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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…
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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…

Whimsy when I changed my profile picture...

I changed by profile picture at work.



Later in the day, two people on my team had changed their profile pictures to these.. :-)



It made my day!

I changed my profile pic again today. Let's see how fast anyone catches on this time. :-)

Rocking the boat, in order to rock - or why I keep annoying the teleprompter people

I haven't had to use a teleprompter much. I've been on stage or video maybe 3 or 4 times where I've used one.

Each of the times, I realized I was annoying the heck out of the person turning the script because I consistently was saying things not in the teleprompter script - sometimes changing phrasing and adding a few words; or even worse changing around the order of sentences. I did this every single time too - so on multiple takes or different rehearsals for a talk - I did something different each time. Also - I'm awful at rehearsals, but that's a different story. :-)

In general, I know I do this for most of the talks I give (most are without teleprompters!) - I know the points I want to hit, but generally make them in different ways; very often I've made up talking points right on the spot. It generally works out well. At worst, it comes off a little raw. Most recently for subject for a talk at Pubcon for subject matter I knew well, I decided to keep the sam…

Are your teams at work built for soccer or basketball?

I figured the holiday was a good time as any to try to revive the blogging habit.. again. :-)

I devoured the Revisionist History podcast over a couple of weeks of driving last month (highly recommended!) One of the analogies Gladwell made stuck with me though, especially since I was thinking about team dynamics at the time.

Caveat emptor: Gladwell simplifies and glosses over quite a bit in making his point - he does this a lot; but I understand why he needs to. Nuance makes the intellectual candy harder to digest.

He talks about talent in the context of basketball and soccer. He cites research which shows that to win the most basketball games it completely makes sense to just focus on getting the best player(s) you can. Conversely, to win the most soccer games your best shot is to have the fewest weaker players on the pitch. If you follow both sports, this'll seem intuitively right to you. The dynamics of the game - on the margin - support one strategy over the other.

He goes on t…

Everyone's struggle is real... at the very least to them

A couple of weeks ago, while in line waiting to pick up some food I'd just ordered, I overheard two conversations - I don't make a habit of this, but it's hard to not hear things when you leave your phone behind. :-/
My first reactions as I heard both of these conversations was annoyance at the protagonist in one and admiration for the other. Both conversations stayed with me for a while, but it took me some time to realize that was unfair on my part to be annoyed at the person that I was annoyed at.

So about these conversations:
The first was between someone working there and a friend. She was sympathizing with her friend who'd be starting a new job leaving this place. "Oh, it's minimum wage again?", she said with concern in her voice. "Yes, but it's fine", said her friend. The job was closer to where she lived so she thought she'd make about the same and she might get home a little earlier to her daughter some evenings though the hours…

Your children as a self-improvement tool: How my kid makes me better

Before my son was born, and even in the months that followed when we was a little blob that I kept placing my hand on when he was asleep to make sure he was breathing, my wife and I talked a lot about how we wanted to raise him and what we wanted him to be.

We talked about the values we wanted him to have, the opportunities we wanted to try to give him, the things we wanted him to know we were important, and much, much more. We also talked about how easy it would be to forget these things and react instinctively in the moment when we needed to make the choices to teach him what we wanted to.

Of course, what you often end up wanting your kids to be like is some variation of what you aspire to yourself - it's often the best version of yourself.  In his case, we wanted him to be a combination of the best versions of both of us.

The other thing you realize as your kids start to get a little older is that they are sponges - they learn from watching you - your mannerisms, your actions …