Swimming is the struggle to avoid drowning, until you can swim.
Writing of any kind can be a horrible sort of trudge through fog until you’ve done it enough to trust the process and it becomes an interesting trudge through fog.
Learning to play an instrument is a lot less fun than making music with other people.
You drop a lot of balls learning to juggle.
The list goes on.
Once you’ve learnt enough new things – and especially if you’ve come close to mastering a few – the struggle of learning new things takes on the glow of anticipation. You can see that you’ll get a feel for it in time. You’ve experienced the pleasure that comes as the basics become automatic, and what it’s like to be good enough at something challenging that you enjoy it.
Are there things that you do just rarely enough, or half-heartedly enough, to stay bad at them? It’s time to decide either to stop playing, or to commit the little extra it will take to allow you to start doing them well, and even to enjoy them.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”
Jesus of Nazareth – The Gospel of Matthew
Some ancient wisdom about the mechanics of criticism and disagreement:
You’re far more aware of the shortcomings of others than you are of our own. (We spot specks a mile away, despite our blindness to our ridiculous planks).
Our own shortcomings make it much harder for us to help to handle the shortcomings we see in others. (They distort our perspective, and also make us far less credible sources of help)
The crucial insight I’ve been reminded of this week is that in most disagreements these mechanics of distorted-perspective work in both directions at the same time. That is, at the same time as we are prone to assume the worst and blow the shortcomings of others out of proportion, they are doing exactly the same thing to ours. We think we’re doing well by allowing for the distortion, but don’t appreciate that there’s often a double-distortion that we need to account for.
A series of questions to help think through disagreements:
What do I think the problem is?
How do I feel about my-idea-of-the-problem and why?
Do these two things seem in alignment, or do my feelings suggest that I’ve got a different problem lurking below the surface?
What does my colleague say the problem is?
How do they feel about it and why?
Ask question 3, but for them.
A colleague recently asked for a small extra allowance for a particular type of overtime. My logical and (to my mind) internally consistent solution was worth significantly more than they were asking – but they repeatedly stated their preference for the smaller allowance. I thought that they were really interested in the financial value of the payment – and was effectively offering more. It turned out (as I currently understand it), they were interested in feeling recognised and valued – and the smaller extra payment with the right frame spoke to this feeling in a way that my solution didn’t.
I saw “This person is always asking for more money.” They saw “This person doesn’t appreciate me.” We might both have been right – but neither of us had things in proportion.
If you take down your clothesline and buy an electric clothes dryer, the electric consumption of the nation rises slightly… If you go in the other direction and remove the electric clothes dryer and install a clothesline, the consumption of electricity drops slightly, but there is no credit given anywhere on the charts and graphs to solar energy, which is now drying the clothes.
Steve Baer – The Clothesline Paradox in Co-Evolution Weekly as quoted by Tim O’Reilly in WTF? What’s the Future and Why it’s Up to Us.
The clothesline paradox applies even more sharply to domestic labour, of course: the work of a professional cleaner or child-minder registers as economic activity, but the work we do cleaning our own homes or caring for our own families doesn’t, despite the same work getting done.
The problem is that we come to treasure what we measure, and end up creating incentives that cost us in ways we don’t expect. In the case of the clothesline being replaced by an electrical dryer, it’s pollution. In societies where the norm has become that all adults work outside the home (often incentivised by the state), there’s a cost in the quality of care and in the relational glue that keeps families and societies healthy.
So it pays to be careful about what you’re measuring, and keep your eyes open for the unhelpful incentives that you’ll almost inevitably create. Staying focused on your organisation’s values (specifically about relationships and how you treat people) will help. You can do this by deliberately talking about them, regularly asking how you’re living up to them, and using them explicity to guide you in making decisions.
There’s kind where you can handle it in five or ten minutes and…
the job’s finished;
someone else can get on with their job, so you avoid becoming a bottleneck;
you can help someone out by being on-the-ball and courteous with a quick and efficient reply;
you can hand it over to someone else who can deal with it and forget about it.
In these cases, if you’ve already opened your email it’s probably worth just finishing the job. You’re already distracted from whatever else you were doing, and you’ll save far more time and energy by reducing mental overhead (you won’t be carrying another ‘to do’ on your growing list) and emotional friction (you’ll avoid feeling bad about yourself or the people you’re holding up) than you’ll spend on the task itself.
The other type aren’t quick emails. Often they’re asking for the quick summary of a long thought process that you haven’t worked through. I think the best way to deal with these is to work consistently to keep your house in order, to spend time on those thought processes, to do them well enough – and perhaps document them well enough – that you won’t have to revisit and revise them the next time someone asks you the same question.
The starting point is to understand what capabilities you have that others will value, that you can use to create value for others.
And then to find the opportunities for those capabilities that will create the most opportunity for others and particularly those who will reward you for that value.
So the ideal for business is to maximise the value that you create for others, and your profit would come solely as compensation for that value you’re creating for others, and then to continually improve and add to those capabilities, and look for, based on that, what other opportunities are there for which you can create superior value.
So there are two components then: one is to become preferred partner for all your key constituencies. That starts with customers but includes employees, suppliers, communities and society as a whole.
And the second piece is to continually transform yourself. So our philosophy is if we in a business or you as an individual are working in an area, if you’re the best in the world, it’s not good enough. And particularly today, with rapid improvements in technologies within year or wo you’re going to be obselete if you just rest on your laurels. So you’ve got to be constantly thinking on how do I improve, how do I do things differently, what are the new opportunities.
If we’d just stayed with the crude oil gathering… we’d be out of business now. It’s by applying these principles of human flourishing to create these beneficial cycles focusing on how do I create value for all my constituencies – particularly those who will reward us for the value we create for them – is what has enabled us to do what we’ve done.
Good advice from some of the best business thinkers out there – although Michael E. Gerber has pointed out that basing your business model on highly talented people is going to make it harder and more expensive to run (rocket-scientists and brain-surgeons are hard to find).
But the problem on my mind with all this is slightly different, and it’s this: smart people can get jobs elsewhere.
It’s far harder to build teams and organisations that open doors for the less-smart, or the not-yet-that smart, while avoiding lowest-common-denominator, bad work for bad pay.
Can we build organisations that work for ‘normal’ people, or people who are struggling – and help them to grow, and perhaps to move into (or on to) better, ‘smarter’ jobs as soon as possible?
The spotlight we need to shine on our talk of inclusivity and opportunity is this: Who do we work with? Who do we welcome in? Where do they end up?
John Greenall wrote this about our lack of a sense of urgency about the most important things in life:
I wonder if it comes back to overscheduling, busyness, lack of prioritisation and an internal need to look good. This all leads to overloaded diaries and an overly full life. The routine is downplayed and not given sufficient time or consideration and you lurch from one thing to another. Another factor from above is the lack of urgency on relationships. It can be easy to see people as tools to achieve an end, or to further your own purposes, rather than seeing developing them and helping them win as an end in itself.
John’s right – and his comment is a great introduction to these words from Clayton Christensen, which I added to my ‘to post’ list this morning. Christensen was asked about the origin of his book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, and began by sharing the ‘scarily’ sad life paths of many of his apparently successful peers. In effect, he blames ‘wrong metrics’ – measuring the wrong things, or paying too much attention to the short-term, immediately measurable things:
… I can tell you with perfect certainty that not a single one of my classmates when we graduated from Harvard planned to go out and raise children who hate their guts, and get divorced one or two or three times. Our intention was to create homes where there was happiness there, that was a source of happiness for the rest of our lives.
That was what we intended to do, and how we spent our time and energy was just the opposite of that.
And the reason why is the very same thing [discussed earlier]: it’s the metrics. So those of us who are driven to achievement… when we have that need for achievement, then when we have an extra thirty minutes of time or ounce of energy, we instinctively spend our time and energy on whatever activities will give us the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement. And our careers provide that. So every day at work I ship a product, I finish a project, I get promoted, I get paid, we close another deal… and every day I get immediate and tangible evidence of achievement at work.
And then when I walk into the front door there’s not a lot of evidence of achievement when you look at your kids. On a day to day basis they may misbehave every day, the place gets cluttered every day and it really isn’t until twenty years down the road, until you’re able to look at your kids and put your hands on your hips and say “My gosh, we created a wonderful young man or woman.” But on a day to day basis there’s no evidence of that.
As a result of that, we invest our time and energy in our careers, and under-invest in our children and our spouses, even though we plan to have that be the source of energy… and that’s why I chose to write that book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
Starting from scratch is overrated (and impossible). Some better questions are:
– Has someone else already made what I’m trying to make? Or something similar? Or part of it? (Readymade is usually easier than DIY).
– What new things can I make with the components I already have?
– Which building blocks have I overlooked or neglected?
– Where can I look for new building blocks?
– Who else would find what I’ve built useful? Can I share it – or share instructions for how to make it? (Saving someone from having to make something themselves is the foundation of most business models, and instructions are another type of building block.)
– Which pieces of what I do is it really essential that I break down and re-make myself?