In which I take some realizations from the volleyball court and extract more general rules on being a good teammate.
I went to India!

The blog post itself is a summary, and then I have links to the detailed posts I made to Google+ while traveling, as well as the hundreds of pictures I took.
Latest blog post on why Big Data isn't the answer, especially if you don't know what the question is.  
After recently giving the same advice to several different people at the beginning of their career, I decided to write it down and document my advice on career development in the 21st century for posterity. 
I was catching up on my RSS reader, and saw Charlie O'Donnell's week-old post and had to respond to one of his points:
We care more about college than we do about elementary school or high school.  This generation is getting saddled by more debt than they'll ever be able to handle, because we're obsessed with the idea that everyone needs a four year degree from a top school.  I don' t know about you, but I felt pretty smart before I went to college and I don't think my capacity for intellect really changed that much from 18 to 22.  In fact, it's been scientifically proven that your early years do a lot more to determine your intelligence than your late years.  So why are we paying so much for college?  We're afraid to hire someone smart right out of high school or who went to a community college.  College isn't for everyone and we should do more to provide people with usable skills before they turn 18.
My response:
I agree with most of your points, but I'll push back on the college point. College mattered a _lot_ more to me than elementary school and high school. Going to a top school isn't about learning the material - you can get the same knowledge in many places for much cheaper. And the point isn't to make you smarter - as you note, intelligence is already set by that point.

But as you know, intelligence isn't enough to make somebody successful. You also need grit and drive and the social skills to convert that intelligence into impact. And that's what I learned by going to a top college. High school was way too easy for me. I needed the cold water bath of going to MIT and struggling to be even average in my classes. It forced me to raise my game, because the only way to keep up with the firehose was to learn more and learn faster than I ever would have thought possible. What MIT taught me was that I can learn anything quickly if I put my mind to it. And that confidence has enabled me to switch careers and fields several times successfully (physics to biotech to finance to software).

The social connections are also key. And not from an old boys' network standpoint - i've only gotten one job through my connections when I dropped out of grad school. It's because I aspire to do more to match my friends and peers that achieve great things. I don't think to myself "Oh, those people are nothing like me and are out of my league". I think "I know these guys and I kept up with them in classes, so dammit, I gotta go work harder". I'm not uber successful by any means, but I definitely feel that the peer pressure of my MIT classmates gives me a kick in the ass to keep working hard when I might be willing to coast otherwise.

I agree that college isn't for everyone, but for the people it is good for, it's great.
My review of The Idea Factory, by Jon Gertner, tying into the discussion in my last post about innovation principles.  


Oct. 3rd, 2012 08:40 pm
This evening, I was taking a break after dinner at work and pushing some balls around the pool table. A coworker I didn't know walked by and asked if I wanted to play. I said, "Sure, why not" - I feel pretty confident in my pool skills, even though it's been, gosh, ten years since I got good at pool during the year that Signature BioScience went bankrupt.

I broke, pocketed one ball, screwed up the next, and turned the table over to him. He sank six balls in a row smoothly, transitioning each shot into positioning for the next. He only missed when he had to go after the one remaining ball that was in the middle of my six balls. I was feeling outclassed, and commented that my only chance in the game was to leave my balls on the table to make his shot harder. He pointed out that wouldn't work for very long, which was true.

But I sank three balls on my turn, and when I got to a hard shot, I carefully left him another difficult shot, and he missed again, so I got another chance. I think I screwed up then, and he closed me out. But he said "Good game - want another?" Given my other option was going back to work, I said yes.

I can't remember the ins and outs of the next game - it was a difficult table, and we both had trouble getting a rhythm going, but I got ahead and beat him (I remember him saying "Man, I can't leave you an opening!" in frustration). And so we had to play a tiebreaker.

On the break, I pocketed two stripes, but given standard 8-ball rules (which he knew and few others do), the table is still open until you sink a ball after the break (as an aside, he also properly played call the shot (and called me on it when I tried to pass off an accidental shot as intentional) and ball in hand on scratches). I tried to squeeze a stripe in to take advantage of the two ball lead and missed. He looked at the table, and thought he had a better chance with solids, even two balls down, but then missed. So I had the choice again, and with where the cue ball was, I agreed that solids were easier - I sank two to even things up, but then biffed my third shot. We went back and forth and ended up with all balls in except the eight ball. I had a reasonable but long shot, but I missed, and left him with a straight shot to win.

It was pretty satisfying, though. I think that's the best I've played since Signature - I nailed one bank shot, and one insane shot the length of the table with a hard angle - competition really does bring out the best in me. And even though he's definitely better than me, he respected me and asked me where I sat so that he could get in a good game of pool. So yay having random competitive skills!

P.S. Speaking of random competitive skills, another coworker challenged me to foosball last week. That was foolish. Even though my foosball skills are twenty two years old, I still crushed him.
My notes from an Anthropology of Innovation panel last week featuring Genevieve Bell.

Do I need to keep cross-posting my blog posts to LiveJournal given that I'm also posting on Twitter (and funneling to Facebook), plus RSS? Comment if you only see these posts here so I keep on doing the manual cross-post. 
A new blog post on the limits of rationality, where I set up an unsuspecting podcast as a straw man and then explain why I disagree with their position. 
Thinking more about how to make organizations scale, and realizing that one way is to have leaders model organizational principles and giving employees the autonomy to make their own decisions using those principles.  Or something like that. 

More importantly, yay me for actually writing a blog post instead of watching TV or reading fiction or going to bed early. 
My thoughts on startup vs. big company culture, with particular reference to Larry Page's experiment at Google where he's trying to imbue his big company with the feel of a startup.
After my last update, I felt like providing another update. So here we go.Ramblings about goings-on in my life )So, in general, life is feeling good.  And there's snow in Tahoe (6 inches at Squaw), so my dream of working from Tahoe for a few days in December lives :)
I was going to put this on Twitter, but couldn't be bothered to fit it into 140 characters. For some reason, I woke up this morning and wanted to write a few placeholders about what's been going on in my life.
  • I screwed up my back playing frisbee in June, kept on playing for a month despite pain so bad I would be limping after playing for an hour, and eventually went to a doctor in August who put me in a physical therapy program.  I've been doing my daily exercises fairly diligently, and last night played frisbee for the first time since the beginning of August.  I lasted most of two hours and my back feels strained and tired this morning, but I wasn't incapacitated.  So that's progress.  And it felt so good to get out there and run around for a couple hours. 
  • Part of the reason it felt so good is that I've been on a death march at work.  Last week, I worked 80 hours in 6 days, which is an average day of 8am to 11pm.  Previous weeks haven't been quite so bad, but I've been in the 60-70 hour range since Labor Day as we are finalizing 2012 plans for my product area and I'm cross-checking to make sure all of its cross-functional needs (various sales teams, marketing, customer support, etc) are being met.  We were here until 11:30pm on Monday evening getting our final numbers in, but yesterday it felt so good to come in and not have something that was absolutely urgent to get done, which is why I finally felt I had time to go play frisbee at 6pm.
  • Alas, after playing frisbee, I came back to three missed calls and a voicemail from my director, as one of my business partners had discovered an inconsistency in my numbers, so I spent two hours fixing that from 8-10pm before I got dinner or a shower.  Yuck.
  • On the plus side, even while being on a death march, I've been biking to work almost every day - I think the only days I haven't biked since July were when I was on vacation in August, and a couple days where I needed my car to get to physical therapy.  It's only 15 minutes each way, but it's still good having that baseline level of exercise in my life.
  • Also, getting last weekend off from work (well, except for working late Friday night, and for three hours finalizing our deck on Saturday morning) felt very good.  On Saturday, I took a nap, had a beer with a friend, and went to a coworker's birthday party.  On Sunday, I ran some errands, had pie with another friend, and then went to my sister's to play with my niece, watch the Bears on Sunday Night Football, and eat Patxi's Chicago-style pizza. 
  • And I think things are turning around at work. My internal transfer finally started on my team this week on Monday, so she doubles the size of my team, and I just got approved to hire two more people, so increasing my team from 1 to 4 should make a big difference in my workload.
  • I heard "Dog Days Are Over" by Florence and the Machine on Saturday evening, and bought the album, and have been listening to it.  It's not great music, but for some reason, it appeals to me at this point in time. It's weird how that works - I wish I understood how my brain made aesthetic decisions.
  • I did read "Uglies" by Scott Westerbrook this week after getting it from the library (I recently read "Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins, as I'm on an escapism kick from work for obvious reasons).
  • Anyway, I haven't really seen any friends since Labor Day because of my work schedule - when I'm not working, I've been too tired to go out. But as work hopefully eases up, I will start reaching out to folks again.
So, yeah, that's what's been going on.  Now back to work :)
I was reflecting this morning on the value a finance team can provide and decided to share my thoughts. Two posts in two days - woo!
Just posted this to the blog but reproducing here for your convenience.

Scott Berkun just posted about situations in life where good data is impossible, which reminded me of a quote I've been meaning to share.

I once went to a talk by Bob Sutton where he cited a quote by Andy Grove, CEO of Intel:
“I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.

Investment decisions or personnel decisions and prioritization don’t wait for the picture to be clarified. You have to make them when you have to make them. You take your shots and clean up the bad ones later.

(So you have to keep your own spirits up even though you well understand that you don’t know what you’re doing)”
I think this is one of the hardest things to learn as I progress in the business world – many situations I’m asked to handle are novel, because routine decisions are handled by bureaucracy in the form of established processes or at a more junior level. Taking action when I know I don’t have enough data requires a leap of faith that I'm best positioned to make a decision anyway.
My review of Tim Wu's The Master Switch, subtitled "The Rise and Fall of Information Empires"
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