Archive for the ‘meta’ Category

A co-worker of mine told me of an ongoing contest at my office: a contest centered on me. The winner would be the person who could get me to say “Hello” to one of them. Someone would see me go for some coffee or popcorn, and they’d queue up to go into the break room and try to talk to me.

It wasn’t that I was intentionally unfriendly… I was just… focused. This was back when I was coding every minute of every day, cranking out applications at a rapid rate. My fellow programmers joked that I must type with my feet, too, since I was so fast. That speed was, in part, enabled by my ability to focus. Even necessary activities like restroom breaks or a snack were unwanted intrusions, an opportunity for my attention to drift away from the next line of code, the next bug to resolve.

My concentration was such that I would acknowledge other people, but often only in my mind. I said “Hello”, it was just so low-pitched, and sometimes no-pitched, that it was simply not there. So the only winners in that contest were the ones who happened to catch me at a transition, like finishing a bug sheet or a major part of code.

When I joined the Intuit Innovation Lab in 2002, some of that… lack of social grace… was necessarily overridden by the nature of my new work: I had to visit customers and talk to them. Or at least listen closely and ask the right follow up questions. I talked more to my co-workers, with my co-workers, and I learned how to connect with customers.

But all that change was just an unthoughtful response, not a deliberate difference compared to my “contest” days. It certainly wasn’t enough. I still had a lot of friction with my co-workers, viewed as “smart, fast, creative, and hard to work with”. It came to head when I locked horns with a co-worker, pushing things “my way” and not allowing a different opinion into the room. I didn’t like working that way, and neither did people like working with me when I was that way.

Fortunately, my boss at the time, Tara, suggested and supported me with a plan to change. She hired an executive coach for me. With his insights and help, I transformed how I interact with people – everyone, from my family, to my co-workers, to customers and just to everyone I meet.

I first took a personality test called an Enneagram. There are many such tests out there, and the Enneagram is probably one of the best. It has 3 person types, and 3 sub-types. The three types are Body, Mind and Feeling. I’m a Body type, with a sub-type of 1 – the Reformer. I want to solve problems, to make everything better. At my worst, I’m a perfectionist, plowing ahead with my own solution and pushing everyone else to the side.

The key to my transformation was to take the worst stereotype of a Reformer and apply that to myself. In every situation, I would laugh at that stereotype picture and refuse to fit into it, even as I knew that my normal mode would fit into it! I became a listener, a peacemaker, able to get things done as a team, as part of a team. I could let other ideas join my own without feeling like the solution would be “worse off”.

I can feel the difference, and it usually astonishes me. I’m happier, friendlier. I can connect with almost anyone. I get onto a plane where a flight attendant is greeting people. She didn’t look particularly happy, saying “Hi, welcome aboard.” I said, “Hi, thanks! How are you?” It was amazing – her face brightened, she talked some more, told me thanks for asking. I could hear her behind me greeting others with a smile! That’s why I’m astonished – I really had no idea before that I could personally, individually, brighten someone’s day just by, well, caring about them, to be honest. It’s more than just a “friendly” hello, rather I actually mean it when I ask, “How are you?” I talk to people about their day, their work, their feelings.

Those of you who know how I was “before” will, I believe, be pleasantly surprised at how I interact with you and those people around you. It’s a world full of people out there, and they’ve had all kinds of days: good and bad and indifferent. Open up ye engineers and explore the people around you. We’ll all be happier for it!

I feel very fortunate to have grown up closely with my cousins. While living in Texas, we visited family almost every weekend – my mom’s family most of the time… sometimes my dad’s. After my dad moved to Reno, I spent my summers, and many a Christmas season, in Reno. I also lived there for a little while.

I don’t remember exactly when or how Mark and Nancy became my favorite cousins… probably it was all the time we spent together either at their house or at The Lake – Lake Lahontan. We learned to water ski together, to fish together, to ride motorbikes together. We spent nights looking at the stars and days swimming in the lake, or in the swimming pool and hot tub back at the “Compound” – a group of 4 motor homes with a boathouse on some land just outside the Lahontan park area.

I was able to spend some extra time with them last week, along with their mother – my Auntie Pearl. My Uncle Jim recently died, and I really wanted to be there. At least I was able to take a few days and hang out. I’ve greatly missed them – they aren’t terribly active online or on social websites, although I’ve watched and looked for them over the years.

Fortunately, Nancy has an iPhone and likes to communicate via texting, and Mark will text and watches his email. I’m like a “tornado in a trailer park” now – happy as can be that I’ve found them again, connected again! They live super close to where I often travel for work (although super far away from my home). I plan on making a side trip to visit them every time I travel to the San Jose area for work — if I can swing it.

I spent a day and a night with my Auntie Pearl and cooked dinner (my simply grilled swordfish recipe… except we used ahi tuna), plus some vanilla creme brule. Then I spent a day with Nancy. The highlights were getting my hair cut (Nancy is a stylist), watching some movies and meeting one of her cats, Peaches (left). They are apparently very shy, and it was raining and thundering, so they hid under her bed. But Peaches eventually came out and we made friends. I’ve only seen her other cat in pictures. By the way, if you need your hair cut, styled, colored, or anything else – and you are in the Reno area, Nancy is the best. Call Bellissima and ask for her. She’ll make your day simply by smiling at you!

Mark lives out near the Moon Rocks and is an avid motocross rider with plenty of trophies in his career. As you can see in this picture, I geared up and went riding with him! I have my motorcycle license, although I don’t currently own one. I spent many summers puttering around Lake Lahontan on mini-bikes and a small motorcycle. I don’t think I ever wore a helmet back then! We did some four-wheeling until the rain stopped, then rode bikes for a little while, played some darts. Mark is now giving tours around the very special and little known trails in the area. Check it out and reserve a slot! You won’t be disappointed!

I love my extended family dearly, but Mark and Nancy hold a very special place in my heart, and I love them with all that I am!

I have a very deliberate way with meetings. Like many Dilbert cartoons, I’ve been in a few meetings and felt fairly useless… like it was a waste of time. Many years ago, I would accept meetings, dial in or show up. Accept the imposition on my calendar.

Now, however, I try to be careful with my time. I’m often an individual contributor on a project: maybe a project manager, supporting innovation practices or development. Therefore I have to prevent all my time from being monopolized by meetings. I often wonder how senior executives do it – the constant meetings, I mean. I discovered that getting on the calendar of a VP can only be accomplished by bugging that VP’s administrative assistant. Their calendars are completely full for weeks to come, and always will be, it seems.

My philosophy on meetings has 3 elements. First, I don’t just accept meeting invites. If I’m optional, I’ll likely tentatively accept it. If the meeting invite doesn’t have an agenda, I’ll likely mark it tentative and email the sender to ask for the agenda. I’ll likely decline unless my active participation is required or else it’s some sort of learning or training in a topic of interest to me.

Second, I am diligent in using the Required/Optional features of an invitation. If I will hold the meeting even if a specific person doesn’t show up, then they are Optional. Period. If I will reschedule a meeting if a person declines the meeting, then they are Required.

Third, there are times when I schedule a training or information meeting of some kind. Those I send to everyone as Required. If it is a meeting with people who report to me, then I expect them to attend unless they are not in the office. If other people are invited and I didn’t list them as optional for some reason, then I expect them to apply the same criteria that I use: come if you want to know/hear what’s going on.

Don’t let meetings get in the way of more important work. Yes, they are necessary, but be deliberate. Would you hold the meeting even if I didn’t show up? If the answer is Yes, then I’m not really required, am I?

It was late in the afternoon. I was 15 years old, and my step-father at the time, Lee, was driving me home from my job at Dodson’s Cafeteria in Oklahoma City. I was a dishwasher… and I left my tennis shoes at the restaurant: they get really dirty in the dishwashing area! The year was 1980 (a little more math and you get my age…)

We were turning the corner toward home, and Lee was talking about the problems in the world, specifically the problem makers: spics and spooks. I’d heard the term “spics”, referring to Latinos. Growing up in West Texas exposed me to plenty of those terms, “wetbacks” being the usual one thrown out. But I didn’t know what he meant by “spooks”.

“What is a spook?” I asked.

“You know, ghosts, black people, niggers.”

That moment was an epiphany for me. I decided right then and there that I would not be that way. It’s taken me a long time to mature in my interactions with people, and a long time to get out of my perfectionist, soloist mindset. But this one matured for me at 15 years old.

My son brought home a required reading book in the third grade. It was all about Martin Luther King, Jr. My son didn’t even know a black person from a white person … they were just people to him. The story brought out those questions. We explained, as best we could to an autistic third grader, that in the past, black people were slaves. They were freed under President Lincoln, but they were still heavily oppressed. King helped to lead the fight to remove that oppression, and he was somewhat successful. But there are still people around like the ones that King campaigned against.

That’s a core belief of mine: There are still folks out there who judge according to color!

I’ve heard conservatives claim reverse racism. I’ve heard liberals claim racism. I’ve heard talk show hosts discuss playing “the race card”. I don’t think that everyone is using the same meaning for that term. At some point, I’ll write my Politics post and go more into the mindset conflict I see in politics today…

But discrimination is still out there – in the workplace, in public areas such as stores or on the road, in education. I strongly believe that affirmative action needs to remain in place. As long as those discriminatory actions exist, society, and the enforcers in society, must work against it.

My hope and prayer is that hearts will be changed – there is neither man nor woman, Greek nor Jew, black nor white.