SpaceX lands another Falcon 9 orbital booster!

SpaceX landed another Falcon 9 spacecraft, this time from the NASA CRS-10 mission to the space station:

Official video of landing:

Amazing that orbital booster landings have become routine, when just two years ago they were widely considered impossible!

Go SpaceX!

Losing it All

Awesome post from ShakyCode:

I was on top of the world, fell down on my ass, but in the end I fought hard to survive and with a little help from some amazing people I rejoined humanity and gained a lot of knowledge along the way.
In the end, money does not equal happiness. These days happiness is a good cup of coffee, a favorite song on my iPhone, or a simple tweet from someone that matters. I don’t care about materialistic things anymore instead I focus on knowledge and experience and consider myself the wealthiest man in the world because of it.
If you’ve ever been in a similar situation or are facing this, please reach out to me. There are a lot of wonderful people in this world who will help, but sometimes you have to let go of your pride and just ask for a helping hand.

It’s worth reading the rest of ShakyCode’s story too. (Via HackerNews.)

The mature use of emotion

Rationality is not about eliminating emotion – instead, it’s using emotion in a mature way, in a way that doesn’t harm people or cause confusion, and ideally adds a lot of wisdom and depth to a conversation. That’s really useful in relationships, and I especially find it useful in business.

Too often people try to eliminate or conceal their emotions in the workplace. But emotions convey lots of useful information that can be critical for a team to know about. I’d even say they’re essential if you want to have a great team – I’ve many times had people tell me they’re afraid the team was going to make a bad decision. And then we looked at the decision more carefully and changed direction, with great success!

And if many people on a team are mad, or sad, or afraid, or glad – that’s probably something everyone, especially the leaders, should want to know.

So how do you let people know what you’re feeling without causing problems? One way is to use the Check In Protocol – you simply say what you’re feeling in terms of four basic emotions, mad, sad, glad or afraid.

Why just these four? From a practical perspective, they have been found to work well – more or less description doesn’t get things communicated in an optimal way. And there is a lot of research that shows that there are 7 universal human emotions:

  • joy/happiness
  • sadness
  • fear
  • anger
  • surprise
  • disgust
  • contempt

(For more info see the research of Paul Ekman and his books Unmasking the Face and Emotions Revealed.)

Ethnographic studies have shown that these emotions have the same facial expressions in all human cultures. While it’s possible to get into subtle nuances of emotions that don’t appear on this list, these particular emotions (and combinations of them) are hard-wired into our brains and faces. You literally can not keep your face from making these expressions if you are feeling the corresponding emotion, unless you are a sociopath. But it is very useful to use words, since most people can not consciously connect expressions to emotions. Words are an overt channel. In Western culture, people are so conditioned to keep quiet about their emotions that communicating about a smaller list keeps things simple and clear, and makes it more likely that people will not be misunderstood.

So why aren’t surprise, disgust, and contempt on the list? I think disgust and contempt aren’t on there because if you are feeling these, you should deal with them outside of Check In to avoid doing damage. And surprise? I think genuine surprise is momentary, so can be left off.

This in no way says you can’t combine mad, sad, glad and afraid to get the nuances that you want: “I am feeling glad and afraid” to get “excited” for instance, or “sad and mad” to get “hurt.” And I will often say “I am feeling hurt – sad and mad.” That’s ok as long as you don’t diminish feelings (“a little mad”). With some work I’ve found I can get across most emotional states.

Learning How To Learn

I’ve been teaching a class at Puget Sound Community School called Learning How To Learn. The idea of the class is to learn how to study more effectively, so you can do great at high school — even while taking hard classes — and still have a life.

It seems to work for my son Martin, who has reduced his stress considerably during the class.

The class is based on The Core Protocols and Cal Newport‘s excellent books, “How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)” and “How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less.

One of the things that helped Martin was a how-to guide that I wrote on how to write a great paper without stress. Martin started out being extremely stressed about writing, and would often spend many hours at a time, trying to write essays without much success. Now, following this guide, he gets them done without any stress, by planning ahead, asking for help early, spreading the work out over several days, and working in short, focused chunks.

I’m posting it here in case it’s helpful to others: How to Write a Great Paper Without Stress

Culture Hacking course at UW Bothell

My friends David Socha and Sue Kraemer are teaching a course on culture hacking at UW Bothell this fall. It looks awesome:

This is a seminar that will explore our learning and team cultures. It will be highly experiential, with you being taught and then practicing techniques that are known to help create and maintain great teams. It will be project-based, as you explore and co-create wild and creative ideas about how our learning and team cultures could be dramatically better for students, employers and society.

More info here: Culture Hacking: Learning and Building Great Teams

[Update: this course did not happen because not enough students signed up for it.]

More on what great leaders are like

Skip Walter had a great blog post recently on what great leaders are like, and what less-than-great-leaders are like. It was educational and also painful to read because of the juxtaposition. So here’s Skip’s post with just the “great” statements – it’s more aspirational than comparative, so it serves somewhat of a different purpose than the original.

  • A great leader always develops talent
  • A great leader encourages active and confronting dialogue
  • A great leader actively seeks current reality– what is really happening now
  • A great leader seeks first to understand, before trying to be understood
  • A great leader accepts responsibility when things go wrong
  • A great leader is inclusive and uses “we” when things are going right and gives specific attribution to those who made the good thing happen
  • A great leader has a vision and a passion for and a plan for getting to BHAGs
  • A great leader understands that leadership is always taken, never given
  • A great leader uses the Outcome Frame (What are we trying to create? How will we know we created it? … )
  • A great leader understands that it is results that matter not how hard somebody works
  • A great leader respects others’ time, and plans carefully
  • A great leader eliminates and dissolves problems so that no one even knew there was a problem looming
  • A great leader adds creative energy to every environment they participate in
  • A great leader understands the Theory of Constraints (from Eli Goldratt’s The Goal) and knows that in any system only a few work steps need to be managed
  • A great leader hires only Talent that has a passion for continuous personal development – life long learners who are also good at developing other people’s Talent
  • A great leader under promises and over delivers
  • A great leader treats everyone with extraordinary respect
  • A great leader understands the value of strategic networking and gives to the network long before they need to extract value from the network
  • A great leader understands the dynamics of value exchange relationships
  • A great leader provides feedback on things which need improvement in private and with frameworks which allow the other person to generalize and learn and develop
  • A great leader generates plans and organizational structures which are sustainable without the leader present
  • A great leader shares all information and knowledge they possess to help develop others
  • A great leader creates work environments that lead to sustainability for the planet
  • A great leader understands that no human is exactly like him/her and that one needs to be flexible in dealing with talent (see David Keirsey Temperament Indicator)
  • A great leader practices deep listening skills always
  • A great leader is 10X. They break the old command and control mold. They are transformational. They create brand new paradigms and enable others to do the same.
  • A great leader is generative
  • A great leader does not draw attention to their first rater status
  • A great leader works proactively to create an environment where innovation and technical accomplishment are anticipated, appreciated and celebrated
  • A great leader hires exceptional people with exceptional capabilities and manages the differences that exceptional people exhibit
  • A great leader identifies and clears barriers before the team runs into them
  • A great leader changes the rules to create an outcome that meets or exceeds organizational expectations
  • A great leader leads from the front like a Navy SEAL team leader
  • A great leader shows up for important events and serves the team in time of crisis; they are part of the team
  • A great leader is focused on outcomes, not the tactics to accomplish them
  • A great leader isn’t rewarded because there weren’t any heroics to be performed; their contribution isn’t recognized
  • A great leader may continue to try and change the rules, lead, and be a team player but may become frustrated and/or leave due to second-rater influence
  • A great leader makes the right thing happen at the right time
  • A great leader believes that the upside to listening is always greater than that of speaking and therefore typically listens to others and digests their thoughts before speaking themselves
  • A great leader implements processes and procedures where they believe it will facilitate achieving a business objective
  • A great leader works with the personalities of their team (but challenges personal growth as well as professional growth)
  • A great leader shows compassion for the person in all of the challenges that life brings each of us
  • A great leader always reacts the same – giving the team a trusting environment in which to concentrate on themselves and their work
  • A great leader embraces change and encourages the team to take the opportunities that come with each change
  • A great leader shows vision, inspires and leads their team towards worthy goals

(To get this list, I replaced the words “first rater” with “great leader” from Skip’s post, and deleted the second and third rater statements. I also deleted a couple of ones that I thought weren’t exactly on topic. Skip, my apologies for mangling your list!)

Art and great teams

David Socha writes about the connection between great teams and art:

Want to create great products together? Want to be more innovative or creative? Do artwork. With your team.

Yoga, culture, and the spark of life

Writing about a recent article about yoga in the New York Times Magazine, Ran said,

Something the article doesn’t mention is that every yoga pose was invented by someone whose body needed that particular stretch at that particular time. Ideally we would all have the skill and awareness to improvise our own exercises every day. Lacking that, we follow rigid and uniform routines that are inevitably wrong for us.”

The way I see it, yoga is an ancient spiritual and healing tradition that has various expressions in our culture. Sure it’s been commercialized and I can find yoga studios in trendy neighborhoods that are filled with people who do the practices at a shallow level and are taught by teachers who don’t understand it. But there is a spectrum… I’ve found that if I put the energy into it, I can find yoga teachers who do hold the spark of the spiritual and healing traditions, and who don’t merely ape the practices.

The great yogis of old could invent new poses and even whole programs of healing that involved poses, meditation, diet, and other learning, customized for each individual. And not just for themselves — yogis are healers. But they too stand on the shoulders of their teachers and a large body of passed-on knowledge. And there are great yogis alive today, along with a spectrum of teachers, down from the yogis — teachers who teach other teachers but may be expensive to travel to see, all the way down to those special yoga teachers who are genuine practitioners in our neighborhood yoga studios who can offer what they know directly, in person, for low cost. Not all hold that spark of life. But if you look you can find the living lineage of healers, and that lineage does help you customize your healing to your own body. It’s not inevitably wrong for me. And I’ve seen plenty of others get the right customized healing from different yoga teachers.

Ran also said,

“This reminds me of how religion starts with direct experience of the divine, and then hardens into rules and memorized prayers. Or how learning starts with curiosity and self-directed exploration, and ends up in lifeless forced schooling.”

Here too I would ask, isn’t that a generalization? There are spiritual traditions alive today that have great life in them, the direct experience of the divine. I’ve looked and found them, and practice one of them that is alive in me (Shambhala Buddhism). It’s tempting to look at religion from the outside as something that is dead, lifeless, ossified, meaningless. And in fact many are, especially the mainstream culture’s religions in each region of the world. But there are genuine spiritual traditions that are alive today in the fringes.

Ran concluded,

“Or how learning starts with curiosity and self-directed exploration, and ends up in lifeless forced schooling.”

And yeah there too, the mainstream schools in our current culture do that. But in the fringes there are different experiences. That phrase “ends up in…” seems to me to imply a linear view of growth, that things start young and good, and end up old and bad. Why can’t I be a cool old dude? Why can’t new effective and healing cultures grow up out of the ossified ones? My son goes to a healing noncoercive “school” or learning collective (PSCS) that is alive and well now, and is relatively new – it wasn’t around 20 years ago. If you seek it you can find new growth and healing.

I wish healing, spiritually-connected, non-coercive, curious culture was more widespread. But Ran, you might be surprised at how much there is already. How can we make these communities stronger? How can we link them to create a culture that will grow up through the cracks of the mainstream one that is not working now? How can we help more people choose healing cultures over ones that are dying? Those are the questions that I think we should be asking.

Multipersonal Flow

I’ve written about flow and work elsewhere. Lately I’ve become interested in multipersonal flow – a flow state that is achieved as part of a team, where multiple people are experiencing flow while interacting with each other. You can see what Jim and Michele McCarthy have to say about multipersonal flow in Software For Your Head.

Why does this matter? Well, flow is highly correlated with personal growth. Teams that help their members enter flow states can grow faster than other teams – since their members are in the zone of personal growth. Since flow is also related to enjoyment (but not pleasure) this means team members will have more satisfying work experiences. It’s important for growth and enjoyment to be linked, so that people and teams will want to increase their skills and challenges. Consistently choosing more challenging experiences is what leads to greatness.

Flow can be difficult to find for individuals – Csíkszentmihályi says in his books that many people experience flow only rarely. However, some people often experience flow, and Csíkszentmihályi calls them autotelic individuals. The skills to find flow can be learned, and while there is not much written about the subject, I think it’s easier to find flow with a bunch of other people who are also seeking it, and who are all using practices that lead to flow, like the Core Protocols.

There are other ways to experience multipersonal flow, for instance in sports, music, dance, or multiplayer online video games, but I don’t know much about ways that are centered in the realm of creative work. In the realm of creating computer software, the only other example of people systematically seeking multipersonal flow that I have seen is on Extreme Programming (XP) teams. While the XP originators do not set it as an explicit goal, pair programming, when combined with the other XP values on a healthy team, seems to be able to produce this mental state in team members with some reliability. But XP seems to only be able to do this with programmers, not across an entire cross-functional (business and technical) team.

I also think multipersonal flow is a key feature of #CultureHacking since the goal of culture hackers is to produce team situations where people are learning, growing, and having fun together while delivering effective results. I think companies that do this will be more successful than companies that don’t.

Are there other work methodologies that can do this? If so, will you let me know? I would like to know about them.

Characteristics of great teams

These are some of the characteristics of the culture of excellence that I want to see in teams I work with. I think great teams that work in any creative field will share these qualities:

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off

  • Optimistic aspiration to greatness – individuals and teams seek out excellence on their own.
  • Shared vision – people and teams are aligned around the same vision and goals, minimizing conflicts and wasted effort
  • Swift and effective conflict resolution – teams minimize waste and maximize speed
  • Results count, not effort – people are oriented on what matters
  • Best ideas win regardless of source – improvements are accepted without politics
  • Interest in improving team performance over time – people work to create an environment that supports personal and team growth
  • Creative intimacy – cross-functional teams that work closely together, and include engineering, business, and user experience people for example
  • Proactive self-organization – teams decide what to do and do it, and do not wait to be told what to do
  • Great decisions are the norm – and meetings are mainly held to make decisions, not pass along information
  • Mistakes and learning are celebrated and encouraged  – maximizing learning and encouraging growth
  • Healthy relationship to authority – people lead and follow as necessary without cynicism

I think #CultureHacking is about creating teams that have these qualities, since teams that have them will be fun, effective, and truly able to contribute new positive innovations to our society. I work in software, so another reason I care about this because I want the cross-functional (business and technical) teams that I work with to be able to rapidly ship great products and services that customers love.

(Thanks to Michele McCarthy and David Socha for their help writing this list.)