While some countries and here in the USA, some states, are beginning to open up more. Being careful and reducing risk is still important. For folks who aren’t used to be restricted to a relatively small area for an extended period of time, this time can be extremely stressful. Part of coping is finding something else constructive to fill the time.

A lot of folks say all the time that if they only had the time they’d learn something new. The reality is we all have the same amount of time, 168 hours a week, as everyone else. It’s what we choose to do with that time that makes the difference.

In my case, like a lot of folks, I wanted to get better at baking bread. My desire to do so came after my daughter was diagnosed with a milk protein allergy. Buying bread she could eat was a major challenge. However, we found a couple of brands that were typically okay and other things took priority.

So during this time I went and ordered Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. There’s an equipment list and I was able to order those items as well. Since then I’ve been able to get a sourdough starter going and bake these two loaves. I’ve done other baking recipes in the interim while getting the starter to a usable point. The experience has definitely been helpful in coping with the current situation and I can say I’m learning a new skill that I will likely maintain going forward.

You don’t have to pick baking or even something you plan on continuing as things open back up. However, having had a lot of experience being confined to a small area (being incarcerated at, I mean, attending The Citadel for four years), I found staying busy was a key part of staying sane. Find some outlet to stay mentally healthy.

There’s a difference between failure and incompetence/negligence. Failure happens. It should be expected. Failure happens a lot more with things we aren’t familiar or experienced with. For instance, failure happens when you’re trying to do or build something new. Punishing failure doesn’t get you any closer to developing what you want. It actually throws the brakes on all your momentum.

Punishing failure and “shooting the messenger” only cause people to hide their mistakes, and eventually, all desire to innovate is completely extinguished.

Kim, Gene. The Unicorn Project.

Innovation involves trying what hasn’t been done before. Not everything is going to work. Not everything is going to work well. How do you learn that? You try and you fail. Similarly some things do work, occasionally. Other things are more consistent. How do you figure that out? You try and you note what tends to succeed regularly. But that also means you find out what doesn’t succeed most of the time, which means it fails most of the time.

If your culture punishes failure, your culture impedes or completely stops innovation. In today’s connected, global world, innovation is how an organization separates itself positively from others in its space. That’s a primary goal for most companies. But to be able to foster innovation, the company has to have a culture where it’s okay to fail, so long as that failure is due to effort and learning/knowledge comes from that failure.

And that’s the difference between failure and incompetence or failure and negligence. Incompetence means you can’t do it. Why is a different question. Negligence means you know how but chose not to. Then there’s always maliciousness, but that’s self-explanatory. You can have a culture where it is okay to fail while not tolerating incompetence, negligence, or maliciousness. You need that type of culture for innovation to have a chance.

I’ve often written about being a jack-of-all-trades and how that can help greatly on any team, especially in IT. However, there’s still a stigma around not choosing one path and going with it. For those who find they can focus in one area, that’s awesome. Many of us, though, bounce around from area to area.

If you bounce around, fear not! Emilie Wapnick (twitter | website) gives us the advantages of being a multipotentialite:

Tales of Equestria Starter BoxIf you come to a gaming, anime, or comic convention in or near Columbia, South Carolina, you’ll usually find me there running both Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers League and the Tails of Equestria RPG. Dungeons and Dragons is a traditional convention offering, but Tails of Equestria is not a normally offered game and some folks are intrigued as to why I choose to run the game.

There is a subculture of males who love just about everything there is to the My Little Pony cartoon franchise. There are even conventions and meet-ups dedicated to this subculture. These folks are often known as “Bro-nies” and so the first question is whether I’m one? I’m not. I love the message of the revamped My Little Pony series, especially as a father of young daughters, but I grew up on mecha anime, and that’s what I love. However, I do love the RPG.

The first reason is that the RPG teaches the fundamental message of the new series of shows and movies: the importance of friendship and building/maintaining healthy relationships. The game is built around that concept. The more your ponies (characters) live up to these ideals, the better you’ll do. Sometimes, the only way to get past something is because a friend helps you out. Just like in real life! When I say build around the concept, there are game mechanics, specifically the tokens of friendship, that emphasize being there for one another and for the non-player ponies and other characters you encounter.

Second, it’s a wide-open system. Imagination and role-playing take center stage. Games like Dungeons and Dragons and it’s related sibling, Pathfinder, can devolve more into roll-playing (rolling dice like a wargame) than role-playing. Dice are an important aspect of the Tails of Equestria RPG, like most RPGs, but they don’t ever rule the day.

Third, why role-playing is center stage, the system is detailed enough that hard-core tactical players have enough to take the edge off when it comes to combat and other challenges. I’ve had very tactical RPGers remark that they enjoy the options that the challenge system offers. Speaking of teamwork, when the player ponies gang up against an opposing foe, the “weight of dice” (rolling enough dice to get the result you want, even if the odds for any single roll isn’t very good) often carry the day. This is often the way it is in the real world and not only does it carry over in the game, but it emphasizes collaborating towards a common goal, even if it’s a short term one of taking out an opposing minion.

Finally, the rules are still light enough where it’s applicable to a broad range of ages. I’ve had games at conventions where adults are sitting down playing at a table with six and seven year-olds and they’re all understanding the rules, able to play, and having a great time. Tails of Equestria strikes the right balance where we have just enough rules.

“Believing that success is about learning, students with the growth mindset seized the chance. But those with the fixed mindset didn’t want to expose their deficiencies. Instead, to feel smart in the short run, they were willing to put their college careers at risk.”

from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

Dr. Dweck was writing about students attending a university in Hong Kong where all coursework was in English. Students came in with varying levels of proficiency; accelerated English coursework was offered to all students to help them come up to speed faster. Some students, even though they needed the additional learning, chose not to pursue the opportunity. They were willing to risk long term failure for immediate peace of mind.

Her research leads to the conclusion that there are two ways to view ourselves:

  • Our capabilities are pretty much fixed and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.
  • We, by challenging ourselves with new learning opportunities, can increase our capabilities as we experience growth.

For those with the fixed mindset, challenges can reveal they aren’t good at something. Since they view capabilities to be fixed, that means they’ll never be good at those challenges if they aren’t initially. Therefore, they try to avoid challenges in areas where they don’t already excel. If they don’t know if they will be good or not, they naturally avoid the challenge.

However, for those with the growth mindset, challenges provide opportunities to get better, to learn more, to improve. Failure is okay and expected. With failure comes more learning. That’s a good thing.

What mindset do you tend to have? If you’re in the fixed mindset, you’re probably sacrificing long term success for short term comfort because you want to avoid being shown a deficiency. That’s not good.

What is good is that these are mindsets. You can train yourself to have a growth mindset. You aren’t stuck with a fixed mindset. It’s not easy, because it is a significant change of viewpoint. However, it’s possible for everyone, once they understand the two mindsets and that you don’t have to stay in the fixed mindset.

I’m reading Trillion Dollar Coach about Bill Campbell. Bill was CEO of Intuit and instrumental in the growth of Apple and Google, among others. The list of those whom he mentored is a who’s who of Silicon Valley. When you add up the total value of the companies he helped in mentoring and coaching along the way, it comes out to well over a trillion dollars, hence the name of the book.

One of the things Bill insisted upon were First Principles. First Principles are the immutable truths upon which everyone agrees. When it comes time to make a hard decision, referring to those First Principles helps make the decision. An example given in the book is with respect to the company Tellme. Tellme had an offer from AT&T to license Tellme’s software that Tellme turned down. Why? The offer violated the company’s First Principles. The company would have to switch from what it did well into an entirely new business model (software development to software licensing) and they didn’t believe that AT&T could execute better. Later, they agreed to stay with selling to Microsoft even though a larger, unsolicited offer came in during the negotiation. Again, First Principles were what helped decide what the company felt was the correct decision.

What are your First Principles? What are the truths that define you? If you haven’t thought about them, determining them before a hard decision gives you a set of tools to stay true to who you want to be. For instance, one of the reasons Tellme stayed with Microsoft was because the two organizations had already had a basic agreement worked out. One of Tellme’s First Principles was integrity. Backing out of the deal would have been a violation of that First Principle.

Applying that personally, think about your legacy. What do you want to leave the world with? What kind of impression do you want people to have about you? Your First Principles should be in line with that vision. When it comes time when something would steer you away from that legacy, referring back to your First Principles will help you stay on track.

I enjoy Guy Kawasaki’s writing. He’s an entrepreneur and technical evangelist with an outstanding track record of success. Needless to say, I was eager to read his autobiography, Wise Guy (link goes to Amazon). What makes this autobiography different from so many others?

Guy gives us a lot of stories from his life. With each story he also gives us the lessons learned from that situation. Not only do we get insight into how life unfolded from him, but we also learn what he took from those life occurrences which he applied later on. An example:

Another aspect of this autobiography is the stories other tell about Guy. One of those stories is from his son who describes how Guy goes out of his way to attend his son’s hockey game. That’s what dads do, right? Only Guy’s son was an adult, playing in a league, and the game started at 10:30 PM at night! Guy was there simply because his son was playing. This isn’t the only story told by others that remind you that Guy is more than his public persona.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would. Whether you are in technology or not, there’s a lot of great advice within its pages. Most are words we’ve heard before. What’s impactful, though, is that Guy ties them to his stories. That gives us context for a particular piece of advice. That’s what sets this book apart both from most autobiographies and self-help books on the market.

Recently, I gave a short speech at my Toastmasters club about how to structure and prepare to give a speech. I was asked to share the notes. Here they are, cleaned up and organized. This is my process, when I have time to fully practice it. None of it is new. All of this is the typical type of advice you see in any training on speechcraft. However, this is how I have organized it.

Start with Knowing the Purpose of the Speech

Whether you’re giving a speech for Toastmasters speech or giving a keynote to thousands of people: start by understanding what is expected of you. Most of us have experienced speeches that didn’t resonate because they didn’t mesh with the setting/event at which they were given. Another reason is the speech isn’t appropriate for the audience. By knowing what your speech’s purpose, you hopefully avoid both of these issues.

Building Your Speech

  1. Start with an outline to collect your thoughts. This is for the main body of your speech. Worry about the conclusion and the introduction later.
  2. Then write the main body of your speech. What are your points? Also, make sure you have adequate support what you’re trying to say.
  3. With the body done, write the conclusion. Make it strong. Craft it to leave the audience with a clear and strong understanding of what you are trying to communicate.
  4. Finally, write the introduction last. The introduction sets up the rest of the speech. Because of school, many of us were trying to knock out assignments and we just wrote straight from start to finish. If this is your habit, break it. It’s better to write the introduction after you know what you’re saying so you can prepare the audience to hear what you’re main points.

Preparing to Give Your Speech

  • First, practice! Even if you’re used to speaking on short or no notice, take the time to practice when you have the opportunity. It’ll show you what doesn’t work about your speech.
  • Don’t be afraid to use notes to give your speech. However, practice to where you are comfortable with your notes. Don’t let your handling of your notes distract your audience. Therefore, practice handling your notes in exactly the same way you plan on using them when you give your speech.
  • Have someone you trust to give you honest feedback observe your practice. Key things you won’t notice that someone else will:
    • Distracting body language
    • Use of filler words
    • Lack of vocal variety
  • If you find yourself running long, don’t be afraid to cut from your speech. It’s better to leave the audience with fewer memorable points than trying to rush through and causing your audience to struggle to try and follow you.


I’m reading a pre-release copy of Guy Kawasaki’s new book, Wise Guy, for review. There’s a situation where Guy Kawasaki was racially profiled and he talked to his father about it. His father said back to him, “Mathematically, in your neighborhood, she was right, so get over it.” Guy writes that this interaction taught him this:

My father’s response taught me five lessons:

  • Don’t look for problems.
  • Take the high road.
  • See humor where others see insults.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt—that is, maybe race didn’t have anything to do with her question.
  • Don’t let people get to you, whether they are insulting you or not.

Looking back to when I was a kid this is often how my mom, also Japanese, reacted to this type of situation. She wouldn’t let folks waste any more of her time than the interaction. She certainly wouldn’t give them free rent in her mind. This is definitely something I need to continue working on.

I’ve run across people who only want to head good news, positive things, and they tend only to face those types of situations. However, this article titled The Cult of Oppressive Positivity discusses some of the issues with positivity is used as a filter on reality. Having a positive attitude is useful. It’s productive. We are able to accomplish more. That’s different than what’s being described in the article. The article is about when a person or a group of people refuses to deal with anything except the positive. They use it as a shield. I think that’s the best way to say it. But it goes beyond just being a shield. After a while it becomes a means of suppression of others. From the article:

Beyond merely thinking positively, these belief systems foment an inability to hold, process, or empathize with what they deem are “negative” feelings and emotions. The result is a culture or atmosphere that becomes toxic and oppressive.

Having experienced this in practice, I have to agree that when folks can’t face anything negative, the atmosphere becomes toxic. I’ve seen this both in social situations and in the workplace. However, by having a blanket attitude of ignoring the negative, by not facing it, we hurt ourselves more than help ourselves. I’ve given a talk called Being the Swiss Army Knife of DB Pros (link goes to slides at SQLSaturday.com). In the talk I mention how disappointments/setbacks ultimately helped me be who I am today. Thinking positively is fine. Shielding ourselves from everything negative is not.