Leadership vs Expertise

An Interesting Story

Today, I stumbled across this thread on Twitter from Peter Reinhardt. In this thread, he recall an experience as CEO of Segment during its growth period.

The premice of this story lies in the fact that the rapid growth of this start-up was stalling and, given its short existence, it would soon become threatening to the future of the company itself. Customers were being attracted by competitors’ solutions, their product was starting to lag behind the competition, and the team was getting demoralized. Peter, the CEO, had a feeling that the ship was heavily taking water and the point of no-return was nearing.

Then came the electric shock in terms of a frank discussion between him and another employee: the staff was inefficient at their job because they didn’t know what they should work for! This came as a shock to the CEO as he thought the mission of the company was clear to everyone, and each employee already knew what to do. It turned out that it was actually quite the opposite and he was almost the only one who know which problems needed their attention, let alone knowing how to solve them.

Summoning everyone into an honest all-staff meeting, he exposed the problems he saw as being the important ones, without knowing how to pull it off on time to save the company. This had the effect of clarifying the situation to all the staff and this newly gained sense of clarity subsequently motivated everyone to find effective solutions to the real problems that the company was facing. This turned out to be a success (suvivor bias?) and Segment has been thriving since then.

Peter explains this by the fact that his was trained as a programmer, aka a problem solver, who thrived at solving problem by himself and only sharing the solution. Instead, what he needed to do instead as a CEO was to identify and clearly explain to his team what the problems are and let them figure those out by themselves.

I invite you read the Twitter thread by yourself to get more details and insights from Peter himself.

Parallel with Academic Life

This story and its conclusion somehow resonated with me as this is a concept that I’m still battling in my academic job.

On one hand, the academic training (PhD then PostDoc then junior Lecturer) heavily emphasises on the individual training, booster-rocketing the future Principal Investigator (PI) into the expertise stardom in a (narrow) topic. The main if not only human resource is the researcher themselves and they have to come with solutions, then report them confirmed as the solution for the stated problem. Yet, when it comes to actually creating and sustaining a research team, the PI should be the last resource used to actually find and implement the solution since their time is so valuable (writing lecture material, managing courses, interacting with students, taming their emailbox 🙁 supervising student projects, writing research proposals, creating research contacts, surviving and running the university admin, repleneshing the coffee machine…). Like the CEO of Segment at the time, the PIs should instead focus on identifying the important and relevant problems (i.e. research questions), communicate these clearly to their research team and let them work on it!

This is often frustrating as we are often drawn into this advanced technical world by the technique itself. I’ve been personnaly drawn into engineering to learn how systems work and design/build them according to my problem solving skills. However, I acknowledge that I no longer have had the time for many years already to do everything myself and just delegating tasks is not sufficient, nor effective either.

Maybe this is a concept I need to implement as well.

Closing Words

And what do you take out of this story? How do you think academics could be running their mini-company which is their research group? Is there another academic or research model out there?

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.

diary Teaching

Asking Questions At Presentations (part 2)

Forewords: this blogpost constitutes the continuation of this Part 1 on ‘Asking Questions at Presentations’. Feel free to read this introductory post first, which covers the motivation for these posts.

Shall I Dare to Ask?

First of all, there is no stupid question.

If something is obvious, it means that either the presentation or its context wasn’t explained clearly enough. Presentaterw assume a certain background from their audience and this can be often miscommunicated. A question about what may seem an obvious contextual point may in fact reveal a deeper misunderstanding by either the rest of the audience or the presenter themselves.

Furthermore, presenters are often way more stressed than their audience. Questions about their presentation is thus received as a confirmation that their presentation capture the attention of audience, transforming their ordeal into a worthwhile experience. You never know, a good question may even serve as an effective icebreaker for later conversation off the stage.

So take your chance!

But What to Ask?

Similarly to a lot of skills, training makes the answer to this question eventually more obvious.

The trick is to keep asking questions at every occasions (like my colleague suggested in Part 1) by using some box-standard questions like “Why have you chosen this methodology?” or “What is next in this project?”. Eventually, your ability to ask questions will sharpen and find more advanced and tailored questions to ask. Again the key message remains that, by aiming to ask at least one question, your attention to the content of the presentation is innatly enhanced and details or patterns will more naturally emerge.

But let’s see if I can help you with some starter questions first.

Looking for a Idea Generator

While searching for resources on online writing, I came across this very interesting concept: ‘the Endless Idea Generator’ (see picture below) from Ship30for30; a 30-day writing challenge with loads of tips about online writing. You can either follow their Twitter account or subscribe to their free newsletter from their website.

The Endless Idea Generator by Ship30for30 including the three categories: What do you want to write about?, proven approach, and credibility.
The Endless Idea Generator by Ship30for30 (

The neat concept here consists in mixing three categories: “What do you want to write about?”, “Proven approach”, and “Credibility”. As much as this is not going to make you win a Pullitzer prize, this is definitely a great starting point, especially when you are short on ideas or facing the dreaded writer’s block.

So this inspired me to create a similar framework about asking questions at presentations.

The Endless Question Generator

This framework (see picture below) aims to help in creating your first questions when none are coming to your mind in time.

The Endless Question Generator

You start with the classic five W-questions: What, Where, When, Why, hoW. The ‘What‘ question focuses on a detail of the presentation. The ‘Where‘ and ‘When‘ point towards location in space or time. The ‘Why‘ questions motivations and reasoning. The ‘How‘ is often associated with methodology.

Then you choose a Context or Theme. You could ask about the motives of the work, whether they are internal or external, or based on a starting point or end goal. Another theme revolves around the potential applications of this project; if they puzzle you or you have an idea about one, then enquire the presenter. Presentations also include a lot of definitions, sometimes clearly mentioned, often implied. If a term or concept is not clear to you, ask! Most likely half of the audience didn’t understand it either. Furthermore, if you know of similar works, you can ask for the viewpoint of the presenter about how they compare. Moreover, a project often uses data and a methodology to arrive at results or products, both of these points can be questionned either for their validity or how they have been chosen / implemented. Finally, you can enquire about the outcomes and what comes after this project. It can be in the form of future works after this project or the lessons learnt from this study.

Finally, your question can be angled with a reason of why you are asking it in the first place. These can range from the simplest reason where you need a clarification on a point mentioned (or not) during the presentation to sharing your knowledge on a similar work and wish to get the take from the presenter. A presentation may make sense on its own but could be hard to contextualise it in the wider context of how it connects with either other ongoing projects or its own start/end points. The methodology and results are always endless sources of (heated) discussions about which one is the most appropriate or the impact on the results one would get from the data or its influence on the collected data itself.

Remember, that preparing your questions (whether from this template or tailored to the presentation) will always pay off. So read about the presenter and advertised content beforehand, and pay attention to both the details and the big picture during the presentation. All these points will make you a better audience and position you in a better light with the presenter (or worse light if you intend to be controversial!), potentially leading to cooperation and more idea sharing.


  • [What/motivation/clarification] What motivated you to start this project?
  • [Why/definition/similar project] Why did you decide to define this term in this way when another project did it another way?
  • [Where/data acquisition/cooperation] Where did you acquire this data? We would like to use the same data, please.
  • [Who/future works/contextualise] Who will benefit from the outcome of this work?
  • [How/lesson learnt/clarification] How are you going to disseminate the learning from this project?

As you can see, there are an endless list of questions, which can be generated from this framework.

Going Further

Eventually, after training numerous times with this framework, you should be able to come up with your own questions; possibly graduating beyond the W-questions into W-less questions such as “Have you considered comparing your results with this particular study since the correlation A with B is less obvious here given that condition C is not longer present?”.

I’ve tried this fact sheet with project students during our weekly meeting and it turned out to be quite successful. This obvious still requires quite a bit of tuning, especially as this blogpost illustrates a sustantial amount of explanation is still needed beyond this simple picture. I’ll most likely post a Part 3 of this series when this framework reaches significant updates.

Closing Words

This post managed to start the creation of this guide on ‘Asking questions at a presentation’ by providing a framework on ‘which question to ask’. I will continue to experiment with this guide and come back here with updates.

Do you have any suggestions? Do you plan to use this question generator? If so, what was your experience? I’m looking forward to your feedbacks.

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.


We’re now counting in weekS

An Interesting Experiment

When I started this writing challenge 14 days ago, the main expectation was gradual improvements in exchange for daily grind for posts.

I’m not going to lie. On one hand, when the day comes to an end and the blogpost still needs to be written, my dread for opening the WordPress app and typing these words often takes physical form as it becomes so intense. On the other hand, I know that once the first few words have been laid down into the virtual draft system, the motivation for the post properly takes off, together with the length of the resulting post. This observation has already been covered in this post.

In a nutshell, my excitement for this writing challenge is only matched by the dread of the daily writing; seems like a healthy balance? ;p

But what about the improvements?

Well, these are, as expected, incremental.

First, it has only been 2 weeks, so any gains remain unstable and stopping – or even a short break – now would definitely erase them permanently. As much as there are claims for habits starting to form from 21/66/200/whatever number of days, I’m far from feeling this one from being solidly rooted yet. By the way, Prof Huberman does have yet another interesting podcast about habit forming. So my best bet consists in carrying on with this challenge. After all, I purposely didn’t set an end date or end point, since I consider this being a life-long challenge; just hopefully getting easier over time.

Improvements, for sure. Minor ones, indeed. Permanent gains, work in progress.

What to Look For Next?

On top of my mind, the two main improvements I’m aiming for now consists in writing these posts faster (ideally earlier in the day as well) and start working on the editing.

Advice and my own experience have demonstrated again and again that writing usually only produces a fraction of the quality of a final text. The real gem lies in the editing, which I’m honestly lacking. These blogposts are often written with little planning and on-the-fly editing. I suppose that writing experience does help at this point but better quality posts are yet to be unearthed by better editing yet. I suppose the first obstacle will be to face the guilt of reading one’s writing again. A step easy to confront by simply skipping this part of the full writing process.

One thing at a time, the first objective was to overcome the fear of writing; the fear of editing will come next.

Closing Words

What are you looking for in this blog? Do you have any pieces of advice on how it has been going so far and which direction to focus next?

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.


Quick Tip Against Overcommitments

This one is going to be a short blogpost as it’s already quite late. In addition to the numerous meetings today, I had the pleasure to catch up with a colleague I hadn’t seen in a while.

We discussed about the state of Academia (a common discussion topic obviously) and logically ended up on ideas to say ‘no’ to avoid overcommitments.

This trick is to delay your decision until the evening. After a long day at work, our tired mind is more likely to ask how much work and what are the outcomes of this proposal. Therefore, we might be in a better situation to assess whether this new project is worth our time and efforts.

At the opposite to taking the decision the morning when we are still full of energy and motivations for loads of ideas with less consideration for how committed we already are.

I think there is a point there and I’ll keep this in mind for the future.

Thanks for reading, see you tomorrow.


Traditional Vs Social Blogging

Posting on Self-Hosted Blog

Having my own WordPress blog does feel liberating and fulfills part of the desire to have a clearer online presence.

As stated in the very first post, this is not my first attempt and the motives are quite different here. First I’ve left plenty of time to mature the concept. Surely never enough to be foolproof enough but this is mainly my lack of self-confidence and massive impostor syndrome taking. One could even argue that I’ve waited way too much time before taking the plunge again and start sharing my thoughts as one of the best and well-proven way to find one’s voice is to express it in the first place (‘the proof of the pudding’).

I like this platform and the most important remains to be satisfied with each one of the steps and early journey done so far, which I am.

Social Posting

As part of writing this blog, I’m following some online writing influencers – or at least more than usual – and one of the recurring advice is to move away from traditional blogging (e.g. WordPress like here) or rather dive even deeper into big social media platforms (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Medium).

I can see their point about how efficient this method could be both at reaching a maximum number of readers (the analogy would be to invite people at your party house out of town while everyone is going to bars downtown) and the sheer amount of data / feedbacks you can get from these platforms as opposed to your own isolated platforms (e.g. view count, trend compared to other posts, finding which topics hit the most).

They have a point and, at the same time, this website also embedded my identity. Experience has also taught me that we can never trust one’s work onto internet giants or private companies in general. For entirely understandable economic reasons, these companies are very keen on absorbing your data or work but make no commitments toward keeping it, let alone the ownership question. This resulted in numerous tools being shut down almost with very little notice and past popularity was not an insurance against this shutdown happening. After all, these companies need to run profitably and they cannot afford to keep services which no longer attract enough customers; even never ending legacy does bring it’s host of problem (looking at you Microsoft). Thus, I prefer to remain owner of my work and data, while being fine with sharing it elsewhere.

Focus on Content First

The other point I need to remind myself lies in keeping excitement for any new shiny feature, which promises to revolutionise my work.

This comes back to the classic wisdom that optimizing one’s efforts is important, it shouldn’t substitute the creation of content first. You can optimise your website, or report, or project, or gym routine, or reading list, or any other effort patterns for maximizing the results, if there is no content, the optimization will yield no gain at all. Even worse, it most likely will be a negative gain as efforts would have been focused on optimizing and not on content creation, with the potential risk of seeing those optimization efforts being ultimately wasted as the inherent lack of content led to suboptimal choices.

So I’ll stick with this blog for now but keep in mind that I also need to reach out to the external, wider audience by reposting on social media.

Closing Words

But what do you think? Am I making such a big mistake by ignoring some of these social blogging trends (e.g.

Thank you for reading and see you tomorrow.