The Commitments (1):

Some things worth committing to:

  • to service and impact for human-flourishing (vision, clarity and focus, outcomes more than processes, sustainability);
  • to getting better every day (being a pro, showing up, learning, a path to making things better rather than shortcuts and hacks);
  • to generosity and investing in others (kindness, sharing what you know, teaching and training);
  • to a strong and evolving business model (planning, experimentation and iteration);
  • to leadership and good management (executing well and running an effective team or organisation);
  • to doing the money part well (financial management);
  • to marketing and communication (so that the right people know the right things about what you do, and so that change happens and sticks);
  • to building a network (so that the right people are working with you for change, with the right resources);
  • to seeing the future and finding new tools (because effectiveness is a moving target);
  • to having fun along the way (pow!)

Anything I’ve missed?

The donut: getting going [guest post]

New initiatives can be a challenge can’t they?

Plotting the course.

Anticipating problems.

Obsessing over details.

Wondering how we’ll deal with XYZ scenarios in 6 months’ time.

I recently read this:

When you’re at the beginning, don’t obsess about the middle, because the middle is going to look different when you get there. Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get going.

Chip and Dan Heath – Switch (amazon)

They’re right of course.

We need to paint a picture of the future –  to know where we are going; to be inspired.

And we need to start well – perhaps a small pilot, with trusted people, with clear parameters.

But the middle? Just like when I bit into my donut today – you’ll find out what’s in the middle when you get there.**

**Today it was custard. Jam is my favourite.

Old year’s resolutions

  • What can you tick off already? Good work on those.
  • What do you need to quit – stop doing, stop trying to do, draw a line under, declare an amnesty for yourself, admit that it won’t get done, and let die with the old year?
  • Perhaps most crucially, what are the little things – acts of kindness that you’ve been thinking it might be nice to do, short emails to friends, decisions, bookings, commitments – that you can do, and get into the habit of doing, starting from right now? Today, the day before you make new year’s resolutions, everything you do is a bonus, a gift of the momentum that a frontlog brings that will make tomorrow better or easier for your future self – the self who’s arriving tomorrow.

Compound interest

We all know about compound interest in the world of money. Save £100 a month for thirty years at one percent interest** and you’ll have a little under £42,000 by the end of that time (compared to £36,000 at zero-percent).

Make that investment at 5% and suddenly you’ll hit £83,000.

10%*** makes almost £228,000.

It takes time, and the commitment to building something steadily. No tricks, no promises of outrageous returns, a degree of risk – but not when compared to not investing at all.

What if the interest we seek for our work – attention, respect, partnership, remuneration – could compound in the same way? Often it seems that we’re after a flash in the pan (Viral. Now.), or that we’re not building anything consistently at all.

Starting with almost nothing, drop by drip, brick by brick, little by little, we can build a mountain.

** 1% annually, calculated monthly

*** A reasonable return from a stocks-and-shares index fund

Test Scores vs A Body of Work

When you show up and say “here’s my resume,” basically you’ve just shared your SAT score … with the HR people. And the HR people are charged with filling the slots with the cheapest competent people they can find.

On the other hand, if you build a body of work, if your body of work is irresistible, if it’s generous, if it’s remarkable, if your body of work actually changes things – they will call you.

Seth GodinAkimbo How to get into a famous college

Ways in: ravelling the network

Interface

A discipline, culture or scene is a network: a mesh of people, things, ideas and ways of doing things.

It might be tightly defined, with a clear centre, tightly woven middle, and a strong sense of a margin.

It might be clustered, with areas where the web is thicker and deeper, but with threadbare valleys inbetween,  fading out to the hinterland.

It might be looser – candyfloss or mist – a ball of tenuous connections at a distance.***

Whatever the form – and if you zoom in or out far enough, they all look much the same – a key feature is that there are no edges. The margins are always porous, threadbare, and frayed, and everything is intertwingled.

Ways in

We find our way into a network by joining it – by making points of connection, by crawling the web, ravelling the edges of the network.

For a field of study, we ravel the references, following the threads of footnotes and references to position ourselves in the network.** 

In a culture or scene, we hop from person to artifact to text to place to practice, each one leading us on to another – and back and round again – as we get familiar with the landscape.

Some things to bear in mind

  1. Thick cloth is hard to pierce, and it’s hard to break into the middle of a network. Change (including accommodating you) is slower and harder: the web is thick and tight, the connections harder to break and re-weave, and space is limited.
  2. Networks overlap. A strong connection with a person (relationship, status) or an idea (expertise, reputation) in one field might help you cross over to the middle of another, different field.
  3. The web is sticky. Once you’re in, you’re usually a bridge (in and out) for others. Be generous.
  4. You add value to the network by bringing something new: new and valuable ideas, new tools or ways of doing things, new attitudes that make it more enjoyable to be part of the network, new connections (by connecting the dots within the network to thicken it, and by bringing connections to an entirely different network).

Start somewhere: Show up. Make connections. Be generous.

**Citations formed a web of knowledge long before the internet.

*** Word on the street is that candyfloss is tougher, denser and less tenuous than you’d think (hat tip: RudderlessSalamander)

What goes around

Do your work well.

Talk about it with people who might be interested.

Ask about their work.

Share stuff.

Collaborate.

Show up.

Be a pleasure to work with.

Ship on time.

Build momentum.

Miss out by miles.

Learn.

Miss out – but only just.

Be clear about your terms.

Be turned down.

Have some small successes.

Keep getting better.

Sooner or later, there’ll be a knock on your door: “Can you help us out?”

Did I mention have fun?

Where’s the scene?

In the first full episode of the Broken Record podcast, Malcolm Gladwell chats to Rick Rubin about the start of his journey to becoming a record producer.

I’m piecing together fragments here – iffy chronology:

  • He loved music. Punk and hardcore on the radio. Listening to hip-hop (tapes of Mister Magic’s Rap Attack – ‘the only place that hip-hop was on the radio’) with friends at school.
  • Starts a band, ‘The Pricks’ – at some point plays punk club CBGBs, where he manufactures a brawl to get the band thrown off stage.
  • Goes to hip-hop clubs on his own – often the only white guy in the audience. ‘I didn’t really think about it – I went for the music, and while sometimes I went places where I felt like, when I would walk in, I would feel like, “Hmm, I wonder if I belong here,” but then as soon as the music would start, my relationship to the music and the rest of the audience’s relationship to the music was the same, so I felt camaraderie in terms of musical taste and fandom.” 
  • Hangs out at ‘a little teeny punk rock record store called Rat Cage records’ – where he picks up with the Beastie Boys. I’m even sure if they were the Beastie Boys yet. ‘Rat cage… actually put out the first Beastie Boys – maybe the first two – Beastie Boys singles.’
  • Tours as DJ with the Beastie Boys on Madonna’s first tour (!) – ‘The Beasties were kind of rowdy and dirty, and Madonna’s audience were 14 year old girls… not so many Beastie fans – we didn’t even have an album out.’ He’s 21 – still at New York University. Drops out of the tour with an ear infection. Mike D of the Beasties was still at high school.
  • Starts Def Jam Recordings our of his dormitory in his fourth year at NYU – partly because he wasn’t happy with how hip-hop was being recorded.  ‘Just from the fan’s point of view of wanting records that sounded like I heard at the club, I started making them.’ Records License to Ill, the Beasties’ first full album.
  • There are other bands, clubs, more cross-overs with Punk and hip-hop… he’s busy. ‘I didn’t take any classes before three in the afternoon, because I knew I wouldn’t wake up.’
  • Goes on to become one of the most influential – the most influential? – music producers of his generation. Walk This Way with Aerosmith and Run DMC (which arguably brought hip-hop truly into the mainstream) was just the start.

Rap Up

  • He loved this thing
  • He found the scene, became part of it, started to make it. Punk and hip-hop shared a big DIY ethos.
  • He put in the hours – built a body of work
  • His work is for himself as well as for others in the scene
  • He – and the Beasties – are hybrids. Jewish boys with feet in the punk and hip-hop scenes. He credits this with a lot of his success in making rich music.

What it takes: a body of work

What does it take to develop as a writer, artist, filmmaker, activist, programmer, blogger, teacher, chef, athlete, landscape gardener, leader and manager, academic?

Whatever else you do, you’re going to need a body of work.

My two favourite children (those would be mine – simultaneously the best and most annoying children I know) love to draw. And they’re getting better at it.

This is how:

body of work childrens drawings

They draw pretty often, and they draw a lot. Then they draw again.

They’re far from artistic geniuses, but they have this at least in common with Da Vinci (7,000+ pages of notebooks) and Picasso (something like 50,000 artworks, of which we remember a few).

Do it now.

Be prolific.

Trajectory

When you’re on a long journey, a small change in direction can make all the difference, for better or worse.

It doesn’t look like much now – a few degrees one way or the other – but you’ll end up in a different country.

Do it now.

Small steps, every day, in a better direction.