mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Thoughts on Xenoblade Chronicles: Future Connected

Warning: This post contains spoilers for both Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. If you haven’t played these games yet congrats - you’ve got two great games to play! Come back to this post once you’ve completed both.

Future Connected takes place one year after the end of Xenoblade Chronicles and follows Shulk and Melia as they explore a new area, the Bionis Shoulder, and aim to reclaim Alcamoth from the mysterious Fog King who comes out of a spacetime rift. Let’s start with what I liked about Future Connected: exploring the vast, new area was a lot of fun; collecting all the Nopon Prospectors was also a lot of fun; Shulk’s new outfits are very stylish; and the upgrade you eventually get to Shulk’s Replica Monado looks like what 3rd grade me concoct - more mufflers!

The big miss about Future Connected is it really doesn’t add much to the Xenoblade Chronicles universe. The spacetime rifts felt like a perfect way to connect Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 given both games take place in parallel universes that branch off from Klaus’ Conduit experiment; we literally see Klaus as The Architect in XBC2 half-consumed by a spacetime rift and hear Shulk felling Zanza through it! Playing Future Connected I expected some sort of tie-in between the two games and was disappointed to find that not only was there no connection, the story itself was pretty plain and uninspiring. What a miss!

All that said, Future Connected was an enjoyable romp to top off an extremely satisfying second playthrough of Xenoblade Chronicles.

Manager Reads - The Ride of a Lifetime

Some time off from work for a staycation brings us this episode of Manager Reads which covers The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger. Yes, that’s an amazingly long title, clocking in at 88 characters, but if I told you it isn’t the longest title of a book covered in Manager Reads would you believe me?

Who recommended the book? I took a staycation a few weeks ago. My manager Ravi, who recently read and enjoyed this book bought me a copy so I could do some leisure (Manager Reads) reading during my time off. Thanks, Ravi!

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The cover for Ride of a Lifetime is clean and simple, prominently featuring a photo of the author. The cover features two text styles: a smaller, white style and a larger, golden, and raised style. The designer of the cover must also have something against non-capital letters because everything is capitalized. Overall, for an autobiographical book, I’m a fan of the cover.

I’m a fan of the inside too. The pages are thick, nicely off-white colored, a standard font is never offensive, and the leading is just right.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? Iger opens the book covering the ten principles he sees as necessary for true leadership: optimism, courage, focus, decisiveness, curiosity, fairness, thoughtfulness, authenticity, the relentless pursuit of perfection, and integrity. From there we follow Iger’s journey which began at ABC Television. The story doesn’t end once Iger becomes CEO of Disney. In fact, things kick into higher gear at this point, with massive plays like the Marvel and Lucasfilm acquisitions and the launch of the Disney+ streaming service.

Throughout the book we see Iger leaning on the principles he opens with to get him through tough and tricky situations. The book closes similar to how it opens with a dive on lessons and principles Iger leads by. This structure worked amazingly well. Iger was able to accurately distill himself down into these principles and then he applied these principles time and time again. Even for front-line managers who are several rungs away from executive leadership this philosophy still applies and has value; you won’t always have complete information and you won’t be 100% comfortable with decisions you make so you need to lean onto your core values and principles to guide you.

One of the interesting tidbits I took away from Iger’s journey is Disney was very close to acquiring Twitter to serve as its multimedia distribution platform. In the last minute, Iger got cold feet and pulled out and opted to build Disney+ in house. Talk about dodging a grenade!

Favorite quote from the book? “Managing your own time and respecting others’ time is one of the most vital things to do as a manager.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? This book is an enjoyable read that elegantly weaves Iger’s principles and the application of those principles. It’s a model any leader, even those not looking to be CEO of Disney, can take something from.

Notes in Evernote? My notes on 🐘 will not do justice to the exciting and meteoric rise of both Iger and Disney but check them out nonetheless if you’re interested.

Most of the world’s wisdom is written down in its best books. Manager Reads is a series covering books on management and leadership, focusing on books that can improve your own leadership with the wisdom of others. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Manager Reads.

Team-Building Activities and Easy Audio Capture on macOS

As work from home for many companies has been extended indefinitely the need for keeping your team engaged has become even more important. I have found scheduling a meeting with the team with no agenda and no discussion related to work has been a small thing that has worked well. There are a ton of fun ways to spend this time. Ones we’ve tried and enjoyed:

  • Icebreaker questions on plenty of websites - lots of opportunities to learn fun facts about your team
  • Drawing shenanigans on skribblio - supports up to 12 players
  • Codenames on horsepaste.com - hit or miss in my opinion because Codenames is hard
  • Quizbowl on protobowl.com - middle school is challenging enough
  • Deck-building games like Dominion - the base game is free, expansions require a nominally priced subscription
  • Party games like Jackbox - lots of options here, great for groups that are 3-8 people

What does any of this have to do with audio capture on macOS? Jackbox, the last item on the above list is played with one person running the game and then sharing their screen with everyone else playing. On macOS you can share video but there is no simple, built-in way to capture and share audio over video conference software like Google Meet. There are some guides available online for how to do this but the simplest, but not cheapest, option to get this working is Loopback by Rogue Amoeba.

Loopback lets you create new audio input devices that can capture audio from a variety of sources. In the above screenshot I’m capturing audio from an HyperX headset, the Macbook Pro’s internal microphone, Jackbox Party Pack 4, and Jackbox Party Pack 5. This all funnels into a new virtual audio input device called HyperX + Jackbox that I can set as my input device in the sound preferences for macOS.

And you’re good to go! If there are other apps you need to capture audio from it’s easy in Loopback to add them to this virtual audio device.

Manager Reads - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Reading has slowed down a bit since the release of Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition but this long overdue episode of Manager Reads covers The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni.

Who recommended the book? My manager Ravi recommended this book for Twitch’s Leadership Book Club back in 2018. We’ve covered a bunch of books since then but we still haven’t gotten around to this one. Given all the leadership books I’ve ordered Amazon kept recommending this one to me so I gave into the recommendation machines and finally grabbed a copy and dove in.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The Five Dysfunctions of a Team has an unexciting cover. The title can’t seem to make up which casing strategy, font size, or font style it wants to use so it goes with a kitchen sink approach here.

The black-and-white photo taken from outside a room with the shades down for some reason also feels drab. The five people in the room likely representing the five dysfunctions reminds me of the homonculus in Fullmetal Alchemist representing the Seven Deadly Sins. 🤓 The plus side of the photo is they were at least thoughtful enought to include a woman in it. Also the five people in the room are definitely humans and not animals so I’m unsure why the book calls itself a fable. 🤷‍♂️ I suppose fable sounds better than “story” or “fictional example to illustrate my point.”

Inside the book the pages shine bright and white; I’m more of a fan of off-white or almond colored pages as they’re easier on the eyes. The pages themselves are also incredibly thin; without even lifting a page up to allow light to come through the other side it’s possible to see text on the other side. Yikes! 👎

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? Similar to Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box this book teaches its lesson through a fictional story following Kathyrn who becomes the CEO of a tech company and needs to work through the dysfunctions of its executive team. It’s relatively easy-to-read since it doesn’t dump information on you en masse but rather introduces problems and solutions at a more human pace as it follows the different characters. The five dysfunctions of the team are:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

These five dysfunctions interact (e.g. without trust people will fear conflict) and combine to make teams less likely to succeed. The last section of the book, following the “fable” dives deeper into each of the five dysfunctions explaining: what it looks like when a team suffers from that dysfunction; what teams look like when they don’t suffer from that dysfunction; and suggestions for overcoming that dysfunction and the role the leader should play in working through the dysfunction.

While there is value in understanding these five dysfunctions, I am not a fan of the fictional story format in leadership books. Of the 224 pages in this book, only 10 dive deep on the dysfunctions in the aforementioned last section. This feels far too little.

Favorite quote from the book? “It is ironic that so many people avoid conflict in the name of efficiency, because healthy conflict is actually a time saver.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? Read the last chapter to get a concise, but perhaps too brief, overview of the five dysfunctions of a team. Consistently and intentionally nudging your team away from these dysfunctions will level up your team.

Notes in Evernote? Looking for random sentences I found interesting in the fable? Check out my notes on 🐘.

Most of the world’s wisdom is written down in its best books. Manager Reads is a series covering books on management and leadership, focusing on books that can improve your own leadership with the wisdom of others. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Manager Reads.

Managing Management - Interview Journey and Calibration

Instrumenting the journey of people you interview is critical to understanding and improving your interview processes. With instrumentation you set up concrete feedback loops that give you insight and opportunities to improve your interviewing. I’ve used two Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), Lever and Greenhouse, and neither provided the data in the format I wanted. Spreadsheets are SaaS apps waiting to be built so let’s walk through the spreadsheet solution I built to instrument the interviewing funnel.

In this post we’ll walk through the spreadsheet I built with my fantastic recruiting partner Daren to help solve this problem: Candidate Journey Tracker. This sheet has sample data for interview loops that are simple: one phone screen and if the candidate advances we have an onsite consisting of three technical interviews. We use the Lever system for evaluating candidates: 1 (strong no hire), 2 (no hire), 3 (hire), 4 (strong hire).

Candidates

Our first stop is the Candidates sheet. For any candidate that advances to the onsite stage we add their information to this sheet. This gives us a single place to review all candidates we’ve brought onsite in a single place and easily answer questions like:

  • What do onsite scores look like for offer-stage candidates today and in the past?
  • Are there any trends between candidate origin and onsite result?
  • How do candidates a particular person advances from phone screen do in onsites?

With candidate journey data collected in a single place we can now do interesting analysis around calibration. Calibration here means alignment between an each interviewer’s assessment of the candidate and the final decision for the candidate. An interview is more calibrated if they are inclined when the panel is inclined or when they are not inclined and the panel is not inclined. When there is a mismatch, the interviewer is less calibrated.

Calibration Analysis

For our sample data above you’ll notice that Day9 is perfectly calibrated: whenever Day9 is inclined to hire, the panel is inclined to hire and when he’s not inclined, the panel’s not inclined. Artosis is the exact opposite; some say he’s cursed. Tasteless is more a coin-flip: half the time he’s calibrated.

calibrationPercentage

There’s no need to do this analysis manually though! Using Google App Scripts (Tools -> Script Editor) you can write custom functions that calculate calibration percentage for every interviewer. The Calibration Analysis sheet shows off the custom calibrationPercentage function.

Candidates Revisited

With this function we can revisit our Candidates sheet and do some math. Astute observers will notice the sheet had the average score of onsite interviews and also a calibrated average of onsite interviews. The calibrated average adjusts each interviewer’s score based on their calibration percentage. Unless you’re perfectly calibrated this means your scores will be adjusted downwards. For our sample data, Day9’s scores aren’t adjusted (e.g. a 3 stays a 3) because he is perfectly calibrated; Tasteless’s scores are calibrated downwards by 50% (e.g. a 3 becomes a 1.5) because Tasteless has a 50% calibration; and Artosis’ scores are ignored (e.g. a 3 becomes a 0) because he is never calibrated. This calibrated average score provides another lens through which to view a candidate’s performance.

There are a few things worth highlighting before we close out this post:

  • This spreadsheet should not be used for deciding whether to move to offer-stage with a candidate. Having past data and concrete numbers in front of you can tempt you into simply making the offer decision a numbers game but you should avoid doing this.
  • Our sample data has three technical interviews but real onsites are rarely so uniform. Different interviewers will probe different technical and behavioral competencies. If a particular competency is easily handled by many candidates or catches many candidates off guard this will affect that particular interviewer’s calibration.
  • Calibration percentage calculation looks at all data points for an interviewer and applies that percentage to all their scores. An alternate system would only look at past data points when calculating this percentage, but this would hurt data sample size for earlier interviews.

In closing, this spreadsheet has been helpful tool to help assess the quality of our interviewing and there’s so much more that can be built off of it (e.g. percent accuracy for phone screeners). Got an interesting tip that helps you better understand how calibrated your interviewing is? Let me know on Twitter!

Managing Management is a series on systems that are shareable and serve as actionable templates for addressing the deluge of things managers encounter everyday. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Managing Management.