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?
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 “kåsseri”, 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.
2018, another year where I got a new job, a year where my list of projects I’d like to do some time kept growing and a year where Twitter surprised me as a great discussion platform. To everyone I’ve talked to, everyone creating content I have seen, read or listened to and everyone that has read or heard anything I’ve done: Thank you for a great year!
New Job… Again…
When I graduated doing technical stuff was the best part of my job, digging into data and writing code and to this day I enjoy this a lot. However at some point I realized that what’s intriguing to me about the data and analytics domain is that it needs both the technical side, and the more human side where culture, change and organization comes in. Every job change I have done from my first one I have mentioned this, but when I started looking back earlier this year I realize that this has probably been taken as a positive trait in a developer, and not that I was interested in moving more towards the less technical side. I believe there is a huge advantage coming from the technical side, but I was never able to get a project where I could work a lot more on the non-technical side, and even though I have tried sometimes it comes down to the fact that a technical resource don’t always have the mandate to go as deep into the business side as I’d like. And in the end I found out it was time to move on, and search for something a bit different than what I have done so far.
After a lot of thinking and a lot of interviews I ended my career as a consultant and started in a new job on the 1st of October as Head of BI & Analytics in Sector Alarm Group. A position I can shape a bit like I want and since we are a small team, for now, I can still do technical stuff when needed or if I feel like my hands are getting to clean and needs some real data shuffling. So far it has been all about finding the baseline for where we are, and where we need to go, but I have high dreams of what we can to in 2019, and also as we move further into the future!
Talks and Presentations
I’ve always enjoyed doing talks and presentations about topics I am interested in. 2018 started out with a presentation for the Microsoft Data Platform User Group here in Oslo, and several other presentation has followed that both internally and externally. #SQLSatOslo is always a joy to attend and speak on, and I have never spoken as much about data visualization as I have done in 2018, both at projects with clients and internally in my previous employer. I still believe data visualization is one of the best ways of making data more human, and I will continue to spread the importance of it in my new job, and at external events where I can.
Working With Graduates
In 2018 I’ve been able to work quite a lot with graduates, and this is one thing I’m going to miss by not working as a consultant in a relatively big company. Seeing how hungry graduates are to learn and jump into new things is extremely inspiring. And even though I sometimes feel like I am doing absolutely nothing because they do incredible work I hope I have been able to provide them with a good understanding for data as a domain and a good foundation for their continued career. I hope the best for every graduate I have been able to work with this year!
As most people that know me know I love data visualization and Twitter is my go to source for this, #dataviz. Where I earlier only where looking for cool visualizations this year I have noticed something else about this community. They have some really high quality discussions on this forum where you can’t write more than 280 characters in one tweet! I am astound that some of the best discussions and feedback loops comes in this forum. Other forums, such as LinkedIn, to often becomes a place where everyone agrees on everything and it is all about trying to praise the poster and what they have done. The data visualization community can one day salute a great visualization, and the next day have an intense discussion where no one agrees, but are still responding in a way that shows resepct and it feels like they truly want to help out, and push both the poster and the data visualization field forward!
The biggest thing I know for 2019 is that we are expecting a new child in the start of February, and it is going to be great! Although I wonder how much we can have forgotten over the past 3,5 years about babies. At work it is time to stop talking about what we should do and start doing some actual work and deliver new, user friendly, great data products and platforms while building a business culture that is thirsty for data, and where data is an asset that everyone knows the importance of and uses every day in their work. High dreams? Hello! But we will start small both on the technical side and the business side to make sure they both can feed the other side with what they need.
Other than that I have hopes of crossing out more of the projects in my list of projects that I never get to do, I really wish the day had 27 hours because cutting sleep isn’t really an option. I’d like to do more custom data visualization and perhaps even mix it with 3D printing. I hope to write a lot more, both technical stuff here, but also more in the form of fiction. I’d like to learn how to play the guitar better, I bought a harmonica at an auction which I’d like to use more and I got a jaw harp for christmas I have to larn to play. And to top of the music part I am still working on turning datasets into music, not by using machine learning, but more as an art project. And the list goes on most likely long into 2020.
2018 has been a great year when I look back and here’s for 2019 to be ever better! And I hope you will be able to cross of some things on your list of things you’d like to do as well!
Isn’t the beauty of beauty that we all find different things beautiful?
The other day Stephen Few posted a blog post named “Data Is Not Beautiful”. I have strong reasons to believe this was written because we at /r/dataisbeautiful contacted him and wondered if he was interested in doing an AMA, Ask Me Anything, where our users could ask question and he could provide his point of view and thoughts about data visualizations. Now, I have great respect for Stephen Few and I often send people interested in data visualization his way to read his material because he is so black and white and therefore it is easy to grasp what he think good data visualization is. In this blog post however, I think he misses the mark.
My beautiful might not be your beautiful
I have never been a fan of discussions regarding what is beautiful. What is beautiful is completely up to the consumer of some material, which can be music, art, nature or even data. Everyone has different taste and I never feel like these kind of discussion solves anything or contributes to making a disucssion go forward in any sort. The goal often seems to simply try and put themselves above others by claiming that they are not entitled to call anything beautiful. However, isn’t the beauty of beauty that we all find different things beautiful?
Data can indeed be beautiful
There are many things that can be beautiful about data and even though I am understanding Few’s point that this means that it is the attributes about data that is beautiful and not the data itself I find that to be a weird formulation. What about music is beautiful? It’s the combination of attributes, the compositon, volume, chords, etc. All of which is attributes of a music piece, which indeed can be beautiful.
Attributes of data can be things like structure, format, how it is organized and beyond that we can find a story to be beautiful. However, even without the story the data itself can be in what I’d call a beautiful state. It is not often I go to a customer and find beautiful data, but when I do it is a beauitufl sight indeed! Data that is well organized, formated and of good quality. I have no problem of using the word beautiful to describe this phenomenon.
I believe that data can indeed be beautiful, but in the end even if the data is beautiful it has little to no value if all it does is lie hidden within a database or an Excel sheet. Therefore it is our job to take that data and turn it into something useful for example through good visualizations. And when it comes to this I believe this older blog post from Few, “Should Data Visualizations Be Beautiful” is a lot more interesting than his recent post.
On a last note: As the moderator that reached out to Stephen Few and asked if he was interested in doing and AMA I still think it is a shame he declined. I personally find his point of view very interesting and I am sure a lot of users on /r/dataisbeautiful would have thought so too. There is something refreshing about a person speaking so loud about what he believe is right so if he at any time changes his mind we would be very happy to have him do an AMA at /r/dataisbeautiful.
2017 is here and once again I’ll have a goal of writing here at least one time every month. Last year I failed this goal, but this year? Let’s give it another go.
I have a list of projects I want to do and I’ve finally started to track what I am doing every day. I’ve thought of this for a while as I think it would be interesting to see if I am able to find out if there are parameters in my life that affect things like my mood and evergy level. To do this tracking I’ve made a very simple website that is hosted in Azure with an Azure SQL Database behind to store my data. This was needed to make the registration as easy as possible. I had an Excel sheet the first couple of days before I got this site up and running, and I would not recommand that approach at all if you’re going to do the same. It is a too big effort to open an excel sheet every time you drink something or whatever you want to register. So far I am very happy with how it is working out, but I have started to get quite the backlog of increasing size with ideas for improvements. I have told myself to not change anything during January and then do an evalutation of how I think it is working out and which changes are absolutely needed. I’ve also decided not too look at any of the data until January is over. I don’t want to be too aware of what I am logging in the beginning, but rather try to make logging into somethig I just do and then when I have some months of data I can see if something sticks out from them.
So far I have split registration into two parts. First part is activities during the day. Things such as what I eat, drink, if I work out and for how long etc. The other part is a registration I do at the end of each day. Here I note down my mood, energy level, stress level and overall feeling as well as some small notes about f.ex if I hang out with friends during the day or did 100 math puzzles on an app I downloaded. As mentioned I am hoping to see if there is something that affects f.ex my mood and I am able to more actively apporach these things in the future. Not really sure if this will pop up, but at least I’ll have some more data on myself and what I do during the day.
Ever done something like this or have ideas of things that are worth noting down during the day? Let me know. I know some people take these kind of things to the extreme and I probably won’t do that, but I’m always interested in new input or ideas.
Note at the end: I really like how easy it is to create a web app in Azure and everytime I now do a push to my master branch in my Git reposit the website updates within seconds. Easy to set up a Visual Studio Team Services account and create the reposit to start working right away.