Drinking from a fire hose.

Today is my one year anniversary since joining Element AI and “drinking from a fire hose” is the only expression I feel accurately describes my incredible ride over the last 365 days. Element AI was born as 8 people in October 2016, grew to around 60 when I joined last May and has now exploded to just under 300 outstanding individuals located in 5 offices across 4 countries. At a mere 18 months of age, the sun already never sets on Element AI. It is both a bit mind-boggling and simply outstanding; I am so grateful to be a contributing member of this audacious venture.

Intense personal growth is definitely the theme for me over this past year. Scaling at lightning speed means responsibilities increase even as one stands still; this is simultaneously exhilarating and destabilizing. Moments of high-flying confidence on one task can be followed by racking self-doubt on another. Achieving incredible team victories and surviving painful personal failures can happen on the same day or within the same week and are part of the learning curve. The polarity or volume of emotions experienced in myself and in all those around me was not something I had anticipated; a year later, I now understand this better. We all want to trust quickly and deliver reliably but the fact is that we are mostly strangers learning to work together. Even at an accelerated pace, trust takes time to build and our constantly evolving work environment with new recruits, role changes, and business reorientations makes it tricky; requiring tons of empathy and check-ins to ease frictions. As someone who prides myself on embracing ambiguity and bringing order to chaos, even I have been stretched into new territory resulting in tremendous and sometimes punishing personal and professional growth. Even at my age, I can confirm that there is still no better way to accelerate learning than falling on your face, dusting yourself off and giving it another go with hopefully a bit more wisdom than the last round. Luckily, Element AI is a safe place to test, fail and retry, that is if you can keep your ego at bay and let go of perfectionist tendencies.

I feel immense gratitude for the entirety of this experience. From the dark moments of profound insecurity and self-doubt to the liberating moments of self-assurance, where calculated risks yield moments of soaring glory. I know without an iota of a doubt that in a year, three years or ten years, I will look back and view this period as extremely formative. To finally see failure as an option but to know it is not a death penalty; to continuously learn lessons in humility by confessing to not knowing the answer and still be open to learn; and most of all, realizing that I am doing my best with the information available which means that sometimes decisions will need to strike a balance between facts and intuition especially in a fast-paced landscape like AI where much of the terrain is uncharted.

I recently watched an incredibly grounding talk by Molly Graham, who helped scale Facebook, Quip, and the ChenZuckerberg Initiative. She outlines 9 lessons she wished she had known prior to her scaling adventures. Listening to her explain each lesson in detail brought waves of relief coupled with joy because she normalized many aspects of my seemingly unique experience at Element AI.

9 Lessons - Molly Graham

I highly recommend investing 38 minutes to watch this talk, especially if you are an employee of a rapidly scaling organization but even if you’re not, these lessons are cross-sector and everlasting.

Molly also summarizes 3 key mindset behaviours that will contribute to one’s ability to weather the changes inherent to scaling organizations. I deeply believe that the right mindset will make or break one’s performance at a startup like Element AI. As Molly mentions throughout her talk, our main job is the learn fast and to give away parts of our job as quickly as possible. There is no place for ego.

3 lessons - Molly Graham

What we all should remember

 

  • adding more people doesn’t make less work for you, it only enables the entire company to do more;
  • scaling may mean giving away part of your job at times, which can make you feel insecure, but it is an important skill to learn as it can make you extremely successful in fast scaling organizations;
  • letting emotions govern is a recipe to impede progress;
  • this is a cycle, as you get anxious or insecure, worry not, excitement is around the corner again as you will soon be tackling new challenges and opportunities.

For me, there is truly something magical about the shared aspiration at Element AI to build the next big tech giant, a lofty goal, I know, but one that I honestly believe we are striving to achieve. The sheer volume of brilliant talent circulating in our halls is admirable, it forces me to pinch myself almost daily. Never in my life have I had casual lunchtime conversations about algorithms that optimize drone surface distribution; the impact of style-transfer on art; how AI will completely disrupt certain industries or how explainable AI will be the path to trust. This is the magic of working at Element AI and it makes me so happy.

So on this my 1st year anniversary, I want to thank every single person at Element AI that has played a role in making my time here so wonderful. I feel truly blessed to always have beautiful minds to challenge and teach me, big hearts that keep me sane and feeling appreciated, comedians who make me laugh, gatekeepers that ensure I stay focused and caretakers who make sure I go home in a timely fashion, eat at the appropriate times and unwind at the bar on occasion. Thank you, thank you, thank you! ❤ I am grateful to each of you, and know that your actions mean more to me than you know!

Cheers to the next 365!!

 

Introducing the 168 Time Budget

The fact that most of us budget money and not time has always intrigued me. Money is an elastic resource that is figuratively infinite. Time, however, is finite; we can’t make more of it, once it is gone, it is gone.

168 hours a week. That is all we have.

You, me, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jack Ma, Malala Yousafzai and every other being on this pale blue dot has 168 hours a week to realize greatness. And even at that, the number of weeks available to us are also counting down. Time stops for no one.

So I ask you, how do you spend your time?

Prior to diving into my 168 Time Budget concept, I would like to introduce the following short story to create the right context. If you have read it before, I encourage you to re-read it now for full effect.

A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. She silently places large rocks in the jar until no more can fit. She asks the class if the jar is full and they agree it is. She says, “Really,” and pulls out a pile of small pebbles, adding them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. She asks again, “Is the jar full?” They agree. So next, she pours sand into the jar, filling the space between the pebbles and asks the question again. This time, the class is divided, some feeling that the jar is obviously full, but others are wary of another trick. Before they answer, she reaches for a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim, and asks, “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can always take on more.” “That is one view,” she replies.

Then she looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like checking social media, watching TV or running errands.”

Looking out at the class again, she asks, “Can you imagine what would happen to life if we had started with the water, the sand or the pebbles?”

Like so many, I too have let water and sand fill every crevice at many intervals in my life; not realizing that I left no time or energy for what really mattered to me. With distractions everywhere, I learned over the years to become mindful, vigilant and a fervent guardian of my time. I also started to gain an acute awareness of the elements that bring me joy. By applying traditional money budgeting techniques to time management, I now invest more of myself in things that make me happy. The time budget I created for myself is aptly named 168.

My 168 Time Budget concept is quite simple.

  1. Identify the “big rocks” that create great JOY in your life.
    • Health including sleep & exercise, family, partner, life goals, key relationships.
  2. List and prioritize the “pebbles” that add significance & meaning to your life.
    • Work including paid & volunteering, community, friends, hobbies
  3. Allocate a range of hours towards each rock & pebble totaling ~160 hours.
    • Leaving a few spare hours for sand & water is key, otherwise, the 168 budget won’t function in reality. Rigidity will derail new habit adhesion.
  4. Calculate the % of time each line item represents of 168 to check if you are indeed putting enough time towards the rocks, then the pebbles.
  5. Lastly, be kind to yourself if you derail slightly from week to week.
    • Social media, random articles or phone calls will likely steal precious minutes totaling in wasted hours but such is life.
    • Acknowledge, accept and aim to do better but most importantly, forgive yourself and move onwards and upwards!

Here is an example from my life:

  • 168 hours per week; totaling 61 320 hours in 2018.
    • 49 hours / 29% : 7hrs of sleep per night x 7 nights
    • 60 hours / 36% : 10hrs of work + 2 hrs of commute x 5 days
    • 10-20 hours / 6-12% : TEDxMontreal meetings & work
    • 8-20 hours / 5-12% : Time with partner & extended family
    • 10 hours / 6% : “Me time” to relax, read, write & let my mind wander
    • 8-12 hours / 5-7% : hanging out or speaking with friends /colleagues/ networks in person
    • 8-15 hours / 5-9% : conversing with friends online & social media
    • 3-5 hours / 2-3% : exercise (running, biking, other)
  • Cumulating in a range btwn 156 – 191 hours that ebbs & flows depending on the time of year.

The level of precision is up to you. It does not have to be granular down to the minute; the principle behind my 168 Time Budget is that it creates awareness around the time we spend (or don’t spend) on our life priorities. For those who desire precision, you can track Actual versus Budgeted time in a nifty time-tracking app on your phone but I have found this more useful as a high-level mental guide.

With finite time and finite energy during our time here, I hope my 168 idea will help you find time to invest in yourself, your dreams and your worldly ambitions. Each minute, hour and day, when channeled into purposeful actions can spark great change within us and ignite impactful change in others and the world.

So be great, be purposeful and be you, 168 hours at a time!

time flies

The End of an Era.

The theme of this year’s TED conference was The Future You. Its relevance was striking as I flew home from sharing a mind-expanding week in NYC with my beloved TEDx tribe. Over the course of TEDFest, during the moments between powerful talks, I was overcome with profound gratitude mixed with a deep sadness as I prepared to start my last week at Loto-Québec.

It has been one hell of a ride these last 8 years at La Société des Casinos du Québec. Never would I have anticipated that my “rebound boyfriend” job, after Maple Leaf Foods, would have been as formative and instructive for my career. All the positions I’ve held over these years have “under promised, over delivered” on teachings; gifting me with an empowering hands-on education second to none. And though I still have much to learn, I have matured, developed and grown significantly for which I am grateful.

The weeks since announcing my departure have given me some of the most humbling and rewarding moments in my life. I have been flooded by intensely touching stories in person, by phone, social media and email. Each story shares at its core, the desire to convey to me what our relationship and interactions meant to them. The stories are deep, personal and filled with such love and gratitude – I have laughed, cried and hugged with such intensity these past weeks that my soul feels filled to the brim, overflowing with gratitude for each person’s desire to share such vulnerable stories about us with me.

It has been difficult to put my finger on the emotions coursing through me. Yet, after crying during an epic TED session on refugees, it finally dawned on me what was causing me to stumble emotionally. To my surprise, the predominant emotion gripping me was grief. It’s as if I needed to fully appreciate and mourn the end of my career at Loto-Quebec before being able to turn the page. Once I knew this to be true, I spent a lot of time alone despite the bustle, reminiscing on all the good and bad times to get closure.

Ironically, all the expressions of gratitude I received and was able to convey to employees and colleagues felt oddly like being lucky enough to attend my own funeral.

The most touching and recurring themes from my staff have been their appreciation for my unwavering belief in their capacity to achieve greatness; how my vision for them often exceeded their own expectations of what they could accomplish. Many thanked me for investing everything I could to help them succeed; from defending them in sticky situations, to impromptu coffee breaks or late night chats on how to improve their attack strategies, presentations skills or political agility. Others wanted me to know that I had given them the confidence and desire they needed to excel – they trusted my judgement and had faith that perhaps I saw something in them that they didn’t see… just yet.

During the time I spent pondering my impact on others and vice-versa, a question began to haunt me. I started to ask myself how we got to the point where many of us no longer feel that people have our backs or are truly on our team, cheering and supporting us. Why has this become rare? Why have so many of us stopped championing for others? We all know a rising tide lifts all boats, yet why is the behaviour of doing all we can to uplift our fellow colleagues rarer than we’d like? This has got to change and I hope in a small way, my passage at the SCQ will leave that legacy. My hope is that we all pay this forward, uplifting each other to achieve great feats with the pride of knowing we did it together.

“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.”

          ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I will now conclude with some words to my dear soon-to-be ex-colleagues:

‘It was an honour and a privilege to work alongside each of you. And though my chapter at Loto-Québec is coming to a close, I hope to start a new page with you soon.

For my outstanding teams – Thank you for the hard work, good fun, honest discussions and debates. I will miss our 1:1 and open-area chats the most. Over the years, we have witnessed each other grow and I look forward to seeing your progress continue. Know that I invested in each of you not because I was your manager but because I believed in your potential. This belief does not stop just because we no longer work together. You are still your incredible YOU! As always, you can count on me to bounce ideas or strategies with you, don’t hesitate to reach out.

To my teams, collaborators and leadership teams – Thank you for granting me the liberty to try new, sometimes kooky ideas and for generously tweaking, supporting and launching many of them. It has been an incredible journey balancing two levels of politics in a turbulent sea of public opinion while optimizing a ‘vice’ entertainment experience that provides essential public services. Building product management and other parts of the organization from scratch would never have been possible if not for the outstanding caliber of your individual contributions.

Above all, I feel blessed to have worked with such a passionate and dedicated bunch! Thank you all and most notably, to my manager Charles.

Charles, you were my lighthouse during many stormy seas, we made a great one-two-punch. I am grateful for all your coaching and championing; gifts I intend to pay forward.’

So it has been a blast folks, thank you for the side-splitting laughter, the head-scratching casse-têtes, the hard knocks and especially the opportunity to share a slice of our lives together over the last 8 years. I wish you all the best and look forward to writing a new page with you as I start my next chapter…

u can fly