mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Manager Reads - The Heart of Change

Since I started reading leadership and management books Tina has been recommending I read The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations by John Kotter and Dan Cohen. Yes, that complete title is quite a mouthful!

Who recommended the book? Tina recommeded this book!

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The cover of The Heart of Change is a real winner: clean and endearing. The lone sad penguin on a small piece of iceberg seals [sic] the deal: this cover is awesome. This cover even ties into two other books Kotter has written which also feature penguins on them. Unlike otters which look cute but are actually nefarious, penguins are okay in my book. Inside The Heart of Change we see good decisions from the cover carry through with an eye-pleasing font selection and some thick sheets.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? The Heart of Change posits that the biggest challenge when pushing for change is changing people’s behaviors. To succeed at change we must resist being purely analytical and understand the centrality of emotion in change. The book explores the eight steps to follow to produce change:

  1. Increase Urgency - Raise a feeling of urgency so that people say “let’s go,” making a change effort well positioned for launch.
  2. Build the Guiding Team - Help form a group that has the capability - in membership and method of operating - to guide a very difficult change process.
  3. Get the Vision Right - Create there might vision and strategies to guide action in all of the remaining stages of change.
  4. Communicate for Buy-In - Communicate change visions and strategies effectively so as to create both understanding and a gut-level buy-in.
  5. Empower Action - Deal effectively with obstacles that block action, especially disempowering bosses, lack of information, the wrong performance measurement and reward systems, and lack of self-confidence.
  6. Create Short-Term Wins - Produce sufficient short-term wins, sufficiently fast, to energize the change helpers, enlighten the pessimists, defuse the cynics, and build momentum for the effort.
  7. Don’t Let Up - Continue with wave after wave of change, not stopping until the vision is a reality, despite seemingly intractable problems.
  8. Make Change Stick - Be sure the changes are embedded in the very culture of the enterprise so that the new way of operating will stick.

For each of these steps the book provides real-world anecdotes of the step in action and an assortment of good things to do and things to avoid doing. Ultimately, the key is to show people something that highlights the need for change which spawn feelings that are useful for change and then watch as behaviors adjust and change begins.

Favorite quote from the book? “Urgency sustains change.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? I came into The Heart of Change thinking that throwing facts and truths at people would bring about change. After putting the book down, I realize that this strategy is not a winning one or one that will promote lasting change. Whether you are a leader by definition in an organization or someone who simply wants to be an agent for change, I highly recommend this book.

Notes in Evernote? Feel free to review my notes on 🐘.

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

Twitch Anniversary Project

I’ve been fortunate to work at great companies during my career but one thing all have missed the mark on was celebrating work anniversaries. Fundamentally, anniversaries are special and worth celebrating. We should acknowledge people who have chosen to spend a year working with us each and every year.

Other companies celebrating work anniversaries provide a nice corpus for inspiration. Around the time I started exploring options for celebrating work anniversaries I stumbled upon this tweet from a Twitter employee. I liked it, but felt there was plenty of room for improvement; a block exists to have its six sides leveraged! I went to the drawing board, hashed out details for a few months, and this week was excited to deliver the first batch of anniversary blocks to the team!

These blocks are fully leveraged. The six sides are:

  1. Team member’s name
  2. Twitch logo
  3. Number of years at Twitch - New team members get the Year 0 block on their first day.
  4. Current year
  5. Twitch emote - Gotta catch em’ all!
  6. Twitch core value - Read more about Twitch’s Core Values.

These were well-received by the team and I’m excited to have seeded a new tradition of celebrating our team’s tenure, the fruits of which will hopefully be more recognized and happy team members.

P.S. I ordered these on Etsy from Alexander who runs the StarBlock shop and would highly recommend him if you are considering doing something similar.

Manager Reads - The Effective Manager

Next up on the managerial reads train is what we all strive to be: The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman.

Who recommended the book? I found this book listed on a Medium post about good books to read for engineering managers. I can’t find the link right now, but will update this post if I find it. Whoever wrote that post, thank you very much!

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The cover of The Effective Manager leaves a lot to be desired. It’s drab: white background with a bunch of grey circles and then three blue circles on one orange circle. The author’s name and the word “The” of the title is in sans serif font but the “Effective Manager” has serifs. There are four critical managerial behaviors discussed in this book but I’m unsure if anyone is worth being orange and the others blue. Inside the book we get some visual respite: clean font, large text, comfortable kerning, and nice thick paper that doesn’t let highlighter ink bleed through.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? The Effective Manager distills the work of a manager down to two things: produce results and retain people. To achieve this the manager needs to engage in four behaviors. Here are the four behaviors with accompanying activities with the interesting tidbit I took away from each section.

  1. Get to Know Your People via One on Ones - Use the 10/10/10 agenda: first 10 minutes for your direct to speak, then 10 minutes for you to speak, and then 10 minutes to talk about the future.
  2. Communicate about Performance via Feedback - Ask if you can give feedback, state the behavior, state the impact of the behavior, and encourage effective future behavior.
  3. Ask for More via Coaching - Collaborate to set a goal, collaborate to brainstorm resources, collaborate to create a plan, and then direct acts and reports back on the plan.
  4. Push Work Down via Delegation - Delegation is you turning over responsibility for one of your regular responsibilities - something you routinely do - to one of your directs.

The Effective Manager offers concrete steps for most of the stuff it covers, but it can be over prescriptive sometimes covering things like being friends with your directs, drinking with your directs, and being Facebook friends with your directs. Common sense and some caution will get you through most of these situations so it was a bit odd to read entire mini-sections in the book dedicated to them.

Favorite quote from the book? “There’s a simple rule about work when there’s more than can be done: before trying to get more of everything done, get the most important things done first.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? While The Effective Manager might be too prescriptive for some, I believe it can offer actionable advice or a new perspective on a tried-and-true tool for even a seasoned manager. I can see it not being for everyone but I found it worth the read.

Notes in Evernote? Feel free to review my notes on 🐘.

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

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 - Torna The Golden Country

I typically find myself not engaging in DLC content that releases after I’ve completed a game. But Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has bucked that trend repeatedly. A major story expansion that covers events 500 years before the story in the original game recently came out: Torna The Golden Country Review. 20 hours later, I’m happy to report this DLC expansion was awesome.

  • Getting Blades is a lot simpler. Three characters that over the course of the story acquire two blades each. That’s all. No gacha-style Blade acquisition here!

  • The battle system is easier. The battle system changes up from the original: Drivers and Blades are essentially equals and swap in-and-out during battle. What makes the system easier is that given fixed characters and Blades Driver Combos (i.e. Break, Topple, Launch, Smash) happen much more frequently. In the original game it required some careful coordination to even have your party capable of performing a full combo.

  • The music is jazzy goodness. The original game had an amazing soundtrack and this expansion adds onto goodness, giving us some new jazzy tunes and some revamped originals like the Gormott theme.

  • The cast is likeable. Say what you will about Rex, Lora is a lot easier to like. Hugo and Addam are also affable. The campire fire scenes, reminiscent of Final Fantasy XV where characters chit chat with each other, were always enjoyable.

  • The final battle with Malos is amazing. The usage of Siren mecha in the battle against Malos was awesome. It made the battle feel bigger and more epic than the usual battles in the game.

  • The story arc of Blade Eater research and Gort feels tacked on. These two story arcs were presented but either didn’t contribute much to the story in the case of Gort or didn’t get wrapped up nicely in the case of the Blade Eater research. I would’ve preferred seeing Gort show up more frequently during Lora’s travels instead of randomly popping up at the end.

  • The Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Season Pass was a great investment. For $30 the Monolith Soft team delivered a bunch of additional quests, a New Game Plus mode, a Battle Challenge Mode, and the Torna The Golden Country expansion.

I think I can finally say I’m done with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. What an enjoyable – and grindy – ride! I can’t wait for the next gem from team Monolith Soft.

Hung Up on the PlayStation Classic

Sony’s announcement today that it was joining Nintendo in making classic versions of its former consoles is exciting for those who never had a chance to explore the awesome games of that generation and exciting for those who are craving a nostalgia trip. Everyone’s a winner, right?

Wrong. I’m massively hung up on the PlayStation Classic because of the reveal video. On video start, I immediately muted the Apple-esque hipster music but little did I know the worst was yet to come. Within the next few seconds there was a transgression to common sense.

There is so much wrong in these few seconds. The size comparison text glitches in and starts at “99% smaller than the original PlayStation” and then works its way down to “45% smaller than the original PlayStation.” Imagine walking into a store and someone tells you everything is 99% off but when you get to the register everything is only 45% off. That’s a raw deal: you don’t show someone a more impressive number and then lower it right in front of them. This is a reveal video, not New Year’s; not everything should count down.

If that’s not enough, the size of the PlayStation Classic inside the original PlayStation is going from physically bigger (0% smaller compared to the original) to physically smaller (45% smaller compared to the original). This is the inverse of the non-sensical countdown above.

Me after watching this reveal video: 😵.