Monday, October 1, 2018

Learnings from "The 7 habits of highly effective people"

I just finished reading "The 7 habits of highly effective people", a best-seller by Stephen R. Covey, that has inspired me in many levels. I am sharing some of the learnings I got, mostly as a personal bookmark, but hopefully this post can be useful for the community.
Image result for the 7 habits of highly effective people

Habit 1: Be Proactive
  • It is not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. There is a space between stimulus and response, and the key to our growth and happiness is how we use that space.
  • While reactive people feel victimized and out of control, proactive people have the power to choose how to respond to any circumstances (i.e., smiling with bad weather).
  • We must focus our efforts on the things we can do something about, and accept what we can't change (past events, weather,...).
  • Try replacing victimized language (i.e., "There is nothing I can do", "I have to do it",...) with proactive language ("Let's see all the options", "I choose to do it",...).
Image result for "wrong jungle" covey

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind
  • Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things. Effective management without effective leadership is "like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic".
  • Try visualizing what you want to be said of you in your funeral from your partner, relatives, co-workers, friends,.... You will find your ultimate definition of success.
  • Write your Personal Mission Statement, a sort of Constitution summarizing what you want to be, to do, and the values and principles that govern your life. Here is mine:
    "Live in a way that, looking back from my deathbed, I have clear conscience, I have had a positive impact on thousands of people's lives, and I can say that this journey was fun and worth every minute"
  • You can create specific mission statements for each role you have in your life: as a partner, parent, friend, co-worker,...
  • Top performers visualize themselves in rich detail before important activities, such as a job interview, an important football match, a public keynote,... They create an internal "comfort zone", so that when they get into the situation it isn't foreign anymore.
Source: Christina O

Habit 3: Put first things first
  • In the matrix above, we classify tasks by urgency and by importance (contribution to your mission and values). We tend to react to urgent matters but we must act (be proactive) on important matters.
  • Q1 - Urgent and important. A.K.A. firefighting. If you spend too much time solving crises you will be stressed and burned out. Thinking preventively can reduce the frequency of crises.
  • Q2 - Important but not urgent. This is the heart of effective personal management, where you spend time on things that can have an important impact on your personal and professional lives, but you never have time to do because you are busy with urgent things. Working out, acquiring new skills, family time, innovating processes at work,... they all fit in Q2.
  • Q3 - Urgent but not important. Solving problems based on other people's priorities that are normally in conflict with your own. Here is where it becomes so important to say "no" to these tasks, that take time from Q2.
  • Q4 - Not urgent and not important. These are non-demanding activities that are our refuge when we are burned out from crisis management.
  • Ideally we should eliminate Q3 and Q4 activities, reduce Q1 through prevention and spend most of our time in Q2.
  • Technique: Weekly planning:
        1. Think about the roles you have in your life. For example, I can be a husband, father, son, brother, friend, tech architect, agile coach and basketball referee. Include another one: "myself".
        2. For each one, reflect about your top 1-2 priorities (in Q2) that you want to act on during the following week. For example, as "myself" I want to workout and study Norwegian, as a father I want to organize my child's birthday party,...
        3. Put them all in your calendar and make sure you do them. These are your most important tasks for the week. Then you can fill the empty slots in your calendar with other less important tasks.

Habit 4: Think Win&Win
  • With a Win/Win mentality, all parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the action plan in a cooperative, non-competitive way.
  • A balance between high courage (to confront) and consideration (to emphatically understand) in an environment of trust is essential.
  • Win/Win mentality represents the believe that there is plenty of pie out there for everybody, in contrast with the scarcity mentality that stops people from collaborating.
  • In most cases, it is better to have a "no-deal" when no Win/Win can be found.
  • Win/Win Performance Agreement (example). The boss must make clear to the employees the requirements for the different rewards (promotions,...). Based on that, the employees must state in advance what they want to accomplish, and work together on a plan to achieve it. If the requirements are met, both will win. If not, the employee won't feel betrayed. With a Win/Win performance agreement between the boss and his/her subordinates, the employees can manage themselves, reducing overhead and increasing trust.
  • Organizations cannot achieve cooperation between employees if their reward system encourages them to compete with each other.
  • Competition makes sense in the market place, or against last year's performance or other teams with no need to cooperate.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • We have the tendency to fix things up with good advice (to prescribe); but often we don't take the time to deeply understand the problem first (to diagnose).
  • Most people don't listen with the intent to understand, but with the intent to reply, reading their autobiography into other people's lives ("I know exactly how you feel, I went through the very same thing last year when...").
  • Emphatic listening is a technique where you rephrase the content of what the other person said and reflect the feeling, all from a sincere desire to understand. Example: "I am done with this job" - "Oh, you sound frustrated about your job, tell me about it".
  • Emphatic listening helps the other person to open up. Once you understand the situation in deep, then you can seek to help with advice (to be understood).
  • Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood takes courage.
Source: Chieformula

Habit 6: Synergize
  • Synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • High trust and cooperation (see diagram above) produce the best results.
  • The essence of synergy is to value the differences, to build on strengths and to compensate for weaknesses.
  • We must recognize our own perceptual limitations and appreciate the rich resources available.
  • If two people have the same opinion, one is unnecessary. We should celebrate when someone has a different point of view.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw
  • A man in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. Someone asks him - "why don't you take a break and sharpen that saw? You would go a lot faster". He responds - "I don't have time. I'm too busy sawing".
  • Habit 7 is taking time to sharpen our saw, by renewing the four dimensions of our nature, all of them from the Q2 quadrant:
    • Physical: exercise, good nutrition, stress management.
    • Mental: professional training, visualizing, planning, writing.
    • Spiritual: value clarification and commitment, study and meditation.
    • Social/Emotional: serve others, empathy, synergy, intrinsic security.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Business Value of Ethics

I recently had the honour to speak at the Ethics in Research and Innovation workshop organized by ADAPT Centre in Trinity College Dublin. The topic of my keynote was "The Business Value of Ethics", where I reflected about the need to practice ethics in research and innovation environments, and the benefits that these practices can bring to an organization or company. Here I leave some highlights from my presentation.

Why Ethics in Technology is a must?
  • Emerging technologies such as AI, Connected Home, Autonomous Vehicles or Human Augmentation have unprecedented levels of potential harm in our society if ethics are neglected.
  • The impact of these technologies can be spread from 0 to billions of people in a matter of hours.
  • High-tech is no longer a privilege of large corporations and organizations. Access, development and knowledge of cutting-edge technology is now affordable and available to SMEs as well, which account for 99% of the businesses in the EU. Practicing ethics in technology is everyone's job.

Where is the opportunity?
The main reason to practice ethics in R&I settings should be that it is the right thing to do, and our responsibility as human beings, but there are a bunch of other reasons that businesses can benefit from:
  • Ethically-informed solutions can be your core value proposition if you are targeting the growing ethically-concerned customer segment. For instance, a study claims that 70% of the American consumers are influenced to purchase products based on company's ethics.
  • Data breaches, AI biased algorithms, cyber-attacks,... they can ruin the reputation of a company within hours. Practicing ethics is a shield that does not only protect your business against future reputation damage, but it actually enhances it.
  • Ethics in technology practices are expected to follow the same path of the green business practices, that have become a legal requirement, an investor demand and a compelling competitive advantage.

Where do I start from?
You might want to check tools such as Ethics Canvas or Data Ethics Canvas, that allow teams to brainstorm about the potential ethical impacts of their projects. And you can always leave me a comment if you want to learn more.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

8 proven techniques to have shorter and better meetings


Some weeks ago I published a post on Linkedin asking my connections for their best tricks to have more effective meetingsThis is a summary of the techniques that are being used successfully in world-class companies and institutions:
  • Invites. State a clear purpose, specific agenda points and share the slides upfront (if available). Make sure you have invited only the right participants by stating the roles and responsibilities for each one in the invite.
  • Set up. Prepare the context to start on time: room, tooling, material, connectivity, etc.
  • Be on time. Start your meetings at :05 to allow people to arrive from other meetings and grab a coffee. 
  • No devices. Mobile phones are not allowed on the desk or attendees' hands. Laptops are not allowed in the room except for the presenters.
  • Stand-ups. Meetings that are about status and decision making shouldn't be long. Chair-less rooms are ideal for this. Meetings about collaborative content review or training are longer by nature, and more suitable for desks and chairs.
  • Decisions. Open the meeting with the decision(s) that have to be made before the meeting ends.
  • Strict time keeping. In many cases, a 15-minute meeting is enough. Using meeting rooms that are booked when our meeting ends is a good way to make sure they don't last longer. Set the agenda with a strict time slot for each point and restrict each speaker's time to the allotted time.
  • ROI. Ask the participants to rate their Return of Investment (1-5) on a whiteboard at the end of the meeting. If the ROI is low, figure out why and what needs to be changed.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion! Do you have other tricks? Please share them as comments to this post.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

El Lean Canvas, explicado paso a paso

Tengo el honor de ser profesor del curso Startup Innovation Lab, del Plan de Empleo para la Educación Superior, en el que jóvenes canarios en situación de desempleo descubren las principales técnicas de emprendimiento siguiendo la metodología Lean Startup.

Dado que no hay muchos ejemplos prácticos y en español sobre cómo completar el Lean Canvas, he creado un vídeo de 14 minutos en el que se explica, paso a paso, cómo completar el canvas utilizando Spotify como producto de ejemplo.



Éste es el canvas resultante. Espero que sea de utilidad al igual que lo está siendo para mis alumnos.




Sunday, March 26, 2017

Want to be more productive at work? Leave your smartphone at home


I never considered myself a smartphone addict, but it is true that I waste a lot of time checking my phone and responding to personal emails and messages. According to studies [1] and [2], the average user checks the smartphone 80 times per day for 2.42 hours and touches the display 5427 times per day. These figures might seem very high, but I tracked my smartphone usage with BreakFree for one week and they are surprisingly accurate.
A couple of years ago I started using the Pomodoro Technique at work, which blocks smartphone notifications and some websites during the work intervals (25 minutes) and allows you to check them during the scheduled breaks (5 minutes after each work interval). This really helped me be more productive but it requires self-discipline that sometimes I don't have.

What if you really can't check your smartphone, personal email or social media because you don't have access to it? A few weeks ago I started the following experiment:
  1. Activate two-step verification for my Google account
  2. Activate login approvals for my Facebook account
  3. Activate login verification for my Twitter account
  4. Activate two-step verification for my Linkedin account
  5. Give my family a phone number where they can reach you at work in case of emergency
  6. Leave my smartphone at home and go to work
It is difficult to explain how vulnerable and insecure I felt the first time I left my phone at home... but after a few weeks the results have been incredibly positive.

I cannot check my personal email, Whatsapp or social media because after enabling two-factor authentication I need my smartphone for it. As a result, I don't get distracted by notifications every few minutes and I don't proactively use these services. In other words, I can focus on work, increasing my productivity.

When I get home in the evening I receive all the notifications at a time and respond to them all within 20-30 minutes, helping me save over 2 hours a day. that I devote to more enriching activities.

In addition, people don't expect me to be always reachable anymore, giving me a wonderful feeling of freedom.

Another positive side-effect is that your accounts will be protected from unauthorised access by using two-factor authentication.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Bypass blocked ports with Reverse SSH Tunneling

Most organisations have security rules that stop non-standard ports on external resources from being accessed from the corporate network.

One frequent scenario is when you are running a website on a non-standard port (e.g., 5000) on AWS EC2 (e.g., 52.131.143.12and you try to call it from your corporate network. In most cases, if you open your browser and try to access http://52.131.143.12:5000the site won't load despite having the port open on AWS EC2 Security Group.

To overcome this limitation you can use Reverse SSH Tunneling the following way:

  1. Open a terminal and navigate to the folder where you have your PEM key to connect to AWS EC2
  2. Type ssh -i your_key.pem -NL LOCAL_PORT:localhost:REMOTE_PORT ec2_user@xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx (e.g., ssh -i your_key.pem -NL 8080:localhost:5000 ec2-user@52.131.143.12).
  3. Leave the terminal open with the SSH command running. Open on your browser and type http://localhost:LOCAL_PORT (e.g., http://localhost:8080). The website will load.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Don't feed the zombies!

Sometimes, the best way to help the startups you care about is to let them die from starvation.
We all know entrepreneurs with terrible ideas, seeking validation, recognition and cash. I was (am?) one of them, and looking back at my startup journey I wish that I hadn't receive the awards and investment that kept me working on the wrong idea for months (although it was a great learning experience).

If you really care about your startup friends, I encourage you to follow these recommendations:
  • Feedback / Surveys. If you are asked to provide feedback about an idea, don't be accommodating. Tell them what you really think, even (especially) if it is not nice. A good entrepreneur will be grateful to learn more about your real needs. Perhaps you are simple not part of their target market.
  • Install my app / Like my page. If you don't really like a project, why do you have to install their app, register as a user or like their Facebook page? This will inflate their traction metrics, giving the startup team false expectations.
  • Crowdfunding / FFF Investment. While you might think you are helping your friends by supporting their Kickstarter campaing or their FFF (Family-Friends-Fools) round, you are probably making them waste their time creating a product nobody wants, and losing your money at the same time.
  • Awards. Entrepreneurs need a boost to their ego from time to time. However, receiving an award for a project that is not good enough could be misunderstood as real validation, encouraging founders to keep working in the same direction. Don't support any candidatures you don't really like.