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Sunday 16 September 2012

Welcome to Charlotte

Exactly one month ago, on the 16th of August, Charlotte was born. She is the first child of my brother Thomas and his wife Nicole. I wrote about Thomas and Nicole last year because we went to their church weedings in South Africa. Charlotte is very cute and she is going well, as well as her parents. Congratulations to Charlotte and her parents!

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Top five regrets of the dying: about courage, gratitude and forgiveness

This is yet another post made from Bronnie Ware's wonderful book "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing". It will be the last post I make with this book, because it should already be enough to see how wonderful it is, and you should already have ordered it, and I don't want to spoil you too much :-)

It is a pity that being who you truly are requires so much courage. But it does. It takes enormous courage at times. Being who you are, whoever that is, sometimes cannot even be articulated at first, not even to yourself. All you know is there is a yearning within that is not being fullfilled by the life you are currently living. Having to explain this to others, who have not walked in your shoes, may just leave you questioning yourself even further.

But as the wise man Buddha said more than two millenia ago, "The mind knows no answer. The heart knows no questions". It is the heart that guides you to joy, not the mind. Overcoming the mind and letting go of other's expectations allows you to hear your own heart. Having the courage to then follow it is where true happiness lies.

This last sentence is very insightful.

In the meantime, keep on cultivating the heart while mastering the mind. As the heart grows, life bring more joy and peace your way. A happy life wants you as much as you want it.

[...]

In the end what matters to people is how much happiness they have brought to those they love and how much time they spent doing things they themselves loved. Trying to ensure those they left behind don't end up with the same regrets also became critical for many people. None of the life reviews I witnessed from their deathbeds were spent on thoughts of wishing they had bought or owned more, not even one. Instead, what most occupies the thoughts of dying people are how they lived their lives, what they did, and if they had made a positive difference to those they left behind, whether that was family, community or whoever.

The things you often think you need are sometimes the things that keep you trapped in an unfullfilled life. Simplicity is the key to changing this, that and letting go of the need for validation through ownership or through other's expectations of you.

[...]

When we accept that there will always be learning and that some of this will bring suffering and some will bring happiness, we reach a place of better equanimity. From this perspective happiness becomes a more conscious choice and the waves are no longer so tumultuous. Some that may have once left you crushed and wounded may now be ridden with the skills that come from experience and wisdom.

[...]

Of course, your perspective makes a huge difference to happiness, as beautiful Lenny showed. Despite the losses in his life, he focused on the gifts he had received and saw his life as a good one. The same view you look at everyday, the same life, can become something brand new by focusing on its gifts rather than the negative aspects. Perspective is your own choice and the best way to shift this perspective is through gratitude, by acknowledging and appreciating the positive.

[...]

The peace each of these dear people found before their passing is available now, without having to wait until your final hours. You have the choice to change your life, to be courageous and to live a life true to your heart, one that will see you pass without regret.

Kindness and forgiveness are a great starting point. Not just to others, but to yourself as well. Forgiving yourself is also such a necessary component for this process. Without it, you continue to add fertilizer to the existing bad seeds in your mind by being hard on yourself, as I once did too. But self-forgiveness and kindness weakens the strenght of these seeds. Healthier ones replace them and grow stronger, in time overshadowing the old seeds until there is nothing left to sustain their growth.

The bravery needed to change your life is easier to find when you are kind on yourself. Good things take time too, so patience is also required. Every single one of us is an amazing person with a potential limited only by our own thinking. We are all amazing.

[...]

It is time to realise your own worth and to realise the worth of others. Lay your judgements down. Be kind on yourself and be kind on others. As no one as ever truly walked in another's shoes, seen through another's eyes, or felt through another's heart for their whole life, no one knows just how much each other has suffered either. A little bit of empathy goes a long way.

[...]

Life is over so quickly. It is possible to reach the end with no regrets. It takes some bravery to live it right, to honor the life you are here to live but the choice is yours. So will be the rewards. Appreciate the time you have left by valuing all of the gifts in your life and that includes especially, your own, amazing self.

Saturday 8 September 2012

LinuxCon Europe 2012, November 5 - 7, Barcelona, Spain

I will give a presentation at the LinuxCon Europe 2012 next November in Barcelona, Spain. As usual this presentation will be about git bisect. I would be happy to meet you there!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Top five regrets of the dying: about love

This is another post made from Bronnie Ware's wonderful book "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing". The following is my prefered part of the book.

"It's been a good life," he said quietly from the silence as he woke. "It's been a good life." He drifted off again as I watched lovingly. My heart was aching and a few tears started falling. I wondered why I couldn't have settled for an easier job with no emotional attachment. It was just too painful at times. Yet I knew that other jobs didn't come with the gifts I also received in knowing my clients.

Some experiences can be painful, but come with wonderful gifts.

"Mmm. A good life," he repeated, opening his weary eyes again and smiling at me. Seeing my tears, he squeezed my hand. "Don't you worry my girl, I'm ready." His voice was almost a whisper. "Promise me something."

I wanted to sob but I just smiled through my tears. It was one of those smiles that aren't really smiles, just a sign of someone trying to be brave but not succeeding. "Of course, Len."

"Don't worry about the little stuff. None of it matters. Only love matters. If you remember this, that love is always present; it will be a good life." His breathing was changing and it was getting harder for him to talk.

Very often the problem is not that there is not enough love, but that we don't value love as much as we should compared to other things.

"Thanks for everything Len," I managed through my tears. "I'm so glad we met." They seemed like such childish words in a way, as there was so much more I could have said and wanted to. But in the end, they conveyed my feelings in the simplest way. Leaning over and kissing his forehead, I saw that he was drifting off again.

I sat there allowing my tears to flow freely. Sometimes it takes just loosening the tap on tears to find there is a whole collection of them waiting to pour out. You don't even know what they are all for. I had loosened the tap and cried and cried. But Lenny continued to sleep through the next few hours. It was possible he would never wake again. When my tears were drained I sat quietly, looking at him with tenderness. Then of course in walked Roy.

[...]

Lenny reached for my hand with his eyes still closed. I stood up and gave it to him. His breathing was rattling and irregular. I could smell what had now become too familiar to me, but which is impossible to describe. It was the smell of death.

Then opening his eyes, Lenny looked straight at me and smiled. But it wasn't my mate Lenny who I had come to know. It was Lenny and the full glory of his soul. There was no illness in his smile. It was one of a soul now free of ego and personality.

It was pure love, completely free of everything else, radiant, glowing, and joyous.

I smiled back with honesty as my heart burst open. Both of us smiled joyfully, knowing it is all just love in the end. I'd never known such absolutely unhibited smiling, given or received. There was nothing in the way. It was just pure joy. As we both smiled into each other beaming, time was frozen.

After a while, Lenny closed his eyes and a peaceful smile remained on his lips. My own smile remained, as my heart was just too open to stop smiling.

A couple of minutes later, Lenny passed on.

Watching from the other side of the bed, Roy's life was transformed. Closing his Bible, he said quietly that he now understood what God's love looked like and felt he had experienced a miracle seeing Lenny's peace before passing. I agreed that God works in mysterious ways.

[...]

"We've been blessed Roy. That's all we need to know," I said to him gently. He grabbed me and hugged me tightly, like a frightened child, not wanting to be alone with it. "You are going to be alright Roy."

"How do I explain this to anyone?" he pleaded with me.

"Perhaps you don't," I smiled. "Or perhaps you do. Either way, the same force that just gave us that miracle, will be there for you again to help you say the right words if you need to share them."

Shaking his head but with a smile of joy he said, "My life will never be the same". I smiled lovingly at him and we hugged again.

[...]

Yes, the job had had its ups and downs. But no amount of planning or qualifications could have ever given me the gifts that this role had bestowed upon me time after time.

Yeah, we should value much more than we currently do, the roles that can bestow such gifts upon us.

Still euphoric from the gift of love I had been given, tears of joy and gratitude fell as I walked with a huge smile.

Yes. It is a good life Lenny. It is a good life indeed.

Monday 3 September 2012

Top five regrets of the dying: about death

Two years ago I posted about being true to oneself. In my blog post I talked about Bronnie Ware's famous "Regrets of the Dying" blog post.

Bronnie Ware wrote a book after her blog post became world famous. Her book is called "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing". I bought it several months ago and it has been a wonderful experience for me to read and to come back to it. So I decided to write about some of the best parts of it.

In this blog post I will focus on death and our attitude regarding it. So here are the very interesting things that Bronnie tells us about it:

Growing up on the cattle farm, then a sheep farm, I had seen a lot of animals dying or dead. It was not new to me, although I was always terribly sensitive to it. But the society I was living in, the modern society of Western cuture, was not one that exposed its people to dying bodies on a regular basis. It wasn't like some cultures where human death is out in the open and a very visible part of everyday life.

The fact that she was always terribly sensitive to death, and that it is something our society hides, did not prevent Bronnie to work close to it in palliative care.

Our society has shut death out, almost as a denial of its existence. This denial leaves both the dying person and the family or friends totaly unprepared for something that is inevitable. We are all going to die. But rather than acknowledge the existence of death, we try to hide it. It is as if we are trying to convince ourselves that 'out of sight, out of mind' really works. But it doesn't, because we carry on trying to validate ourselves through our material life and associated fearful behaviour instead.

Despite, or rather because, we deny it, we are unconsciously obsessed and scared by death and starvation, and we let this fear drive our life. For death as well as for other things 'out of sight, out of mind' doesn't really work. It just makes us unconscious of the fears that are driving us.

If we are able to face our own inevitable death with honest acceptance, before we have reached that time, then we shift our priorities well before it is too late. This gives us the opportunity to then put our energies into directions of true value. Once we acknowledge that limited time is remaining, although we don't know if that is years, weeks or hours, we are less driven by ego or by what other people think of us. Instead, we are more driven by what our hearts truly want. This acknowledgement of our inevitable, approaching death, offers us the opportunity to find greater purpose and satisfaction in the time we have remaining.

We should rather become conscious and honest about our own inevitable death and the other things we are trying to hide from ourself. It would enable us to manage them properly using our hearts.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

GitHub takes a $100 million investment and is valued $750 million

The news is a bit old now but I think it's worth noting. Here is a bloomberg article. And here is a wall street journal article. I hope they will put the money to good use.

Saturday 30 June 2012

Sex and Power

Here is yet another speech I gave at my Toastmaster club on the 27th of June. It is inspired by the following articles:

The title of this speech is "Sex and Power", but, no, I am not going to talk about Dominique Strauss Kahn. I am not going to talk either about how women can rise to a higher position in the corporate or political hierarchy, because there has already been 3 speeches about this subject since I started in this toastmaster club 1 year and a half ago.

I will try to give another view on the subject. It's a different view but hopefully one that is not polarized.

First I will talk about anthropology, because it is a science that is very relevant and has many interesting things to say on the subject. Then I will give statistics about the current situation and some current trends in our society. And eventually I will discuss what our future might be like based on previous information from anthropology and statistics.

Around 100 years ago anthropologists started to study some human societies where women hold more power than men. These societies are called matriarchies. And an interesting thing they found is, as anthropologist wrote:

"As a rule, [...] a high position of women is associated with sex laxity."

This means that free love is often the norm in matriarchies.

And this can explain some myths, like the myth of European navigators discovering an island where women would great them with flower necklaces. If we suppose that they arrived on an island where women ruled, then it would have been natural that the women met them because they were the most important people. And if free love was the rule, then you can understand why these navigators, who had been for a very long time alone at sea, said that the island was a paradise.

An interesting historical fact around that myth is the revolt of the Bounty. The Bounty was a British ship that stayed for 5 month on an island and when it eventually left the island, many men revolted, returned to the island and burned their ship.

Another interesting thing is that in matriarchies, children are not usually risen by their father, but by their mom and uncles or by all the village.

Now let's talk about the situation of our current society. As you probably know in the US now women are awarded 55% of the university degrees and have more than 50% of the jobs. This means that more and more women are earning more than men.

One interesting statistic related to this is that the divorce rate in a marriage where the woman earns significantly more than the man is twice higher than when the man earns significantly more than the woman.

Another trend is that marriage rates have been dropping very fast among poor men during the last 30 years. If we consider men between 30 and 60 that are at the bottom 25% of the income scale, 86% of them where married 30 years ago, and now only 50% of them are married. So the marriage rate dropped by 36%. For the 25% of men at the top of the income scale, the rich men, this rate dropped by only 10%, from 96% to 86%.

If this rate continues to drop, this will mean than in less than 20 years from now, the majority of people will not be married any more.

So my opinion is that indeed we might be transitioning from a patriarchy to a matriarchy. And, if we believe the results from anthropology, this will mean that sex laxity will be the rule, and this will mean some changes that will probably be, or already are difficult.

There has already been some articles, like one called "All the single ladies" written by a 40 year old single woman, acknowledging that the structure of the family might need to change.

Because one of the changes will be that the traditional family will disappear.

To conclude if women are to become more powerful than men, then our society might become a matriarchy, which will probably mean a lot more changes than just different numbers on bank accounts and bosses with different first names.

It might mean a lot of important changes in the structure of families and relationships.

Dating might change too. For example, on the dating web site adopteunmec.com, men can only enter information about themselves, they cannot contact women. Only women can contact men by clicking on their picture, which is a new kind of way to put a flower necklace around a man's neck.

Friday 25 May 2012

Forgiveness

Here is yet another speech I gave at my Toastmaster club on the 23rd of May. It was made with the content from my previous blog posts about forgiveness:

My previous blog posts in turn were made using content fro the following articles:

Sometimes, during our lifes we have to face difficult circumstances. There are different ways to react to them. And some studies have found that the way we face these circumstances can have a big impact on our lives.

I am going to talk about one specific way which is forgiveness. And I am going to talk about it in different contexts.

The religious context, the scientific context, the animal training context and then the relationship context.

All the major religions have something good to say about forgiveness. In fact, it's a very important part of many of them. For example:

Judaism says: "When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit."

Christianity: "If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also."

Islam: "Although the just requital for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by GOD."

Hinduism: "There is one only defect in forgiving persons, and not another; that defect is that people take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect, however, should not be taken into consideration, for forgiveness is a great power."

And science agrees with the main religions that forgiveness is good. Studies have found that forgiving persons are both happier and healthier than those who hold resentment. They have less stress and better immune, cardiovascular and nervous systems.

So it looks like those who fail to forgive punish themselves.

Studies also found that forgiving in a secular or religious context provides the same benefits and that older people are more likely to forgive.

And you can get some benefits by forgiving yourself too. People who are self compassionate have less depression and anxiety and tend to be happier, more optimistic and more likely to loose weight.

The last thing is very interesting, because you might think that if you are tough on yourself, regarding food for example, you are more likely to behave well. But the contrary is true, if you try to be tough on yourself you will feel bad and guilty about food, and this will fuel your need for something like food to feel better.

In the animal training context, there is a very important concept related to this called the least reinforcing syndrome. This idea states that to train an animal you should reward behavior you like and ignore behavior you don't.

For example when a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer does not respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

This means that the trainer should basically forgive any bad behavior right away.

This leads us to the relationship context, where some people reported great success by using the same animal training method on their spouse.

For example one woman reports: "after two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively."

This is very important because researchers who study couples found that for a relationship to be a happy one, there should be at least 5 times more positive interactions than negative interactions.

This fact by itself shows that we are usually not very forgiving. And you can easily imagine that if we fuel our partner's bad behaviors by nagging for example, then negative interactions can easily take over the good ones and we will not be happy anymore.

On the contrary, if we train ourselves to forgive and if possible to forgive right away, there is a good chance that eventually the bad behaviors will die away or will be not be perceived as so annoying.

Overall I would say that forgiving is the best way to forget the bad circumstances and to keep in mind the good ones. Indeed, over the long run, we don't have many choices about what to do with bad ones.

If we keep them in mind we will stay upset and not be very happy. If we just try to forget them, we might throw the baby out with the bathwater and forget many good ones as well, because often we have both good and bad ones in the same framework.

So forgiving is indeed difficult, like goldmining, it means we have to refine in our mind what happens to us so that we keep the good and let go of the bad. By forgiving we accumulate a treasure in our mind. Forgiveness is the way to health, happiness and love.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Norman Borlaug

Here is another speech I gave at my Toastmaster club on the 11th of April. You can learn more about Norman Borlaug from his Wikipedia page, this great New York Times article and this article in The Atlantic.

Who knows about Norman Borlaug? Very few people know about him. Yet his work has been credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives.

How was this possible? What did he do? Well he basically created crop varieties, especially wheat varieties, that have enabled yields to dramatically increase in developing countries since the 1950s. In particular this helped to avert mass famines that were widely predicted in the 1960s.

How did he manage to accomplish that? That's what I am going to address first. Later I will focus on what we can we learn from his life.

Coming from a family of farmers living in Iowa, he received a doctorate in the field of plant pathology in 1942. After World War II, he started to work in Mexico for the Rockefeller Foundation that was trying to address hunger there.

Despite the dire situation, he was able to create varietes of wheat that could resist diseases by crossbreeding Mexican varieties with disease resistant ones.

This was a really important achievement, but he made one that was even more important. He created wheat varieties called "semidwarf" that could use more fertilizers without collapsing under the weight of the extra grain.

The result was that in 1963, the wheat harvest in Mexico was six times larger than in 1944, the year Borlaug arrived there.

In the 1960s India and Pakistan were experiencing widespread famine and starvation even though the US was sending over one fifth of its wheat there as emergency shipments. The experts were predicting hundreds of millions of people starving to death during the next decades.

The Indian and Pakistani governments called Borlaug asking for advice. He told them to import thousands of tons of wheat seeds from Mexico, the wheat seed he had created. Just 3 years after they started doing that, Pakistan became self sufficient in wheat production. A few years later, India was self sufficient too. Since that time food production in both countries has increased faster than population growth.

It has been called a "Green Revolution", so Borlaug is often called the Father of the Green Revolution.

In the 1960s too, inspired by Borlaug's work, some people started efforts to create "semidwarf" varieties of rice in the Philippines and then in China. These efforts successfully established food security in China in the 1970s, setting the stage for its rise as an industrial power.

Many countries in Latin America and Africa also benefited and still benefit from such efforts.

Now what can we learn from this?

One obvious thing we can learn is that one person can indeed make a huge positive difference in the world. This is a good sign that everyone among us can perhaps have, if not a huge, at least a significant positive impact.

Another less obvious but very interesting thing we can learn, may be that problems that seem too big and intractable, like hunger in the Indian subcontinent, might have a solution that is quite simple and efficient after all.

People often think that problems like this require huge amounts of aid or getting rid of bureaucracies, changing governments, stopping wars, overcoming ideologies, and so on.

This appears not to be the case, which is very good news. We just have to admit that often, we simply have no idea what the right solution to these kinds of problems could be. This means that we have to try many different things and search for different things we could try.

On the other hand, it is true that Borlaug did had to fight against problems created by bureaucracies, governments, ideologies and wars. But these problems did not prevent him from succeeding. He was persistent and motivated enough.

For example, at some points he used to yell over the phone for hours to get some wheat seed shipments from Mexico go forward. One morning in 1965 after he had done such successful yelling the previous day, he learned that India and Pakistan just started a war against each other.

In these countries he also had to fight for a few years some state monopolies that controlled the distribution of seeds.

And in Africa in the early 1980s his projects were stopped for a few years because some environmental groups in the US and in Europe prompted governments and foundations to stop funding projects promoting the use of inorganic fertilizers.

Finally, we can learn that when you find the right solution you can sometimes fix a lot of different problems at once. What he did not only prevented a huge number of people from starving to death, but also lifted many of them out of poverty and enabled countries to develop. Then, as countries develop, population growth slows down, which means that it becomes easier to feed everyone.

So this was not a temporary fix, contrary to what was said, and is still sometimes said, by environmental groups and by people who thought that it was best to let nature by itself take care of population growth.

Borlaug died in 2009 at the age of 95 and unfortunately his death did not made him well known by the general public. During his life he got a lot of prizes and recognitions though, like the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, the American Congressional Gold Medal and no less than 48 honorary degrees from different universities in 18 countries.

But in my opinion there is still very poor recognition from the general public and the media, given the hundreds of millions of people he saved, and the fact that every day one out of two people in this world eats food made from grain varieties that descend from varieties he and his collegues created.

There are still many problems in the world of course, but it is my belief that by widely telling stories like this one and recognizing people like him, we can inspire people to search and find great solutions to our problems.

Sunday 5 February 2012

The Innovative Leader

Here is a speech I gave at my Toastmaster club on the 25th of January. I just added some links for readers to be able to get more information about some topics or ideas.

There is a quote about leadership that I like very much. It is: "Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff."

This year is an election year in France and the US. And Toastmaster has a new motto that is all about leadership. So for our leaders and ourselves, because we are at least a little bit leading ourselves too, hopefully, it's a good time to ask us some questions about leadership. Especially how can we make sure that leaders are innovative enough to be able to find new directions, and if possible directions that are not heading toward the cliff?

I am going to talk about this, first in the corporate context, then in the indivual context, and eventually in the context of a country too.

More than 10 years ago venture capitalists used to often replace the founders at the top of some startups they controlled after having invested in them. And they often put people with a managing background in charge of these startups.

But over time they realized that it was very often a disaster. They thought that by putting someone with a good track record of managing people or money, they would optimize the growth of the companies they had just acquired. But the reality was that the new leaders were most of the time unable to make good strategic decisions.

Now the smart venture capitalists don't replace the founders at the top, and they explain it by saying that "innovation is the most difficult core competency to build in any business".

Especially innovation is the most difficult thing a startup has to do, and innovation is at the heart of a startup. It can only succeed by out innovating its often more powerful and more entranched competitors.

By the way, that's what Apple and Steve Jobs did with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. When Apple was not run by Steve Jobs it didn't succeed at innovating and lost money and market share.

So what are the characteristics of an innovative corporate leader? Well the most important thing is of course having a good track record of successfully innovating in the main domain of the company.

Now let's talk about ourselves. At our individual level, innovating means that we have to take risks. It is often very difficult to successfully innovate and it takes time. There is a very high risk of failure too. But we can learn from these failures and try again.

For example I started working on a free software project on my free time in 1999, and in 2002 I stoped working on this project because it was stagnating and I realized that it was not really possible to innovate on it. Then I worked for around one year on another free software project but it was a complete failure. It was only in 2006 that I started to work on a new project that let me and others innovate and finally became very successful around 2009. So it took me 10 years.

Indeed many people who are working with startups say that persistance, resilience and the ability to pivot, which means to change course while still trying to innovate in the domain you chose, are the most important qualities of startup founders. That's because they are the most important qualities that innovators need.

Now about countries, many economists, politicians and journalists make an anology between countries and companies. For example they talk about "Made in France" or "Made in America" or about "Factory France" as if countries were very big factories. It follows that, if we think successful innovators are good leaders for companies, then they should also be good leaders for countries.

Unfortunately, most leaders in most coutries are professional politicians, this means they are not likely to have a good track record of innovating in the domains, especially in high tech, that are likely to create many high salary jobs and to increase growth.

But let's look at the background of the people in charge in some countries. For example if on one side you have a country with 8 engineers in its government and on the other side you have a country with not even one engineer or scientist in its government, which country do you think is more likely to become a technology leader in the future? So in case you wondered the country with 8 engineers is China and the country with no engineer is the UK. And no, neither France nor the US approach China in this regard with at most 2 scientists or engineers.

To conclude, these days, with the Internet, smartphones, tablets, new software, and many other new things are coming every day in our lives. Innovation is everywhere, and everyone - that means people, companies and even countries - has to at least adapt and follow these innovations.

It is even much better of course when you can successfully innovate yourselves instead of just adapting to and following innovations created by others. Because when you successfully innovate, you get an edge, and often a very big one, over your competitors.

For example, as you know, Steve Jobs died last year. And nearly at the same time his company Apple became the most valuable company in the US.

So if I could choose one thing for us to remember about Steve Jobs and about this speech, it would be what a difference an innovative leader can make.

Saturday 31 December 2011

Other kinds of losses

There are different kinds of losses and we don't always understand them nor properly react to them.

I wrote previously about failure and rejection. In this blog post I would like to talk first about missing a one-of-a-kind opportunity and then about many big losses happening at the same time.

Steve Blank is a great writer about startups, the startup culture and its history. It's really worth reading his whole web site. For example he wrote a great "You’ll Be Dead Soon – Carpe Diem" article.

But his article I want to talk about now is "You Negotiate Commodities, But You Seize Opportunities". It starts with the following:

It took losing something important to understand the difference between a commodity and an opportunity. Along the way I also learned yet another way entrepreneurs see the world differently from their investors.

Then Steve Blank describes how he tried as a CEO to hire a great advisor for his company:

The advisor was a world-class guy, in my judgment he was worth more than all the other advisors I was going to get.

But the venture capitalist in his board gave him "Death by Spreadsheet":

“You need to live on the budget we gave you. Go back to him and offer him less stock.”

And he accepted it:

As a first-time CEO getting beaten up my board I thought this wasn’t a fight worth having. (I couldn’t have been more wrong.) So I agreed to go back to my potential advisor and tell him the best I could do was my first offer.

The outcome was:

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when he sent me a very polite note back that said, “Thanks but no thanks. I’m now getting more involved in my new job as CTO and I’m too busy to go back and forth negotiating this.” But I was crushed. I knew my company had just lost something important. Something that I couldn’t just go out and replace. And I realized I screwed up in at least two major ways.

The conclusion is:

I had acted like an employee, not as a founder and certainly not as the CEO of a startup. I had let my board tell me that the opportunity I saw was a commodity that could be managed by a spreadsheet. And I didn’t stand up for what I had believed in.

It would never happen again.

So, as with failure and rejection, we can learn from this kind of setback too. Especially the fact that we have to be true to ourselves and not manage everything by spreadsheet.

The other article I want to write about is "My loss" by Derek Sivers. And by the way Derek Sivers has many other great articles on his web site too.

In his post he describes 7 very big losses he had in the same year.

For example one of these losses is:

All my employees, led by my good friend and VP, led a mutiny against me. (I never returned, and never saw them again.)

and another one is:

The woman I was madly in love with married the guy she would always complain to me about.

He then tells how he reacted:

Say “no” where you used to say “yes”. Say “yes” where you used to say “no”. Do the thing that scares you the most, then get up and go.

For those of you considering a massive change, I can tell you from experience: It's awesome here on the other side.

Thursday 29 December 2011

About Rejection

Some studies show that rejection can be very hard and have bad consequences.

In this article, "Rejection May Hurt More Than Feelings" we can see:

New research suggests that the same areas in the brain that signify physical pain are activated at moments of intense social loss.

And in this one, "Rejection massively reduces IQ" we see:

"It's been known for a long time that rejected kids tend to be more violent and aggressive," says Roy Baumeister of the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, who led the work. "But we've found that randomly assigning students to rejection experiences can lower their IQ scores and make them aggressive."

But on the other hand, there can be some very good outcomes when we can overcome rejection. Indeed many great people have succeeded despite being rejected a lot. This nice article, "If at First You Don't Succeed, You're in Excellent Company" has some good examples and gives some interesting explanations:

What makes some people rebound from defeats and go on to greatness while others throw in the towel? Psychologists call it "self-efficacy," the unshakable belief some people have that they have what it takes to succeed.

[...] such people succeed because they believe that persistent effort will let them succeed. In fact, if success comes too easily, some people never master the ability to learn from criticism. "People need to learn how to manage failure so it's informational and not demoralizing," says Prof. Bandura, who signs many of his emails, "May the efficacy force be with you!"

It's not too late to recover. "You can develop a resilient mindset at any age," says Robert Brooks, a Harvard Medical School psychologist who has studied resilience for decades. One key, he says, is to avoid self-defeating assumptions. If you are fired or dumped by a girlfriend, don't magnify the rejection and assume you'll never get another job or another date.

And don't allow a rejection to derail your dreams.

Another interesting thing about rejection is that some people now try to take advantage of it. This article, "Experimenting with rejection builds confidence" is about Rejection Therapy a "real life game" to "build confidence" in the hope of improving "personnal success and business domination".

"As I was playing the game, I realized people were a lot more willing to give me what I asked for than I realized," said creator Jason Comely, 40. "I realized my comfort zone was like a cage keeping me from exploring a lot of opportunities. I was more inclined to stay at home in front of my computer instead of going out and interacting with people because I was too afraid of being rejected."

From his rejections and acceptances, he learned that people don't say no because there's something fundamentally wrong with him; they say no because they don't want the offer. "Once I learned not to take it personally, everything got so much easier," he said.

On his blog, Jason Chen wrote:

Ultimately the challenge has helped me take things less personally.

I realized that people rejected me not because there was something fundamentally wrong with me as a human being, but because they just weren’t interested in the offer I presented them. The rejection is probably 20% about the content of my offer and 80% about their mindset, current situation, and other factors way outside of my control.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Happy Holidays

This year has been a wonderful year for me. I went to many different places and I was especially very happy to meet many new and great people. I feel that I learned and grew a lot thanks to interacting with you! There are unfortunately many other great people, relatives and friends that I would have been very happy to meet again this year but couldn't. Anyway, thank you all and very happy holidays! Peace and love to all!

Sunday 11 December 2011

My Brother Nicolas

As I wrote a few month ago about my brother Thomas, because of his wedding, I have now to talk about my other brother Nicolas. He is in the spotlight these days because he just became the leader of the new 33F helicopter squadron in the french navy.

This is a link, in french sorry, about the new squadron. Here is another one. There is also this link with a video where he speaks a little bit at the end. And there is a transcript of an interview, in french.

One interesting thing is that they will use a new helicopter, the NH90, that is the first to have digital commands.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Ignorance is bliss

Last August at the LinuxCon North America in Vancouver, one of the best presentation was "Good Collaboration in 2 Words: Structured Fighting" by Clay Shirky.

This presentation was very interesting by itself and there are good reports about it, for example this one on LWN by Jake Edge or this one on ReadWriteWeb by Joe Brockmeier. I liked very much how Clay Shirky explains why Linux, Git and GitHub are revolutionary tools.

But another thing I found interesting is the Firefox bug he talked about at the beginning of his speech, calling it his "favorite bug report ever".

Here is what the report by Joe Brockmeier says about this bug:

In other words, if one user chose not to save passwords for a dating site, their fiancé could also see what sites Firefox should not save passwords for. The bug was filed by a woman who discovered (through the Firefox bug) that her significant other had been perusing dating sites and consequently ended a five-year-old relationship. The bug report not only contains the technical issue, but also the social impact of the bug, and Shirky describes the rest of the comments on the bug report as a mix of technical discussion and relationship advice, and in some cases relationship advice given as one might give technical advice.

What I find interesting is not that there are technical advices mixed with relationship advices given as one might give technical advices, though it is indeed funny, but that the woman who filled the bug report seems to be angry about this bug, as if the bug was responsible for her break-up with her fiancé.

In my opinion if she considers what her fiancé did so disgusting, she could as well have been glad to find out what he did. Indeed in the bug report one of the relationship advice (given by a woman) is this one:

And ok, bugzilla isn't the place for this, but I can't help it. Honey, I would think you would be the LAST person to be bothered by this. Not only was he using your computer to be unfaithful, he wasn't smart enough to cover his tracks, and you got to know about it BEFORE buying the goods. If you're really THAT upset about finding out, take him back and pretend you never knew, or hold it over his head and use it to keep him in line.

I like the suggestion "take him back and pretend you never knew". In fact later I talked about this bug report with an American female friend and I said that it was like the woman who reported the bug would have preferred not to know about what her fiancé was doing. After some time my friend just said "Ignorance is bliss".

A few days later this reminded me about this article by Amy Sutherland about animal, and husband, training. It is a wonderful article about how to improve a relationship.

Amy Sutherland, the author, explains that after "watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard", it hit her "that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband":

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

The very important thing is of course: "reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't"

The article is full of other great examples and advices like:

I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior.

I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.

I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away. You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys.

The end is funny too, but I will not quote it to invite you to read the article in full.

So yeah, when confronted with a bad behavior, ignoring it is often the best thing we can do. When we cannot and we get angry, then the best thing is to forgive.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Vacation in South Africa

Today, I will go to South Africa with my 3 kids and my wife Cécile for a 10 days long vacation. We are going there because my brother Thomas will have his church wedding with Nicole on October the 27th near Cape Town.

Friday 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs

As other people have done after Steve Jobs' death, I am going to talk about his famous commencement address delivered at Stanford University on June 12, 2005. There is a transcript on their web site, and of course it's better to see or read it all rather than just what I am going to excerpt.

He tells 3 stories. The first one is about "connecting the dots":

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

The second one is about "love and loss":

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

The third one is about death:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

... It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Placebo, Stress, Forgiveness, Calm and Health

In this interesting article about the placebo effect there are some funny things:

Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.

The fact that an increasing number of medications are unable to beat sugar pills has thrown the industry into crisis. The stakes could hardly be higher. In today's economy, the fate of a long-established company can hang on the outcome of a handful of tests.

And:

As a psychiatrist, Potter knew that some patients really do seem to get healthier for reasons that have more to do with a doctor's empathy than with the contents of a pill.

Potter discovered, however, that geographic location alone could determine whether a drug bested placebo or crossed the futility boundary. By the late '90s, for example, the classic antianxiety drug diazepam (also known as Valium) was still beating placebo in France and Belgium. But when the drug was tested in the US, it was likely to fail. Conversely, Prozac performed better in America than it did in western Europe and South Africa.

But we also get some explanations like these:

US scientists had found that a drug called naloxone blocks the pain-relieving power of placebo treatments. The brain produces its own analgesic compounds called opioids, released under conditions of stress, and naloxone blocks the action of these natural painkillers and their synthetic analogs.

Placebo-activated opioids, for example, not only relieve pain; they also modulate heart rate and respiration. The neurotransmitter dopamine, when released by placebo treatment, helps improve motor function in Parkinson's patients. Mechanisms like these can elevate mood, sharpen cognitive ability, alleviate digestive disorders, relieve insomnia, and limit the secretion of stress-related hormones like insulin and cortisol.

It makes me believe that we can say that a placebo has an healing effect because it reduces stress. And this makes me think that maybe forgiveness is good for the health (see my blog post about it) because it reduces stress too.

In fact there was this quote in my article where "stress" appears:

people who won't forgive the wrongs committed against them tend to have negative indicators of health and well-being: more stress-related disorders, lower immune-system function, and worse rates of cardiovascular disease than the population as a whole. In effect, by failing to forgive they punish themselves.

This makes me think that we underestimate a lot the good effect that calm, and things that can bring us calm, have on us. So let's think more often about these things that can bring us calm like: seeing a beautiful landscape, seeing friends, seeing a holy place, meditating, hearing some light music, yoga, ...

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Wonderful LinuxCon

The LinuxCon North America 2011 was great! I enjoyed it very much! Thanks to all the very friendly people I met and thanks to the organizers!

The parties were very nice. And it was funny because the theme of the 20th Anniversary of Linux Gala Event on Wednesday, Aug 17th, at Commodore Ballroom was the Roaring 20's, and in april this year Murex, the company I am working for, had an annual party (called Jamboree) with the same theme.

The picture of the LinuxCon are in the linux_foundation's photostream on Flickr. There is one picture in the Green Screen photos series where I appear.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Presentation at LinuxCon North America 2011

I will give a presentation at the LinuxCon North America 2011 in Vancouver, Canada next August.

My presentation is scheduled on Friday the 19th at 3:00PM. It will be about git bisect as usual.

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