Should anyone ask, I ran

I ran this morning. It was good.

Yesterday evening I chatted with a friend. She helped me put things into perspective. Perspective helps. There’s the Churchill quote (not exact) “when you walk through the valley of darkness, keep walking”. But knowing that you are in a valley with an ends helps. Moving forward always helps me.

I’ve been a big fan of Mixergy. Today I’m listening to Andrew Warner’s discussion about creating a mastermind group. And the power of turning over problems verbally as a way of getting stuff out of the countermind.

I tried creating a mastermind group when I lived in Munich. But after listening to this interview, good mastermind groups are made of up people who are at the same level. I’d like to create a new group. Some takeaways from the interview are:

  • meet every fortnight
  • meet for 90 minutes on a Hangout / in person doesn’t matter and commute time destroys productivity.
  • start with an inspiring quote.
  • then 10 minutes of general chit-chat.
  • jump into updates
  • two modes of feedback requesting: “gloves off” or “just feedback please”
  • set individual goals for the next meeting
  • A mastermind group needs a group leader to keep things on track.
  • The phrase “you are saying one thing, but your body language is saying something else” can help dig into things.

So I’d like to start a mastermind group with people working on SAAS products. Reach me on simon@imaginator.com to see if you would be a good fit.

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Should anyone ask, everything is a mountain.

What do you when you’re at work sitting in front of a computer trying and failing to concentrate on the code in front of you?

When even the most straightforward requirements seem like an impenetrable nests of complications and edge cases to your tired mind?

I find myself just staring into my computer, for hours. No movement, just staring.

11 weeks to go until the Christmas break.

At the same time I’m working on something that could potentially be really exciting and have a huge impact. But just want to walk away and curl up in a ball. And just want to go away next week. But I have no idea where to. Or who with. Or if I can justify it. Or even deal with the planning mountain.

Tomorrow I’m supposed to be excited and giving a talk in Hamburg. I want to stay in bed. 

Changes:

  • Morning running. I need to get this back on track. Signed up for the Berlin half marathon in April.
  • Consulting. Feel better about finances. No point in worrying about this if I can fix it.
  • Ask for help. I have lovely friends. I have a hard time asking for help.
  • Connect with friends. Past depressions have been my mind overheating: stuck in a loop looking for an answer that isn’t there for the finding. 
  • Rock climbing. I want to start this again. I like it because of the intensity. I can’t think of anything else when I’m on the wall. And it’s nice to just think about one thing at a time. 

Should anyone ask, strategy

My thinking can often drift off into the details. A strategy talk will quickly become me latching onto a small problem and the conversation or thinking process stops being big picture. To avoid this I try to think through problems with someone. The process of talking about something, putting words to vague feeling and being nudged forward with good questions helps me create a plan of action.

Strategy builds on our fundamental beliefs: Jack Walsh is known for his “people first, strategy and everything else second”. I liked that. I believe that when you surround yourself with the right people, things can more easily fall into place and work becomes fun. I’ve been on both sides of this. Working with great people where the work flows. And working with people where I’ve been reincarnated as Sisyphus.

But knowing yourself isn’t always easy. We feel our fundamental beliefs but need to put them into words and communicate them. I find that hard. Recently I had the situation where I had to make a difficult decision. I ended up using a rather interesting decision making approach: gut, data, gut. “there’s no perfect data” and “there’s no perfect intuition”. The data looked great. The gut kinda looked good. But something was nagging me. And I walked away from the deal. I’ll never know if it was right or wrong. But had to trust my instinct. At a younger age, I’d probably have jumped in.

Summary: trying to know myself, and my weaknesses helps build a stronger strategy.

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Should anyone ask, belief/optimism

I like being around people who believe. I find their optimism about an imagined better future because of what they are building is a huge motivator for me.

Optimism is power. I imagine some of the worst hardships - solitary confinement: optimistic people tend to succeed because they believe that everything will turn out right and the expectation of success makes them work harder. Great leaders also have an unusual ability to face up to stark reality, so creating a single powerful attribute: tough-minded optimism.

Should anyone ask, Passion

Should anyone ask, how does one sustain passion in work or in a relationship beyond the initial flurry of hormones beyond the initial excitement over a new project or relationship?

For me it’s about finding something that resonates with who I am. Then there’s the whole concept of finding out who I am discovering what works and what doesn’t work for me. But if I look back on times when I’ve been most engrossed in a project (I’d argue I was passionate about it), they were times when I was using all my skills to the right level. The “flow state” / “being in the zone” is when I feel  fully immersed and have amazing focus. Everything else blurs away.

This works because the project matches me. My skills are matching it. This is when the passion happens.

For me the passion is tested when a project hits hardships. How I deal with non-flow stuff/junk/bs is the true test of whether something is a work fling or a durable passion. It’s never going to be all easy. But being passionate about what I do carries me through and work becomes fun. And I can be myself.

And I really like that.

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Should anyone ask, choose your own adventure

There is no rulebook.

No Celestial Compendium of Benevolent Knowledge.

There’s many a 10 step programme. An infinite supply of advisors. And our parents.

Ultimately we all want happiness. A steady stream of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. Not too much all the time. Not too little ever.

How we get the right amount at the right rate is down to how we create our own rulebook. Get up. Make the bed. Shower. Eat healthy food. Be nice.

I once tried to write my life manifesto. And indeed still have a monthly “manifesto review” for the first Sunday of every month. In 2008 I read about 60 self-help books. And summarised the main points in each of them. From this I noticed that successful people have the following characteristics:

  • Passion
  • Belief
  • Strategy
  • Communication skills
  • Working hard
  • Being disciplined/creating good habits.

The other thing that came out of this was about belief in oneself: believe about yourself what you would like others to believe about you. The manifesto work was to make sure I was actively working on those 6 areas.

The other part was that there is a big gap between the knowledge or capacity and the acting on it. Be proactive.

In the next few posts I’ll dive into each of those areas.

Going home

Should anyone ask, how to consume podcasts

Podcasts are my longform media. I consume lots of podcasts. They are my anti-television and an echo to the radio that would play back thoughtful BBC World service broadcasts from my father’s workshop in information-dark South Africa in the late 80s. Podcasts are the roughage in the titbit driven information diet. 

Enough with the analogies, you are here to know what and how. 

How to listen

Download Pocket Casts (iOS / Android). It’s about the price of a coffee. And when you consider that you get free upgrades year after year, great value. You could try all the others. The Doggcatcher, the built in Apple podcast (worst of them all) and BeyondPod. I’ve worked my way through them all and arrived at Pocket Casts.

Pocket Casts ensures you always have a supply of the podcasts you follow on your device. Freshly plucked from a WiFi access point near you so you aren’t using up valuable mobile data. Pocket Casts presents the podcasts beautifully, with nice show notes on an intuitive interface.

Other features I like:

  • The ability to play some podcasts faster (for example BBC podcasts can comfortably be played back at about 1.5x speed, and I’d play back a German podcast slightly slower.) Pocket Casts will also pitch adjust so your podcaster doesn’t sound like Mickey Mouse. 
  • Pocket Casts will auto-delete podcasts you have listened to, or always keep the five latest episodes. You can star episodes you have liked and they will be saved. I use this feature for saving some DJ mixes to listen to again when running.
  • Subscription and listening position synchronisation: subscribe on your phone. Listen on your tablet. Finish off on their webpage. Everything is synchronised.

NB: This is not a paid promotion for Pocket Casts, simply me having tried all the other podcast tools and finding Pocket Casts to be significantly better. 

What to listen to

My podcasts subscriptions can be imported into Pocket Casts.

Discovering your own favourite podcasts:

Most of my podcast grazing comes from personal recommendation. Occasionally hackernews will include a “what podcasts is everyone listening to”? AskHN.

Pocket Casts also includes a helpful “ Discover” tab. This helps you search for podcasts by name without needing to know the subscription URL. However, the discover tab could benefit from a:

  • “based on your current subscriptions you might like ….” and, 
  • “podcasts similar to this podcast” feature.

Specific favourite podcasts:

  • Storytelling: The Moth, where a bunch of storytellers get on stage and recount their lives: some sad, some humerous. All touching.
  • Fun: The Prarie Home Companion/The News From Lake Wobegon. "Where all the women are strong, where all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.“
  • Economics: I’m a big fan of Econtalks and the Economist. Econtalks dives deeper into a topic, The Economist talks around the weekly articles.
  • BBC podcasts: Most BBC radio programmes are available as podcasts.

Podcasts suggestions to simon@imaginator.com are always welcomed!

Should anyone ask, being around people.

Today was a good day: I received a letter in the morning that was very touching. And then cycled north from Berlin, seventy-something kilometers to Vogelsang to look at the old Soviet machinery, buildings and climb a very tall chimney to get an amazing view over the forest.
The military history angle was interesting.

But really it was just lovely being out of the city and having nice company.

Thanks to Mizar for arranging.

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Should anyone ask, attachment to ideas

Ideologies suck! 

Ideologies rule!

What makes a good ideology? Is it because it’s something that I also believe in? Like open source? Or don’t kill your enemies? Or believe in $DEITY? Or staying true to an idea?

Or other beliefs: Staying with a partner in a challenging  relationship? Or working on something that isn’t working out in the hope of things turning around?

How long should we cling to an ideology before we let got and are freed to accept new beliefs? How long do we keep trying to make something work?

I’ve never been a huge fan of the MVP school of thought. My take on it is that it’s more of a “make something shitty and find a victim.” There’s no minimum viable iPhone or no minimum viable Pebble watch. Products need love and care to come to life. Throwing spaghetti against the wall will tell you if it’s cooked. It won’t tell you if it’s going to make a great meal.

So I’ve been working on different ideas pushing them along hoping that they will catch. I don’t have the answer. But I do know that ideologies can both support us (respect others), and be destructive (martyr yourself for a greater cause). 

But there’s also a time when we need to let go of some idea to make space for new ones. There’s good letting go and there’s throwing away. To me a good letting go is more a case of… “so we’ve come this far, now let’s build on what we have but in a different direction”. 

Today has been an interesting day of exploring something same-but-different. A pimp-your-ideology-into-something-better day. Time to jump back into the saddle and head off in a new direction.

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Should anyone ask, taking breaks

I’ve usually relied on partners to prod my reticent self into taking a break with them. The freedom of working for your own company and choosing times usually results in my working until I burn-out, then taking a quick break that doesn’t really do much for recovery, and then jumping back on the horse.

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I started this year in great form: a lovely trip to South Africa paddling down the Orange River through the Namibian desert with my cousin. It was a wonderful holiday. Work has been hard. Really hard. There was a work trip around Easter with a few days off, then a week’s stay-cation in Berlin. Not really a holiday. And too many other things going on to really relax. And so it is today: feeling close to being burned out and knowing that I must look after myself if I want to prevent full-burnout. It’s not a good situation to be in and I can only blame myself.

I love travelling. That feeling of taking off and leaving the day-to-day behind and the adventure of exploring a new place.

At the end of this year I’m meeting an old school friend in South Africa’s Hluleka Nature Reserve. It’s a wonderfully desolate part of the Wild Coast.

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Until then, I need to plan a break but don’t see how to take it. And don’t see how to survive without taking it. 

Should anyone ask, today wasn't perfect

Not a perfect run. 

Not all the way. 

Stopped some of the way. 

Walked and thought some of the way. 

One of the headphones didn’t work. 

It was perfectly imperfect. 

Yesterday I listened in on one of Wendy’s friend’s video workshops. It was about observing the ego and being aware of the need to distance ourselves from our feelings. Observing that you talk negatively to yourself as a means to improve the inner dialogue into something of a fanclub rather than the angry “you’re not perfect” coach. 

I’ve also started the Monash university mindfulness course. I really liked week 1. Less woo-woo, more science of how our brains deal with interrupts and the professional value of being in the moment. Excited to see where the next 6 weeks take us. 

And that was an almost perfectly late blog post. Goodnight.

Should anyone ask, imperfection isn’t easy

Life is really easy. Instead of nobody handing you a life-manual there are thousands being stuffed down your throat. From old-school Bible-types with rather dubious advice to newer self-help gurus and their amazon hit sellers. Then there are the manuals of manuals: I enjoyed Tom Butler Bowden’s distillation of all the great self-help books into 50 Self-Help Classics and his 50 Success Classics. The chapters were short enough to get the gist of the the book and 50 was enough to see trends popping up between all the books. It’s a good read. But ultimately I think we need to write and rewrite our own self-help books. Write oneself, because we are all different. Rewrite, because we change.

Yesterday I was at the Mauerpark Bearpit Karaoke session and a singer was singing John Legend’s All of Me. The song includes the lines

“Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections”

I liked that.

Should anyone ask, an exercise in imperfection.

Forcing myself to write something everyday and post it a good exercise in reducing perfectionism.

The idea is that I write something in a time-boxed fashion so that I’m forced to upload it, forced to not correct it, forced to just accept it as it is and get it out they get it online even if its imperfect.



Secondly, I’ve always enjoyed long form writing, but its a huge leap between daily life’s flow of events and the writing flow. The idea of setting a daily commitment is scary and exciting. Let’s see how long this can go for.

Vagrant, Saltstack & “saltyvagrant”

I was banging against Vagrant’s preferred way of doing salt deployments. Horrible nasty huge bash scripts that cater for every possibility.

I just wanted to spin up: 

  • a reasonably modern Ubuntu version
  • set it up as a master/minion on the same machine
  • copy in my salt master config and my salt minion config
  • call salt -v "*" state.highstate

Strange things would fail. I was filled with sadness.

Then I fixed things.

Add the following lines to your Vagrantfile:

#!/bin/sh
export DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive
apt-get --yes -q install python-software-properties
add-apt-repository ppa:saltstack/salt2015-5 -y
apt-get --yes -q update
mkdir /etc/salt
apt-get --yes -q install python-git salt-master salt-minion
cp /srv/vagrant_salt_bootstrap/master /etc/salt/master
cp /srv/vagrant_salt_bootstrap/minion /etc/salt/minion
restart salt-minion
restart salt-master
sleep 10
salt-key -y -a '*'
sleep 10
salt -v "*" state.highstate -l debug

call this from your Vagrantfile with the following configuration:

config.vm.synced_folder "saltstack/vagrant_salt_bootstrap", "/srv/vagrant_salt_bootstrap"
config.vm.provision :shell, :inline => "sudo /srv/vagrant_salt_bootstrap/bootstrap.sh"

You can see it in action in the buddycloud-vm project.

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