Thursday, 28 May 2020

On: The Office Life

another one of my #thismightnotwork posts (inspired by Seth Godin)

Deep down...
We know that nobody owes us anything.
We know that we are just cogs in a machine, replaceable.
We know that company loyalty does not really exist, no really, it IS about the bottom-line!
We know that you are only as good as your last project, even though ten projects earlier, you shot the lights out.
We know that no matter what we like to believe, most relationships in the office are just transactional.
We know that mediocrity can be contagious if we stick around for too long, and unable to really influence change in performance and behaviour.
When a company value is "give benefit of the doubt" and we don't see it in action, what taste this leave us with?
We know that we are so much bigger than just our jobs...or do we really now?

It's all about the bottom line.
It's business they say, you must develop a thick skin.
New age leadership is all bullshit they say...it's capitalism and darwinism all the way man...power, politics and Machiavelli are role models of the day.
Empathy is so overrated, they say.
Empowerment? Let the team decide? What's all that fuss about? 
Humility, Modesty, Authentic, Integrity, Fairness...that's not leadership they say...but great for selling lots of books & makes for a booming consulting/coaching industry...but, kid, they won't get you through the real world...skin in the game is what you need, and be damn sure to fight to the death to protect it...

...Yet knowing all of this, there are some people who still stick it out...
Wow, there walks about a man with grit & resilience they say...
...an immediate assumption is: this guy must keep a cool head, he needs the money/income, responsibilities he has to his family, etc. comes first...just see it through, it will all be okay...

Yet, dig a little deeper, and we often realise it's usually much more than just that....it's quite personal actually, positively personal...sometimes deeply inspiring...

Such people have a cause, they're fully in tune with their why, their self-worth and are completely aware of  not only themselves but of those around them. They know they stick out, are nonconformist, often mistaken as a threat to the status quo & risk being played out of the system...yet they still remain behind, firmly footed, digging their heels in - why, mostly because they take commitment seriously & sincerely. Such are those people, who believe in their craft, make their art, do things differently because they truly care deeply, and will not leave until they say "my work here is done, I've come as far as I'm willing"...they don't leave through external forces or pressure, instead they leave on their own terms, when they're ready to leave it all behind and never look back. And often to their surprise, they've built up a tribe, left a following behind...even though they didn't intentionally start out that way.

If you'd like to find out more about these people, check out Seth Godin & Simon Sinek's work...
Highly recommend getting your hands on:

A topic that's been on my mind of late...

The thing with "Pick your battles"...
Everyone says, "Pick your battles," and they're right. But usually they only mean "Pick your battles based on whether or not you have a good chance to win." That's fine, as far as it goes. But we think you should be even more pickier. 
Only pick battles that are:
a) winnable
b) important
c) battles for which you're fully prepared to pay the price to win
d) battles you're damn sure you can afford to win

-- Quote from "Buck Up, Suck Up...and come back when you foul up" by Carville & Begala

So think and reflect on that deeply. Remember other anecdotes "If you want to fight, you have to get into the ring, it will get bloody messy but you can't stop until you give it your all". 

Which battles are you fighting in your head?
What's keeping you up awake at night, causing you sleepless nights?
This could be personal or professional, or a professional work scenario that's starting to negatively impact your personal & family life, possibly causing anxiety and borderline depression.

Before diving straight into battle mode, it might be prudent to find a quiet space to brainstorm.
Mind map each scenario and use the four criteria above to map pros/cons, upsides/downsides, apply some rationality to the process. 
It will be hard to fight the emotions, but you got to try.
Be critical.
Be meticulous.
Be objective.
Play devil's advocate. Is it just your ego being bruised?

It's not about being safe and taking the easy way out, nor is it about being risk averse. It's about being sensible, a matter of calculated, smart survival tactics, at the expense of giving into emotions.
Sometimes one has to lose a couple of battles to win the war.
It's about the long game - envision a future where your current troubles disappear and replaced with victory & triumph. Keep doing this as often as you can to get through the dip.

But...sometimes, if not most of the time, emotion & gut instinct are indeed right! After thousands of years, we humans still have our lizard brain, the instinctive reflex of "fight or flight" has served  and continues to serve & save us.
My gut instincts have saved me more times than I can remember, so it might be perfectly okay to react too.
Going with your gut, embracing the emotion (anger, disappointment, betrayal, rejection, doubt, etc.) can be very powerful motivators for change...
These, coupled with your closely-bound value system, can be the only key indicators for you to decide to get into battle...when you do get into it, you need to be prepared for various scenarios...especially when the impact of going into battle has far reaching consequences other than yourself: you family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, your own reputation, etc. 
Another tool is to seek out close confidants, mentors and guides - the counsel "Shura" of other trusted parties can generally help you seeing things that you might be currently blind to (since all you can think about are the battles raging in your head).

After all of that, once you've processed the noise in your head, sought counsel, go back and ask yourself: What am I willing to walk away from??
Then....
Take a deep breath...build up courage....and take that first step (battle or not) and never look back...

another #thismightnotwork post

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

On 20th work-anniversary

This month marks my 20th work-anniversary as an engineering professional. Twenty years with the changing landscape of MediaTech PayTV Software Systems.

Looking back to how it all started: It took a few nervous months to land my first job after graduation '99. Getting anxious by-the-day after previously declining a forensics post at Deloitte; declined another Oracle DB admin at Vodacom as well, I waited for a pukka engineering role. I wanted to build stuff, my hard slog of 4 years studying electronic & software engineering should be put to good use after-all!

Altech UEC (which no longer exists today but was once SA's engineering darling) finally offered an entry-level engineer-in-training post. This introduced me to the world of digital TV set top box development. A year later, I was off to Dublin Ireland, working with Europe's top silicon & software design services house (S3 Group. now Accenture). 20 months later, off to Southampton UK, working with NDS (was Cisco, now Synamedia), the best engineering & management experience - we built some cool stuff light-years ahead of the times; and ran some massively complex projects. I spent 8 years there in UK, before returning home to SA (as a foreigner nogal!), to work with Multichoice, Africa's best storyteller, helping build NextGen Internet-TV products.

From engineer-in-training to CTO-Head-of-Technology in 20 years... Who could've thought, growing up in apartheid South Africa, underprivileged socially & financially, blue-collar family. Engineering was my 3rd choice, the practical one, the one that made most sense economically, after being accepted to medical school but not having the financial support to pursue...

Truly grateful to many-a-friend, family-member & colleagues for helping me get to see this milestone.

#gratitude shout outs to my past colleagues - you've left an impression I will not forget. #shoutout to all these great people that I've learnt so much from, thank you!
Waldemar Keyser David Siedle Rajesh Madhanlala John Maguire Cathy Guinan Hermann Wakolbinger Liam Friel Steve Taylor James Cunningham Brinton King David Dinsdale Stewart Towler Mike Palmer Salik Miah Gareth Bowen Tom Burnley Steven Coul Matthew Howe Matt Spencer James Wilson David Mandelzweig Shlomi Rosenberg Steve Williams James Field Nick Thexton Gerdus van Eeden Phil Nicholson Anand Govender Mark Rayner Graeme Cumming Bradley Daniels John Kotsaftis Bradley Eliot Farid Essack Andrew Dallas

#careeradvice - Work hard, have grit, patience & perseverance. Always do your best work. Only You can make it happen! Take chances. Take calculated risks. Switch jobs every 2-3 years. Switch domains every 2-3 years. Switch industry every 5 years. Always keep moving forward. I am a product of my time, 20 years is too long to be in one industry, stay a maximum 5 years before moving on....I do feel an itch coming on! My next 20 years is going to be different - 2021 should be the year of change!

Monday, 17 February 2020

On Leadership: Be Like Water

So I took a chance this morning and posted my first article on LinkedIn:

We talk a lot about transformation these days. Executives want to gear up for the future, speak the latest buzzwords"agile, flexible, adapt-to-change, level up for the digital world, challenge-status-quo, call-things-out" etc. All great intents I suppose, but what is sometimes ironic is that these same people are actually unwilling to let go, unwilling to adapt, maintaining the old-school mentality, staying within their comfort zone, symptomatic of being too afraid of conceding their power.

I've been in a state of continuous adaptation for as long as I can remember, my own leadership style has flexed and morphed along the way. It wasn't easy. It's actually very, very hard. Changing habits, value systems and mental models can be straining intellectually & psychologically. Practising self-awareness (i.e. embracing change in your leadership style) reminds me of the epic battle with Gandalf the Grey & the Balrog in Lord of the Rings...

Rigidity is a kin to brittleness. Brittleness leads to breakages. When things break, it's not always possible to put the pieces back together again. Fluidity is thus an important trait for today's leader. If you insist your ways don't need changing, then I'm afraid you'll soon realise "being out-of-phase, completely misaligned & out-of-sync" with the tunes of the current workplace vibe.

Sure, hierarchy will not disappear anytime soon and thus deserves respect. Sure, we need visionary leaders, but more so than ever, I believe we need execs to display courage, courage to be called out now and again, a healthy willingness to stop hiding behind positional hierarchy and instead, listen more, maybe at times be brave enough to step-aside and let things "just flow", being more like water. 

Hence, I am reminded of Bruce Lee's "be like water" teaching:
"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash.
Be water, my friend."
- Bruce Lee


Friday, 3 January 2020

Year 2019 in Review, Welcome 2020!

I'm now entering my fifth year of time logging and keeping track of all my "life & work"-streams in an effort to make sense of my time sinks, cross-checking my aspirations & goals with reality, in the hope of tuning, re-calibrating areas to be more in harmony with my purpose / value system, sometimes triggering some decisions that could take my life-and-work in a different direction altogether. So I've become a bit of geek with the #quantifiedself so much so that I log almost everything all the time. This habit developed naturally as I spent five years consulting, needing to keep track of all my hours and tasks for billable hours. So I took this all the way into treating my entire life as one big project with multiple tasks that needed accounting!

In 2015, I spent a lot of time soul-searching to make sense of not only what I want out of my life but my work/career aspirations as well, since a major part of my life involves my occupation in the software industry. So I came up with a model called RAGE (Reality, Aspirations, Goals, Expectations). The way the model works is to split yourself into "Personas" sliced into Personal and Professional streams. Using some tools from Agile, such as user stories, you describe for each of your personas, your aspirations, reflecting on your current reality, then setting goals and expectations. Your personas are prioritised by value, which is basically an instinctive, gut-feel assessment of the value/importance of the stream, in comparison to the others. I'd created template and a matrix tool that allowed for easy prioritisation, and a template to help others on this journey as well. My hypothesis still remains valid that tracking time is one way of understanding where my time is being spent, proposing "I will naturally spend most of time dedicated to the persona streams that are of importance to me" - but the reality can sometimes be quite surprising!

In this post, I continue with my annual ritual of starting the new year by analysing what went down the previous year (2019), and how/what I would need to re-calibrate to get me on track with my life's journey-mapping into 2020:
  • Recap my personal value system - persona matrix & priorities
  • Snapshot of tracking my RAGE progress by milestone reviews heatmap
  • Performance appraisal - Did I achieve my intended outcomes / goals set in Jan 2019?
  • Quantifying every hour of 2019 - where did I spend my time, what did I do?
  • Does it look like I have my life-work balance under control?
  • Am I working too much, sacrificing my personal and family streams?
  • Am I enjoying my current job?
  • What are the main things impacting my future personal & professional aspirations?