Friday, January 23, 2015

The secret to successful groups is diversity

We've all seen the phenomenon that a group of people is usually dumber than the IQ of any one person in the group. And we've also watched groups come together to outperform their peers, somehow collectively enhancing the group dynamic to become a truly "smart" team. And through the years, you've probably read countless business articles that claim to have the "secret" to highly performing teams.

Here's another one. Researchers from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College recently wrote about group dynamics, that just as some individuals are smarter than others, some groups are smarter than others, across a range of tests and tasks. In other words, there is a "c factor" for collective intelligence. The big reveal:
In two studies with 699 people, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. This “c factor” is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

In other words, The Secret to Smart Groups: It's Women, as described in a recent article in The Atlantic. The single most important element of smart groups, according to the researchers, was their "average social sensitivity." Essentially, their receptivity to nonverbal communication and cues, which The Atlantic refers to as "mind-reading." Quoting The Atlantic:
Women are better at reading the mind through the face even online, when they can't see their teammates' faces. In a follow-up study (the full paper, which again isn't linked in the Times piece, lives here), the scientists gave participants a "Reading the Mind in the Eyes," or RME, test, where they were asked to identify complex emotions (e.g., shame or curiosity, rather than sadness or joy) in pictures of other people's eyes. Then they divided participants into teams and had them perform a number of tests, like brainstorming and group Sudoku. Again, teams with more women, who scored higher on the RME test, performed the best across the tasks. From the paper:

The [RME] scores of group members were a strong predictor of how well the groups could perform a wide range of tasks together, even when participants were only collaborating online via text chat and could not see each other’s eyes or facial expressions at all.

This doesn't mean that only women are good at social sensitivity, or nonverbal communication. But rather, women tend to be better at it.

The obvious takeaway to encourage diversity. I used to advise ΑΣΚ sorority, "women in technical studies," so this is a topic that is very close to me. I believe that women are often underrepresented in technology, an unfortunate trend that we must reverse.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Making the case for introverted leaders

If you remember the Myers-Briggs personality types, one of the categories is How people focus their attention or get their energy (Extrovert or Introvert). Personally, I've always tested slightly on the "E" side of this personality indicator, although somewhat toward the middle. I'm neither strongly Extrovert or Introvert, but I tend towards Extrovert.

Perhaps you have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator at some point in your career. If you are like the trend, most leaders tend towards the "E" side, and most technology folks trend to the "I" side. But that doesn't mean that all leaders are Extrovert or all technology folks are Introvert. We are just people, and as such we are all different and contribute in our own ways.

On this topic, Jessica Stillman writes at Inc about 7 Reasons Introverts Make Great Leaders. Stillman shares these aspects about Introverts that help them in leadership:

  1. They're better listeners
  2. They're better prepared
  3. They go deep
  4. They don't mind solitude
  5. They keep their cool
  6. They don't settle
  7. They write more

Jon Rennie via his LinkedIn post expands on Stillman's 7 points, and asks Is it Time for the Introverted Leader? Citing Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, Rennie argues the CEOs of successful companies are not the charismatic, outgoing types but had quiet, almost shy, personalities. In other words, these successful CEOs that made the leap from being good companies to ones that outpaced the market were demonstrably Introvert, not Extrovert.

These leaders demonstrate personal humility and professional will. Rennie concludes Introverted leaders come equipped with significant leadership advantages and, if combined with a deep relentless will to succeed, they can lead companies to remarkable transformations.

If you consider yourself an Introvert or borderline-Introvert, and wish to take the step into a leadership role, free yourself and use your personality type to your strength.
image: One Way Stock

Friday, January 16, 2015

How to interview for a job

Every year, I provide some type of coaching and mentoring to our graduating student workers, and friends and peers, to help them prepare their resumes and cover letters. In years past, I have also conducted practice interviews, simulating a variety of interviewers they may face (the yes/no questioner, the too-talkative interviewer, and so on) and how to successfully work around that.

While preparing for a friend, I came across an excellent piece by Tania Seary: "My 5 killer job interview questions." Here are Seary's moments that make or break candidates:
  1. The tipping point question: “What were the reasons for leaving your current job?”
  2. The leader question: “Tell me about something you’ve led – a group, a team, a movement, an initiative…any situation where you were in the lead?”
  3. The mentor question: “Tell me about some people you’ve mentored and what they are doing now?”
  4. The question question: “Do you have any more questions?”
  5. The one-word question: “If your friends could summarise you in one word, what would that word be?”
I recommend you start by reflecting on your leadership journey, about your career highlights. If you are a student, you might instead consider your education journey: what have you learned during your time at university. What projects or assignments worked well for you, and which projects or assignments were more challenging? I find it's most helpful to focus on the peaks and valleys on the timeline: the moments that seemed to be turning points. You may prefer to highlight other points that are similar to each other, and that's okay too. By reflecting on your journey, you will be better prepared to recall them during your interview.
photo: John Benson

Monday, January 12, 2015

Using stress to your advantage?

An interesting article at Forbes shares tips on how successful people stay calm. According to author Travis Bradberry, "The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance." But as Bradberry points out, stress is an important contributor to performance. New research from the University of California, Berkeley suggests "performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of stress. As long as the stress isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless."

Bradberry shares several tips that successful people employ to manage their stress:

  1. Appreciate what you have
  2. Avoid asking "what if?"
  3. Stay positive
  4. Disconnect
  5. Limit caffeine intake
  6. Sleep
  7. Squash negative self-talk
  8. Reframe your perspective
  9. Breathe
  10. Use a support system

How do you manage your stress?
image from the article

Friday, January 9, 2015

Using Your Open Source Work to Get a Job

I sometimes give advice to students on finding a job, and today's item is also related to helping students in free software.

I am a long-time contributor to free software. In 1993, while I was an undergraduate physics student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, I discovered open source software for the first time. The concept of people around the world creating programs and not just giving them away for free, but sharing the source code (the computer instructions that define what the program does and how it behaves) was new to me. I had grown up in a time when computer software was a business; you paid for the software you used.

I found that open source software was of high quality, and helped me to get my work done. And because the source code was available, I could modify the programs to add new features, or to fix problems that I found.

This interest in open source software led to my decision in 1994 to create The FreeDOS Project, with the aim to create a free, compatible alternative to MS-DOS. I wrote the first FreeDOS utilities, and others I met online wrote our command interpreter ("FreeCOM," an alternative to MS-DOS's and our "kernel" (which is what boots up on your computer). I did a little bit of everything: when I wasn't writing new code, I might add features to someone else's program. Or I might fix a bug, in my program or someone else's. Or I would update the website, to let others know what we were doing.

So it was that I was drawn to a recent article in about Using your open source work to get a job. In an economy where recent university graduates may find it hard to land their first job, I wanted to encourage more students to get involved in open source software. You don't have to be a STEM student; anyone can contribute to free software.

From the article, students can leverage their open source software work to help get their first job. To put my own spin on the article:
Employers might look at how you engage with others as part of the open source project, to gauge how you will interact with co-workers. Are you responsible, helpful? Or are you a loner, spurning those who wish to contribute? How you represent yourself online is a reflection of yourself.

Who you meet online might be a useful networking contact. Sometimes, the path to finding a job is not who you know, but who others know. So as you begin your job search, ask your colleagues in open source software for recommendations. You never know, one of them might be looking for someone just like you to join their team. Or maybe one of their contacts wants to hire.

Your open source software work is part of your professional background. When I advice students on writing resumes, I encourage them to list any contributions to open source software. Don't forget this important part of your background when representing yourself in an interview.
image: Nelson Pavlosky

Monday, January 5, 2015

How to use tech in higher ed

In higher ed, faculty often struggle with how to balance technology skills in the classroom. As has been pointed out earlier, technology is not a learning outcome by itself. But educators can leverage technology to improve teaching and learning. Kristen Vogt's article in EDUCAUSE discusses 7 Ways to Use Tech to Improve College Student Success, and offers these suggestions:
  1. Achieve greater impact with “whole-course” models
  2. Design student success innovations with active, self-paced, data-driven learning
  3. Cultivate the involvement of faculty with early engagement and ongoing training and resources
  4. Engage students as designers and facilitators of an innovation as well as learners
  5. Join project communities to accelerate adoption and efficiency
  6. Address a student success innovation’s functionality as well as its academic requirements
  7. Create enduring impact through long-term planning and design
photo: r. nial bradshaw

Friday, January 2, 2015

Be a humble CIO

Dan Roberts and Brian P. Watson write in CIO Magazine about an important, but often untapped, trait for successful CIOs: humility. The article is worth reading, but here are a few highlights quoted from the article:
Studies have found humility to be a valuable executive asset. A September 2013 study by a team at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business found that workers who thought their managers were more humble were more engaged in their work and less likely to seek employment elsewhere. A May 2014 study by Catalyst found similar results.

Humble leaders talk openly and honestly about failure.

The humble CIO will also emphasize his people’s importance more than his own.

Humble leaders also know they need to lean on others for advice and counsel.

When their organizations succeed, these CIOs talk about “we” and “our.” When something goes wrong, they talk about “I” and “my.”