Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Paul Tevis

Entries in navel-gazing (45)

Thursday
Nov172011

Picking Up Bits and Pieces From Everywhere

I’m an idea scavenger.

I have a very broad — if not always that detailed — memory. In our improv group, I’m the one who can remember what after the show scenes we did, even if I don’t always remember what happened in them. At work, I tend to say things like “That reminds me of article I read a while back; let me see if I can find again,” a lot. And in email discussions about certain features, I tend to recall who worked on particular areas of code a year or so ago, even when they sometimes don’t. It’s that last bit that I discovered only recently. I didn’t think of myself as having a good memory, because I usually forget a lot of details. I’ve come to realize, however, that I shouldn’t assume that other people have the same powers of recall for these kinds of things.

Because I do have this ability, I tend to expose myself to a broad array of material. I know I won’t remember all of it for later, but I will remember enough of it that I can track it down when I need it. This is one reason I skim every non-fiction book I buy as soon as I get it, even if I don’t read it in depth right away. Before it goes on the shelf, I pick enough meat off its bones to figure out what I’ll want to turn to it for later. It also means that I build a rich stew of ideas in my head, which interact and synthesize in interesting ways.

Something that I struggle with is that I tend to start a lot of sentences about things like this with “I read in one of Mike Cohn’s books that…” or “Keith Johnstone has talked about how…” I don’t do this to name-drop or to appeal to authority, which is how I worry it sometimes comes across. I do it to cite my sources and give people a handle on the idea, something to latch onto in case the idea seems familiar. I guess I’m just hoping that I’m talking to another scavenger who has come across the same morsels I have.




Update

Fitness: Ran 3 miles
Thursday
Nov102011

Ownership

Watch this. Then we’ll talk.

When I saw this sometime last year, what immediately jumped out at me was the thought, “Dude totally owned that.” He doesn’t have the vocal chops to pull off Lady Gaga, and he knows it. So instead, he embraces his limitations and makes this performance his own. He’s faking it, but we all ultimately are.

A few weeks back, our long-form improv team had a piece implode on us in rehearsal. One of the storylines involved a bet between God and the Devil; we eventually figured out that the Devil had to get a specific person to run naked around a fountain shouting “The Devil is God.” It became clear that we all thought this was kind of lame. That, however, wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we didn’t embrace the lameness. When we talked about it afterward, we realized were holding ourselves to the standard of the Old Testament. We felt like we had to come up with some amazing competition between these two cosmic beings in order for our story to have any juice. What we should have done, once the details of the bet were out there, was to instead make it a story about how God and the Devil have gone from Job to this. This is all they have to do now? Why is that? Let’s mine that for ideas.

That, as it turns out, is the trick, not just in performance, but in life. Given that these things have happened, how do we own them? How do we turn our limitations into our strengths?

About a month ago at work, I make a huge mistake during one of our retrospectives. I accidentally violated the trust the team had placed in me, and the response was immediate, emphatic, and unpleasant. So I owned it. I apologized — making clear that while I hadn’t intended what had resulted, I was to blame for it, and I accepted full responsibility — and I asked for feedback from the team about what we should do. It turned into an opportunity for us to make some of our implicit (and not always shared) agreements explicit, which ultimately has helped us work together better. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been willing to make mistakes, and when they did happen, seize upon them as opportunities.

Miles Davis is supposed to have said, “There are no mistakes in jazz — only opportunities.” Everything can be jazz if you’re willing to own it.

Tuesday
Nov082011

Little Shifts

I serendipitously discovered Mark Williams’ and Danny Penman’s Mindfulness two weeks ago. It’s in the same tradition as Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, which I encountered at the beginning of this year and loved. I’ve been feeling my ability to be mindful and present slipping a little recently, so I decided to try the eight-week program the book lays out. Week one, which I started yesterday, is about waking up from autopilot, and one component of it is about breaking routines.

As you probably know, I fall into routines very easily. I find them comforting, in part because of their predictability. My senior year in high school, my friend Sarah and I stopped at the same deli for lunch almost every day. Every day, I ordered the same thing: Quick & Easy Corned Beef on wheat bread, sour cream and chive potato chips, and a Mountain Dew. She made fun of me for it — “Variety is the spice of life” she said — but I had a simple defense: “I know what I like best, and that’s what I want.”

The routine I’m focused on breaking this week is pretty trivial. I’m supposed to sit in different chairs than I normally do, or move those chairs to different places in the room. Seem pretty simple, right? Hah. Now, it’s important to understand: I have determined the best seat for me in the Starbucks I write at. If someone is sitting there, I hang out nearby, and as soon as they leave, I move it. So when I showed up today and realized I was supposed to break my routine, I started to get annoyed. All of the other good writing spots were taken. This wasn’t just my chair this was messing with, but my whole productivity scheme. If I couldn’t write over lunch, then…

And at that point I realized the best thing for me to do was not to try to write anything. I just got my cup of coffee, grabbed an overstuffed chair in the corner, and chilled. I noticed that the way the ceiling was hung was pretty cool, which was something I couldn’t see from my usual, favored location. I noticed a bunch of other things about the store that I hadn’t picked up on before — despite going there almost every weekday for the better part of six months. But most importantly, I noticed what was bothering me. I just sat with those things and let them pass. I took advantage of the moments of mental quiet that not-writing afforded me, and at the end of my cup, I found myself much calmer than I had been when I walked in.

Then I went back to work and ran one of the most effective retrospectives I’ve ever facilitated. There’s no way I would have been able to do that if I hadn’t been in the right headspace. And I only got there because came off autopilot, woke up to present, and did what made sense in the moment.

It’s funny what sitting in a different chair can do.




Update

Fitness: Ran 3 miles
Friday
Nov042011

Watching and Learning

On Tuesday someone asked me, “You doing anything this weekend?” My response: “Improv show on Friday, driving down to LA for a gaming event on Saturday, recording a story for PodCastle on Sunday, and going for a nine-mile run at some point.” So, yeah.

I wrote a few days back about how I saw my emphasis on getting thing done was affecting me. To put it in slightly different terms, I’ve been focusing on Doing and not leaving much time for Being. Over the last few days, I’ve realized that I’ve been close to putting myself over capacity. As a result, I’ve delayed a few things I had told myself I was going to right at the beginning of the month — notably, watching the second season of Rome and starting the revisions on Sun, Moon, and Stars — so that I could finish off some work in progress. Do I like having to do that? No. Is it the end of the world? No. Can I accept it? Yes. Am I enjoying the things that I am doing without worrying about the things that I’m not? Absolutely. And more and more I’m realizing that watching my capacity and scaling back when I need to is one of the most important things I can do for myself.




Update

Fitness: 100-Ups, Minor (60)
Sunday
Oct302011

It Worked for Augustus

Over dinner on Tuesday, I said, “I worry that we’re trying to go too quickly for us to actually go fast.”

A few weeks ago one of my co-workers replied to email asking when something was going to be done with a saying from his wilderness first aid instructor: “Slow is steady. Steady is fast.”

Which meant that when I ran across the Latin adage festina lente — “make haste slowly” — I was ready to hear it. I had encountered it before, but this time I was listening.

When I get frustrated at the apparently slow pace of my progress on various things, I remind myself that I’m trying to be the Tortoise, not the Hare. Sure, I could write the code faster if I didn’t have to write the tests first, but it would take me longer to get that code working. Of course, I could skip the editing pass on some piece of my writing, but that would mean missing opportunities to make both the piece and myself better. Yes, I could move on to reading the next book in my professional development queue sooner if I didn’t have to go back and take notes on the current one, but then the ideas wouldn’t get as implanted in my head. It comes down to the notion that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

And in the end, that’s where the real speed is.




Update

Fitness: Sick day