Positives of negative New Year's resolutions

By this time most of us (at least those who care to make our lives better) have made their New Year’s resolutions. From what I hear here and there most of these resolutions are around new things which you are going to do this year:

  • work out regularly
  • read more books
  • spend more time with family
  • improve foreign language skills
  • etc.

As you see all of these resolutions are about new things in your life, they are about doing things you did not do before. However, there is another popular resolution, which is, in a sense, exactly opposite:

  • quitting smoking

This resolution is about not doing something, thus creating a room for new things in your life. Indeed, ten 5 minute smoking breaks give you 50 extra minutes each day, when you get rid of this bad habit. Extra bucks that you save on not buying cigarettes give you additional opportunities to do something meaningful to you and those around you. And this is not mentioning your health and wellbeing. At the end this negative resolution creates additional time and resources capacity you need so much to act on your positive resolutions.


I believe that each positive New Year’s resolution should be complimented by a negative one, which will make it possible to do what you resolved to do.

If last year you spend substantial amount of time fixing and reworking what your subordinates did, you need to resolve to stop doing that and instead focus on improving their skills to avoid those reworks in the first place.

If last year you engaged in many activities simply because somebody asked you and technically you can do that (and, between us, do well), you need to stop doing that and make your own conscious decisions about what you do and what you don’t.

We only have 24 hours a day and we always use them up. Each day. In order to start doing something, you need to take time from something else. Unfortunately, we can not create time out of nowhere.

Intrinsic motivation vs. Extrinsic stimulus

Great talk by Dan Pink at TED about pitfalls of extrinsic stimulus and scientific evidence for intrinsic motivation:

I kind of always felt that way, but now I've got evidence to refer to. Plutarch was right that

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

You can not stimulate creativity, you can only create environment for it to blossom.

How long does it take to fail?

Failure means distrust. Distrust to you about delivering on your promises; distrust in your ability to make a difference; distrust in you taking care. Basically, it is as simple as:

  1. Drawing attention to a problem without communication of causes and planned corrective actions.
  2. Repeating the same error again (when you do not change anything after step 1).
  3. Making problem a habit, when it happens for the 3rd time. Now it is clear for everyone that you do not give a heck about what's going on.

After step 3 there is almost no way to recover.

At the resort I stayed with my family for a vacation, we had breakfast served at 8:00 am. The first time a crowd of about hundred people had to wait for extra 10 minutes till they started serving, I remember my thought "Can happen. Probably, they wanted to please us with something special and underestimated the time."

Waiting in the crowd the next day I thought "Something went terribly wrong here. There must be a serious challenge involved at serving at 8 am."

After the third time nothing could make me come to breakfast at 8 am. I knew they did not care that we all had to wait for 10 extra minutes in a crowded room. I had to find a solution for myself and I did! Thereafter we came to breakfast 10 minutes late. In other situations, when your customers have more flexibility, they will simply quit your service. They will not do that because  there are issues, but because you do not care.

Take care to fix issues your customers face.

Professionals are always around you

Today I had an inspiring chat with one of fellow QA engineers about one of the systems we recently developed. I had a new requirement in mind that triggers complete re-test of the system.

Me: How long does it take to re-test our solution?

QA: Any new features or components?

Me: No, "just" another communication protocol.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Great job!"]Great job![/caption]

QA: Give me 10 minutes, I'll consult with the Test Plan and Design.

Me: ...Ok.

And if initially I was going for really quick and dirty estimate, I just could not make myself ask for that. I've got my needs under complete control of a professional.

Professionals feel responsible for everything they say to you, their internal code of conduct just does not allow them to fool you or compromise quality of their advice, even if you ask for it.

Professionals, unlike amateurs, will always ask you for what they need to deliver you the best possible result.

They are near you, just look around.

Be reasonable

Be reasonable with your requests. Be reasonable with your responses. Human actions (at least, in professional and business fields) are mostly driven by reasons. People never (or very-very rarely) do something out of spontaneous wish at work.

Yes, you can have a spontaneous idea, but it, anyway, will serve some particular purpose. Idea tries to solve a problem, and the is the reason why you do that - you want right the wrong or make something better.

Often times in order to do what you want to accomplish, you will need to request something from your fellow colleague. Usually, you will need to have it done by certain deadline. This is where the interesting part begins.

You know exactly why you want something to be done by certain date or time. But are you sure your fellow colleague, from whom you request, comes to know that by reading your e-mail? Does he get why this needs to be done today? Is it in any way more important than what he is working on now? Unless he is a powerful mind-reader the answer to all such questions is "No!". E-mail just does not bear with itself enough of  the mental energy to discover all of that!

Do you want you request to be handled in the best possible way? I bet you do. So, be reasonable. Write you request in a best possible way. Explain why there is a need to do something and why deadline is such as it is. Do not send unreasonable requests!

Same line of thought applies to responses. And even if you receive an unreasonable request - there is a reason why it went out. Help the requestor. Ask him questions. Unreasonable response will just turn into a dead-end. Often quickly bricked up behind your back while you drive there.

Do your best to explain your reasons and understand reasons of others. If you are not sure if you were understood correctly - follow-up your e-mail with a call.

And be reasonable with what you write and what you say.

Critique is not easy

When people communicate they exchange facts, ideas and opinions. When they hear something which is not a sure fact like "At present, Earth orbits the Sun" they will either agree or disagree. As Paul Graham suggests this is a natural behavior. But disagreeing itself is somewhat simple: nothing remains after the conversation except for changed or not unchanged mind of participants.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Opposition"][/caption]

When people hear idea or proposal it is another beast. Something is going to remain after the talk is finished and that is a decision whether to proceed with presented idea. And that decision, be it positive or negative, is going to affect everyone involved in a conversation. As Paul noticed

Many who respond to something disagree with it. That's to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there's less to say.

Only very bad ideas will not ignite discussion. If the idea is worth at least something the conversation will start. The conversation will start with disagreement and critique and will revolve around the problem idea tries to address and the idea itself.

The worst form of critique which often can be a "discussion killer" is when the reply is "This is not going to work" and nothing more. There can be several cases why one would say that and actual meaning of that response can range:

  • from "Hey man! You are so stupid to propose this. Your idea is not even worth discussing."
  • to "Dude, I had thought this idea in and out and you really do not want to implement it" and "The problem you are trying to solve isn't really a problem. Let's move on to the next item."

No matter what the actual meaning is expressing it with "This is not going to work" is wrong. You must uncover reasoning for "not going to work". Such unsound responses kill all the constructive outputs that can arise as a result of conversation on the topic. Such responses create forces which oppose to development of better outcomes for the concern raised.

Good response would be something that will help arrive at conclusion that will be both acceptable and accepted by all the parties engaged in the conversation. Something that will prompt for further discussion is already good enough, e.g. "I do not clearly see the benefit of implementing this. Can you please explain in more detail?".

When discussion starts it is important to distinguish two things about the proposed idea:

  • problem the proposal tries to address
  • the idea itself

First of all there should be an agreement on why dealing with the problem is or is not important. With readiness to attack the problem you can move on to define a solution to that starting with proposed idea. Once the problem is revealed a solution should be found. The solution might be completely different from what is proposed now, but there should be one. And only constructive dialog that gradually improves currently proposed idea can deliver that.

Jim McCarthy calls this a "better idea" approach. To quote Jim:

An accountable "No" is respected, but it's got to be accountable.

You can say "No", but no, you can't go away without a better idea. Because if you don't have a better idea, then that's the best available idea and you always act on the best available idea. You can always change it tomorrow, or next week if better ideas come around. But, by definition, if you don't have a better idea, you have to vote "Yes". So when you stop the show you are expected to carry the next vote, which happens immediately. And this makes people say "No" much less.

Mind how you respond to ideas of your fellows and be accountable for what you say. Let ideas emerge and be implemented.

Tell me what you read...

Tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you who you are.

Old saying tells so. In modern world you often say who the person is by looking at what she reads or what she thinks of some books. Same this is applicable to blogs as well.

Recently the Time posted 25 Best Blogs 2009. It appears that I read 3 our of those 25 blogs which is not bad at all given that I'm not a US resident.

So today on my reading list are (among many others):

  • Freakonomics. I just love all those subtle connections between things in a human society.
  • Seth Godin's blog. Insightful and inspiring.
  • Zen Habits. Life as experience at some point gets tough for everyone, but you can always help yourself if you put in a little effort.

Surprisingly right after 25th best blog when you click "Next" you get to Most Overrated Blogs of which TechCrunch is the first. I used to be subscribed to it but not any more.

I've got a few interesting links from that list, so looks like list of 3 might be extended at some point... What about yours?