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How to Rands

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Hi, welcome to the team. I’m so glad you are here at $COMPANY.

It’s going to take a solid quarter to figure this place out. I understand the importance of first impressions, and I know you want to get a check in the win column, but this is a complex place full of equally complex humans. Take your time, meet everyone, go to every meeting, write things down, and ask all the questions – especially about all those baffling acronyms and emoji.

One of the working relationships we need to define is ours. The following is a user guide for me and how I work. It captures what you can expect out of the average week, how I like to work, my north star principles, and some of my, uh, nuance. My intent is to accelerate our working relationship with this document.1

Our Average Week

We’ll have a 1:1 every week for at least 30 minutes no matter what. This meeting discusses topics of substance, not updates. I’ve created a private Slack channel for the two us of to capture future topics for our 1:1s. When you or I think of a topic, we dump it in that channel.

We’ll have a staff meeting with your peers every week for 60 minutes no matter what. Unlike 1:1s, we have a shared document which captures agenda topics for the entire team. Similar to 1:1s, we aren’t discussing status at this meeting, but issues of substance that affect the whole team.

You can Slack me 24 hours a day. I like responding quickly.

If I am traveling, I will give you notice of said travel in advance. All our meetings still occur albeit with time zone considerations.

I work a bit on the weekends. This is my choice. I do not expect that you are going to work on the weekend. I might Slack you things, but unless the thing says URGENT, it can always wait until work begins for you on Monday.

North Star Principles

Humans first. I believe that happy, informed, and productive humans build fantastic product. I optimize for the humans. Other leaders will maximize the business, the technology, or any other number of important facets. Ideological diversity is key to an effective team. All perspectives are relevant, and we need all these leaders, but my bias is towards building productive humans.

Leadership comes from everywhere. My wife likes to remind me that I hated meetings for the first ten years of my professional career. She’s right. I’ve wasted a lot of time in poorly run meetings by bad managers. As an engineer, I remain skeptical of managers even as a manager. While I believe managers are an essential part of a scaling organization, I don’t believe they have a monopoly on leadership, and I work hard to build other constructs and opportunities in our teams for non-managers to lead.

I see things as systems. I reduce all complex things (including humans) into systems. I think in flowcharts. I take great joy in attempting to understand how these systems and flowcharts all fit together. When I see large or small inefficiencies in systems, I’d like to fix them with your help.

It is important to me that humans are treated fairly. I believe that most humans are trying to to do the right thing, but unconscious bias leads them astray. I work hard to understand and address my biases because I understand their ability to create inequity.

I heavily bias towards action. Long meetings where we are endlessly debating potential directions are often valuable, but I believe starting is the best way to begin learning and make progress. This is not always the correct strategy. This strategy annoys those who like to debate.

I believe in the compounding awesomeness of continually fixing small things. I believe quality assurance is everyone’s responsibility and there are bugs to be fixed everywhere… all the time.

I start with an assumption of positive intent for all involved. This has worked out well for me over my career.

Feedback Protocol

I firmly believe that feedback is at the core of building trust and respect in a team.

At $COMPANY, there is a formal feedback cycle which occurs twice a year. The first time we go through this cycle, I’ll draft a proposed set of goals for you for the next review period. These are not product or technology goals; these are professional growth goals for you. I’ll send you these draft goals as well as upward feedback from your team before we meet so you can review beforehand.

In our face-to-face meeting, we’ll discuss and agree on your goals for the next period, and I’ll ask for feedback on my performance. At our following review, the process differs thusly: I’ll review you against our prior goals, and I’ll introduce new goals (if necessary). Rinse and repeat.

Review periods are not the only time we’ll exchange feedback. This will be a recurring topic in our 1:1s. I am going to ask you for feedback in 1:1s regularly. I am never going to stop doing this no matter how many times you say you have no feedback for me.

Disagreement is feedback and the sooner we learn how to efficiently disagree with each other, the sooner we’ll trust and respect each other more. Ideas don’t get better with agreement.

Meeting Protocol

I go to a lot of meetings. I deliberately run with my calendar publicly visible. If you have a question about a meeting on my calendar, ask me. If a meeting is private or confidential, it’s title and attendees will be hidden from your view. The vast majority of my meetings are neither private nor confidential.

My definition of a meeting includes an agenda and/or intended purpose, the appropriate amount of productive attendees, and a responsible party running the meeting to a schedule. If I am attending a meeting, I’d prefer starting on time. If I am running a meeting, I will start that meeting on time.

If you send me a presentation deck a reasonable amount of time before a meeting, I will read it before the meeting and will have my questions at the ready. If I haven’t read the deck, I will tell you.

If a meeting completes its intended purpose before it’s scheduled to end, let’s give the time back to everyone. If it’s clear the intended goal won’t be achieved in the allotted time, let’s stop the meeting before time is up and determine how to finish the meeting later.

Nuance and Errata

I am an introvert and that means that prolonged exposure to humans is exhausting for me. Weird, huh? Meetings with three of us are perfect, three to eight are ok, and more than eight you will find that I am strangely quiet. Do not confuse my quiet with lack of engagement.

When the 1:1 feels over, and there is remaining time I always have a couple of meaty topics to discuss. This is brainstorming, and the issues are usually front-of-mind hard topics that I am processing. It might feel like we’re shooting the shit, but we’re doing real work.

When I ask you to do something that feels poorly defined you should ask me for both clarification and a call on importance. I might still be brainstorming. These questions can save everyone a lot of time.

Ask assertive versus tell assertive. When you need to ask me to do something, ask me. I respond incredibly well to ask assertiveness (“Rands, can you help with X?”). I respond poorly to being told what to do (“Rands, do X.”) I have been this way since I was a kid and I probably need therapy.

I can be hyperbolic but it’s almost always because I am excited about the topic. I also swear sometimes. Sorry.

If I am on my phone during a meeting for more than 30 seconds, say something. My attention wanders.

Humans stating opinions as facts are a trigger for me.

Humans who gossip are a trigger for me.

I am not writing about you. I’ve been writing a blog for a long time and continue to write. While the topics might spring from recent events, the humans involved in the writing are always made up. I am not writing about you. I write all the time.

This document is a living breathing thing and likely incomplete. I will update it frequently and would appreciate your feedback.


  1. Speculation: there is an idea in this document that you’d like your manager to do. Thesis: Just because I have a practice or a belief doesn’t mean it’s the right practice or belief for your manager. Suggestion: Ask your manager if they think my practice or belief is a good idea and see what happens. 
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smahoney
48 days ago
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5 Comments and 10 Shares
Since the current Twitter threadfall kicked off in early 2016, we can expect it to continue until the mid 2060s when the next Interval begins.
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smahoney
213 days ago
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5 public comments
satadru
212 days ago
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❤️
New York, NY
infini
213 days ago
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he he he
Asia, EU, Africa
bluebec
214 days ago
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This is such a niche reference. I am so happy I know what he's talking about.
Melbourne
alt_text_bot
214 days ago
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Since the current Twitter threadfall kicked off in early 2016, we can expect it to continue until the mid 2060s when the next Interval begins.
Covarr
214 days ago
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I'm still waiting for a film adaptation of the Pern books. A real one, not that Eragon nonsense that merely steals ideas from Pern.
Moses Lake, WA
crc32
214 days ago
Agreed. Though it could be better as a miniseries or full series like GoT. Lots of material to cover...
silberbaer
213 days ago
Eragon is a film adaptation of... Eragon. Which I felt was far more similar to Star Wars than to Pern. Yes, we need Pern movies.
Covarr
213 days ago
Eragon wasn't a terribly faithful adaptation, though. The book already borrowed a few ideas from Pern, but not enough for it to be a problem. The film, for whatever reason, borrowed a lot more.

Regardless of seniority, every good manager will:

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  • Order pizza.
  • Give feedback.
  • Listen.
  • Take out the recycle/trash. Not a metaphor.
  • Need to find additional things to delegate.
  • Try to support their direct reports to eventually become better than them.
  • Consider constructive feedback regardless of who delivers it.
  • Do what they say.
  • Have regular, un-cancelable 1:1s.
  • Protect their team, push for greatness, and prepare for the future.
  • Get their hands dirty when called for.
  • Focus on helping their team to be wildly successful.
  • Put people first.
  • Give a shit.
  • Relentlessly hustle for their team.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Care.
  • Feel deeply and profoundly awful for disappointing someone on their team.
  • Make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Remove fear
  • Be the bullshit umbrella and not the bullshit funnel.
  • Remember (and maybe learn from) the time when they weren’t a manager.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Work harder than their employees.
  • Educate.
  • Provide consistent and predictable structure.
  • Back up their team when they say “no” to something.
  • Not be a prick.
  • Model the culture and spirit they want to develop in their workplace.
  • Translate corporate bullshit into normal-speak.
  • Empower their staff members.
  • Move thing out of their way, including yourself.
  • Regularly feel self-doubt.
  • Be an advocate.
  • Be an ally.
  • Amplify the good in people.
  • Fight the grapevine confusion.
  • Be first the first to metamorph to the chrysalis phase.
  • Define reality and say thank you.

(Sourced via the fine humans on Twitter.)

#

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smahoney
472 days ago
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digdoug
470 days ago
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I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard.
Louisville, KY

The candy diet

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The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury's Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.

Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the "L" stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the "History" stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.

And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn't want to hear. We've responded by not buying newspapers any more.

The decline of thoughtful media has been discussed for a century. This is not new. What is new: A fundamental shift not just in the profit-seeking gatekeepers, but in the culture as a whole.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."*

[*Ironically, this isn't what Einstein actually said. It was this, "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." Alas, I've been seduced into believing that the shorter one now works better.]

Is it possible we've made things simpler than they ought to be, and established non-curiosity as the new standard?

We are certainly guilty of being active participants in a media landscape that breaks Einstein's simplicity law every day. And having gotten away with it so far, we're now considering removing the law from our memory.

The economics seem to be that the only way to make a living is to reach a lot of people and the only way to reach a lot of people is to race to the bottom, seek out quick clicks, make it easy to swallow, reinforce existing beliefs, keep it short, make it sort of fun, or prurient, or urgent, and most of all, dumb it down.

And that's the true danger of anti-intellectualism. While it's foolish to choose to be stupid, it's cultural suicide to decide that insights, theories and truth don't actually matter. If we don't care to learn more, we won't spend time or resources on knowledge.

We can survive if we eat candy for an entire day, but if we put the greenmarkets out of business along the way, all that's left is candy.

Give your kid a tablet, a game, and some chicken fingers for dinner. It's easier than talking to him.

Read the short articles, the ones with pictures, it's simpler than digging deep.

Clickbait works for a reason. Because people click on it.

The thing about clickbait, though, is that it exists to catch prey, not to inform them. It's bait, after all.

The good news: We don't need many people to demand more from the media before the media responds. The Beverly Hillbillies were a popular show, but that didn't stop Star Trek from having a shot at improving the culture.

The media has always bounced between pandering to make a buck and upping the intellectual ante of what they present. Now that this balance has been ceded to an algorithm, we're on the edge of a breakneck race to the bottom, with no brakes and no break in sight.

Vote with your clicks, with your sponsorship, with your bookstore dollars. Vote with your conversations, with your letters to the editor, by changing the channel...

Even if only a few people use precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions, it still forces those around them to catch up. It's easy to imagine a slippery slope down, but there's also the cultural ratchet, a positive function in which people race to learn more and understand more so they can keep up with those around them.

Turn the ratchet. We can lead our way back to curiosity, inquiry and discovery if we (just a few for now) measure the right things and refuse the easy option in favor of insisting on better.

       
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smahoney
474 days ago
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Questions to Check Cognitive Biases

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I'm reading both Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" and Michael Lewis's "The Undoing Project" at the same time, which is fun.

A friend and I were having coffee today and he made me agree to write down twelve questions I thought might aid in helping us check our cognitive biases outlined in the books.

Of course, I am not a Nobel prize winning psychologist or social scientist and I have done no work to verify whether these questions actually accomplish this at all or where they might even harm our ability to off-set cognitive biases, but I said I'd do it so I did it.

I'm working off of Kahneman's conclusion that there isn't any way we can actually remove the biases and instead must figure out how to work within them. The only advice Kahneman gives in the book is to bring other people into the question and seek their advice, so that's my first one, but I don't think that's the only one.

Anyway, disclaimers now aside, here are twelve questions. I broke them out into two groups: "normal" questions which we can apply to just about any question we might have, and "mathy" questions which tend to focus on statistics (the original topic of Kahneman and Tversky's research was focused on whether humans are good inherent statisticians. The answer? NO!)

Normal Questions

  • Who else can I bring in on this decision to check my answers?
  • If I'm wrong, what would that look like?
  • How can I change the context or reframe this question?
  • What other evidence can I gather before I make a decision?
  • Am I overcompensating to avoid loss?
  • Am I oversimplifying the question?
  • Am I being overconfident in my ability to make this decision?

Mathy questions

  • What is the base rate?
  • Is the sample size statistically significant?
  • Have the results regressed to the mean or is there a lot of variance with each new added result?
  • How different is this answer from random chance?
  • Am I trying to fit this to an oversimplified or inappropriate model?

What do you guys think of them? Where are my own biases coming into play to manipulate these questions? Email me at mike@mikeshea.net to let me know.

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smahoney
478 days ago
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If not now, when?

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Care a little more.

Show up.

Embrace possibility.

Tell the truth.

Dive deeper.

Seek the truth behind the story.

Ask the difficult question.

Lend a hand.

Dance with fear.

Play the long game.

Say 'no' to hate.

Look for opportunities, especially when it seems like there aren't any left.

Risk a bigger dream.

Take care of the little guy.

Offer a personal insight.

Build something magical.

Keep your promises.

Do work that matters.

Expect more.

Sign your work.

Be generous for no reason.

Give the benefit of the doubt.

Develop empathy.

Make your mom proud.

Take responsibility.

Give credit.

Play by a better set of rules.

Choose your customers.

Choose your reputation.

Choose your future.

Thank the ref.

Reward patience.

Leap.

Breathe.

Because we can.

It really is up to us. Which is great, because we're capable of changing everything if we choose.

All we can do is all we can do, but maybe, all we can do is enough.

       
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smahoney
532 days ago
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