I finally got around to watching that Death Stranding teaser that came out last week at the Game Awards – it looks so good!

Besides that, there’s a new gameplay trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda. I can’t wait for this – there’s just so much about the Mass Effect world and games that I love, and this looks like so much fun!

Who doesn’t love a geometric print? I love the optical illusion in this dress and the colours make it really stand out!

You can get this Louche dress from Joy for £55:

geometric_louche

As you might have noticed, this is my 5th post this week! I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back to writing more regularly and sharing more of the ‘stuff’ I’ve been consuming in my spare time. The general idea is to do at least one quick and easy post per day about something I’m interested in. So far it’s motivating me to write more, but I’d love to hear what people are most interested in hearing about!

In light of that, I’m reviving another ‘old’ post series of mine ‘Listening To‘: I started it with the intention to share what music I’m enjoying, but am expanding that to include podcasts, audio books and concerts!

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For today’s post I wanted to highlight a podcast I started listening to recently: Imaginary Worlds. It describes itself as:

“Imaginary Worlds is a bi-weekly podcast about science fiction and other fantasy genres — how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief. These are the backstories to our stories.”

It’s my new favourite podcast and in the past 2 weeks I’ve listened to the majority of their archive (it goes back about 2 years)! Imaginary Worlds gives us a glimpse behind the curtain of some of my favourite geeky books and shows: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, there are a ton of different geeky topics that get covered, often with perspectives that I hadn’t considered before. Pretty much anyone that enjoys geeky stories should try out this podcast!

Current favourites episodes: Fantasy Maps about the work and detail that goes into creating them, 1977, a look into the state of the world and pop culture when Star Wars came out, and Beware of Cyber City about a three-dimensional model of a town that the military uses for cyber war games.

I’m looking forward to so many movies coming out in the next couple of months, so I thought I should revive this blog post series! Each month I’ll highlight 4 movies I want to see – here are my December choices:

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Moana

It’s a new Disney movie! If you’re a long time reader, you’ll know how much I love my Disney animation movies and I can’t wait to see this one. Moana tells the story of the titular character Moana, the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, who is chosen by the ocean to lift a curse. The film features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda from Hamilton fame – my Discover Weekly accidentally spoilt some of the music already and it’s so good! I might have been listening to How Far I’ll Go on repeat for the last couple of days…

Release date: Friday 2 December

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Sully

I remember hearing about the plane landing in the Hudson back in 2009, but I had no idea about the story of the aftermath of it all. Sully features Tom Hanks as Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the captain who landed the plane and shows the subsequent publicity and investigation of the landing.

Release date: Friday 2 December

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Star Wars: Rogue One

Do I really need to explain why I’m excited for this? Tickets are already available to book – I’ll be enjoying this in 70mm IMAX!

Release date: Friday 16 December

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Passengers

I saw an early trailer for this and since then I’ve been trying to avoid as much as I can about this movie – I have the feeling it’s one that you might easily get spoiled for! Passengers features Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as two passengers on a spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet that are awakened from their cryogenic sleep 90 years early. It’s being promoted as a romantic sci-fi, so I’m curious to see how this turns out.

Release date: Wednesday 21 December

Tags: Movies

Two weekends back I bought this adorable necklace of a rain cloud and since then I’ve gotten so many comments on it! It’s so cute and seemed appropriate given I organize an event called Thundercloud.

The necklace is made of laser cut perspex/acrylic and comes with a 22″ silver plated chain. You can get it for £24.95 at Little Moose.

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The store where I got this only had that one necklace, but turns out Little Moose has so many other cute designs and I kind of want them all! Here are my favourites:

Jurassica – £24.95

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Space Unicorn – £24.95

spaceunicorn

Panda Family – £44.95

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Cheshire Cat – £34.95

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Alpaca – £34.95

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To check out more designs from Little Moose, head to their website.

It’s been ages since I did any (fictional) book reviews here, and I want to get back in the habit of sharing some of my thoughts of books I’ve recently read. Especially the ones that I absolutely love and think everyone should read! So for the next few weeks I’m going to try to do book reviews of three books each week. Let’s see if I can catchup and share all my favourites!

Which books have you recently read that you love?

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus describes a place that feels plucked from my dreams, the circus I never knew I wanted to visit. Dressed in monochromatic hues, the Circque de Reves is depicted as a vast collection of tents, each with a different experience and the attraction, and it’s the setting for a magical contest between our main characters Celia and Marco.

There’s just something about the circus itself that feels part escape room and part immersive theatre, and I ended up wishing it was a real place that I could actually go to. I absolutely loved this book, mainly cause of the long descriptions of parts of the circus – the overall story and characters feel a little weak, but for me this book was more about creating this idea of an interesting world that I could explore.

Favourite quote: “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

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Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

I’m a huge Seanan McGuire fan – she’s written so many different story worlds and I just love the unique stories she comes up with. And Every Heart A Doorway is no exception. The simplest way to describe it that this is McGuire’s take on parallel universe stories: Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, what happens to the children after they come back from their adventures in these other worlds? In Every Heart A Doorway, we’re introduced to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school for children/teens who need to re-adapt to our world.

There were just so many things I loved about this book. Firstly, the diversity of the characters: rather than having the predictable (and boring) cast of straight white characters, in here we have a range of diverse characters. Besides that each character has such a different and unique backstory – I loved discovering the different worlds they each had visited and where they felt they belonged. A lot of this book was about finding that special place where you feel accepted and appreciated for who you really are, and the loss that follows of not having that place anymore. It also made me wonder what my other world would look like – what’s the world that I would escape to if I could?

Favourite quote: “For us, places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time, we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.”

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The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I don’t really know how to describe Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. It’s ambitious and epic and it works. I loved Jemisin’s first series (the Inheritance trilogy) and it’s awesome to see another complex and interesting world from her.

In The Fifth Season we’re introduced to the Stillness, a continent on a planet where every couple of centuries there is some form of cataclysmic event known as the Fifth Season. No one can predict when or what The Fifth Season will be, and the society of the Stillness has evolved to ensure the survival of as many people as possible.

There’s so much that happens in this book and my meagre description above really doesn’t do it justice. Jemisin manages to create real and messy characters – you don’t always agree with their decisions, but she makes you can understand them, feel for them and want to shout at them. Wrapped around that is an epic story and Jemisin leaves just enough clues for you to think along and puzzle out parts of the story for yourself. All in all, I can’t wait to read the next part of this series!

Favourite quote: This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we way “the world has ended”, it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.

But this is the way the world end.

This is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

For the last time.

It’s less than 4 weeks till Christmas, and I just can’t wait to get into the proper Christmas spirit! This new short movie/ad for H&M was directed by Wes Anderson – I can’t but help have a stupid grin on my face because of it:

Most of my geeky jewellery is from Etsy and I love discovering new pieces from there! I’m completely addicted to Westworld right now: I keep thinking if I just think a bit more harder about the show, I’ll figure out what’s going on. I’ve got a couple of theories and I’m pretty sure I’ll be right about some of them!

Now what better way to show off your Westworld love with this cute pendant of the “maze”? It’s only £8.22 from etsy store WearableCollectibles.

westworld_maze_necklace

How To Brainstorm Talk Ideas

November 21st, 2016

I’ve been doing a lot of talks lately in which I encourage people to share with the wider community what they do (see my Employee Evangelism post). Be it through blog posts or talks or workshops, I believe everyone should be finding a way to teach others the things that they’ve learnt or they’ve done.

One of the most common things that I hear from people though is that they’d love to do more of this, but that they don’t have anything worth talking about.

And that’s absolutely not true.

Everyone has something that’s worth sharing with others. Every person knows something that others don’t. It’s very easy to undervalue the things that we know, and that we assume are common knowledge. You might not be the “number one expert” in something, but honestly you don’t have to be to be the one talking about it. In some areas actually being a non-expert might give you a different and perhaps a more relatable perspective, allowing other non-experts to easier understand the topic.

But how do you discover what you should be talking about?

I thought I’d share some tips and tricks of how I approach coming up with my talk (and blog post) ideas and turn it into an exercise of sorts that anyone can start with.

A framework for thinking about talk ideas

Now the way my brain works is that I like having structures and frameworks in place for me to interpret and think about information better. So before we jump into ways of brainstorming ideas, I want you to consider this:

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I think with every talk you do, you need to consider and balance these three elements: the Location, the Format and the Topic. Here’s what I mean with each of them:

Location: where are you doing this talk? Is it at a specific conference or meetup? Is it internally at work? Who is your audience? What is their background? What do they know already?

Format: how long is the talk? Is it a lightning talk or a longer talk? Are you live coding or demoing something?

Topic: what is the talk about? What message do you want people to take away from it?

Each of these elements need to be in equilibrium with other, making sure that all three matchup. For instance, a lightning talk about dinosaurs might not be appropriate for a specific technical conference, or an in-depth talk about encoding might not work as a lightning talk.

When it comes to brainstorming talk ideas, I find that using the above structure allows you to approach the problem of finding a topic in two different ways: start on either the Location side or the Topic side and make your way across. Neither direction is right or wrong, but it allows you to focus your brainstorming. If you have a specific location in mind, it can help you come up with what type of topic is appropriate for it. Likewise if you don’t have a location in mind, you can be more unconstrained in coming up with ideas, and figure out later where you’ll do the talk.

Getting into the right mindset

Next we want to generate as many ideas as possible. The key thing about this though is going into this with the right mindset. A couple of things to keep in mind here:

1. There are no stupid ideas.

Write down every single idea that you can think of, no matter how stupid or boring or uninteresting you think it is for other people. As I said above, we often forget the things that we know and we’ll disregard ideas that we think no one else will care about. When I did this exercise with people at work, people were often surprised that others wanted to hear about some of the “silly” ideas they came up with.

2. Keep track of your ideas.

Use this as the time to start a list of all the ideas you have. Even if some of them don’t feel quite right right now, add them to a list or a doc: somewhere that you can keep track of them. This isn’t about creating a huge list, picking one and throwing the rest away. It’s about creating a repository of all the ideas you have that you one day might want to talk about and revisit. I’ve done talks based on talk ideas that I initially came up with 2 years ago – some talks need time to simmer and evolve.

3. Develop the “that-would-make-a-good-talk” voice in your mind.

Most of the exercise questions below are about developing what I call the “that would make a good talk” voice in your head. Rather than having these specific brainstorming sessions, I tend to always have these type of questions in the back of my mind whenever I’m working on a project or having conversations with people. My natural instinct now is to always consider whether there’s a story hidden within anything that I’m doing (and pointing it out for others when I see they’re doing something). I’m hoping that some of these things will become more natural for you by doing these exercises.

4. Don’t get stuck on the title.

The following exercises are about coming up with ideas for your talks, not the title. I’ve noticed people trying to come up with variations of what to call their talk, which at this point doesn’t really matter yet. You can figure out later what title works and is catchy. Right now it’s about the content – focus on that!

5. Get help from others.

If you know you struggle with coming up with ideas, try to get a group of friends or colleagues together and help each other with these exercises. Discussing and explaining some of these questions with others and having other people to bounce ideas off can help a lot: you might discover ideas that you wouldn’t have alone.

Exercises for talk idea brainstorming

So time to write down some ideas! If you’ve got some things in mind already, that’s awesome, write them down. If you’re unsure where to start, I’ve created a list of questions that you can use as inspiration, grouped by Topic, Format and Location. Start with the questions of the area that you want to focus on first:

Topic:

  • Write down all the topics you’re interested in and you know about. It doesn’t matter how obscure – add it to the list!
  • Think back to what you’ve done the past month. What problems did you come across that were challenging to deal with? What things did you work on that you’re proud of? What did you spend a lot of time on that maybe could have gone quicker if you knew something you do now?
  • Can you remember any long emails, slack messages, git commits, pull requests, internal docs or long conversations recently, where you’ve explained something to someone? Would someone else benefit from learning that?
  • What’s one thing you wish everyone knew or was taught? Why?
  • Think about recent conversations and discussions with friends or colleagues. What topic could you easily talk hours and hours with them about? What excites you? What infuriates you?
  • What’s something that you wish you could know more about? Are there any questions you have that you wish you knew the answer to? Coming up with a talk will give you a push to dive into that topic.
  • Think about your favourite books, music, movies, museums, restaurants, sports teams, famous (or nonfamous) people, cars, anecdotes, countries, food, animals, games.
  • Take a look at talks or speakers that inspire you. What do they have in common? What would your take on it be?
  • Think back when you started your career – are there any topics that you think could have helped you if you had heard about it earlier?
  • What processes/work/things do you do that make your life easier? If other people did it too, would it make their lives easier?

Format:

  • Write down what types of talks you’re interested in. Examples: lightning talk, internal work presentation, small meetup, conference talk.
  • Do you want to do demos? Or live coding? Or making the talk interactive in some way? Think about the type of talk that you would enjoy participating in. Think about the type of talk that you would enjoy giving.

Location:

  • Write down specific conferences or meetups that you’d like to talk at. Does the event have a theme? What type of audience attends? What’s their background?
  • Look at the event’s past talks or their call for papers. Are there specific topics or problems that they are interested in?
  • Look at the event’s past speakers and their talks – do you agree or disagree with any their opinions? What area would you like to see more of? What questions do you have that you‘d like answered?
  • If you were at that event, what talk would you want to see? What talk would be on your must-watch-don’t-miss list?

What next?

Hopefully the above exercises will have given you some inspiration and you will have ended up with a nice list of talk ideas that you’re interested in. The exercise questions obviously aren’t exhaustive and I’m curious to hear what other questions get your mind thinking about potential ideas. I’d also love to hear if these exercises help you, so feel free to email, comment or tweet me about this!

Once you have this ideas list, the next steps are deciding which idea to develop further, figuring out what events are out there and how to create talk proposals for them. In the upcoming weeks I’ll be writing blog posts for each of these topics, so stay tuned!

A lot of my recent talks and chats at events have included references and quotes to the various books I’ve read the past year, and I’ve had more than a handful of people ask which books I would recommend.

About a year back I became a line manager, and as with every new discipline that I want to get good at, I threw myself into researching and reading as much as I could about the topic. Alongside that though, I also started trying to vocalize my thoughts on what I’ve been trying to do internally with our evangelism at FutureLearn. Both areas I’ve realized are grounded in similar questions: why do people do what they do? How do you encourage them to do specific things? What motivates them?

So this post is a roundup of all the “leadership-py” books I’ve read the past year (and have mentioned previously in my talks). Even if you’re not a line manager or a leader (yet), I think all these books give good insights into how people and teams work.

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Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee

If you’ve just started managing or are interested in it and aren’t sure where to start with reading material, take a look at this book. Primal Leadership is all about how emotional intelligence is key to what makes an effective leader and gives a lot of practical examples of how to grow and apply your skills in it. The book highlights different leadership styles and the ways emotions are affected in each of them.

Favourite quote: “Imagine the styles, then, as the array of clubs in a golf pro’s bag. Over the course of a match, the pro picks and chooses from his bag based on the demands of the shot. Sometimes he has to ponder his selection, but usually it is automatic. The pro “senses” the challenge ahead, swiftly pulls out the right tool, and elegantly puts it to work. That’s how high-impact leaders operate too.”

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Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

Technically I read this book last year, but there’s so much in this book that I’ve found useful this year. Ed Catmull is one of founders of Pixar and his book Creativity Inc is all about how the history of Pixar and how they created their culture there.

I started reading this cause I’m a huge Disney and Pixar fan, and it’s a fascinating insight into how their movies are created. Beyond that though, the book really focuses on what drives and enables creativity within teams, and I think it can be applied to any team. Catmull manages to elegantly capture the reasons why failure, candour and randomness are all things that every team should embrace and expect to happen. There are a lot of good ideas and good practices in this book and after reading it I came away feeling inspired and motivated.

Favourite quote: “Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”

badass

Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

In Badass, Kathy Sierra explains how the best way to get your product being used by people, is understanding that it’s not necessarily about making your product more awesome, but that it’s about making your users more awesome. If they feel they are being badass when using your product, they’ll be more passionate and motivated to share what they can do with your product.

While the book is written from a product perspective, I realised that a lot of it can be applied to how we encourage our teams. It gives a lot of insight in how to keep someone motivated learning something new. I’ve specifically adapted it for encouraging evangelism in teams, but I think it can be applied to other areas as well.

Favourite quote: “On their deathbed, nobody will say: If only I’d engaged more with brands.”

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Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Continuing with the theme of “what motivates people”, the next book on this list is Drive from Daniel H. Pink. In it he examines the intrinsic rewards that people seek, rather than extrinsic awards like money or owning stuff. It’s backed up with a lot of research examples and case studies, and it got me thinking about why people I know do the things they do.

Favourite quote: “People use rewards expecting to gain the benefit of increasing another person’s motivation and behaviour, but in so doing, they often incur the unintentional and hidden cost of undermining that person’s intrinsic motivation toward the activity.”

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Quiet by Susan Cain

I’ve always considered myself a massive introvert and have blogged in the past about what it means to be a social introvert. I wish I had read Susan Cain’s Quiet much earlier, cause she really explains the differences between introverts and extroverts, and shows the way our society is built around extroversion.

Regardless of whether you’re a introvert or an extrovert yourself, reading this book will give you a better understanding of how our brains process the information in the world around us and how that can affect each person in different ways.

Favourite quote: “Everyone shines, given the right lighting.”

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Mindset by Carol Dweck

Another book I wish I had read earlier is this one from Carol Dweck called Mindset. In it she examines the idea of different mindsets and I think my life might have gone differently if I had read it sooner. Dweck describes the idea of the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset.

The fixed mindset is the belief that your abilities are set in stone – you believe that you can learn new things, but that you can’t really change how smart or social or sporty you are. The growth mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that your basic abilities are things that you can change – people might differ in initial interests, temperaments and aptitudes, but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

I noticed about myself that I’ve already switched from a fixed to a growth mindset in the past couple of years, and reading the book I recognized a lot that felt familiar to me.

Favourite quote: “This is something I know for a fact: You have to work hardest for the things you love most.”

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Turn The Ship Around! by L. David Marquet

I picked up this book after seeing Marquet talk about this topic in this video. I’ve only just started the book, but I’m including it anyway cause so far it’s been an interesting read. Marquet tells his story of when he became captain of the USS Santa Fe, and started treating his crew as leaders, rather than followers. The result is an environment where everyone is encourage to take ownership and make decisions.

Favourite quote: “Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.”

Which leadership books have you read recently? Given the ones above, which books do you think I should read next?