All posts by barmartland

Asking Questions and Getting in Sync

The principles that sparked this post

My favorite episode of the podcast Worklife by Adam Grant is still episode 1 in season 1, “How to Love Critisism” where one of the main guests is Ray Dalio. Now, I have yet to read Ray’s book “Principles” so I rely on LinkedIn and Twitter where he shares a lot of them. In the last weeks a lot of the principles have had the theme of “get in sync”. I have agreed to many of them, it is important to get in sync in order to be on the same path, to push together for something greater. And then it occured to me, what does getting in sync actually mean to Ray Dalio? Is it the same as I have been thinking about it? So I asked.

The Reply

The question asked and the response from Ray Dalio on LinkedIn

I didn’t really expect to get any response. But one day a reply came, you can see it blow, and especially two things came to mind.

  1. I am glad I asked, because what I was thinking was indeed not the same as he was. In my head getting in sync was about what to do, and how to do it.
  2. His view on getting in sync is a lot harder, and a lot more interesting!

How should we be with each other? What are we, you and me? And then we can get in sync of what is true, and what to do. So how do we get in sync as people, not as people having to do tasks.

These are hard questions, and for me the start of it is to ask more questions about how people reached a decision. How can I get better at understanding how they think, and not necessarily what they think. To me that is the basis for bein able to dive into the other questions. We can say the same about how we want to be around each other, but if the reasoning behind the conclusion is not the same we are still not in sync.

The Third Thing

There is a third thing that’s come to mind as I’ve written this, and that is the importance of actually asking when you are uncertain if you and others have the same definition of things. I have this as a point in many of my presentations around the use data, and speaking the same language. One of the first questions I ask in an interview if someone has the title “Data Scientist” on the resume is what their definition is of that term. No to test them if they have the correct definition, simply to know that if they use the term I know what it means to them so we can understand eachother better.

Now What?

I think it takes time to “get in sync” in Ray Dalio’s definition. Finding out how we should be with each other, and actually agreeing on it takes time. And it demands that we actually spend time talking about these sort of things and pushing back on talking about the next things to de done on our backlog. I will take this input, this principle, with me and keep asking more questions about how people landed on a conclusion or reached a decision. And then I hope to get more people around me to agree that spending time talking about what we are as a group and how we are together also is a high priority in all group situations!

I’ve worked so hard to minimize the use of the word “but” in my vocabulary and it’s becoming a problem…

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote this article on LinkedIn on why we shouldn’t use the word “but” in feedback situation. I’ve later come to realize that we use this small word WAY to much, and this lead me down a path where I’ve tried to remove it from my vocabulary, or at least minimize it to the extreme. After all sometimes “but” is a useful word.

I agree with you, but…

The main issue I have with the word “but” is that I believe we use it too much and I believe we use it wrong. You know in a meeting when someone says “I agree with you, but…” and then lists five reason that they doesn’t agree with you? Well in that case the “I agree with you” part is just a simple lie.

Sometimes they actually do agree, still says but and instead says things they’d like to add on to the statement they agree with. Such as things we need to keep in mind when we move forward, and in that case what they really should say is “I agree with you, AND…” insert this and this and this.

And then sometimes people will say “I agree with you, but…” and then start talking about something completely different. Do you agree with someone? Good, let them know, take a pause, and start a completely new sentence with your next topic. Saying but in this case removes your point of letting people know you agree with them.

Why has it become a problem

The first step of trying to remove something you do is to realize when and how often you do it. I quickly realized I used “but” A LOT. In the beginning I also think people could sense when I was about to say it because I had to stop and think about what I could say instead of but. I am still in a sense of mind where I am extremely aware of when I am about to say “but”, and (see what I did there?) now I am a lot quicker at exchanging the word with something else, or pause and start a new sentence.

The problem is that now that I’ve come past the point of noticing it in myself I am realizing how much this little word is used around me. And it is a lot! Coworkers, with friends and family, in stuff I read. I tried to let my wife know when she used it in a way I think is wrong for the purpose of the word, and lets just say hat was when I realized this has become a problem, because I don’t want to become the guy that goes around and corrects everyones use of a simple word. I have never enjoyed hanging around people that is so quick to correct other peoples grammar that I refuse to become that person myself when it comes to the word but.

So then what…

I would highly advice you to try and think of how often you say the word “but”. Pick a meeting and think about how often you use it, or the other people in the meeting uses it. You might get surprised about it. And think about what you are actually trying to get across. Do you really mean to use but? Are you trying to add something to the discussion? Use and! Are you actually going to start talking about something else? Pause and start a new sentence. It will make it easier for everyone to understand the point you are actually trying to get across, and not get confused by you saying an extremely long sentence divided by the very small, and very much used word, “but”.

Me? I am going to slowly advice people around me to remove the word themselves. I will point it out here and there, BUT I am going to be extremely cautious of how often I say it to the same person!

Turning multiple values into one string in Power BI

Or concatenating if you will, but I don’t always remember that word which is probably why the solution didn’t come to me at once when I ran into the problem.

Concatenation is taking two or more values and chaining them, often with a delimiter. Like the first and last name of a person, or a zip code and the name of the area.

This demo data set is made up by looking at a persons grades in different classes they have taken. So if we want to show that information for all persons we would typically show it in a table like this.

Now what if we didn’t care to much about the grades for now, and wanted to show which classes a person had taken. We could of course just remove the Grade column and keep the table, but what if we only want to have one row per person? My gut feeling was playing with the matrix in Power BI, but that only shows the first value since this is a text column so it’s not what I am after at all.

The answer? Concatenation in a measure. Very often concatenation is done between two columns, but here I need it done on rows so the CONCATENATEX function is what we want. First I made this measure

Classes non distinct = CONCATENATEX(Example,Example[Class],”, “)

which gave this result

Looks ok, but the total row has duplicates in it and if we had grades for several years we would have it on each person as well if they had taken the same class several times and I only want the distinct values. Luckily we can then use the VALUES function to only get distinct values in a column so the measure now looks like this.

Classes = CONCATENATEX(VALUES(Example[Class]),Example[Class],”, “)

Which gives this result

Perfect! This can now be filtered and used like any other measure.

The Importance of Time

Looking back at projects I have been a part of in my work life there are some that have been successful right away, some that have needed more time to be successful, and some projects, well they haven’t really been all that successful looking back at them. Thinking about why some are successes right away and some never get there I believe that one of the main reasons that separates these projects is time. Not necessarily time to do actual development, but an actual time commitment from the business side of an organization, time to plan and time to actually think, reflect and make changes as the projects where moving along.

Tech Is Easy, People Are Not

I am of the believe that tech is easy, while people are hard. It is a lot faster to change an application or some code, than to change the behavior of an actual human being. And this is why I believe time is one of the most important things to early on in a project make into a priority. If we want to be successful the project needs time from actual business users. They need to be a part of making the specifications, and they need to help test, iterate, use and dream about what a solution can be and grow into. And they need time to adapt to whatever is being made as change can be scary and without enough time people might resist it. This may sound easy, but if someone from the business does not get a percentage of their time allocated specifically to use on a project they very quickly become “busy” and down prioritize helping out on a solution that is actually being created to help them in their job moving forward.

Reflection Is Under Appreciated

My favorite part of doing scrum is the retrospective. It is made so the scrum team can have time to sit down and reflect on what went well, what can be improved and look for things that they perhaps isn’t doing at all. I believe we all need to spend more time reflecting, but we need time to do it. In a stressful work day we too rarely sit down and think about how the last meeting we organized went. Did everyone understand why they where there? Was I clear enough in my communication? Did we all really agree on what to do when the meeting was over? If we reflect more on things I believe we also see behavior/patterns throughout our day that can be discussed the next time you reflect, either alone or together with others. We see the world in a wider view than just our own, hectic life one meeting, or task, at a time. Reflecting is all about having time to see where we can further improve.

Failing Is Necessary

We need time to fail. Failures can be though, both for an individual, a team and an organization, and it might feel like a disappointment and a waste of time if things doesn’t work out. But if you never fail, have you really pushed yourself to your limits? Have you really learned absolutely everything you could from an experience? If you fail, what can you learn from it? Do a mini retrospective and see what you and others think about it. Failing is hard, but we need time to do it in order to not be afraid of experimenting and see how far we can go.

Everyone Needs to Be Able to Talk to Everyone Involved

Communication takes a lot of time. Making sure all stakeholders are updated about the progress. Making sure everyone on the team knows about changes to the end product. Making sure a problem can be solved quickly by running a question through the correct person who knows the answer. The more people involved in a communication chain the longer it will take to get a message across, or an answer to a question. It can also turn into a game of whispers where the original question/answer gets lost in the chain. By allowing everyone to talk to everyone you basically get more time since you can cut directly to the source of an answer. Not every decision needs to be taken in a scheduled meeting. Five minutes by the coffee machine with the correct person might be all another person needs to keep working, but if we always have to scheduled a meeting two weeks in advance things will take time. And there is probably better stuff to use that time for.

Time is important. Both at work and in our private lives. And time management is really hard! My experience is that if you want to succeed make sure both you, and others involved, have enough dedicated time to use on what you are working on. If dedicated time is not given it is to easy to say that you are “too busy” to help out when others ask. So make time to plan, reflect and fail. Plan to have time to reflect and fail, and reflect and fail in order to further improve!

Questions On Feedback

I’ve become quite obsessed with feedback over the last year and a half maybe. Mainly because I believe it is really hard to get useful feedback, and especially create a culture around giving feedback. For those who like podcasts I can highly recommend episode 1 of the podcast “Worklife” by Adam Grant which is called “How to love criticism”. The episode talks about a company called Bridgewater Associates who has taken this to the extreme. Now, I am not sure if every workplace can have, or should have, a culture like that, but I believe we still can learn a lot from it. And after listening to that episode myself I got myself a new obsession, feedback.

So far feedback is turning out to be as hard to specify as I expected, and even though I’ve read a lot I still have a million question about it. So I did an experiment and just wrote down a bunch of questions I could think of around feedback. Some I have clear thoughts about, others I have no idea. If you have any thoughts on them I’d love to hear it. Otherwise, maybe this list of questions will get you thinking as well. But let me ask you this; Can you remember the last time you got some really useful, maybe even unexpected, feedback?

  • Why is feedback so hard to get right?
  • What does good/bad feedback look like?
  • How do we measure quality of feedback over time?
  • What is the best way of asking for feedback?
  • Are people so good at self reflecting they don’t need it?
  • Are we too afraid to give feedback as it might affect how others think about us for it to work?
  • Are we too afraid of receiving bad news for feedback to work?
  • When is the best timing to give, or ask for, feedback?
  • Are some areas of expertise, or communities, better at working continuously with feedback?
  • How do we ensure that feedback is not a one-way dialog, and that feedback ends up being a power play from the givers perspective?
  • How do we build a culture for lowering the threshold for giving feedback?
  • Is it possible to receive actionable feedback from strangers?
  • Where would you even go if you wanted feedback on a personal project, or started out doing something new?
  • How do we teach how to receive feedback?
  • How can we learn our body not to go into a flight or flee position when receiving negative/constructive feedback?
  • Does more trust in a relation equal more feedback, or at least lowering the threshold for giving?
  • How can we make someone hungry for feedback?
  • Is a request for feedback really just a request for getting a recognition of something we do correct and want to hear it from others?
  • Maybe feedback isn’t that important after all?

Sometime I just Want to Write

Do you every feel like you just want to write something? Doesn’t matter if someone reads it or not, just to get some thoughts down on a paper or a computer? I usually write for three reasons. Things ends up here when I feel like I have done something smart and want to have it more easily available the next time I end up with the same issue. Things end up in OneNote or a PowerPoint whenever it is something I want to share at work. But the third setting I usually write is different, that’s when I don’t manage to sleep because I am either irritated or to excited about something. Writing usually calms me down, and sleep comes more easily afterwards.

For some reason I wish I wrote more. It feels calming when I do, like now, and it doesn’t have to be to calm myself down because of irritation or excitement. Most of the time however, stuff ends up in my personal OneNote, in the “Draft” section. But why? I’ve never been much of a perfectionist, but when it comes to writing and putting stuff here, for some reason it stops in a draft pahse unless I really take the time to do the write-up. I think that’s a shame, not because what I write is super interesting, but because I clearly have done some work when I look back at the drafts. Too often it feels like what I am writing is not “new” enough. It has nothing to do with the fact it is not good enough, but I notice I find myself thinking “someone has already written about this”. I do hope to put more out, I think all of us has our own perspectives on stuff we write even if it is not ground breaking. It doesn’t have to be, and that is fine. By putting it out there for everyone to read, and not kept in the dark, it might inspire or teach someone else something.

As with everything we get better when we write, so by writing this maybe the next piece I write becomes just a little better, or at least the bar for finishing it and publishing it gets lower. Writing is fun and at some point I hope to be able to tick of all these things:

  • Write a children’s fairy tale. I’ve already drafted one called “The Snail Princess” as my daughter loves snails, worms and spiders.
  • Write more “k√•sseri”, I have no idea what this is in English, and google translate didn’t help me, but it’s basically a more humouristic type of short essay. Again, I have a draft for this called “Analogization”.
  • Create a bad guy for a thriller. Doesn’t have to end up as a book or anything. I just really want to see if I am able to create a character like Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes. Let’s be honest, a good bad guys is very often more interesting than the good guy!
  • Write more here. I think I to often think this space has to be work related. I think it’s because it started out as that, but that doens’t mean that’s all it can be.

Time to get even more average, and put out more average content, mostly for me and if someone else finds it interesting that is purely a bonus.