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Measure f-ing everything, and assume f-ing nothing!! - Or how mentoring ruined lives :-(

I've been really enjoying the Freakonomics podcast of late. This episode and the lesson we should take a away from it, was a stark reminder of one of the most important things we should be doing - but often don't - in building products or making any decisions: measuring the impact of absolutely everything we do, including the things that seem obviously good.

I recommend listening to the podcast if you have the time, but here's the summary. Stephen Dubner describes the Cambridge Sommerville Youth Study. The impact of social intervention programs in general is hard to measure and so they seldom are. This was the first attempt at measuring the impact over a long period of time.

It's a great story and there are a few good take-aways, but here's the main one: troubled or at-risk youth that received mentoring (good mentoring!) had worse life outcomes across every dimension than the kids that were left alone. Despite the recipients saying that the mentoring was incredibl…
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Beware the friends you keep... and that your leaders keep.

I ended up catching up this season of the Revisionist History podcast this week.

This episode (The Prime Minister and the Prof) was my favorite of this season by far.

Here's the episode summary:

"How does friendship influence political power? The story of Winston Churchill’s close friend and confidant — an eccentric scientist named Frederick Lindemann — whose connection to Churchill altered the course of British policy in World War II. And not in a good way."

I won't say too much about the story in case you want to catch the episode. Gladwell takes his time to reveal the story with lots of great audio clips, an interview and a great background score.

I'll just say that it's a stark reminder that we should judge our leaders not just by their actions and words, but by the company they keep and the judgement those people show. For the simple reason, that a lot of authority will naturally be given to those people.

Churchill's blind trusting of his friend had d…

Fun job perk: finding interesting stuff! This week - Desiderata

One of the fun perks of my job is that on many days simply the act of doing my job means I learn or find a lot of interesting stuff. Product managing on Search often involves search query debugging, and you often stumble on to really interesting stuff.

Last week it was this poem: Desiderata.

"With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.Strive to be happy. "

I find myself going back to read it again all of this week.

Also caught Baby Driver this week - though that would've probably happened even if I didn't work on Search. :-)

Teaching: I realized why I love it, and why I really need to do more of it.

Ever since I can remember, I've imagined a version of my life where I teach.

I was never really sure why. I just knew it was something I'd probably really enjoy. I'd done enough of training and presenting at conferences over the last many years that I knew I really enjoy getting up in front on a crowd. I'd also guest lectured occasionally and recruited enough to know I really enjoyed interacting with students.

Then in April, I ended up lecturing at 3 schools - Chicago, Stanford and the University of Michigan. The topics were completely different at each of the schools, and I left each lecture exhilarated. In two of those cases, I was also exhausted - but that's another story. :-)

There were a few reasons why:

The creative itch: This applies to presentation of this type in general. but the foreword of this book really summed it up. The author taught a class because he was clear that it helped him scratch a creative itch that he had that his job as a lawyer didn'…

Filters, slices and context color everything. Or how I got to "omg. wtf. I guess Steve Ballmer is pretty cool"

I ended up listening to two long interviews of Steve Ballmer over the last couple of weeks. The first was on Bill Simmons' podcast where the conversation was primarily around basketball and the second was on the Freakonomics podcast where they talked about a bunch of things - his USAFacts site, philanthropy, tech etc.

From each of these, I came away thinking - "Wow. This is a pretty smart, passionate and likable dude". Why is this surprising?

Well my quick impression of him before listening to both of these "Man, how was this guy CEO of Microsoft for so long" and well, a lot worse to be honest.

And then I thought about why I thought this.

I hadn't really heard him speak (in-person or watched a video) for any length of timeobjectively, even with all the missteps in his later years at the helm it's hard not to evaluate him as a pretty successful executive and CEO A few years ago, I was talking to two people who'd worked at Microsoft and seen him in ac…

Originals may have been the most dangerous thing I read this year

I've been trying to get back into the reading habit. I finished the Originals (rather quickly) in March and I think it may be the most dangerous think I read this year.

There's a number of ideas in the book, but the one that really resonated with me is Adam Grant's endorsement of procrastination (his NY Times write-up here).

My quick summary is that he finds that often waiting till the last minute to finish any work results in the best output. You still need to start early, but waiting to finish means you've been mulling the project for a while and iterating on it mentally. I've found this to be so true for things that I work on - in particular presentations and talks.

Starting early means, you have a framework in mind and start the wheels turning how what you want to say, but by holding off on finishing the thoughts you don't commit to your initial ideas and are more open to exploring other avenues. I find by the time I'm putting together the final talk (…

May I need more silence and lesser stimulation...

Even by my low standards, this was a long blogging break. Last month though, I got introduced as a "blogger" to an audience I was speaking to which was a reminder that I really miss this. :-)

I've always known how important it is to avoid interruptions and seek silence while working, and how seldom I ever actually do this - I generally am juggling multiple things and projects at a time, and when I'm at my desk generally have headphones on with either loud music or a TV show playing in the background. While driving, I always have a podcast on or start a phone call.

But this Friday, I was in a situation where I was without a phone or a laptop for nearly half the day. I carry 2 phones generally - one had just died and the other ran out of charge by 11am. The end result: I found myself a lot more connected in the conversations I was having with friends and thinking more deeply even in the little moments - in the car, walking, even waiting in line. I frankly enjoyed my o…