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Posts by Marcus Blankenship

My haunted closet

There is a tiny closet in the front room of the beach house where I’m staying this week, in Santa Cruz, CA. The closet has no light switch. Instead, the inside light is on a motion sensor. At 2 am, I got up for a drink of water and froze in my tracks. I could…

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”Nah” – Rosa Parks

I shuffle when I walk, which means I kinda drag my feet on the ground. This results in ’scuffing’ along, as my father put it. You can think of this shuffling as a system that’s balanced when my action (shuffling feet) is met with a particular reaction (dirt or gravel which give way) in a…

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You can borrow my teaching style

If the thought of leading in-house training sounds like as much fun as a root canal, this email’s for you. Especially training with a name like “Engineering Leadership Training,” right? Let me offer a super-simple idea for a zero-level training you could start today. Here’s how it might work: Setup (30m) Choose a book on…

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Let’s play “name that bias”

My sister has twin 4-year old kids, a boy, and a girl. Both have autism and are on different points of the ASD spectrum. I was having lunch with them on Sunday, for Fathers Day, and I noticed something interesting. Our waitress happened to mention that her two-year-old son doesn’t like loud noise. My sister…

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Push training vs. Pull training

In the 1980s there were some studies about what motivates programmers, based on Job Characteristics Theory. You probably aren’t surprised to learn that a key motivating factor is “growth.” This is more than just career growth – it’s improving tech skills, communication skills, leadership and management skills, and even understanding ourselves better. You might even…

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Mental Model Machinations

Over the past two weeks, two ideas have been bouncing around in my brain. They have now smashed into each other, producing a couple of emails. Today’s email is about the first idea, which is from fourth-wave systems thinking. It’s the idea of “mental models,” which we all use, all the time. Here’s the idea:…

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Some beliefs about your training programs

I’m working on this engineering management training program, which I’m tentatively calling Origin Point. After all, everything needs a name, amiright? The origin point is the center of the cartesian plane.  It also sounds like the beginning of the journey. I kinda like both those ideas. Last night I wrote a draft of the “beliefs”…

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It works, but you’re gonna look silly doing it

Friday I sent you a fun puzzle to consider. It was an encoded message that began: Toothy purse in respond civil force ending theme honey:   Some of you replied with the correct answer: To the person responsible for sending the money:   Not sure how to solve it? Iain wrote to me about his…

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Can you help me decipher this riddle?

A bit of #FridayFun for you, taking a break from the seriousness of life. My friend Nathanial sent me this today and challenged me to translate this text into comprehensible English. Would you give me a hand? Toothy purse in respond civil force ending theme honey: Eye wand Ed two purr son a leery late…

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Flipping training on its head

We’re continuing our discussion about how you can develop new engineering managers: the elements of your training program. (Part one: Everyone talks about it, but no one does it.) (Part two: Becoming a true believer.) There’s one topic which always comes up first when thinking of management training programs. “What should they learn?” This makes…

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The true religion of developing leaders

(Part 1: Everyone’s talking about it,  but no one’s doing it.) Most executives with feel in-house training for new Tech Leads and Engineering Managers is a great idea. But most aren’t doing it. Why? Today I’ll address six common reasons I hear, and the underlying beliefs which deserve refactoring. Six belief hurdles to training programs…

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Everyone’s talking about it, but no one’s doing it.

For the past five years, I’ve been helping engineering managers become better leaders, one at a time. Thus far, I’ve adopted mostly a B2C approach: I sell leadership development products and services to managers who want to improve their own work. But lately, I’ve been asking Directors, VP’s of Engineering, and CTO’s how their company…

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A tool for adjusting your mental models

One of the core ideas from the field of systems thinking is mind-bending in an Inception kind of way. It asserts that we see reality indirectly through our mental models. We don’t see reality – we perceive reality through our mental models. For example, take what I’m doing right now. I’m sitting in a chair…

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“Dad, telephones dial with sound!”

Growing up in the 1970s, I developed a mental model of how push-button telephones worked. My mental model went like this: When you lifted the receiver, you heard a dial tone. That told you that you could dial. When you pressed a number on the keypad, you heard a tone. That told you a number…

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