26

3 things I’m thinking about as I complete my 26th year –

1. Self confidence and the unwillingness to compromise on what matters. The primary reason for starting this blog was to learn to get over my own insecurities and build self confidence. I’ve learnt a few things about confidence over these past few years and a key part of this learning has been the understanding that confidence doesn’t come from dots, it comes from lines. So, a consistent set of small wins does more good for your confidence than an out-of-the-blue big achievement. It is that realization that’s led to an intense, obsessive, sometimes pedantic, focus on process over the past few years. This focus on process has resulted in better results, more happiness and, over time, more confidence.

I’ve begun to observe that this increase in confidence has had an interesting side effect – an unwillingness to compromise on what matters to me.  I think that’s because confidence brings with it a sense of comfort in your skin. And, a mix of this comfort combined with a sense of purpose that’s been a result of all the thinking on the topic for the past 2 years has led to more clarity on why I do things. This, in turn, has helped with making all those little decisions that make up our days. And, as we live our days, so we live our lives.

It is a fascinating evolution though. And, I’m enjoying the change.

2. History lauds the individual but it is teams that make history. Hat tip to Walter Isaacson and “The Innovators” for this one. I’ve really been struck by how every great innovation in the past 150 years was brought forth by teams. I always considered myself reasonably well acquainted with the history of technology and I associated many technology shifts with lone geek genius. I’ve been blown away by the recurrence of this very simple idea – history is made by great teams. That, in turn means, if you want to really make a positive difference, you want to hone your ability to build great teams. (Note: build doesn’t necessarily mean lead)

I have 3-4 interesting team projects in progress and, in the remaining year or so of being a student, I am really interested in digging deep and understanding how great teams are built. It is nice to be able to experiment with no serious consequences. :-)

3. Learning to “see” and learning to make the most of an inch by going a mile deep. A close friend recently said he thought I was very observant. I found this to be an interesting observation as I have always thought of myself as someone with really bad observation skills. And, in some senses, that is very true. I am lost in my own thoughts and world far too often. But, observation in his eyes was to be able to view a situation and take insight from it. And, I think what he described as observant is what the wonderful Seth Godin describes in his post about “learning to see.” 7 years of looking for interesting ideas to blog about has inadvertently taught me to scratch beneath the surface a lot more. Allow me to digress for a moment here – it never ceases to amaze me as to how often people around you can point out things you never knew. I’ve learnt nearly everything about myself, especially about my strengths, thanks to insightful notes from people around me. I do my best to do the same to others around me. These observations around strengths are very valuable – we focus on weaknesses far too much.

His comment, however, led me to think about the idea observation some more. And, the more I think of it, the more I realize that observation is as powerful an idea as it gets. Great learners don’t need too many experiences to learn powerful lessons. They make the most of experiences by extracting an unimaginable amount of insight. I’d like to be able to do that more. And, perhaps that’ll be a great theme to take forward into this 26th year – to be able to make the most of the experiences I choose to immerse myself into by learning to make the most an inch… by going a mile deep.

Thank you to you for reading these notes, liking, sharing, and sending in your thoughts and comments. It is always lovely hearing from you. You make this blog a blog. And, for that, I am very grateful. Thank you for all you do.

(Past birthday notes: 25, 2423)

Building teams that innovate – learning from history

I am reading “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks” Created the Digital Revolution.” I realized I didn’t know much about the early history of the digital age and have, so far, found it fascinating. I’m still only 25% into the book and am beginning to see a trend in how innovative teams that shaped the digital age were built.

1. Multi-disciplinary teams. Great technology breakthroughs were not made by a group of computer scientists working together. Instead, they involved groups of theoretical physicists, chemists and programmers who came together. This was the case in the creation of the early computers at University of Penn and in the case of the semiconductor at Bell Labs.

Bell Labs was a great example of a place that was simply bustling with innovative ideas. Its DNA was built on the fact that it kept exposing scientists to others with different expertise. Steve Jobs was so inspired by Bell Labs that he designed the Pixar headquarters (and, perhaps, Apple, too?) to mimic Bell Labs. At the Pixar headquarters, you are forced to bump into others from different parts of the organization at the large Atrium. It is, as Jobs described it, a place that “promoted promoted encounters and unplanned collaborations.”

2. An intersection of science and the arts. Ada Lovelace, John von Neumann, Steve Jobs were examples of people who brought together two seemingly unconnected disciplines. This is, in some ways, related to point 1 but still worth a separate call out. All 3 were credited with visionary thinking that shaped the digital age and, perhaps, it was only made possible by their position at that intersection.

3. Teams that combined individual genius and great team spirit. We like building tales of the individual inventor. But, great inventions were largely built by teams. What is distinctive about nearly every one of these teams is that they combined individual genius (often one or two within the group) and great team spirit from working really well together. Not all these times lasted long because of recurring issues around ego, but when they did, they worked fantastic.

This point is a great guide to anyone looking to build a great team. You want to encourage individual genius in your team and, at the same time, do your best to foster team spirit. It always feels safer to just bring people whose egos don’t clash. But, then, you lose edge. And, edge is often what make teams great.