How to be better at everything

Think of someone you’d consider ultra successful. You’re probably thinking of someone with a pretty comfortable lifestyle, maybe they’re rolling in money, or they just seem to have it all figured out. Now I want you to try to think of the specific skills that person has. What sets them apart from the competition? What are they good at? Chances are they aren’t good at everything.

Think of your own life. What are your skills, what are you good at? It takes time to hone skills and to get good at something. It requires education, practice, mentorship. Nobody’s good at everything, but we’re all good at something. Compare your skill set to the ultra successful person. Do you share all of the same skills?

Probably not. Of course you don’t, you’re different people. But think about what skills are most important? Some skills have a disproportionate impact on success. That means that some skills are more valuable than others, and some pair nicely together to multiply the impact on your ability to execute.

Think of a salesman or someone in marketing who is just phenomenal at selling. If she is a great communicator, amazing at persuasion, and can negotiate the hell out of any deal, will she be successful? Well that all depends on what she’s selling. If she’s selling used cars that are about to fall apart the moment you drive it off the lot, you’ll see her as a con artist. If she’s selling a product that you’ll love and cherish for the rest of your life, you’ll always remember her as the person that helped you make an amazing decision.

I see this a lot when I’m interviewing people. Some people are amazing interviewers, but have no skills and are useless on the job. Some people have amazing experience and mastery of skills, but get nervous and tense up during the interview. If you’re in the job market, interviewing skills are a must, because without them, all of the other skills you have don’t have the opportunity to shine through.

Looking at my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to move into leadership and executive roles at a young age. I attribute a great deal of this success to one skill – my deep knowledge and understanding of technology. I have many other skills at different levels, but my ability to leverage technology has acted as a multiplier for my other skills, and helped me achieve what I set out to achieve in rapid succession.

Information technology is the most powerful tool humans have created. Using computers, the internet, social media, and smart phones, we can do things our ancestors couldn’t even dream. We live in a time where access to information has never been so plentiful, but only if we know where to look.

I leveraged technology to discover means of rapid learning, increase my intake of data, leverage the knowledge of others to help solve my problems, and automate mundane and repetitive tasks.

When I meet people who admit “I’m not tech savvy” or “I don’t like computers”, I shake my head. That’s like saying you don’t like when the sun shines after it’s rained, or a hot coffee on an early Monday morning. Computers make everything better, if only you know how to use them. Choosing to not know how to use them only makes your life harder, and gives a huge advantage to your competition. And believe me, we’re all competing for something with someone, whether it’s other job candidates, other businesses, your coworkers vying for that promotion, or your spouse in a silly debate.

If criticism pisses you off, this is a must read

The problem with good ideas is that they’re a dime a dozen. Once you know enough and you’ve trained your brain to have good ideas, you’ll see them all around you, and it won’t take any brain power to have them. The challenge is in balancing competing good ideas. Sometimes what separates a good idea from a great one is that the good idea exists in a vacuum, not taking into account other variables. Our world is chaotic, there’s so much going on that something that might seem like a good idea has unforeseen downsides once we take into account everything else going on around us.

As I write this, I have 20 examples of this very phenomena, and 100 tips, tricks, and pieces of proof that I can use to illustrate my point. It seems like a good idea to include as much proof as possible, and to take the time to contextualize what I’m saying so that everyone who stumbles upon this will grasp the idea, no matter where you’re coming from. But what seems like a good idea can often be 100% wrong. If I use too many examples, I might introduce confusion. If I keep trying to prove my point, I might start beating a dead horse, droning on and on, and losing the reader. Better yet, if the article is too long, you might not start reading it to begin with.

On that note, I’ll wrap this up by discussing criticism. When you receive criticism, it isn’t to say that your ideas are bad, or that what you’re doing is wrong, it’s to share additional context and information to introduce the question of “was that the best idea?”. Best is subjective. Best depends on the variables at play. If someone critiques your work and you don’t agree with it, that’s ok. Maybe the variables that matter to you are different than your criticiser. Maybe you knew about those additional variables but still think your idea is best. As long as you’re able to take in criticism, and be objective and without bias, you should be in the clear.

Good ideas are all around us. The challenge isn’t to have a good idea, the challenge is to work toward the best idea.

How to respond to angry people – even when that person is you

Anger is a villain. It’s the bad guy in every scenario. It’s the thing that leads us to making mistakes – saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing. When you’re angry you stop listening, you stop thinking clearly.

This isn’t just me saying this. It’s science. Anger exists in the amygdala. The lizard brain. The tiny, un-evolved part of your brain that produces our fight or flight response. It’s primal. Unsophisticated. It isn’t what you should rely on when making important decisions, or handling important scenarios.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever get angry. Getting angry is a normal, natural response to annoying people, upsetting situations, and frustrating news. We all get angry, and getting to a point where we minimize the number of times we get angry will take years. In the meantime, the best approach is to get past your anger. Slow down, recognize your anger, understand where it’s coming from, and remind yourself that anger is the problem.

I read somewhere the idea that if you’re arguing with someone, it’s not you against them, it’s the two of you against the problem. If someone (either you or the person you’re interacting with) is angry, whatever the cause of the problem or the bigger picture issue is, it’s irrelevant as long as anger exists. You must first get past the anger before moving on to solving the bigger issue.

My Road to Data Science and Machine Learning

Time Lapse Road

The great thing about learning anything technology related is that the internet is overrun with resources.  The downside of too many options is the paradox of choice.  After scratching at the surface of researching A.I., I decided to get smart and make sure that I strategically step through the different requirements of becoming a data scientist.  I finished by bachelors degree 10 years ago, and while pursuing a Master’s Degree seems attractive, the headache of applying for competitive programs and then balancing structured course work and working full time just doesn’t interest me right now.

I’ve come up with my own road map to data science, and wanted to document my plan, and the execution of that plan here – updating and tweaking it along the way.  Here it is:

  1. Brush up on my Python programming.  I know enough Python to copy/paste, debug and hack my way through.  Machine learning seems complicated enough – struggling with the coding behind it will make it too hard.  So I’m going to make sure I’m super comfortable with the language
  2. Math refresher – Linear Algebra, Calculus, Probability and Stats.  These are the fundamentals laid out in the very useful video here. I’ll check out the MIT OpenCourseWare and most likely follow along with the corresponding courses there.
  3. Udemy Data Science A-Z – Next I think I’ll need a solid understanding of what data science is, and some practical uses of it.  That’s why I bought this course on sale, which comes highly recommended by the community.
  4. YouTube tutorials – Now it will be time to put my knowledge to work.  I’ve watched a number of videos by Siraj Raval and his YouTube Channel. He has a lot of practical examples that I’d like to not only implement, but build off of.
  5. Lastly, I will foray into playing with Google’s DialogFlow to build some real world tools that I can launch to Google Assistant and other services online. This will let me build a conversational AI without needed to program the back and forth dialog and focus my machine learning skills toward analyzing and processing data.