Friday, October 31, 2014

How do you lead?

Seth wrote an interesting article a few weeks ago I haven't been able to get out of my head. For those that don't know, he's the author of the most popular blog in the world, and it focuses on business. The article in question is about how going around the room to see what everyone has to say is a waste of time. I'm not sure that I agree with him totally, but I have been trying to come up with an argument to dispute the idea, and the one time from my experience when it really makes sense was in grad school when our lab group had our weekly group update. We were all working on similar projects, so when someone had a breakthrough or needed help, he or she could share that and likely enlist help of others, or help others through the same breakthrough. I liked it because we didn't all sit by each other so we didn't talk about our research every hour, which is to say physical proximity is a huge benefit for collaboration. Plus, rather than unexpectedly going around the room people often had a slide presentation to show to prepare for a conference, and you knew that every week you would have to give an update on your progress.

What really intrigued me was the thought that leaders fail when saying, "let's go around the room". In other words, meetings are usually not the best use of everyone's time, everyone knows that, but the idea that a leader can fail... I just don't think in those explicit terms. I mean, for the leader of a meeting the meeting is most helpful and not a waste of your time, afterall you called it, you want everyone in the room at the same time. Yet this reminds me of my favorite Lao Tzu quote,

"Of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will say, “We did this ourselves.” 

In other words, calling a meeting, and having people actually show up, means you are something of a leader. If you were not a leader in some manner, they would not show up. (Shoutout to W.L. Gore organization studdies, and Gary Hamel, for making this explicit for me!) Yet at the same time a good leader is not necessairly the one getting the credit. Much of today's organization in many organizations is based on military efficiency, platoon leaders report to the company leader, who reports to the battalian leader, who reports to the regiment leader. In that way, status reports go up the chain and orders go down the chain. This structure ultimately rewards much of the credit to the generals at the top. This structure works, it has been around a long time, but just because you are a leader, and you get the positive credit for your team's work, does not mean you are a very successful leader. If we say that people work a 40 hour week, one hour is 2.5% of that time. Two hours is 5% of that time. The point is, getting the best out of the team usually means letting people do the things they are skilled at and not slowing them down with bearaucracy. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't bug me.

I have a dream, that one day people will fix the problems they find instead of leaving them up to others. I have learned that people will take as much from you as you let them take, and then ask for a little more. It is the conundrum of productivity growth, how to get more done per person hour, to infinitity. Productivity growth in the US is not what it has been in the past. Although compared to wages, it's still pretty good.

Something that frustrates me is the volume of talking for the dearth of doing. Here is yet another example of a group, part of the running community, degrading and harrassing a member for being herself. I read a different article a few days ago about a young female 2:28 marathoner that was getting blasted on, which is ridiculous because a 2:28 is not easy.

I can't solve your problem. Okay, maybe I can, I can solve a lot of problems. Although, you can probably solve your problem better than I can and the reason is you know exactly what you want and even if you communicate it really well, I will probably use my imagination to make it different than you envisoned. What does this have to do with "don't bug me"? It's a plea for you to solve the problems you are good at.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

We Failed on Most Early Space Missions

I have been rewatching a great Discovery Channel miniseries: "When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions". 
We failed so many times. Gemini 8 Neil Armstrong almost died due to a thruster misfiring. While Ed White's first spacewalk went really well, the next three attempts were failures until Buzz Aldrin decided to train in a pool. Then there were the computer errors from Mercury to Apollo, even minutes before the first landing on the moon, "1202!... 1201!"

I have watched the series several times, it's really good. Yet I seriously did not realize until tonight how often we failed in the early years. Sensors failed. Control systems gave the wrong angles. It's amazing that it took until 1986 for a rocket with Americans to blow up at launch, I mean Orbital Sciences just had one blow up this week. SpaceX I think had their first three rockets blow up and Elon Musk gave a speech to the team at the time saying there was only money for one more shot, and they succeeded! 

In my short engineering career I have learned that development is like that. We try something, hopefully it works, but inevitably it fails. You might be stunned to know that billions of dollars a year are spent on products and prototypes that are inevitably scrapped or left to rust or simply destroyed as examples of insufficient designs. There are no perfect designs, although some are clearly better than others. 

The moral of the story is it is okay to fail. Preferably fail fast and fail early although anytime you try to do something new, it will be hard.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ladies, I'm So Sorry!

I recently listened to only the fourth person in my life tell me she had been sexually assaulted. That brings the count to three women and one man. It's terrible.

I've never even touched a woman, I can't even remember hitting my sister, although I did chase her around the house sometimes. I suppose I've had many hugs, but you get the idea, I'm not the one physically assaulting these girls. (Don't take that to mean I'm innocent, taking lust to be a sin as I do, I've certainly sinned. Not to mention the emotional or mental difficulties I have put up for other people.) The point being, it's a tragedy. 

One of the many reasons I'm not more, uh, forward, with women is that I know the statistics on how many women have been assaulted or abused and I am terrified that I would in some way leave her emotionally, or some other way, hurt. For those of you that know me, you probably think this is ridiculous, that I, all 5'5" and 128 pounds, fear hurting a woman. Yet the fact remains, 20% of women are sexually assaulted in college, and somewhere over a third, maybe even half, over the course of their lifetimes. It's just staggering. There is so much pain in the world, I just don't want to be part of it. 

Ladies, I'm so sorry. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 175

Another week living the dream! It doesn't always feel that way, but simply saying it makes it more likely that I am in a good place.

The week started off well, I went to church and Sunday school, then went for a 22 mile run at 6:45 pace which was faster than I intended. It's always nice to run faster than the plan and feel good doing it. After that I pretty much just laid around until my parents showed up for supper. I should mention my parents bought a new car, a Prius C. In this country it's almost as small as cars go, but after riding a few miles in the back seat of it, I thought it was plenty big. Another interesting fact about cars, interest rates in this country are so low that 0% loans are relatively common for cars today. It's like free money. Third, this is the first car my parents have bought new since like 1989, or maybe 1990. Otherwise, it's always been used cars for our entire family, we could never really afford a new car, any of the four of us, the last quarter century. Wow, sounds strange to say it like that. Yet in that same quarter century the four of us have always had at least two cars, and as many as five. I write this from the perspective of people I know in the US getting new, and not inexpensive, cars every few years, while other people I know in India and Africa don't even own a car.

The week at work was quiet actually. I have a funny story from work. We were in a meeting, on a conference call, all with people I know rather well and see in person most weeks. Anyway, a couple people were asking to be included on everything that changes at this point in the program, and I must have gotten visibly flustered, because the leader of the meeting said something like, "Isaiah's turning red over here. Okay, let it out, what do you have to say?" So I said a couple sentences about how I felt we already were communicating everything, how much more detail did people want? That was all I had to say. So a coworker chimed in and talked about three times as long about a couple issues. It boiled down to, we don't want to change anything in the next few months. Sometimes it just feels good to blow off a little steam and let people know where I stand.

Running just went great this week! Three doubles, a total of 112 miles, that's 97 miles in singles, a 22 mile run, a 20 mile run and a nice 3 x mile workout. I have been running with a couple UW Platteville alumni and they are great to have around! They are all faster than me, at least at shorter distances, like 10k and down. So Thursday, on a beautiful 52°F afternoon we did this crazy workout I would never write for myself, 3 x mile with a mile rest between, three mile warm up and four mile cool down. Ridiculous. If I'm doing only three miles of quality, we're keeping the rest under two minutes. And what's up with a four mile cool down? However, all of those details that I would never plan myself, just go to show that we can easily get bogged down in the details and fail to keep our eyes on the big picture. I ran three miles at about 5:17 pace. Plus, I ended up with 18 miles total for the day. It was a fantastic workout, the best mile repeats I have had since maybe February. To cap it off I did my first long run with pace variation Saturday. 13 mile warmup in 1:25, then 5:55, 5:40, 5:55, 5:40, 5:55 and a two mile cool down in 12:50. I felt like I was struggling, the whole way, even from the outset on the "warmup" yet I managed to hit pace quite well, I even got out at 5:30 pace for the first half mile of the last 5:40 mile. In the coming month I will do a couple more of these, with longer and more challenging pace variation. It was really nice that this one, and really this whole week, went so well.

Not much else to report, I "went out" on Friday night for seriously a half hour, just to drop off a rock climbing guide book at a bar where some friends were, I didn't even have anything to eat or drink. I feel bad when I spend time in a place and don't patronize them, but I suppose I don't feel bad enough to stop doing it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Get Outside!

The weather in the Midwest US is great right now, and will be all weekend, get outside and enjoy it! Taking my own advice, I'm about to go run on some trails. Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where Coaches Go Wrong

I was discussing college track and cross country with another former NCAA competitor, and I realized I need to blog about this. Many, easily the majority, of competitive college distance runners, let alone every other sport, quit when they graduate, at least temporarily. For many, the joy of the sport that children have has been lost in a dreary 1984 like daily grind. It does not have to be this way. 

This relates to yesterday's post about happiness and the endocrine system. The endocrine system needs time to recover. Anyone who pushes physically very hard three times a week and moderately hard three or four more days per week for 25 weeks is going to need some rest so the adrenaline glands can take a break and let your body resensitize to the effects of the adrenaline. I have never heard a college coach say, "take a month off at the end of the season." Usually they recommend one to two weeks, maybe three. Don't take this to mean coaches are hard driving uncaring authority figures. Instead, I feel it is more related to the nature of training. In other words, we study for hours how workouts improve this function or that function and take a few minutes to mention eating well and getting your rest. We know from experience that two months of training is better than one month and three months is better than two months. So we think of training as an infinite incline. Do a little more or faster evey week, then you become the national champion. That however is not the truth. I don't understand all of the science behind it but when you train your body supercompensates to recover and build you stronger than before. These minicycles, after every single workout are great, but they aren't infinite. If you pump 10 microliters of a hormone like adrenaline or cortisol into your body every day, and 30 microliters (I'm making these numbers up) two or three times a week, eventually your body does not react the same way to the hormone, or externally to the stress you put it under. It's the same with coffee, eventually that one cup in the morning becomes two because one cup doesn't give the kick it used to.

The perfect example is the transition from cross country to indoor track. The better the runner the more difficult the transition. Most track programs start in early November. At this point it is the sprinters, jumpers and throwers practicing. Cross country ends for all but the varsity seven to ten people in late October. So by mid November many of them are running again. For the top people who run regionals and even nationals by the time their season finishes and they have taken a week off, everyone else on the team, maybe 50 even 100 people, are training again. The pressure to jump in workouts and start building the mileage is on. Every runner feels the need to be part of the team and to build on the successes, or make up for the failures, of the recent cross country season. The catch is, the runners who are at regionals and nationals have been putting in eight or ten or more hours of pure running, not to mention gym time and cross training, since at least June and quite possibly May. A week off doesn't cut it. 

So take a month off. That being said, "off" does not have to mean no activity. I will often be running in a week or two of a season ending big race, but often slow, short runs that keep my heart rate down. I also take more days off during the recovery. The point being, take it easy. Work hard, rest hard.