Despite really only needing to have a few qualities to be exceptional, most people find writing interview feedback to be intimidating at best, to terrifying at worst. Exceptional interview feedback has a few essential qualities: clear, concise, containing additional data for the reader to dive deeper into. It clearly outlines (at least at Amazon) which competencies rise above the bar (i.e. the theoretical average of that skill across everyone who has and uses that skill…) whether they are functional competencies or Amazon’s leadership principals or (at your company) your organization’s key values.

Why do people find this so difficult? I have a couple of theories. 1) No one likes passing judgement on someone AND THEN FINDING THEY WERE WRONG. Well, I get past that by realizing we’re all getting only a tiny slice of a candidate’s overall story, and we could put the wrong frame on their answer — but even with the right framing, we still don’t have anything near the whole story, and that’s just how it is. 2) Like any skill, writing good feedback takes time to learn. The key here: “like any skill”… and I add “worth doing” to the end of that. So, like any skill that’s worth doing, writing exceptional feedback takes time to learn, so I might as well start yesterday. I have a couple other guesses but they don’t seem broadly applicable, so I’ll leave it with those two key concerns. Now that you know how I get past those concerns, hopefully you’ll get started faster in your own learning journey.

I use a very particular process to interview, prepare to write feedback, organize my interview notes and my feedback itself, and then to de-bias my nearly complete feedback. I’ve crafted this process over more than 200 interviews at Amazon and other companies, and I think it works pretty well by now. I will explain that process in the next post.

Changing habits and holding yourself to an agreement both present significant challenge to most people- it’s why we admire people who make big changes in life, like the friend who lost weight equivalent to an entire them (today) because they were 2x bigger four years ago; the family member who gave up drugs and alcohol cold-turkey (despite both alcohol and opiate withdrawals being incredibly challenging); the extremely organized person you recently went out to covid-safe dinner in the park with; you know who you admire & you think, “I could never do that” when you reflect on them.

So I was duly impressed with a friend of mine, who had borrowed a jacket about a month ago now, and who I’ve bothered about it several times since. I saw him in person, and, obviously frustrated, asked, “where’s my jacket!?” He whips out his wallet and says, “Every time you see me, if I don’t have your jacket, I’ll give you $20.” AND THEN HE GAVE ME MONEY! For real!

I was flabbergasted. I know this guy doesn’t want to give up $20 every time he sees me, so he’s going to forget my jacket MAYBE one more time. (Which is too bad, because it’s a winter jacket so by the time I get it back, I won’t need it, but …)

This move impressed me so badly because it plays to his biggest fear – he won’t have enough money. It has tangible consequences – he needs money to live and to grow his business. It has an effect on both of us – me, it makes me less likely to bother him about it in between social events, and him, it makes him more likely to actually bring the jacket back and stem the loss.

I’m so proud and happy about this – partially because this person is something like a nephew to me, and when I mentioned how great that trick was and that I would use it, he mentioned, “I learned it from you.” Confused, I asked him to expand on that thought, because I sure as heck didn’t tell him to put a penalty on himself for his bad behavior — a genius move — and he pointed out the talk I’d given him recently about responsibility. He made this genius move because of me! I couldn’t be any more thrilled than I am right now.

Would you implement something similar in your life? If yes, what would the situation be, and how about the penalty?

When you can’t recall nouns, especially proper ones? I came across an old article about the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon [1] which is something I refer to regularly as, you know, when you become aware of something and it’s everywhere (which is close, but not quite spot-on, its true definition: “… once we notice something for the first time (or for the first time in a while) that all of a sudden it seems to be creeping up everywhere.” (From [1]).

I talk about this frequency illusion often enough (at least once a quarter, probably more often?) But because I also struggle with nouns (especially proper nouns like those two names ‘Baader’ and ‘Meinhof’) I tend to just wave my hands and stumble through half a definition.

I’m hoping that, by writing a brief note about it here, I can both help people see a side of their cognition that may surprise them, as well as to finally put a name to it, in my own mind, at least.


Learning by teaching yourself & others

This video has a great, short explanation of the Feynman technique – basically, explaining a concept well helps you learn the concept better. Those of you who work with me have heard me mention this as the “learn one, do one, teach one” technique for learning. The Feynman technique improves upon the “teach one” step by expanding upon how you actually manage the teaching. Watch this video, and I’ve summarized the steps here for your convenience:

  1. Write the name of your technique / concept down
  2. Explain the concept in simple, plain language as if you were teaching another person
  3. Identify any areas you’re still shaky on (or got stuck on) and improve your understanding
  4. Look at the explanation again, and simplify any areas where you used technical jargon or difficult language, and further simplify those

Give that a shot next time you’re teaching someone something, and comment here how it worked (or didn’t work!) for you.

I’ve included two bonus links from my “frequently-shared” list at work. First, how to figure out your unmet needs, a great list that helps when you’re not really sure what you want out of your job (or life, really). And second, but less likely to get used in the average American office, a feelings list that helps you identify your feelings. This can help you express when you need something, or if you’re struggling to explain exactly how you feel, it can offer inspiration. I have used the lists at work to help me clarify my thoughts, several times!

As part of working my way through The Self Confidence Workbook (as I also mentioned in a recent tweet), the authors Markway and Ampel (M&A) recommend the reader connect with their values. So I decided I, as an enthusiastic reader, should connect with MY values! Well … I realized that first, I needed to discern my values! So I spent some time thinking about them. Because I found the Self Confidence Workbook and this exercise valuable, I have since decided to share the result of that exercise while describing some highlights of the process I went through to develop a list of values, here, and some of my thoughts throughout. This ended up appearing more free-form than essay; more train-of-thought than structured…and I hope it’s not too confusing, in the end. Feel free to comment with your opinions or any clarifications required!

In the Self Confidence Workbook, M&A describe confidence as “…a choice to take steps to act in line with your values.” I particularly enjoy their spin on the matter over my prior, internal (admittedly simplistic) definition, where confidence is “when someone acts as if uncaring or unbothered by their current context.” My old definition leaves a lot to be desired, if I examine it in much detail, especially as I used two negatives to describe a positive. Mathematically that works, but logically it presents difficulties.

M&A go on to say, “…confidence roots you in who you really are. You’ll be able to accept your weaknesses, knowing they don’t change your self-worth… Your actions will be in line with your principles, giving you a greater sense of purpose… you’ll be able to let your best self shine through.” Ok, now I’m really excited! I realized after reading this passage that the values exercise builds on my personal learnings from another book I greatly enjoyed, which also inspired the title of this post, Start with Why. Knowing the Why behind my actions and choices gives my life purpose, and values — and also makes me a more confident person. Cool!

So here goes — I’m sharing with you Internet strangers, family, friends, and fans my Why, my principles, and my purpose…Hopefully to make myself more confident, among other things!

When I’m at my best, I try to cultivate the following traits and habits: offering the world radical acceptance, loving-kindness, and unconditional support (meeting people exactly where they’re at); presenting an ever-questioning mind; unwavering belief in human ability for hyper-growth; a certain dedication to life-long learning and improvement; all while holding relentlessly high standards throughout.

None of this allows me to roll over for the critics, nor even lets me pay them any mind (though I’m tempted, always tempted, to spend mental cycles trying to figure out what the haters want). Say “no thanks!” to the bullies and the people who want to cut others down. Never forget the wise words of the wonderful RuPaul, “Unless they are paying your bills…pay them bitches no mind.”

Am I confident yet? 🙂

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I enjoyed reading Rands’ The Nerd Handbook recently. This link has absolutely nothing to do with the draft of a blog post which I’m currently chewing on, but I rather-strongly identified with the Nerd character who Rands describes in such lush and loving detail. Also, that draft post that I just mentioned? It’s taking far longer than I initially expected, and it has long surpassed the mental SLA that I have for acceptable delays between postings by several days. This delay’s enough to make me feel like a klaxon alarm continuously alerts my subconscious every moment of every day — you’re late! You’re late! You’re late. (I have a very active imagination. Unfortunately.) Therefore, I decided to take a detour and share The Nerd Handbook here, today.

Shut up, you silly bell, shut up. (I have a feeling that I will really enjoy the hedonistic yet easy pleasure of new mental silence which results from hitting that blue Publish button…)

In even less-contextually relevant news, I wrote 3 different bell-ringing programs when I was first learning C, a couple of years ago. Here’s the one that I made ring on my Windows 10 laptop (versus the first two, whose different implementations merely resulted in silence when compiled + ran.)

Enjoy! Feel free to write a comment telling me what you thought of this admittedly-rushed, poorly thought out, and yet enjoyably cathartic and mentally quieting post…I’d love to hear your opinion here. (Pun intended!)

* unlike my first attempt to make a dinging noise,
* this works on my Windows 10 laptop.

#include  <stdio.h>
#include  <stdlib.h>
#define   BEL     7