Category Archives: Philosophy

Expressing Your Authority May Be Working Against You

It doesn’t matter whether you are a senior engineer, a team lead, or an IT manager – eventually you will encounter the situation.  A meeting or discussion that becomes slightly more animated than usual.  Opinions are strong, and it is clear that consensus will not be found on this particular contentious issue today.   As a senior engineer, team lead, or manager, it is fair and understood that sometimes you will have to make a call one way or the other.   This article is not about whether or not you should make that call.  This article is about how to make that call.

Lets say for example that you are in a meeting with many of your direct reports, and these direct reports may be working on different aspects of the same project – or – they may be on different teams, still working toward the successful completion of a specific project.  There is a contentious concern, perhaps on the complexity around a specific problem where dead-lines need to be set.  Opinions are being vocalized, and the volumes of those voices are getting louder.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear way to reason out the differences of opinion at the moment. People are being blamed, fingers are being pointed.  You are the team lead/manager.  What do you do?

Well, lets look at what you should not do, with some suggestions on how you might handle these situations differently:

  1. Do Not Swear
    • It may seem to you that swearing at a meeting to get the attention of your team is either hip, cool, contemporary, or resonant with authority, but you would be dead wrong.
    • Anyone who really wants to succeed, and wants their teams and their company to succeed, will always want to bring positivity to the table.  By swearing (and I mean anything that is obviously vulgar, saying something like “what the fuck”), you are tarnishing the respect that your direct reports may have had for you.
    • With you being in a senior position, your direct reports look up to you, and will often try to mimic your mannerisms and the method by which you work (without full context of course), and they will replicate these mannerisms upon interactions with other teams and team members.
    • If you are swearing because you are highly frustrated, and simply lost control, then that is another matter that you need to address, immediately.
    • Apologize – If you do swear, communicate to your team that you are indeed frustrated, and did not mean to offend anyone.  Apologize sincerely to the whole team, and this will immediately re-gain any respect you may have lost, since you are showing the team that you are responsible for your actions, and are willing to concede when you’ve made a mistake.  This takes courage, and is a great example to set for your team.
  2. Do Not Raise Your Voice
    • There are many situations where raising your voice might be appropriate, for example to get everyone’s attention so that a meeting can begin.  Context is very important.
    • However, raising your voice for the sake of making a point (or to invalidate a point being made by someone else), or to express your authority will only back-fire, as you will lose the respect of those to whom you are trying to make your point.
    • Silence is golden – if you need to visibly show your disappointment or disagreement with an individual or a decision being made at a meeting, then the best thing to do is to be quiet.  Stand up, and hold your hand out as if you are pushing something away from you (think Neo in the Matrix).  Make it visible that you have something to say, or that you disagree, or would like to take the discussion off-line.  Your teams will respect you even more if you are able to command the attention of a room with silence.  Any fool can get attention by being loud and abrasive.
    • Again, by raising your voice, you are setting an example for others to do the same as well.  Your team members will take your queue and start to build a paradigm around how they see you acting and reacting, and they will do the same – believing either that this is what it takes to be successful, or that this is how YOU would rather interact.  They may even raise their voice against you in the very same meeting, with the misguided belief that you would see this as a positive characteristic in them.  Do not perpetuate this line of thinking.  If you are able to command a room with silence, then everyone else will follow suit and become silent, at which point a real and valuable conversation can once again be had.
  3. Do Not Perpetuate Fact-less Finger-pointing
    • Just because someone on your team makes a claim against another, doesn’t mean it is true.  If one team member claims that they are in a bad situation, or that they “are blocked” by another team or individual, do not simply jump on that finger-pointing train.  This is the equivalent of joining a pitch-fork mob against a monster which you didn’t know existed only a few minutes ago.  As a leader, you should be critical of all information coming your way, especially the hearsay that tends to happen when a second party is criticising a third.  It is a purely reactive method of dealing with people and situations, and it does more harm than good.
    • Ask questions – but from the perspective of information-gathering, not finger pointing.  What this means is that you are taking ‘people’ out of the picture, and instead are looking at ‘facts’ (current status and configuration, time-stamps, and corroborating evidence).  Instead of just taking those who claim that the ‘sky is falling’ at their word.
    • If you are going to address someone who is to be the defendant of a particular criticism, don’t ask them “Did you do (or not do) x?”.  Instead of being open about the obstacles which have prevented them from completing a certain task, this puts people on the defensive.  Try instead to be on their side.  If you are sincerely interested in achieving success for all teams, and for the entire company, and not just for yourself or your team, then show this by being helpful.  Instead, make statements like “What can I do to help move x along?”, or “Can we spend a few moments to break down this objective into smaller tasks?  Perhaps I or someone from my team can assist with moving this along?”.  This kind questioning puts the person being criticised in a position to ask for, and accept help if they need it.  If it is simply a matter of prioritization, something the person hadn’t gotten around to just yet, or if they simply lost sight of the tasks – they will once again be aware that the task needs attention.  They may even be embarrassed that you are offering to assist them with such a simple task that they will openly concede that they’ve simply lost sight of it, and would likely resolve the situation right away to avoid further embarrassment.
    • Bring people together.  Be an example to the person raising the issue or making the criticism by bringing together the parties involved so that there can be a quick and constructive dialogue about current obstacles or perceived road-blocks.  Show people how to solve problems without escalation, so that they can perpetuate a positive methodology around people-handling, and so that they themselves can become positive role-models that others can aspire to.
    • If you instead believe that perpetuating unfounded criticism and finger-pointing is a good thing, and that is all you believe you can or should do; then all you will end up doing is to make people feel alienated.  Those who are being criticised will go on the defensive, and they will likely want to avoid interacting with you (or anyone else on the finger-pointing bandwagon) going forward.  This does nothing to improve collaboration within or between teams.  Your organization and your company will suffer because of it.

Getting upset at your direct reports, raising your voice in order to re-claim a conversation, or simply ignoring input from specific people is a sure-fire way to diminish your reputation and earned respect across your entire team.  For the most part, private sector IT including software development, systems administration, and project management, is all thought-work.  It is important to be aware of and to understand how much psychology plays a part in the success of a team or organization.  Positivity breeds positivity, and the inverse is true as well.

Why is my daughter strong? I didn’t clip her wings: Ziauddin Yousafzai at TED2014

Related article: Why is my daughter strong? I didn’t clip her wings: Ziauddin Yousafzai at TED2014

From the article:

In October 2012, a Taliban-affiliated gunman shot Ziauddin Yousafzai’s daughter Malala soon after she boarded a bus en route to her school. In Swat, Pakistan — where Ziauddin and Malala live — the Taliban had outlawed all girls from attending school — but Yousafzai, an educator and steadfast crusader for women’s rights in Pakistan, refused to take Malala out of his school.

Bad advice on “free advice”

Cross-post from LinkedIn, in response to How Seeking ‘Free’ Works Against Our Career Success:

I cannot completely agree here. There are many who offer free advice that also happens to be good advice. Alternatively, it is important for advice seekers to learn how to distinguish between good and bad advice by learning to think critically about the information they are receiving – by asking deeper, probing questions. Every answer received should lead to further questions. While I do agree that it is important to learn how to be independent and make your own way in this world (as in the example of parents encouraging children to pay for their own education), I do not see how this directly relates to giving or receiving free advice, or how free advice (as suggested in this article) can be considered to be bad advice without further inquiry. With regard to the job seeker asking for his/her resume to be reviewed, that was simply a lazy request. You cannot help those who are not willing to put in the effort to help themselves, regardless of whether or not your advice is free.

Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy – 2010-Jan-29

Cross-post from LinkedIn, in response to Stephen Hawking: Black Holes May Not Have ‘Event Horizons’ After All:

So relevant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXh9RQCvxmg Stephen Colbert interviews Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. The entire interview (starts about 6 mins in) is just a wholly wonderful discussion. I wish more people would watch it, over and over again. Dr. Tyson tries to elaborate on the very same topic (current understanding of black holes). Simply engrossing and inspiring. The interview is long, but the elaboration of black holes starts about 1hr 6 mins into the video. Enjoy!

Beautiful people do not just happen.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Every Minute is a Reflection of Life

 “Time passes so quickly. Minutes are like seconds.  Hours fly by in a wink. Responsibilities are inherited, expanded.  Your self-image pushes you forward to embrace the challenge. Thinking becomes a luxury.  Quick fixes and band-aid solutions become the norm. There is always something to do, somewhere to go, something to be acquired.

Adapt.  It becomes increasingly important to be concise.  To be clear.  To avoid trivialities. However you cannot lose who you are.  What motivated you to go where you have gone, and to be who you are today? It likely makes no difference, since who we are, and the motivations that drive us change with us every day. What is important, in fact the only thing that is important, is that you continue to try to be a better you.

There is no better critic of your personal character than you.  You think about it.  Don’t lie to yourself. It does bother you to see people suffering in one part of the world, while corporations bask in wasteful ignorance in another. It does bother you that most of society is locked into a dependant relationship with such corporations. But the cure for the world’s pain can only come from awareness and education.  No one is different from anyone else. Aggression breeds aggression.  Tolerance breeds tolerance.  Empathy breeds empathy.

Simple things can make a big difference under just the right circumstances. Never give up, but don’t be hard on yourself for not going as far as you would have liked, as fast as you would have liked. Time passes so quickly.”

Maybe Big Brother Isn’t As Bad as You Think..

Cross-post from LinkedIn, in response to Maybe Big Brother Isn’t As Bad as You Think:

“This is a future Orwell could not have predicted. And Big Brother may turn out to be a pretty nice guy.” I respectfully disagree. As others have noted, there is (and always will be) a huge asymmetry in the information being shared and consumed as far as “Big Brother” and state surveillance is concerned. The “sharing” in this case is one-way. Only those in power would have the ability to view and make sense of the data.

Your argument that we “choose to share data” because we get something in return, is flawed. Most people do not choose to share the kind of data that we are referring to in this regard, otherwise it would be done freely and intentionally, and the secretive information gathering we are witnessing here would not be taking place. Even the information we do share “intentionally”, is done so for the most part by many of us who do not pay attention to, and truly consider the ramifications of the many disclaimers, license agreements, and privacy policies that we agree to on a daily basis. What we get in return, as you suggest, is far from a fair compromise.

This one-way “sharing” means that those who are in power have not only the ability to collect this information, but also the tools and the ability to analyse this data and generate statistics that the rest of us have no choice but to consume as facts. Aside from the ability to collect and “make sense of” the data, on our behalf – those in power also have the ability to limit and restrict infrastructure and resources in order to manipulate the “facts” at the source. For example, the ability to manipulate DNS or shut down ISPs to prevent the dissemination of data – effective censorship. Many people have been detained or persecuted (or worse) simply for “sharing” their thoughts and beliefs.

How can you make an anti-Orwellian argument, a case *for* “Big Brother”, and suggest that this kind of sharing can be good and benefit us all equally, when the vast amount of information we are talking about can be controlled from source to audience by such small percentage of the population? I suggest you pay attention the thoughts and many works of notable individuals such as Noam Chomsky, Glen Greenwald, and Lawrence Lessig, and perhaps reconsider your position on this matter. I am currently reading Greenwald’s latest book “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful”. I am sure you would find it most enlightening.

For those more visually/audibly inclined: “Noam Chomsky & Glenn Greenwald – With Liberty and Justice For Some”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1nlRFbZvXI

Please join us in welcoming the newest member of our family!

On January 28th, at around 5am EST, the newest member of our family was born.  Weighing in at around 6lbs 3oz, and just under 20 inches in length; our daughter, Phoebe Isabelle Lopez, arrived into our world.. and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have her!

20130207_154749 Phoebe

 

 

 

 

 

Phoebe has been a very good baby, getting lots of rest and food and exercise.  She loves to look at ceiling fans and the patterns on our curtains.  She doesn’t seem too interested in toys yet though.  Sandra has been singing songs to her all day, changing the lyrics to include Phoebe’s name in the song.  Somehow we always end up adding the word “poop” or “poo” to the lyrics.

There are so many things that you need to learn when becoming a new parent.  It takes a lot of patience most of all, but the world of “baby stuff” is truly a huge world unto it’s own.  I know stuff about diapers, creams, mixing formulas, changing the Diaper Genie “correctly” (using the bulit-in cutter, and not a pair of scissors), and I have mastered swaddling.

We are not getting a lot of sleep, and sometimes it’s not worth trying to get another 20 minutes before she cries, so we just go with the flow, and so far it’s been working.

Phoebe truly is a special soul, and a blessing to us.  We are very thankful to have her home safe, sound, and healthy!

More pictures soon!

Edit: More pictures here!

Flowers still hanging in there

image

To my surprise the flowers we planted in early spring are still hanging in there!

image

The last rainfall really helped a lot; it was starting to get pretty dry at one point earlier in the year.

Hopefully I”ll get a chance to rip out some weeds over the weekend.

image

It”ll be sad to see them wither away in the fall :(

Be sure to enjoy the rest of your summer!

People Getting Along

It always surprises me when people share a bit more about themselves than they realize, especially those who think themselves fairly reserved, quiet, or “better than thou”.

I find this occurs when a big change has happened (or is happening) in that person’s life; a life-changing change. Sometimes these are the only moments when you get any kind of real insight into how that person thinks and reacts under pressure, or how they truly feel about the people and the issues in the world around them.

Enjoy The Silence

httpv://youtu.be/RTOLMbKjLeY

♫ Words like violence break the silence ♫
♫ Come crashing in into my little world ♫
♫ Painful to me, pierce right through me ♫
♫ Can’t you understand, oh my little girl? ♫

♫ All I ever wanted, all I ever needed Is here in my arms ♫
♫ Words are very unnecessary They can only do harm ♫

♫ Words are spoken to be broken ♫
♫ Feelings are intense, words are trivial ♫
♫ Pleasures remain, so does the pain ♫
♫ Words are meaningless and forgettable ♫

♫ All I ever wanted, all I ever needed Is here in my arms ♫
♫ Words are very unnecessary They can only do harm ♫

Wikipedia: Enjoy The Silence

Experiences and Recorded History

It is amazing to me how far we have come technologically, yet we are still so far away from being able to record experiences with any degree of accuracy.  It is the experiences that we have that make us who we are, our identities.  And so it goes to reason that who we are can never be conveyed to another person or individual with any degree of accuracy.

There will always be gaps.. pieces of the puzzle missing so as to prevent anyone from seeing a clear picture of who you are, both inside and out.  The people around you the most will (should) have the fairest ideas about who you are overall; but even they woun’t have all the information.  There will always be little details about your personality, your dreams, and your fears that no one will ever be aware of, simply because they reside nowhere but within your own mind.

People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say

It’s occurred to me fairly often of the past several years that the reason why democracy doesn’t achieve ideal results is simply because most voters are ill-informed about the real issues facing the world; and not just the issues being relayed via cable television news networks.  This article simply confirms my assumptions.. unfortunately.

For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.

Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they “effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.”

Read the full article here –>>

Are your feelings as important as those of others around you? Should they be?

Ever feel like you’re in a position to make a decision where there can be no reasonably useful or positive outcome?  Ever feel like the the choice in front of you will simply lead to misery (or at very least, be anti-climactic), regardless of the path you take?

We are all selfish in our own little (or not so little) ways.  We have all said, done, and been involved with things in the past that has shaped us into the individuals we are today.  Everyone at some point will regret some of the decisions they’ve made.  At the same time we understand that, in most cases, we would not have acquired the wisdom of experience gained by making those decisions in the first place.  Wisdom aside, we may never again have the opportunity to engage experiences we have always quietly longed for.

I, of course, am not a God fearing man by any means.  I don’t believe that chosing whether or not to consume pork or beef will have any major karmic consequence (aside from what can naturally occur health-wise if proper diet isn’t maintained).  I believe that whatever happens to us in our lives is the result of either a) the decisions we have made in the past, b) the decisions that others have made which happen to affect us by consequence, or c) cascading events over time, including genetics and environmental changes. Any moral conflicts which stir in my mind are the result of my own experiences and what I’ve come to see as good, bad, or taboo.

Having said that, “let your conscience be your guide” becomes a double-edged sword. Taking your own feelings into account is just as important as taking into account the feelings and wishes of others (isn’t it?).  One day you may find that the very thing you’ve avoided in order to “do the right thing” – to be the best model of a good person that you can be (from the perspective of your current society/environment),  could very well end up being your biggest regret.

There is of course a significant portion of our population that, by default, will put their own feelings first, before the feelings of others.  Lets call this group the “me first” group.  This type of person will consider the feelings of others as an after-thought, and usually in a reactive manner, should their general lack of consideration put them in an uncomfortable situation.

I am not one to be inconsiderate of the feelings of others.. for the most part.

On the flip-side, there are those who feel that their desires and feelings should always be considered first, in any situation.  I guess these people also fall squarely into the “me first” group.  Many of these people have a knack for twisting culture, tradition and social norms to support their “me first” mind-set.

But isn’t making your own feelings an equal or greater priority over the feelings of others place you in the “me first” group as well?  It depends.

It’s all about patterns – how often do you do it? How regularly does it occur? To what extent? I would imagine that the “me first” group are “me first” people most, if not all of the time.  Whereas, those who have to consciously think about putting their own feelings first – who generally put others first, and themselves second (or last) don’t necessarily get lumped into the “me first” group.  Of course, a single selfish action can cause you to be labelled one way or the other.  I suppose also, over time, people can shift in and out of the “me first” group depending on their current life situation.

But anyone capable of using the space between their ears can understand the difference between an intermittent, irregular behavior, and that of behavior which is regular, recurring, and often predictable.

So.. does a selfish act committed by a generally un-selfish person, make that person generally selfish?  Everyone is selfish to some degree.  Understood.  However there are extremes that need to be taken into account, extremes that most people cannot (or will not) acknowledge.  Practical wisdom to the rescue.

TEDxUW – Larry Smith – Why you will fail to have a great career

Larry Smith, economics instructor at the University of Waterloo, gives a very moving lecture to both educate and inspire upcoming graduates on the reason why most of them will fail to have a great career.  He doesn’t come right out and say it, but he does all he can to point his viewers in the direction of the answer in the hope that his audience will come to the realization themselves.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKHTawgyKWQ

 

UK Government To Demand Data On Every Call And Email

[techweekeurope.co.uk] UK Government To Demand Data On Every Call And Email

Plans could force ISPs and phone operators to hand over records on all phone calls, emails, Tweets and Facebook messages

[telegraph.co.uk] Phone and email records to be stored in new spy plan

Details of every phone call and text message, email traffic and websites visited online are to be stored in a series of vast databases under new Government anti-terror plans.

This story also made the Slashdot front page.

Stop And Smell The Roses, But Be Wary of The Road Yet Travelled

Here is a wonderful poem that I remember from my childhood.  Although many of the things that we learn in school as children are akin to shrink-wrapped airplane food, there are some juicy bits of wisdom that are worth taking the time to stop and savour.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Wikipedia: by Robert Frost, 1874/March/26 – 1963/January/29

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”  These words always seem to dance in the back of my mind after any significantly challenging or rewarding moment in my life.  It is a reminder that despite where we may be right now in our lives, we have miles to go (both in mind and body) before we reach our true destination, which is (when you really think about it) just another point of departure.  Go bravely into the great unknown.

Just finished “The Book” by Alan Watts. I like it.

I have just finished reading The Book.. On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!  It comes as close as I can imagine to a book that helps its reader truly understand the concept of existence, our world, and our “purpose in it”.

The Book (cover)

I must admit that I have had an affair with such ideas and philosophies for a very long time – and this perhaps makes the content and context of the book easier for me to grok than it would others – but it is worth the effort.  If there is anything worth doing in this world, I would image that understanding who you are, and understanding why you have the experiences and knowledge that you do, in contrast to the experiences and knowledge of others around you, to be of utmost significance and importance.

I have written a few articles under various pseudonyms over the years that explore the very concepts explained in this book, but have never really come across a published work that summarized these thoughts as clearly and succinctly as I would have liked, until now.

If you have any capacity or motivation to understand the world you live in, and you are able to free yourself (your mind) from the conditioning of your environment and your up-bringing, even for a moment, then I suggest you take the time read this book.

If you are not very familiar with Eastern or Western philosophy to begin with, then the ideas in this book may be difficult to grasp.  Nevertheless, once you’ve had a chance to explore the basics of such ideas in other writings, you would do well to circle ’round and come back to this marvelous treasure.