Tsundoku

May 1, 2015

Tsundoku

I’m always surprised at what you can learn through casual remarks and asides.

I have the habit of taking out far more library books than I ever have the time to read. At the moment I’ve put them in three different piles on the floor of the living room, mainly to goad me to try them out! They’re a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

To reduce the reading list, I recently decided to return two (skimmed through but not read) to the library. After doing this, and then some browsing around, I found myself leaving with four additional books.

They were all fiction: Llosa, Isherwood, Mankell and Camilleri. I used to be a fan of Isherwood so I thought it would be fun to revisit, Llosa – well I’d always wanted to read one of his books (I had a Brazilian girlfriend at one time and she recommended him to me) and so on.

I mean, with so many temptations, how can you resist? So, overall, a net increase in books to read…

Anyway, whilst checking them out, I mentioned my quandary to the assistant and she responded with a single mysterious word “Tsundoku”. I then learnt that there was a Japanese word for this, how amazing!

Now I need to find out if there is a word for “regularly learning something quite surprising from casual asides” :-)

Picture credit: Reprinted from LOST IN TRANSLATION © 2014 by Ella Frances Sanders. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.


Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail

March 30, 2015

Top 20 Reasons Startups fail

Based on the analysis mentioned here.


The Slow Tech Movement

March 27, 2015

There’s an interesting post on MakeUseOf about blending technology with lifestyle to better effect. As part of this they give ten suggestions for slowing things down and improving the general quality of life. It’s a really helpful list, for interest I’ve reproduced it below and also added some personal comments and my own scores (out of 5):

1. Don’t check your work email after 5:00 pm, or whenever you workday ends (freelancers, this includes you).

Me: 2/5. I have a very good friend who did this religiously for quite a few years (6 pm actually, I was incredibly impressed). However she got promoted to a very senior position and now looks all the time, including holidays!

2. Specify one day a week that will be screen free, at least between the hours of 8:00 am and 9:00 pm or so (the screen on the back of your camera could be an exception).

Me: 0/5. I’ve often thought about the time I spend looking at one or another screens, it’s a lot. A day a week sounds extreme to me (at least to start with), a half day might possibly be manageable?

3. Delete social media apps from your phone, and make an effort to be social with people you don’t know during the times you’d usually check your feeds.

Me: 4/5. I have my mobile pretty much under control. In addition, I find it easy and enjoyable to interact with new people.

4. Take time every day to go for a walk to get some fresh air and look at the world around you. You might be surprised at what you see when you take your eyes off of your phone and your mind off your to-do list!

Me: 2/5. I’m lucky enough to live right next to a quite wonderful nature reserve – I have no reason not to take a quick daily wander except laziness and a lack of discipline. The odd thing is, as soon as I’m out of the house and in the fresh air, it seems the totally right place to be, and I wonder what was holding me back!

5. Practice mindful browsing.

Me: 3/5. This is definitely a good one and I’ve recently started this. Instead of getting sucked into an effectively infinite sea of fascinating facts, info and opinions, take a breath and think why you’re doing this. Sometimes it’s through genuine interest and is really worthwhile, sometimes it’s straightforward procrastination. It’s helpful to be honest with yourself and figure out which one it is. Bear in mind Point 4!

6. Read a book for entertainment — not the latest about Agile programming or entrepreneurship, but a novel or non-fiction book about something that you enjoy or are curious about.

Me 4/5. I read quite a lot of fiction but usually in bed. I’ve often thought of reading instead of watching the TV but have found this quite hard, maybe it’s the total silence or something. Most likely it’s just habit. Being a member of a book club helps!

7. Use a Pomodoro timer to remind yourself to take breaks throughout the day and take your eyes off of your computer, tablet, and phone.

Me 2/5. I actually do this, but erratically. I’m trying to get into the habit of doing something physical in the break e.g. have a look at the garden (I work at home mostly), do a bit of (much needed) tidying up etc. I’ve found there’s a big difference between taking a break whilst sitting down and getting up and moving around (even for short periods).

8. Turn off push notifications for email and social media, and only check them when you intend to spend time reading and responding to things.

Me 3/5. I’m not too bad at this. This may be a reaction to when I worked full time, and was deluged with emails, calls etc and vowed not to get into this position again. Life’s too short and all that…

9. Craft an information diet that works for you.

Me 3/5. I’m actually working on this anyway. Basically, I need to discard as much as possible and slowly and selectively build up and then repeat this, say annually. I have over 150 news feeds, more than 200 apps…they easily build up over the years and they all take a bit of your attention – it’s quite seductive.

10. Declare all social situations (parties, bars, dinners, and so on) to be phone-free, with exceptions only for emergencies.

Me 5/5. I’m very good at this, as when I’m in a social situation I want to be totally and not partially involved in it. I never answer the phone or even look at emails. If you’re on the receiving end, it’s also pretty annoying. It’s like someone saying ‘Hold on, there might be something more interesting than talking to you at the moment, let me check it out…’ or, more cynically, ‘You may not think I’m that interesting, but I’m actually in demand!’.


Rising Above The OK Plateau

March 18, 2015

From Brain Pickings:

Amateurs are content at some point to let their efforts become bottom-up operations. After about fifty hours of training — whether in skiing or driving — people get to that “good-enough” performance level, where they can go through the motions more or less effortlessly. They no longer feel the need for concentrated practice, but are content to coast on what they’ve learned. No matter how much more they practice in this bottom-up mode, their improvement will be negligible.

The experts, in contrast, keep paying attention top-down, intentionally counteracting the brain’s urge to automatize routines. They concentrate actively on those moves they have yet to perfect, on correcting what’s not working in their game, and on refining their mental models of how to play the game, or focusing on the particulars of feedback from a seasoned coach. Those at the top never stop learning: if at any point they start coasting and stop such smart practice, too much of their game becomes bottom-up and their skills plateau.

This probably also applies in work situations as well, where skills are rapidly acquired in the early stages of careers but can then easily hit a plateau by encountering the ‘that’s how we do it here’ barrier which naturally stifles further improvement. In fact, in annual appraisals, I can’t ever remember getting the question ‘what have you learnt this year’, it was always ‘what have you achieved this year’.

In a related theme, I came across an interesting article on Ten Simple Rules for Lifelong Learning inspired by the works of the famous mathematician Richard Hamming (my emphasis in bold):

From Rule 6:

As Hamming says, because “there are so many ways of being wrong and so few of being right, studying successes is more efficient, and furthermore, when your turn comes you will know how to succeed rather than how to fail.” In addition, he notes that “vicarious learning from the experiences of others saves making errors yourself”

From Rule 8:

A prerequisite, of course, is native talent. But even for the talented, no amount of utilizing smart methods can substitute for sheer duration of effort. Gladwell has suggested that about 10,000 hours of application are needed to become a true expert in a particular field. While some have quibbled with the universal validity of this suggestion, we think it is a fairly good estimate of what you need to put in. Also, these long hours need to be quality time without distractions. Easy to say, hard to do.

Rule 9 (Have a Vision to Give You a General Direction) states:

A key to learning how to learn is to be economical and to structure your efforts according to the general direction in which you want to move. Hamming writes: “It is well known the drunken sailor who staggers to the left or right with n independent random steps will, on the average, end up about √n steps from the origin. But if there is a pretty girl in one direction, then his steps will tend to go in that direction and he will go a distance proportional to n.”

You too need an attractive vision of where you want to go. As Hamming points out, “having a vision is what tends to separate the leaders from the followers.”

Finally I’d say that a really important skill to develop is the ability to listen to, try to understand deeply and then have the courage and humility to act on advice from people with a much larger vision that yourself. I’ve rarely done this myself and know of few other people that have, but looking back over my career it’s something I certainly could have given more attention to. Here’s a sample story (see the bottom bit). This relates to Rule 9 above of course, but only in an indirect manner.


Startup Stories

March 11, 2015

CB Insights have put together a fascinating set of stories of how 101 startups ‘failed’, collected from their founders and investors.

Here are some examples:

Ultimately, I didn’t heed the lessons of so many failed music startups. It’s an incredibly expensive venture to pursue and a hard industry to work with. We spent more than a quarter of our cash on lawyers, royalties and services related to supporting music. It’s restrictive. We had to shut down our growth because we couldn’t launch internationally. It’s a long road. It took years to get label deals in place and it also took months of engineering time to properly support them (time which could have been spent on product).

We didn’t spend enough time talking with customers and were rolling out features that I thought were great, but we didn’t gather enough input from clients. We didn’t realize it until it was too late. It’s easy to get tricked into thinking your thing is cool. You have to pay attention to your customers and adapt to their needs.

I started to feel burned out. I was Blurtt’s fearless leader, but the problem with burnout is that you become hopeless and you lose every aspect of your creativity. I’d go to work feeling tired and exhausted. I was burning the candle at both ends.

Do not launch a startup if you do not have enough funding for multiple iterations. The chances of getting it right the first time are about the equivalent of winning the lotto.

The full report is a free download on their site.

See also: More Lessons From Startups


Getting Rewarded For Your Skills

February 24, 2015

Emberton-Graph-1

The topic of getting suitably rewarded for your skills is one that crops up regularly in discussions with colleagues. There often seems a conflict between doing what you really want to do and making that financially viable and sustainable.

There’s an interesting post on this at ‘The problem isn’t that life is unfair – it’s your broken idea of fairness’ from which the diagrams above and below are taken. Although they are obviously a bit simplistic, they do make a key point very clearly.

The only change I’d make is that the top picture illustrates how we like to think reward works even if we know that the picture below is far more more realistic, and probably a lot more uncomfortable. The question then arises as to where an acceptable compromise point is, which is where personal values and circumstances come in.

However it’s a step forward to be aware that a decision on this matter is always being made, either knowingly or by default. So it’s helpful to regularly question this compromise point, preferably with others (to get a spread of views and experiences).

A slight change of direction may yield a delightful improvement!

Emberton-Graph-2

Images: from the site above.


A Corporate Sense Of Humour

February 19, 2015

JS56986005

On a lighter note, I was quite surprised to read that my local train operator, South West Trains, modified the standard messages on the digital info signs to fit in with Valentine’s Day – quite a creative move!

An example is given above.

From GetHampshire:

Love was in the air for South West Trains passengers this weekend after the rail company romanced them by renaming station on electronic platform signs.

Those travelling on Valentine’s Day (Saturday February 14) were treated to a range of loved-up plays on station names across Hampshire and Surrey.

The London Waterloo to Salisbury service was changed to “London Waterlove” to “When Harry met Salisbury”, while Liphook became “Lips-Hooked” and Petersfield “Passionfield”.
Fleet was changed to “Fleet-ing Romance”, Ash Vale to “Ash Valentine”, Hook to “Hook, Line and Sinker” and Farnborough to “Four Weddings and Farnborough”.

It’s not without risk of course:

However, the puns may have backfired slightly after some commuters claimed it left them confused and even led to some missing trains.

The sight of the pun names next to notices informing passengers of delays or cancellations also killed the romance for others.

Anyway, it’s good to know that some companies are brave enough to try a corporate sense of humour!


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