How to Reach Your High Standards

Cartoon Mulan drawing climbing to fetch the arrow
The iconic scene out of Disney’s Mulan — Drawn by Alice XZ — https://www.deviantart.com/alicexz

The things I learned from leading TU20

Results matter

“A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise one learns from the mistakes of others.” — Unknown

If your job is in sales, you have a quota you have to meet. If you are a programmer, you need to build functionality. If you are a recruiter you need to get good talent. It becomes interesting when you become a manager of people because you are responsible for the results of your team, not just yourself and that’s even harder. This is a good quora answer on the topic, it essentially talks about how you become an enforcer for upper leadership, and by extension, upper leadership becomes an enforcer for shareholders. So even when you move up in a company you gain more responsibility and hence need to deliver more. It doesn’t have to be stressful, but you have to keep it in mind.

You build a reputation

It’s not to say that you should do things to create or enforce a reputation. It’s just important to keep this in mind.

You set your own standards, others reinforce it

On a personal note, my environment has been very helpful in setting high, achievable standards. One change that occurred was from gr 4 to gr 5 when I changed schools. In gr 4, people didn’t care too much about grades or school, there weren’t many extracurriculars so I just played soccer at lunch and read at home. In gr 5 people cared more about marks, there were more interesting things to do, I got more involved and did more cool things (I built a giant PVC pipe delivery system, that was fun), likewise in high school, being in a challenging program allowed me to have higher expectations and push myself.

Colourful letter blocks
Your environment has the building blocks for your success

At the end of the day, if you get positive recognition or feedback on what you do whether it’s a like, a compliment or a high five you will keep doing it. Learning how to balance and utilize these stimuli is key.

Continuous improvement

That isn’t very actionable, so the question is what are you learning in every piece of free time you have. And by learning, I don’t mean academics or career-focused, it’s “what am I learning” in general. If you spend time with your friends for a couple of hours what did you learn? Probably about how their day went and you probably got to know them better. We all have had get-togethers where we felt we got to know other people much better and it almost felt productive. Other times you’d sit around and make small talk for 3 hours and things were kind of awkward. So the question is what was different between them?

You probably didn’t consider this to be learning, in good social sessions you typically were spurred by an interesting event or idea, and then people shared more personal information about themselves and you learn something new. Likewise, with personal learning, we typically learn after/during some sort of event: an assignment, project, competition or test. Or we just get interested in a topic and go on a 3-hour google search extravaganza.

By being able to use these events efficiently, and create your own, you can improve continuously by leveraging your motivation.

A Tape-measure going across the screen

Small changes that add up

Sometime you just open up youtube and want to watch some videos. In this case I’ve tried to watch videos that are at least slightly related to something I’m working on or will be in the next couple of months. As I work in the cloud world, there are many online videos from conferences, workshops and tutorials that make it easy to learn something in a 15–60 min video.

In an unproductive mood, I don’t intend on absorbing everything I’m seeing, but the changes add up. If I watch 30 min of Youtube on a related subject each day, that’s around 3 hours a week, or the equivalent of one university course. So every year, I’ll be watching around 3 credits worth of useful content, which is pretty good.

A second technique that I’ve found useful is balancing consuming and producing ideas/content. If I spend too much time reading or watching things, my brain feels like goop, which is usually helped by taking a walk, taking a nap, or talking to friends and family.

To avoid getting to this point, I enjoy just sitting down and writing things down on a piece of paper, either as retro active notes of things I just watched or of things that I’m thinking of. Once my ideas are written down, I stop worrying about forgetting them, but also if I’m in the mood I can start connecting them together to think of something new, or think about something new I want to learn about.

A third technique is learning about things you are interested through conversation. It could be from a friend, a family member, or stranger. It’s always interesting to a perspective now a new topic from someone who spends their day to day thinking about it, and it can certainly jump start your learning. A book recommendation, a “lay of the land” or some general thoughts will generally be very helpful, and with enough conversations on a topic, you will quickly begin to find your own interests.

Steps upwards

Leadership Principles from Amazon’s Website

Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards — many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high-quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Holding yourself accountable

Sustaining success is being proud of your work

An electricity generating windmill on a hill
Sustainability is essential to success.

When you beat expectations, people get excited

The Debate Methodology

A white question mark on a chalk board
Asking questions is a great way to get answers.

This is something I learned in High school while preparing for debate tournaments and has really helped me structure my thinking and communicate ideas. I’m not sure if the technique has a name, I’m just going to call it the debate methodology.

  1. Think of stakeholders and who the most important ones are
  2. Ask why 5 times
  3. Be concise
  4. Think about the impact
  5. Think thematically
  6. Think through different perspectives

When thinking and communicating you need to clear, concise and impactful with your words. If you have issues with this (or want to improve) try the above methodology.

Now that we know the theory lets go through an example.

“Team, we need to increase our revenue by 3x”

Level 1 Whys?

“So we can have more funds to distribute to the community”

“So we can be more sustainable”

“So we can have bigger events”

“So we can experiment more”

Level 2 Whys?

“Few groups are doing what we are doing”

“Student groups have commitment and turnover issues”

“So we can have a greater impact on our community”

Level 3 Whys?

“Students are lacking”

“Often they are not compensated enough through

benefits, culture and pay”

“Collective community growth increases

Prosperity for all”

(And So on)

Now you can take this reasoning and group it thematically.

Impact on community

Uniqueness of Org

Internal Sustainability and performance

Now turn into a single paragraph that you can communicate to the team in 30 seconds.

“Team, next year we need to increase revenue by 3x. We are in a unique opportunity to benefit our community through the unique events and opportunities we present. We need to generate more revenue so we can do more meaningful work in our community, find unique ways to innovate and also create a more sustainable organization. The lack of revenue often limits what organizations can do, and we want to reach a point where we are producing jaw-dropping innovation, have a sustainable leadership team and organization and are making the biggest possible impact on our community.”

No more rambling, no more why’s just clear, succinct, points.

Note: If you can’t genuinely answer why 5 times, you don’t have a good enough understanding, so you have to go out and gather more data and do more thinking.

https://twitter.com/anuhariharan/status/1099354743128842240?s=19

Someone sitting on a beach with a sunset

So how do you become better ?

  1. Talk to People about interesting things
  2. Try things out
  3. Think twice, act once
  4. Distinguish important projects and things that just need to be done
  5. Watch interesting videos tangentially related to your goals
  6. Work on long term projects

Slow and steady wins the race

TU20 took almost 4 years to get some brand recognition, it personally took me 5 years to get my Tae kwon do black belt, and after 8 years of coding, I’m still learning something new everyday.

Hopefully by following some of the tips in this chapter, you’re equipped to make a difference and keep working towards your potential.

Questions

  1. Who is the hardest person you met? How did their hard work affect their results?
  2. Think about an activity you did over the course of many years? (sports, music, writing, ect) How did you feel when you finally became good at this activity?
  3. What as a time that you felt pressured to succeed?
  4. What is your best way of learning?

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ML Architect @ Voiceflow

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