I did not grow up drinking coffee, but during college years, I started drinking coffee out of necessity and I eventually grew to love the taste. Lately, I am enjoying coffee more and here I share a few things that I do in the hope that they can be useful for others.
Years ago, I saw in a film documentary that coffee tasters tested the coffee brew at cooler temperature. Out of habit, I kept drinking my hot coffee at brewing temperature. But roughly a couple of years ago, I tried drinking my hot coffee a bit later after it is brewed and I learned that I enjoyed my coffee better when it has cooled down.
And with good coffee ground, the difference was more noticeable.
I can drink coffee in a hot state; I am used to it. But when it is a few degrees cooler, my tastebud can taste the richness of the coffee better. Fruity beans show forth their colours and chocolatey beans make me wonder if somebody sneaked in some cocoa beans in the bag.
Yes, it is that much better for those who wait.
We do not need to imitate everything the experts do, but it helps to understand why they do things they do.
I typically brew the coffee manually in a cup. Similar in style to French Press, except without the “press”. I gave away my French Press a very long time ago and have learned the necessary technique to drink from the cup as is.
Coincidentally, waiting for my hot coffee to cool down a bit has a positive side benefit, besides helping me enjoy the taste of my coffee better. This technique reduces the floating coffee ground, since there is more time for them to sink to the bottom of the cup.
Obviously using French Press or coffee filter might be nicer, but this method means there is only one thing to wash. So there is pro and con to it. And I am used to drinking coffee this way for years, so it works fine for me. But be warned, this method is not for everybody.
One thing to note. The “body” of the coffee is different when you drink coffee this way versus using filter. (By “body”, I am referring to the mouthfeel of the liquid. Similar to the way you recognise the “body” of a wine.)
Obviously, there is more than one way to accomplish something. We need to know when to be dogmatic and when to be flexible.
I have always bought ground coffee until recently. A few months ago, I started buying whole beans coffee after I bought a coffee grinder, the Hario PRISM.
PRISM is a hand-wound manual grinder. It takes me a few minutes to grind enough whole beans to make my cup. It is not hard work, but still it takes effort and time which turns drinking coffee into a more deliberate activity than before.
Sometimes I wish I had bought a coffee machine that could grind the beans and spits out the liquid hot coffee for me. But that thing tends to be noisy, so I think I will stick with the manual grinder for the time being.
But manual grinding is not for everyone.
So far for me, manual grinding is turning into some sort of relaxing tactile ritual.
Obviously, there is more than one tools to do a “job”. And sometimes, a tool can serve more than one “job”.
Well, that's it for now. There is still much to learn, so maybe I will post more on this topic in the future.
Here's to a nice cup of coffee.
Update: The Hario Prism broke and you can read the story here.
The quality in quality time
Proponents and supporters of “quality time” argue that quality makes up for quantity with regard to spending time with family or friends. They reason that it is okay to “sacrifice” away some time because it will be recovered fuller through higher quality, i.e. in “quality time”. But when people get off work to spend “quality time” with family or friends, how much “quality” are they actually putting into and getting out of their “quality time”?
Any seasoned manager will have many work-honed skills that are cross-utilised in private life to enhance the quality of his/her personal time. For example, being proactive in planning is a natural extension into private life that often enhances the quality of personal time. Another example, being optimistic and looking at life as “half-full glass” instead of “half-empty glass”.
And one does not rise up to the top without at least some skill to juggle tasks simultaneously. And quite a few actually have the propensity to do so out of personality. “Multitasking” is one skill that can often have positive effects but, if carried too far, can have undesired effects in personal affairs.
One of the most difficult things for a busy manager, especially in exciting times (be it good or bad), is to achieve a state of mind that devoids of thoughts related to work — when NOT at work. In other words, physically present but the mind is elsewhere, i.e. multitasking with work-related thoughts. The mind is still in “the office” so to speak. You are not 100% “present”.
Even when not thinking about work, the multitasking habit may manifest itself in the form of thinking about the future (or the past). A leader, like a chess player, naturally thinks steps ahead while making the move on the current step.
“Technically I lived in the present, but my eyes were forever focused on a more elusive, seemingly more important spot in time.” Eugene O'Kelly #quotes
Quality time demands focus and active participation. It requires the participants to be fully present – body and mind. This may come naturally for some, but for others it may necessitate re-training of work-hardened habits and re-commitment to the private life. The fundamentals are there. Similar to dedicating 100% of self at work, we need to dedicate 100% of ourselves to our private lives – especially during quality time.
Being present is the key that unlocks the quality in quality time.
What are the most common reasons for professionals to change jobs? Usually: unresolved negative incident, family-related move, or unsolicited recruitment. All of these are externally influenced circumstances; in other words, externally triggered as opposed to internally triggered. But these are, usually, not within one's direct sphere of influence, thus limited influence on improving or maintaining job satisfaction. Arguably, a better approach at managing one's job satisfaction is via personal monitoring of career crossroads signs.
“If a man is unhappy in his work, he is unhappy.” (Patrick Morley, “The Man in the Mirror”)
This quote applies to both male and female professionals. And yet many professionals arrive at career crossroads without knowing it. The opportunity to make a career move does not always present itself. At the same time, just because there is no “obvious” opportunity does not mean it is a bad idea to make a career move either.
As the saying goes, “a map is only useful if you know where you are and where you want to go” (assuming you also have the right map). So what are the signposts that can help you identify where you are and where you need to be in your career journey? The following talks about some personal signposts; they may be different from one person to another, but these are a good start.
Being proud at the end of every working day
Getting paid appropriately to the level of contribution is crucial, but all else being equal, pride counts a lot. At the end of the day, every day, is there conscience that the work done is well deserving of the pay? Is it something that has been done in the best possible way with the available knowledge at the time? Is it something that will stand up to the scrutiny of the next generation? If the answer is no, then maybe it is time to move on.
Having magnitude of attitude in check
Some people push all the wrong buttons from time to time, while some others push the wrong button all the time. This is not to say that wrong buttons justify bad attitude in the workplace. Attitude is the fine line that separates professionalism and barbarism. It sets apart a decision maker from a bully.
Negativity tears down the team, whereas positive attitude redirects the team's energy to build up and strengthen the team. So when the reserve for positive attitude runs low and replenishment cannot keep pace, then maybe it is time to move on.
Working in a way that lets life to be enjoyed
All too often, work interferes with personal life outside work. Being late for something because an important meeting ran over, or dinner plan with friends need to be missed due to a business trip, or having to receive a work phone call during vacation because an urgent decision cannot wait, etc, etc. This is understandable and sometimes is just a “small price” compared to the alternative repercussions.
But once it starts reducing the joy in personal life, then it is time to check. Is this happening on regular basis or just haphazardly? If regular, how long has this been going on? Is there any path forward to resolve it soon? If the analysis yields unfavourable observation, then is it worth the personal sacrifice? If no, then maybe it is time to move on.
Knowing that learning will not stop
Decision makers are by nature “knowledge workers” who thrives at processing and using relevant knowledge to make decisions. And decision making is done always within the context of competitive landscape which itself changes all the time. Lifelong learning is more than a privilege, it is a necessity.
Ongoing learning is the key to adaptability. Without learning, one's decision making ability will become dull.
“Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” (Author Unknown)
So when the learning slows down or stops completely, then maybe it is time to move on.
Change can be uncomfortable
A career change, especially when family may be affected, is even more uncomfortable. However, if you know where you are and you are not where you want to be, then ask the question, “Am I looking at a career crossroads?” If yes, maybe it is time to move on, even if it is uncomfortable. Life is too short to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and not do anything about it.
Life is a journey. And “a journey of a thousand li starts with a single step.” (Lao Tzu)
The purpose of influence
“Intelligence? Checked. Career? Checked. Money? Checked. Professional and social networks? Checked. Now what?” These questions get asked often by high powered individuals, but the answers do not always satisfy. An interesting approach to find the answer is through understanding one's sphere of influence and then defining a purpose with which to focus his / her influence.
Obviously, every one is different. An answer that satisfies one person may not satisfy another. At the same time, the process of how to get to the answer may be applicable for many individuals. The following tells a story of one person's journey to find his answer.
When his book became one of the all time best selling book in the world, Rick Warren started seeing millions of US dollars flow from his book proceeds. In other words, he had done it; he had arrived. The following video shows a TED Conference talk where Rick recalled how he dealt with his “now what” question by focusing his influence and affluence into three areas: AIDS, poverty, and leadership development.
Buying IT investment advice
It may be interesting to survey CEOs and CFOs on how much they truly understand IT analysts' influence on their IT spending. IT analysts are often CIOs best friends (figuratively speaking). When asked by the CEO / CFO, “why implement such and such information technology that costs so much money?” The CIOs can usually point to their teams' analysis that is backed by some industry report from some IT analyst to justify the reason.
In the financial industry, people are familiar with the important roles that credit analysts and stock analysts play in the health of the industry. At the same time, abuse of responsibility by either of them can have major impact to the fortune of many people.
How is this relevant to IT? IT analysts like Yankee Group, Gartner, Forrester, Ovum, etc (see IIAR for more), are very different than credit analysts or stock analysts. Indeed, they are different, but IT analysts have only been in existence for a brief period of time compared to credit or stock analysts. If things stay the course for the long term, IT analysts, directly or indirectly, can potentially have similar impact as the analysts in the financial industry. This is not a story out of a science fiction movie; this is real life, particularly in large companies. (IT analyst costs often price out small companies.)
Value added services
IT analysts reports save time and, in some cases, fill in the competency holes that exist in some organisations. Many CIOs and their teams typically use them in several areas, among others are the following.
These value added services are very useful in the right context, but they can create powerful influencing forces. Technology trend reports can influence corporate spending on technology types that are favoured or disfavoured by the IT analysts. Vendors and product assessment reports directly influence visibility for corporate spending. Some enterprise software vendors have seen improved business due to no small part on being favoured by IT analysts. Cost benchmark reports can affect the fate of IT employees, to the benefit of outsourcing companies, and also the fate of IT spending policies, which often has hidden cost implications.
Wrong IT investments can affect the entire company, both short and long term, which can have direct financial impact to the bottom line.
Caveat emptor. There is very minimal, if any, check and balance in the IT advisory industry. IT analysts are not accountable to any governing body. So let the buyer beware and take notice when buying and reading IT analyst reports.
Some key pointers to pay attention to
Technology trend reports and vendor / product assessment reports can have financial impact to IT vendors whose offerings are mentioned in the reports, either favourably or otherwise. But there is a lack of disclosure by IT analysts in their reports. Do their companies accept business from any of the vendors? Do they own any share in such companies? Different companies have different policies.
IT analysts are not overpaid reporters; they are analysts first and foremost, and then they write up reports. For these analysis to be worth the cost they charge, the IT analysts not only need to have good analytical and writing skills, but more importantly, they need to have true understanding of the topic at hand and how it applies. Clients need to ensure IT analysts have the practical experience. Many IT analysts (not all) have long track record as IT analysts, but not necessarily as IT practitioners. So if they lack the experience as practitioners, do they explain their process of ensuring their recommendations do not just look good in theory?
Global and local context
IT analyst reports would contain general recommendations on certain areas, areas that have global impact to their clients. Yet in most cases, an IT analyst client is larger, and operates in more geographical areas, than all of the IT analysts combined. Do they demonstrate experience in the complexity of a large global operations and the sensitivity of local cultural and geopolitical issues?
Range of coverage
Having limited resources, most IT analysts focus only on medium-to-large IT vendors and, even then usually, on specific sets of technology only. They cover the mainstream, but not the fringes of technology trends. Unfortunately, this can lead to missed opportunities for innovative solutions that may be just what are needed at some companies.
Many IT analysts come up with some sort of trends or prediction or forecast on certain topics, quantitatively or qualitatively. Nobody, officially, keeps track how accurate they are from year to year. To draw an analogy from the financial industry again, all mutual fund investment advisors regularly publish their performance, i.e. how they compare against their target performance benchmark. So if there is no performance tracking, what criteria would companies use to choose one IT analyst company over another?
Balanced approach is needed
IT is becoming more and more intertwined within business processes in the organisation. IT is not just a tool; it is slowly (or depending on industry – quickly, if not already) becoming the core component in many companies' business processes. The right IT investments, done right, can give the competitive edge needed in today's business environment.
External IT analysts – the good ones – have a role to help make sense of where to invest in the fast changing world of IT. At the same time, intimate knowledge of practical internal needs is mandatory before deciding on what, where and how much IT investment should be done.
Building relationships daily
Lessons learned and introspection are two sides of the same coin. Lessons learned is used more in an organisational setting (often called other names) and introspection is used more in a personal setting. The process hinges on the observation along two dimensions: the visible (what happened) versus the non-visible (what did not happen), and the task versus the people. People are about relationships.
Companies cannot exist if not for the people in it – from the smallest to the largest of companies. Machineries and computers are operated by people. Information is analysed and synthesised by people. Business relationships happen among groups of people from various companies. Jay Ball from Banner wrote in his eBook, Cracked – A small guide to big ideas :
“We are, at the end of the day, always talking to people. Yes they may be IT-director-people or CEO-people or plasma-TV-buying people, but they are first and foremost people.” #quotes
People are not numbers; they have warm blood, free will, and feeling. Relationships among people are nurtured through understanding and trust. People can be complicated and relationships take time and effort. At the same time, their positions in the organisation do not make the relationships any easier, or more difficult, to nurture. Relationships are uniquely influenced by the “chemistry” of the people involved combined with the circumstances around them.
The “humblest” team members or stakeholders, the ones that are thought of as “least important”, they also deserve the investment of time and effort worthy of any relationship, irrespective of positions. And when time is short and to-do list is long, it seems like a natural decision to prioritise investment of time and effort on the “more important” stakeholders over the “less important” ones, with importance dynamically adjusted based on a given circumstance.
But there is a saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” ... The implication is that the “less important” stakeholders can be as critical as the “more important” ones at a given circumstance. And there is no telling in advance when and which circumstance it would be.
Nurturing relationships with team members and stakeholders – all of them – needs to be a daily goal, one relationship at a time. And more importantly, relationships with people in personal life must be nurtured too. Colleagues and business partners come and go as people move on in their careers, but families and friends whose relationships are well nurtured — they stay around.
The following poem is applicable for personal introspection as well as for organisational lessons learned. It speaks of relationships and more. The poetic language should not be dismissed as irrelevant, but, instead, it should be taken as an intellectual challenge to decipher and translate into both personal and corporate life. One would be wise to reflect on it often.
At the end of the day – a mirror of questions
What dreams did I create last night? Where did my eyes linger today? Where was I blind? Where was I hurt without anyone noticing? What did I learn today? What did I read? What new thoughts visited me? What differences did I notice in those closest to me? Who did I neglect? Where did I neglect myself? What did I begin today that might endure? How were my conversations? What did I do today for the poor and the excluded? Did I remember the dead today? Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different? Where did I allow myself to receive love? With whom today did I feel most myself? What reached me today? How deep did it imprint? Who saw me today? What visitations had I from the past and from the future? What did I avoid today? From the evidence – why was I given this day?
This poem is quoted from the book Benedictus (European version), or also called To Bless The Space Between Us (North American version), authored by the late John O'Donohue .
Topping off a successful career
For some executives at the top of their career, it is not always easy to move on, but success can be enriched in more than one way.
Many people grow up having some sort of ideals for a better world... And then life happens. Financial wants, family responsibilities, career ambitions, et cetera take priority and those ideals got de-prioritised. These ideals are not forgotten completely. Once in a while, opportunities present themselves to live out these ideals, although not everyone has the courage to go for it.
CEO of a multi-billion dollar UK-based company, Richard Harvey, went for it. He set out to live and do volunteer work for a year in Africa, accompanied by his wife. (*) He went to apply his management skills to help create sustainable solutions for real world challenges that many poor Africans face. Other executives may think this is just an identity crisis, a season that will eventually go away. But that is missing the point.
Many people are at least as wealthy and as successful as Mr. Harvey, but very few do what he did. There is no benchmark on how much money one needs to have nor what career one should have had to qualify. For many successful executives, loss of income for a year or two is not a financial concern. The smart ones have saved enough in their financial coffers to retire whenever they want to.
No, it is not about money. It is about state of mind. It is about fear of the unknown. It is about family support. It is about feeling secure in oneself to not worry what others might think. (Usually very positive, by the way.) Mr. Harvey was secure enough, financially, and successful enough, career-wise, that he could move his life in a totally different direction to pursue a more fulfilled life.
Those who would follow Mr. Harvey's lead, may find their minds expanded and their perspectives enriched, such that when they decide to go back to the corporate world, they will have the edge over other executives. Not to mention that it will round up their curriculum vitae / resumes and make for an interesting interview discussions.