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!

I recently had a birthday – and next year will be one of the big “Star-Oh” birthdays, you know, 20, 30, 40, 50… I try to reflect back every year, and project forward, something like a retrospective you might encounter after completing a project at work. During this look-around, I think about the lessons I learned over the year, any highlights, and any lowlights. Because I’m not doing this at work, I skip developing a list of any Action Items 😀

Here are some of the lessons I learned this year:

  • I still need to improve my prioritization methods. (I primarily use Dale Carnegie’s Important vs Urgent quadrant and block time on my calendar to execute.) I am good at addressing the highest priority, most urgent items, first. However, I don’t always look ahead with a wide-enough window, and so large projects that are due somewhat soon, but not immediately, get allocated time in a sub-optimal manner. This means I struggle to complete these types of task to my high quality bar, in the little time I have remaining before the item comes due.
  • I need to be more intentional with my hiring. Amazon has trained me to always be hiring, because I’m likely to get headcount for my rapidly-growing team in steady blocks at least once a year, more likely twice, sometimes even four times a year. So if I have a pipeline that I’m curating all year round, I’ll be more successful at filling my projects than if I’m reacting. So while that part’s working well for me, I hired two engineers when I had three positions open up on 1/01. The third position, the project manager, I thought I’d have in the bag since I used to be a TPM! I was mistaken. After moving through my warm-backlog of candidates without finding the right person, I had already hired and started my two engineers, and with the two interns who are also starting soon, I have 4 more engineers’ worth of work on my plate, and no project manager to help split the load. This is the first time I’ve regretted being so successful at hiring, and makes me hesitate to be so enthusiastic about adding engineers, temporary OR full-time, anytime in the near future.
  • I need to coach my team on management tasks earlier and more often. I took a couple of months after joining my current team to figure out who was interested in learning any management skills, and then made sure that these individuals start to develop the personal goals they need to encourage, track, and support their learning in this area. Then I coach them in the skills themselves. In the meantime, I went on to hire more engineers than I could comfortably on-board, without having the task-level and project-level management support available from my more senior engineers, and still with that TPM slot open. While that’s support is coming soon, I’m currently working a bit more than I had imagined, because of the mis-allocation.
  • I need to keep my eyes open more frequently to people’s non-verbal signals, especially when they’re at the front of the pack. I tend to believe leaders: when they say a thing, their words are simply true. I sometimes choose to ignore the non-verbal signals that accompany that signal and make it a bit fuzzier. Leaders don’t get respect just because they’re leaders, they get respect because they’ve earned it. If they haven’t earned it yet with me, personally, I must trust AND verify in order to be sure I’m reading their words, body language, and the situation correctly.

These are the main lessons I’ve learned in the past one-circle-around the sun. Next post, I’ll discuss some highlights and lowlights from the past year!

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? 🙂