Hi, I'm Ray 👋 and this is where I write posts and collect links.

Check out my stories or posts on software engineering, leadership, or any other topics you might like.

See what else I'm up to now.

Otherwise, check out my latest posts and links below or subscribe to a feed.

Debouncing the Signal

Ripples on a lake

A big part of leading teams is identifying issues to address and opportunities to exploit. The bigger the team, the harder it is to sense trends that need attention. Your job is to help ferret out the signal from the noise—like a human high-pass filter1.

It’s tempting to jump in at the first sign of difficulty—this can send you around the bend as you chase an increasing number of tails. It can also lead to intervention bias.

The trick, instead, is to slow down and “debounce the signal”. Wait for input around a topic to collect, then take stock of your response.

Having a broad purview and taking the time to think means you can internalise things that others haven’t yet. Typically, the challenge isn’t whether something needs resolving but which of the many opportunities you should direct your constrained capacity towards.

Letting some time pass and banking a couple of nights of sleep can soften your view and reduce the effect of tilt. Working with trusted advisors in your team can also help establish perspective and modulate your response.

What happens when you slow down?

Sometimes, things resolve themselves. The team steps up and sorts things2. Internal or external factors change and obviate the issue.

Sometimes, new information comes to light that contradicts what you’ve previously heard. Follow-up conflicting information is particularly prevalent with interpersonal issues within teams. Welcome to the Rashomon Effect. Regardless, you need more information to establish what is happening.

Sometimes, you don’t hear anything more on a topic. Given a large enough team, this scenario is pretty standard. The risk here, of course, is that low-frequency issues can still have a high impact.

Sometimes, things are chronic and severe enough that they need more attention. It becomes evident that you need to do something.

Finally, some issues or opportunities are significant enough that you need to act immediately.

The art is in knowing when to act and when to wait.

  1. Or human shock absorber. ↩︎

  2. This is my favourite outcome. ↩︎

Culture is the Track Record

Luca Dellanna:

Leaders who think organizational culture is a set of concepts attempt to change it using words and concepts – and inevitably fail, because organizational culture is not a set of concepts.

It’s a track record.

In particular, it’s the track record of which behaviors are a waste of time and which lead to good personal outcomes.

Walk the talk, people.

Participatory Leadership

Simon Harris:

Participatory leadership is knowing when to lead, when to be led, and when to get out of the way. It’s connecting people, creating and holding the space for them, helping with jobs to be done, and allowing things to play out. It’s fostering a sense of ownership and accountability by actively involving and guiding others in problem-solving and decision-making. It’s recognising that no individual possesses all the necessary information or expertise, and that we don’t need to have all the knowledge and all the answers. It’s being comfortable being uncomfortable.

The Trusted Advisor 📚

The Trusted Advisor

The Trusted Advisor is a book focused on trust and relationships in professional services but feels applicable to any work partnership.

I’ve collected a few choice quotes below.

Show, don’t tell

To make anyone believe something about you, you must demonstrate, not assert. What you claim about yourself, your colleagues, or your firm will always be received skeptically, if it is listened to at all. In Emerson’s words, “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying,”

Listen first

We must listen effectively, and be perceived to be listening effectively, before we can proceed with any advisory process. Cutting to the chase without having earned the right to do so will usually be interpreted as arrogance.

Interruptions and reordering

…if the listener breaks up our sense of story (insists on interrupting, or rearranging, or imposing his or her own sense of story line), the meaning we intend is disrupted. It feels inappropriate when someone jumps to a conclusion, or misses a connection, or gets things out of sequence. All these are forms of not “getting it.” Good listening respects the speaker by respecting the sequence of the story he or she chooses to tell us.

Listen for what’s different

At the core of earning someone’s trust is convincing them that you are dealing with them as a human being, and not as a member of a group or class or subset. Accordingly, as you listen to a client talk, the question on your mind should be, “What makes this person different from any other client I’ve served? What does that mean for what I should say and how I should behave?”

Unfortunately, this is hard work. The natural tendency for most of us is to do the exact opposite: We listen for the situations we recognize, so that we can draw upon past experience to use the words, approaches, and tools that we already know well. It’s the way most of us work, but it doesn’t always serve us well.

Sincere interest in others

So much of our time is spent focusing on ourselves, and so much of other people’s time is spent focusing on themselves, that it is a rare and surprising event whenever someone breaks the veil. Sincere interest in another person comes across strikingly simply because it is unusual.

Be sure advice is being sought

One of the biggest mistakes that advisors make is to think that their client always wants their advice. This is dangerously wrong.

What the advice receiver wanted was a combination of a sympathetic ear, emotional support, an understanding of the difficulties faced, and the opportunity to collect his or her own thoughts by talking them through in a non-threatening environment.

Long-term vs short-term

It’s near impossible for any professional to hide his or her true motives, whatever they may be. And if those motives are rooted in naked self-interest, they will be duly noted and reciprocated. We are not loyal to self interested people we don’t trust them. Which means we are always likely to leave them for a better price-or for someone we actually trust.

Which in turn means longterm success is compromised by such behaviour. And since the long term is nothing but a series of short terms, short-term results themselves are being harmed, not improved, by slavish adherence to short-term goals.

The truth is, both long-term and short-term results are maximised by long-term behaviour on our part. The old Goldman Sachs mantra expressed this well: “We are longterm selfish.” It is in the long-term that our goals and our clients’ goals merge and that merging reveals itself over a series of short terms.

Steps to develop trust

We suggest that there are five distinct steps in the development of a trusted relationship. In this chapter we will define each of these In the succeeding chapters, we will explore each stage in detail.

Expressed in their simplest form, the five stages are:

  • Engage. “Let’s talk about…”
  • Listen. “Tell me more…”
  • Frame. “So the issue is…”
  • Envision. “Let’s imagine…”
  • Commit. “I suggest we…”

How to Decide 📚

How to Decide by Annie Duke

How to Decide digs into the characteristics of decision making and provides tools for making better decisions.

I took away loads of things to try and recommend the book.

Below are some of the salient points that stood out to me.

Traits of good decision making

Two things determine how your life turns out: luck and the quality of your decisions. You can only control the second.

Any decision is essentially a prediction about the future.

When making a decision your objective is to choose the option that gains you the most ground in achieving your goals, taking into account how much you’re willing to risk.

You need to develop a decision process that improves your decision quality and helps you sort your decisions to identify which are larger and which are smaller.

A good decision tool seeks to reduce the impact of cognitive biases.

Determining whether a decision is good or bad means examining the quality of the beliefs informing the decision, the available options, and how the future might turn out given any choice you make.

Using the quality of the outcome to judge the quality of the decision causes you to learn the wrong lessons and is called resulting.

Uncertainty and decision making

Imperfect information is a kind of uncertainty that interferes before a decision.

Luck is a kind of uncertainty that can interfere after the decision is made but before the outcome.

Chasing certainty causes analysis paralysis.


Hindsight bias is the tendency to believe an event, after it occurs, was predictable or inevitable.

Memory creep is when what you know after the fact creeps into your memory of what you knew before the fact.

Tilt is when a bad outcome causes you to be in an emotionally hot state that compromises the quality of your decision making.


Quitting is a powerful tool for defraying opportunity cost and gathering intel, intel that will allow you to make higher-quality decisions about the things you decide to stick to.

Tools and Techniques

There are quite a few in the book. Here are some that resonated with me.

Use a Knowledge tracker to avoid hindsight bias.

Use Decision trees for evaluating past decisions and improving the quality of new ones.

Repeating options are when the same type of decision comes up over and over again you get repeated chances to choose options, including options you may have rejected in the past.

When a decision is hard, that means it’s easy. When you’re weighing two options that are close it can feel like the decision is difficult. The decision is actually easy, because whichever one you choose you can’t be that wrong since the difference between the two is so small.

The lower the cost to quit, the faster you can go, because it’s easier to unwind the decision and choose a different option, including options you may have rejected in the past.

Move Fast and Beat Musk

Naomi Nix:

Initially, the team carried just two product managers and one or two designers alongside dozens of engineers — a flatter and more coder-dominated group than most Meta product teams, Mosseri said. (At launch, it had grown to three product managers, three designers and 50 coders.) Instead of 30-minute presentations on a single design decision, typical at Facebook and Instagram, “It would be like, ‘Here are six things we need to go through this week.’”

Meta went for an engineer-heavy team composition and light weight process to build Threads.

How to Read

Morgan Housel:

Reading is a chore if you insist on finishing every book you begin, because the majority of books are either a) adequately summarized in the introduction, b) not for you, or c) not for anyone.

Slogging through to the last page of these books – a habit likely formed early in school – can turn reading into the equivalent of a 10-hour work meeting where nothing gets done and everyone is bored. And once you see reading through that lens, your willingness to pick up another book wanes.

I’m taking inspiration from this and skimming more of my book pile.

Eventual Business Consistency

Kent Beck:

The fundamental, inescapable problem? What is in the system is a flawed reflection of what is going on in reality. We want what is in the system to be as close as possible to reality, but we also need to acknowledge that consistency between the system & reality will only ever be approached, not achieved. The system will record changes in reality eventually, but by then we may have made decisions that need to be undone.

Getting Through My Reading Queue With Kagi

I’m a sicko for trawling the internet and loading up Instapaper with things to read later.

Which means, you’ll be shocked to hear, my reading queue can get large and unmanageble.

Longer articles tend to stay in the queue unread for quite a while.

Often, as with my productivity system, I’ll declare read later bankruptcy, archive a bunch of the stale articles, and walk away a little disappointed in myself.

Kagi’s Universal Summariser to the rescue!

Now, when I scroll through my queue and see those intransient “40 minutes to read” articles, I put their URL into the Kagi summariser.

If the concise summary it provides piques my interest I’ll ask for the key moments summary.

Then…I’ll usually still archive it. But! I feel a little better about life. 😎

Postel's Law for People

A bridge

I was having an after-work chat with Simon a while ago. We were discussing how we can cultivate a more resilient culture at work, specifically enhancing the capacity of individuals to constructively handle feedback.

He mentioned that he’d been reading Thanks for the Feedback which emphasises that, contrary to popular advice, it’s better to focus on helping people get better at receiving feedback rather than giving it.

This reminded me of a design principle in software engineering called the “Robustness principle” or “Postel’s law”. This principle guides how software systems should be designed to communicate with each other.

It’s often summarised as: “Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept”.

It felt like when it came to feedback and people working better together we were talking about the same thing, i.e. Postel’s law for people.

This makes me wonder what other software design principles might be useful when applied to people.

The Syndicate

Jeremy Keith:

Right now, there’s a whole bunch of social networks coming (Blewski, Freds, Mastication) and one big one going, thanks to Elongate.

Me? I watch all of this unfold like Doctor Manhattan on Mars. I have no great connection to any of these places. They’re all just syndication endpoints to me.

Jeremy uses Micro.blog to effectively syndicate his posts elsewhere. I hadn’t thought of using the service like that.