Category Archives: Productivity

Writing a White Paper


White papers are often used to describe a too technical marketing document, or a too fluffy technical document. Whatever you are focusing on, below are a few guides on writing a proper white paper, oriented perhaps more towards technology.

To those of you who are lazy to thoroughly review the references below, I’ve prepared this very basic fast & furious guidelines. I found few of those useful (write a shitty first draft is my favourite – I like it so much that I extend the practice to anything I write. Yes, including this post. I got to edit again…). Perhaps so would you.

Principles

  1. Correctness – Write correct English, but know that you have more latitude than your high-school English teachers may have given you.
  2. Consistent names – Refer to each significant character (algorithm, concept, language) using the same word everywhere. Give a significant new character a proper name.
  3. Singular – To distinguish one-to-one relationships from n-to-m relationships, refer to each item in the singular, not the plural.
  4. Subjects and verbs – Put your important characters in subjects, and join each subject to a verb that expresses a significant action.
  5. Information flow – In each sentence, move your reader from familiar information to new information.
  6. Emphasis – For material you want to carry weight or be remembered, use the end of a sentence.
  7. Coherence – In a coherent passage, choose subjects that refer to a consistent set of related concepts.
  8. Parallel structure – Order your text so your reader can easily see how related concepts are different and how they are similar.
  9. Abstract – In an abstract, don’t enumerate a list of topics covered; instead, convey the essential information found in your paper.

Practices

  1. Write in brief daily sessions – Ignore the common myth that successful writing requires large, uninterrupted blocks of time—instead, practice writing in brief, daily sessions.
  2. Focus on the process, not the product – Don’t worry about the size or quality of your output; instead, reward yourself for the consistency and regularity of your input.
  3. Prewrite – Don’t be afraid to think before you write, or even jot down notes, diagrams, and so on.
  4. Use index cards – Use them to plan a draft or to organize or reorganize a large unit like a section or chapter.
  5. Write a Shitty First Draft – Value a first draft not because it’s great but because it’s there.
  6. Don’t worry about page limits – Write the paper you want, then cut it down to size.
  7. Cut – Plan a revision session in which your only goal is to cut.

References:

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Dan Pink: Panther


I had a great opportunity to get one hour lecture from Dan Pink. I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture, and want to congratulate neustar for organizing  this, and all the other innovation series events. What an amazing motivational speak  on his latest book: Drive. He surely practices what he preaches and showed some passion.

Dan started with the Candle experiment, showing how monetary incentive may indeed narrow the focus and hence achieve better results for some simple missions but fails on tougher ones (such as avoiding functional fixingness of the box in the candles problem demanding some creativity and… in-to-the-box thinking). This was further explored in an MIT students series of tasks, where money helped on the physical or mechanical tasks but failed to deliver on any “rudimentary cognitive” tasks. Dan argues “if-then” rewards are ill suited for creative tasks.

Dan then referred to Israel childcare fees for parents that come late, and showed again how it fails to achieve the desire results: removing the guilt and making being late an economical transaction that some parents had bargained for, and even having some damaging long term effects by creating a new behavior patterns (those being late, maintained this behavior after shedding those guilt feelings).

Simply controlling humans with “button alike” incentives seems not to always work – even if traditional wisdom is that it should. Surely some parts of our drive are biological, and based on punishments and rewards. However Dan offered three additional layers he demonstrated as highly motivational – he called them intrinsic motivators (to replace the extrinsic ones):

  • Autonomy – In time, tasks given, technique and team selection
  • Mastery – We naturally want to get better at things
  • Purpose – We achieve much more when we have associated meaning to the results

Dan followed with some concrete evidence. Some of the samples are well known (Google 20% do-whatever-you-want-we-keep-IP) but some were illuminating (call center without call recording, timing and monitoring becoming one of the most efficient ones…). Very good challenge to management “wish to control” and “fear of losing it” while strangling innovation in the process.

10 years ago, a well funded and incentivized encyclopedia (Encarta by Microsoft), got professional experts and managers, and pays them to write an online expert entries. On the other side, wikipedia was done for fun, without any monetary rewards. No (sober) economist could predict which of those would prevail…

Dan addressed another interesting related point: wouldn’t we do nothing if not “managed” – depicting the lazy and inept devil within us? Well he argued we are active and engaged (like any 2 years would demonstrate) so adopting an autonomic environment, with clear purpose guidelines would nurture our habits to become better to work for ourselves (and that management).

Dan believed management in its “full control” manifestation is a legacy 18th century technology we invented to enforce others doing what we want, which is nowadays obsolete.

Dan also objected only monetary incentives – they may be useful as a form of recognition, but not as sole motivation tool.

I also liked his sports/arts analogy for feedbacks – where annual (or bi-annual) feedbacks for a professional seems ridiculous, and semi automatic text is often given instead of a reoccurring personal feedback  and personal.


PS #1

I have special interest in his views, as they seem to repeat findings we had previously forming an Innovation Program. It was based it on 4 pillars manifested in tools and procedures for – ideation and knowledge creation, idea collaboration and sharing, immediate feedbacks, and rewards and recognition. We have found similar things – people wanted more autonomy to deliver their ideas, and we did experience the challanges of losing control and faced some natural reluctancy to move forward even for a moderate 8% do-something-new (one short afternoon a week) for a subset of the groups.


PS #2

Dan immediately caught my ear when he argues that people want to contribute in something bigger than themselves, as I use the following in my CV for ages now: “I seek to share my technological leadership within a superb team, reaching broader realms than my own humble shoulders can carry, or the head upon them can dream of.”


See also:

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What am I doing while writing this post (or can I multitask?)


In GTD (Getting Things Done) and other productivity programs there is a lot of criticism about the so called multitasking myth. It is claimed that very few people actually benefit from multitasking, due to something every computer scientist knows: context switching. It basically means that while we shift from one task to the other, gather our thoughts, and prepare for the new task while tiding up mentally the one we just moved away from, we are wasting energies for nothing.

Furthermore, it seems we are more like iPhone 3 then iPhone 4:

iPhone 4
iPhone 4

We can do some things in parallel if they are based on different input senses (e.g. listen to a friend, while looking at our child in the garden), but when the same sense is involved we cannot easily work simoultanouskly and actually work in sequence, involving lots of rapid context switches, wasting focus and resources.

It seems that the current era pushes us to the limit with distractions (called tasks – most of them are pure noise) so I have found myself looking at a NY times article (thanks Mark P) of an overly-doing-it . It is interesting to see, as he nearly missed a 1.3M$ acquisition email of his company due to his other “tasks”.

The fun part was experimenting with the research “games” done by Eyal Ophir and Clifford Nass, Stanford University.

I tend to work with music on and ambience happening since I was a child, possibly matching a pattern where I need my “hearing” sense to be fully occupied by a controlled stream of low importance (e.g. background music) where I can easily filter it and focus on what I’m doing with my other senses (e.g. thinking, reading and writing) – with this technique I avoid the need to give attention to the audio stream (as I “control” it in low priority) and perhaps earn focus points on the task I’m doing. Hence I enjoyed the
first test of handling distractions. I guess the reason I did best when confronted with full distractions is this habit.

The second test was about rapid context switching. It seems I was between high and low multitaskers, where I over performed high multitaskers, but underperformed the low ones. A call for improvement I guess. The researchers have found that multitaskers seem to be more sensitive than non-multitaskers to incoming information.

What does it all mean? I’ll guess I’ll just grab a bite of my sandwich, have a sift of coffee and remember not to talk while eating as multitasking is hazardous in this instance…

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Free D #4 – Parity Principle – Rapport with Boss, Customers, and Other Relationships


Parity Principle

I know you think you must have heard that one, and are tempted to Google it. Well – don’t (unless you like philosophy). It’s just me hijacking the name for the following discussion: on boss, customers (=bosses), and other relationships (spouses, the almighty form of a boss).

When your boss, customers, or other relations communicate something in length, details, mannerism, style, tone and other ways – you should consider reciprocate your response to stay in parity.

Well this is very trivial but often neglected. Amongst the options you have when a certain issue is presented by someone are:

  • Responsd in parity – mimic the same level of attention or details that was given, in your response
  • Do not respond in Parity – But clearly justify it, as there is a hidden expectation that you do respond in parity
  • Ignore – you know what is important and what is not, don’t let others interfere with your agenda
  • This principal is basically suggesting the first option whenever possible. It drives harmony, alignment, and good communications. In some cases the 2nd option is applicable as well (I use 1:5 rule in general – works for me) when several pre-conditions are set (the forum of rejection is applicable and non offensive, the issue breaks strongly core values, beliefs or patterns you have – so you must challenge to give the opportunity to clarify, and others). The latter option is usually not helpful.

    Note: Response in parity does not mean agreement. You can explain why you think otherwise. As long as you give the same amount of attention to this area, you “respond” well to the hidden expectation, and then reduce friction (even if you disagree). Many a times a laconic affirmation, is less valuable then a detailed debate and disagreement – when the issue was presented to show the significance, rather than to force YES.

    Remember – This is specifically aimed at generic relationships where the original agenda set, is somehow unbalanced (boss sets agenda, and expects follow). In other relationships, as well as with intimate knowledge of the particular boss or customer style, a specific mannerism may override this principal – but it often still applies most of the time in any case.

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