Taken from: passionate


But whose fear? The metaphor Liz used (she got from someone else) was that many of the “leaf nodes” (what Microsoft and Sun and others refer to as “individual contributors”) tend to be innovative and brave, but many of the “branches” (i.e. layers of management) can’t stomach the risks. In their (admirable) desire to be strong and stable, the “branches” put safety above all else.


So add one more skill to our career advice for young people: be willing to take risks! Perhaps more importantly, be willing to tolerate (and perhaps even encourage) risk-taking in those who are managed by you. Of course I realize that this is much easier said than done. I was a “leaf node” at Sun, and a zillion other places before that. I’ve even done a little time as a “branch” (and I sucked at it).

But can anything be done about all the spirit-squashing risk-aversion? Recognition is the first step. Unfortunately, those who recognize it tend to be the leaf nodes–the ones with the power to create and implement the ideas, but very little power to authorize them. Those with the most potential to create change are the branches. The Managers With a Clue.


Regularly review your sacred cows

Regularly review the assumptions behind all your decisions
Are those assumptions still valid?

Here’s where the Buddhists have an edge. Too many of us hold on to practices or ideas (including sacred cows) long past their sell-by date. If it doesn’t serve us any longer, it’s time to give it up no matter how well it served us in the past.

Of course, “letting go” means temporarily experiencing that painful, awkward, “I suck” stage again. But pro athletes do it if they want to break through plateus. Go players do it to move up in ranks. Musicians let go of habits and styles. Programmers do it (waterfall anyone?). Writers do it. Anyone who has switched from skiing to snowboarding (or switched from regular to “goofy foot”) has learned to let go.


Easy and familiar is safe, but often comes with built-in, unscalable walls. You can’t get there from here.

Push the boundaries strategically, one-by-one
Whether you’re a leaf or a branch, pick your battles carefully, one poke at a time. Better to live another day to keep fighting the good fight then, say, being fired for trying to do it all at once.


Probably good advice for research, refereeing, and new course design. Taking chances leads to innovation, which leads to the big advances and payoffs. But you need to have some insurance. What if you do something risky and it does not pay off? That’s the tradeoff. Since I can only write a few papers or prep a few new courses, I will try to mix them up. Try some base hits and also swing for the fences. Remembering that each is a paper, (or new course) and try to move on when the time comes.

In the end, base hits are often as tough as swinging for the fences.

And I will try to keep all this in mind when I review papers/grants and am acting as a branch.


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