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.


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.


Blogging akin to Writing to Penfriends

Early Observations

As I’m entering Day 5 of this writing challenge, I can start feeling some (still very weak) benefits to this new habit.

Let’s call them more hunch of insights rather than proper established behaviour changes or improved skills; although ‘training makes perfect’ they say. First, being forced (or shall I say reminded?) to write everyday helps to overcome the classic hurdle of procrastination and the eternal ‘I could do it tomorrow’ mantra. Second, I slowly discovering what mostly limited my writing: overthinking. This is a topic my therapist and I have already touched upon but will most likely will have to revisit and dig deeper.

As much as I’m dreading writing these blogposts, I eventually get into the flow and could write for hours (only stopping as it is often late when I reach a satisfying length).

A Familiar Feeling

I’m no stranger to this flow feeling though.

It happened when writing long pieces of writing (oh, dear PhD thesis!) but most importantly in my past experience with penfriends. These are amazing friends, who I felt we had a special relationship, where we could discuss anything and nothing (mostly the latter I’ll say ;p). Interestingly, emails were always the medium of exchange. Something about the convenience of sending a letter in an instant and the fact that computers were already taking so much space in our work and life that a keyboard was always at hand as opposed to ever stranger pen & papers and efficient post offices.

Today, most of the communications with my friends and family are through text messages (WhatsApp or Signal) or video calls. Both of these media undeniably provide a lot of convenience in terms of speed (for the former) and quality of communication (for the latter). However, there is something about the patient wait of an extensive and meaningful response to another extensive and meaningful email sent a few days ago. The pleasure lies in the taking the time to write and let the feeling guide our writing, knowing that the other side is following the same process and thus also deserves the time to reply.

Receiving and sending each one of these emails always felt like a little Christmas present and I cherished each one of them.

A New Medium

Maybe I missed these exchanges and needed to restart one; but with who?

As much as all these penfriendships have ended by now, all the attached friendships still exist and remain strong, to my most delight. However, maybe something was missing for me. A new penfriend or more precisely a place to express my thoughts with as little filters (mostly internal ones) as possible. I can see now how having this medium of expression might be so crucial to my mind since most other places asking for my writing also expect a lot of those filters to be present.

I’ll see how this platform will lend itself to a new medium of self-expression and possibly freeing my mind from a lot of the accumulated worries and self-imposed constraints. It’s true that within minutes of writing these blogposts, I start feeling this flow and the freedom which accompanies the expression of personal feelings. There is something liberating about it and I shall continue with this experiment.

One of my hopes remains that these blogposts will resonate with someone else out there in the void of the internet. As Nicolas Cole put himself in a tweet today (, start by writing for yourself, then write for others, and finally for both.

On this note, I thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.


Day 2

The truth about setting oneself into a challenge lies in ensuring that this challenge survives long enough to rip the intended fruits. This requires to find the balance between the initial motivation for a new project (often with a goal) and the daily grind of walking a path, which is by essence challenging (why else would one set oneself a challenge otherwise).

In this context, the first hurdle will be to find topics to discuss on everyday. Yes, motivation will also be challenge at some points in the near future, but for now I’m still riding the wave of excitment which came with initiating this challenge.

Where to Start?

I suppose the easiest will be to define what the rules of this challenges. My present writer’s block is motivated by a fear of what others think and criticism, no so much about quality and quantity of said-writing. In this sense, sharing everyday will thus consistute the main objective, regardless of the length and elaborate level of the resulting piece of writing. Writing about what comes to my mind with minimal editing and rewriting (oh voices of perfection, I hear you loud of clear!) with the top priority to share everyday. There are numerous stories of people sharing everyday regardless of quality or quantity and have overtime learned a lot and even achieved a certain level of recognition for their work. CGI artist Mike Winkelmann (also known as Beeple) is one fine example. I want to free my writing from the shakles of my own fears, so let’s share everyday.

In terms of topic, I could have gone with the classic research-focused approach to present myself solely as an expert. However, part of my own fears are based on a sense of impostor syndrome where I see everyone around being more successful and me being unable to catch up. Life experience has taught me times and times again that this represents only the surface of people and everyone has their own flows and fears. Confronting mine will pass through removing (or most likely ignoring at first) my present mental constraints and being unlimited on which topics I will be allowed to share: power electronics research, engineering knowledge and skills, higher education teaching, mental health, politics (?), opinions, or simply interesting things I’ve come across in my daily errands on the internet or IRL.

As much as this post is already getting quite long for the purpose of this writing challenge, I still feel compeled to still share about one chosen topic. I will thus be quite unimaginative and talk about my approach to writing.

Of the Love of Writing

I love words!

What they mean, where they come from, and how much richness they often hide in plain sight. I suppose that my French heritage does play a big role and it took me a while to appreciate it; a node to my Latin classes which bored me to death at the time but some of it must have also sunk in. My father also deserves a lot of credits for sharing his own passion for writing (sorry Dad, I missed out on your great calligraphy skills though!). He made me discover and appreciate the definition of words and most importantly initiated me to Alain Rey and his vast knowledge of the French language; for those who know French I highly recommend you his radio shows ‘Le mot de la fin’.

I could elaborate more on this topic but it feels already quite late for today; more in another post, trust me 😉

Writing Tips of the Day

I will finish this post with a recommendation I read today on Twitter and most likely influenced my choice for today. This is the ‘How To Start Writing Online: The Ship 30 for 30 Ultimate Guide’ (, with a summary found in this thread by the author, Nicolas Cole.

Of these 19 tips, conciseness features already high on my writing habits (I never managed or even liked to fluff essays just to grow the number of words). Many of the tips on deleting or replacing words (e.g. ‘that’ or “tiny-word-chunks” as he puts it). The point about deleting “I” actually made me think since he rightly pointed out that being the author of this blogpost I do not need to include statements like ‘I think’ since they are implied and often covers a lack of confidence in one’s opinions. I obviously have some reservations regarding the recommendation to limit or avoid the use of semicolons; I think they have their purpose and their bad reputation often stems from bad writing practices. The 1/3/1 sequence is also interesting and I will try to exercise it (see what I did in the previous section :p)

Closing words?

I should bring this post to a close but dread doing it abruptly. A nagging feeling tells me to find a funny or original way of closing this and any future posts. This raises again alarm bells about setting the challenge too high, so I will leave it here for now but rest assured that the idea will carry on circling in my head.

In the meantime, take care and see you tomorrow.