The Weekly Hagakure #23

"A plan is only useful if it can survive reality. And a future filled with unknowns is everyone’s reality." - Morgan Housel

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been if I had taken an earlier interest in psychology.

The reason I wonder is because the more I learn, the more fascinating it becomes, and the more it explains a lot of what previously was mystifying to me regarding human behaviour. And it also continues to help guide me on how to navigate the startup environment challenges. Haven’t quite figured out the meaning of life, though.

This week’s newsletter is heavy on psychology, our own and of others. Contributing to that is a great conversation I had the pleasure to have with James Stanier, SVP Engineering at Brandwatch, and the author of Become an Effective Software Engineering Manager. We started exploring the usual management topics but ended talking about how we manage ourselves, an endlessly fascinating topic. You can read the full conversation in the first article shared below.

Enjoy this week’s picks.

3 Articles

✍️ On The (Engineering) Management of Ourselves and Others, with James Stanier

James and I talk about building teams, delivering products and managing ourselves. This is a wide-ranging conversation that touches on psychology and philosophy, but remains anchored on the practicalities of building a successful business. It also includes some great book recommendations from James.

✍️ The Five Conditions for Improvement

Dealing with any sort of underperformance can be very tricky, especially for new managers. The fact that these things are often very ambiguous and non-linear makes it hard to address properly. This post by Roy Rapoport provides a good framework to reason about these situations, the key aspect being that you need the individual to agree there is a problem, and to then have the motivation to address it.

✍️ Soft Skills for Managers

Being a great manager is difficult. But if we apply the 80/20 principle to it, there's probably a handful of attributes that stand out and make everything else easier. The three highlighted here (together with ways to assess for them) fit the bill for me: initiative, emotional control, and an ability to understand how others will perceive and react to situations.

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2 Videos

📺 The psychology of your future self (7 min. watching time)

Dan Gilbert makes the point that, much to our detriment, we are terrible at imagining how we ourselves change over time. We consistently underestimate it. So next time you're in a job interview and you get asked "where you see yourself in 5 years?", just give the interviewer a link to this talk and move on to the next question…

📺 Make the Right Thing the Easy Thing: Designing Processes Teams Will Actually Follow (32 min. watching time)

There's a myth that engineers hate process. Just like with meetings, developers don't hate process -- they hate bad process. This talk by Jason Lengstorf struck me as a very good overview of the lead developer role as a true multiplier, and how to create processes that actually help. Oh, and I loved the concept of "vacation tolerance".


1 Book

📚 The Psychology of Money, by Morgan Housel

The author of this week’s book explains why he wrote it in the following way:

“The premise of this book is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, even to really smart people.”

You may wonder why I’m recommending a book about money and investing on a tech leadership newsletter. The biggest reason why I like Morgan Housel’s writing so much — and this first book of his doesn’t disappoint — is because he sees investing from the lens of psychology and human behaviour. As it turns out, that’s also a very useful lens to look at building teams and leading people.

With that in mind, there’s three main reasons why I would recommend The Psychology of Money to any engineering leader:

  • To develop an understanding of human nature. A lot of people in the industry still think that engineering is all about technology. But it’s really all about people first. And while building tech startups is something of the past 50 years or so, our internal programming as humans goes way back. Housel’s take is all about understanding our biases so we can have a chance of not falling prey to them all the time.

  • To develop patience. In investing, great returns accrue over a long period time because of the way compound interest works. And to benefit from it, you need to stay in the game long enough. This requires patience, both from individuals and organizations, an attribute that is in short supply in this day and age.

  • To develop humility. Housel says, “Your personal experiences with money make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.” Again, this is true not just for money but for everything in life. We should remind ourselves of this daily, appreciate the implications, and act accordingly.

There are more reasons — like, say, maybe making you reexamine your relationship with money — but these are the ones that stick out for me. If you’re like me you’ll probably have plenty of aha! moments as you go through this book. Housel has a way of bringing data to baffle you, in simple, compelling and fun writing. Can’t wait for his next book.

(See also what Morgan has to say about why he wrote this book.)

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🙌🏽 Thank you for reading! Enjoyed this week’s edition? Have feedback on how I can make this more valuable to you? I’d love to hear it — my DMs are open on Twitter or just write a comment below.

✍️ Find some of my own ramblings on tech and org stuff over at The Evolutionary Manager.

👉 You can also follow me on Twitter @prla