My father passed away in the beginning of this year. It’s something you can never get prepared for. My mother lives alone in Saint Petersburg after being married to my father for 56 years. Extra tough for me after my recent move to California. What I felt that day and the amount of tears was incomparable to what I felt on the 24th of February, when Russia, the country where I was born and lived half of my life, invaded Ukraine. That day I had no words, only tears. This is so much bigger than a personal tragedy of losing a family member. This unexplainable act concerns all of us. Beautiful historic cities in Ukraine are being bombed, people are being killed, and they are hiding and fleeing in fear. And Russians did not ask for this, they are horrified. There are demonstrations on the streets across the whole country and people are raising their voices against the war, under the risk of ending up in prison. The day it started I had no words, only tears. But having no words is not an option. We all have words and we need to make ourselves heard. My 13-year old son who appears to be the only Russian in his school did an interview and spoke his mind for peace. My dear friend Ivetta is organising a concert in Stockholm for peace in Ukraine, with hundreds of people attending. I love Ukraine and Ukrainians, respect and cherish their traditions, and I am in tears every time I watch the news nowadays. Russians and Ukrainians have always been brothers; how do you turn brothers against each other?

My family always had a tradition – every new years eve, while the clock hits 12 times and crosses the midnight, we would write a wish on a small piece of paper for what we hope for the coming year. When I was little and had hard times putting down my wishes my parents always said – write “PEACE”, the word is short (“МИР” in Russian), easy to write and is the most important thing in life. Both my parents were born in 1941 – my mom under evacuation in Samara, and my father in Leningrad, where he got to experience the siege. True stories from that war told by my grandparents have always been with me, like a distant nightmare. No one could think that the evil social exercise will be repeated. I kept writing PEACE on my small piece of paper, every new years eve. This time, the paper will have to be a lot bigger and the voices a lot louder. Because every voice counts.

Photo by Dea Piratedea on Unsplash

Cixin Liu, Harvey, Dahlen, Keyyo

  1. Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu

    At times hard to grasp but so worth the time spent. Science fiction with crazy yet realistic ideas blended with accurate physical theories. Global perspectives on the world and evolution. Plenty of smart quotes that I wish I could remember. Here’s one favourite: “In China, any idea that dared to take flight would only crash back to the ground. The gravity of reality is too strong.”

    Elena’s rating: 4 out of 5.
  2. En liten bok om lycka, Micael Dahlen

    A tiny book where Micael, in a non-consistent form, gives a bunch of advises to the reader based on statistical studies. Break the rules, eat Christmas candy year round, plan ahead, be spontaneous, skip classes, etc. The book was given to the school teachers of my kids from the class as the end of term gift so I read it to get an understanding what we gave. Neither novel nor entertaining for me, which could mean that I did think about the subject long enough myself. And, btw, isn’t Micael Dahlen a vegan? What’s up with skumtomtar in that case? They are not vegan. Or did he go that crazy that we went for breaking two rules at the same time?

    Elena’s rating: 1 out of 5.
  3. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Steve Harvey

    Now that was a great short read! Very entertaining and with some nice hints. I do not entirely agree with the recommendations (being an atheist) which is OK. A fun read for ladies. Not for men.

    Elena’s rating: 4 out of 5.
  4. Mitt Livs Buffee, Keyyo

    I sympathise with Keyyo being born in Russia just like me and spreading a very positive image of my home country in Sweden. She released a cookbook mixed with stories from her life. A short and fun read.

    Elena’s rating: 3 out of 5.

Spring 2020 with Lars Kepler, Ida Warg, Anders Borg, Camilla Läckberg and Extreme Ownership.

  1. Ida Warg – Min Egen Väg.

    My 12-year-old daughter comes to me and says that I need to read Ida Warg’s book. I am hesitant after being disappointed with Margaux Dietz book. Still, being curious about young successful influencers and of respect to my daughter I go for it and enjoy it, to my surprise. Ida has a drive to get inspired of that brought her success, she is a hard-working person focused at winning and finding own ways of doing things. As a bonus you get confessions from someone with eating disorders which is a must for every little girl to know.

    Elena’s rating: 3 out of 5.
  2. Lars Kepler – Lazarus.

    I used to be a big fan of Lars Kepler but it felt like I have become more spoiled. Same brutal detailed crime scenes, and an annoying feeling of knowing what happens next. After having read all their previous books and having The Hypnotist as one of my favourite novels I got disappointed with Lazarus, as it felt like more of the same but with a lower quality.

    Elena’s rating: 2 out of 5.
  3. Anders Borg – Finansministern.

    For someone not working with neither finance not politics this was a fascinating though heavy reading.

    Elena’s rating: 4 out of 5.
  4. Jocko Willink – Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

    The book is based on one idea – as a leader you have to own it, the decisions and actions of anyone being led by you. Never blame on someone else, take full responsibility. The book is based on real-life stories where extreme ownership was a game-changer. This is not a novel idea for me, as I have learnt to both give extreme freedom and take extreme ownership for my organisations. Moreover, in every role I was aspiring for, I took the ownership even before getting it. When working in a global company one needs to start taking ownership even beyond your sphere of direct influence.

    Elena’s rating: 3 out of 5.
  5. Camilla Läckberg – Vingar of Silver

    I was really waiting for it after Camilla’s “En Bur Av Guld” that i loved. This one is an easy read, on one breath, girls-only. The story was not worked though as good as in the predecessor, and there were some inconsistencies in the book that I reacted upon (when Faye met the guy at the bar and fell in love immediately (which is not her thing to start with) the readers immediately realize there is something fishy with the guy). BUT the details, and the empowerment that the book gives you is priceless!

    Elena’s rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Linked Data, Inference and Chinese Whispers.

Technology is simple, people are difficult. People create a piece knowledge, like this one: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public, which also has a timing aspect to it. This piece of knowledge immediately starts spreading and transforming on the way. Knowledge is there to be spread, of course, but there are different ways of doing it. The way I just did it myself, by linking to the original piece of knowledge, does not give me a piece of that spotlight. In a search of a piece of spotlight, people start para-phrasing the original piece of information, picking out pieces, adding own views and passing it on. This leads to a plethora of information pieces out there, with no possibility of backtracking to the original knowledge object.

What’s the mechanism of retrieving the ground truth, that initial knowledge object provided by empirical evidence? An answer to this is linked data. Instead of copying and passing on a piece of knowledge we send a reference to it. This is why I am against sending files via mail – you never know which version of the file you are getting. If instead we only share pointers to knowledge objects we can choose to always get the latest. The knowledge object can by itself evolve as well but keep track of the changes and detect if anyone has tempered with it.

To complicate it further, people, including myself, love detecting patterns in pieces of information, combining knowledge objects together and inferring new pieces of knowledge. We need to make sure we can back-track this chains of inferencing to original facts and ground truth, in line with what Hans Rosling said in Factfulness. A tiny tweak in a piece of information along the chain of reasoning may lead to an incorrect decision in the end of the reasoning chain.

The tiny tweaks may be intentional and unintentional. A minor variation of the ground truth or an error in the reasoning chain may lead to wrong decisions being taken at the end of the reasoning process. When this process concerns life and well-being of people, business-critical decision-making, or societal challenges, it needs to adhere to certain principles:

  • Data should never be copied. Send pointers to data, not the copy.
  • Traceability and explainability in decision-making needs to be in place.
  • In a search for optimal decision, don’t experiment on a live system without boundary conditions.
  • Back-tracking should be possible.
  • Mechanisms for resolving conflicts should be in place.
  • Mechanisms for detecting tweaks in data should be in place.
  • Mechanisms for reversing decisions should be in place.

I’m in love with the T-shape of you

I am going through yet another leadership training program and yet again I get the same verdict: goal-oriented, structured, achievement-driven, knowledge-driven. I whisper into my colleague’s ear: “I am not a people person”. He whispers back: “then maybe you don’t have the right job”.

jigsaw puzzle

The fun fact is that I find a lot of people who are like me. So, I started to analyze the strengths of my leadership team as a whole and came up with; warm, innovative, fun, and some great people leadership skills. So luckily, together we represent all the different but important pieces that we need for this organization.

It got me thinking, last year I wrote a blog post about playing solitaire. This time it’s different– It’s all about putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

For instance, my leadership team comes to me and says: “Elena, we need to have regular all-employee meetings, and no, it’s not OK for you to join online, be present, visible, receptive” – exactly the push I need. I am thankful to have support from my team in various dimensions – we complement each other as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each team member comes with a set of special skills, and together we are complete and efficient.

Each piece of our jigsaw puzzle is unique – we have different backgrounds, skill sets, preferences and passions. My unit is a self-going agent within a company close to 100,000 employees representing all its values. Our shape is perfect for our mission, to be the driver of artificial intelligence technology leadership for Ericsson. But if you zoom out, we are a piece of a bigger puzzle.

Let’s now zoom back in again. It’s not just our unit that has a shape. Each person has a shape as well. A T-shaped person has in-depth knowledge in one field (vertical bar of T) and a broad knowledge of an application domain (horizontal bar of T). For example, a statistician specialized in political systems. Or, a politician who knows statistics. It is important that the two bars are connected. For instance, if you are really good at solving differential equations and know a lot about French porcelain of 17th century, then you cannot automatically call yourself a T-shaped person, as they are not really connected the same way.

And similarly to T-shape, there is a Pi-shape with one more leg of in-depth knowledge, and an E-shape… you get the point. In general I would say, the more “bars” you have as a person the more interesting you are. Of course, and in case you choose to be I-shaped, you can still be endlessly interesting for people who are into the same field, but you run a risk of being seen as ‘just a geek’ by everyone else.

Personally, I have been working hard on diversifying my professional profile (or adding more bars to my shape) while keeping it all connected. I gladly take opportunities of diving into new areas and shifting my focus from old areas. In the long run this strategy should bring me to the shape of a Swiss army knife. There are plenty of “bars” of different shapes and directions, and they are all connected, and one can actually choose which parts of the knife to fold in or out. Or, if we were to tweak the rules of the jigsaw puzzle, the more skills you have, the better you fit in with the other pieces.

Still, having all these different skills is one thing and enjoying using them is another. Doing a good job is not necessarily the same thing as having fun at work while doing a good job. Being a fan of multi-parametric optimization problems, I aim at maximizing the fun, so that we all get to use our favorite skills. So forgive me for not being a people person, luckily I have my team to compensate for that. And next time you find me hiding in a corner during a mingle, please come by and say: I read your blog post!

love who you are
Written by me and originally published here:

Balance for Better

Do you know what’s the best strategy for playing solitaire? Balance your piles of cards.

When you have a choice between piles to reveal the next down-facing card, you should pick from the largest pile. It has been a while since I played solitaire, but the rule got stuck in my head. We all have many different piles in our lives, formed by our jobs, families, and hobbies. To succeed in the long run, we need to pay attention to all the piles, and specifically to the bigger ones. Every time we have a deadline at work, we give that pile more attention, which is ok for a while as long as we don’t forget to shift the balance later because we want to win the whole game, not just empty one of the piles.

Now, imagine that our piles represent blocks of different opinions. It may seem tempting to only work with opinions resembling your own. That way you may seem efficient in the short run but will be doomed in the long run because diversity is important for success. Diverse teams create the most innovative ideas and solutions. When you run an organization, a project or a meeting, don’t forget all the different perspectives, otherwise, in the long run, you may end up in a local minimum.

I love my diverse team at Ericsson Research. AI Research is composed of researchers based in Sweden, India, USA, Brazil, and Hungary. We have forgotten why physical co-location was so important and instead do virtual co-location. Working on the same data sets, within the same environments through the same tools and on the same projects is way more important than physical closeness. If only we could do something about the time difference…

On the other hand, when we in Europe come to work, we can build on the results from our Indian colleagues, and when we go home, we hand over to our colleagues in The Americas, so that cross-continental projects can deliver results around the clock. Diversity has a great social aspect to it as well. Our diversity is something that we all have in common, and something that we gladly discuss with each other.

Now to my biggest passion – technology. Working with Artificial Intelligence is fun – it’s broad and deep and can be applied to so many things. And one of the things that fascinate me most is that AI technology is inspired by humans and nature. This means that whatever humans found to be successful in their lives and in evolutionary processes can be used when creating new algorithms. Diversity, inclusion, balance, and flexibility are very important here as well, with respect to data and knowledge, and diverse, organizations are for sure better equipped for creating responsible algorithms. In the era of big data, let’s make sure we don’t discriminate the small data.

This blog was written by me and initially published here:

Jan 2020 monthly report

January swished by and it’s time to follow up on the progress of new year’s resolutions.

  1. Books ✔. I have accidentally read four. The lovely app I am using for streaming audiobooks is so good at serving me just right things, making me curious and getting me hooked.
  2. Exercise. I managed to achieve 1.75 per week on average and that wasn’t easy.
  3. Blogging. I have only written three this month (one internal and two external). I have plenty of ideas and not enough time discipline to put them on paper. You know these activities without deadline. Can someone force me please?
  4. Teach Paul Junior to ski and to swim ✔. Planned.
  5. Wear heels. Improvement area.
  6. Spend more time with my parents ✔. I have trips to Saint Petersburg planned in March, May and June and July ❤

How can i improve? Read or write while exercising on high heels?

January 2020 with Olga Tokarczuk, Anne-Britt Harsem, Martina Haag and Margaux Dietz.

1. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (by Olga Tokarczuk)
Elena’s rating: 4 of 5 stars
From “what am I reading” to completely hooked in a second. If I did not know that Olga won a Nobel Prize in literature I would have given up on the book before reaching it’s midpoint. But i was decisive to get through it and take it like a pill since good books are good for you – you don’t need to like them. This one was almost like a fancy dinner that you long after while being very hungry, while the cooks take their time! It’s a painful wait, but in the end you get your reward. I got my reward after approximately 70%. The language is exquisite throughout the book. And it plays with an interesting philosophical question: what do you do if you disagree with the law?

2. Mammas svek: den sanna historien om ett fruktansvärt brott (by Anne-Britt Harsem)
Elena’s rating: 4 of 5 stars
I started reading this one accidentally, being curious about the title. And then I could not stop reading until the end. It’s a hurtful read so don’t do it unless you are in a very happy and stable state and have good margins to handle the pain of this book. It’s based on a true story – so called “Alvdalsfallet” in Norway 2011. About the role and the power given to us as a parent, and a terrible case of misusing this power. The most scary part of the book is that the kids had a skewed concept of right or wrong, and also had a Stockholm syndrome – a sympathy to their worst enemy, their own mother.

3. Det är något som inte stämmer (by Martina Haag)
Elena’s rating: 3 of 5 stars
You know sometimes you get this urge of reading something light. With that thought I decided to read a Martina Haag-book since they are always so fun and light. And at the same time, maybe it was an unconscious decision after I laughed so hard at the scene with Strömstedts in Rapport från 2050 (the scene starts at 41:53), without realising the connection. I must say that I love all three of them: Martina Haag, Erik Haag (her ex) and Lotta Lundgren (her ex’s new girlfriend). And the book was anything but light. I can imagine that for a Martina it was a therapy to write it. She is screaming out her feelings. I cried several times while reading and could not sleep afterwards.

4. Your best life (by Margaux Dietz)
Elena’s rating: no rating. 
I am not in the target group so it would be unfair to set any rating. I was curious about Margaux-phenomenon which triggered me to reading it. One thing I liked is the importance of friends around you and the importance of making an effort and meeting them in person from time to time and giving them a hug. Another thing to pick from the book is the importance of having good timing (cannot be controlled), and having a plan and being prepared (Margaux has planned to film and stream the brith of her child well in advance which was a bold and unique move and made her very popular).

Looking for a fun job – look here!

Let me start by telling you a joke.

Five advices to men for a happy life:

  • Find a woman that helps you with the cleaning and the chores,
  • Find a woman that is a good cook,
  • Find a woman that you can trust and share your feelings with,
  • Find a woman that enjoys making love to you,
  • Last and the most important thing is that these four women should never meet.

So, I am writing an unusual job ad:

  • I am looking for an assistant who can do administrative tasks (but rather wouldn’t).
  • I am looking for a hacker who loves automation.
  • I am looking for an innovator capable of thinking outside the box.
  • I am looking for a people person who is good at understanding people’s needs.
  • And the most important thing is that it should be the same person.
Image result for boring admin job

In other words, I am looking for a person who will be able to challenge us in any task we do and see if we can become more efficient without compromising on integrity, regulations and principles. Let me tell you about some of these tasks:

  • Expense reporting. According to regulations, each receipt needs to be scanned, attached to the expense report, and then the whole report has to be printed and submitted. Can we optimise things here? For example, I always prefer to get receipts in digital form, so that i can immediately forward them to my assistant. Or, maybe they can automatically go to my assistant or a special inbox with my receipts? Or should we integrate with SAP directly and skip sending receipts to inboxes? (note: Uber offers this functionality already). Can we automate report printing and posting as well?
  • Purchasing. I have a simple rule: I delegate to my assistant to approve all purchases that are obviously motivated and are under a certain amount. These are 95% of all purchases. This sounds like a simple script to me. Don’t tell my employees.
  • Time reporting. Some lucky people like myself do not need to do time reporting. But most of our employees face a complex project structure. For example, when you work on EU projects, you need to track all the hours, and report them accordingly. If my time is split between five projects, can I please have 5 buttons on my screen and click on them in accordance with the project I am working with? Or, can we let an AI figure out which project someone is working on judging from the context?
  • Monthly reporting. I have a feeling that most of the people find monthly reporting boring when it in fact should be joyful and an opportunity to tell your colleagues about your progress. Let’s make it joyful. Let’s forbid sending snippets of text via mail. Let’s forbid copy-pasting. Let people write about things they are proud of, or things that they believe need attention. Let us use our favourite platforms for that, and don’t force people to do it once per month. And every piece of news should be hash-tagged so that later on anyone could easily create an on-demand ad-hoc report. My boss should be able to check out all achievements of my organisation towards a certain stakeholder within a certain time interval, for example.
  • Keeping track of employee inflow-outflow. This sounds easy, but it’s not. For normal employees we need to track the status – empty position – job offered – contract signed – started. Not all of these states are reflected in our HR system but we still need to keep track. We also have many different kinds of interns – summer interns, master thesis workers, PhD students, postdocs, some with salary from our company, some without.
  • Employee onboarding. When you join our company you get an account, email address, computer, phone, desk, screen, chair, etc which is a pretty generic starter kit. Of course you can choose which phone you would like to have and which computer you would like to have. I can think of a simple web form for all new employees where the computer/phone model gets chosen, and an automatic purchase gets triggered.
  • Scheduling meetings. I start by saying that I love meetings. It’s probably the first time you heard anyone say that. The trick is that I became very picky with which meetings I attend. I simply choose the ones that I love – content-heavy and action-oriented, aiming at creating impact.
  • And anything else that you may find inefficient – challenge me!

The skills: hacking, scripting, SAP, Sharepoint, RPA. You come with an open mind and we give you access to our tools. You will also get this hoodie from me personally (used, by me, during my postdoc time in Paris).

Image result for got root

The Books I read 2019

1. Scener ur Hjärtat (by Malena Ernman and Svante Thunberg).
Elena’s rating: 4 of 5 stars
Greta Thunberg’s parents open their hearts in an honest naked story of tough side of their life, explaining Greta’s path. Hair-raising to read for a parent.  Strengths: the “behind-the-scenes” story of glamorous Malena, one of the top Swedish opera signers.  Weaknesses: the text is not always consequent. For example, in the scene with Greta jumping up and screaming that the prime minister on TV is lying when he is saying that all of us have had some negative effect on the planet, while at the same time using generalisations throughout the book.

2. Becoming Michelle Obama (by Michelle Obama)
Elena’s rating 3.5 of 5 stars.
Michelle tells the story of her childhood, supporting parents, how she and Barack met each other, and how it was to be the first lady. Lots of ground covered, but a real sleeping pill for myself, especially when listening to Michelle’s monotonic tone of voice. Also, felt almost like bragging with all the extraordinary things that she’s been doing.   

3. Gott om Tid (by Bodil Jönsson)
Elena’s rating: 5 of 5 stars.
I loved her “Tio Tankar om Tid”, and I loved this one as well. Bodil is on the mission of slowing down the time, which is exactly what I need in my life as well.  

4. Folk med Ångest (by Fredrik Backman)
Elena’s rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Very entertaining, takes turns and you get fooled by the author all the time. Does not require too much of brain power and a nice read after a hard working day.         

5. Hjärnstark (by Anders Hansen)
Elena’s rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.
The original version was too slow for me, and the short version was just right. My rating is for the short version, including some extra points for the fact that I have started running more thanks to this book.  

6. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (by John Carreyrou)
Elena’s rating: 5 of 5 stars.
Breathtaking from the beginning to the end and based on a true story of a med-tech startup in Sillicon Valley.

7. Factfulness (by Hans Rosling)
Elena’s rating: 3 of 5.
The facts were good, the repeated reasoning around them too trivial.  

 8. Weapons of Math Destruction (by Cathy O’Neil)
 Elena’s rating: 4 of 5.
A book about artificial intelligence and it’s negative effects due to biased data.       Interesting real-life examples.  

9. En Bur av Guld (by Camilla Läckberg)
Elena’s rating: 4 of 5.
The first book of Camilla Läckberg that I really liked. Read on one breath. The only thing that I did not understand is why she had to make the main character a murderer; unnecessary in my opinion, hence lower rating.  

10. Miljardmakarna (by Emma Ahlén Pouya)
Elena’s rating: 4.5 of 5.
Inspiring story of two immigrants who built a commercial imperium in Sweden written by wife of one of them.   

11. Den extraordinära berättelsen om Jonas Paulssons plötsliga död (by Alexander Karim)
Elena’s rating: 2 of 5.
Alexander is a great actor but has a way to go when it comes to books. This was his debut that from the beginning felt entertaining but in the end turned out to be a copy-cat of stories such as Groundhog Day, Memento or Benjamin button.  

12. Britt-Marie var här (by Fredrik Backman)
Elena’s rating: 3 of 5.
A predecessor of Folk med Ångest that I read after it. Cute at times but too slow.