mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Manager Reads - Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Next up on my path of boosting my managerial skills: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Sheila Heen, Bruce Patton, and Douglas Stone.

Who recommended the book? This book won the most recent round of popular voting by members of the Twitch Book Guild. This guild is similar to the Twitch Manager Book Club but the books we read cover a wider latitudes of topics and aren’t strictly focused on management or people skills.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The cover here does not get a great rating. There are a lot of colors clashing all over the cover: purple, red, plated gold, orange, and white. The white text on the shiny plated gold is definitely the worst offender here. The paper inside the book is pretty thin so it was common for highlighter ink to bleed over to the other side. Even worse, there was some printing issues which caused pages to be printed slanted and closer to the top of the page than I believe was originally intended. The font was okay. For Difficult Conversations, it’s a great thing I only judge a book by its cover for entertainment value.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? Difficult Conversations is densely packed with (likely) everything you need to know about working your way through tricky situations. At a high-level this starts with walking through the three components of a conversation:

  1. What happened? What is your story, how did you get to it, what assumptions are you making? Shift from jumping to the blame game to figuring out what each person contributed to the situation.
  2. Understand your emotions. We’d like to believe we can keep emotions out but we can’t. So acknowledge them, understand them, and go from there.
  3. Ground your identity. Figure out how the conversation impacts how you view yourself so you can remain grounded.

From there they transition to strategies on having a successful difficult conversation:

  • Check your purposes and decide if it’s worth raising the issue. What do you hope to get out of this conversation and is a conversation the best way to address the issue at hand?
  • Start from the Third Story. Don’t start with your story or their story, but a more neutral stance where it’ll be more natural to identify the difference in your respective stories.
  • Explore their story and yours. Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen! After listening some more share your own viewpoint and when the conversation is veering towards unproductivity try reframing to get back on track.
  • Do some problem-solving. Good solutions will involve mutual care-taking where both sides contribute to the solution.

This big take-away overview is just that; the book itself does deep dives into each facet of a difficult conversation and how we can transform difficult conversations into learning conversations. The example situations and dialogues are a bit contrived but provide some general guidelines for how one would take these strategies and put them into spoken word.

All in all, a super valuable read that I am always mentally referencing these days even for casual and easy conversations! 😆

Favorite quote from the book? “We are all thousand-watt souls with forty-watt bulbs.” - Father Dominic Holtz

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? You’re going to have difficult conversations at work, at home, and even with yourself. This book is loaded with a lot of tips to get through those conversations. This book is worth reading. Read it today, then read it again next year, and again in the future because you’ll likely find something new with each read.

Notes in Evernote? This book was packed with a lot of information for identifying, approaching, and navigating difficult conversations. The length of my notes reflects just how much this book is gem-filled mine. Feel free to review my notes on 🐘.

Enjoyed this episode of Manager Reads? Check out more in the Manager Reads corner!

All of Us and the Big Data Future of Medicine

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced the All of Us research program:

The All of Us Research Program is a historic effort to gather data from one million or more people living in the United States to accelerate research and improve health. By taking into account individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and biology, researchers will uncover paths toward delivering precision medicine.

This is cool. In my eyes, our medical system is still very reactive: we address things after they’ve occured. Yes, we have our annual checkups. Yes, we start screening for cancer if we have a family history. Yes, we have things we can measure like cholesterol and blood sugar that serve as indicators for future risk of certain diseases.

But we could be digging in and doing better to make medicine more reliably predictive so we can catch things years before we are catching them today. As someone in the video promoting the program says, “Prevention is the key to longevity.” All of Us is a great step in that direction. By collecting a large amount of data for a large cohort we’re building a strong foundation of knowledge in the field of medicine.

But what does the future look like? There are two big technologies that I believe will radically transform medicine:

  1. Implantable biosensors can be implanted at birth and continuously monitor our vitals collecting a vast amount of data. Your cohort for medical research could balloon without too much processing overhead as these devices could send data over the Internet. The quality, accuracy, reliability, and frequency of data also grows with implanted biosensors.
  2. Machine learning can sift through this trove of data across a large population to identify precusors and indicators of disease and illness that we are currently unaware of. AI already does an amazing job of [diagnosing heart disease and lung cancer] accurately.

Perhaps there are subtle precursors to heart attacks that would give us notice hours or maybe even days in advance? The possibilities are endless.

This is taking a very rosy and optimistic outlook on the future of AI and medicine in the larger scope of how things currently work. In the (dysfunctional) United States health care system there would also be opportunities abound for profit-hungry companies to abuse this increased awareness of our health. That said, the more we know the more we can do to stay healthy to enjoy a fruitful life.

Manager Reads - Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

I just wrapped up my first power-up-managerial-skills book: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath.

Who recommended the book? This book was recommended by someone on the Twitch Manager Book Club. A gaggle of managers come together and talk about a book: what they liked, what they found most helpful, what surprised them, etc. Then we close by getting someone to recommend another book. It’s a great motivator to power through books and great for discovering new books to read.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? Decisive is a sturdy hardcover book with a corrosive green book jacket that features a magic 8-ball. It’s a clever play for a book about making decisions. Going jacketless gives you a simple, black matte cover with shiny corrosive green text on the spine. I went jacketless. The paper inside the book is thick, I loved it. The font choice is nice and there is a comfortable amount of leading. All in all, great first impression.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? Decisive is a well-written, entertaining, memorable, and informative read. The book revolves around the WRAP process which helps us navigate the complexities of decision making.

  • Widen your options
  • Reality-test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong

For each of these steps the book covers a few strategies that can help you. For example, when preparing to be wrong, it’s helpful to set a tripwire to help us realize we have a decision to make; oftentimes on autopilot we totally miss the opportunity to pivot when things aren’t going well.

While this is helpful, the real magic of the book is in the many real-world anecdotes that illustrate how these strategies were (or were not) used in the past to achieve success (or failure). For example, Kodak didn’t take the growing threat of digital photography seriously enough because it did not set a tripwire to help them realize they had an important decision to make. The anecdotes are interesting and ground the strategies as realistic and valuable.

Ultimately the book provides pithy strategies and advice which gives me confidence I will remember them and hopefully be able to identify and leverage them when the time comes.

Favorite quote from the book? Set up “guardrails that are wide enough to empower but narrow enough to guide.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? A great read chock-full of cool stories that make a simple (but powerful) framework for approaching decisions truly memorable.

Notes in Evernote? This book has a great feature I wish more books in this genre did: one-pagers at the end of every chapter that captures the big takeways. My notes are mostly just a transcription of those with some quotes that really stuck out to me. Feel free to review my notes on 🐘.

Enjoyed this episode of Manager Reads? Check out more in the Manager Reads corner!

Artisanal Collection of Donkey Kong Country Thoughts

Nintendo continued the laying to rest of the Wii U this week by porting Donkey Kong Country (DKC) Tropical Freeze to the Switch. Jumping into this game brought back a myriad of random thoughts, much like a good artisanal cheese board provides a bevy of cheesy bites. Let’s chew into them!

The old me: fans of my blog might recall I wasn’t a huge fan of Tropical Freeze on the Wii U. I still took the dive for the game on the Switch because four years and a different console might bring a new perspective to the game. More importantly, I want to encourage Nintendo to continue bringing Wii U games to the Switch. 🤞 for Xenoblade Chronicles X and Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE!

Diddy Kong Konformity

Throwback: I remember in the original SNES DKC games when you beat a stage it would put the face of the Kong you beat the stage with on the world map over that stage. I’m a fan of tidiness so I always beat the stage with the same Kong so my world map looked consistent… 😑

The me of yesterday is not the me of today: Picking up Tropical Freeze now, I’m liking it more. My complaints a few years ago about the controls not feeling tight I now can more precisely attribute to the Grand Theft Auto 3 to 4 effect. Between these two GTA entries they made driving cars much more realistic which made driving around harder and less fun in my eyes. In Tropical Freeze, Donkey Kong handles like the 200+ pound ape he is: there is just enough inertia to throw me off. That said, I’m powering through this time!

Another throwback: My mom got me the original DKC and DKC 2. But when it came to Donkey Kong Country 3 I first played it after visiting the video rental store with my cousin Joe. This store also rented video games so once I saw DKC3, I quickly picked it up. With only 24 hours (the age of late fees was truly a dark time), I tried powering through the game. I wasn’t able to finish, but a few months down the road my mom came through again! With unlimited time now, I was able to beat - Banana Bird Queen beat - the game!

The DKC GOAT

My factual opinion: DKC 2 Diddy’s Kong Quest is the best game of the original trilogy. Don’t @ me. The pirate theme is well-executed, the music is amazing, and the Lost World area mechanic is great for encouraging collection of all the Kremkoins and features some truly punishing stages. This is all in spite of that ridiculously annoying stage with Squawk and the wind!

My thoughts on the future: Will I keep playing Tropical Freeze? Yes. I’m adjusting to my inertia-inspired issues. The game is still pretty challenging and (somewhat) rage-inducing so I usually only get through two to three stages per sitting before throwing in the towel. That said, why rush a good thing?

Truly cruel and unusual punishment

One last throwback: In the second world of the original DKC, Monkey Mines, I got super stuck as a budding video gamer. The second stage - Mine Cart Carnage - punishes the weak. Here’s a great article that describes the sadistic level. Ironically enough the stage could be skipped but in the Land Before Internet I was wholly unaware of this silver bullet for Mine Cart Carnage!

If you’re reading this Nintendo: I’d be over the moon if the Switch got an SNES Virtual Console. But if you want to do something a little less ambitious you could give us Donkey Kong Country Trilogy HD Remastered. 🙏

And that’s a wrap on our artisanal collection of Tropical Freeze inspired thoughts. 🍌

Reading Time! Engineering Manager

When I first started working as an engineer I relied a lot on pattern-matching (find solved problems similar to mine and adapt the solution to fit my requirements) and leaning on peers for direction, advice, and feedback. Effectively, I winged it and grew along the way with a good support system to keep me in line and developing.

That’s not a bad way to go as an engineer but as I transition into engineering management, I find the wing it and learn along the way strategy is insufficient. Why? My decisions and interactions with my team can have big impacts starting now. Those challenges requiring deliberation and, more importantly, my team deserve the best I can bring to the table.

So I’ll study! There is a ton of literature on engineering management that focus on all facets of the job. Lucky for me between my colleagues, my manager, and the Twitch Manager Book Club I’ve got a fount of recommendations to dive into. I’m hoping reading will help me have more aha moments that don’t require getting burned!

For everything I read I plan to:

  • Shout out who recommended the book!
  • Judge the book by its cover, font selection, paper quality… details matter!
  • My thoughts on the book and the big take-aways!
  • Favorite quote from the book!
  • Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book!
  • My notes (in Evernote of course) on the book!

First up will be the current Twitch Manager Book Club book: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. See you in a few days!