The downside of 10k hours experience

homer-simpson-wallpaper-brain-10242I’m sure you know that many of us at TalentedApps have been looking for ways to incorporate deliberate practice into our work.  This makes sense, given the number of years that we have been working in this field.   A practical recommendation from our research arm, was that we read Made to Stick.   

Reading this book had an “a ha” moment for me around concept called “The curse of knowledge“.  In a nutshell, the curse of knowledge suggests that when you know too much about something you often are bad at explaining it to others

My husband has this problem with skiing, he is way too good to comprehend what beginners struggle with (fear, balance, skill).   This lead to establishing a personal policy to never attempt to learn a sport from someone you sleep with.  If you don’t have a similar policy, you might consider adopting mine.  You’re relationship will be better for it (and so will your sports-abilities).

I don’t tend to experience the curse of knowledge as much when explaining concepts, but I do have it in spades when I make decisions.  Here is my issue, most of the time I have no idea why a specific decision is the right one.  I just know.  I know that might sound arrogant to some, but honestly I don’t mean it that way.

I’m not really a numbers person, but somehow my brain that does a frighteningly rapid number of calculations (usually without bothering to involve me) when presented something that impacts my products.  I’ll give you an example:

For sake of discussion, lets say someone named Amy, comes to me with an idea for the product  “we should do X in Y release“.  

My brain immediately kicks in and does something wacky — it calculates weather patterns, team skillsets, technology options, performance considerations, regional holiday schedules, religious preferences, flight risks, team career aspirations, political barriers, organizational strengths/bureaucracies, horoscopes, release schedules, etc. and comes back with essentially one of three possible answers.  It is at this point it will let me in on the process (I guess it figures I can’t screw it up from there).  My three answers look something like this:

  • Wont Work
  • Might Work (but risky)
  • Will Work (if)

Here is where the curse of knowledge kicks in.  I will respond to Amy’s suggestion with the answer no, yes or maybe. 

As you can imagine the yes and the maybe don’t get me into too much trouble, but the no answer is a mess.  You’d think it might occur to me to explain why I say no.  You’d think I’d want to let people in on my decision process, so that they also conclude that no is the right answer

The problem is I don’t really know myself, or at least I can’t explain why I know.  Instead, I tend to channel my best teenager and do the adult equivalent of the big-sigh + eye-roll. 

Truth is, I just want everyone to trust the mechanics of my brain.  Experience has proven to me that it’s way smarter than I am, and really should not be questioned.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I have required up to three days to put into words (that make any sense) the why for one of these “wont work” responses.

Now that I know about this curse, I will hopefully be more empathic about the need to understand the why.  I can’t say it will take away the sigh, but hopefully it will help me have the patience to figure out and explain the calculation

I’m guessing, it might also allow others to have confidence in the decision.  Seems worth a shot anyway.

How do you navigate barriers?


I’ve decided that one of the public services I must do with this blog is to tell you guys the truth.  Not the we hold these truths to be self-evident  kind, but the career-impacting truths, that most will not say out loud.

Here is one of those hard truths:  there are two kinds of people in my professional world, those who get stuck by barriers and those who find a way through.  It really is that simple.  In fact, it’s so simple that I’ve begun to wonder more about why

Of course, I don’t wonder about why I see the world that way.  My job is to get stuff done.  If you are able to get through barriers you are able to get more stuff done and thus my life is easy.    I like easy

What I wonder about is you.  What makes it possible for you to get through barriers when others cannot?  (See what I did?   I just gave you credit for being a make-it-through person.  As a reader of TalentedApps, of course you are on the plus side of this equation). 

Did you learn this from your family?  Were you born with it?  Can others learn it to?  Frankly, I’m not sure.  What I do know is that the right  mix of persistence and confidence is a winning combination.  

If you are a person who finds a way through barriers, odds are your manager is noticing.   The more barriers you surmount, the more opportunities you are going to have, and that, in turn, will lead to more successes.

Something to think about.

Involuntary attrition of .03% is not high performing

union I’m  no Norma Rae, but I do have a general appreciation for unions.   I think unions are an excellent way to promote rights for workers.  Rights to safe work environment, fair pay, benefits, etc.  I do not, however, think that unions should be in the business of protecting workers who do not perform. 

Why?  Simple, if you cannot fire non-performers you are hurting the rest of the employees.  Frankly, the poor performer, if not cut loose, will drag the whole group down.

This is my first year participating in the California public school system (well since I left it myself), and so far my experience has been great.    Of course, I am fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that is very committed to the schools and puts an overwhelming amount of time and energy into their success.   My daughter is also lucky to have an excellent teacher.

So, you can imagine that I was blown away to learn that  once given tenure (after 2 years of service) teachers cannot be fired.  At least those that are merely incompetent cannot, I guess you could fire the Humbert Humbert types.

In 2003, one Los Angeles union representative said: “If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible. Unless they commit a lewd act.”

This sounds to me, like the tenure system is a racket.    Look at the stats for Los Angeles for 1995-2005

Between 1995 and 2005, only 112 Los Angeles tenured teachers faced termination — eleven per year — out of 43,000. And that’s in a school district whose 2003 graduation rate was just 51 percent.

Wow!  What can that possibly be doing for the engagement levels of the awesome teachers ?  Where are the non-fired bad teachers going?  I’m guessing there are more than a few employee hot potato situations. 

I’m all for paying teachers more, a lot more, but I cannot see how we get better schools for everyone, until we start requiring performance for that pay.   In my experience, numbers like these do not reflect reality.   

I’m not suggesting we need to go Jack Welch, but I do think that some level of workforce trimming is necessary for a healthy organization to grow.

Hit me with your comments readers, tell me what is being done to fix this?  How do I get involved?

Performance Review, what’s in it for me?

oneinmanyAs luck would have it, we are doing our own mid-year review cycle right now.  Being an overly introspective person, I have been thinking that I’ve rarely seen communications about the review process that give a sense to an individual WIIFM (What’s in it for me?).

Reviews are often thought of in terms of measurement or drudgery but rarely is the point emphasized that they are about being heard.

As with all advice here at TalentedApps, the message is simple.  You get what you settle for.  So I would like to suggest that a Performance document is your chance to

  • Articulate and align with your manager about your key strengths.  What is great about you and why?  How are you leveraging that greatness for the benefit of your manager and your company?   Is there more that you could be doing  to better highlight your awesomeness to a broader population?


  • Talk about your near and long term goals.  What they are and what they should be?  What do you want to continue doing and what do you want to quit doing?  Why?


  • Build an action plan for greatness.  Who should you consider being a mentor to?  Who should you be getting mentoring from?  What learning would benefit you?  How should you stretch yourself to grow?

In summary, the performance review is really only as useful as you make it.  If you are waiting for your manager to take the lead, you are seriously missing the point.  Your manager is required by the organization to rate you against your peers and against your objectives.  S/he is required by you to help you succeed

Are you helping your manager make sure both objectives are accomplished, or are you wasting the opportunity and only letting the organization benefit from the exercise?

Or as Dr. Seuss said so well

Shout loud at the top of your voice, “I AM I!
I am I!
And I may not know why
But I know that I like it.
Three cheers! I AM I!

How I became a Kindle-vangelist

kindleI must be clear that this is a surprising thing.  I am not a gadget geek.  I don’t really like technology that much and, as a general rule, I am a slow adopter. 

In the past decade though, I have found that I’m getting more and more attached to certain kinds of technology.

I’ve already stated that Tivo is, by far, my favorite technology innovation of the last twenty years.  In my world, it beats the microwave, the cell phone, the laptop and rivals the remote control in the usefulness.

I’ve also grown to love my iPhone.  Of course, my favorite iPhone feature is the ability to post photos of my kids on twitter or facebook.  Spamming people with photos of my kids is what I’m all about.

So now I’ve managed to fall for the Kindle as well.  I first started thinking about the Kindle on Seth’s recommendation.  I think it was the “it’s for women” claim that got my attention.   Then Andrew McAfee explained the wireless part which added to my interest.

Next, I found myself on a trip without a book to read.  When I asked via twitter (linked to facebook status) if anyone had a book I could borrow.  I got  a suggestion from Steve that I consider a Kindle.  Might be worth noting that I get most of my tech tips from Steve.  It makes sense right?   An SVP really has nothing better to do with their time, than to teach me that function-F11 expands the main part of the browser, or that spellcheck can be had with a firefox upgrade.

So I put a kindle on my Christmas list, and immediately got put in the back order queue for the Kindle 2.  Christmas came in March, and I am  now two weeks experienced, so as I promised Jake, I’m sharing my love of the Kindle with the world.

What rocks about the Kindle?

  1. Increasing the font.  For those of us who are (ahem) getting close to needing reading glasses, this is a nice feature.
  2. Instant gratification – the Kindle is, to acquiring things to read, what the iphone is to music.  You find it, you get it, immediately.  It’s all nicely hooked up such that the commerce transactions feel effortless.  It’s almost as if they didn’t want you to realize you were spending any money at all.
  3. Highlighting and taking notes – I totally geeked out reading Outliers and highlighting key pieces of text I might want to remember later.  Probably less necessary for things like the Twilight series.
  4. The green angle — the paper I’m not using has to be a good thing.  Especially for the newspapers and magazines. 
  5. It’s light.  Really really light.  This is cool for holding as well as traveling.
  6. Makes excellent sense for a trip where you are almost done with one book and want to pack a second (or third).  No extra weight to carry and you could even make up your mind about the third book when you need it vs. deciding before you go.
  7. The next page is smartly on both sides so you can lean right or left with your reading as your mood dictates.
  8. The type is good, not at all like a computer monitor so reading feels like a pleasure not a job.

Things I am critical of with the Kindle

  1. I find the next page button has a bit of a mechanical click sound that doesn’t go well with my love of reading quietly.  Of course, you learn to not hear it after a bit.
  2. With 240k titles, I still could not find some of the books I had lined up in my “to read next” list.
  3. I do miss the feel of holding a book, especially when it wasn’t a big book.
  4. You can’t easily loan it to someone else when you are done.
  5. They wanted to charge me to read blogs and have no integration with my Google reader.  As if!

So I find myself as a new Kindle-evangelist, showing all my friends and neighbors my new toy.  Yes, this is more beneficial to Amazon than me, in that I’m surely going to buy more books (and they made me pay for the device as well) but somehow this is an electronic gadget that does something I like to do.  Sit quietly and read.

A little help from your friends

shearsRingo was onto something *.  Friends make all the difference.  Of course, they are an asset in your personal life but I should tell you that they are also  critical professionally.

You need to have good friends close to you to watch your back.  Real friends that will tell you when you have something in your teeth, or a breath mint is in order, or maybe you just happened to accidentally freak out a whole group of people by coming to a meeting stressed out (for a random not-at-all-autobiographical example).

Lets face it, we all could be better and we all have our moments when a slight throat clearing from a friend, can make the difference between success and a disaster.

So, if you are like me, and lucky enough to have such good friends near, be thankful.  If you do not have these types of relationships, consider making them.  Turns out, having friends at work is an indicator of engagement .  So you can call it an investment in your own retention.


*Yes I know that John and Paul wrote the song

Investing in your work network

miifriends1I can hear you groan on this topic and I promise you, I feel your pain , but someone has to tell you that life is not fair (and lucky for you,  that seems to be my blog purpose in life). 

I keep hearing people reminding us to build an external network to protect against a rainy day, the logic being that if you need to find a new job you will need a strong network.  This is 100% true.

Problem is, we forget to mention that you also need a network to get ahead where you work today.  Think I’m wrong?  Well I guess it depends on your definition of getting ahead.

If you are interested in doing a good job, as measured by a performance review, then your need for a network is probably dependant upon your qualifications .  If you already know everything you need to know to do your job, a network is not so critical to success.  BUT if you need skills you don’t have, or to get results against a task you have never done before, a network is important.

If you are interested in being promoted, especially to the more senior grades, a network is probably critical.  Most people do not realize just how critical.  You see, a lot of companies have some type of calibration activity.  This essentially means that it is not just your performance that will determine your advancement, but instead it is how others perceive your performance and potential that matter.   If you are well networked you have a distinct advantage over someone who is not, in a Talent Review discussion.

So what are you to do if you are not predisposed to networking?  What if you are shy?  Or if you are just anti-social by nature?  Well the first thing I recommend is to quit telling yourself it doesn’t matter.  It does. 

Just because it is hard and you are at an unfair disadvantage, doesn’t make it something to avoid.  Instead, you need to do what your mom did for you when she started you in preschool (ask her, she’ll back up my story).  She made accommodations for you to help you succeed.  She might have introduced you to other kids before the first day, or took you to see the classroom early to build your confidence.  She might even have solicited the help of the teacher to give you a hand making introductions.  She found a way for you to succeed because she knew it was important.

Now it is your turn to do the same for yourself.   

  • Decide what is really important to you.  Status quo or moving ahead.  If you want to move ahead then, depending on your level, you need to make investing in your business network a priority.


  • Enlist help.  If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, get the help of a friend who is good at it, or ask for help from your boss.


  • Give back.  If you are in a more senior role, consider broadening your network to include people less senior to you.  Open yourself up to be more approachable and accessible for others to get to know you.

This is not a discussion about technology, this is about how business works (and frankly about how people work).  So now you know, what is your plan?