It’s been a while since a wrote on my personal blog. Recently, I’ve been mainly writing for Mainly.AI. Do you know my writing style well enough to figure out which of the blog posts are written by me? I can give you a hint: I love bullets. I always think in terms of bullets. After bullets come pictures. After pictures comes text. Let me tell you more about bullets.
A bullet is typically a self-contained piece of information one can refer to. And I love references.
When I read plain text that does not contain bullets i normally try to decompose it in logical blocks and organise them in my head, which helps me to remember.
Am I a robot? I love machine-readable structured text. Structured text is also so much better for scientific articles when it comes to finding right pieces of information automatically.
Shooting from the hip
I’m not the person who overthinks things. Or am I? I often get to hear that I am assertive. I take it as a fine compliment. At times I do however have a hard time choosing between Pareto-optimal solutions and my brain goes at full speed even though I know in theory that it does not matter which one I choose.
I do indeed shoot from the hip sometimes. Crazy ideas, assumptions, hypotheses – I love them. But only in a safe experimentation environment and with all those constructive critics around me who are not afraid to object. Brainstorming at its best is a like a scientific experiment.
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”.
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!
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.
January swished by and it’s time to follow up on the progress of new year’s resolutions.
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.
Exercise. I managed to achieve 1.75 per week on average and that wasn’t easy.
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?
Teach Paul Junior to ski and to swim ✔. Planned.
Wear heels. Improvement area.
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?
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.
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).
Few hours left of 2019. Time for the summary. To start with, I thought i would check in on my new years resolutions for 2019. I did not manage to hold all of them, so i still do have something to work on. Here’s a selection:
Keep my house clean – kinda OK. At least the awareness is there now.
At least one internal and one external blog post per month – Fail. I love to do this and always have plenty of things to write about but…
Workout at least twice per week – kinda OK. We got our running routines on weekends back and it feels great. Kudos to Anders Hansen!
Kilos lost -2 (c) Bridget Jones. But i heard that curves are back in fashion.
Read more books. I am a slow reader and never read with my eyes any more. This year I read 12 books, see my book club.
Looking back at my 2019, it feels like an OK year, nothing extraordinary. Here are my highligths:
Became a member of the board of directors of RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden).