31 January 2019

My Learning - Part 9 - Books


Books for me are good at building one solid, coherent understanding of something.

They're often more well written, complete and well researched than e.g. a blog post.
Finally books are both easy to skim (big plus), easy to obtain (the city library is situated next to my workplace) and have very low requirements (non-threatening, easy to opt-out, doesn't depend on anyone else, socially acceptable etc.).

There are some notable drawbacks though:
  1. Since the author have both time, space and an expectation to explain things thoroughly there's (almost) always a lot of "fat" in books; stuff I'm just not interested in.
  2. Books very rarely make me act. Compared to a conversation or reflection session the odds of me acting based on a book is much slimmer and I haven't so far found a reliable way to change this.
  3. When reading I feel like my internal questioning turns off. The result is I read and nod, thinking that I understand what has been claimed but when I later process it or talk about it with someone, there are notable gaps in my understanding. This is something that's much more rare when I for instance leave a course or conversation.
I have a lot of friends who read copious amounts of books and I've noticed one of the things I can bring to a conversation with them is asking questions that force them to find and explore those gaps I mentioned. Another observation is most of them seem to experience these gaps too.

Reading is a quite passive activity making it very easy but also very not challenging. So I need to be careful because when I read a lot it can be an indication that I've become lazy or even lost my motivation.

Find them

The books I read either come from recommendations (friends, experts in the field or referenced in other books I like) or from browsing the library computer.

Recommendations in this case is tricky. I hang out with a lot of people who read a lot of books and I try to limit myself because books, once again, tend to be a lazy fallback for me. For this reason I basically only value recommendations from people who I trust have great taste in that particular domain and who knows what kind of books I like... or recommendations I've heard soooo many times I can no longer ignore them.

When browsing books at the library, without looking for a specific book, I almost exclusively look for specific authors. Alternatively I search for a particular topic (e.g. "business economy") but this is only in a situations where I don't know any good authors and have no trusted recommendations which is extremely rare.

Reading books

First of all: Check out this Udemy course by Brandon Hakim; it has literally changed the way I read and perceive books! The biggest "Wow!" for me was when Brandon spoke about the perception of a book. Instead of me explaining this, check out the free preview video called: "The Single Mindset Shift That Permanently Transforms Your Reading". Highly recommended!

Now, how do I read books? Well, first of all, and related to that course, I don't have the goal of "completing" a book; I read books to extract the big lessons relevant to me.

How I read a book is also greatly affected by which mode I'm in (see Modes):
  1. Distracted: Skim really fast to evaluate if the book is worth a second look
  2. Focused: Read parts of or even the full book, carefully, while having my notebook ready
In my distracted mode I ignore anything in the book that doesn't strike me as super-interesting and I can stop long before I'm "done" if I see no sign of value (to me); this includes books I've bought.

In my focused mode I typically start by looking at the table of contents, then the first page and at some point I land on the last page but on my way there I skip sections, skim parts, read others several times etc. The goal here is once again to find the nuggets. Parts I typically give an extra look are titles, summaries, bullet lists, quotes, visualizations and "colored boxes" (typically stuff the author thought was extra important). Whenever I find something interesting, I take a note.

When I'm done with the book I typically walk through the notes just to help reinforce them. If anything is of extra interest to me I mark it with an orange exclamation mark. Notice that I add the exclamation marks after I'm done since I find it hard to take this decision while reading; in the moment, everything seems to be worth an exclamation mark.

Something I've realized while writing this blog series is I probably should use this walk through to also form experiments or plan activities based on the book. This could help me tackle the problem with books not leading to action. But this is not something I do today.

I try to always have at least one book ready that I've skimmed and want to dig deeper into so when I'm done with my current book I can immediately jump to the next.


A few books I love:
  • Thinking fast and slow, Daniel Kahneman
    Understand your thinking
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey
    Take control over yourself, focus on mindset
  • Illusions and solutions, Kjell Enhager
    Take control over yourself, focus on exercises
  • Perfect Software, Gerald M. Weinberg
    Why stuff breaks
  • Are your light on?, Gerald M. Weinberg
    Problem solving
  • Fish!, Stephen C Lundin et al.
    Creating a better workplace
Perfect Software is mostly for people working in the tech industry (role doesn't matter) but the rest are excellent reads for anyone in my opinion.


My Learning - Part 8 - People

Great people: Definition

I use the term "great people" a lot in this post but when I tried to define what I mean with "great people" it turned out to be harder than I thought.

I ended up with:
People who make me greater when I spend time with them
People who teach and/or influence me to act in a way I want to act

Great people: Common attributes I look for

  • Passion for learning
  • Positive attitude
  • Curios
  • High standards
  • Passion for teaching their skills
  • Not accepting excuses (neither from themselves nor from others)
  • Action-oriented
  • Open and including personality
  • Not money-driven (but may have been)
  • Thankful
  • Not necessarily talkative but communicative
  • High energy
  • Eager to interact with other great people
  • Have experienced success as a result of hard work
  • Devoted to understand rather than being right
  • Self-aware
  • Humble

Why I value great people

  • Reminders
    I see the great people having fun as they learn and I see how they use those learnings to accomplish amazing things. This inspires me to do the same.
  • Routines and standards
    When I'm with passionate learners I learn from, get inspired by and pick up these people's routines and standards. These routines and standards are often cornerstones in maintaining a high level of effectiveness, motivation and energy.
  • Learning as the social norm
    When learning becomes the social norm I feel more comfortable performing learning activities that might otherwise seem strange or eccentric. It also builds a healthy expectation on myself to learn: "Everyone else does, so I probably should too".
  • Reaction to not learning
    Mental blocks, bad luck or distractions can make me lose interest in my learning. A bad combination is that when this happens I'm usually the last one to have the energy necessary to get back on track. When I'm surrounded by passionate people there will always be someone who reacts though: "I haven't heard much from you lately, is it for a good or a bad reason?". This is usually the first step on my way back.
  • Learning becomes a healthy distraction
    When I'm exposed to other people's learning their work becomes a healthy distraction meaning if I'm bored I might go and read that book my friend recommended or write a blog post rather than play a video game or watch a Netflix series.
  • Never running out of options
    Being exposed to many passionate people's learning means I have an abundance of content recommendations, topics I can explore or interesting, creative activities I can try.
  • Clearing blocks
    Sometimes I run into a challenge I just can't manage on my own. Having people around me who have run into the same block or know others who have, means I got plenty of people who can help me remove or move around it which lowers the risk of me losing interest due to the block.
  • More opportunities
    I mentioned how opportunities guide my learning more than goals in part 2. What's interesting with opportunities is great people tend to get exposed to great opportunities. Having plenty of great people around me means I get access to many of the great opportunities they get.
  • Fame rubs off
    If I "succeed" is something I can impact but not control. What's interesting though is if I "succeed" (get a great job offer, get recognized by some important person etc.) my "fame" kinda rubs off to the people around me. The same is true the other way around. An example of this is my super-peer: Helena Jeret-Mäe. When she has been presenting at big conferences I have a few times been getting new followers on Twitter and/or seen the interest in my blog increase which positively impacts my own chances of success.
  • Efficient learning
    Having a passionate friend share the things they think will be the most useful to me is the closest thing I know to beating the 24h/day limitation; I get the best of all those hours they've spent studying delivered in just a few minutes.
To summarize:
Greatness is contagious!

3 golden rules

  1. Put myself in positions where I can meet great people
  2. Take initiative
  3. Give everyone a chance but after that be selective

How I find people

The easiest way for me to meet great people is to put myself in positions where great people are.
  • Attend local meetups and events
  • Attend conferences
  • Attend courses
  • Organize events
  • Offer mentoring
  • Let friends introduce me to their friends
  • Participate in public exercises and challenges
  • Create or join special interest groups on social networks
  • Post in public discussions
  • Use "social hubs" (people with large networks) to help me find new interesting people
  • Ask for mentoring and coaching
I also try to make myself visible so that people can more easily find me.
  • I blog
  • I comment on blog posts and articles
  • I do public speaking
  • Some of my public speaking engagements are recorded and available online
  • I try to be a good, helpful person making others more willing to recommend me
  • I accept challenges thrown my way as long as I can fully commit to them

Make it happen

I can meet millions of great individuals but if nothing happens I'll be forgotten by all of them; so I try to take initiative.

I'll once again give you a bunch of examples since they're applicable in different situations:
  • I introduce myself
  • I attend the same events as the other person (create an opportunity to meet again)
  • I invite them to a lunch or dinner
  • I ask if they want to do some exercise or activity together with me
  • I try to sit next to them/near them when we're attending the same event
  • I ask them questions
  • I challenge them (in a polite and respectful way)
  • If we have a common friend, I can ask that friend to introduce me
  • I do some quick social stalking (check Facebook, LinkedIn or similar) to see if there are any relevant overlaps; maybe we've worked for the same company before. This helps me communicate better with them.
  • If the person has a professional blog, podcast or YouTube channel, I check the content so I can comment or give feedback; it also helps me pick relevant topics when we talk.
  • If I'm at a workshop and we're suppose to form groups I'll be the first to stand up and ask the people I want to meet if they care to form a group with me.
  • ... or I just go: "You seem like an interesting person, care to join me for a chat?".
It seems to me that most people want to meet new passionate people, they just don't dare to take the first step, which is something I can help them with.


This is by far the most important point I'll make in this blog post!

I focus on what I can bring to a relationship and let this dictate my behavior.

Let me repeat:
I focus on what I can bring to a relationship and let this dictate my behavior.

Here's a short list of things I can provide in a "learning relationship":
  • Mentoring or teaching
  • Coaching
  • Give the other person the opportunity to practice coaching or teaching
  • Inspire and/or energize the other person
  • Practice/conduct an experiment together
  • Share ideas or experiences
  • Organize something together
  • Help them solve a problem
  • Help them create something
  • Make them feel smart and/or valuable by showing genuine interest
  • Give them honest, constructive feedback
  • Make them laugh
  • Share a contact
  • Offer my time and/or expertise, for instance I can review one of their articles
  • Share a recommendation (book, video, pod etc.)
Obviously I have limited amounts of time so I have to prioritize and the value I think I can get back (long term) impacts who I'll prioritize (spend time with).

Finally: This doesn't mean I won't suggest topics/activities, ask for help, ask questions, ask for favors, stop conversations or take initiative; for a person to be able to know what kind of "stuff" I'm interested in I need to be open about it (what's the value of a conversation where we have no common interests) and it can even relieve the other person of responsibility that person might not want anyway (that awkward situation when two people look at each other waiting for the other to take initiative). What it does mean however is if I sense that the other person isn't interested in the topic or in me (right now), I won't force a conversation even if I'm interested.

Interacting with my heroes

  • They're a person just like me, so I try to treat them like any other person I know:
    Joke, show interest, allow myself to be vulnerable etc.
  • I try to come prepared:
    Time is often limited so I need to prepare what questions I want to ask, what I want to share etc.
  • Focusing on what I can bring becomes even more important:
    Usually I'll get plenty of great stuff back but even if I don't; if I've focused on providing (not forcing) value to the other person I've likely strengthened our relationship and great relationships with great people = Great.
It's about being helpful and friendly, not about trying to impress or getting something back.

At the end of the day any hero is just a passionate human trying to have a good time. Any way I can make that happen is a reason for them to later help me or a way for me to thank them for help they've already provided... it's really that simple...

... and yes, I sometimes I want to make a good impression in a very short amount of time which leads to stupid shortcuts (e.g. bragging) but I genuinely try to follow these guidelines.

Show appreciation

(this is a reminder to myself, feel free to skip it)

Something I want to do more frequently is showing appreciation to people who've helped me. For instance when I've listened to a great podcast I want to tell the podcast host that I sincerely appreciate her work or I want to tell an author that her book made a great impact on me and what that impact led to. There are some learning benefits to this as well but listing them feels silly because the real value is helping a great person understand their greatness and I know way too many great people who doesn't...

"Giving is the best gift of all", like some wise person said...

Thank you!

Finally, this is an opportunity for me to thank some of the great people who've meant more to this blog post than they'll ever take credit for:

♥ Helena Jeret-Mäe
♥ Göran Bakken
♥ Magnus Hübsch
♥ Lukas Bergliden
♥ Robert Gistvik

I would be nowhere close to where I am today without you!

28 January 2019

My Learning - Part 7 - My hourglass model


When I start to learn a new topic I try to go broad (many sources) just to figure out the recurring themes, get the key concepts described in many different ways and to get a basic understanding of how big the topic is. It's also a process to identify: "Who are the heroes in this area that everyone refers to".

Later, when I've "mastered the topic", I also go broad just to discover new ideas, to challenge my current understanding and to expand my core.

A recent insight however relates to the period in between; a period where I often struggle. What I've noticed is after I've identify the most important recurring themes and heroes I need to narrow down my focus and only learn from these heroes and from well established basic resources. This is where I build my own foundation and if I spread out at this stage things tend to get blurry because I neither have a clear structure to tie new concepts to nor the ability to filter out what's important.

To put this in different terms; to be able to create a core to which I can tie all other information later I need to learn from a small number of resources that together paint one clear picture not many.

The model

This broad to narrow to broad fits the image of an hourglass:

Applied to my learning

To tie this back to my software testing and coaching education:
My "level of mastery" in coaching I think is near the green cross in the picture, so right now I'm already quite narrow in my focus but will probably have to get even more narrow before it's time to broaden again. In comparison my level of mastery in software testing has declined a bit but is still in the bottom half (the red cross).

I don't know if this model fits "everything" I teach myself (sports, tech, whatever) but it makes sense so far. As a tool it has for instance helped me control my urge to delve into new and shiny resources about coaching and instead focus on the ones I'm already using to build my core.

Move back up

Outdated knowledge and new insights can move me back up again, or at least suggest that I should revisit an earlier stage. To give you a couple of examples:

I've focused primarily on other areas than software testing the last few years, this means that when I try to improve my ability to test; reading all those newly published blog posts or testing all those new tools may be the wrong strategy. Instead I might need to revisit the experts, figure out if there are new heroes and learn how their ideas impact my understanding. For those of you familiar with the topic of software testing: For insance continuous delivery, AI and microservices have made some of my old learnings obsolete.

Another example is now when I learn about coaching. After narrowing down I sense that NLP is a more fundamental concept than I initially thought. This means I have to go back and restart some of my research of coaching with this in mind.

The more I think about it the more I realize how important the iterative aspect is. As I build my core, going back to the first stage can help me improve my map and that map greatly impacts which resources I should focus on. Same thing with going back to that narrow process of building my core late in my development. If I don't there's a big risk I'm watering a dead tree (adding ideas to an outdated core)...


While writing this I also realize there might be a useful connection between paying money and the hourglass model.

Generally I think paid resources are a bit of a gamble/waste early on since I can't tell good from bad at this point. In the narrow section however it seems to me paying money to get access to as much content as possible from my heroes should be essential. Finally when I've reached a high level of mastery I should be able to better find and identify the gems among the free content as well as have the necessary network to be able to discuss topics with experts without paying (it should be in both's interest at this point)... So there might be an inverted version of the hourglass that represents "value in spending money". But this is still an ongoing though process.

My Learning - Part 6 - Sources

Before I go into how I find, select between and get the most out of individual sources. I want to go over some basics related to source selection in general.

First a couple of terms and I what I mean with them:
Source = E.g. books, podcasts or conferences.
Resource = E.g. a specific book or a specific conference

A realization

Spring 2012 I asked myself:
Which sources do I prefer when learning something new?

The immediate answer was "books and blog posts". I then asked myself:
Why books and blog posts?

This question made me realize something quite uncomfortable:
I read not because that's what works best for me but because it requires the least amount of effort.

... so I started questioning which sources I used and for what purpose.

Easy vs Valuable

Easy sources are simply sources with very low requirements:
  • Low amounts of effort required
  • No "difficult" dependencies (like other people)
  • Won't bother anyone around me
  • Don't require much preparation
  • Can be pause if necessary
Examples are basically anything limited to listening, thinking and/or watching (including reading).

These sources make learning happen even when the conditions aren't ideal and they're often effective at helping me get more information to work with. The problem is most of these sources don't push me to act or are even used instead of acting; and without action there's no "real" progress (my opinion).

On the other hand there are sources that typically have a greater risk attached (lose money, hurt my reputation, hurt my ego, cost a lot of energy etc.) but also comes with a much bigger reward. Some examples for me are:
  • Organize a learning event
  • Teach at a learning event
  • Coach other people
  • Practice in public
  • Practice that requires a lot of set up
  • Hire a personal trainer/coach/mentor
  • ... basically anything that directly or indirectly forces me to act and/or "be judged"
Using these sources sure costs a lot but on the other hand they typically bring much more value and a much stronger feeling of accomplishment.

Finally an interesting experience: About a year into my development as software tester I entered a state where I had the energy to start and complete most valuable activities and doing this provided me more energy than it had cost. This put me in a crazy, positive learning spiral which I try to replicate now when I'm learning coaching. The main ingredient for this, I think, was surrounding myself with great people, which I'll come back to later in this series.

Source selection

  1. I sometimes, in my head, "rate" resources based on how easy they would be to fit into my life and how much potential value I think they bring. This can help me find cross-overs (fairly easy and valuable).
  2. Sometimes easy is way more important than valuable and vice versa:
    Easy stuff is great when my motivation is low
    Easy stuff is great when my learning environment creates limitations
    High value stuff is great when I need a sense of accomplishment
    High value stuff is great when I need quick progress
  3. I like variation, especially when I feel stuck:
    Sometimes a "great" source becomes "bad" simply because I've used it too much
    Sometimes a "bad" source can be "great" just because it breaks the monotony
    When I look for podcasts, finding the first 1-5 great podcasts for a particular topic is usually quite easy but after that it becomes a lot harder. When I find one of these great podcasts I typically listen to the episodes that sound the most interesting to me first. This means after I've found theses 1-5 podcasts and listened to what I perceive as the best episodes for each of them, podcasts become a much less valuable source.
    Early on when learning testing, reading was great, but at some point I started to feel like I just read variations of the same thing over and over again so I had to find new ways to learn.
  4. Within a specific topic certain sources are better suited or better utilized than others.
    There weren't that many great testing books when I started learning software testing instead blogs and articles were the way to go. When learning coaching however there are tons of great books but I've had a hard time finding great blogs.


Bad content can create confusion which slows down my progress or makes me lose interest both in the particular topic and, worst case, in learning in general. This means I must allow my selection process to take time even when the resource is free (in terms of money).

Before I pick up a book and start reading I check reviews, read the back of the book and/or research the author.

Before I enroll to an online course I read reviews, check samples and/or research the teacher.

I'm generally much more relaxed when a resource is either recommended by someone I trust, if it's easy to skim (e.g. an article), easy to bail out of (e.g. a conference presentation) or if more research probably won't help me anyway (e.g. an area I don't know well).

Paying for learning material

  1. Question why something has a cost
    If I find anything with a cost attached my first question is:"is there a cost to this because more effort, skillful work and/or meaningful polish was added to it or just because someone wants my money?"
  2. Go for the super-stars
    A book, course or basically anything else generally costs roughly the same no matter if the content creator is a proven super-star in her field or an "amateur" (in comparison). So I save my money for the super-stars!
  3. Use free sources to find super-stars
    Finding my super-stars is hard, especially since some crappy creators are good at marketing. So when I find a potential super-star I check free online videos by that person, blog posts, interviews etc. When I start to see a pattern of greatness I have no problem paying for that person's content anymore.
To give you an example of all free:
During the Udemy sale on Black Friday I found a course by a person named Brandon Hakim. The course title and lecture titles did sound like potential money grabbers (kinda like tabloid headlines) but I researched him and the course (heuristic 3). After some thinking I decided to pay for the course because he seemed like a dedicated person with teaching skills (heuristic 1)... It was amazing! A few days later I picked up one more of his courses after just skimming its description (heuristic 2).

A clarification: A paid resource isn't bad just because I don't find it useful. For instance there are lots of popular resources where I simply don't like the format, teaching style, content creator's personality or the assumptions made meaning it's not worth the money for me but it can very well be worth the money for someone else. This also works the other way around: Just because others recommend a resource doesn't mean it's worth the money for me so there are very few things I don't research myself, at least a little bit.

Finally if a resource could be useful for my employer I sometimes check with my boss. This way I can get access to resources I might not had been ready to pay for myself, or at least now I don't have to, and I saved the company the work to find it. Win-win!

24 January 2019

My Learning - Part 5 - Note-taking


Taking notes have three purposes for me (in order of value):
  1. When I take notes I have to process the new information to find what's relevant and where it fits. This means I repeatedly "make it mine" which helps it stick.
  2. Since I'm deeply focused (processing information and writing it down) I'm much more resistant to distractions than I would otherwise be.
  3. My memory sucks so when I want to recall something, having it written down is crucial.
So the fact I usually takes notes but rarely go back to them later might seem odd but I hope purpose 1 and 2 above can explain this somewhat.

Pen and paper

I prefer pen and paper over a laptop or tablet. There are a few reasons why:
  • Pen and paper don't depend on a battery
  • I look, and sometimes feel, disengaged when I have a device in front of me
  • There are distractions on a device (notifications, other apps, interface elements etc.)
  • I find it much easier to create visualizations quickly on paper
  • I type faster on a laptop which tends to make my notes more verbose (bad)
  • On the other hand I find it much harder to quickly switch color, add layout elements etc. on a tablet or laptop which makes my notes more bland and boring when digital.
  • On paper I find it much easier to adjust my note taking style to e.g. support a very specific flow.
Some of this will obviously change if I practice but to be fair, I have tried numerous different applications and input methods and so far the only two features I miss with paper is filtering using labels/tags and being able to easily share my notes with others... and I can live without both.

Finally I should add that I do have plenty of notes in Google Keep but they generally serve a different purpose. These notes can for instance be ideas I come up with on the go and just picking up my phone is quicker. When I add a note to Google Keep however, I'm aware that it will be virtually impossible to find that note a month later so if I want to do anything with it I need to act quick (more like a journal).

Brands and stuff

Since I'm sure someone will ask:
  • I use Stabilo point 88.
    Another pen I like, which my wife uses a lot, is Pilot Frixion Clicker 05. I don't like the look of my notes as much with those pens but having the option to erase is helpful.
  • Which notebook I use varies but there are some criteria that must be fulfilled
    • I aim for 110g/m2 or thicker paper otherwise the ink bleeds through.
    • The pages must be blank (no lines or other annoying stuff).
    • Size should be standard A4.
    • Each page must be fully accessible to write on and stay open.
      So not like "a book" since the pages tend to flip over on their own and part of the paper is off limits due to the binding.

Above is what I currently use


I keep 3 different notebooks:
  1. Work
  2. General
  3. Focused learning
"Work" refers to anything related specifically to the company I work for. Currently I actually keep two different work notebooks: One for my coaching role and one for my software testing role.

"General" is the notebook I use for basically anything that doesn't fit the other two categories so my own plans, personal notes, notes from conferences or courses and notes from when I reflect.

"Focused learning" is a fairly new concept. I use this only in my focused mode and when I can control the source. So for instance a book or podcast since I can control the pace, the order, take pauses etc. which I can't during e.g. a live event. The idea is to create a notebook great enough to make me actually revisit it and thus I'm extremely picky with what I add to it.

On that topic: I always plan to store important pages and trash the rest but instead I usually save notebooks as they are and since my notes aren't ordered in any way it's time consuming to find specific things which is one reason why I rarely go back to old notes. It'll be interesting to see if my new Focused learning notebook will fare any different.


My style is inspired by mind maps but I've diverged quite a lot for various reasons, the main one being that mind maps depend on me dedicating the right amount of space for everything and I find this hard to manage on paper. My notes are instead more like separated sections with enough white space in between so I can add arrows, make small additional notes later etc. Since it will get messy, no matter how careful I am, I try to be selective with what I note down.

I generally start with a title; usually placed at the center of the page or at the top. To help me quickly find this title when I later browse through the notebook, I have a specific color, cyan, I only use for the title and some layout elements meant to separate e.g. two distinct sections (e.g. notes from two different meetings on the same page).

After that it differs but I've started using the following color scheme more and more when I take notes for learning purposes:
  • Green: Information
  • Red: An exercise or experiment I can try
  • Black: Something I should do/act on ("action point")
  • Orange: Used to highlight specifically important things in my notes
One problem with this is most of my pages are now just green. Due to that I'm experimenting with using at least two different shades of green so I can get some separation without making the notes messy.

When in situations where basically everything is "information" and it's more important to separate one topic from another (e.g. different projects at work) I use the different colors to create this separation instead. I still keep black and cyan though for actions and title. This means my work notes are often more colorful but look more messy.

White space is also something I try to use to help create a more clear structure to a page. In all the examples at the end of this post I think you can see how I use white space to separate the different parts from each other.

How much I visualize varies greatly depending on my mood, the topic, the content I learn from and probably lunar phase, solar activity and all sorts of crazy stuff. But no matter what, my notes use to be filled with small, helpful images/visualizations but for whatever reason this has changed a bit the last few years (which I don't like).

Finally, I often misplace individual pens or do other things that force me to alter my style but at least the above is what I do when I'm well prepared.


I use to take notes with the intent to accurately retell everything from the resource. Over time I've changed this though and now I aim to only note down what I think is - useful for me - right now. This means I can finish a book and only have one small statement written down but still be perfectly content with the book because that one thing was extremely valuable.

I even have a thought process that starts when I observe myself take more notes than usual:
  • Is this so amazing that taking all these notes is actually the right decision?
  • ... or is it because the content is bad (I don't care to process it, I just write things down)?
    If yes: Stop reading, turn if off or leave, whatever is applicable... if socially acceptable.
  • Otherwise I assume it's because I'm just not in the right mood. Can I get my shit together? If not I should probably take a break (if possible) or at least stop taking notes since I'm basically just wasting paper.

Things I typically note down

  • Visualizations
  • Short models and key ideas/concepts
  • Topics I want to investigate
  • Quotes (both firsthand and secondhand)
  • Bullet lists
  • Metaphors
  • Comparisons between two or more things
  • Actions or ideas for experiments
  • Names of people I want to learn more from
  • Recommended books, podcasts etc.
  • Flows, as they often help me create a structure in my head which I can stick things to
  • My own ideas that pop up based on the information I take in
  • Questions I want to ask
  • If it's a presentation/course I sometimes note down speaker feedback

Things I typically do not note down

  • Stories or lengthy examples
  • Information not tied to the topic(s) I'm interested in
  • Years, dates and who did what (I just note down the person's name if she seems interesting)
  • Reasons why the person has decided to share this information
  • Reasons why something is better than something else (I prefer to form my own opinion)
  • How someone came to a particular conclusion
  • The method used to get some information
  • Bragging and accomplishments


I normally take notes in the language of the medium so if I listen to a presentation or read a book in English my notes will be in English and if I attend an event or listen to a podcast in Swedish my notes will be in Swedish. If I can choose freely I tend to use Swedish but that can differ too (e.g. all technical terms used in software testing are in English so it's easier to write everything in English).

Some examples

Example: Book notes

Example: Plan

Example: Notes from a course

My Learning - Part 4 - Learning modes


In part 2 I spoke about my inability to multitask and the dish washing observation. In this post I'll expand on that.

First, let me explain why this is a fairly recent discovery:

When I was at my "time spending peak" as a software tester I read blog posts daily, checked Twitter constantly, software testing was the main topic in basically every work related conversation I had and I prioritized sitting in front of my computer honing my skills on a daily basis. To do this I not only used time I had normally spent on computer games or watching TV but also time I had used to stay in contact with old friends as well as time I had spent on taking care of my body.

The point here being: If you spend this much time on something you get pretty incredible results even when you're not that efficient...

... but it's not sustainable.

The result when I started to shift my focus back to "my life" was a drastic loss in momentum. However, since what I had changed was "time" I assumed the solution was to somehow find more time and finding that time proved to be very hard. This is basically where I was stuck until late 2017.

Today I still try to free as much time as I can for learning but the big wins are not in finding more time; the big wins are in making that time count. The idea of two distinct modes, or mindsets if you like, has been one of the biggest improvements in this area for me.


I look at myself as being in one of two distinct modes when learning:
  • Focused mode
  • Distracted mode
When in my focused mode I shield myself from (almost) all distractions and focus my full attention on whatever I'm trying to learn. When doing this I (almost) always have my trusted notebook and colored pencils ready.

In this mode, information sticks and this is where I take the big strides forward in my learning. The actual activity and environment can still differ quite a bit though; for instance I might be at a conference, do an exercise with someone or just sit in my bedroom reading a book. This mode typically takes a bit of energy to initialize but after that it normally builds energy for me as long as there aren't any distractions I have to actively manage (more on "energy" in a later part).

The reason I'm not always in this mode is because everything else stops, as well as the fact that some initial energy is required. Sure, there are sometimes nice by-products created but the clogged water pipe in the bathroom won't get fixed.

... which brings us to my distracted mode. In this mode I consider any learnings made a bonus. Examples are when I listen to a podcast while doing the dishes or when reading during a bumpy, noisy bus ride. In this scenario the "learning action" is more a distraction from a boring activity than an actual attempt to learn something. There are perks though: Even though sloooow some things stick (works best with resources I want to just quickly refresh/revisit) and it's a great way to get through tons of different resources without really sacrificing anything which in terms is valuable since it helps filter out resources I want to process later in my focused mode without having to spend precious focused time doing that.

Why it's important

I know I'm an ineffective learner when distracted and if I forget that I end up in a scenario where doing the dishes takes an hour just because I spent most of the time looking at some presentation on YouTube even though I know very little from the presentation will actually stick.

Same thing with my focused mode: If I forget that I'm a terrible multitasker I easily end up stopping everything around me but instead of using this precious, me-time on learning I waste it on mindlessly watching TV while holding a book in my hands.

Different sources fits different distractions

Most sources work well in my focused mode; I can have a conversation, read a book, listen to a podcast, do an exercise on the computer or just do regular work while having my notebook ready trying to make sense of the information I take in.

Various distractions puts various limitations on my distracted mode however. Let me give you a few examples:

Eyes needed, ears free (e.g. loading the washing machine):
Great sources: Audio books, presentations I don't need to watch, some meditation exercises

Ears needed, eyes free (e.g. waiting at the airport):
Read (blogs, books, articles, check old notes)
Write (blogging, organize my thoughts, plan, improve old notes)
Hands (build something, learning games, make illustrations)

Dumpy and loud (e.g. bus):
Some meditation or mindfulness exercises, reflect, some reading
(I love my noise cancellation headphones in these scenarios though)

Frequent interruptions (e.g. anything that involves people around me):
Reading blog posts since they're short (not much progress lost), exercises I can jump in and out of


What I'm experimenting with right now is questioning the sources I choose when distracted because I've found myself going back to the same subset of sources over and over again:

"Sure a podcast is easy since I have a long list of episodes ready but is it -really- the most useful source right now? Even if I think it is, I should at least come up with a few options just to make sure I'm not answering 'yes' out of laziness"

Wrap up

Obviously the above is a very simplified model and there are tons of nuances to it but I actually do identify which mode I'm in and use that as a guide on how to progress... and the fact you'll see me reference these modes in many subsequent parts, I think is proof of how central they are to my learning.

21 January 2019

My Learning - Part 3 - My strategy

Before going into details about how I learn, let's look at my overall strategy and process.

Learning a new topic

  1. Build a learning foundation
    • Find the most influential experts
    • Find the most praised learning resources (e.g. books or courses)
    • Find the key concepts
    • Find the different schools of thought and learn their differences
    • Meet people with the purpose to start understanding the playing field
  2. Build a topic foundation
    • Study the most praised learning resources
    • Study the one school of thought (if several) that makes the most sense to me
    • Use only a few resources that focuses on core concepts
    • Make sure the few resources I learn from stick
    • Meet people with the purpose to learn from them
  3. Practice the topic foundation
    • Find ways to practice the foundation to make it stick
    • Experiment and start to ask more in depth questions
    • Meet people with the purpose to get feedback and guidance
  4. Branch out
    • Find blogs, podcasts or other sources where the new and fresh ideas are spread
    • Learn "everything there is to learn"
    • Gradually question more and more of my foundation
    • Meet people with the purpose to mutually challenge each other's ideas
Important: I don't move from one step to the other, I make additions to my approach meaning early on I only "build a learning foundation" while later on I do all of 1, 2 and 3; not just "practice the topic foundation" but I likely spend most time with the step I most recently added.

This strategy is basically the same no matter what I want to learn but different topics and different levels of ambition will alter the time I spend on individual steps, how I move between them and how much time I spend in general.

Make learning happen

How I make myself learn things:
  • Describe what I will gain from learning this
  • Clearly distinguish between focused and distracted learning
  • Make time for it (prioritization, not magic)
  • Have the resources ready (e.g. podcast episodes downloaded)
  • Surround myself with passionate learners
  • Remove unwanted distractions
  • Create a rough plan
  • Join discussion groups etc. to constantly expose myself to the topic
  • Engage friends in my learning (if possible) and/or try to find new peers
  • Constantly plan experiments or tasks so I don't get stuck with information gathering
  • Keep track of my progress and remind myself of completed milestones (not predefined milestones, see Motivation for explanation)

Key ideas

  • Motivation is my most important tool and must be handled with great care
  • People are my second most important tool and must be handled with great respect
  • Focus my attention on the most influential experts
  • Teacher quality is more important than content quality
  • Only focus on the big lessons
  • For things to stick, I need to make them "my own"
  • When I've already learned something, reflection is more effective when I need to "relearn it"
  • A clear direction is invaluable
  • Finishing something for the sake of finishing it is a waste of time
  • Act on the things I learn (I always know enough to start)

My Learning - Part 2 - Me

Before we go into how I learn, let's look at who I am because that impacts what works for me when I'm trying to learn something.


My biggest strength and shortcoming is probably my impatience. I get bored very easily but thanks to that I don't stay with methods that aren't working or other things not helping me to progress fast.

Auditory learner... maybe

I'm a quite sociable person who loves to discuss and debate basically any topic with any person. One reason for that is probably because I take in a lot of information from listening and talking... Yes, I'm quite often surprised by things I say myself and actually learn this way.
For this to work I need... people. Due to this I spend a significant amount of time just improving, expanding and pruning my social network (which I'll come back to in later parts).

... that being said; the description of a visual learning style actually describes me better. So maybe I'm wrong... or maybe I'm a mix of the two.

Anyhow, what I do know is listening and talking is important to my learning...

Abstractions and visual thinking

My brain is pretty good at abstracting things making them easier for me to understand, summarize and apply to something else. I'm also a quite visual thinker (maybe that's true for everyone?) and adding visuals to something happens naturally. This has a few interesting implications:
  1. I'm good at writing summaries
  2. I'm good at abstracting something into a graph or simple visualization
  3. I'm good at taking a concept from one thing and applying it something else (e.g. retool heuristics created for software testing and apply them to my learning process)
  4. I'm good at making sense of really confusing things
  5. I'm good at explaining something complex by applying it to something easy that the receiver can better understand.
  6. I think this is a reason why I have quite a vivid imagination; I can create something visible and concrete in my head even from very loose thoughts.
  7. I'm good at pointing out what's missing in an explanation because when I abstract something in my head any lack of information creates a problem with my model. This also helps me come up with questions in various situations.
There are obviously drawbacks as well. Since I quickly try to create abstractions my response can end up too abstract for someone or at least too far away from where that person started. This is especially true when I talk to people who are very concrete and want to discuss the exact example they brought up.

On the end of the abstraction spectrum I kinda have to do the abstractions on my own for them to make sense, so speaking with someone who creates abstractions as well can be confusing as I have to reverse engineer that persons abstraction back to its original form to be able to start my own thinking process. This means I often "demand" actual examples from other people so that I can abstract them for myself... which can be weird... sometimes ("you must provide me real examples but I'll respond with abstractions because... reasons").

Implications when I learn:
  • I primarily look for core concepts. These concepts I can then start to apply to all sorts of imaginary things and situation to help me make sense of them.
  • Secondary I look for the actual scenarios or examples. I want them short and concise to make the abstractions more manageable and closer to the original. If I abstract a very big story I typically end up with something too generic.
  • Third I look for very skilled people's interpretations and abstractions of things simply because my experience is these are still worth trying to reverse engineer.
Implications when I socialize:
  • I have to consciously monitor what I say and the reaction it creates, to avoid becoming too vague or abstract.
  • I'm at my absolute best when the other person has a complicated thing they need help making sense of.


Let's just say discipline and "mental endurance" are not my biggest strengths... To counter this I need to monitor and nourish my motivation while avoiding distractions because my motivation is the tool I use to "fake endurance": I don't endure a long learning session, I marvel at the opportunity to learn something new and exciting.

I'll come back to this topic in great detail in a later post; but for now, just understand that my discipline is non-existent but I've learned to work around that challenge.


I have a strong competitive personality and can prepare myself for hours just to perform well in one particular situation. For instance when I play games (sports, computer or board games) I want to know everything about the game so I give myself the best possible chance to succeed... or rather minimal risk of failing, which seems to be the stronger motivation. This is a trait that can both help and hamper my learning efforts.

What I've learned is if I let this competitiveness run free I get bored quickly and start to jump from one project to the next; the reason being that I realize how far away I am from being the best and thus lose interest (remember what I said about my endurance just a couple of paragraphs ago).

So what I've deliberately done is decide to compete only with myself when it comes to the big, important areas in my life just to avoid frustration or losing interest: "I want to be the best coach I can be" or "I want to be the best father I can be". However, it takes energy to stop myself from comparing my progress to other's so to up my odds of not running out of energy I let my competitiveness wreck havoc in all the small things where it doesn't matter if I lose interest long before "I'm done".

Competing with myself

One thing I'm currently working on is to improve my ability to gain energy from competing with myself. Finding a way to monitor progress seems like a key factor here (seeing "proof" that I've outperformed myself from yesterday). Another, related journey is to better enjoy the activity itself and not just the end result. This is mostly to help me enjoy, and behave better, when participating in casual activities like board games or sports (I'm a pretty sore loser) but I think it could potentially improve my learning as well.

Limited motivation to finish things

I often start with grand plans and tons of energy. I then complete the first steps which typically teaches me the vast majority of what I want to learn... and finally I realize (or at least think I realize) that the rest of the trip is mostly repetition or would require enormous amounts of effort for quite limited learning results so I quit.

One example is the many unpublished drafts I have in this blog: I wrote the larger portion of them but got bored with the topic or the work to polish them and just left them there.

To some this might seem wasteful but to me it's not; I've learned what I wanted to learn, or realized that the learning I wanted wasn't there, at least not fast enough, so I'm done. Also when I feel the need to finish something; such as this blog post or most projects at work; I can but it requires energy and that's once again a precious resource so I need to carefully pick my battles.


Up until recently I thought I could multitask and I'm not kidding. For instance I use to watch TV while reading an article, I was listening to a recorded conference presentation while working or watching a YouTube video while writing a blog post. Turns out my ability to multitask is basically non-existent which I came to realize when doing the dishes one day...

I had been looking at some online presentations while doing the dishes every evening for about a week and every evening I was surprised by how long it took to get the dishes done. Finally I decided to monitor what was actually happening. Turns out a very small portion was me doing the dishes and a very large part was me standing still watching the presentation. The "funny" thing in all this is I couldn't recall basically anything from the presentation despite the time spent. So the next day I did the dishes as quickly as I could without any distractions and then sat in the sofa fully focused on the presentation... well, the difference was quite significant both in terms of personal satisfaction and in what I could recall from the presentation. A challenge here, for me, is I have no problem "allowing" myself to spend an hour "washing dishes" but to "allow" myself to do the dishes in 5 minutes and then sit in the sofa reading for 55 minutes is much harder...

Anyway, since this observation I've conducted more experiments and come to the conclusion that I can only do one learning action at a time and if I do anything else while trying to learn something things just won't "stick"... and I also do the other thing quite poorly. So for instance I can listen to podcasts, audio books or online presentations while e.g. doing the dishes or read while distracted by a TV but I can't have any intention to actually remember the stuff presented to me instead it's more of a passive filtering process: "Meh, this book was not great enough to actually read in a focused manner" or "Wow, I need to listen to this podcast while not distracted later". I'll talk about these learning modes in great detail in a later part but long story short: Being aware of them have had a big impact on my learning!


Related to multitasking is "stickiness". For things to stick in my head, I have three rules of thumb:
  1. Focus on only one thing
  2. Make it my own
  3. Apply it immediately
I've already talked about limiting distractions and focusing on one task at a time so let's focus on the other two.

"Make it my own" in this case means I need to use my own words and feelings to describe something, even if it somewhat distorts or modifies the original meaning/intent. Examples are:
  • Do something with it (action)
  • Say the thing out loud using my own words
  • Write down a summary/take notes using my own words
  • Deconstruct the thing and reassemble it in "my way"
  • Consciously modify my own (mental) models based on this information
  • Apply what I've just learned to a made up situation
The last three are best done on paper, not just in my head. If it's something physical, like a badminton stroke, I need to stop taking in information and do the thing myself while focusing on how my body feels while doing it.

Often when actively taking in new information (e.g. read a book) I'm content with just taking notes because if I start doing more I'll lose the flow and at that point any microscopic distraction will get me... so to help me stay focused I just take quick notes and move on. I then later go back and act on the notes I took, do the exercises from the book etc. (or at least I wish I did... more on that in a later part)

The last one is a work in progress. When I learned my way as a tester, practicing what I had learned came quite naturally. Now when my focus is to improve my ability to coach it's harder because I would prefer to coach other people even early on in my progress and to be fair, that scares the shit out of me and is not as flexible since I'm limited to when that person/those people are available. So I don't have too much to say about this yet but I know acting is important based on my previous learning adventures...

(while writing this I realize I could start with coaching myself using the various techniques I learn rather than on other people... just as an easy step one so I start doing it...)


One of the things I appreciate from having worked as a software tester for many years is the focused training and experience in asking questions. When I try making something my own, questions are typically my primary tool:
  • How does this fit my current model(s)?
  • If it doesn't, why?
  • What assumptions are required for my current model to work? Are they really true?
  • What assumptions are required for this new idea to work? Are they really true?
  • What does the author mean with...?
  • What's the author's intention by framing the idea this particular way?
  • In which context is this likely true?
  • In which context is this likely not true?
  • How can this idea be applied to other areas?
    (example: How could the concept of "critical distance" be applied to parenting?)
  • What if I knew this idea was universally true, how would that effect my actions and models?
  • ...
It's quite crowded in my head already so if I just took anything I read for granted and gave it a place to stay I'd be screwed, so questioning is an important tool not only to better understand an idea/concept but also to help filter out what's not relevant - right now - for me.

Goals and direction

I once attended a keynote about "how to become an amazing tester" from a well renowned expert in the field. She talked for 45 minutes and I saw all these people frantically take notes and afterwards there were plenty of questions from curious participants... but I was utterly disappointed! I felt like none of what she had talked about matched my experience...

What she was talking about was how to set goals and how important it was to commit to these goals. My strategy so far, and to this day, is to set a direction (call it goal if you want, but a vague one) and run in that direction... and it seems to have worked quite well for me.

After the keynote I met a few other participants and expressed my frustration, not that the keynote was bad but because everyone seemed super enthusiastic about it but I couldn't relate at all. A brilliant woman, Fiona Charles, looked at me and said:

"I look at it is a continuum. On one end is pure goal setting and for people far out on that side this was gold! On the other side I put the opportunists; I describe them as "having big ears", they're great at picking up various opportunities and are always ready to leave their current path if a new opportunity seems better. For them goals are more like prisons, impeding their creativity and energy. I would guess you're pretty far out on the opportunist side."

Since then I've altered my view a bit but Fiona's explanation is still the foundation I use.

So how have I managed to get anywhere with that attitude? Well, I need a clear direction. For instance my direction right now is to become an amazing coach and an expert in company culture. My approach to accomplish this is a mix of:
  • Find the important people
  • Find the existing networks
  • Find the often referenced resources
  • Find practice methods that work for me
I won't go into details on any of these right now but the important thing is I only have a vague idea on how to become great in this case but I'm confident I'll figure out various things to try if I just put enough effort into the four tracks above. So far I've connected with experienced coaches, I've realized a new local meetup/study group is needed so I've taken the first few steps to create one, I have a list of names of people who I want to learn more about/from, I've looked up and read several books some of which I'll read again and so on... I'm not following a clear path, I've not committed to complete any specific activities and I'm not sure what the next step is but I'm confident I have a strong forward motion (I trust my process because it has a great track record).

If you want more details on how I keep track of these various paths and opportunities you can read more in my old blog post about BOB. To be honest though; right now I'm not using BOB because I feel like my progression is too fast for BOB to keep up but he has been a trusted friend for a long time and I intend to get back to him when my progression starts to pan out a bit.

My Learning - Part 1 - Background

This blog series

In march 2019 Göran Bakken and I will organize a small "expert" conference on self-education. As part of my preparations for that conference I've spent a significant amount of time trying to understand my learning process. One thing led to another and here we are...

Why learning?

I hate not feeling proficient in the things I do. In the first job I got after graduating this happened though. I went to work not feeling as competent as my colleagues, in the areas valued by my boss. The job was as software tester at a big telecom company and the thing I was supposed to do was to learn this massive system and check if what was claimed about this system was actually true. After a few years I was actively looking for a way out cause not feeling competent was something new to me and it drained me...

One day I saw a video by James Bach. He was the most well-known tester in the world and I already knew about him but had never heard him talk about the mindset of a tester. I was mind blown! Could testing be something creative and fun where a restless, impatient brain like mine could actually be an advantage?

I often credit that video as the start to my "true career", a career where I didn't allow work to be boring because when I'm interested I learn, and when I learn I get passionate and when I'm passionate my work becomes exciting and when my work is exciting I want to learn more and when I learn more I get even more passionate and... yeah, you get where I'm going.

Learning about testing

So I started reading everything I could because I mean... that's how you learn, right? After a while I got bored; books simply didn't make me progress much anymore. But instead of turning my focus to something else, which I had done numerous times before, I decided to try a new path. I soon realized there was actually more people in the town I lived who loved testing and they had even formed a meetup group. I left my isolated learning at home and went there... and got inspired. The inspiration led to blogging because I like writing which led to interacting with even more passionate people because they liked my ideas... which led to a new job... which led me to more even more amazing people. Today I've found dozens of friends in the business, I've competed in testing, I've been teaching testing, I've discussed testing at invite only expert conferences, I've organized conferences, I've been mentoring testers and most importantly: I've loved every day of doing all this!

Figuring out my next move

But nothing lasts forever so after a while I started to get bored and jumped on an opportunity to "progress"; a new title, a new purpose, new expectations and a higher wage ceiling. This was interesting; suddenly I went from knowing where to find (almost) all the answers, knowing (almost) all the people and feeling like an expert, to being something else. The official title was test coach. "Test", even though the expectations went up, wasn't too hard but "coach" was. I felt lost; I didn't know when I was doing a good job anymore and it was suddenly much harder to find that "mesmerizing learning high" I had experienced for several years... I wasn't an expert anymore.

It took me a couple of years to find my bearings and I got that old feeling of not being competent more than a few times. It all slowly led to a bit of an existential crisis: What do I want to be when I "grow up"... I had lost a clear sense of direction.

My next move

Finally I gave myself a deadline and decided I had to figure out at least what I wanted to focus on for the foreseeable future. After plenty of thinking and research I decided to go wholeheartedly into coaching and company culture. As I'm writing this I'm still early in my progression but I've regained that critical motivation to learn, which leads to passion, which leads to more learning, which leads to... yeah, you know the drill.


The curve below shows the fluctuations of my passion/easiness to learn over the last few years.

Feel free to draw your own, it was a pretty useful exercise...

To explain the fluctuation a bit:
  • The curve starts with me starting my first job after graduating (2007).
    X is time.
    Y is my perceived passion/easiness to learn whatever I'm trying to learn.
  • Early 2012 I saw that video with James Bach that got me started. Long story short: Wow I had fun!
  • Late 2015 I was suffering from severe stress which is the reason for the steep drop. My recovery from that episode is still ongoing. The stress wasn't because of my learning ambitions per se but because I had a job where the expectations I put on my working results weren't aligned with what the employer was ready to allow me to do. Since the people actually taking the hit in this case was my students and I care about people a bit too much sometimes, I put a way too heavy workload on myself to sort of mediate the gap between their expectations and what the job allowed me to do. Not a strategy I recommend...
  • Spring 2016 I got the job as test coach and that's where the curve starts shifting upwards again. The problem at this point wasn't my progression but rather my inability to see that progression and since I didn't feel like I progressed I had a much harder time generating the energy/motivation needed to make things escalate like they did in 2012.
  • Early 2018 I finally started taking my own frustration seriously. Later, during the summer, I spent massive amounts of time trying to understand my situation. I'll show some results from that summer in a later post in this series.

Wrap up

All in all I'm a human being just like you; sometimes I'm frustrated, sometimes I'm motivated,  most often I'm a bit of both. I have friends and family who are more important than "my progression", most of what I do is not related to "learning", I'm easily distracted, I'm sometimes sad... but I still have a passion for learning and an ability to put words on what's going on inside my head. Hopefully that combination will make this series help you learn about your learning as your learn about mine.