2015: Dare Greatly

Happy New Year! It is now 2015.

2014 has come and passed. It’s had its ups and downs — as had every other year preceding; and as will every other year succeeding, though in many ways this year has had a little more of the latter than the former.

As with the start of every year, it’s a great time to think about theme(s) that will shape the next 365 days. One theme that I think will shape my life in 2015 is that of daring greatly, going forth in the face of self-doubt, and pursuing success in the face of unintuitive probabilities.

Do nothing; say nothing; be nothing, and you will never be critised.What will your theme be?

Whatever it is, here’s wishing you your best year yet.

Wanderlust

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.

Attributed to  Augustine of Hippo, the quote above reignited latent wanderlust. If I had to be honest though, as much as I like the idea of Travel, the execution of the act of Travelling is very different.

Alain de Botton, in his beautiful book The Art of Travel, put it best, when writing about his much anticipated trip to Barbados during his home country’s winter:

In my anticipation, there had simply been a vacuum between the airport and my hotel. Nothing had existed in my mind between the last line on the itinerary (the beautifully rhythmic ‘Arrival BA 2155 at 15.35′) and the hotel room. I had not envisioned, and now protested inwardly the appearance of, a luggage carousel with a frayed rubber mat; two flies dancing above an overflowing ashtray; a giant fan turning inside the arrivals hall; a white taxi with a dashboard covered in fake leopard skin; a stray dog in a stretch of waste ground beyond the airport; an advertisement for ‘luxury condos’ at a roundabout; a factory called Bardak Electronics; a row of buildings with red and green tin roofs; a rubber strap on the central pillar of the car, upon which was written in very small print ‘Volkswagen, Wolfsburg'; a brightly coloured bush whose name I didn’t know; a hotel reception area that showed the time in six different locations and a card pinned on the wall nearby that read, with two months’ delay, ‘Merry Christmas’. Only several hours after my arrival did I find myself united with my imagined room, though I had had no prior mental image of its vast air-conditioning unit or, welcome though it might be in the event, its bathroom, which was made of Formica panels and had a notice sternly advising residents not to waste water.

I was just thinking back to the best holidays I’ve had. And though I was tempted to put down “the best holidays I’ve had were those I’ve felt most like a local” (because my need for control is so strong), it’s not true. The holidays that I’ve most enjoyed have had just one thing in common: beautiful weather.

Give me 5-20 degrees Celsius temperature, relatively low humidity, and you’ve got yourself one happy camper. It would be one page of the world I’d gladly read and re-read many times over.

Doing math as an analyst; work before school

  1. I pick up my pen and write down what I see on the screen: 600 out of 14000 rows are selected based on the criteria A = 2 (that’s 4%); if I switch over to A = 5, 135 out of 14000 are selected (that’s only 1%) — I now know the probability of several outcomes based on two possible inputs. I do this a few more times and determine the probabilities of several more outcomes based on more inputs, and in the process understand the data much better. I document this so my future self, and others who may use the data, are aware.
  2. Salesperson A should have a overall sales target 10% less than Salesperson B. Given sales targets for multiple products, I have to determine how much to allocate to Salesperson A and how much to allocate to Salesperson B. I make a few notes, writing  down in algebraic terms the relationship between the total sales target, the sales target for person A, and the sales target for person B. I perform rudimentary simultaneous equations and input the formula into Excel, quickly calculating the breakdown for each of the products.
  3. The variable component of a salesperson’s salary is 30%, and  30% of that is determined by subjective factors, input by the line manager; the rest is determined by performance against sales targets. I create a spreadsheet formula that allows the line manager to rate the salesperson from 0-100%, automatically adjusted to fit the weights of the variable component and subjective factors.

I had such a hard time trying to figure out why I needed learn math. That’s why sometimes work before school makes sense.

Perspective Matters

120. 130. 140. We were now at 150km/h and cruising past traffic on our left, traffic already exceeding the official speed limit.

Let’s be clear: I wasn’t the driver (let’s call him Mr. X) In another world, the world before the one I had just entered, I would have been one of those on the left, cursing the reckless driving of an imbecile speed demon.

An accident waiting to happen, I would have thought. Who are these people?

But I was in the car now. In the back passenger eat of Mr. X, one of these “imbecile speed demons”. One of these people whom I was sure I’d dislike if I ever saw them outside the context of the road.

It hit me then and there that this wasn’t a person I disliked. This wasn’t a person I’d not hang out with. This wasn’t a person whom I’d have thought of as an “imbecile speed demon.” I knew the driver. I knew him to be rather nice. I knew him to be rather thoughtful.

It was interesting to watch his behaviour on the road. Despite the excessive speed and tailgating, he  signaled when switching lanes; had no malice whatsoever when he gangstered cars out of the way (in a very interesting “it’s not personal; it’s purely business” type of way); and knew his place in the driving pecking order (“if a car can go faster than mine, I’d tend to leave it alone.”)

I also loved the fact that if another car cut him off at even insaner speeds, he’d just let it go. Despite my not being quite the speed demon, if another car cut me off I’d feel pretty pissed, and I’d throw a little tailgating fit. Who’d be the imbecile here?

Soon after the car ride I realised something: that having just had the experience I had, I’d never look at a speeding car the same way. Each time I saw one, I’d be reminded of “Mr. X”; a very decent human being who just had a  thing for fast cars, and give that car an imaginary tip of my imaginary hat.

As an analyst I have a thing for data; for numbers. It is my world. I use data and numbers to describe THE world in the best way I can. Despite my belief that numbers can often describe a world better than its inhabitants can, it is to my consternation that this belief isn’t very popular with the people who’s worlds I describe.

But like how the change in  perspective on those driving on the overtaking lane, going at what I’d describe as insane speeds, I’d thought I’d understood, but never really did. Maybe the numbers do tell a story. But it’s not the only one.

How vital it is for us to step into one another’s shoes every once in a while. To experience another world; to broaden our perspective — a perspective that even for the most open-minded of us is probably smaller than we  think it is.

Business vs. IT

I felt like a lawyer. The call was in less than 12 hours, and I was busy preparing my case, consolidating evidence and building my story. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% behind the argument I was preparing to put across, but I didn’t really have much of a choice. I had to believe — how could I convince others if I couldn’t even convince myself?

But at the same time, I really wanted to steer clear on the “us vs. them”. Together with allies “from the other side”, we were working hard on framing it from a collaborative angle. It’d do us all no good if our discussion disintegrated into a blame game.

The situation at hand was a classic business vs. IT situation. Business says “we asked for this”, and IT says “no, you didn’t.” Whatever the case, the project deadlines weren’t going to be hit and nobody wanted to be responsible.

The funny thing is, if you asked me, I’d say no one was responsible (or that we all were). It was one of the first times we were doing anything close to what we were doing, and it was almost expected that hiccups like these were going to occur.

Requirements were defined, and IT made good on those requirements. Business was as clear as they could be on those requirements, but apparently not clear enough.  But how could they be? The project was a little too big and too fuzzy to be executed perfectly from the get-go.

Maybe a more iterative approach might have worked better, with all parties agreeing at the start that for a period of say, two or three weeks, we’d all be in a transition phase, where 70% of the requirements were met and the other 30% part of some type of agile-development, exploratory process, where things didn’t need to work perfectly but problems rectified quickly.

True, we could have spent more time thinking through and defining better requirements. But even if we spent an additional year we might not have uncovered requirements buried deep under others, the discovery of which were dependent on the implementation of the others. Would the need for a parachute have come to pass if planes hadn’t yet been invented? Would these later requirements have come to pass if the earlier ones hadn’t been implemented?

Whatever the case, this was an interesting situation to be in.

The place for the polymath. Because there's too many good things in life to be great at just one thing.