I have a confession. I'm a #Linkybrain

The world became much less lonely for me two weeks ago.
I was quietly minding my own business, doing what I always do – dream and deliver. Then I read something that connected with feelings I had buried deep and lost the key to. Then I read another and another – until it was clear. I was not alone in my world.

I’m an outsider born to outsiders. Born to an Punjabi mum whose parents migrated to Singapore and a black Caribbean dad who escaped a small island at 17. Both moved first to Ghana and then to Nigeria to do great things with newly independent countries. So you see, none of us fit.

Mixed race children are natural outsiders – we are never fully one nor the other. We force the world to consider its fucking boxes. But that is another story.

Growing up in Nigeria, I adapted to fit in. If you are fairer skinned than the norm, you get called names – not hateful – but being called ‘Oyinbo’ still stings when all you want to do is not attract attention.

School was unremarkable to say the least. I did the minimum to stay in the game. I was great at English  – my parents were both teaching it.  But I remember thinking at age 9 – ‘why are we being taught this exact thing and not something else’ – even if I didn’t know what that something else was – I knew there had to be.

I was the kid for whom the multiple choice options never had the answer. The one for whom the opportunity to free flow the answer and bring previously unconnected ideas to the question was golden.

I saw so many of my friends who I now believe to be linky brained struggle and cope the best they could. Some were literally brutalised by the corporal punishment culture of the educational system. Others marched tirelessly to the predestined outcomes of their parents – ‘you will be a lawyer/doctor/accountant!’

I now recognise I had the most supportive parents ever. They let me try (and fail) at so many things without pressure, including

  • worked at a chicken farm
  • apprenticed to an TV repair guy at 11
  • apprenticed to a basket weaver at 12
  • learned to drive at 13 (which was briefly interrupted because I killed the lawnmower)
  • started a micro-loan service at 13
  • programmer of computers from age 13
  • delivery guy for my dad’s bar from 14
  • video club entrepreneur from  14 (we only had 200 films that my mum brought as hand luggage on her travels)  – I would lend the same film out to the same person at 5 times – each time telling them a different story line!
  • my house was a magnet for LinkyBrains – a sanctuary for all those written off for not being focused or academically brilliant. My mother took them under her wing, they became my friends and family.
  • travelling and experiencing different cultures and viewpoints. I had been to Canada, the US, Singapore, Russia, Togo, Malaysia, Ghana by the time I was 10 – seeing what poverty looked like, seeing how people welcome you.

My Confession

I am driven by an incredible amount of empathy for the human condition. Having had my ass handed to me by life – my dad died when I was 17, I was married by 21 and had the first of my 4 kids at 23. Divorced at 29. That either kills you, turns you into a mean drunk or fills you with compassionate understanding that we aren’t perfect, we fuck up but we are also powerful beyond belief.

I need people around me, that get me and are passionate, to amplify my magnificence. We become greater than the sum of our parts.

I day dream a lot.. Always have and I hope I always will. In my mind – time just stops and I slip into the gaps in reality. This is where I imagine what the world could be and how to make it happen. So if we are ever in conversation and I appear glassy eyed and unresponsive – you’ll know where I am.

I am cursed with ideas and enough of all the skills to have a go at them. My only enemy is time and the absolute principle not to fuck people over.

I’ve been told to ‘focus’, to pick one thing, to specialise. I’ve apologised for this. I’m done apologising.

I suck at execution – because life gets in the way and I often can’t sustain the enthusiasm in the ensuing drudgery. I love working with people who help sustain me.

I tend to outpace and out-passion my partners. Which often leads to disaster – someone I’ve come to deeply respect suggests that I ‘sabotage’ those relationships. Needs further exploration, but suspect he is correct.

For the longest time, I craved a sense of belonging – to find where I fit. I even craved to be mediocre because that seemed to be a group that just exists without much effort. But it didn’t work out – my curiosity captured me again.

I have multiple focuses at any one time. I can’t do it any other way. I get bored and frustrated. I jump from thing to thing and back again. I recently learned this is how artists work on a piece. A bit here and there, working in iterations until the piece is done. This often annoying variation in my wiring has led me to:

  • learning to fly planes
  • doing a human rights masters and speaking at the UN Human Rights Commission
  • having multiple attempts at learning the saxophone, piano and conga drums, Italian, Spanish and Japanese – each attempt builds on the last and brings me closer to my outcome. I don’t seek mastery.
  • building and failing at more startup ideas than I care to admit to, losing incredible amounts of time and money and amassing incredible amounts of learning and relationships.

I’m really good at building teams – I mean crazy good. At making people feel valued and valuable. My gift is interaction and the breaking of barriers. I connect people with ideas and make them fly.

Many things do not interest me at all – I do not pretend anymore.

I’m a master at embracing uncertainty. It doesn’t scare me at all. I think it is a red herring.

Failing my children is my greatest fear. By failing, I mean not giving them the greatest range of experiences from which they can make better choices and the support to realise they are magnificent.

I often feel alone in crowds and I invent personalities to entertain myself – from all the crazy shit I’ve seen, done and seen done. If you see me grinning to myself in a crowd, now you know why – ask to be invited in.

I’m prone to depression and I now know how to manage this more successfully. There are still times of sadness and melancholy – often at the world and my perceived lack of impact on those things I promised myself to care about.

I very often feel like an imposter  – even in a profession that I have done successfully for 20+ years and in some areas that I helped to define as a role. I find myself comparing what I know to what others know – and I’m never that good!

I’ve done incredible things. People have told me later that I helped them realise huge things in their lives – open up more, make a decision they’ve avoided or just get out of a rut they are in. It is magnificent.

I’m fascinated by why people do the things they do and why they don’t do the things they love. My mission is to have more people value Joy above all else.

I am a #LinkyBrain and I’m not alone.

 

No one is unstoppable forever.

Looking at the current landscape of tech giants, from Facebook to Google, from Stripe to Intel, it is almost impossible to imagine they can ever be out-spent or out-competed.-

Whilst they might seem unstoppable – with the sheer brain power they employ and the almost bottomless stash of cash they command, it is reassuring that every giant has its weaknesses.

Some weaknesses might be transient –  momentary lapses of attention, or wrong footed by some government legislation or mishandle a sensitive public issue and start to lose patronage. Others might be systemic – by virtue of their size, their industry, regulatory constraints, their leadership failings or something more permanent.

For those wishing to find the kink and exploit it – they should be prepared to move as fast as they possibly can. They need to cultivate now, the ability to make decisions very quickly, to execute spectacularly fast and to maximise the natural love that the market has for upstarts and underdog to their advantage.

What kinks in iron of the giants have you spotted? What should the upstarts and underdogs watch for?

March's 30 Day Challenge: 2 minutes of high knees + 3 minutes of push ups!

5 Minutes seems the right amount of time

To get to a very nice sweat – with the right exercises of course.

The 30 Day Plank Challenge was phenomenal! My back, legs and core feel so much more reliable. I think that they are so effective that I will keep doing them every other day, in addition to the current challenge.

2 minutes of non-stop High Knees + 3 minutes of as many push ups as I can manage – every day, for 30 days.

If you don’t know what the High Knee exercise is, here is a great intro (ignore the smatlzcy American accent):

The key is sticking with it for as long as you can manage. I find that going slower is a better option than stopping – because it is really hard to get started again.

As for push ups, maintaining proper form is key to avoid injury. This dude gives great intro. Classic push up is fine – if you are adventurous, do some funky variations.

I’ve started already – so lets see how it goes! Good luck and please get moving.

Tip:

I use the very useful IntervalTimer by Seconds Pro to help me not cheat on the timing. Here is the timer for this high knees and pushups challenge.

Challenge yourself!

Next for April: 2 minute burpees + 3 minutes of squats, every morning !

My 15 Year List of Ideas is a Ready Made Company Selector

For the last 15 years I’ve maintained a list of ideas to build – things that both excite me and improve the world.

I’ve kept it pruned, adding new ideas, removing those that no longer seem viable and adding more details of the idea over time to those that still do.

It turns out this list is a wonderful way to help me identify those companies that I would really love to work with. To help those people build things that I am passionate enough to want to build myself.

Turns out that I care more that those amazing and positive things become realised and are in the world doing good than I do about being the person that created them.

Turns out I’m equally happy to be one of the many hands and hearts to bring them into existence.

One such company is Too Good To Go – this amazing organisation is using tech to reduce food waste.

Their mission ties in so strongly with an idea that I had about five years ago – “fix the problem of global western food waste”

Then at the Agile Testing Days conference in Potsdam last year as I brainstormed with some amazing people including Maria Urdaneta Castro, Ilan Kirchenbaum and Karen Greaves, that idea morphed into “The People’s Pantry”:

So what is the takeaway here (pun intended!)

• keep a list of your passionate ideas, keep them pruned – I spend 2 hours a month on this. Remember to write what the compelling goal is  – what change do you want to see in the world.

• keep a look out for those people/organisation that are trying to build it.

• join them and help, if you can.

I hope this proves helpful to you to remember what you are passionate about and to help when you are looking for a job where passion and purpose are important.

Thanks for reading and I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

My first week of Helpful Conversations

Last week I started having Office Hours to have conversations with anyone who wanted  the benefit of my experience in startups, tech and a few other things from my 25+ years in the software space.

Using the awesome ‘Booked’ wordpress plugin – which I had acquired for another idea that I was launching last year – I set up a simple calendar/appointment booking on my blog site and wrote a blog post to make my offer and kick the whole thing off.

The first week has been tremendous. I’ve had 4 conversations that each went well beyond the 30 minute slot that was booked and all ended with some very positive feedback and heart felt gratitude from the people I spent that time with.

I haven’t asked their permission to write about the conversations – they are, of course, private and confidential – so no names will be named and no identifying details will be shared.

Two of the conversations were about starting out as an agile coach, one was about remaining relevant as a people manager and the last one was helping a startup on its growth plans – specifically raising market awareness. Here are just some of the ideas I shared:

Starting as a (independent) agile coach:

  • Don’t do it. The market for ‘agile coaches’ is saturated and filling up with project managers, scrum masters and all sorts of other folk. Rather than be bound to some title,  strive to be of value instead by understanding what problem your client is trying to solve (and not simply help us do Scrum/LeSS/whatever) and be determined to use *all* that you know to help them.
  • Know what you bring to the engagement – be clear about it, at least to yourself!
  • Get yourself financially lean to compete, take risks and endure the downturns.
  • Get comprehensive agile experiences – learn to code, ship something, try to market something – you cannot empathise effectively if you don’t know what they are going through.
  • Stay in your day job long enough to get the essential capabilities you need – once you have to make money, it becomes harder to make strategic decisions  – being financially lean can mitigate this but not remove it entirely.

Remaining relevant as a people manager:

  • Ask the people you manage what they need – practically, emotionally and financially – to be happy and fulfilled in their jobs.
  • Remember that your responsibility is to spend authority wisely – for the benefit of your reports and indirectly, the organisation.
  • Stop shielding people from the consequences of their professional actions – agree some rules beforehand, but blind support does no one any good. That said, helping to create an environment where the consequences are manageable and fairly trivial is also important.
  • Tell the person who manages you the same thing (even if they don’t ask for it).
  • Go ask your ‘customers’ what they enjoy about you as a manager and what they don’t. Commit to them to act on their feedback.

Growth for a startup – creating awareness of a product or service:

  • Focus on what the users and customers are actually trying to use your product or service to achieve. No one uses a tool for the sake of the tool. Customers will value your service better if you strive to understand their goals.
  • Be honest with what your product and service is great at and what it isn’t – users do not appreciate wasting their time on something that doesn’t work in their use case.
  • Use your paying customers more – if you are lucky to have them, then engage with them more.
  • Try and get better at being out of your comfort zone by doing more of it and learning ways to be better.
  • Rediscover your passion for what your product does – the unique way you want to change the world. This is the bigger goal than the features you are building and enables you to speak and promote your startup with passion.
  • Give what you have to get what you want – create content about useful and helpful things, share it, help companies for free using the expertise you’ve developed from your product. Earn goodwill, it pays off.

A huge thank you to the amazing people who accepted my invitation  this week and had the courage and humility to ask for help. Needless to say, I’m deeply enjoying these conversations and hope for many more.

If you or anyone you know would find a conversation with me helpful – book a time on my office hours, show up and lets do this thing!

 

I'm Delighted By: Fitness Blender

In my previous life as an agile coach, I travelled a lot and stayed in hotels, airbnbs and other accommodation. Most didn’t have gyms and, to be honest, I’m not really a gym person.

Now anyone who knows consulting, knows you eat out almost exclusively whilst on the road and anyone who knows me, knows I like both my food and wine (and cocktails and desserts!) So staying fit and healthy on the road is doubly hard!

But a few years ago, I discovered Fitness Blender and I began to do their workouts whilst on the road. They have such a wide range of really great workouts for every phase of fitness. From less than 10 minute long easy workouts to more than an hour workouts that would literally have your lungs in your mouth!

The best thing about Kelli and Daniel – the founders –  is that they do the workouts with you. They feel exhausted at the same points you feel exhausted, when they say ‘what a burn’, you feel like they spoke for you. Oh, and the workout videos are free – they make some money from advertising and selling longer programs but you can get fit and stay healthy for free!

They have lots of workouts but my favourite are the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) videos that need nothing but bodyweight (and do I have a lot of that – less since I started with them!). The HIIT workouts are generally short – bookended with warm up and cool down, they are between 15 and 35 minutes long.

Now that I’m not on the road that much, I still do their workouts 3 times a week, I’ve never met them in person, but they are like old friends!

I seriously think that without these guys, I would be dead by now.

Please, if you are on the road a lot, don’t feel that you can’t keep fit and healthy. You always have time for one of their workouts. Look after yourselves – you aren’t any good to anyone dead.

Thank you @fitnessblender!

30 Day Challenge: 5 minutes of planks everyday!

Challenge Yourself!

I decided at the end of January that it would be a good idea to force a habit of exercise and do something every day that is both hard and beneficial.

So, the 30 day challenge was born – technically it runs for calendar months not strictly 30 days, but it still works.

First up – are 5 minutes of plank exercises every day during February.

I’m already 10 days into it and it is only just getting easier. Coupled with the HIIT and CrossFit that I also do in the week – some days the planks completely finish me off.

That said – doing them first thing in the morning is such a sense of achievement and sets me up for the day.

If you would like to do the same challenge, here are the exercises:

Kudos to Neila Rey who put the visual together!

I use the very useful IntervalTimer by Seconds Pro to help me not cheat on the timing. Here is the timer for this plank workout.

Challenge yourself!

Next for March: 3 minutes of High Knees every morning!

Why I don't cheat.

A tale of 2 exam papers

Twenty seven years ago, in a small but important town in southern Nigeria,  two teenage boys – bored with revising for their GCSEs – succumbed to the temptation of ‘guaranteeing the outcome’ of their Chemistry exam.

As with any situation with demand, supply always rises to meet it. As such, both boys independently went off to acquire the exam paper from different sources.

A few days later, they jubilantly reunited – each with their exam paper – suitably contained in large brown envelopes. As each boy opened his envelope and read the questions to see how well they were prepared, the first student commented that one of the questions didn’t make sense, thus prompting the second boy to look at the question.

Before too long, both boys looked at the papers side by side in disbelief. Both papers seemed identical on the front page but as soon as the pages were turned, the questions were completely different.

If they were different to each other, were either the correct paper or were both actually just passable fakes.

Despite their unscrupulous intentions, lady luck smiled on the boys. They still had a week before the exam and, to put it mildly, resumed revising with unquestionable focus.

One of those boys was me. I remembered I paid 70 Naira for my fake exam papers, at the time that was about £20.

That was the first and ultimately the last time I ever tried to cheat – neither in an exam or in any dealings with anyone.

Lessons to live by

That experience held some powerful lessons for a young person to learn, namely:

That some things are too good to be true – especially when the alternative is hard work. That the time you spend chasing the quick win is valuable time being ‘stolen’ from working hard on the surer win.

Something quite tremendous happened in addition to the lesson – I developed a strong principle of not cheating and not tolerating it from anyone else.

This is not to say don’t look for shortcuts – because there are some. But rather, invest in looking for the honest ones, that don’t compromise your principles. Of course, if you don’t have that principle then none of this matters.

What experiences and lessons about cheating have you had? Or what principles have you developed from your own experiences – I’d love to hear them.

 

Offer: Let's have a helpful conversation

It seems that when I’m most busy is when I also seem to want to share and help others the most – so continuing in a long established tradition, I would like to offer some office hours to help anyone who needs it.

But first – at the risk of inventing another buzzword/phrase that gets trademarked and certified, what is a ‘helpful conversation’?

It is simply a time that you bring something a person needs help on, we talk about it and you leave feeling better, clearer, energised or otherwise ‘helped’. If you don’t leave the conversation feeling like it was s good spend of your time, then we haven’t had a ‘helpful conversation’.

It isn’t free, it’s priceless.

My time is the most precious thing I have and I offer it, in the hope that we both have a brilliant conversation and learn and share from each other. My reward is knowing that I helped you.

So, what could be helpful to you?

Here are some things I know I can help with:

Startups

because I’ve spent the last 15 years learning by doing

Bootstrapping a startup
Designing your test-the-market strategy – MVPs, guerrilla testing
Essential tools I use everyday to planning, testing, prototyping etc super easy
Designing marketing experiments
Dealing with failure – how to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’
Hiring and equity sharing
Advising your startup on a regular basis

Agile Things

because I’ve been coaching for over 10 years and been a dev, product guy, maker in this space for the last 16 years 

Most things about Scrum, Kanban, Lean and variations therein.
Should you get agile certification? I have an alternative view and can help talk you through your options.
Building and growing self-organisation, empowered teams
Being an effective manager or executive in an agile organisation or during a transition

Helping People be Successful & Joyful

because that is basically what my entire career has been about – and I love it.

Using improv to get better at being present, collaborative and generally ‘good to work with’
Software and tech industry career advice – what you might want to invest in (and not) as you start out in tech –  attitudes and essential skills
Valuing learning and relationships.
Getting mentors

Business meeting culture

because I built a startup to fix this and it has 6000 users.

Simple techniques to transform your personal meeting behaviour
Make any meeting better (or at the very least, suck less)
Helping your organisation have fewer and better meetings

I want a helpful conversation,  how do we do this?

I thought you’d never ask! This is simple as pie.

If you don’t know anything about me – I encourage you to check out my about page, my LinkedIn and some of my tweets.

Then, if you think I could be helpful,  checkout my office hours availability, book an available time slot and show up.

There, all done. I look forward helping however I can.

 

Be a Person of Substance

I love to take my dog – Maya – for walks and she loves it when I throw for her and she fetches. A long throw really helps her open up the speed!

As I took her for a walk this morning, I brought with us one of her ‘throw and chew’ balls. Much like a tennis ball but squidgier.

Usually I throw rocks for her and I have a pretty long throw – but despite my usual effort, this ball didn’t travel as far.

Now, it was substantially larger than a stone and almost perfectly spherical – looking picture perfect to throw, but it lacked density and this is why it didn’t make the most of the strength with which it was hurled. In fact, sometimes it only travelled a few meters! Needless to say, Maya was none too pleased.

It got me thinking

I believe that Life, the Universe and the force that is greater than us all, seems to want to propel us to great heights towards what we wish for ourselves, but what do we bring to this ambition to help it along?

If life presents an opportunity to propel a person forward – perhaps to greater learning and prosperity, how does that person get themselves in a position to maximise how far they travel?

As I pondered this, I wondered if the density or substance of the rock was more suitable to be propelled than the ball – which ‘looked’ like the best thing to be propelled.

What is the substance of a person that helps them make the most of the propulsion that life offers? Seems to me that by the time the opportunity arrives,  there is likely very little a person can do to acquire the skills to make the most of that particular gift. So it seems substance is a set of general characteristics and capabilities.

Here’s a list of attributes that I think count as ‘substance’ by which a person ‘goes far’.

  1. Integrity – being true to your word and being guided by your principles.
  2. Being good to work with – being respectful of others, open to collaboration.
  3. Being adaptable – anticipating and responding elegantly to change,
  4. Learning what they need to – and quickly.
  5. Being generous – with their time, knowledge and resources.
  6. Being open – in mind and of heart.
  7. Persistence –  knowing when to push on (and pushing on) and when to pull out.

I’m sure this is not exhaustive but what do you think?
Do you agree with my list, can you think of any more?
How does one develop these capacities to be a person of substance?