Issue 24 – Let Your Purpose Find You [TLN]

Posted on October 30th, by kate in issues. Comments Off

Date of this issue is Sunday October 28

Hello superstars!

We are back with a brand new TLN! Be sure to check out these posts if you’ve only got time to skim: The Coming Collapse of Average Managers and Employees, what it means to be a senior engineer, and an article on why hiring the smartest people you can find might not be the best strategy. Feedback and guest-posting suggestions always accepted :)


News to know

Leadership – NASCAR Principles & Negativity Sandwiches

More Direct Reports Make Life Easier
If you have been reading this newsletter for a while, you will know I am a fan of non-hierarchical leadership.  I love the idea of empowering people and helping people work better *together*.  This article makes the case for increasing each manager’s “span of control” and helping them focus on process, coaching, and mentoring – not on controlling and tracking. 

Not only does having fewer managers dramatically reduce costs, it also makes it simpler for ideas and information to flow up and down the organization. When there are too many layers, communication from the top of the organization to the bottom is like the game of telephone — where a message changes as it works its way through many different people.[…]
Communicating upward also becomes constricted because at each level, well-meaning managers want to massage the data, ask new questions, or stop something from proceeding altogether. This distortion of communication often leaves senior managers out of touch.”


How to Let Your Purpose Find You
I think all of us struggle a bit with discovering our true purpose in lif.  It is hard to just go day to day without having a cause or passion to channel your energy and feel like you are leaving your mark on the world, or at least one person  Here is some unorthodox advice to help you figure out your true mission:

  • Head into your heartbreak zone. Immerse yourself in stuff that makes you hurt, ache — that maybe even makes your heart break a little bit (or a lot).  I think this advice works because it forces you to reflect on what is really important, what makes you feel, and what you value in life.
  • Follow the NASCAR Principle. The creation of purpose is less the construction of the Platonic ideal of the perfect life, and more like NASCAR: a bruising contest of wills, cussedly defiant, often inelegant, and usually impertinent. […] You take your knocks, and your knocks make you. So the question is: what are you going to make a dent in — that’s worthwhile enough to make a dent in you?  
  • Aim for forests, not fireworks. Fireworks spark, sizzle, flare — and then fizzle. Big Love? It’s the quiet, mighty unfurling of the seed into the towering Redwood. It deepens, roots itself, reaches branches to the sky. Purpose takes time, it isn’t a one time thing you buy or acquire, but something that is a lifelong pursuit.  

Do you know your purpose?  I know that I am headed in the right direction, but I still feel myself looking, perhaps I should stop searching and let it come to me :)


Why People Remember Negative Events More Than Positive Ones
I stumbled across this article in my neuroscience research for a presentation I am giving next Tuesday. I thought it was interesting since I have adopted, and advocated to others, the use of the “criticism sandwich”. Apparently critical feedback first and frequently is the best way to soften the blow.

“He also said research had shown that how the brain processed criticism — that we remembered much more after we heard disapproving remarks than before — belied the effectiveness of a well-worn management tool, known as the criticism sandwich. That is offering someone a few words of praise, then getting to the meat of the problem, and finally adding a few more words of praise.
Rather, Professor Nass suggested, it’s better to offer the criticism right off the bat, then follow with a list of positive attributes.
Professor Baumeister said: ‘If criticism was more common, we might be more accepting of it.’”


Productivity – Taking Care of Business


Marc Andreessen’s Productivity Trick to Feeling Marvelously Efficient
Do you ever feel like you were busy all day but that you didn’t really accomplish anything? You might be being too hard on yourself.
“Because ambitious people measure themselves by their progress towards achieving audacious goals, they often can’t appreciate a single day’s worth of tiny, incremental advancements that they’ve made.  Plus, the fuller your day is with activity, the harder it seems to pinpoint what exactly it is that you did at all.”
Fight this feeling with an Anti-Todo List. Write down anything at all that you accomplish throughout the day and trigger your brain’s sense of accomplishment. Reward yourself for accomplishing tasks rather than just seeing all the rest still looming on the horizon.



How to Stop Procrastinating
Lots of people procrastinate, and – this article notes – not all of them suffer for it. But if you find yourself putting things off, struggling with anxiety and stress while you’re putting them off, and want some relief, here are some really helpful ideas. 

  • Restart the day at 2 pm. It’s easy to chalk up a day to non-productivity if you accidentally spend the morning lying around checking Facebook. Give yourself a chance to start over later in the day rather than waiting for tomorrow to try again.
  • Set rules. Following self-imposed rules (instead of vague notions of “needing to get this done”) gives you structure. Try to make them reasonable, ie. don’t overestimate how much should be done in an hour.
  • Write out each step. I really like this one. Breaking down a task into smaller steps makes it mentally easier to manage. You’ll get clarity on exactly what needs to get done, and you can cross off tasks as they are accomplished.

Don’t Tell; Do Ask
This is a great reflection on effective mentorship, and is a helpful reminder of the power of asking good questions.

  1. Don’t Tell; Do Ask
  2. Truth Must Be Direct, Specific and Succinct. 

The second was easy. Give good advice in the least amount of words possible. It forces truth and directness. It removes ambiguity and forces the listener to respond to the facts not the feelings.
The first was hard. We are taught that when we are asked a question, we should provide the answer. David will often ask a question. And then another one. And a third. Even when he knows the answer.”


How Being Unreachable Makes Me More Productive
There are so many reasons that this rings true for me – when people interrupt me the context switching kills my concentration.  This article has some good actionable tips for limiting disruptions and maximizing your focus on the task at hand.  And being less available has the side effect of encouraging people to help themselves.
Here are a few tips I liked from the post:

  • Don’t Read Unsolicited Email: Lots of people complain about spam. I don’t get much. But, the ones I do, I just don’t read. Delete, delete, delete.
  • Use Quick Forms of Communication: A quick IM, text, or tweet can be much more efficient in some circumstances. Sometimes it is not necessary to get on the phone or have a face-to-face chat.
  • Practice the Right to Decline: Many people feel guilty if they do not answer their phone or immediately respond to an email. Give yourself permission to decline the interruptions.


The Coming Collapse of Average Managers and Employees
These days, no organization can afford to pay a premium for mediocrity.
What are you doing to be a better than average manager? (reading this newsletter, maybe?) ;)

“The National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper empirically argued (unsurprisingly) that bosses matter. Better bosses generate better results. Using a variety of accepted econometric/statistical techniques, the study found that the most significant impact bosses had didn’t come from their motivational skills, but from teaching workers how to be more productive, i.e. capability building. That’s important.”


Tech – Program Your Soft Skills

Non-programming skills every programmer should have
Enhancing your skills outside of programming can actually make you better at your job and propel you farther than good programming skills alone. Give priority to: 

  • Social: You might ask, why minding your own business can create a problem for you? The problem is, others can misinterpret your behavior and attitude. Sometimes, people mistake an introvert for an arrogant person.”
  • Business: “I think it’s a good idea to consider yourself as a brand that stands for something. It’s not enough to say you are a good programmer or great with a particular technology. When applying for a new job, show how you can increase the value of the company.”
  • Creativity: “I think being creative helps you a lot, in coming up with new solutions, or looking at problems through different angles. You can be creative in any field, and the best thing is, this quality stays with you when you try to solve tough programming problems.”


On Being A Senior Engineer
This is an awesome article on what it really means to be “senior”.  So many people think that growth and success can be achieved by deepening their technical knowledge or tactical skills, but more often improving their soft skills can make a much larger impact to their recognition and success.



Here’s Some Working Code to Sort One Million 8-Digit Numbers in 1MB of RAM
Based on this challenge posed on Stack Overflow, above is the code and here is the follow up post with explanation on how it was done. Pretty awesome optimizations with circular buffer and encoding.



How Much Developers Make Per City, and Tech Stacks (Infographic)

  • New York – The cheapest place to hire a freelance developer, and has seen more growth in both projects looking for freelance devs and developers signing up for freelance work.
  • San Francisco - Has a larger distribution of junior and senior developers, and on average has cheaper developers than Seattle!
  • Los Angeles – The most expensive locality to hire a developer from, which does not bode well for their nascent startup scene.


Increasing wireless network speed by 1000%, by replacing packets with algebra
Researchers have found a way to speed up the wireless networks quite considerably, by helping reduce the amount of communication overhead associated with today’s implementation for packloss – called coded TCP.
“With coded TCP, blocks of packets are clumped together and then transformed into algebraic equations that describe the packets. If part of the message is lost, the receiver can solve the equation to derive the missing data. The process of solving the equations is “simple and linear,” meaning it doesn’t require much processing on behalf of the router/smartphone/laptop.”


Your Mobile Site is Slower Than You Think
“In 2011, most mobile users expected pages to load in five seconds or less. In 2012, that has dropped to four seconds.”
Strangeloop conducted a study and some of the findings were really interesting.  Mobile networks are getting faster but not all sites are adapting to the rapid adoption of mobile clients by creating mobile specific sites of layouts.


Fast Compression: LZ4
“LZ4 is a very fast lossless compression algorithm. The decoder reaches speeds beyond 1GB/s reaching RAM speed limits” 

Fun CSS3 examples:




Product – Survivor: Innovation Project


How to Survive your Innovation Project
How many times have you seen a new idea that everyone was excited about slowly peter out over the weeks and months where it should be taking off? If you need to turn your team around, there are three reasons why big ideas don’t stick (even when they should). 

  1. Management did not know what to expect.
  2. It was not yet clear “what’s in it for us?”.
  3. Relevant questions on feasibility were unanswered in full extent. 

Though teams mostly focus on how to manage a project externally (ie. with customers), the real focus should be on managing it internally. If the project does not succeed within your team, it will never get far enough for your customers to even see it. Manage expectations and reduce risk by:

  • Start with a concrete innovation assignment. This assignment gives direction and manages expectations of top management.
  • Make it a team effort. When every discipline is involved from the start in your innovation team you get a ’360 degree’ view on things and the new concepts get a lot of father and mothers with a much better chance to survive internally.
  • Use the customers perspective. Make sure your innovation project is relevant for customers. One of the main reasons innovation is difficult, is that your potential users should change their behavior. So identify relevant problems at target groups first and then ideate solutions that will solve them later.
  • Do it fast. On average, an Innovation project takes 18 months for new services and 36 months for a new product. Be sure to speed it up. You know when there’s a takeover, a strategy change, or another crisis your innovation project will be at risk. So focus and deliver as fast as you can.


Need some more inspiration - Look to the new Hardware Renaissance
Paul Graham posts about some of the trends they are seeing at YCombinator and the surge of new hardware startups.




Recruiting – Mr. Smarty Pants

Why I Decided to Rethink Hiring Smart People
This is an interesting lesson a lot of startup hiring managers might be surprised to read.
Its (deeply flawed) logic was that you could teach someone all the interpersonal skills necessary as long as they were really smart. Then I read “Teaching Smart People How To Learn,” which argued trenchantly and compellingly that really smart people have the hardest time learning. They are so very smart that they are also very “brittle,” to use Argyris’s descriptor. When something goes wrong, rather than reflect on what they might have done to contribute to the error, they look entirely outside themselves for the causes and blame outside forces… Rather than learn from errors, they doom themselves to repeat them.”


Teaching Smart People How To Learn
This is the article that changed the mind of the author of the post above. Though it was published in the 90’s, the lessons still ring true today and are valuable reminders of the importance of learning on the job.

The author breaks down learning into single-loop and double-loop; single-loop is basic problem-solving which is easy to learn and most successful managers can do it. Double-loop learning is about asking why and predicting other problems, and is much more complex.

“Put simply, because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. So whenever their single-loop learning strategies go wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism, and put the “blame” on anyone and everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it the most.


Quick Bytes


[ Links I liked ] 

How a Google Headhunter’s E-Mail Unraveled a Massive Net Security Hole (via Wired)
If Google wasn’t sure if they wanted to hire this guy before, they damn well are sure now.  Interesting read on cryptographic keys and email security – make sure those encryption keys are 1024 bits or more!



[ Inward Focus ] 

Need to relax? Check out
I have been trying to practice meditating for just 2 minutes each day and I swear this website is helping me – it is “relaxing with a timer” :)



[ Geeking Out ]

Github: Boyfriend_Required
We all love github for our projects, but I never would have thought to use it to find a date.  Pretty smart, though, if you want to go where there are a lot if smart, techy guys.  I don’t know if I would advise the same strategy to men though.

AOL may have invented email’s next UI paradigm
“Alto is not AOL Mail. (In fact, you do not need an AOL account to use the service, which will work with most existing email platforms.) It’s actually proved to be a more modern and nimble alternative to many of its mainstream counterparts, and boasts many novel features that Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, even with its beautiful redesign of Outlook, should all heed lessons from.” 

Cassette tapes are the future of big data storage
Cassettes are making a comeback… “Researchers have already built prototypes that can store 35 terabytes of data – or about 35 million books’ worth of information – on a cartridge that measures just 10 centimeters by 10 cm by 2 cm. This is achieved using magnetic tape coated in particles of barium ferrite.”

Navy’s Humanoid Robot Dances Gangnam Style (via Wired)
“Virginia Tech’s skinny, five-foot tall humanoid robot. His balance is enviable: Jostle him, and he’ll right himself — which is one of the reasons the Navy is using him for research on its firefighting robot of the future. Oh, and as the video above shows, he also dances Gangnam Style.”  Awesome.



Bacterial spores could replace hypodermic needles for vaccinations
As someone who *hates* shots, this got me excited.
“Taking the “ouch” out of injections is a worthy endeavor, but what if they could be avoided entirely? By using a bacterium to deliver a vaccine which can be administered via nasal spray, oral liquid, capsule, or small soluble film placed under the tongue.”


[ Wordly Reading ] 

IKEA – Flat-pack accounting
“Forget about the Gates Foundation. The world’s biggest charity owns IKEA—and is devoted to interior design […] What emerges is an outfit that ingeniously exploits the quirks of different jurisdictions to create a charity, dedicated to a somewhat banal cause, that is not only the world’s richest foundation, but is at the moment also one of its least generous.”
This was fascinating. While I can’t claim to understand the implications of Ikea’s complicated corporate structure, I can venture to guess that there must be some smart motivations for taxes and control at work.



Reign of the Techno-Nanny
“But before we eagerly welcome such technologies, we should consider the consequences of apps that serve as our moral guide, guardian, caretaker, and assistant. To focus entirely on all the ways that these future smartphones will make our lives better belies any of the serious problems that may accompany the ubiquity of personal technologies — problems like the phones directing our actions and harming our moral faculties.”

The incredible advances in mobile technology can make our lives so much easier, more efficient, and in lots of ways just plain better. But our increased reliance on apps to direct our behavior and decisions is somewhat troubling too, as this article points out. Great longer read.
“In theory, the reason we use apps is so that we can do what we already want but just do it better. This all changes when smartphones prompt us to guide us to act in unanticipated ways. Albert Borgmann, a pre-eminent philosopher of technology, worries in Real American Ethics that “we will slide from housekeeping to being kept by our house.”


[ Just for fun ]

Surprise Me -A Halloween t-shirt that made me laugh.

These have to be the coolest deck of playing cards ever.

Need a little pick me up?  Check out emergency compliment


[ Useful & Productive ]

The Ultimate Advantage of Group Effort: Why Some Goals Require Group Effort for Faster Success
Take a lesson from wolves and orcas – with the right teammates, working in a pack can get the job done way better than flying solo.



“When you have exhausted all the possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.” – Thomas Edison



That’s all for TLN this week! Let me know what you loved, what you hated, and what you think should be featured next time by replying to this note.



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