The level of your systems

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

James Clear – Atomic Habits

If you want things to be easier tomorrow, it really helps to have strong systems in place. Most of the important things that you do go a lot better if you have a system for making sure that they happen:

  • a regular commitment to eat something delicious with family or friends
  • a standing order for the amount you’ve decided to invest every month… and save for maintenance of your house/car/wardrobe… and pay for life insurance (see Barefoot)
  • something that will make sure you exercise
  • a habit that will help you to learn
  • something fun that you’ll get a kick out of doing

You get the idea. Even creative work (perhaps especially creative work) benefits when you make regular time and space for it. What happens in the space might be different every time, but if there’s no space, nothing will happen.

Even if you really can’t stand to make a system for creativity, having systems for other things in your life will make spontaneity possible far more often.

Atomic Habits is a good place to start – check out his interview with James Clear on the Read to Lead Podcast.

John Gardner on regeneration

Values always decay over time. Societies that keep their values alive do not do so not by escaping the process of decay but by powerful processes of regeneration. There must be perpetual rebuilding. Each generation must rediscover the living elements in its own tradition and adapt them to present realities. To assist in that discovery is one of the tasks of leadership.

Leaders must understand how and why human systems age, and must know how the processes of renewal may be set in motion. The purposes are always the same:

– To renew and interpret values that have been encrusted with hypocrisy, corroded by cynicism or simply abandoned; and to generate new values when needed.

– To liberate energies that have been imprisoned by outmoded procedures and habits of thought.

– To reenergize forgotten goals or to generate new goals appropriate to new circumstances.

– To achieve, through science and other modes of exploration, new understandings leading to new solutions.

– To foster the release of human possibilities, through education and lifelong growth.

John Gardner – On Leadership

Peter Drucker on Freedom

Freedom … is not the same as individual happiness, nor is it security or peace and progress. It is not the state in which the arts and sciences flourish. It is not good, clean government or the greatest welfare of the greatest number.

This is not to say that freedom is inherently incompatible with all or any of these values, though it may be and sometimes will be. But the essence of freedom lies elsewhere. It is responsible choice. Freedom is not so much a right as a duty. Real freedom is not freedom from something ; that would be license. It is freedom to choose between doing or not doing something, to act one way or another, to hold one belief or the opposite. It is never a release and always a responsibility. It is not “fun” but the heaviest burden laid on man: to decide his own individual conduct as well as the conduct of society and to be responsible for both decisions.

Peter Drucker – The Freedom of Industrial Man

You won’t agree with all of the above – I’m still mulling it over – but Drucker’s emphasis on choice and responsibility is spot on.

Most aspects of our lives, both personal and public, are products of choice. This isn’t the same as them being directly under our control (many of the choices belong to others), but we still have choice in how we act: what to accept, what to maintain and what to seek to change.

Homework:

Look for choices that you’ve been blind to up to now. Which parts of your life – including big, permanent looking things – could do with a review?

Maintenance of the status quo is a choice that we sometimes fail to notice. What are you maintaining as if you have no choice in the matter, when perhaps you should stop? What are you ignoring that you should choose to put more energy into maintaining?

What choices are you in denial about? What have you been choosing to accept that you could – should – choose to change? Small improvements that actually happen are better than giant overhauls that don’t.

Ordinary people. Good work.

Good to Great is all well and good, but what about Pretty Good to Very Good?

I’ve been mulling over the DC podcast and this is what I’m going to focus on: ordinary people doing good (and important) work.

Not multi-million pound-dollar businesses and organisations, but those working with tens or hundreds of thousands.

Not companies boasting world-class-execution-across-the-board, but individuals who are very-good-at-a-few-things with (if we’re honest) patches of mediocrity and plenty of room for improvement.

Not role models glimpsed as they soar through the stratosphere, but peer models who can share something that they’re good at and what’s worked for them, as well where they feel they’re falling down, and start some conversations.

The people I have in mind are a different set of elite performer – people who do work that they think is important and do it well, who buy their own stationary, wash their own dishes, and pay for their own mistakes.

Ordinary people. Like us.

Caterina Fake: 5 Cs

If you look at all of the companies that I’ve been involved with and the investments that I’ve made, they are companies that emphasise creativity, communication, connection, collaboration and community.

Caterina Fake – Tim Ferris Show #360

Caterina Fake co-founded Flikr, where they popularised – newsfeeds, tags (which later evolved into hashtags), followers and likes. She played a key role in the development of Etsy, Kickstarter, and a many others besides.

These five Cs are values that she describes as being key to the success of her projects.

What role do they (could they, should they) play in yours, not just for you and your team, but for your partners, donors, customers, clients?

In the way of it

For my youngest son, putting on his shoes is a BIG JOB. Catch him in the right mood, and he’ll get it done. But if there’s the slightest distraction in his path or in his mind, if he’s upset about something, if there’s an excuse, he’ll take forever to put them on, stropping all the way.

You are probably something of a professional when it comes to putting on your shoes.
Which things are you avoiding, putting off, getting distracted from?

Things get easier if you do them all the time. You know what to do, how to do it, where to find what you need to do it – and perhaps most importantly, that you can and will do it.

What’s your daily?

When you’re in the way of doing something you’ve develop the practical, mental and emotional muscle memory that makes it easy for you to get it done, which is not necessarily the same as it being easy to do.

When you’re in the way of something, you also have far more bandwidth to apply elsewhere. We often spend this bandwidth on other things (continuing a conversation, watching or listening to something), which is fine… but for important jobs, we can use that bandwidth to find ways to do them even better.

This is how to become a professional.

Contact

Next time you read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a program that you like – why don’t you get in touch with whoever made it?

Not just the person who was in it – the ones we normally notice – but the people who made it too. Drop them an email, or even that hand written note that you always think about but never get around to.

Why did you like it? Is there something you had a (generous, non-snarky) question about, or something (of genuine potential interest to them) that you can share?

Try it – make it a light touch. It feels funny at first but gets ever-easier. They’re a person like you, and they’ll probably reply, which will probably be fun.*

*You have permission to stop after twenty unreplied-to contact attempts.**
** To different people.

Raising the tone

Lowering the tone is easy, often funny, and sometimes desirable: lofty conversations gain traction (or evaporate) when touched to earth. Laughter liberates.

It’s much harder to raise the tone, and harder still to do it with humour and grace… but it’s almost always desirable. It’s a way to lead.

I propose that we aim for a 2-to-1 ratio of raising the tone to lowering it. And that we hold some fart jokes in reserve in case things get too serious.

Bits for atoms

We’re repainting our house – this is one of the colours about to be mixed at our local hardware shop.

A small snippet of the colour catalogue looks like this:

Say you needed to have five tins of each colour you sold in stock – how big a shop would you have to have to stock them all? How much money would you have to have tied up in stocking colours that you rarely sold?

Here’s the wonder of the mixing station – it replaces thousands of tins of paint with a few base shades of paint, a computer, a mixing-machine and some well organised information. The result is that the selection of paint that you used to have to go to specialist paint shop for – a paint warehouse – is available at my local hardware shop, and is only a small part of what they stock.

Information (bits) for atoms.

Homework:

Which physical parts of what you do could be replaced by bits? What would this save? What new things would this enable you to do? What would this cost – you, your team, your clients?

Conflicting values

If you keep butting up against the same problem with a colleague – a problem you think you’ve fixed, but that comes up repeatedly in slightly different variations – it could be a sign of conflicting values.

Values conflicts often seem to arise over:

  • Money (fees, salaries and expenses)
  • Time (working hours, punctuality)
  • Effort and focus (work ethic, productivity, accountability)
  • How we treat people (respect, courtesy)

If it is a values conflict (and it’s worth double checking that it’s not a case of your own poor management), you can be pretty sure that it’s going to keep on appearing until you do some deep work to address it.

These conflicts are tricky to handle because they’re often both emotion-laden and subjective. That is, we’re all pretty sure we’re right, and we’re indignant about being wronged – and our feelings of indignation double when realise how the other side of the argument perceives the things we say and do.

Some questions for working on values conflicts:

  • What’s the history here? How has this problem shown up in the past, and what seems to be the root cause?
  • What shortcoming of yours might they think is the root cause?
  • How is everyone feeling about the issue? How will that affect the way they communicate?
  • Assume for a moment that they have the same values as you do on this. What might make them act this way?
  • What information are you missing (or failing to recognise the importance of) that would help you make better decisions here?
  • What information do they have that might help you?
  • What factors are you assigning importance to that they don’t know about or don’t recognise, and how can you close those gaps?
  • Get advice – think particularly about people who might be able to fill in the missing information, or give perspective on how each party feels and why – and point out to you when you’re being unreasonable?
  • Where does the power lie in this conflict? Does this affect how you should behave?
  • If you’re convinced there is a conflict in values – check that you’ve consistently demonstrated the value in question in your treatment of others. What do you need to change?
  • How can you talk about the value, sharing information and telling stories that weave it more deeply into your organisational culture?
  • How will this affect how you choose new colleagues, suppliers or partners?
  • Where are the lines you’re not prepared to cross?
  • Are there people – respected colleagues, board members – that you can involve in the process in a way that takes the heat out of the situation, or reduces the extent to which you are seen as responsible (or are responsible) for the point of conflict?
  • If (when?) you make a mistake in addressing this, how can you make sure that it’s a mistake on the side of kindness, generosity and trust?