What NOT to work on

My friend was stressed. He was juggling lots of different projects. Not making as much progress as he wanted. Not clear about the relative priorities. And considering taking on even more projects.

It’s a good problem to have, opportunity. But there are only so many hours in the day.

Overfilling those hours does not end well (context switching overhead or burnout).

Letting someone else (e.g. the Panic Monster) decide your priorities also does not end well.

The Panic Monster
Continue reading What NOT to work on

Get the map out of your bag

I was doing an online navigation course aimed at those racing mountain marathons but the parallels with business and personal life were clear.

“Lots of people keep their map in their bag and only get it out after they are lost. Elites always keep their map to hand.”

Continue reading Get the map out of your bag

Monday morning moment

Cycling to work through central London on a dark, cold, and wet January morning.

Passed by a Bentley. Glanced sideways. Looked warm and comfy. The next car past was a Porche, then another, then another. I looked around for the Top Gear film crew. Rough calc of £200k+ in 4 cars. And me on my Halfords bike getting soaked 🙂

And it hit me. I wouldn’t swap places for all the tea in china. I’m happy with me, my life, my beautiful wife, my newborn daughter, my choices, my priorities, my struggles and my shortcomings.

No sour grapes, no envy, just ambivalence. In fact, if I’m completely honest, there was a little grin. I smiled. Awesome car, I thought, but you’ve been mugged. That car is making up for something. The car marketing squad have sold you a dream that isn’t yours. In the Top five regrets of the dying no-one mentioned cars. Did they?

Our priorities define us. They shape our actions, habits, character, and destiny.

Best make sure they are really our priorities and not the marketing man’s, nor anyone else’s.

Learning to fall

Wandering along the river at the weekend we saw a small boy take a spill on his bike.

It was enough of a fall to draw a sharp intake of breath from both my wife and me but no real damage was done.

The boy instinctively dusted off his hands and winced at the bits of gravel embedded in the palms of his hands.

His Dad, walking behind us shouted, “That’s alright. Just dust yourself off. It won’t hurt as much if you ride on the grass.”

~~~~~

My mum insisted my brother and I learn how to fall when we were little, “Tuck your elbow in and land on your hip and shoulder”. Good advice for adventurous boys.

~~~~~

Over the years, I’ve introduced a handful of people to rock climbing; encouraging them as they take their first nervous steps up from the safety of the ground into the unknown.

The pattern of a first climb is pretty common: grip tightly to the holds, head up using mostly arm not leg strength, get to the top, clutch onto the largest object at the top, look down nervously, eventually release death-grip on the wall to be lowered down, grip the rope tightly on descent, kiss the floor with relief/sense of achievement, stare with wonder at forearms which appear to be pumped and burning, realise that you arms are now too tired to climb again for a long time.

Falling

Until you reach the top of the climb and release your weight onto the rope, you haven’t tested the system. You have no real trust in it. No experience of how it feels to sit in the harness, deliberately or otherwise, until you are in an exposed position.

So why not learn to fall when the stakes aren’t as high?

That’s how I teach. On terra firma I tie the person into their harness, show them the basics of my belay device, take up the slack in the rope, then I just fall down into my harness next to them. “I trust the system”, I’m saying. “You can too.”

~~~~~

I’ve laboured the analogy; forgive me.

My point is that being comfortable and familiar with falling allows us to ride and climb better. We’ve reduced the cost of failure.

This doesn’t just apply to the great outdoors.  Learning to fall in our personal and work lives gives us the confidence to push our experimentation & creativity further.

So why isn’t learning to fall an integral part of every new undertaking?

My tiny little mind

You know I’m a big fan of Hugh MacLeod:

I star­ted doing my “Car­toons drawn on the back of busi­ness cards” in Decem­ber, 1997, it took me a few months to really get into it…

At first, I thought I should just do a few dozen of them for kicks and gig­gles, then move on to something else.

That I’d still be doing them 15 years later, didn’t even cross my tiny little mind. But then it took on a life of its own. Its mea­ning, pur­pose and scope snow­ba­lled slowly over time.

August last year I decided to Try something new for 30 days. I picked doodling. That was six months ago today. Like Hugh it didn’t even cross my tiny little mind that I’d keep it up this long and now have 182 dreadfuldailydoodles.

brain

Amazing the body of work that accumulates over time. And how a quick glance at each doodle brings back a thought.

The project morphed into a kind of visual diary and I:

  • Made some people laugh
  • Became (a little bit) better at drawing
  • Inspired someone to use more images in their presentations
  • Encouraged others to take up a new daily habit
  • Learned a bit about visual cues – what matters and what doesn’t
  • Became better at noticing shape and form

It’s a long way to the “10,000 hours” required for mastery but I reckon I’ve formed a habit that will stick. We’ll see. Thanks Hugh.

 

Punk dogs and purple cows

Purple Cow

I got excited today. The supermarket had restocked my new favourite beer. I know; simple pleasures.

So what’s the story? Isn’t it just water, hops, malt and yeast? Yes and no..

The lads at Brewdog in Scotland understand Seth Godin’s purple cow; finding a way to stand out, to be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins.

Brewdog stand out through both product and marketing.

Their Punk IPA has an almost ridiculous amount of hops in it. It slaps you in the face when you try it. Masses of bitterness and a grapefruity finish. Delicious. Not unlike Thornbridge Jaipur.

Then comes the marketing. Check out the bottle label.

 

BrewDog2
This is not a lowest common denominator beer.
This is an assertive beer.
We don’t care if you don’t like it.

The website is littered with swearing and jabs at, “the corporate beer whores crazy for power and world domination.”

It’s a bit much for some but that’s the point. “We don’t care if you don’t like it” is a refreshing stance in an industry dominated by high-volume, appeal-to-the-masses brands.

When your product becomes a commodity, you have nothing left to compete on except price. As Seth says, the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.

Photo 12-01-2013 17 16 37

So Brewdog have chosen to say “no thank you” to a large part of their potential market. Or have they? Maybe it was never their market anyway. These guys aren’t institutional shareholders of BigBrewingCo plc trying to squeeze an extra 0.5% profit. They are Martin and James, two guys in their twenties who are really into craft beer.

In focusing on others who love craft beer and mocking the rest they strengthen the identity and loyalty of their fans. Sound familiar?

I convinced the wife to stop into their Glasgow bar one evening last September as we were passing.  If Willy Wonka did beer!  Silly names, innovative mixtures, and spot-on execution: from the oak-aged 18.2% Tokyo stout to the 1.1% Nanny State.

The barman had exceptional product knowledge, talked us through loads of free samples, and was a genuine enthusiast. And we weren’t beaten up for being English.

Now that’s a purple cow.

Purple Cow

 

The law of two feet

If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing – use your two feet and move to some place more to your liking.

law of two feet

The idea comes from the “Open Space” approach to meetings pioneered by Harrison Owen in the 80s.  Informed by the thinking on self-organising systems and teams, Open Space meetings have no formal agendas and principles such as “Whoever comes is the right people” and “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have“.

Fascinating stuff. Many of the ideas are used in unconferences today. Do check it out in Owen’s own words (Warning: no white space or pictures here).

The law is stated explicitly to meeting attendees at the beginning of a session. How does it work?

The law simply acknowledges what people are going to do anyhow. If there is any substantive contribution derived from either principles or law, it is merely to eliminate all the guilt. After all, people are going to exercise the law of two feet, mentally if not physically, but now they do not have to feel badly about it.

How grown up and insightful.

The law places the responsibility for maximising learning and contribution with us, the individual. Funny how we seem to need permission to do this. Social conditioning perhaps?

…such a place might be another group, or even outside into the sunshine. No matter what, don’t sit there feeling miserable. The law, as stated, may sound like rank hedonism, but even hedonism has its place, reminding us that unhappy people are unlikely to be productive people.

So the next time you find yourself not learning or contributing in a meeting (or elsewhere) think about the law of two feet.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Try something new for 30 days

Think about something you’ve always wanted to add to you life and try it for the next 30 days. ~ Matt Cutts (TED video)

I really recommend the video. It’s only 3 minutes long and pretty inspiring and persuasive.

TL-DR: the usual “thought -> action -> habit -> character -> destiny” progression logic. 30 days is apparently long enough to form new habits; be they exercise, diet, a photo a day, write a novel, avoid Facebook, TV, etc.

Something new

Inspired, I thought I’d give it a go. I picked doodling. A bunch of people like Sunni Brown have been championing the learning, creativity, problem-solving and innovation benefits of doodling recently.

So I began drawing. Very simple things and shapes. The sort of thing you can scribble on a whiteboard as a visual aid. Not Turner prize material. Using a free app on the iPad with one-click publishing to a free basic Tumblr site: Dreadful daily doodles

So far so good

20120911-145520.jpgI finished the 30 days and am carrying on with my new habit as I’ve learnt loads: cats can easily look like rats, dogs are really hard, our brains override what our eyes see with preconceived ideas of what something looks like, outline and shape can imply movement much better than detail, less is more.

Continue reading Try something new for 30 days

The optimism bias: Was Eeyore right?

Attempt at E H Shepard's Eeyore by Rob Tatman

A. A. Milne’s downbeat donkey is the poster-child for part 3 in the series about cognitive biases.

Eeyore had it right, we’re overconfident and too optimistic. Some evidence from the US:

95% of our teachers report that they are above average teachers.

96% of college students say they have above average social skills.

Time Magazine asked Americans, “Are you in the top 1% of earners?” 19% of Americans are in the top 1% of earners.

David Brooks: The social animal (TED Talk)

Continue reading The optimism bias: Was Eeyore right?

Email experiment

I reached a mini-milestone today. A simple setting change with a long history:

Like many, I’d turned off new email notifications years ago. No annoying “You have mail!” pop-ups, no sudden sounds, no nagging envelope icon, no barely-perceptible mouse cursor changes, no tiresome fade-in text, no irritating iOS badges, nada.

I was managing email on my terms.  Except I wasn’t…  Using my inbox as a to-do list integral to my workflow meant that I was susceptible to distractions when going in and out of the mail app.  Even though I was only checking to batch process new mail three times a day (morning, lunch, evening), www.rescuetime.com (free trial) revealed the truth of my app usage.

So I’m going to experiment with pulling emails manually only three times a day from now. Why not?  We’ll see…

——————-

Update- 1st October:

Habit formed. This really works! With one adjustment:

Mac Mail users may also want to disable the nagging red count badge that lives in the doc via Mail Preferences: