J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

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    Top 100 Blogs in Technorati

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    I created a snapshot of the top 100 blogs according to Technorati.   I'll be starting with these blogs to identify patterns and practices for effective blogging.   I'll be analyzing blog design, user experience patterns, key features, content, style, frequency, information management, community interaction, impact ... etc.   I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned.

    Top 100 Blogs
    This is the list I see in Technorati as of 02/23/2008.

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    5 Keys to Improving Your Reading Speed

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    How can you read faster while improving your comprehension?  A few of my colleagues who follow my Book Share blog asked me how I read books.  Simply put, I don't focus on reading faster.  I focus on learning faster. 

    5 Tips for Reading Faster
    Here's the five things that help me read and comprehend faster:

    1.  Skim the book end to end.  This is your dry run.  Your goal is to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land (chapter names, key headings, key concepts).  Think of this as mapping the terrain.
    2. Start with key questions.  I find good questions by reading the back of the book or the cover and the indexes.
    3. Read to answer your questions.  Questions help you focus and they tell you when you're done.  You're done when you've answered your questions.
    4. Use posts as you go.  As I make it through the book, stick post its in pages that have an insight or action.  Write a note or two for any ah-has on the sticky.
    5. Don't slow down for speed bumps.  If there's stuff you want to drill into more, just write it on a sticky and then revisit.  This way you don't slow down for speedbumps and then you can give your speed bumps more focused time.  Sometimes moving past a speed bump will help you understand it once you have more of the book under your belt.

    Additional Tips

    • Use Word.  If it's a fairly complicated or complex book, then Word is my friend.  I turn on the document map feature and I use the Heading1 and Heading 2s.  I dump notes as a I go.
    • If you get tired or you're not engaged, stop.  if I get tired or distracted, I just stop.  Otherwise, I read a bunch of pages but miss all the points.  It's better to just take a break and come back when I'm ready.

    That's how I read insightful, informational or technical text these days.

    Stop and Smell the Roses
    If it's pleasure, then I slow down and focus on experiencing the author's story and world.  Savor the moment.

    Additional Resources
    Here's a couple of relevant posts:

    My Related Posts

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    Start With Something Simple

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    What's the best way to build momentum and get results?  Start with something simple.  Seriously.  I get to see folks who get results and those who don't.  The difference nine times out of ten isn't smarts.  It's simply action.  The smart folks who don't get results, either get stuck in analysis paralysis or add too many dependencies up front.  The folks who get results start taking action and adjust along the way.

    Why This Works
    Starting with something simple works.  It's not that thinking up front doesn't help.  It certainly does.  The problem is, three things can happen along the way:

    • At some point, your thoughts are based on way too many assumptions and you don't know what you don't know.  You then find out too little too late.
    • Somebody faster came along.  While you're thinking, they're doing.
    • In the absence of results, your idea slowly dies inside.

    The best way to fuel your fire is to incrementally get results.  Start with something simple.  Results feed on themselves.  If you start with something small, you'll learn faster and you'll start to adapt.  You'll inform your thinking.

    How To Start
    Start with the smallest thing you can personally do.  If you don't know where to start, here's key questions to help:

    • What's the simplest thing you could do?
    • What could you do today?

    Personally, I find asking what I can do today to be the most effective.  Time is a great forcing function.  It's very easy to cut scope using time.  If you don't respect time, then it's very easy to add way too many things that will never happen.

    Fail Fast
    While starting with something simple helps build momentum, you'll also want to quickly spike on your risks.  You can do this separately, after you have some success under your belt. 

    To fail fast, cut your idea into thin end-to-end slices and test your results.  For example, take one story or usage scenario and try to instantiate it.  Even before you build the solution, simply doing a dry run will reveal a lot of questions you can use to shape your approach.

    The purpose of failing fast isn't to fail.  It's to uncover your risks and pick better paths.

    Self-Start Techniques for the Action-challenged
    If you know your pattern is to think a thought to death before daring make a move, then here's a quick way out.  Here's two proven practices:

    • Find reference examples.  Using time as your friend, and a proven technique as your guide, challenge yourself to find three working examples of your idea, or at least things you can model from.  Reference examples will both speed your learning and keep you inspired.
    • Find a way to share your idea.  Can you share your idea on a slide?  Can you whiteboard your idea and take a picture?  Show it to a friend or two and get some quick, honest feedback.

    Once you get in the habit of just getting started, you'll wonder how you ever got stuck in the first place.

    Success Snowballs
    At the end of the day, nothing succeeds like success.  Success is a snowball, so build on your successes.  Good luck, and get started, on whatever it is that you've been thinking about starting.

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    2007 Post Roundup

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    I'm in the process of analyzing my blogging strategies and practices.  As part of the process, I'm doing a post roundup for this blog.  I did a 2007 post roundup for my Book Share blog and it helped me get a bird's-eye view of my post content.  Seeing my posts at a glance, helps me both rekindle the year and spot patterns for improvement.  With the benefit of 20/20 hind-sight, I then carry the lessons forward.  Here's my 2007 posts at a glance:

    January 2007

    February 2007

    March 2007

    April 2007

    May 2007

    June 2007

    August 2007

    September 2007

    October 2007 - Posts

    November 2007

    December 2007

    Technorati Profile
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    The Change Frame

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    How do you improve your results?  How do you consistently increase your success?  Have you ever wondered why somebody's *advice* was useless for you at the time?  Maybe, they were giving you ideas to change your thinking when what you really needed was better techniques.  Have you ever spun your wheels and churned all your energy, only to realize later that you needed to think differently about the problem and change your approach?  The first thing to figure out is where you need to change. Here's a simple frame I've been using to help colleagues understand where to change, so they play their best game.

    The Change Frame
    You

    • Thinking - do you need to change your strategies, thinking, or thought patterns?
    • Feeling - do you need to change how you feel?
    • Doing - do you need more effective techniques or take more action?

    Situation

    • Adapt - do you need to change yourself for the situation?
    • Adjust - do you need to change or tailor the situation to set yourself up for success?
    • Avoid - do you need to avoid the situation (if it's not right for you)?

    How To Use the Frame
    As simple as this frame looks, it's very powerful.  If somebody gives you advice and you feel a tug in your gut that it's not helpful, there's a good chance that it's not the advice itself, but it's at the wrong level.  Telling you how to think about a problem won't help when you really need a technique and action for the problem.  You can use this frame as a vantage point and to analyze your approach to be more effective.

    Changing You
    The fastest and most effective thing you can change is yourself.  You should also know that changing your thinking, changes your feelings, changes your actions.  If you know this, it's a powerful concept.  If you don't have the energy you need to get results, then you might have to start with changing how you're thinking about it.  If you're stuck in analysis paralysis, then you might just need to start taking action and tuning your results.

    Changing the Situation
    Some people spend too much time trying to change for the situation that's not right for them.  They ultimately change, but at the expense of their strengths or passion.  Another approach is to get better at figuring out up front where you can play to your strengths. 

    While you want to be flexible and adaptable, you also need to be self-aware.  If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can either avoid situations where you won't be successful or you can set situations up for your success.  If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can also be more deliberate about how you change for the situation and whether you are giving up your strengths. 

    Adapting, Adjusting or Avoiding
    For example, if you are used to position authority for getting results, then you'll want to either find those situations where it works or you'll want to avoid them.  If you want to be more effective across a wider range of projects, situations and roles, then you'll want to learn how to influence without authority.  The key to remember is that it's not a question of can you change for the situation -- of course you can.  It's really a question of should you, or is there a way to set the situation up for your success, or is another situation a better fit for you.

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    Use the System to Educate

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    Hitting a wall?  Sometimes pushing an idea from the inside-out, doesn't work.  Sometimes you need an outside-in approach.  One of my mentors has a simple way to phrase this -- "Use the system to educate."

    Examples

    • Use customers to educate your product teams (argue the customer data).
    • Use your manager's peers to educate your manager.
    • Use surrounding teams to educate your team.
    • Use other companies to educate your company.
    • Use a consultant to change your group's perspective.
    • Use analysts to educate your domain.

    It's along the lines of "you can't be a prophet in your hometown" ... sometimes the change agent needs to be external.

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    The Zen of Results

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    Are you ahead of the game, or falling behind?  Are you getting the results you want?  As a follow on to The Zen of Zero Mail, this post is about task management and personal productivity.  It's simple by design, but proven effective over time.

    Slides
    Based on the feedback, I decided to use slides again. Here's a short deck that steps you through and highlights the Zen of results:

    Note: In the slides I use Outlook 2007, but I've also used the same approach with simple text files and directories.

    Keys to Results
    You already know this stuff, but here's the main ideas:

    • Frame out key categories for results (life, work projects, personal projects).
    • Start with outcomes over tasks (Identify what you want to accomplish).
    • Factor actions from reference.
    • Carve out time for what's important.
    • Set Boundaries.

    Back at Work
    Does this approach work?  Microsoft tests me daily.  Since I use this approach at the start of my week and every day, I have a good sense of priorities.  This also helps me deal with potentially randomizing scenarios.  I can also batch my work.  There's always more to do than time in the day.  By using time-boxing and setting priorities, this helps me figure out what to eat first, what to push to the side, and what to let slide off my plate.

    Lightweight By Design
    Since I use this every day, it's very light-weight.  It's also a system where if I fall off the horse, it's simple to get back on.  There's no heavy start-up cost and there's no expensive overhead.   I didn't want a system that has a big learning curve or penalizes me if I fall off track.  It's really about just doing the fundamentals well.

    Share Your Stories
    I'm always interested to hear how people improve their effectiveness.  After all, I'm a patterns and practices kind of a guy.

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    Don't Tell ... Ask

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    If you coach others or you need to encourage change or if you need to change yourself, the key is to use questions.  Lead others to their own insight or your advice may fall on deaf ears.  Here's a few of my posts I've been referencing lately that explain the point:

     Bottom line -- people don't like to be told what to do and we're wired to resist change.

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    Monthly Results

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    It’s mid-year at Microsoft. In the past it would take me a bit of work to figure out what I had accomplished and where I want to go. Not this time. For the past several months, I’ve been using a practice I’ll call Monthly Results. Each month, I create a short-list of results in a Wiki and send a link out to our management team as an FYI.

    Benefits of Monthly Results
    Creating a Monthly Results list has a few benefits for me:

    • At a glance, I can quickly see the forest from the trees.
    • It helps keep management in the loop on results.
    • It helps keep my teams focused on results over activity.
    • I can see interesting patterns.

    Most importantly, it's my portfolio of results.  If I don't like the portfolio, I can see at a glance where my time went and how I need to shift focus.  Thinking in terms of a portfolio of results helps me quickly rationalize things like "Do I have my sure bets?" ... "Do I have a set of riskier projects to learn, grow and innovate with?" ... "Am I working on meaningful problems?" .... "Am I delivering value?" ... etc.

    Example of Monthly Results
    Here’s an example of my monthly results list. It doesn’t have to be fancy. In my case, I  just create a Wiki page that lists results by month along with any relevant links:

    NOV

    OCT

    • MSDN tree-view design for patterns & practices Catalog.
    • Testing Center launch features patterns & practices Widget
    • Project Practices documented (see Wiki)
    • Performance Test Scenario Frame published to CodePlex
    • Performance Test Scenario Frame for VSTS draft complete
    • Performance Testing Videos published to CodePlex (Video: What Is - The Core Activities of Performance Testing; Video: What Is - The Core Activities of Performance Testing in Agile Projects;  Video: What Is - The Core Activities of Performance Testing in CMMI Projects; Video: What Is - The Distribution of Data for Performance Tests Results; Video: What Is - The Reporting Fundamentals for Performance Test Data; Video: What Is - The Success Criteria for Performance Test Projects; Video: What Is - The Mathematical and Statistical Principles for Performance Testing ; Video: What Is - Modeling Application Usage for Performance Testing.
    • Initial Catalog Sweep assessment
    • MSDN process improvement (TFS Guide experiment)

    SEP

    • Software Inspections write up completed for Testing Center launch
    • TFS Guide to MS Press
    • Performance Testing Guide to MS Press
    • MSDN process improvement (Performance Testing Guide experiment)
    • Guidance Explorer Security Fixes implemented
    • Visual Studio Guidance Modules published to Guidance Library (Checklist Items: 257; Guidelines: 121; How Tos: 16; Explained: 10; Practices at a Glance: 129; Questions and Answers: 64)
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    Success Strategies

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    As part of my improvement sprint focused on leadership, I'm making my way through The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins.  In a nutshell, it's a guide for how new leaders can be successful.  I think it's actually relevant for any new role or situation.  It's a very practical guide, full of real-world lessons learned.  In this book, Watkins basically studies the failures and success of people on the job and turns them into patterns and anti-patterns for success.

    I'm finding that the book is full of gems of insight. In order to share with my friends, family, co-workers and mentees, I've been posting bite-sized nuggets on The Bookshare.  The Bookshare is simply where I chunk information from my favorite books, down into bite-sized nuggets that are fast to read and easy to turn into action.

    My latest post is a distillation of the recipe for success from The First 90 days, along with my key take aways.  If you're a new leader or dealing with change, or simply want to be aware of key strategies for success at work, read my post on Ten Key Success Strategies.

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    Performance Techniques, Building Codes, and Approach

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    When you improve the performance of a system, I find it's helpful to think in terms of the techniques you use, the "building codes" you follow, and the overall life cycle approach you use.  While there's a lot to know about performance engineering, here's the keys that I've found useful working with customers and experts over the years:

    Key Techniques
    Techniques are specific methods for producing a result:

    Building Codes
    Think of "building codes" as the principles, patterns, and checklists for the structure:

    Approach
    The approach is the methodology you use to orchestrate your efforts:

    Key MSDN References

    While there's certainly more to know, if you use the techniques, building codes, and approach above, you can start improving the performance of your applications immediately.

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    Security Techniques, Building Codes, and Approach

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    When you're improving the security of a system, I find it's helpful to think in terms of the techniques you use, the "building codes" you follow, and the overall life cycle approach you use.  While there's a lot to know about security engineering, here's the keys that I've found useful working with customers and experts over the years:

    Key Techniques
    Techniques are specific methods for producing a result:

    Building Codes
    Think of "building codes" as the principles, patterns, and checklists for the structure:

    Approach
    The approach is the methodology you use to orchestrate your efforts:

    Key MSDN References

    Is there more to know?  Of course.  But if you need to dramatically improve your results, these are the key techniques we've used with customers to make immediate impact.

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    The Zen of Zero Mail

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    You too can have a zero mail inbox, if you choose to.  I chose to go zero mail in my inbox when I first joined Microsoft years ago, and I'm glad I did.  With a single glance, I know whether I have new mail to deal with.  I never have to scroll to see what my next actions are.   At a more basic level, an empty inbox feels good.  I thought it was just me, but others say the same. 

    Proven Over Time
    It was tough when I first joined Microsoft.  My inbox drove me.  Eventually, I learned how to drive my inbox.  I studied the masters around me.  I also studied those that failed (there's no failure, only lessons.)  I refined my approach over the years.  Since then, I've successfully taught my mentees and others how to spend less time on administration and more time on results.  Now I'm sharing with you.

    Slides
    Here's a short deck that steps you through and highlights the keys:

    Note
    Normally, I work with my mentees one-on-one and tailor the approach for their particular scenario.  It's a learning by doing approach.  While I've blogged about clearing your inbox before, this is an experiment in how effectively I can share techniques in slides.  If it works out, I'll do additional slides on focused topics.  The more I can reduce friction around sharing, the more I can share.  If you have tips or tricks for improving my slide sharing approach, send my way.

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    Focus and Energy

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    A colleague drew a chart on my board today.  I'll summarize like this:

    • Procrastinators - Low energy and low focus
    • Disengaged - Low energy  and high focus
    • Distracters - High energy and low focus.
    • Purposeful - High energy and high focus

    I like new lenses.  They make an old song new.  In this case, it's a reminder of the power of focus.

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    Using Guidance Explorer from Outlook

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    It looks like Alik Levin has some helpful posts on using Guidance Explorer from Outlook:

    Alik is a long time patterns & practices user.  He's intimately familiar with our security and performance bodies of guidance (BOG).   He always surprises me with his ability to find every nugget among our vast collection (after all - we have a few thousand pages of patterns & practices security and performance guidance on MSDN.)

    As an experienced security and performance consultant, Alik was already very efficient and effective with his customer delivery.  I think he was the first person I saw start using Guidance Explorer to build customized guidance for customers.  Now that he's taken GE to the next level with his Outlook integration, he's a security and performance machine!

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    The Placebo Effect Revisited

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    Just how much does your mind determine your body?  In the NPR article, Hotel Maids Challenge the Placebo Effect, Maids start losing weight, once they change their mindset.  They don't change their daily routine.  They simply change perspective.

    I like this article because of the new distinction in the placebo effect.  In the past, the placebo effect is usually considered effective for subjective experience, such as feeling less pain, or feeling less depressed.  In this case, it's about changing physiology, by changing your mind.

    This article also reminds me of a friend who suddenly dropped a lot of weight.  He said he couldn't lose the weight, no matter how much he worked out, until he one day saw himself thinner.  Once he made up his mind, his body followed. 

    As Napoleon Hill would put it, "What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."

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    Improving Your Feed Reading

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    I like to sweep my practices at the start of the year.  My feed reading practices needed a revamp to reduce some friction.  I have some friends ramping up on blogging and feed reading, so I figured I'd share my approach. 

    Steps for Improving Your Feed Reading
    Here's the steps I used to improve my feed reading efficiency and effectiveness:

    • Step 1. Archive your feeds.
    • Step 2. Define your critical set.
    • Step 3. Carry your good feeds forward.
    • Step 4. Chop high-traffic feeds down to size.
    • Step 5. Add tools to your Web browser.
    • Step 6. Test it and modify your approach.

    Step 1. Archive your feeds.
    Create a clean slate by archiving your feeds.  Personally, I find it easier to let things go if I archive a snapshot that I can always go back to. 

    I had a bunch of feeds I built up over the year, particularly for research projects.  Although I periodically trimmed, I still had bloat.  I find it's faster to archive everything and carry the good forward, than to try trim the fat.  While doing this, I realized I had a large set of feeds that were really more of a reference set that just didn't belong in my day to day working set.  For my working set, I realized that, rather than focus on which blogs to follow, I should figure out which circles of people to follow.  In other words, rather than find the best spoutlets of information, find the best interactive forums of insight.  I'm thinking I'll get more from connecting to the circles of people, conversations, energy and momentum, rather than just harvesting blogs on topics.  A great blog is often a reflection of a great network.

    Ultimately, the beauty of picking your feeds is you get to pick who you spend your time with.

    Step 2. Define your critical set.
    Carve out your critical set.  This is your immediate circle versus your outer circle. These are the blogs you really want to stay on top of and actively participate in.  These are your vital few.  Use limits if it helps.  For example, first identify your critical twenty.

    Keep this list flat, even if it varies by topic.  When you open your reader, this is the main list of feeds you first see, before going into any folders.  The key here is to not exceed your capacity.  You'll want a set of feeds you can make it through each day within whatever time-box you allocate.  (For me, I budget 30 minutes a day for feeds, including commenting.)  I find it's easier to add than to take away, so start small.

    This is probably the single most important step.  It's the difference between feeling bogged down in your feeds or being on top of your game.

    Step 3. Carry your good feeds forward.
    You've probably accumulated tons of great needles among your many haystacks.  That's why it's important that you first carved out your critical set.   Now you can simply carry forward all of your good feeds.  Lump them under a general bucket.  For me, I named a folder "Feeds," and dumped them all their.

    What this means is, I open my reader and I immediately see my MUST list.  With one click I see my SHOULD/COULD list.  This is similar to opening up your inbox and only seeing the most important mails before checking any other folders you route things too.

    Once you have your large bucket, you can consider carving out a couple of your priority niches, if it helps you focus.  For example, I carved out a bucket for my fellow patterns & practices team.  I also created buckets for Microsoft, personal development, blogging and productivity.

    The key here is to be able to open your feeds, cycle through your priority list, and then be able to hit your niches or explore your larger "catch all" bucket.  What you don't want is a large set of categories to bounce around in.

    Step 4. Chop high-traffic feeds down to size.
    If you have some high volume feeds, that seem to bog your down your randomize you, now is the time to slice and dice them proactively.  It's hard to see the forest from the trees when you're chopping your way through the jungle.  You can use two approaches:

    • Tools.  One of the tools I'm liking is aideRSS.   I'm using it to chop high-volume feeds like TechCrunch and BoingBoing down to size.
    • Human aggregators.  This includes friends or people you trust in key areas that seem to always send you just the right information.

    Step 5. Add tools to your Web browser.
    Obviously, this depends on the tools you're using, but think in terms of finding, storing, and sharing.  For me, I'm focused on three key things for now:

    • Links toolbar.  Drag links to your favorite Web 2.0 sites (FlickR, Technorati, Digg ...etc)  onto your Web brower's links toolbar.
    • del.icio.us.  I added the del.icio.us buttons to my browser so I could quickly bookmark sites and posts.
    • StumbleUpon.  I added StumbleUpon so that I can potentially benefit from circles of people slicing and dicing the Web.  This will potentially help me refine my feed set over time, as well as discover new feeds and sites to pay attention to.

    My overall model is to depend more on people and sites that I trust over time, as well as social networks.  Otherwise, I can search as needed.

    Step 6. Test it and modify your approach.
    Cycle through your routine for at least a week, so you can test it and tune it.  What I did was set a quota of commenting in five blogs per day.  This helped me both find communities I might want to interact with, as well as get used to my feeds lists while using delicious and StumbleUpon.

    The biggest change for me from the past, is that commenting is forcing me to focus more on the people participation than the raw knowledge of the site or blog.  This is making me rethink feedback platforms in blogs and the various patterns of blog interaction.

    Key Take Aways
    I know there's plenty more I could do.  For now, I thought it would be good to get back to the basics.  Here's the key points:

    • Factor out your MUST feeds from your SHOULDs/COULDs.  Less is more.
    • Chop your big feeds down to size with tools like aideRSS and with human aggregators.
    • Optimize your browser for your feed reading experience.  Reduce as much friction as you can.  Don't let your feed reading die a death of a thousand paper cuts.
    • Cycle through and test your approach.  If something's not working, change your approach.  Don't get stuck.
  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    7 Types of Blog Posts

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    What types of posts get traction? In a nutshell, posts that either hit the heart, lead you to "ah-has," consolidate insight, consolidate resources, or help you nail a task. Skellie outlines 7 Types of Blog Posts Which Always Seem to Get Links and Traffic.

    Types of Posts
    Skellie's list of types of posts:

    • Resource lists
    • Lists of tips
    • Good advice
    • Aguing a popular point of view
    • Anything with a killer headline
    • Q&As with high profile people
    • Best of lists

    Specialized Versions of Above
    I think the following types of posts are variations of above, but worth calling out because of their prevalence on the Web:

    • Link lists.  This is a variation of "resource lists", but focused on links.
    • Step by steps.  This is a variation of "good advice", but provide prescriptive action.
    • Top 10 lists.  This is a variation of "lists of tips" but it's a numbered set. 

    Additional Types of Posts
    In addition to the types of posts above, I think there's an additional set of patterns:

    • Question / Feedback posts.  Posts that ask the community a focused question. 
    • Stories with lessons learned.
    • Blog carnival.
    • Timely hot topic. Timely posts about a relevant topic.
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    Leadership Styles and Development Levels

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    One leadership style doesn't fit all.  According to the Situational Leadership II model, the leadership style depends on the development levels within the team.  Here's a summary:

    Scenarios

    • If there's high competence and high commitment, use a "Delegating" style which is low support and low directive.
    • If there's high competence, but less commitment, then use a "Supporting" style, which means provide more support and encouragement.
    • If there's low competence and low commitment, then use a "Coaching" style, which provide more direction and support
    • If there’s low competence but high commitment, use a "Directing" style, which provides more direction, but less support.

    Competence is knowledge and skill for the task.  Confidence is motivation and self-confidence.   I think competence breeds confidence which can help breed and sustain motivation.

    The main point is that if somebody has a bunch of competence, get out of their way.  If somebody needs more encouragement, support them.  Ideally, you help somebody get to a high competence, high commitment development level. 

    Key Take Aways
    While this might sound obvious, I think the important point is to be flexible in your style.  Be able to vary your leadership style by situation (the context) and tailor it to the individual development levels within the team.

    Another consideration is whether it's more effective to change your approach or change the situation to suit you (set yourself up for success.)  There's mixed opinions on this and some interesting results, so I may post on this downstream.

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    Guidance Share Sweep

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    One of the most important things I did while I was on vacation was sweeping Guidance Share.  Guidance Share is where I consolidate my body of software engineering guidance and test user experiences.  I redesigned the home page for simpler browsing and findability.  It was more pain than pleasure for me, but if it helps the broader community, that's my payback.

    Here's a highlight of Guidance Share:

    • Browsable nuggets for software performance and security
    • Durable, evolvable frames for security and performance (think of these as maps)
    • How Tos, Guidelines, Checklists and more

    Guidance Share gives me a unique vantage point that I haven't been able to get any other way.  The act of building it and evolving it helps me make gain new insights.  It also forces me to find ways to be extremely efficient.  I then try to carry these lessons over to MSDN and to help shape patterns & practices information models.  I don't own the MSDN experience, but I can give input.  Guidance Share helps me solidify my recommendations with living proof.  It's also let's me quickly experiment with new user experiences.

    My biggest lesson learned is how difficult it is to integrate information and make it useful, even when you own it.  It's one thing to have a snapshot of information that's useful for a given point in time; it's another to create a stable backdrop with a firm foundation that can evolve over time.  The key is factoring volatile from stable information, and enabling them to play well together.

    Note that Guidance Share is under construction and there are some obviously empty areas, but it's a work in progress.  It's a living knowledge base for software engineering that I periodically sweep to share the best that I've learned.

    Enjoy!

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Solution-Focused Questions

    • 5 Comments

    How can you use questions to improve individual performance? You can ask solution-focused questions. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write how to improve non-performance by asking solution-focused questions in their article, "The Neuroscience of Leadership", in "strategy+business" magazine.

    Don't Ask Problem-Focused Questions
    Rock and Schwartz write:

    "Let's go back to Mike, our pharmaceutical CEO. One of Mike's direct reports, Rob, has hired only three of his targeted six new team members this year. If Mike asks Rob why he didn't reach the goal, he will focus Rob's attention on the nonperformance. As a result of this attention, Rob might make new cognitive connections (also known as reasons) as to why he didn't find the new people. For example, 'All the really good people are taken by other companies,' or 'I don't have time to do the kind of recruiting we need.' Although these reasons that people were not hired might be true, they do little to support or foster any change."

    Ask Solution-Focused Questions
    Rock and Schwartz write:

    "A more useful place to focus Rob's attention is on the new circuits he needs to create to achieve his objectives in the future. Mike could ask Rob, 'What do you need to do to resolve challenges like this?' Mike's questioning might provoke Rob to have an insight that he needs to remind himself of his annual objectives more regularly, to keep his eyes on the prize. If Mike regularly asked Rob about his progress, it would remind Rob to give this new thought more attention."

    Key Take Aways
    Here's my key take aways:

    • Focus attention on the solution.  This doesn't mean ignore understanding the problem.  It means, that rather than spending 20% of your energy on the solution and 80% on the problem, spend 80% on the solution and 20% on the problem.  Keep moving forward, learning and adapting rather than sitting in analysis paralysis.
    • Use questions to get resourceful.  By asking solution-focused questions, you switch your mind into a more resourceful state.  Your brain suddenly starts drawing on all your resources internally and around you to solve the problem.
  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Pruning or Preserving a Synapse

    • 2 Comments

    How can you keep your brown from throwing out a perfectly good behavior? Positive feedback. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write about how positive feedback can preserve important synapses, in their article, "The Neuroscience of Leadership", in "strategy+business" magazine.

    Positive Feedback for Preserving a Synapse
    Rock and Schwartz write:

    "In a world with so many distractions, and with new mental maps potentially being created every second in the brain, one of the biggest challenges is being able to focus enough attention on any one idea. Leaders can make a big difference by gently reminding others about their useful insights, and thus eliciting attention that otherwise would not be paid. Behaviorists may recognize this type of reminder as "positive feedback," or a deliberate effort to reinforce behavior that already works, which, when conducted skillfully, is one aspect of behaviorism that has beneficial congnitive effect. In a brain that is constantly pruning connections while making new ones, positive feedback may play a key functional role as "a signal to do more of something." As neuroscientist Thomas B. Czerner notes, "The encouraging sounds of 'yes, good, that's it' help to mark a synapse for preservation rather than pruning."

    Key Take Aways
    I think this is similar to "you get what you measure", but in this case, you get more of what you reward.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Two Reasons Why People Resist Change

    • 3 Comments

     

    Why do people resist change, even when it's for their own good? Your own body can work against you. If you know how your body works, you're better prepared to making key changes. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write about two reasons that work against you, in their article, "The Neuroscience of Leadership", in "strategy+business" magazine.  I've summarized my key learnings in this post. 

    Two Reasons Why People Resist Change

    1. Attention effort.
    2. Errors between expectation and actuality.

    Attention Effort
    Trying to change a hard-wired habit requires a lot of effort, in the form of attention. Your routine activities and tasks are handled by your basal ganglia which don't require conscious thought. When try to switch from a routine activity or task to new approach, it requires your prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex supports higher-level processing. It's your working memory. The problem is, your prefrontal cortex fatigues easily and can only hold a limited set of information "online" at a time.

    Habits like how you sell ideas, run a meeting, manage others and communicate are comfortable routines. You could do them blindfolded.  Theses routines are handled by your basal ganglia. It requires a lot of effort in terms of attention to change them. Many people find this feeling uncomfortable.   See Working Memory vs. Routine Activity.

    Errors Between Expectation and Actuality
    Change triggers "error" responses. An error response is when you perceive a difference between expectation and actuality. Your error responses are generated by your orbital frontal cortex. Your orbital frontal cortex responds to errors in expectations (e.g. you expect something to be sweet, but it tastes salty). It is closely connected to your amygdala. Your amygdala is your fear circuitry. It's where the amygdala hijack happens. The amygdala hijack is the sudden and overwhelming fear or anger response.

    The amygdala and the orbital frontal cortex are among the oldest parts of the mammal brain. When they are activated, they draw metabolic energy away from the prefrontal region, which supports higher intellectual functions. You're in fight-or-flight mode.

    What this means is that while you're trying to make a change, and you need your higher-level processing (prefrontal region) to make that change, you're busy reacting in your orbital frontal cortex and amygdala, while they are starving your prefrontal region.

    Key Take Aways
    Here's my key take aways

    • Limit the amount of attention you need to make a change. This could include preparing ahead of time, using checklists, chunking up the learning, ... etc.
    • Find ways to switch from fight-or-flight to thoughtful learning. Controlling your "animal instinct" is an important skill. One way to develop this is a technique from Crucial Conversations called Master My Stories.

    My Related Posts

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Moments of Insight

    • 2 Comments

    Where does the world's best insight come from? Yourself. Sure, somebody can lead you along, but it has to be your lightbulb that goes off. You are your most important change agent. Nobody can just hand you a bucket of brilliant conclusions and expect meaningful change. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write about why moments of insight need to be generated from within, in their article, "The Neuroscience of Leadership", in "strategy+business" magazine.

    2 Reasons to Help Others Come to Their Own Insights
    Rock and Schwartz write: 

    "For insights to be useful, they need to be generated from wihin, not given to individuals as conclusions. This is true for several reasons. First, people will experience the adrenaline-like rush of insight only if they go through the process of making connections themselves. The moment os insight is well known to be a positive and energizing experience. The rush of energy may be central to facilitating change: It helps fight against the internal (and external) forces trying to keep change from occurring, including the fear response of the amygdala.

    Second, neural networks are influenced moment to moment by genes, experiences, and varying patterns of attention. Although all people have some broad functions in common, in truth everyone has a unique brain architecture. Human brains are so complex and invidual that there is little point in trying to work out how another person ought to reorganize his or her thinking. It is far more effective and efficient to help others come to their own insights. Accomplishing this feat requires self-observation. Adam Smith, in his 1759 masterpiece The Theory of Moral Sentiments, referred to this as being 'the spectators of our own behaviors.'"

    Attention Density Shapes Identity
    Rock and Schwartz write:

    "The term attention density is increasingly used to define the amount of attention paid to a particular mental experience over a specific time. The greater the concentration on a specific idea or mental experience, the higher the attention density. In quantum physics terms, attention density brings the QZE into play and causes new brain circuitry to be stabilized and thus developed. With enough attention density, indvidual thoughts and acts of the mind can become an intrinsic part of an indvidual's identity: who one is, how one perceives the world, and how one's brain works. The neuroscientist's term for this self-directed neuroplasticity."

    Key Take Aways
    Here's my key take aways:

    • Insights over conclusions.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. 
    •  Focused attention shapes your world.  I think this means you should put a premium on where you consciously focus your attention.  If you dwell on the negative, that's what you'll get.  One of the most helpful techniques I've found for helping somebody quickly switch perspective is to "wear another hat", where the hat represents another perspective (see How To Use Six Thinking Hats.)
  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Expectation Shapes Reality

    • 2 Comments

    How much do your expectations shape what you get?  A lot.  David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write about how your expectations and attitude play a larger role in your perception than previously understood in their article, "The Neuroscience of Leadership", in "strategy+business" magazine.

    Mental Maps Play a Big Role
    Rock and Schwartz write:

    "Cognitive scientists are finding that people's mental maps, their theories, expectations and attitudes, play a more central role in human perception than was previously understood. This can well be demonstrated by the placebo effect. Tell people they have been administered a pain-reducing agent and they experience a marked and systematic reduction in pain, despite the fact that they have received a completely inert substance, a sugar pill."

    You Get What You Expect
    Rock and Schwartz write:

    "The fact that our expectations, whether conscious or buried in our deeper brain centers, can play such a large role in perception has significant implications. Two individuals working on the same customer service telephone line could hold different mental maps of the same customer. The first, seeing customers only as troubled children, would hear only complaints that needed to be allayed; the second, seeing them as busy but intelligent professionals, would hear valuable suggestions for improving product or service."

    Cultivate Moments of Insight
    Rock and Schwartz write:

    "How, then, would you go about facilitating change? The impact of mental maps suggests that one way to start is by cultivating moments of insight. Large-scale behavior change requires a large-scale change in mental maps. This in turn requires some kind of events or experience that allows people to provoke themselves, in effect, to change their attitudes and expressions more quickly and dramatically than they normally would."

    Individuals Have to "Own" Their Change
    Rock and Schwartz write:

    "That is why employees need to "own" any kind of change initiative for it to be successful. The help-desk clerk who sees customers as children won't change the way he or she listens without a moment of insight in which his or her mental maps shift to seeing customers as experts. Leaders wanting to change the way people think or behave should learn to recognize, encourage, and deepen their team's insights."

    Key Take Aways
    Here's my key take aways:

    • If you're a mentor, ask insightful questions over giving conclusions.
    • If you're not getting results from the training you take, change your mindset. If you think nobody can teach you anything -- you're right. If you think they can, you're right.
    • Bake time in for reflection. I think reflection and introspection are a way to have more frequent insightful moments. For example, for my team we use two practices for this.  First, we send a Lessons Learned mail around where individuals add their insights. Second, each Friday is our reflection (see Friday Reflection)
    • To change yourself, ask more insightful questions.
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