My endless list, black hole, and manager feedback

Meeting notes from our 2nd meeting in 2019-W15.


Last week we were lucky enough to meet, eat, and talk a second time. Participation doubled in size!

This time we talked about (mostly):

  • Professions
  • The black hole image
  • Manager feedback

That last one occupied the bulk of our time, as you may imagine.


What would you do if you didn’t do what you do for a living?

We have an inside joke with my wife. Whenever I see something I like, I immediately say: “If I wasn’t a programmer, I would be a musician”. The following day I go: “If I wasn’t a programmer, I would probably be a chef”.

That’s been going on for as long as we known each other. That is 25 years now.

The list has grown huge over the years. I always wondered how it would feel like if I tried a different profession. Are there easy and difficult ones? Is there a hidden routine that would make me unhappy? When you look at a successful music band, for example, you see glamour. You can imagine yourself on the stage.

What’s not shown, though? Maybe the amount of energy and work to become a successful musician or singer? Maybe creative professions like that can become a boring routine? Maybe I’d love playing my songs, but I’d hate traveling to 10 different countries within a month during a tour? Who knows? What about other professions? What does it take or mean to be a chef?

The black hole image

We all saw Katie Bouman‘s name all over the place. We’ve read about the imaging algorithms. We’ve watched How to take a picture of a black hole | TED Talk.

The Event Horizon Telescope team did amazing work! Seeing how a black hole looks (or something close to how it looks) is an amazing feat! I am humbled by it and so glad I was alive when this happened.

I will not repeat most of the things you’ve already read or watched elsewhere. I will only mention a small piece of trivia that impressed me.

Each telescope, that makes up the one huge virtual telescope, collects data over a long period. The data go in hard drives. They then send the disks to the MIT Haystack Observatory using commercial transportation. That’s where they are cross-correlated and analyzed.

One might think that would be an Internet activity. Maybe a constant stream of information. I guess that’s not efficient even by today’s standards. It’s more efficient to ship the hard disks. Instead of the Internet, they are using the Sneakernet.

Another quick one is the EU funding this effort with a total of 44€ as it seems. I like that. The EU is not only about politics. It’s also about science and scientific research & freedom.

Manager feedback

Oh my. This is a huge topic. Our discussion was super great. It started with an example of feedback from a manager to a direct report. The example was about a feedback delivery that was not very good.

The manager didn’t focus on a behavior, its impact, and helping the direct report to find ways to improve.

The direct report didn’t accept the feedback gracefully, but instead reacted.

This gave us the opportunity to discuss different feedback delivery and acceptance methods.

One that I’ve used a lot during my managerial career follows a very simple pattern:

  • Ask before you give feedback
  • Describe the behavior
  • Describe the impact (good or bad)
  • Ask how they can improve (if it’s bad)

This is something I’ve used with my teams, and I have received great reviews for it. I also realized it works once you give it a few tries. It’s not easy at first. You need to give it time, and there’s a specific approach to prepare your team for this change in your behavior as a manager. It works, though.

You can learn more and try it yourself by listening to Giving Effective Feedback – Part 1 (Hall Of Fame Guidance) | Manager Tools.

Now, like I said, there are hundreds of books, podcasts, seminars, and trainings out there about giving feedback. There’s even a tendency to dismiss giving feedback altogether lately. The truth is, no one way is panacea. There are a few fundamental truths, though, that hold no matter the method. Oh, by the way, the articles that start with encouraging you to dismiss giving feedback altogether, end by just proposing an alternative method. Giving feedback will always be something a mentor/leader/teacher needs to do.

Also, disclaimer, I don’t have any affiliation with Manager Tools. I don’t even fully agree with everything that’s being suggested. What I really like, though, is almost every podcast has a list of steps and actions you can try. You can try it with your team, and see how it goes. It even has a list of steps you can take to prepare your team for your new experiment.

Wrap up

Before I leave you, I wanted to drop a quote by Richard Dawkins:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?

I learned about it listening to The Greatest Show On Earth by Nightwish, from their Endless Forms Most Beautiful. I think their longest song? Check it out on Spotify.

I will leave you with that. Thanks for reading. Consider coming to our next meeting this Thursday, 18 April, at 1pm at coho.

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