co-learner. A co-adventurer.

Which makes me think that it might be good to experiment with my cards, because most of the time, “Evangelist” grabs people’s attention and then they focus on that, and there’s something missing. I like my e-mail signature better. The last line is: “My passion is helping people connect and collaborate. How can I help you make things happen?”

It also reminds me of why I like blogging and presenting. There are no introductions – or if there’s a bio, it’s brief. It’s having all these half-conversations open, inviting you to jump in without the awkwardness of the start.


I think of how people come together in my tea parties. A small group, manageable. One or two conversations going on at a time. There are brief introductions: names, sometimes stories. But I don’t really introduce people. Instead, we jump into the middle of conversations.

My favourite connecting tool is the question. The more I know about people’s interests, the more I can ask questions that draw out those connections in larger conversation. I like listening to what people are talking about and connecting that to what other people can share. It’s okay to be quiet, too.

I do introduce people, from time to time. When we’re standing around at a crowded event and someone clearly wants to join the circle. When we’re having a conversation and something comes up that’s relevant to someone across the room whom my conversation partner hasn’t met.

Most of the time, I whiz past the introduction and head straight into common interests, shared issues, or some kind of understanding that we can build through conversation. Details and competencies and networking needs can emerge through the conversation. When I remember, I use people’s names often so that other people can remember their names.

One approach among many. I like it, though. It would be interesting to experiment with other ways to help people connect: let people do the normal introduction and small talk routine? elevator pitches?

But it’s fun skipping the titles and focusing on what people want to talk about. =)

Haven’t figured this out yet. There’s more to understand in here, somewhere. Here’s what I understand a little more clearly now:

  • I don’t like one-up nouns or titles because they create distance and risk backlash.
  • I like skipping introductions and jumping into the middle of a conversation. My preferences influence the ways I help people connect.
  • Might be fun to experiment: change my card, tinker with introductions…

    2010-07-29 Thu 09:05

The delicate dance of status

August 14, 2010 - Categories: braindump, connecting, reflection

The interns helping my mom put together a memory book asked me to rank the top 25 people who have influenced me. I refused, explaining that I felt very uncomfortable doing that.

I remember coming across this speaking tip: During Q&A, don’t say “great question” to fill in the silence while you’re thinking of the answer, because then you’ll have to say something like it for the other questions or risk making people feel their question isn’t as important as others’.

It reminded me of a tip I’d read in a different book, even longer ago, which went something like this: Introducing one person as “my friend” and omitting that when introducing the other can lead to friction.

One of my friends once anxiously asked me if it was okay if he considered me a best friend, but not his best, best friend. I told him it doesn’t matter to me, and that I’m glad we’re close friends.

My middle sister can be more particular about sibling ranking than I am, and often jokes about the pecking order. I’ve opted out of caring about that, I guess. =)

I have no qualms about praising people in public. In some contexts, though–comparative ones?–status gets odd.

It reminds me of how, at a conference on education that I attended in my sixth grade, I spoke up about cooperation instead of competition.

I try to minimize the distance between me and whoever I want to help. I want people to be able to easily identify with me.

I try to think of people as approachable and human, no matter what their job titles or life situations are, and to let them also interact with other people that way if they want to.

Presenting through web conferences–with full back channels and closer facial expressions–feels more intimate than giving a talk in an auditorium, separated by lights and a stage.

It reminds me of improv. There are games you can play with status and the inversion of status. I still need to practice and relax more before I can easily play those games, and even more before I can play those games for laughs, but it was interesting to learn about the games and start seeing the patterns of conversation.

Unequal status can feel okay, too: introducing someone to a potential mentor, for example. The status difference is justified by the context, not the title (and sometimes is inversely related to job titles or experience).

I’m okay with starting one-up if I know how I can help someone, but I feel uncomfortable if I don’t know or we have to dig for it. I usually introduce myself as equal-ish. In presentations, I sometimes take the slightly-up-at-least-in-this-context position (here are some things I learned that might save you time), and sometimes the slightly-down position (here’s what I know, and I’d love to bring out what you know).


/Thanks to Judy Gombita (@jgombita) for the nudge to reflect on this!/

2010-07-29 Thu 16:57

Twenty-seven; life as a twenty-six year old

August 15, 2010 - Categories: yearly


I turned 27 years old this week. If life as a 25-year-old was about taking small steps to build a wonderful life, life as a 26-year-old was about flourishing. Reviewing the past year’s blog posts to get a sense of how I’ve grown, I realized that life had gotten much deeper and richer. Work gave me plenty of opportunities to learn, share, and make a difference. W- and I have worked out our long-term plans and will be getting married in October. I learned a lot from friends, mentors, and proteges, and I shared tons of thoughts and ideas in blogs, presentations, conversations, and notes.

It’s been a great life. Fewer storms than movies or books had me believe, and plenty of wonderful memories and realizations on which to build a future. On the cusp between the mid-twenties and the late twenties, the most unexpected discovery has been that of unconditional serenity. Now I have more to share, and more to discover along with other people.

I’ve selected my favourite blog posts for Aug 2009-2010 and put them into a PDF so that I can archive them in a three-ring binder. If you’d like to review it too, see sachachua-26.pdf. (184 pages, 353k) Thanks for sharing this year with me!

Here’s how the year stacked up against the goals I shared in last year’s recap:

I’m looking forward to learning even more about my passions and interests, people, and life. When I turn 27, I hope to be able to look back and say that I:

  • [X] created another year’s worth of experiences, memories, and dreams – it feels like more than a year’s worth, even!
  • [X] helped build innovation networks and shared what I’ve learned with others – we’ve not only scaled up our Idea Labs (virtual brainstorming discussions), I’ve also helped other groups and organizations use the technique to engage people around the world
  • [X] helped build Drupal skills within the company – Drupal is well-established in our toolkit, and we’re looking forward to doing even more
  • [-] wore something I made every day – I’ve been making more of my clothes and accessories, but I’ve also calculated the my time value of money and decided that some things like technical clothing are well worth the cost.
  • [X] enjoyed home cooking and explored new recipes – This was excellent!
  • [-] relaxed in improvised situations – I haven’t signed up for further improv classes (low sign-ups for the class I want to take), but I’m looking forward to doing this again
  • [-] saved half of my income and donated a tenth – Saved about half, shifting to investing and then donating when that appreciates
  • [X] got to the point of having a place for everything, and everything in its place – Progress! After thinking about what gets misplaced and where clutter accumulates, I tried a few tweaks (beltbag, etc.). Haven’t misplaced important things in a while.
  • [X] built and deepened more friendships – I’ve been mentoring more people and hosting tea parties, and I really enjoy doing both
  • [X] figured out what I know, what I want to learn, and how to share both of those – I’ve been writing and blogging even more, and scaling back on my presentations has given me more time to think and share. Good stuff!
  • [X] shared my happiness and enthusiasm with even more people – =)

What will life as a 27-year-old look like? I’m excited about long-term growth: marriage, work, friendships, interests. I’m looking forward to small, constant improvements in the way we live. I want to get even better at learning and sharing. When I turn 28, I hope to be able to look back and say that I:

  • helped build an excellent foundation for a loving partnership
  • made a difference at work and grew in my career
  • experimented with ways of living better and shared my results
  • shared lots of ideas, questions, and insights with people
  • lived another year of an awesome life.

Weekly review: Week ending August 15, 2010

August 16, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:


  • [X] Organize upcoming Idea Labs
  • [X] Attend training for Application Innovation Services consultants
  • [X] Work on plugin to make it easier for other people to organize Idea Labs
  • [X] Contact briefing consultants regarding the expertise pilot
  • Scanned my notes
  • Did innovation archetype analysis for car company
  • Produced slidecast for Communicating Across Cultures session
  • Helped more people with stats / community tools


  • [C] Send a quick note to people I met at VXToronto and in woodworking class
  • [-] Mail lots of jam – packed, but not yet sent


  • [X] Pick up more travel business wear at the Tilley sale  (yay for wash-and-wear blazer, blouse, and pants for ~$190 total including tax!)
  • [X] Outline my “lifeline of books” (see “Write for Your Lives”) – also outlined presentations; looking into posting this online
  • Packed lots of frozen lunches

Plans for next week:


  • [  ] Share notes and follow up on action items from training
  • [  ] Prepare presentation on sharing and workflow
  • [  ] Organize and run Idea Labs
  • [  ] Follow up on expertise pilot
  • [  ] Draft follow-up presentations / articles on eminence?


  • [  ] Have dinner with W’s parents
  • [  ] Go to W’s family get-together
  • [  ] Plan tea party for end of August or beginning of September
  • [  ] Sort out accommodations / travel plans for my family


  • [  ] Catch up after busy weekend
  • [  ] Organize notes

Note-taking revisited

August 17, 2010 - Categories: connecting, kaizen, notetaking, productivity

I was away for training last week, attending a 3-day learning session organized by IBM. There were around 500 IBMers there. My manager not only suggested that I go, he even gave me a lift. I resolved to make the most of it.

Packing light meant taking my work laptop, leaving my netbook, and bringing a small paper notebook along as a backup for note-taking. I like taking notes. I’d rather slow down and take notes than waste the time and the opportunity by forgetting.

In 2006, I wrote about how taking notes during conversations helps with post-event connection. What’s changed in the last four years? I now take casual notes on my iPod Touch. I’ve been thinking about getting a tablet PC for better note-taking. But for fast-flowing conversations, I still return to paper.

I’ve rediscovered drawing. My notes are punctuated by doodles: quick sketches of presenters, random objects that suggest themselves to a wandering right-brain. I like drawing. It helps me remember what a session felt like, instead of just what it contained.

I no longer bring fountain pens, as they’re all too easy to drop. Instead, I use a fine-point gel pen, which is clearer than pencils when it comes to scanning or review, and which writes more smoothly than a ballpoint pen does. I use a multi-colour ballpoint pen for review and emphasis.

My workflow has improved. While taking notes, I mark action items with a square on the left, particularly interesting topics with a star, ideas with a lightbulb, and thoughts and reflections with a thoughtcloud. This makes it easy to skim my notes for action items during review.

Instead of trying to hold the notebook open as I type thoughts in, I scan new pages at 600dpi full colour. This gives me a digital backup that I can flip through on my computer while I type my notes on a separate screen. As I type, I copy my action items into a separate section. After I finish writing my notes, I review the action items and import them into my task manager.

How can I make this even better?

I can write more neatly. This means slowing down in the beginning, but it will save me time when skimming or reading my notes. (And if I do it really well, maybe Evernote can understand my handwriting!)

I can try using a pad and then scan sheets using the automatic document feeder. Our printer/scanner’s automatic document feeder scans only one side, but I can simply do two passes. This would reduce scanning time.

I can save up for a tablet and see if that works out better for note-taking. I like being able to draw diagrams and icons while taking notes, so it would be good to experiment with a Tablet PC.

Diversity and awareness of privilege

August 18, 2010 - Categories: women

I came across If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged on, and I went, “Hmm. They’re right.” I started very early, and the extra years of practice and immersion and love meant that I could run rings around my classmates by the time we got to high school. I also had great role models in my parents, who raised us to follow our passions and not let people’s gender stereotypes get in the way.

This reminds me of the first session we took in a women’s leadership course. During the discussion, I said that I didn’t relate to many of the challenges described in the video, which had been produced a number of years ago. But I’ve been lucky. The challenge, then, is to help more people experience this.

I also enjoy the privilege of working in a mostly-balanced workplace. I feel normal at IBM. I’m not the only woman, not the only immigrant, not the only newbie, not the only Filipino, and definitely not the only geek. I’m surrounded by role models who show me that so many things are possible in both the managerial and professional career paths (and that people don’t have to be confined to one or the other). Sure, there are still some aspects missing from our mix, but it’s cool.

This accepted diversity means that instead of fighting to prove my worth as a human being, I can focus on the fights where I want to make a real difference, like helping people connect, collaborate, and do their best from wherever.

Instead of renouncing this privilege, then, I can do two things. I can use it as a springboard to work on the next challenges. I can be aware of the circumstances that brought me to this point, and help people bridge the gaps instead of thinking that because it was easy for me, it should be easy for most people.

And then there are little tweaks along the way that I can do to help make things even more equitable… These things are worth working on.


August 19, 2010 - Categories: reading, sketches, tips


Text: Speed-reading

People ask me how I can read so quickly. Here are some things that might help you read and learn faster.

1. Don’t slow yourself down. Do you read aloud? Do you imagine yourself reading aloud? Speech is so much slower than sight. See. In fact, don’t trace the words with your eyes. Jump around. Look at the important words. Skim. Take advantage of peripheral vision.

2. Take advantage of structure. Read tables of content, conclusions. A book is a nonlinear device. How to Read a Book (Adler and van Doren): this book is awesome.

3. Read. A lot. You’ll get lots of practice. You’ll be surprised by how much books repeat themselves or other books. And you’ll find yourself reading for those rare gems, the aha! moments that make reading all the rest worth it. Then people will ask you: How can you read so quickly?

Hypercubes, happiness, and serenity

August 20, 2010 - Categories: happy, reflection

I remember reading an excerpt from Flatland in Childcraft when I was growing up, and wondering: how would a flat square understand this three-dimensional world we live in? In high school, I read a book about mathematical curiosities. Challenged by the idea of visualizing hypercubes and other higher-dimension objects, I turned to a trick I’d come across while reading: take what you see, use time as the fourth dimension, and imagine all the moments superimposed. Non-existence, birth, life, motion, death, and oblivion collapsed into a single space, further complicated by the rotation and revolution of the earth, the other motions of our galaxy and universe…

I had an existential moment: life is so short and insignificant! 

And then I thought, “Hey, this is pretty cool.” I dipped into this imagined world occasionally, thinking about the past and future of places, objects, and people. It proved to be a useful test for relationships: what would life be like with the grief of losing this person – will it have been worth it? It also helped me let go of stuff. I could see myself before I got whatever it was, and I could see myself after.

You might say it’s an odd sort of happiness that maintains an awareness of death and insignificance, but it’s the sort of calm happiness that’s confident that everything will work out. Why get upset over something that will pass?

So when I came across the ideas of unconditional serenity and emptiness in Joseph Sestito’s Write for Your Lives (an approach that draws on Buddhism), I thought, “Hmm. That’s what they call it.”

It’s still a little strange to look at someone, stretch my imagination, and see them as child and senior, idea and memory. It’s good practice, though, and it reminds me that we’re all in the middle of our own journeys.

Backyard trades

August 21, 2010 - Categories: canada, gardening, life

We live in a semi-detached house and often chat with our immediate neighbors, Dan and Jen. Their kids sometimes come over to play with J
-. When we make jams or jelly, we share it with them, and they share other interesting things with us.

Dan recently bought a smoker because he was pining for the briskets of his Texan youth. He made pulled pork recently, and he brought over some for us. We sprinkled it on pizzas, sandwiches, and other yummy treats. When we finished it, I washed the container and filled it with freshly-picked jalapeno peppers from our garden. (We have too many to eat, and not enough to make jelly.)

It’s nice getting along with your neighbors, particularly when there’s food involved. =)

2010-08-21 Sat 10:13

Six steps to make sharing part of how you work

August 22, 2010 - Categories: blogging, notetaking, presentation, sketches, speaking, work
This entry is part 15 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Six Steps to Sharing from Sacha Chua

People often ask me how I find the time to write, blog, or give presentations, so I’ve put together these tips on how to turn sharing from something that takes up extra time to something that saves you time as you work.

Sharing is intimidating. You might think that you need to master blogs or wikis before you can make the most of Web 2.0 tools to help you share your knowledge and build your network. But even if you never post in public, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to make a bigger difference through sharing.

I’m not going to tell you to start a blog today. Here’s a six-step program to help you save time by making sharing part of the way you work, even if most of what you work with is confidential or lives in e-mail. Give it a try!

Step 1. Review your e-mail for information that you repeatedly send people. Do different people ask you the same questions? Are there links or files you find yourself always looking up and sending? Are there common problems you often solve? Save time by filing those messages in a “Reference” folder so that you can easily find them the next time someone asks that question or needs that file. Save even more time by rewriting your notes so that you can easily cut and paste them into new messages.

You can use your e-mail program to manage this information by saving the e-mails in a “Reference” folder that might be subdivided into more folders, or you can save the information in directories on your hard drive, encrypting it if necessary. The key change is to create a virtual filing cabinet and put useful information in it.

This virtual filing cabinet can save you a lot of time on your own work, too. I often find myself searching for my notes on how I solved a problem six months ago because I have to solve it again, and my notes save me a lot of time.

Step 2. When talking to people, listen for opportunities to take advantage of your reference information. Now that you’ve got an virtual filing cabinet of useful information, keep an ear open for ways you can use that information to help people more efficiently. When people ask you a question you’ve answered before, give them a quick answer and promise to e-mail them the rest of the details.

When you look for ways to reuse the information you already have, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to get a lot more benefit from the effort that you’ve already invested.

Step 3. Reach out. Now that you’ve saved time and helped more people by sharing the information in your virtual filing cabinet when they ask, you’ve got a better sense of which notes are very useful. Take a moment to review your files and think about who might benefit from learning from that information. Reach out to them, sending them a note about what you’ve learned and why it can save them time. It might lead to interesting conversations and good opportunities.

For example, let’s say you e-mailed one of your coworkers an answer to his problem. Think of other team members who might have run into the same problem, and send them a short note about it too. If you do this judiciously, people will feel grateful without feeling overwhelmed by e-mail.

Step 4. Prepare and take notes. Now you’re getting lots of return on the time you invested into organizing your existing information, and you’ve got an idea of what kinds of information help you and other people a lot. Proactively write down information that might be useful instead of waiting until someone asks you about it, because you might not remember all the relevant details by that time. In fact, take notes while you’re working instead of leaving it for the end. File those notes in your virtual filing cabinet as well, and share them with other people who might find this useful.

In addition to helping you save time in the future, writing about what you’re learning or doing can help you think more clearly, catch mistakes, and make better decisions.

Step 5. Look for ways to share your notes with more people. By now, you’ve probably developed a habit of looking for ways to take advantage of what you’re learning or doing: writing and filing your notes, retrieving your notes when people need them, and proactively reaching out. You can stop there and already save a lot of time–or you can learn about sharing your notes more widely, helping you build your network and increase your impact.

Proactively reaching out to people who might find your notes useful has probably helped you develop stronger working relationships with a small investment of time. However, this is limited by who you know, how much you know about what they’re working on, and the timing of the information. On the other hand, if you share some of your notes in public areas where people can search for or browse them, then you can help people you might not think of reaching out to, and they can find your information whenever they need it.

You don’t have to share all your information publicly. Review your virtual filing cabinet for information that can be shared with everyone or with a small group, and look for ways to share it with the appropriate access permissions. You can share different versions of documents, too.

For example, I share public information on my blog because blogs make it easy to publish quick notes, and search engines make it easy for people to find what they need even if I posted those notes several years ago. On the other hand, there are many notes that I post to internal access-controlled repositories. Sometimes, I’ll post a sanitized version publicly, and a more detailed version internally.

This is where you can get exponential return on your time investment. If people can find and benefit from your notes on their own, then you can reach many more people and create much more impact.

People may not find and use your information right away. Keep building that archive, though. You’ll be surprised by how useful people can find your work, and by the number of opportunities and relationships you build along the way.

Step 6. Review your organizational system and look for opportunities for relentless improvement.

You’ve collected useful information from your e-mails and conversations, organized that in your virtual filing cabinet, reached out to people, and shared some of your notes publicly. Congratulations! You’re probably getting your work done faster because you don’t waste time solving problems again. Your coworkers probably look to you for answers because you not only help them solve problems, you do so in a timely and detailed manner. And you might already have discovered how helpful your notes can be for others you wouldn’t have thought of contacting. What’s next?

Review your virtual filing cabinet. Can you organize it for faster access? Can you fill in missing topics? Can you identify and update obsolete information? Look for opportunities to improve your process, and you’ll save even more time and make a bigger impact.

Want to share your experiences? Need help? Please feel free to leave a comment!


Weekly review: Week ending August 22, 2010

August 23, 2010 - Categories: weekly

Plans from last week:


  • [X] Share notes and follow up on action items from training
  • [-] Prepare presentation on sharing and workflow – written up, but not yet illustrated
  • [X] Organize and run Idea Labs – one down, another to go
  • [X] Follow up on expertise pilot – shared with team member, whew!
  • [-] Draft follow-up presentations / articles on eminence?
  • Started working on bookmark summarization tool
  • Reflected on career options
  • Prepared ThinkLabs information
  • Learned about Pickover format for evaluating invention disclosures
  • Talked about my community tool and social analytics
  • Helped organize non-Innovation-Discovery Idea Labs
  • Attended meeting for potential Drupal project


  • [X] Have dinner with W’s parents – keeping my name, clashing with traditions
  • [X] Go to W’s family get-together
  • [  ] Plan tea party for end of August or beginning of September
  • [-] Sort out accommodations / travel plans for my family – checked out some places
  • Helped rescue Maira from temporary housing crisis


  • [X] Catch up after busy weekend
  • [-] Organize notes
  • Finished Scott Pilgrim game on Average Joe setting

Plans for next week:


  • [  ] Have several mentoring conversations
  • [  ] Run Energy & Utilities Idea Lab
  • [  ] Work on bookmark tool for Boz and Yael
  • [  ] Prepare presentation on sharing


  • [  ] Confirm accommodations and photographer
  • [  ] Apply for marriage licence
  • [  ] Plan tea party


  • [  ] Set up twine support for peas
  • [  ] Organize my notes
  • [  ] Tweak schedule so that weekly reviews go out on Sunday or Monday

Learning storytelling from my parents

August 24, 2010 - Categories: family

My parents are both storytellers.

My dad makes everyday life seem epic, with sound effects and humour. He embellishes tales to make them more dramatic. He tells stories in conversation, and is often the center of attention in a large crowd.

My mom keeps the stories of generations, revealing unexpected connections with grandparents or great-grandparents. She tries to stick as close to the truth as she can remember. She tells stories in intimate conversation and through her writing. I look forward to our weekly Skype conversations because of the mix of stories she shares: some about the past, some about recent adventures.

I’m really lucky that my parents both love telling stories.  Growing up, I saw how the stories they told inspired and energized and connected people. Good stories don’t have to have morals, points, or storybook villains threatening to destroy the universe. Sometimes a slice of life can make an unexpected connection.

I want to learn how to tell stories like that. My sister Kathy tells stories like my dad does, and I tell stories like my mom. I want to get better at saving and telling stories, particularly the difficult ones, and writing is my way of remembering.

Keeping in touch with diffuse networks

August 25, 2010 - Categories: connecting

Soha wrote:

I’m a long time reader of your blog and I must say it’s pretty amazing and inspiring. I always look forward to your next post and read it over and over for tips and ideas

But there was one thing that I’m not sure if you’ve covered in the past .. It’s about keeping in touch with your networks and freinds

I’m really having a hard time with this issue.. Particularly how to stay in touch.. What do to and what to say and how often… Etc.. Is there a system that u tried that works for u? Or a schedule that You follow to keep yourself on track?

And what about freinds ?? Do u apply the same approach as with your networks or do u so something else ??

Hope I didn’t ask too many questions but any help with this matter would be greatly appreciated

I rarely e-mail or call people just to catch up. I occasionally look for experiences I can share with friends, and I host get-togethers from time to time. I like checking out people’s social networking updates from time to time, and I comment when I’ve got something to share.

I mostly reach out to people when:

  • I’ve come across something that they might find useful
  • I can answer one of their questions or help them out with something
  • I can connect them with someone who has a question they can answer

More about the tools I use to connect

This mostly-passive networking style doesn’t fit the advice of most networking books, which focus on techniques for active networking: making lists of contacts you want to make, cultivating relationships through coffees and lunches, working those network events. It works for me, though.

Part of this might be because I let go of the need to be in close touch with specific people, and I open things up to serendipity instead. I don’t have to stress out about not being in close touch with my friends. I still feel warm and fuzzy about people even if I haven’t seen them in a year, and I hope they feel the same too.

Besides, it’s easy for people to keep in touch with me. I write about life on my blog, and I occasionally post social network updates on Twitter, which is synchronized with Facebook and LinkedIn.

Back to diffuse networks. Clouds, if you will.

There’s an oft-quoted limit to social relationships: Dunbar’s number, some 150 people in your “village”, the maximum number of people most people can keep track of, with their interrelationships and quirks. I don’t try.

I want to touch the lives of many more people than I can know, just as I learn from many more people than I can meet. People drift in and out whenever they want. I try to remember as much as I can about people, but it’s okay to re-learn and re-discover.

How do you keep in touch with people? Or perhaps, a different question: How do you cultivate serendipity?

2010-08-23 Mon 20:09

Proactive communication: Five tips for following up

August 26, 2010 - Categories: communication, ibm, mentoring, productivity, work

Isabelle’s manager wanted her to get better at proactive communication. She’s comfortable e-mailing people, but she has a hard time following up when people don’t respond. Timezone differences between team members in Singapore and in the US compound delays. She reached out to me for advice, and I suggested a few things that might help:

1. Clear, dated requests. When asking for help or a response through e-mail, specify a target date instead of leaving it open-ended, and give a reason for that date if possible. This makes it easier for people to prioritize working on your task. (Don’t always ask people to get back to you TODAY, though. It looks like you don’t plan well.)

2. Clear, dated responses and priorities. If you’re working with other people on some lower-priority tasks, those tasks might never be finished. Clarify the relative priority of a task with your manager: it might turn out to be higher-priority than you thought. If it really is a low-priority project, contact the people you need to collaborate with and get an estimate of when they might be able to work on their part of the project. Find out what other important projects they’re working on, too. This will allow you to:

  • give clearer reasons for delays (“We can only work on the report next week because we have to finish the keynote presentation this week”)
  • negotiate better solutions (“I can do that part of the presentation if you can do this part of the report”)
  • re-negotiate priorities with your manager (“Actually, this report is more important than adding animation to the presentation”), and
  • give you dates for following up (“John is working on the presentation now, but he promised to work on the report on Monday, and I’ll follow up with him then”).

3. Status reports. They’re good for your manager and for you. Keep track of where you are on projects: what your next actions are, what you’re waiting for, and what you’ve accomplished. Share this with your manager frequently, so there are no surprises.

4. Concrete follow-ups. When you’re waiting for a response, schedule a follow-up so that it doesn’t slip through the cracks. Follow up by e-mail, and then move up to following up by phone or instant message if needed. I don’t do this for all of my tasks, but I do this for tasks I “own,” and it helps.

Concrete follow-up dates also help you write better status reports. Instead of reporting “Waiting for response”, you can report “Waiting for response; will follow up on ____ by e-mail and _____ by phone.” Clear follow-up plans make people feel more confident that the task won’t be forgotten.

5. Tactful escalation. When people don’t respond, sometimes you need to find other ways to get things going. Isabelle had learned how to cc:ing her manager so that her manager could stay updated, but she wasn’t comfortable with cc:ing the other person’s manager because it felt like escalation. If done tactfully, though, escalation can be a good tool.

How to escalate: Give people the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledge that they might be busy working on priority projects. Send them a gentle reminder, cc:ing their manager. In the note, explain to the manager that you understand that the original contact may be busy or your request might be a better fit for someone on the team, and ask who might be the best person to talk to.

Hope that helps!

2010-08-24 Tue 10:20

On a Lenovo X61

August 27, 2010 - Categories: geek, sketches

imageI’ve been saving up for a Lenovo X61 for a while. Drawing had turned out to be tons of fun, and l wanted something more portable than my much-enjoyed Cintiq 12WX. So when l came across a Craigslist ad offering the X61 at a decent price, I went for it.

It’s the computer I thought it would be. And it understands my handwriting! So now l get to experiment with my workflow to figure out what works for me…

By golly, the future is actually here.

Drawing with my tablet

August 28, 2010 - Categories: cat, sketches


Drawing with my new tablet PC is lots of fun. Instead of being stuck in the basement or near a table large enough to hold a laptop and a regular tablet, I can draw pretty much anywhere – like the couch where Neko loves to nap.

There are plenty of drawing programs for tablets. Some mimic traditional drawing media: pencils, charcoal, even oil paint. Some let you use all sorts of effects. Others take a different approach to drawing, with lines and shapes that you can draw and edit. I like the latter more, because I can tweak my drawings until they look more like what I had in mind.

My favourite drawing program is Inkscape. Using it in full tablet mode isn’t as convenient as working on the Cintiq because I don’t have all the buttons I’m used to, but I’ve been working on my configuration to make it easier to draw. I use mouse gestures to switch between different tools so that I don’t have to click on the toolbox, and I’ve mapped one of the buttons on the tablet frame to “Delete”.

Growing up, I hadn’t really thought of myself as artistic. We’d fallen into the habit of labelling ourselves, I guess. My eldest sister and I were academically and technologically inclined. My middle sister was the one who was good at photography and drama and all that stuff. In high school, the split became even bigger as I compared myself with classmates who created beautiful landscapes and still-life drawings in art and drafting. Gadgets and presentations lured me back into drawing. I got a Nintendo DS to play games and draw on it, discovering along the way that drawing was a lot of fun. I sketched a presentation on it, and the overwhelming response to that told me I’d stumbled across something more fun than illustrating my presentations with impersonal stock photographs. I’m beginning to think of myself as someone who can draw–perhaps not amazingly well, but enough to make me and other people smile.

I have a feeling this will definitely be worth the money I set aside for it. =)

Setting up my new tablet PC – apps, config, etc.

August 29, 2010 - Categories: geek
  • AdAware: check the computer for any malware from previous owner’s use – checked out clean
  • Dropbox: synchronize my files
  • Emacs: note-taking, personal information management, awesomeness
    • Set HOME directory in Control Panel – System – Environment Variables
    • Use mklink to create symbolic links under Windows
    • Write a simple .emacs that loads the dotemacs.el in My Dropbox/elisp
  • AutoHotkey: map Caps to Control and create all sorts of other useful shortcuts
    • Add My Dropbox/personal/shortcuts.ahk to my startup
  • Launchy: quick access to programs
  • Inkscape and MyPaint: Favourite free drawing programs
    • Set drawing tools to use last selected style
    • Set preferences for transforms: don’t scale strokes, etc.
    • Tinker with smoothing to get something that feels right
  • Google Chrome: set up synchronization for bookmarks and extensions
  • FeedDemon: Feed reader, easier than using Google Reader interface
  • StrokeIt: Gestures make pen computing even easier
    • Set up custom gestures for Inkscape, FeedDemon, and general operation
  • Windows Live Writer
  • Windows setup: Use a plain black background, turn off unnecessary visual effects, go back to old form of Alt-Tab. (When alt-tabbing, press the other alt key to switch to classic view.)

And that should be enough to get me working smoothly for now. I might dual-boot Ubuntu or run it in a virtual machine, depending on how well this 32-bit version of Windows 7 performs. If I find myself spending more time in Microsoft Windows because of all the tablet-y goodness, I’ll go the VM route, or I’ll give Cygwin another try.

SCHEDULED: 2010-08-29 Sun 08:00

Week ending August 29, 2010

August 30, 2010 - Categories: weekly

SCHEDULED: 2010-08-30 Mon 8:00

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Have several mentoring conversations
    • [X] Run Energy & Utilities Idea Lab
    • [X] Work on bookmark tool for Boz and Yael
    • [X] Prepare presentation on sharing
    • [X] Move feed magic tool
    • Reflected on career, figured out what I want my next step to be
  • Relationships
    • [-] Confirm accommodations and photographer: Accommodations booked, confirming with photographer
    • [X] Apply for marriage licence
    • [C] Plan tea party
  • Life
    • [X] Set up twine support for peas
    • [X] Organize my notes
    • [X] Tweak schedule so that weekly reviews go out on Sunday or Monday
    • Painted my chair Pooh Bear Yellow (works reasonably well with W-‘s Bibbidi Bobbidi Blue chair
    • Bought tablet PC: Lenovo X61T

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Plan Idea Labs: Follow up on other Idea Labs
    • [X] Classroom to Client: Finish formatting Idea Lab presentation for ThinkLabs
    • [X] Classroom to Client: Create community and structure online resoruces
    • [X] Connections Toolkit: Build Activities reporter
    • [X] Build mailto form processor
    • [X] Track down Client Business Value report
  • Relationships
    • [X] Wedding: Plan transportation
    • [X] Hobbies: Reassemble chair
  • Life
    • [X] Set up laptop: Experiment with workflow
    • [X] Sleep by 10

Limiting my options so that I can focus

August 31, 2010 - Categories: career, life, reflection

We’re fascinated by choice, almost slaves to keeping our options open. Sometimes it’s better to close doors, impose constraints, ignore possibilities. Focus.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I plan the next step in my career. There are so many paths to choose from: consulting? development? management, perhaps even executive?

Constraints make choosing easier.

I want to build a wonderful relationship with W-. This is easier to do with little or no travel, manageable hours, and low stress at work. That probably rules out the kind of consulting IBM tends to do, and the executive career path as well.

I want to experiment and create new opportunities. I’d like to try product development / consulting / coaching / webinars / e-books. People have made that business model work. But I’ve got a great opportunity to help change the way IBM works, and through IBM, help change the way the world works, so I’m focusing on that. I should make sure that familiarity and comfort don’t take me too far away from what I want to do, though: help people connect, collaborate, and learn.

Between following a formal career path and going where no job title has gone before, I think I’d like to explore the latter. I can take risks. I learn quickly, and I’m good at making things work.

This will be interesting.