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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I 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.
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:
Ever find it difficult to strip down what you have to say to the bare minimum? I do. My list of draft blog posts has swelled to around 50. I need to get better at getting them out the door. While they are fresh in my mind. Minimal polishing. Idea> open wordpress> tap the keyboard> hit Publish. Next.
The danger is that it takes time to refine down ideas:
I didn’t have time to write a short letter so i’ve written a long one instead. ~Mark Twain
So I’ve started using postcards to structure my thoughts (idea pinched from this Richard Kelly talk). The space limitation is a kind of old skool version of Twitter’s 140 characters and using a pen rather than keyboard feels good.