September 2010

It’s okay if you can’t remember or spell my name; being human

September 1, 2010 - Categories: connecting

Lifehacker had a recent post with tips on how to remember people’s names – generally useful tips, ground well-covered in networking books. There is one tip I disagree with, though. I realized I don’t often hear disagreement about it, so I thought I’d share. Here’s the tip:

DON’T ever call people by the wrong name

Hearing your name mispronounced can be annoying but forgivable, especially if lots of people find your name hard to pronounce, but hearing someone call you by the wrong name is always infuriating! Out of all facts that someone can possibly misremember about you (e.g., your job, college major, or ethnicity), getting your name wrong is the ultimate insult. It simply leaves a yucky visceral impression that the other person doesn’t give a damn about you.

I disagree with this tip because I think it creates unnecessary fear, anxiety, and expectation. I think there’s a better way to do this.

Let’s look at it from both sides.

If someone has forgotten your name, you could get mad about it… or you could just shrug it off and give the person the benefit of the doubt.  If they consistently get your name wrong, you could bear a grudge, or you could laugh about the possible crossed wires (maybe you really remind them of their great-aunt!). If they sneer while mangling your name so much it sounds like an epithet, something might be up. But in general, people are good people, and they’re not trying to insult you or say that you’re worthless.

When I talk to people, I don’t assume that I’m important to them, or that they should devote precious brainspace to remembering me. If people make an effort and get my name wrong anyway, I’ll still appreciate that. They’re human.

Let’s look at the other side. If you’ve forgotten someone’s name despite your best efforts, go ahead and ‘fess up, or try to see if you can pick it up from the conversation (or from a networking buddy). I prefer the direct confession route over the awkward-standing-around route. It gets the pain over faster, and it makes more of a human connection. I try to make up for any name shortcomings by remembering other little details about people, focusing on creating value, and connecting people with other people.

And if I thought I knew someone’s name but it turns out I was mistaken, well, it happens. I’ll try to remember. Some people’s faces get mixed up in my memory. I’m not going to beat myself up over it, and I hope other people don’t feel permanently offended. (Besides, if they did hold a grudge, that says more about them than about me…)

My only pet peeve when it comes to this, actually, are people who punish you for not knowing their name, those who make you guess or otherwise embarrass you when they detect the faintest whiff of uncertainty from you about who they are. Not cool. People who do that might “score points” in that conversation, but they lose the long-term game. (I remember writing a post about this before this other one, but I can’t find it. Ah well, probably not good to rant too much anyway… =) )


Make it easier for other people to remember your name. (I usually bring my own nametag to events.) Make an effort to remember and use other people’s names, and to remember other details about them. Above all, be human, and let other people be human.

Book: Leading Outside the Lines

September 2, 2010 - Categories: book, management, organization, reading, work

zebraI want to get really good at being a fast zebra. The metaphor comes from Leading Outside the Lines, Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan’s book on working with the informal organizational structure. According to Mark Wallace (former US ambassador to the United Nations), fast zebras are people who can absorb information and adapt to challenges quickly. The authors explain, “On the African savannah, it is the fast zebra that survives a visit to the watering hole, drinking quickly and moving on, while the slower herd members fall prey to predators lurking in the shadows. The fast zebra is, in essence, a person who knows how to draw on both the formal and informal organizations with equal facility.”

It seems like a business cliche – who wouldn’t want to absorb information and adapt to challenges quickly? – but Katzenbach and Khan go into more detail. “They help the formal organization get unstuck when surprises come its way, or when it’s time to head in a new direction. They have the ability to understand how the organization works, and the street smarts to figure out how to get around stubborn obstacles. They draw on values and personal relationships to help people make choices that align with overall strategy and get around misguided policy. They draw on networks to form teams that collaborate on problems not owned by any formal structure. They tap into different sources of pride to motivate the behaviors ignored by formal reward systems.”

Like the loneliness facing early adopters, fast zebras can feel isolated. Identifying and connecting fast zebras can help them move faster and make more of a difference.

I can think of many fast zebras in IBM. People like Robi Brunner, John Handy Bosma, and Jean-Francois Chenier work across organizational lines to make things happen. Lotus Connections and other collaboration tools make a big difference in our ability to connect and self-organize around things that need to be done. They also provide informal channels for motivation, which is important because this kind of boundary-spanning work often doesn’t result in formal recognition (at least in the beginning).

The book describes characteristics of organizations that successfully integrate formal and informal structures, and it has practical advice for people at all levels. It also has plenty of stories from organizational role models. My takeaway? Harnessing the informal organization and helping people discover intrinsic motivation for their work can make significant differences in an organization’s ability to react, so it’s worth learning more about that. Recommended reading.

Leading Outside the Lines
Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan
Published by John Wiley and Sons, 2010

The value of constraints

September 3, 2010 - Categories: life, productivity

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because I’ve been surprised by how useful they are. One of the challenges of being an agreeable, optimistic person is that I’m often tempted to say yes to many opportunities and try all sorts of things. Explicit constraints help me keep things manageable, and they help me remember why I chose them.

For example, this year, I’m experimenting with limiting my presentations to one talk a month, and little or no conference travel. Except for March (always conference/event season), I’ve been pretty good at sticking to that. It’s easy to explain the constraint to people, and they’re happy with either referrals to other speakers or postponement to one of my free months. It means I have more time to think, experiment, write, and draw.

I’ve also been trying a limit of one blog post per day, instead of bursts of two or three posts. One of these days, I’ll crunch numbers to see if I have a significant difference in terms of volume or comments. I like the rhythm, though. It makes me think more about what I want to publish, which posts I want to prioritize. I still write a lot, but that’s more so that I have a buffer for those busy days.

Now that I’ve gotten over the initial disruption of having a Playstation 3 in the house, I’ve been getting back on track with my sleep schedule. Limiting the hours I spend on work and other things forces me to be clear about my priorities and work more efficiently.

I’m getting better at knowing when I need to use constraints. When I pack my life too full, I find myself reshuffling my task list too often. My mind feels like it buzzes. Choices threaten to overwhelm. It’s a good time to step back and ask myself: How can I simplify this? What can I limit?

Thinking of autumn

September 4, 2010 - Categories: gardening, life

A former teacher of mine asked me, “If you were a season, what would you be, and why?” I thought about it because I wanted to dig beyond the trite answers that tempted me: summer for sun, spring for new beginnings.

If I were to pick a season, it would be autumn – and not because of the breeze or the brilliant colours. (Isn’t it funny that the colours are always there in the leaves, but the green must die to let the other colours show?)

I’d choose it for harvest, celebration, preparation, and the ever-present awareness of winter.

If life is a year of seasons, it might be strange that I often think of winter, and of other years I’ll never see. That’s why it’s good to do the work now: to save the seeds from what’s working well, to plan and prepare the soil so that next year’s beds can bear more fruit.

The harvest is abundant, although it might not much resemble the plans from spring. Save some for the long winter – stored sunshine and water and nutrients in a variety of forms.

There may even be just enough time to sneak in one more cool-weather crop of lettuce, which frost makes sweeter. Who knows? Start it anyway.

And then, when winter embraces the garden, let go. You have done your work. Underneath the blanket of stillness is a future you can influence but not predict.

Fit for You: Thinking about my priorities

September 5, 2010 - Categories: career, life, reflection

In a lively mentoring session on Wednesday, Annie English suggested that I fill in the Fit for You assessment, something my new manager had also mentioned. So here’s my quick list of the top five things that satisfy me about work, which I’ll continue to reflect on as I learn more. =)

  1. Satisfaction with work-life balance: I care about free weekends, minimal required evening work, and limited or no travel. I find that placing constraints on work gives me incentives to work quickly and efficiently, and to be realistic with my time estimates. The space also allows me to cultivate rich relationships with family, friends, and my fiance, and numerous personal interests that occasionally turn out to be useful or inspiring. My current role lets me do this quite well, and the occasional workshop trips become more of a treat as I get to meet lots of interesting people. (Very satisfied.)
  2. Development of new skills: I like learning new tools and solving new problems. If I already know how to do something, I’d rather teach it or automate it instead of do it again and again. My current role lets me improve my communication skills, and the Lotus Connections toolkit I’m building for fun lets me play around with new challenges too. (Very satisfied.)
  3. Meaning and significance: I love making a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s saving them time, helping them work together better, or helping them imagine new possibilities. My current work lets me make this kind of difference from my kitchen table – yay! (Very satisfied.)
  4. Connection with clients and colleagues: I like the fact that I’ve gotten to know many IBMers as people, and I’ve gotten to know a few clients as well. I don’t think I’d enjoy working on a technically awesome but isolating and unbloggable project. I love how my current role lets me connect throughout IBM, and how I get to learn from all sorts of interesting clients along the way. (Very satisfied.)
  5. Value creation and compensation: This is somewhat related to #3. I love creating a lot of value. I also like hearing from people about what we’re doing well and how that creates value for them, because that helps us build on strengths. Being compensated for the created value is nice, too. It’s not the money (I save a lot of what I earn, and I like being frugal), but growth is good, and money is one way of measuring growth. I’d be happy to take extra time (as that’s harder to buy), although I know extra time tends to get encroached on. (Satisfied)

Overall: Very satisfied.

These priorities will probably change over time, but at least you folks know the right buttons to press… =)

Week ending September 5, 2010

September 6, 2010 - Categories: weekly

SCHEDULED: 2010-09-06 Mon 8:00

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Plan Idea Labs: Follow up on other Idea Labs
    • [X] Classroom to Client: Finish formatting Idea Lab presentation for ThinkLabs
    • [-] Classroom to Client: Create community and structure online resoruces
    • [X] Connections Toolkit: Build Activities reporter – postponed
    • [C] Build mailto form processor
    • [X] Track down Client Business Value report


    • Virtual Forum: Connected organizers with Jam providers
    • Expertise location: Sent follow-up message
    • Classroom to Client: Created "Did you know" presentation for the changing nature of work
  • Relationships
    • [X] Wedding: Plan transportation – cabs will work fine
    • [-] Chair: Reassemble chair
    • Wedding: Met with photographer
  • Life
    • [X] Set up laptop: Experiment with workflow
    • [-] Sleep by 10

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [-] Classroom to Client: Create community and structure online resoruces
    • [X] Connections Toolkit: Build Activities reporter – postponed
    • [X] Classroom to Client: Format Idea Lab reference presentation
    • [X] Idea Labs: Assist with planning, send RSVPs
    • [X] Career: Set up Ruby on Rails
  • Relationships
    • [X] Wedding: Plan NYC trip
  • Life
    • [X] Sew dress: Transfer dots and mark stitching lines
    • [X] Chair: Paint and assemble chair
    • [X] Productivity: Tweak GTD process
    • [X] Productivity: Organize files

Elsewhere on the Internet:

Redoing things

September 7, 2010 - Categories: family, life

SCHEDULED: 2010-09-07 Tue 08:00

It took me an extra weekend, but I repainted the chair I’ve been working on. This chair was my very first paint job. When we were working on this last weekend, W- was painting his chair too, and I made the mistake of not asking him for help. It turns out I’d loaded the brush too heavily, and the resulting runs marred the finish. So we sanded and scraped some of the excess paint down, and I repainted the pieces.

I thanked W- for helping me learn. He thanked me for caring. =)

There are a lot of things I’m doing for the first time. Whether it’s figuring out painting or my career, I try things out, make the occasional mistake, and get better.

Lessons learned from painting: Don’t rush. Go light – paint with an almost-dry brush. Ask questions. Watch other people. And don’t be afraid to do it again, even if doing again might make things worse. (I sometimes gouged wood out while trying to scrape paint off.) It’s just a chair, so don’t worry too much about it, but it’s a good story too.

In other news: W- has finished painting his chair Bibbidi Bobbidi Blue, and J- is painting hers with One Enchanted Evening. Mine is Pooh Bear Yellow. Attack of the Disney pastels! =) When we finish the chairs, I’ll post a picture of the three of us.

Labour Day painting

September 8, 2010 - Categories: life, sketches

From Monday:

path5719 We spent the Labour Day weekend finishing our Adirondack chairs, patching holes and dings in our hallway, and priming the surface for the another colour. I’m speckled with paint, but most of it has ended up on the wall and on my chair, so things are good.

I got frustrated, was encouraged, took a break, returned to my work, and made things happen. I had fun.

DIY makes me feel just a little more grown-up, a little more ready to take on life. I’m not afraid of hanging things on the wall, because I know we can patch it up. I’m not constrained by the furniture available in stores. I can make simple pieces. I’m not limited by the produce in the neighborhood supermarket. I can grow bitter melon and different varieties of basil.

It would’ve been much harder to explore these things on my own. I’m so lucky that W- has a lot of experience in these things, and he makes it easy for me to learn too. A lot of it has to do with having a house, and investing time into shared practical interests.

What else could I have been doing with my time? Writing. Coding. Drawing. Every moment is a decision to do one thing instead of another. Even if DIY leads to a less optimal life than, say, focusing on development and outsourcing time-consuming tasks not related to that, I like the balance and the freedom and the diversity of experience. I like building more stories into the everyday backdrop of our lives.

Here’s to working with your hands.

Stuff is just stuff, and experiences are just experiences

September 9, 2010 - Categories: life

I was browsing the featured presentations on Slideshare for design and content inspiration, and I noticed that one of the presentations from IgniteToronto made it to the front page. The key message was: Spend on experiences, not on stuff. (Warning: language.)

This is a message I mostly agree with, and it’s good to remind people that stuff is just stuff. But I’m starting to be a little wary of how people are using this idea of spending on experiences to pack their lives, make themselves unhappy, and one-up each other.

Experiences have their dangers, too. You can get just as attached to experiences as you can to material things. You can get addicted to adrenaline rushes and bragging rights. You can plunge yourself into debt for a week or a year of bliss and still be paying for it when your tan has faded and your souvenirs are gone. You can chase after happiness in different countries and lose the ability to be who you are wherever you are. You can use your experiences to make other people feel worse about their own lives instead of inspiring them to find their own path.

I’ve played with the thought of making a “bucket list” – a list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket, a list of things I want to do before I die. I always find myself asking these questions: Is this really what I want, or am I listing this because I think I want it? Can my life still be rich and happy without this experience? I realized that experiences are just stuff, too. They may not take up space in your house, but they take up time and energy.

Take weddings, for example – one of the most emotionally-charged and heavily-marketed experiences one could have. W- and I are getting married in less than a month.  If I let myself be swayed by advertising, I might ask myself: Why not splurge on a grand hall, a limousine, the best restaurant for the reception, a luxurious honeymoon, a top-rated photographer? After all, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Or twice-, in the case of W-.) Live it up. Go big or go home.

But an experience is just an experience. At the end of the day, we will be just as married in City Hall as in a cathedral, and simple wedding memories would be more in line with our values than lavish celebrations would be.

He who dies with the most experiences still dies. It’s not about quantity, or variety, or even quality—for who’s to say one experience is objectively better than another? Everything depends on what you take away from that experience, how that experience becomes part of you, how you use that experience to make people’s lives better.

It’s good to explore new experiences. You might discover lots of interesting things along the way. But be wary of the new materialism: the one that shuns stuff but adorns itself in anecdotes, always looking for happiness instead of recognizing it.

There is beauty and depth in everyday life as well. Savour the water you drink. Enjoy the work that you do. Live the life that you live.

Monthly review: August 2010

September 10, 2010 - Categories: monthly

Last month, I wrote:

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. =)

It’s been quite a month. As promised, a yearly review, with a PDF of my favourite blog posts from life as a 26-year-old. Lots of work: organizing Idea Labs, attending training, creating training material, tweaking the community toolkit. Lots of changes – things that rippled into changes in lifestyle: a blender for healthy breakfast shakes, a television and a PS3 for family gaming (but be careful with the timesuck!), a tablet PC for drawing and presentations. We helped a friend solve a temporary housing problem. And the wedding preparations – mostly okay, but a fair bit of drama. The licence has been obtained, the bed-and-breakfast for my family has been reserved, the dress has arrived, the photographer has been booked. Some differences. Fortunately, W- is amazing, and we’re going to get through this. I’ve got a little bit more clarity around the career front regarding what I want to do, so I only need to focus on resolving one thing at a time.

September: more Idea Labs, preparations, keeping things sane. October: a whirlwind. And then a new normal, I hope.


Work and tips:


Emacs Org mode and publishing a weekly review

September 11, 2010 - Categories: emacs, kaizen, org, process

2010-09-11 Sat 08:00

I like using Emacs Org-mode to organize my notes. One of the things it makes it easy to do is to keep a weekly review. I used to switch between using Windows Live Writer and using Emacs Org to draft the post, but with org2blog, I’ve been using Org more and more. Here’s how I use it.

At the beginning of my ~/personal/, I have a headline for * Weekly review. Underneath it is a template that makes it easy for me to review my current projects and make sure that I’ve got next actions for each of them. Below that is a reverse-chronological list of weekly reviews, with the most recent weekly review first. This allows me to easily review my weekly priorities and copy that into a new entry. Here’s what the first part of my Org file looks like (minus the spaces at the beginning of the line)

* Weekly review
** Template
*** Plans for next week
**** Work
- [ ] *Support Classroom to Client:*
- [ ] *Build Connections Toolkit:*
- [ ] *Organize Idea Labs:*
- [ ] *Build career:*
**** Relationships
- [ ] *Plan Wedding:*
**** Life
- [ ] *Sew dress:*
- [ ] *Improve productivity:*
** Week ending September 12, 2010
*** From last week's plans
**** Work
- [X] *Classroom to Client:* Create community and structure online resoruces
- [X] *Connections Toolkit:* Build Activities reporter
- [X] *Classroom to Client:* Format Idea Lab reference presentation
- [X] *Idea Labs:* Assist with planning, process RSVPs
- [X] *Career:* Set up Ruby on Rails
- Helped Darrel Rader with blog feed
- Helped Sunaina with Notes e-mail conversion
- Finalized Idea Lab reference
- Had great conversation with Boz, Rooney, Kieran, etc. about culture and sharing
- Followed up on expertise location, sent draft report
- Collected interesting Lotus Connections practices into a presentation
- Put together match-up slide for IBM acquisitions
**** Relationships
- [X] *Wedding:* Plan NYC trip
**** Life
- [ ] *Sew dress:* Transfer dots and mark stitching lines
- [X] *Chair:* Paint and assemble chair
- [X] *Productivity:* Tweak GTD process - use Org for my weekly review/project template
- [X] *Productivity:* Organize files
- Added weekly lifestream archive
**** Plans for next week
***** Work
- [ ] *Support Classroom to Client:* Collect lessons learned and create new material
- [ ] *Build Connections Toolkit:* Make GUI
- [ ] *Organize Idea Labs:* Update invitation template
- [ ] *Build career:* Go through Ruby on Rails tutorials
- [ ] *Build career:* Prototype Drupal site and learn about new practices along the way
- [ ] *Build career:* Mentor people
***** Relationships
- [ ] *Plan wedding:* Plan BBQ reception
- [ ] *Plan wedding:* Make checklist and timeline for cleaning up, etc.
***** Life
- [ ] *Sew dress:* Machine-baste pieces together
- [ ] *Improve productivity:* File inbox items from my Org file

Most of the time, I leave the template section collapsed, and the “Plans from last week” expanded. Throughout the week, I cross items off and add quick notes about other accomplishments. When I reach the next week, I create a new entry, move the “Plans for next week” subtree and rename it “From last week’s plans”. When I do my weekly review (or throughout the week, as I notice new items), I create a “Plans for next week” section and fill it in. The editing can easily be automated, but I’ll tinker with it a bit first before writing code.

This approach means duplicate information in my task list. It would be interesting to use TODO items instead of list items for tracking my weekly priorities, with possible integration with my web-based task list through org-toodledo. However, I’d need to write code to make the TODO items publish as neatly as this list gets published using org2blog, and I don’t feel like going into that yet.

Anyway, that’s how I’m currently doing it. =)

Getting the WordPress Lifestream plugin to work on my blog

September 12, 2010 - Categories: geek, wordpress

I’ve been thinking about including a digest of Twitter, Delicious bookmarks, Google Reader shared items, and other social activity in my weekly review. This lets me include the information in my archive, and it gives people more opportunities to bump into things I found interesting.

It took a bit of hacking, but I eventually got the Lifestream plugin for WordPress to work, with the help of another webpage and some source code diving. Here’s the code that powers this lifestream page:

<?php $options = array('limit' => 50); $events = $lifestream->get_events($options); foreach ($events as $event) { echo '<li>'; $label_inst = $event->get_label_instance($options); if ($event->feed->options['icon_url']) { echo '<img src="' . $event->feed->options['icon_url'] . '" alt="(' . $event->feed->options['feed_label'] . ') \ "> '; } echo '<a href="' . $event->data[0]['link'] . '">' . $event->data[0]['title'] . '</a> (' . date('D, M j, Y', $event->data[0]['date']) . ')'; echo '</li>'; } ?>

$event->render had been giving me problems, so I specified my own output format. It didn’t automatically pick up icon URLs, so I specified the URLs myself. (Bug: the settings get lost if you re-configure the feed.) The plugin seems to be broken out of the box, but there are enough pieces in there for a geek to make things work.

Because I don’t want to use up two of my one-post-a-day slots on weekly reviews, I’m leaving it as a web page that I can review and manually copy into my weekly review post instead of automatically publishing something.

You can see it in action in last week’s review.

Work in progress. Hope this helps!

Week ending September 12, 2010

September 13, 2010 - Categories: weekly

SCHEDULED: 2010-09-13 Mon 08:00

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Classroom to Client: Create community and structure online resources
    • [X] Connections Toolkit: Build Activities reporter
    • [X] Classroom to Client: Format Idea Lab reference presentation
    • [X] Idea Labs: Assist with planning, process RSVPs
    • [X] Career: Set up Ruby on Rails
    • Helped Darrel Rader with blog feed
    • Helped Sunaina with Notes e-mail conversion
    • Finalized Idea Lab reference
    • Had great conversation with Boz, Rooney, Kieran, etc. about culture and sharing
    • Followed up on expertise location, sent draft report
    • Collected interesting Lotus Connections practices into a presentation
    • Put together match-up slide for IBM acquisitions
  • Relationships
    • [X] Wedding: Plan NYC trip
    • Helped paint the hallway
    • Attended Linda and Tim’s party
  • Life
    • [X] Sew dress: Transfer dots and mark stitching lines – postponed until after wedding
    • [X] Chair: Paint and assemble chair
    • [X] Productivity: Tweak GTD process – use Org for my weekly review/project template
    • [X] Productivity: Organize files
    • Added weekly lifestream archive

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Support Classroom to Client: Collect lessons learned and create new material
    • [X] Build Connections Toolkit: Make GUI
    • [X] Organize Idea Labs: Update invitation template
    • [X] Build career: Prototype Drupal site and learn about new practices along the way
    • [X] Build career: Mentor people
  • Relationships
    • [X] Plan wedding: Plan BBQ
    • [X] Plan wedding: Make checklist and timeline for next two weeks
  • Life
    • [X] Improve productivity: File inbox items from my Org file

Elsewhere on the Net


September 14, 2010 - Categories: clothing, filipino, philippines

The dress arrived last week. It’s a simple ivory sheath of piña (pineapple fiber), with a lightly-beaded and embroidered panuelo (wrap). Although I’d never met the seamstress who made it, the dress fit like a charm, thanks to the measurements I’d sent.

I had been planning to wear a dress a family friend had given me before, but my mom wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted to be involved in planning the wedding, so she volunteered to take care of the dress. It would be her gift, she said. I accepted, asking her to make sure it was simple, classic, and something I could wear again. This dress fits the bill perfectly. It would do just fine at a wedding and at a formal get-together or cultural celebration.

In addition to this knee-length dress, she has also commissioned a Maria Clara, in case a long dress proves a better fit. My concession to the pageantry of weddings is to reach back in time and connect with my roots. I asked her to make sure the designer didn’t get carried away with modernizing the outfit. Traditional. Classic. A dress I can be buried in, I said.

I was half-tempted to suggest an Ifugao outfit – our family has many memories of Banaue – but it seemed easier to find a seamstress to work on a beautiful Tagalog outfit than to (a) pick the right tribe, and (b) find an outfit that doesn’t scream “tourist souvenir”. Maria Claras and nice panuelos are non-mainstream enough to require a seamstress, but there’s plenty of wedding inspiration. The rich weaves and beading of the mountain tribes are more niche. And there’d be no question of W- matching my outfit – a g-string? in Canada? in October? At least W- has a barong, which he may or may not choose to wear.

Actually, the wraparound skirts and colourful belts of some of the tribes can work really well here, too. I’ll need to find a way to pick up some of those when I next visit, as SM Kultura doesn’t stock a lot of those. =) We don’t have nearly enough variety in those department stores. I was looking all over for a payneta, and I think I only found it in Baguio…

I love wearing Filipiniana, from the malongs I wear in summers to the colourful Ifugao belt I once repurposed as earwarmers in winter. I’d like to wear more of it, like the way I see men and women in ethnic outfits even at work. That might mean learning how to sew my own everyday versions, because the only baro’t saya I’ve seen in Philippine department stores are embellished with metallic threads or beads. The baro’t saya is close enough to regular wear for me to avoid having tons of conversations with strangers about whether I’m heading off to perform somewhere.

Yay culture. =)

Towards equity

September 15, 2010 - Categories: Uncategorized

In one of the sessions of a women’s leadership course at work, we were talking about our reactions on a training video that encouraged women to speak up. Some people were glad to be reminded, remembering how they’d been taught to speak softly and minimize their presence. I thought back over my childhood and couldn’t remember being limited just because I was a girl instead of a boy. Sure, we had etiquette lessons in grade school – how to stand, how to sit, how to walk – but nothing like the pressures that people faced a generation or two ago.

I grew up knowing I could have a career and that it’s okay to work. I have my own bank account. I can sign contracts. Some things have been solved, at least here.

But full equity is not yet a reality. I’m beginning to fear more limits. I’m tempted to choose where to compromise. Maybe this isn’t my fight, I think. Because it can be a big fight. There are a lot of opinionated people who’ve attacked stronger targets than I am.

It’s a good thing W- is who he is. When I fret about discrimination about mothers, he reminds me that in the microcosm of IBM, there are plenty of role models from all sorts of walks of life, and that people make things work. There’s still more that needs to be done, but it’s a good start.

So, equity. Might be uncomfortable working towards it, might not make all that big a difference. Life is limited and all of that. But it’s worth it. Besides, what am I going to do with a life circumscribed by stereotypes? I’m in as good a place as any to push those boundaries, and maybe that will help the future push them out even more.

Please remind me if I let fear or the avoidance of discomfort make excuses for me. =)

‘round the bend

September 16, 2010 - Categories: Uncategorized

You know those moments in formulaic movies. Our heroes hit their lowest points. Everything looks stressful. Then something changes, and everything starts looking up.

This week feels different from last week. I think we’ve finally made it ‘round the bend in terms of wedding planning. With two weeks to go until the wedding, it’s about time. =)

We’ve cleared most of the woodworking tools from the living room, so there’s space for guests. We reinstalled the shoe cabinets in the newly-painted hallway. We have a detailed plan for things to do until the big day. We’ve got a definite answer for the drama we’d been struggling with, and everything else looks like it will work out.

Things are looking up. I’m even excited – it might not be the stressful day I’d been dreading. It might even be fun. =)

Tips for entrepreneurs

September 17, 2010 - Categories: entrepreneurship

SCHEDULED: 2010-09-17 Fri 08:00

One of my role models is leaving IBM to explore the world of entrepreneurship. Jamie Alexander has a lot of development experience. He built a number of sites, including PassItAlong, an internal social learning system we use at IBM. He’d be the first to admit he needs help with the business side, though, and he’s looking forward to learning more about marketing and adoption. He’s applying to the Digital Media Zone incubator at Ryerson University, and will check out the local technology events.

What advice could help a new tech/web entrepreneur get started? Here are a few tips I picked up by osmosis from the Toronto technology scene. What do I know about it? I haven’t started a company yet. But this is what I’ve heard from lots of conversations and books, and it might be useful. I’m hoping people will pitch in with other ideas.

Learn from companies that have done it. There are a number of interesting local companies that you can learn from, like Idee, Freshbooks and LearnHub. How did they do it? How did they identify and go after their market? How did they bootstrap? Did they need investment, or did they self-fund their growth? What challenges did they encounter and how did they deal with them? There are lots of events that feature companies in different stages of evolution. Go to them and ask questions. Read blogs and news articles online, too. But don’t get too focused on how people have done things before – the world is always changing, and there’s no sure-fire recipe for success.

Connect with mentors and the community. There are a number of tech events for startups. Go. Meet people. Learn from others. Connect with potential mentors, investors, and partners. There are plenty of online networks, too. Don’t get stuck in the new media echo chamber – you’ll still need to actually make a product or service, and you still need to go out there and build or discover your audience – but connect with people who can share what they’ve learned. I just did a quick search for Toronto startup events and found (Sept 24-26, 2010 at Ryerson). There’s always something going on.

Make it easy to keep in touch. “Do I have to use Twitter?” Jamie asked. If you’re starting a Toronto web startup, yes. It makes it easier for people to talk about you and your sites. Create a Twitter account and a blog, and use that to make it easy for people to find out more about you, interact with you, and refer to you. Reach out and connect with people. Share what you’re learning. Make it part of the way you work. You need that network. Why limit it to just the people you can regularly e-mail or have coffee with?

Collaborate. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Find people with complementary skills and who believe in your vision.

This is easier said than done. Where can you find business people if you’re a tech person? Startup events are one way to do it – you’ll find people of varying experience. Look for people who have succeeded before. Ask your mentors for referrals. Look for people who have failed before but know what they’re going to do differently next time. If you’re partnering with someone who’s also new to this, factor that into your planning, then hustle as much as you can. Don’t let an artificial tech/business division isolate you. You need to know your customers. You need to know the business side as well as the tech side.

Here’s a tip from entrepreneurs who have learned the hard way: get things in writing. You might be great friends now, but get your partnership on paper, and make sure you can live with the exit clauses. Sure, you probably won’t waste your time suing people, but it’s good to be clear about expectations and contingency plans.

Ship. Make something. Sell it to somebody. Seth Godin has lots of great insights on the value of shipping on his blog and in his recent book, “Linchpin.” Make something happen.

What else can help a new Toronto tech entrepreneur?

See also:

Welcome, listeners of the Taking Notes podcast!

September 17, 2010 - Categories: lotus

(If you haven’t listened to this morning’s podcast where Bruce Elgort and Julian Robichaux interviewed Luis Benitez and me about Lotus Connections, check it out – it’s about 40 minutes long.)

I’m a tech evangelist, storyteller, and geek in IBM Global Business Services. In addition to helping organizations learn more about emerging technologies through executive workshops, I build software that makes people’s lives better, like the Lotus Connections tools people have been using to help with community adoption. (Newsletters, metrics, data export, etc.)

More later, but you might be interested in:

Have fun, and leave a comment if you want to learn more or if you want to share any tips!

Getting past generation-based conversations

September 18, 2010 - Categories: gen-y

I’ve talked about generations in the workplace, from myths to organizational shapes to moving forward. I’m with Luis Suarez on this one: can we move on from the generation-based conversations?

People are well-meaning, but it’s interesting to look at what we accept when we have these conversations. I think we’re much better off focusing on workplaces that can deal with all sorts of diversity – age, gender, race, lifestyle, and so on.

Take this post from the Harvard Business Review discussion threads:

Create Mutual Mentoring Relationships

Conflicts between Boomers and GenYs may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the generation gap, pair people of these generations up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn’t be a "Teach me, Oh Wise Boomer" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Gen Ys can show Boomers different uses for technology and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced Boomers can help Gen Ys better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these generations have in common: a need to learn.

It’s a good point. I’m a fan of mentoring, and both people grow in the process. But it’s interesting to think about the dialogue we’re having, and the assumptions we accept. If we replaced age with, say, gender:

Conflicts between men and women may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the gender gap, pair people of these genders up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn’t be a "Teach me, Oh Wise Man" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Women can show men different uses for ______ and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced men can help women better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these genders have in common: a need to learn.

… doesn’t that feel weird? What about race or culture?

Conflicts between Caucasians and Asians may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the racial gap, pair people of these races up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn’t be a "Teach me, Oh Wise White" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Asians can show Caucasians different uses for ______ and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced Caucasians can help Asians better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these races have in common: a need to learn.

That just gave me the heebiejeebies. =)

Where’s the line? Where do we let generation-based discussions turn people into “others”? Where do we let age become an excuse? Wouldn’t it be cool to build a workplace where these things just aren’t issues, where we’re used to working with people who aren’t like us?

Talking about this stuff is better than not talking about this stuff. People have stereotypes about age, and those stereotypes affect all generations. (The ageism of the technology industry, the ageism of society in general…)

But we can do better than that, you know. We can treat it as normal that we work with people who are different from us and who have different experiences from what we have, and we can get better at recognizing not only the value other people bring to the organization, but also the value of the diversity of people in an organization.

Week ending September 19, 2010

September 19, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [-] Support Classroom to Client: Collect lessons learned and create new material – People are busy
    • [-] Build Connections Toolkit: Make GUI – Decided against Java GUI. Will just build everything into Sametime plugin. Need to set up environment.
    • [X] Organize Idea Labs: Update invitation template
    • [X] Build career: Prototype Drupal site and learn about new practices along the way
    • [X] Build career: Mentor people
    • Build career: Also talked to my manager about his idea for a very interesting role
    • Build Connections Toolkit: Create arbitrary blog feed exporter
    • Build Connections Toolkit: Was interviewed by Bruce and Julian (along with Luis Benitez) regarding Lotus Connections for the Taking Notes podcast
    • Innovation Discovery: Created and populated Activity for upcoming Smarter Cities event (Jason Wild)
    • Picked up "Collaboration Evangelist" as a cool title from @trondareutle
  • Relationships
    • [X] Plan wedding: Plan BBQ
    • [X] Plan wedding: Make checklist and timeline for next two weeks
    • Had a facial
    • Learned more about rhetoric =)
  • Life
    • [X] Improve productivity: File inbox items from my Org file

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Support Classroom to Client: Collect lessons learned and revise material
    • [X] Build Connections Toolkit: Add export to plugin
    • [X] Build Connections Toolkit: Track down a couple of bugs
    • [X] Organize Idea Labs: Finalize invitation for E.S. Idea Lab
    • [X] Build career: Co-present "Leading Innovation" at Showcase Ontario
  • Relationships
    • [X] Plan wedding: Consider fixing front garden
    • [X] Plan wedding: Clear stuff to throw / donate
    • [X] Plan wedding: Confirm all travel details
  • Life
    • [X] Improve productivity: Apply rhetorical principles to blogging

Elsewhere on the Net:


What can I do to help make the world more equitable?

September 20, 2010 - Categories: Uncategorized

I want to make it easier for people to do and be their best wherever and whoever they are. This involves stepping out of my comfort zone and challenging assumptions, but it’s a good use of a life.

What can I do?

I can share more. When it comes to exploring assumptions and inequities, I think it’s better to err on the side of oversharing than undersharing. I’ve seen this a number of times on my blog. I’ve written about things I was thinking through, things I thought were straightforward, or things that were difficult, and people have told me that they appreciated reading about something they were going through themselves. If I hadn’t written in public about keeping my name, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the consequences of that decision. But even though that was stressful, it was a good way to clarify what I believed, and connect with other people who’ve considered or will consider similar issues.

So I will share more, particularly if the discomfort I feel points me to something that is conventionally devalued or hidden.

I can question more assumptions and avoid opting out. Sometimes we disqualify ourselves, taking the easier path because we don’t believe something will be possible or easy. If we don’t opt out, we can bring out the real “no”s – or find out that our assumptions don’t match up with a more equitable reality.

I can mentor. It was wonderful to have all sorts of role models when I was starting out in computing. I was inspired by people who didn’t make excuses for themselves: gender, education, age, occupation, geography, disability… I’m glad I can pay them back by mentoring other people, and I enjoy helping people learn. I learn a lot in the process, too.

I can learn more about the issues, and I can help work on those issues. There are plenty of things that need to be addressed, and it can feel pretty overwhelming. Maybe I can pick one or two areas I can develop depth in (gender equity? work-life? globalization?), and learn a lot about those.

I’m here for only a short time. I might as well make the world a little bit better, so that the next batch of people can build on that.

Tips from remote workers

September 21, 2010 - Categories: ibm, tips, work

I attended a networking event for IBM Other Than Traditional Office employees (OTTO, for short) – people who work from home, client sites, mobility centers, and other places. It was held in Second Life Enterprise to take advantage of the Center for Advanced Learning’s speed-networking tools: a system for assigning conversational groups, sound-isolated tables so that you could talk without interfering with other tables, and a screen for information.

Here’s what I learned from the eight people I got to talk to:

  • It’s not even the new normal, it’s the old normal. Many people have been telecommuting for a long time (like 15 years!). I was talking to someone who’d worked on the Selectric typewriter. He said that when he first went remote, people were initially hesitant about whether he’d be available enough. Now it’s generally accepted, and his manager has even told him that he’s easier to contact than people who work in the office. Another person I talked to told me that she’d been encouraged to work from home after she was getting too many interruptions at work. I told them how people compare virtual conversations with watercooler chats and how my norm isn’t the watercooler, it’s online. We live in a pocket of the future – isn’t that amazing?
  • We’re mobile almost by default. Most people I talked to worked from home because they were working with a global team, although some started as the only remote person for an otherwise co-located team. When your team is all over the world, there’s no need to go in to a particular office.
  • Invest in tools. People told me how their wireless keyboards and mice helped them minimize the tangle of cables on their desk. They told me about having a separate business line, with phones that had good features. I shared how much I liked having a headset for my phone – I use a wired headset with a wireless phone (Panasonic KX TGA740). We talked about having second monitors and big monitors, and I shared how useful I find a second laptop.
  • Invest in practices. Lots of people told me about the need for discipline because working at home makes it easier for work to take over other parts of your life. One person suggested blocking off time for exercise on your calendar, a tip he picked up while shadowing an executive. Another told me about the schedule he keeps: an early start at 7 or 8 to get his main work in before the rest of his team interrupted him through instant messaging, with an early end to the day as well. Other people told me about early and late teleconference calls to accommodate different timezones, and how they made sure to set aside time during the day to take care of personal tasks.
  • Diversity is awesome. One of the people I talked to casually mentioned that this was her second career, which she entered after her kids grew up. I was talking to another person about tools and practices for remote workers (headsets!), and he mentioned he’d gotten a wireless one that works really well, which helps because he’s in a wheelchair. I talked to people who really appreciated the ability to flexibly manage their schedule around taking kids to school. IBM rocks.
  • Thinking about the platform: A minor hack to make it easier to limit chats to an area: use channels to message a bot that repeats the message only to people within the same group? Also, I really like the system they’ve built for assigning people into groups that maximize the number of new people you meet. A straightforward improvement would be to build a teleporting tool that uses that information to send you directly to the table for your group, although it might take a little finagling to figure out which chairs haven’t yet been occupied. You could then embed that script into a “kiosk”-type object in the main area as well as the individual timers in the discussion pods. When moving to a new group, then, people could click on the timer to be moved to the right position. (What if the previous round of people are still sitting in the pods?) Perhaps people can be teleported near the pod. The current system of standing up and walking to the right pod works fine, though, so this is really only if you’ve got a lot of avatars – which is unlikely given the load on each grid segment. So it would be cool to have these tweaks, but it’s not necessary at this scale.

All the questions in the post-networking group chat were about the platform. I’ve been to a number of IBM events in SecondLife, and I think it can be a great way to connect. Looking forward to seeing other groups take advantage of this!


September 22, 2010 - Categories: communication, love, reading

W- and I are getting married in less than two weeks. In preparation for that (and as a way of keeping sane during the pre-wedding hullabaloo), we’ve been learning how to argue. You’ve gotta love a man whose reaction to a challenging situation is to not only figure how to address the conflict, but also to learn more about effective communication.

You might be thinking: Isn’t rhetoric about political grandstanding, slick salesmanship, and mouldy Greeks and Romans? Isn’t “argument” just a fancy word for “fight?”

I thought so too, non-confrontational me. It turns out that learning more about rhetoric and argument can make relationships even better. In “Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion,” Jay Heinrichs points out the difference between fighting to win and arguing to win people over. What’s more, he uses familiar situations drawn from everyday life: persuading his teenage son to get him toothpaste, defusing potential fights with his wife, and analyzing the selling techniques and marketing tactics that beseige us.

My first encounter with Heinrichs was when W- pointed me to Heinrichs’ post on “How to Teach a Child to Argue.” It’s a clever example of logos, ethos, and pathos. Reading it, I thought: Hey, this is so practical. Then I wondered: Why didn’t I learn this in school? But I brought myself firmly back into a focus on the future by asking: What can I do to get better at this? When Heinrich writes about the past (forensic), present (demonstrative), and future (deliberative) tenses of arguments, I recognize my own urge to focus on moving forward–practical things we can do–during difficult conversations that threaten to spiral into blame games or overgeneralizations. Learning more about rhetoric helps me understand the patterns, working with them without being sucked in.

It isn’t easy to admit to learning more about rhetoric and argument. One downside of reading mybooks on communication and relationships as a child was that people occasionally doubted if I meant what I said. As a grade school kid, I found it hard to prove I wasn’t being manipulative. It’s still hard even now, but at least experiences give me more depth and reassurance that I’m not just making things up. I like Heinrichs’ approach. He and his family are well aware of the tactics they use, but they relate well anyway, and they give each other points for trying. I’m sure we’ll run into unwarranted expectations along the way – learning about argument doesn’t mean I’ll magically become an empathetic wizard of win-win! – but I’d rather learn rhetoric than stumble along without it.

Besides, argument – good argument, not fights – could be amazing. In “Ask Figaro“, Heinrichs writes:

“My wife and I believed that happy couples never argued; but since we started manipulating each other rhetorically (we recognize each other’s tricks, which just makes it all the more fun), we’ve become a happier couple.”

To learn more beyond “Thank You for Arguing”, we’ve also raided the library for other rhetoric books. Nancy Wood’s “Essentials of Argument” is a concise university-level textbook with plenty of exercises that I plan to work on after the wedding. “Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument” also promises to be a good read. These are not books to skim and slurp up. They demand practice.

Results so far: I have had deeper conversations with W-, had a still-emotional-but-getting-better conversation with my mom (I’m getting better at recovering my balance), and conceded an argument with Luke about dinner. (It’s hard to argue with a cat who sits on your lap and meows – pure pathos in action.) I’ll keep you posted. I look forward to practicing rhetoric in blogging, too.

I’ve won the relationship lottery, I really have. In a city of 5.5 million people, in the third country I’ve lived in, I found someone who exemplifies the saying: When the going gets tough, the tough hit the books.

(edited for clarity)

Old notes on staffing a virtual conference booth

September 23, 2010 - Categories: conference, connecting, event

It’s fantastic how a blog archive lets me pull up lessons learned from a virtual conference I helped at two years ago. Some of these tips from my internal blog post are platform-specific, but others might be useful.

Staffing the Social Networking booth at the Innovation in Action event. Here are quick tips:

  • Set up text shortcuts. You’ll need to type in a lot of text rapidly. The built-in Text Entries are not available when you’re sending an initial message or inviting someone to a chat, so type in some boilerplate text into Notepad and then copy and paste it. Messages you send from the booth will be marked as from your booth name, so include your name and e-mail address in your message. Advanced tip: use AutoHotkey to create a text macro. Install it from AutoHotkeyInstaller.exe, create a file like shortcuts.ahk (customize this of course), then double-click shortcuts.ahk to make it part of your system. Example shortcuts.ahk:

    ::!hello::Welcome to the IBM social networking booth. I’m Sacha Chua ([email removed]), a consultant who helps organizations figure out what Web 2.0 is, how it fits with their strategy, how to implement it, and how to make the most of it. Please feel free to ask me questions by sending a note or inviting me to chat. What can I help you with?
    ::!tapscott::Hello and welcome to the IBM social networking booth. I’m Sacha Chua ([email removed]), an IBM consultant who helps organizations figure out what Web 2.0 is, how it fits with their strategy, how to implement it, and how to make the most of it. What did you think of Don Tapscott’s keynote? Please feel free to start a chat if you want to talk about it or if you have any questions about social networking.

    After that, you’ll be able to type !hello into anywhere and have it expanded. To update, edit shortcuts.ahk and then double-click it again.

  • Check people’s visitor histories. The visitor history will tell you about any messages sent from or to this booth, if the visitor has been to this booth before, and so on. Great way to make sure you don’t send a message twice.
  • Send people messages and invite them to chat with you. You can initiate only one chat at a time, and you have to wait for the person to accept or reject the invitation before inviting another person. You can send as many messages as you want, though, and you can have as many open chats as you want.
  • Send yourself follow-up requests after conversations. Your goal in each conversation is to find out what people are interested and give yourself an excuse to follow up. After you get that, use the [i] button on the right (your chat partner’s profile) to display the profile, then use the Followup button to send yourself a copy of the person’s visitor history. WARNING: There’s some delay when selecting names from the list, so double-check that you’re sending the right person’s information.
  • Pull in experts. Need help answering a question? Tell the visitor you’re bringing someone in, then click on the expert’s profile, choose Invite to chat, and choose the chat session you want the expert to join.

Non-obvious things:

  • Your name will not be associated with any messages (from or to), so don’t count on being able to quickly see replies from people or find out what you sent someone.
  • The sorting buttons on the lists sort only the displayed entries, not all the entries. Entries will always be arranged chronologically, although in-page sorting may be different. Don’t count on being able to use this to see all the messages sent by visitors. Just leave it on Date.
  • If someone leaves your booth while you’re trying to check their visitor history, their info box disappears.
  • As people enter and leave the booth, odd things happen to the page. Be prepared to have to find people again.
  • Things get much quieter when people are listening to sessions. Eat or rest during those times.

New note-taking workflow with Emacs Org-mode

September 24, 2010 - Categories: emacs, kaizen, notetaking, org, productivity

The new workflow looks like it works better for me. Or rather, it’s an old workflow with new tools. Now, instead of using Windows Live Writer or ScribeFire to post my notes directly to my blog, I’m back to using M-x remember and Emacs, keeping a superset of my notes in text files and publishing selected parts of it.

  • The new workflow
    • M-x remember saves quick notes into a large text file (~/personal/, possibly with tags, with diagrams inserted later.
    • I regularly review and file items into the appropriate sections of ~/personal/
    • I post selected items to my blog using C-u M-x org2blog-post-subtree, scheduling them by adding a timestamp or using the C-c C-s (org-schedule) command.

    I sometimes use Microsoft OneNote on my new tablet to take notes during meetings, but it’s easy enough to convert my handwriting to text and paste it into my Org-mode file. I still have to think of a better way to refer to images while keeping my file manageable, but a filename is probably okay.

  • A worked example

    This is being composed in a M-x remember window. (Well, remember is bound to C-c r on my system, so it’s easy to invoke).

    After I finish braindumping, I’ll use C-c C-c to save it somewhere.

    I may schedule the post immediately (C-c s (org-schedule) and then C-u M-x org2blog-post-subtree), or tag it for later review. (:toblog: – ready to go, but not scheduled? :rough: – needs more thinking?)

    When I review the items, I’ll copy this into the Geek – Emacs section of my

    It feels nice having my notes in plain text, and being able to organize it in more than just chronological order…

  • The history

    From 2001 to about 2006, I kept an Emacs Planner wiki with all of my notes in it. Emacs Remember let me write notes that were automatically hyperlinked to whatever I was looking at, and I added code to Planner that made it easy for me to file the notes both chronologically and topically. Planner rocked. I loved being able to easily hyperlink between topics, and the wiki structure kept pages a mostly manageable size. (My public Planner files are still on the Net, but I need to regenerate the index or enable directory lists so that they’re usable.)

    When I moved to WordPress as a blogging platform in order to make it easier for people to leave comments, I hacked around with RSS to import my posts from Planner into WordPress (ex: Moving to WordPress meant a change in my workflow. I now had two places to store my notes: Planner and my blog.

    I tried Emacs Org because I liked the way it organized information. In Planner, we’d been struggling with elegant ways to manage tasks and notes that needed to be accessed in multiple contexts. The approach we had taken in Planner was to make copies of the information, but Org had a cleaner way to do it using different views. It was intriguing.

    When I started working at IBM, however, my information workflow diverged. I shifted to using a web-based to-do list and Lotus Notes, posting on an internal blog and an external one, and managing multiple sources and repositories of information.

    I wanted to go back to keeping my notes in plain text, encrypted if necessary, and to have a place where I could keep notes that might not be publishable. I still had to manage multiple computers, but synchronizing systems like Dropbox or SpiderOak got rid of some of the hassles I’d encountered with git. When I found out about org2blog thanks to a test link from punchagan, I modified the code to work with subtrees instead of new buffers, and that solved the blog publishing part of it.

How to be dispensable, and why you should document and automate yourself out of a job

September 25, 2010 - Categories: career, tips, work

My out-of-office message links to wikis where people can get self-service information, and backup contacts in case people have other questions. I’ve helped the three teams I’m working with learn more about using the Idea Lab tools I built. I can take my two-week vacation without worrying that projects will be delayed. Heck, I can get hit by a bus and things will still be okay at work. (Although I’ll try not to be hit by a bus.)

Making myself dispensable is paying off.

It’s good to make yourself dispensable. It’s even better when you don’t have to do the mad scramble for documents and tools the week before you leave. I’ve been documenting and automating my work from the beginning.

In a recent presentation to a defense client, I talked about how to develop the habit of sharing. During the discussion, one of the participants asked how that related to job security.

I mentioned a good book on how to be indispensable: Linchpin, by Seth Godin.

But it’s much better to be dispensable and invaluable. Indispensable people are a big risk. Whether they’re indispensable for good reasons (always knows the right thing to do) or bad reasons (hoards knowledge so that no one else can solve that problem), they can derail your project or your organization. People become dependent on them. And then when something happens—vacation, lottery, promotion, sickness, death—the team stumbles. Something always happens.

On the other hand, invaluable people help their teams grow along with them. They make themselves obsolete by coaching successors, delegating tasks to help people learn. They eliminate waste and automate processes to save time. They share what they know. They teach themselves out of a job. The interesting thing that happens to invaluable people is that in the process of spreading their capabilities to the team, they create new opportunities. They get rid of part of their job so that they can take on new challenges. Indispensable people can’t be promoted without disruption. Invaluable people can be promoted, and everyone grows underneath them.

You might be harder to fire if you’re the only one who knows the secret recipe, but wouldn’t you rather be the person people want to work with because you can solve new challenges? The first might save you during a round of layoffs, but the second will help you grow no matter where you are.

So, how can you be dispensable and invaluable?

Document with your successor in mind. Write instructions. Organize resources. Make it easy to turn your projects over so that you can take an even better opportunity if it comes along. Document, document, document. Push the knowledge out so that you’re not the only expert. This will help you and your team work more effectively, and it will reduce the work too.

Automate, automate, automate. If you can automate the repetitive or error-prone parts of your work, you’ll rock, and you’ll help your team rock too. If you don’t know how to program, you might consider learning how to – whether it’s Microsoft Excel wizardry or Perl geekery. Save time. Cut out the boring parts. Make your work easier.

If you do this well, you will work yourself out of at least the bottom 10% of your job each year… and you’ll open up at least 20% in productivity and new opportunities–not to mention the multiplying effect that you’ll have on your team and your organization.

Be dispensable. Be invaluable. Make stuff happen.

Cate Huston has a great post about this, too. Check hers out!

Week ending September 26, 2010

September 26, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Support Classroom to Client: Collect lessons learned and revise material
    • [C] Build Connections Toolkit: Add export to plugin
    • [-] Build Connections Toolkit: Track down a couple of bugs
    • [X] Organize Idea Labs: Finalize invitation for E.S. Idea Lab
    • [X] Build career: Co-present "Leading Innovation" at Showcase Ontario
    • Updated Connections Toolkit to work with exporting members from
    • Created step-by-step instructions for using Connections Toolkit to list members
    • Walked Marian Friedman through using my RSVP summarization script
    • Walked Richard Mound and Jenna Goldstein through reporting tool for community members
  • Relationships
    • [X] Plan wedding: Consider fixing front garden – nah, it will be fine
    • [X] Plan wedding: Clear stuff to throw / donate
    • [X] Plan wedding: Confirm all travel details
    • Had great mentoring chat with Cate Huston
  • Life
    • [X] Improve productivity: Apply rhetorical principles to blogging
    • Wrote more than 6,800 words by Friday – new flow working well

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [ ] Organize Idea Labs: Run report for external Idea Lab
    • Take a break!
  • Relationships
    • [ ] Plan wedding: Get married!
    • [ ] Plan wedding: Host barbecue reception for lunch/afternoon
    • [ ] Plan wedding: Take family to Niagara falls
  • Life
  • [ ] Stay sane =)

Blog posts this week

Elsewhere on the Internet

Systematically eliminating choices

September 27, 2010 - Categories: life

I confess: I sometimes feel overwhelmed when researching choices. I find it really helpful to write options down and then systematically eliminate them as I learn more.

For example, we’re planning how to take 11 people (ourselves included) to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Based on a few Internet searches, we identified the following options:

  1. Rent a 12-passenger van and take everyone.
  2. Rent a 7-passenger minivan and go in a convoy.
  3. Charter a yacht and go across the lake.
  4. Charter a private tour van from Toronto.
  5. Take a pre-determined Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake tour.
  6. Go to Niagara Falls by bus.
  7. Skip Niagara entirely.

Decisions are less stressful when you’ve got a basic plan in place, like the way that writing is easier once you’ve written a first draft, and like the way negotiations are easier when you’ve identified your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).

Our “first draft” was option 6: taking an inexpensive bus to Niagara Falls, and then doing a self-directed tour. That beat option 7, which might’ve involved making more preserves. ;)

We briefly looked at option 5 (public bus tour), too, but it didn’t feel like a good fit. So we struck that out.

Our ideal would’ve been to rent a 12-passenger van, but the companies that listed them as available seemed sketchy (mixed reviews on the Internet, complaints about transactions), and the larger rental companies didn’t have any 12-passenger vans available during that period. (Update: the smaller companies reported not having any vans for those dates, either. Moot point, then.)

We played around with the idea of taking a yacht (3) because it would be an awesome experience, but we decided it wasn’t worth it.

  1. Rent a 12-passenger van and take everyone.
  2. Rent a 7-passenger minivan and go in a convoy.
  3. Charter a yacht and go across the lake.
  4. Charter a private tour van from Toronto.
  5. Take a pre-determined Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake tour.
  6. Go to Niagara Falls by bus.
  7. Skip Niagara entirely.

Renting a minivan and going in a convoy (2) was much better than going to Niagara Falls by bus, so we made that our current working option.

A bit of digging turned up the IBM discount for Enterprise Car, which was okay. (I found out from Ian Garmaise that Enterprise also has 12-passenger vans, but none were available for the period we were looking at.)

W- reasoned that it made more sense to rent a minivan for the entire time than to hire a van and a driver, considering many people in our family can drive.

  1. Rent a 12-passenger van and take everyone.
  2. Rent a 7-passenger minivan and go in a convoy.
  3. Charter a yacht and go across the lake.
  4. Charter a private tour van from Toronto.
  5. Take a pre-determined Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake tour.
  6. Go to Niagara Falls by bus.
  7. Skip Niagara entirely.

When you feel overwhelmed with choices, it helps to list those choices and then get rid of them one by one.

Book: Getting to Yes

September 28, 2010 - Categories: book, communication, reading

(c) 2010 David Prior – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, 2nd ed.
1991 New York: Houghton Mifflin Company
ISBN-13: 978-0-395-63124-9

Personal response

Getting to Yes is a slim book that packs a lot of useful advice from corporate, government, and personal experience. The focus on principled negotiation, reason, and objective criteria will help me learn to keep my cool during difficult negotiations, and to stay focused on finding or creating options that address people’s interests instead of being limited to the positions that have been expressed.

This book focuses more on the process of negotiation, while “Thank You for Arguing” focuses more on the forms of rhetoric and the components of argument. Both are good reads in this area.

One of the key things I’d like to do to apply the lessons from this book is to develop better relationships with people, which can help when negotiating. (Not just for the purpose of negotiation, of course!) The more I understand about other people and the more they understand about me, the better the conversations can be.

Aside from applying these ideas to relationships with family and friends, I’m also looking forward to exploring this through outsourcing or other avenues.


  • Part 1: The Problem: Don’t bargain over positions

    When you think about negotiation, it’s hard to escape the stereotype of haggling over souvenirs, houses, or salaries. There are age-old tactics for dealing with those kinds of negotations: start with an extreme, and only grudgingly give up ground. The authors argue that this kind of position-based negotiation is inefficient and ineffective. Instead of getting locked into one position or another, you should focus on understanding your interests and other parties’ interests, and inventing creative solutions that work for everyone if possible.

  • Part 2: The method

    In this part, the book gives concrete tips for working through the different components of a negotiation: people, interests, options, and criteria.

    People: We often see negotiation as an adversarial problem. If you can reframe it from a contest of wills to a cooperative initiative to find something that works for all parties, negotiation becomes much easier. This can be difficult when there’s a lot of public pressure, so understand people’s private interests as well as their expressed ones. The book also points out the importance of focusing not just on the situation, but also on the relationship, and the value of developing a good working relationship outside the negotiation.

    Interests: The positions people take may give some clues about the interests they have, but these positions should not be the final word in negotiation. Find out more about what people truly value, because that may help you find creative ways to address those interests.

    Options: If you don’t firmly commit yourself to a position, you have more space to find better solutions that line up with people’s interests.

    Criteria: It’s better to negotiate using reason and objective criteria than to take arbitrary positions. Identify objective criteria you and other parties can agree on, and use those to evaluate the options. Translate irrational arguments into objective criteria, asking questions to investigate.

  • Part 3: Yes, but…

    This is where negotiation meets the real world. In this part, the book covers how to negotiate with a seemingly more powerful opponent, a stand-off, and dirty tricks.

    How to deal with power imbalances: Develop your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). This will help you resist pressure. If your alternative is stronger than their alternative, you will also have more negotiation room.

    It’s important to pick one alternative as your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, and to have a good idea of this alternative before negotiating. We can be overly optimistic and think of hundreds of alternatives. If we don’t choose, however, we can feel overwhelmed. Picking one forces clarity and makes it easier to walk away if necessary.

    How to deal with people who won’t negotiate: If people are locked into positions and don’t want to negotiate, or focus on irrational arguments, you still have several approaches you can try. The first approach is to focus on negotiating well yourself, using interests, options, and objective criteria. Another option is to redirect their negotiation moves in a way that focuses on interests, options, and objective criteria. The third strategy uses a trained mediator who can help you focus on collaboratively finding a solution.

    How to deal with dirty tricks: Keep your best alternative in mind. Call out the tactic and talk about it. Use objective criteria to avoid giving in to pressure. Don’t be afraid to take breaks or to walk away if necessary.

  • Part 4: In Conclusion

    It’s not about “winning” – it’s about finding ways to deal with differences. The book has a lot of advice that we’ve heard from different sources, but you still need to practice in order to get better at it.

  • Part 5: Ten questions people ask about Getting to Yes
    • Questions about fairness and “principled” negotiation
      1. “Does positional bargaining ever make sense?”
      2. “What if the other side believes in a different standard of fairness?”
      3. “Should I be fair even if I don’t have to be?”
    • Questions about dealing with people
      1. “What do I do if the people are the problem?”
      2. “Should I negotiate even with terrorists or someone like Hitler? When does it make sense not to negotiate?”
      3. “How should I adjust my negotiating approach to account for differences of personality, gender, culture, and so on?”
    • Questions about tactics
      1. “How do I decide things like ‘Where should we meet?’ ‘Who should make the first offer?’ and ‘How high should I start?'”
      2. “Concretely, how do I move from inventing options to making commitments?”
      3. “How do I try out these ideas without taking too much risk?”
    • Questions about power
      1. “Can the way I negotiate really make a difference if the other side is more powerful?” And “How do I enhance my negotiating power?”

Book: Thank You for Arguing

September 29, 2010 - Categories: book, communication, reading
(c) 2009 Mark Robinson – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion
Jay Heinrichs 2007 1st ed. ISBN: 978-0-307-34144-0
New York: Three Rivers Press

Personal response

I really like this book. Jay Heinrichs writes in a clear, accessible style that shows the relevance of rhetoric in life and gives great tips on how to get started. Through anecdotes, he also shows that rhetoric doesn’t have to be dodgy, and can contribute to a richer work and personal life.

W- and I are both studying this book, and it has given us a helpful framework for deeper discussions. I plan to use the tools in the book to analyze arguments, and to apply them when blogging too. (Hmm, might be interesting to use the classical structure for posts in response to other blog posts…)

Well worth a read.


  • Introduction

    1. Open your eyes: The invisible argument: We treat rhetoric and argument as negatives, but we’re immersed in it. Learning about argument can help us not only recognize when we’re being persuaded, but use it to improve everyday life.

  • Offense

    2. Set your goals: Cicero’s lightbulb: Fights and arguments are two different things. You’re in a fight to win; you’re in an argument to get what you want or to come to an agreement. When you argue, you want to change people’s mood, mind, and/or willingness to act. p17: story about “argument by the stick”

    3. Control the tense: Orphan Annie’s law: When people argue, they can be focused on the past (blame), the present (values), or the future (choices). Pick the appropriate tense for your argument. Future tense helps you keep moving forward. The author writes:

    • Present-tense (demonstrative) rhetoric tends to finish with people bonding or separating.
    • Past-tense (forensic) rhetoric threatens punishment.
    • Future-tense (deliberative) argument promises a payoff.

    The author also reminds us: “Never debate the undebatable. Instead, focus on your goals.”

    4. Soften them up: Character, logic, emotion: Or ethos, logos, and pathos, if you want to use their classic names. Read this chapter for great arguments by the author’s children.

    5. Get them to like you: Eminem’s rules of decorum: Ethos: Work with your audience’s expectations. Make it easier for them to believe you and identify with you. Fit in.

    6. Make them listen: The Lincoln gambit: Help the audience see your common values and practical wisdom. Show them that you’re focused on their best interests, not just yours. If necessary, you may need to mimic other people’s values in order to get them to hear you. Take advantage of opportunities to build perception of your character, such as changing your position based on people’s arguments.

    7. Show leadership: The Belushi paradigm: “Show off your experience. Bend the rules. Appear to take the middle course.”

    8. Win their trust: Quintilian’s useful doubt: Be doubtful or reluctant, talk about your sacrifice, or dial down your rhetoric skills if that serves your cause.

    9. Control the mood: The Aquinas maneuver: Use stories, volume control, plain language, and emotional influencers to change the mood.

    10. Turn the volume down: The scientist’s lie: Manage anger by using passive voice when referring to things other people had done (not you). Calm people by reacting more than they would, on their behalf. Humor might be a good tool, too, but it’s tricky.

    11. Gain the high ground: Aristotle’s favorite topic: Take advantage of common beliefs, values, or sayings as a foundation for your argument. Make your argument seem obvious. If people use common sayings to reject your argument, listen for that and come up with something relevant next time.

    12. Persuade on your terms: What “is” is: Pay attention to labels. Redefine words if needed, using a clear definition. Use the values of your audience. Switch tenses to focus on future choices, too.

    13. Control the argument: Homer Simpson’s canons of logic: This chapter covers deductive and inductive logic, and how to support inductive logic with facts, comparisons, or stories.

  • Defense

    14. Spot fallacies: The seven deadly logical sins: This chapter lists logical fallacies and how to deal with them.

    15. Call a foul: Nixon’s trick: Identify fouls and deal with them, because if the conversation goes into inarguable territory, you’ll just be going around and round.

    16. Know whom to trust: Persuasion detectors: Are people being extreme? Are people focusing on needs that don’t include yours? Watch out when negotiating.

    17. Find the sweet spot: More persuasion detectors: Do people try to give you a solution without hearing the details of your problem? Do people have relevant, accurate, unbiased information? Can people figure out what matters?

  • Advanced offense

    18. Speak your audience’s language: The rhetorical ape: Listen for the jargon and the keywords of a group, and repeat them. Try using antonyms when refuting other people’s arguments, if the original words will cause negative responses. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the logic of a sentence.

    19. Make them identify with your choice: The mother-in-law ruse: Let people come up with your idea by identifying with them and letting them identify with you. Use in-words and irony if needed to help a certain group identify with you more (possibly with the exclusion of another group).

    20. Get instant cleverness: Monty Python’s treasury of wit: This chapter covers figures of speech, subverted cliches, and other techniques for being wittier.

    21. Seize the occasion: Stalin’s timing secret: Pay attention to timing, and watch for persuadable moments.

    22. Use the right medium: The Jumbotron blunder: Different media emphasize different combinations of ethos, pathos, and logos. According to the author:

    • Sight is mostly pathos and ethos.
    • Sound is the most logical sense.
    • Smell, taste, and touch are almost purely emotional.
  • Advanced agreement

    23. Give a persuasive talk: The oldest invention: Invention, arrangement (ethos, then logos, then pathos), style, memory, and delivery. Classical structure: Introduction (ethos), narration, division, proof, refutation, conclusion.

    24. Use the right tools: The Brad Pitt factor: Goals, ethos, pathos, logos, kairos (timing). This chapter has examples of how tools from different chapters work together in real-life situations.

    25: Run an agreeable country: Rhetoric’s revival: We need more rhetoric in real life. Yay!

Reading list

  • A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Richard A. Lanham
  • Encyclopedia of Rhetoric (Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, P. J. Corbett (Oxford University Press, 1990)
  • The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle (Penguin, 1991)
  • Cicero, Anthony Everitt (Random House, 2001)
  • The Founders and the Classics, Carl J. Richard (Harvard, 1994)
  • A Rhetoric of Motives, Kenneth Burke (University of California, 1950)

Book: How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic

September 30, 2010 - Categories: book, reading

Photo (c) 2008 Simon Peckhan – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

Madsen Pirie (2006) London: Continuum International
ISBN: 0826490069

How to Win Every Argument is a tour of 79 logical fallacies. Pirie’s clever examples help you recognize past fallacies that have tricked you, refute fallacies that come up, and perhaps even perpetrate them on others.

In fact, it might be fun to play fallacy scavenger hunt: pick a set of fallacies (or the entire thing!), and keep your eyes and ears open for occurrences. It might be easier to memorize a small set of definitions and rebuttal techniques than to try to identify all of the fallacies you come across. Just listening to a CBC Radio call-in section, I’ve come across argumentum ad misericordiam (#49), post hoc ergo propter hoc (#59), loaded words (#48), argumentum ad populum (#57), argumentum ad nauseum (#50), and unaccepted enthymemes (#75). This armchair quarterbacking doesn’t mean I do any better myself in my conversations, though – but it does mean I see room for personal improvement. Might be fun to fold into our weekly routine, as we’ve started picking up Saturday papers so that J- has materials for her current news homework.

I’m looking forward to regularly learning from “How to Win Every Argument”, and getting better at recognizing and refuting (or using!) logical fallacies.


  1. Abusive analogy
  2. Accent
  3. Accident
  4. Affirming the consequent
  5. Amphiboly
  6. Analogical fallacy
  7. Antiquitam, argumentum ad
  8. Apriorism
  9. Baculum, argumentum ad
  10. Bifurcation
  11. Blinding with science
  12. The bogus dilemma
  13. Circulus in probando
  14. The complex question (plurium interrogationum)
  15. Composition
  16. Concealed qualification
  17. Conclusion which denies premises
  18. Contradictory premises
  19. Crumenam, argumentum ad
  20. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc
  21. Damning the alternatives
  22. Definitional retreat
  23. Denying the antecedent
  24. Dicto simpliciter
  25. Division
  26. Emotional appeals
  27. Equivocation
  28. Every schoolboy knows
  29. The exception that proves the rule
  30. Exclusive premises
  31. The existential fallacy
  32. Ex-post-facto statistics
  33. Extensional pruning
  34. False conversion
  35. False precision
  36. The gambler’s fallacy
  37. The genetic fallacy
  38. Half-concealed qualification
  39. Hedging
  40. Hominem (abusive), argumentum ad
  41. Hominem (circumstantial), argumentum ad
  42. Ignoratiam, argumentum ad
  43. Ignoratio elenchi
  44. Illicit process
  45. Irrelevant humour
  46. Lapidem, argumentum ad
  47. Lazarum, argumentum ad
  48. Loaded words
  49. Misericordiam, argumentum ad
  50. Nauseum, argumentum ad
  51. Non-anticipation
  52. Novitam, argumentum ad
  53. Numeram, argumentum ad
  54. One-sided assessment
  55. Petitio principii
  56. Poisoning the well
  57. Populum, argumentum ad
  58. Positive conclusion from negative premise
  59. Post hoc ergo propter hoc
  60. Quaternio terminorum
  61. The red herring
  62. Refuting the example
  63. Reification
  64. The runaway train
  65. Secundum quid
  66. Shifting ground
  67. Shifing the burden of proof
  68. The slippery slope
  69. Special pleading
  70. The straw man
  71. Temperantiam, argumentum ad
  72. Thatcher’s blame
  73. Trivial objections
  74. Tu quoque
  75. Unaccepted enthymemes
  76. The undistributed middle
  77. Unobtainable perfection
  78. Verecundiam, argumentum ad
  79. Wishful thinking