Latest Writing & Things of Interest

December 1, 2018

Just a Fellow Traveler

wandering through the desert

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the guest said something that stuck with me:

I’m not an expert, I’m just a fellow traveler.

That’s exactly how I think of myself.

I’m at a point in my career where a lot of people consider me an industry expert. I’ve published and spoken enough that people tend to trust my opinion on a wide variety of subjects. That’s fantastic, but I don’t necessarily think of myself as an expert. There is plenty that I don’t know. More importantly, there is plenty that I’m still learning about myself.

There’s danger in thinking of yourself as an expert. If you consider yourself one for too long, you run the risk of becoming complacent. You’ll stop learning, start repeating yourself, and quickly become irrelevant. Or worse, you’ll keep on convincing people that your outdated theories are worth investing in, harming their work in the process.

I wholeheartedly believe that it’s better to recognize that you’re just a fellow traveler. You’re on a similar journey as everyone else in the industry—hell, as everyone else in life. We’re all seeking new things, reaching for new goals, and learning in the process.

Like a good fellow traveler, we share what we learn with others on the road. We work together to make the trip as pleasant and valuable as possible. We give away our tips and tricks to help others navigate unfamiliar territory.

But, most importantly, we keep traveling and learning ourselves. We trudge along, explore strange new worlds, and document our progress along the way.

November 21, 2018

Speak Easier

measuing a mountain

If you paid any attention to my last post on personal OKRs, you will have noticed that one of my key results for the quarter is to have a first draft of something called Speak Easier done. And if you noticed that, you were probably wondering what the hell Speak Easier actually is.

Well… Speak Easier is my next book all about public speaking. A bit of background:

For the last 5+ years, I’ve been speaking at industry conferences, running workshops, and, perhaps most importantly, helping organize Litmus Live. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about communicating effectively onstage, both through my own mistakes and successes and those of my peers.

This past year, in particular, was spent prepping speakers for our three Litmus Live events. Although I wrote a little bit about what that means, there is a ton that I’ve learned since then through online, video, and in-person chats with speakers. So much that I don’t think it would fit comfortably in a blog post (let alone two or three). Regardless of whether speakers were brand new to public speaking or had been around the block a few times, I noticed some common themes cropping up.

What’s more, there weren’t too many resources that collected those themes and made them accessible. Sure, there is a ton of advice out there on public speaking, but I feel like a lot of it isn’t ideal for most people. Especially people that are giving talks at industry conferences, meetups, or presenting to co-workers or stakeholders.

Far too much of that advice encourages folks to follow the TED Talk template, with a focus on storytelling and mind-blowing insights. While that’s great for certain topics, that format doesn’t usually work well for conveying practical information or educating audiences about non-motivational topics.

There also isn’t a lot of reliable information on the logistics of public speaking. Things like what you need to do to get a speaking gig, how to prep for the event, build slides, practice, and get feedback, let alone what to do while you’re speaking and how to follow up with people after your talk is done.

I figured I’d better write that resource. So, that’s what I’m doing.

Speak Easier is a practical guide to public speaking for everyone, whether you’re talking in the conference room, at a local meetup, or on a massive stage.

My goal is to get the first draft done by the end of the year, with the digital and print versions available early in 2019. Along the way, I’ll be documenting the adventure of producing it here on my blog, as well as sharing resources I come across throughout the research and writing process.

Follow along here or by signing up for my email newsletter. And, if you have any tips or resources on public speaking you’d like to share, just email me.

November 21, 2018

Link: Practical Tips for Better Tech Talk Slides

lots of buzzwords to keep track of

Another piece for the LogRocket blog, this time on creating better slides for tech talks. As someone that both presents and attends a hell of a lot of tech talks, I figured I could share some of my own tips and pet peeves in the hopes of improving everyone’s slides.

Check it out →
November 18, 2018

Link: 3 Mega-Trends from Litmus Live 2018

lots of buzzwords to keep track of

Over on the Litmus blog, I wrote about some of the themes we’ve seen emerge over the course of this year’s three events. All three are pretty damned important IMHO. What trends have you seen emerge over the past year? Email me or comment over on the Litmus blog.

Check it out →
November 13, 2018

Link: A Contract for The Web

I love this list of principles from the World Wide Web Foundation, but fear that it won’t be widely read or adopted. The current existential crisis of The Web is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, but I fear that it could be too late for principles like these to have any affect whatsoever. Hopefully I’m just being pessimistic.

Check it out →
November 6, 2018

My Personal OKRs

measuring a mountain

I just finished reading John Doerr’s Measure What Matters. It’s an inside look at the culture around objectives and key results, or OKRs, as they’re commonly called. For those that aren’t familiar, OKRs are a framework for setting goals and measuring progress towards those goals used by the likes of Intel, Google, and The Gates Foundation, as well as countless startups.

Although John Doerr’s book was geared towards using OKRs at the organizational level (and packed with lots of unnecessary fluff), I found the concept of OKRs both fascinating and appealing. Fascinating in that there’s a genuine cult that’s grown around the concept and anyone that uses OKRs seems to swear by them. Appealing in that they seem to provide a solution to two of the problems I’ve always had when setting goals:

  1. Goals tend to be too broad.
  2. Progress is hard to measure and grade.

OKRs effectively tackle both problems.

Objectives are less of a New Year’s resolution and more of a business goal (or personal goal in my case). They are tied to some sort of measurable outcome, and help narrow otherwise broadly defined goals. They can still be wildly ambitious, but should always be at least a little bit achievable. Instead of a goal of “get fit,” an objective would be “lose 20 pounds.” They should also have a deadline associated with them.

Key results are the tactical part of OKRs. They are the things you’re measuring and—when achieved—will spell certain success for your objective. If we’re running with the “lose 20 pounds” example above, some key results could be “eliminate sugar and fast food from diet” or “run for 20 minutes four times a week.” Key results are easy to track—even if they’re hard to do—and give you a clear, objective (pun intended) way to measure your progress.

This combination of defining better goals (objectives) and being able to reliably track progress (key results) have me convinced that OKRs are worth trying out. So I’m going to implement quarterly OKRs for myself for the next year to see how things go.

Part of the OKR strategy, though, is radical transparency. In an OKR-driven organization, everyone in the company is supposed to have access to their colleagues, bosses, and overall company’s OKRs so that everyone is held accountable.

Personal OKRs are a little trickier to be transparent about, though. Sure, I can tell my wife about them and put check-ins on my calendar to review them, but I want to be more transparent to a wider audience. Since I have a few thousand monthly readers of my blog and newsletter, I figured y’all would be the perfect people to share my OKRs with.

So, I’ve set up a section on my website to dump my OKRs. Each quarter, I’ll grade and review the previous quarter’s OKRs as well as define the next set. I plan on posting a retrospective at the end of the quarter here on my blog, and welcome any feedback, criticism, or encouragement from any of you along the way.

Although I’ve been exposed to OKRs before, using them at a personal level is new to me. I feel like my first set of objectives are poorly defined, but I’m hoping that they will get better as I get deeper into the process of using OKRs.

If you want to follow along, bookmark my OKR page or subscribe to my email newsletter. And, as always, you can email me with feedback whenever you want.

November 3, 2018

Link: Google Walkout for Real Change

Google employees hold signs in protest.

This is important and amazing to see. Google is a massive company—both in terms of employees and influence. Its products are amazing, but its culture and ethical practices are revealing themselves to be wildly lacking. It’s heartening to see so many employees take a stand in order to affect real change. If they succeed (and I don’t think they’ll stop until they do), then it could be the start of an amazing movement in the tech world. Change at Google could beget change at other tech companies, and that change is sorely needed.

See also their list of demands to leadership. It’s a good start. Let’s hope Sundar Pichai and his team respond as they should.

Check it out →
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