Feedback is Fun

Feedback was the most exciting part of the day for me today. It was in a meeting and everything, so what could be better?!

If you detect sarcasm there, oddly… you’d be wrong.

Our 12 person leadership team was doing an exercise with a 9-Box Model and our Head of Engineering tasked us to prepare a self-evaluation and feedback for others as well. Our 9-Box classified Leadership Potential along the horizontal axis, and Performance in the role on the vertical axis. It was a bit daunting.

I spent some time Wednesday evening shuffling names around in lists, trying to work out what made sense. I wrote a whole host of notes for the meeting for everyone. And then I didn’t use any of it when push came to shove.

The feedback session was a mix of some different levels of the Org Chart, which was an interesting concept. Listening to Manager Tools teaches one rule about Feedback above all else: “You do not give Feedback to your Boss”. So of course, I proceeded to give constructive feedback to both my boss, and my boss’ boss.

I think the way this session creeps through the eye of the Manager Tools needle is that this was probably not technically feedback in the sense that they use, in that from bottom to top there is no implicit expectation that all feedback must get taken up. Details.

It was fun though, and incredibly constructive.

Giving and taking feedback can be hard, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. It feels uncomfortable because nobody does it enough. It’s the proverbial rusty wheel of management.

For my part, two things stood out (there were other noteworthy items, that need more time to percolate):

  • I have probably not been mingling enough with everyone, shown by the fact most people had trouble finding feedback (and it’s not because I’m perfect already, thanks mom).
  • I make things sound more complicated than they actually are by over-explaining. Although I do suspect that there are times when I don’t explain enough of the intermediate steps of my reasoning as well in my excitement to draw people to the conclusion. I blame Scott from my previous job for just being too damn quick at keeping up with everyone.

The latter point is definitely the harder for me to fix.

When I get questions, my first instinct is to try to explain the full nuance of the subject in one go. Which isn’t helpful. But then… I hate the idea of people falling into pitfalls I could have warned them against.

I guess until we get neural up-links with better bandwidth than a human voice I’ll have to settle for being Mozart, because my skills are definitely not adequate to being Bach.

(If you don’t recognize the Douglas Adams reference in the last paragraph, click through… it’s probably my favourite quote of his… the whooshing deadlines one is seriously overrated).

#PAXAUS – Day 3 – and scene

I’m not sure what it is about conferences.

They make me… want to do things.

Organise, lobby, create.

Today I feel like I wish I could enhance PAX and level it up into it’s next evolution. I’m not sure what that exactly looks like, but it probably involves some moderator training, a slightly broader net of topics, and maybe some workshops. It feels like PAX has a level of energy around it that is worth harnessing… for awesome.

Saturday I felt a pressing need to lobby politicians and try to help activists get their message across. There were so many people at panels passionate about changing pieces of their world, but obviously bewildered about how to go about it.

Friday, I just wanted to start a gaming cafe where people can play games over a meal. But that sounds like a great way to never have time for anything else ever again.

It’s a constant stream of inspiration and puzzle-pieces shifting around in my head.

And there is never enough time to think it all through to conclusions. I’m thinking I should give up some of my TV time in favour of writing time, lest these ideas end up indefinitely detained in the cage inside my brain.

Sadly, all of that is going to have to take a back-seat to my NaNoWriMo now; I have a 30 day deadline, and Tycho signed my messenger-bag with a “Godspeed” when I told him, and now it kinda feels like he is going to haunt me till the end of the month, and possibly beyond if I fail. I have to live up to his well-wish, or I’ll fail on two levels simultaneously.

Also, he has seemed possessed in the comics more of late, and I shouldn’t take any chances.

It was a great time, and I wish there were more of it. Even while it is exhausting. Or perhaps because of.

Thanks PAX, thanks crowd, thanks atmosphere.

And thanks Robert Khoo for picking Australia. That was cool of you.

#PAXAUS – Day 2

I tried to sleep in. I honestly did. But at 9:00am I was awake, despite the best curtains I have ever had in a hotel room. Even at noon, it feels like midnight in here; I had to sneak behind the curtains to confirm that the light bleeding along the edges wasn’t an illusion.

After discovering yesterday that running from session to session is not a great way to spend a day (and missing half of them anyway), I had quite dramatically cut back on my personal schedule.

But I wasn’t going to miss “Penny Arcade – Make a Strip!” even if Mike wasn’t available. Kris Straub was a great fill-in; although his art wasn’t entirely to my tastes as much as Mike’s he was a lot more personable and engaged with the Q&A portion of the event.

I am in awe of how open and vulnerable Jerry Holkins is prepared to make himself. I don’t know if it is partially a well-exercised act, but despite agonising over whether to reveal personal details about himself, he always comes through. He’s not afraid to just be himself. I wonder if that’s the secret sauce that makes the PAX con so great; the fact that it originates from geeks with a great attitude about life.

The Six Rules of PAX should be a model for Tech Cons.

Sometimes,… (often… (always)) his unflappable nature results in a blue tinge to proceedings. Q: “Invent and illustrate a new form of erotica” was Chekhov’ed delicately on the corner of the desk and eventually resulted in some delightful Vesperotica / bat erotica.

It is a delight just to listen to Jerry ad-lib and riff.

Next up, I had a political panel which included two lobbyists and one Scott Ludlam. Hearing him speak always reminds me that a quiet measured voice often garners more attention than a raised voice.

It was an incredibly packed session; the queue snaked around corners, and I think we ended up with slightly more people in the room than there technically should have been. But it’s all good. It is good to see that level of interest in activism; I am taking it as a sign of an interest to do something, rather than thinking it might have seemed an opportunity to roast a politician or perhaps gloat over other politicians not-present.

I have many thoughts on the topic of activism in the general sense. I need to find more time to think them through and write them out. Or do something constructive with them. But for now, the call-to-action I felt compelled to write will have to do.

I spent a brief period in an “Are Gamers Social?” session. As much as I was interested to find there are all kinds of geek spaces starting to show up in all the major cities, I think the panel was a bit un-structured and could have done with a bit more preparation. Or perhaps a better premise than a question with an obvious answer.

I left early.

The session on “Geek Culture/Identity: Exploring the Reality of ‘Fake’ Geeks” had a much better premise, a much better panel and a much better moderator than most of the sessions. I’m wondering if PAX should do more to prepare panel moderators for their duties, because it’s not as easy as just showing up with an idea and some guests.

What is a Fake geek… or what is even a Real geek. The panel didn’t really come to a solid conclusion, other than, almost any topic with passionate adherents could be considered geekery. And I don’t disagree. But then, maybe instead of spending a lot of time on the central question we could have moved on to the answer that everyone is a geek for something, and maybe we should all just pay more attention not to alienate those with geekery that we do not quite understand. In a stereotypical jocks-vs-geeks stand-off, aren’t both sides misunderstanding how similar they really are?

I would love for a panel to explore that point in more depth.

This was the point in the evening where the musical entertainment in the main hall proved more interesting than the sessions I had ticked off on my schedule. I ended up seeing some of the Doubleclicks’ work on-stage, and I enjoyed it greatly… especially their tabletop song was a work of art.

And the Axis of Awesome had a bit of a shaky start with feedback from the speakers, but they had some great bits, and ended incredibly strongly on a whirlwind tour through the musical landscape of the last decade based on a single four-chord progression. Music has never sounded more monotonous to me than it did for the last 5 minutes of their act. And surprisingly, that’s a compliment… I think.

We ended the evening late with a full room for the “Sex & The Modern Geek” session; who would have thought that’d draw a full room.

A great discussion, helped along by some various scholarly and thoughtful input from the panel. I think there was a certain level of discomfort in the room around a few of the topics raised, but overall a great audience. I wish there was more room for topics like this at PAX.

Acceptance comes from understanding. Understanding comes from exposure. Discomfort is part of the process of losing your discomfort.

It was a great session to end the day on.

The realisation there is only one more day left (and one that ends early at 6pm at that) makes me a little sad. There are certain conferences I could spend a great deal more time on if the constraints of life would only permit it. I don’t think I would enjoy every panel on the schedule, but I could certainly fit a few more days in.

Alas, time to rest so I can make the most of the last.