Monday, June 20, 2016

Grit with the Nuances (Book Review)

The headline version of what Grit is and how it is important to success doesn’t do the concept justice. That hard work and persistence are as much, if not more, important to talent for success is both appealing on the surface and simplistic. Many subtle details get lost in the elevator pitch, and reading Grit answered many of my questions, and gave me some guidance on how to be more successful in reaching my goals, and how to give my child tools to do the same.

Duckworth draws on the work of people like Cyzmenthaly (Flow), Seligman (Learned Optimism), Carol Dweck (Mindset), Adam Grant (Originals, Give and Take ) . I’ve followed the work of all of these people in my quest to better understand how to help teams be more effective, and also how to be a better parent. These concepts are more widely applicable than you might initially think. Flow first came to my attention via Kent Beck, and Learned Optimism via a reference in a book by Jurgen Appelo (Management 3.0) Team and family dynamics have a lot in common.; Gerald Weinberg often refers to the work of Virginia Satir in his writings on quality management.

Through a combination of summaries of her research, stories, and discussions of things to do Duckworth both helps you understand the nuances of grit, and give you ideas for ways to understand and improve the level of grittiness for yourself and those in your charge. Parents, managers, and leaders will find this book an inspiring read. Well written and easy to get through quickly, and you will find yourself wanting to refer to your notes and bookmarks often.

My favorite line from the book is “before hard work comes play” which summarizes the concept that to be gritty you really need a goal that engages you, and it may take some time to discover that. While some of the headlines on grit left me wondering about were how much torturous hard work was involved in being gritty as opposed to just having fun, Duckworth’s use of the phrase “play before passion” was both comforting and intuitive to me. It takes a while to understand what gets you interested, and only once you find those things can you apply yourself in a way that doesn’t totally wear you down.

If you’ve read Mindset, Originals, or Give and Take, there will be some familiar moments. Flow, Learned Optimism, Growth Mindset, and Grit compliment each other; one can lead to another. That I’ve read many of those books over the years in my quest to better understand motivation and engagement (and thus try to be a better manager and parent) may speak to my “Grittiness”

Duckworth also speaks to the issue of practicality. Some passions aren’t practical pursuits, but she gives examples of people who incorporated seemingly impractical passions into their more pedestrian careers to be both successful and helpful. Likewise she relates stories of people who do seemingly mundane things (managing a subway system, managing a janitorial company) and find it extremely rewarding. Since you can only have so many goals that you can focus on, finding commonality between goals is also helpful. For example, many of the things I learn about being a better parent are applicable in people management, and vis versa.

Along with a non-academic description of the theory of Grit, Duckworth discusses how you can better understand and develop your Grittiness and help your children develop it. This book goes into more detail about what Grit is, resolving many of my questions about what Grit really meant and how to improve it (possible) and measure it (not simply). This is a very clear discussion of what Grit is, and is not, and also a pragmatic guide to finding your passion, and develop your skills. If you are a parent, a manager, of just someone trying to master a skill, Grit will inspire you and give you much to ponder.


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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Recent Reads: Leadership, Use Cases

Here are a few articles I’ve read recently that I though were worth sharing. The first two are by Kate Mastudaira, who’s ACM articles on people management are always well written and often seem to be consistent with things I’ve learned from reading and speaking with Jerry Weinberg. The third is from the person many most associate with Use Cases, Ivar Jacobson, about an update to Use Cases that seems to align more closely with agile methods.

Delegation as Art by Kate Matsudaira

A good discussion about what it means to be a “senior engineer.” in particular, “senior” implies leadership, which implies teaching. This quote hits the highlights, but the article is still worth a read:

Being a senior engineer means having strong technical skills, the ability to communicate well and navigate ambiguous situations, and most important of all, the ability to grow and lead other people.

Nine Things I Didn't Know I Would Learn Being an Engineer Manager by Kate Matsudaira

This article explains why being a good engineering manager is not all about technical skill, but also (more so?) about communicating, coordinating, and listening. Kate Mats also shares links to resources about techniques to use to improve your non-technical skills. Whether you agree or not with what she says, her points can get you thinking.

Use Case 2.0 by Ivar Jacobson

This article goes into an updated view of use cases, adopting a few ideas from agile planning. Since Use Cases are the canonical way people like to talk about requirements on traditional projects, knowing about this might be a good way to bridge the gap between “waterfall” and “agile” projects.