Set expectations early and often. Be explicit instead of implicit.
Use good defaults as the expectations and allow for exceptions or wiggle room. Make rules for the group, but treat individuals individually.
Inclusion is an active process. Equality is passive, equity is active. It’s “easy” to not exclude people, but it’s hard to include people. It takes work to include people.
Connections: Be a good person first, and a good engineer second.
Adaptivity: Good defaults form a base, but allow for exceptions
Repetition: Repetition, repetition, subversion, repetition. Forming habits is important, but don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Expectations: Early and often. Communication is key. Expect it of yourself. Be explicit that you expect it of others. Create external expectations (those of others) based on their experience, not just yours and what you would do. We all have had unique adventures that influence who we are, and different stories still to tell. Context is key.
Trust-first: Start with trust, and only remove it when it’s broken. Don’t start with distrust. The other person is the asshole if they break it, not you.
Everything in moderation, including moderation. Don’t be afraid to break the rules, but don’t break them too often.
Absolute statements are almost always wrong. Don’t use them.
Information is eveywhere. It is in everything people say, and in the gaps too. Aim to maximise information, and be introspective about acquiring information.
If you are reacting, then you have less control than you think. Plan enough that works for you. Some things require more forethought than others. Find the balance that works for you (that is effective without causing anxiety).
If a task takes less than 2 min, do it immediately.
Be as consistent as possible. More so ideally.
Aim to do no harm and also good. Prioritise accordingly.
Observe first without judgement. Be impressed by default. Be positively critical.
Experiment with using other points of view, not just viewing other points.
Teaching is a two-way street. I learn from my students as much as they learn from me. I am not the sole source of knowledge in the world, nor the classroom. I am a guide, a mentor, and a facilitator. I am not a dictator, a lecturer, or a sage. I provide a framework for learning, and I suggest robust, yet bespoke, tools to learn. I do not provide (all) the answers. I provide the questions and a space to explore them. Sometimes there are known answers, but the interesting questions seldom have those already. I am not the arbiter of truth, but I aim to be a guide to finding it.
Learning is available everywhere.
Surround yourself with smarter people.
Be humble, but confident. Be confident, but humble.
Go to a language course for your mother tongue.
Find out new things about the tools you use everyday. Read the readme.
Embrace change. When it is useful. When you are in control, make sure change is useful. Everything new has inertia.
Good answers come from better-defined questions. What is asked-for and what is sought are not always the same. I aim to help students, clients, and colleagues find the right questions to ask, and to help them find the answers they seek. I do not provide the answers, but I can help them find them. I do not provide the questions, but I can help them curate them. I do not provide the tools, but I can help them mold them. I do not provide the knowledge, but I can help them seek it. I do not provide the wisdom, but I can help them cultivate it.
Everyone has opinions and I weight them by their evidence.
You can have your own opinions, but not your own facts.
Be careful when using statistics.
Attitudes and behaviors are not the same thing. It is a long debate in psychology which comes first (hint: it depends).
You can be kind and honest. Don’t be an asshole because you forgot your filter. Centuries of emotional intelligence development have given us the tools to be kind and honest. Be a decent human being.
Strong opinions, weakly held.
There are different types and levels of feedback.
Be clear about which type you are giving and which you are seeking.
Ask first what type of feedback someone is looking for.
Criticism is hard to give and hard to receive. Be kind when giving it, and be forgiving when receiving it.
Aim to be prepared while in many situations to be lucky.
You learn more from failure than success. Do it more often.
Avoid catastrophic failure. Everything else is a learning opportunity.
Celebrate your own failures, encourage others to do the same. Be kind when doing it.
Science is a process, not a product.
It is a way of thinking, not a set of facts.
It is a way of knowing, not a set of knowns.
Work is what we do for money.
Hobbies are what we do for fun.
They can be the same thing. But moderation is key.
Burnout can happen on things you enjoy.
When choosing your next job, consider
That is my order, but it may not be yours. Place is a good filter but not the final determining factor. It is easier to work with amazing people on a shitty project than the inverse.
Explore other cultures. Learn from them. Share yours.
Appropriation is not the same as appreciation. Learn the difference.
Trust first, but don’t be afraid to remove it.
Be around people who make you better.
If someone is rude about someone to you, this gives you information about them, not the person they are talking about.
You get to know someone from:
Don’t wait until a funeral to say nice things about people.
Mix up your greetings. It keeps things interesting, it gives meaning to interactions (you are purposeful about your words, rather than automatic), and it’s fun!
Say nice things about people behind their backs and insult them to their face.
We don’t have time for everything.
We have to prioritise.
We affect what we can can, and accept what we can’t.
Seek to determine whether your known unknowns are knowable. If they are, seek to know them. If they are not, accept that they are not.
Leadership is tricky; it is seldom a binary of lead or follow.
Context is crucial to understanding not only who is in charge, but who has authority and who has the most influence.
Here I outline a few of my thoughts and philosophies of leadership; including my own and those of others.
I will start describing “leading from the middle” by first describing the two most referred leadership styles:
Leading from the front is the most obvious and intuitively understood form of leadership. The person in front says what needs to happen and does it by example. I view much of “leading from the front” as a “pull” philosophy of leadership. The success of the project is often dependent on your own performance in achieving concrete tasks within it.
Note that doing makes you a leader of yourself. But communicating your responsibilities and educating others on your actions is what transform doing into leading. Communication will always be vital, and the style of communication is highly contingent on the type of leader you are and the leadership style you employ.
However, a disadvantage of this style is that others in the team are all followers. If there are many followers, you cannot lead all of them because your capacity is limited. So, you promote a follower or find another leader to build capacity; you have now become a leader of leaders. Sounds even better. But what you do has changed. You are no longer doing the same as the original followers. You now spend more time managing and the examples you set (remember, the doing part) are increasingly far removed from what needs to get done on the ground. Which is fine, often necessary, and typical of a corporate hierarchy. But the number of people you lead is really only the direct level below you. Others may be left behind or restricted to only following. Furthermore, if this hierarchy grows large, the “leaders by doing” become leaders by historical doing (maybe experience is a nicer term, but this serves to get the point across) or leaders from the back.
Leading from the back is a subtler form of leadership, often less visible but equally impactful. This style involves guiding, advising, and supporting the team from behind the scenes. The leader in this scenario acts more as a mentor or coach, pushing the team towards their goals rather than pulling them from the front. This approach is particularly effective in fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility among team members. By empowering them to make decisions and take the lead on various aspects of a project, it cultivates a more distributed form of leadership within the team.
A key aspect of leading from the back is the ability to listen and observe. This allows the leader to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, providing tailored support and guidance. It’s about creating an environment where team members feel confident to take initiative and experiment, knowing they have a supportive leader to fall back on.
However, this style also has its challenges. It requires a high level of trust in the team’s abilities and can sometimes lead to a lack of clear direction if not managed properly. The leader must strike a balance between giving enough space for team members to grow and stepping in when necessary to provide direction and support.
Leading from the middle combines elements of both front and back leadership styles. It’s about being an active part of the team while also taking on the role of a guide and mentor. This approach allows the leader to set an example through their actions (as in leading from the front) while also empowering team members to take on leadership roles within their areas of expertise (as in leading from the back).
In this style, communication is key. It involves not just instructing or advising, but also listening and collaborating. The leader needs to be adept at switching roles, sometimes taking charge of a situation directly and other times stepping back to let others lead. This flexibility can lead to a more dynamic and adaptable team, capable of tackling a wide range of challenges.
One of the main advantages of leading from the middle is the ability to directly relate to the experiences and challenges of the team. This proximity can foster a strong sense of camaraderie and mutual respect. It also allows for a more immediate and hands-on approach to problem-solving, as the leader is intimately aware of the project’s intricacies and can provide relevant guidance and support.
However, this style also demands a high level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. The leader must constantly assess when to step forward and when to step back, which can be a challenging balance to maintain. I also encourage creating space for team members to grow and develop their own leadership abilities. It requires a deep understanding of each team member’s capabilities and the dynamics of the team as a whole.
In a neuroscience or machine learning context, leading from the middle can be particularly effective. Projects in these fields often involve complex, interdisciplinary tasks where different team members may have varying degrees of expertise and experience. By leading from the middle, you can leverage your own technical knowledge to guide the team, while also encouraging members to take the lead in their areas of expertise. This not only ensures that the project benefits from a diverse range of skills and perspectives but also fosters a learning environment where team members can grow and develop their own leadership abilities.
I am a surprising leader.
Meaning, my own leaders have been surprised at my leadership competence when given the opportunity.
I may also surprise you with leadership opportunities.
I am not a “natural leader”.
Maybe I provide too much nuance to be seen as definitive in my actions. Maybe I ask others about what they would do more than an expected “leader from the front”. Maybe I am too calm to seem like I am taking it seriously. Maybe it is because I am not the most confident person or extroverted person in a group. Maybe it is because I follow too easily to seem like someone who knows where to go. Maybe it is because I am too easygoing to seem like someone who can hustle.
My philosophy is: let the best leader lead.
If someone wants to lead, they should be given the chance. But I will also make it clear that I will not follow an incompatible leader. More likely than not, if I find a leadership style insufficient for the project, I will start and lead my own project.
Today, I have led teams of 4, 10, 20, 50, and more. I run 30-day summer courses and 3-day 300+ conferences, advise and consult growing communities, present to 1000s of people simultaneously, mentor one-on-one, run small development teams, and coordinate projects with multi-skilled people to deliver millions in value.
I make decisions. Lots of them. From money to communication. From promotions of people to prioritising projects. I build products and empower people. When I leave unexpectedly due to unforeseen circumstances, my lack of presence is felt.
My aim is to make myself useful but not necessary. Things should progress without me, but I make things go better/smoother/faster/happier. As a community leader, I aim to make my advice desired but not needed. I will continue to teach and educate so that my thoughts and opinions can be expressed even when I am not there. I will make sure my personality is missed and not just my expertise.
I will empower others to do their best and find places for that to happen.
I will transfer my responsibilities when there is someone better suited. And I will make sure they are comfortable taking them on. I will make my experience and education meaningful.
I will set expectations that match the people, the project, and the place.