No breakthroughs

The water breaks through because upstream – far enough up that there isn’t any stream – there’s a drip, drip, drip.

Enough drips to puddle, to pool and start to trickle and then to run: a rivulet, a stream to cool your feet in.

Further on* lakes, rivers, waterfalls, floods, torrents to burst banks and blow your socks off.

All it takes is gravity, time, and enough drips.

*in no particular hydrological order

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on scoring and missing

Sometimes people overlook… important statistics. My basketball hero, Wilt Chamberlain, who retired 56 years ago, still holds 72 NBA records, several of which are considered unbreakable, including scoring 100 points in a single game. In the 1961-62 season, Wilt set the NBA record of most field goals made (1,597). However, in that same season he also holds the record for most field goals missed (1,562). At the same time we celebrate record achievements, we need to acknowledge epic failures that make those achievements possible. Our successes make us happy, but our failures make us stronger. Michael Jordan expressed that awareness best: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 3,00 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to make the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar How do I feel seeing my NBA records get broken? Elated and inspired

GO! Play some games. Miss some shots. It’s the only way to make a few.

Other hard starts

Loads of things are hard to start:

  • Running doesn’t start feeling good until you’ve done it quite a lot
  • Same goes for swimming
  • Learning to play music (only easy if you hold yourself accountable to the standard of ‘A Tune a Day’ and not Mozart, which is exactly the point)
  • Or learning a new language
  • Asking someone out
  • Developing most skills – yesterday my son played badminton for almost the first time. He went from only-hits-the-shuttlecock-if-he’s-really-lucky to can-serve-and-have-a-hit-around in the space of an hour or two. The difference? A few hundred hits-and-misses

Why should building teams and organisations be any different? It helps to have done it before or if there’s infrastructure you can piggyback on, but every organisation, every team is new, and the world moves on. All of which is to say, context matters a lot, and even if you think you’re solving the same problem, sometimes it isn’t the same any more. The key skills to get better at are learning and communicating.

Starting is the hard part

I’ve been making a mini Lego-alike model from Wisehawk:

It’s tiny, fiddly fun. The instructions are clear, and it’s not rocket science… apart from at the beginning.

At the beginning you’re using the simplest pieces in the simplest patterns – like this:

It’s should be easy, but it’s actually pretty hard to put them together. You’re starting from scratch so there’s nothing to hang the pieces on, and they tend to scatter as you try to attach the next layer. Progress is slow because you don’t have a sense of how the bricks fit together – the pattern hasn’t emerged yet. I had to keep squinting at the instructions as I reordered the bricks, trying to remember what went where.

As the model takes shape, though, everything starts to make sense. Building gets more fun when you start to see what you’re building and you go faster as you get an intuitive sense of how the model fits together. The last bits – the bits that really make it look good – are the easiest of all.

Brick by brick

It’s the same with bringing ideas into the world: we start with pieces that sort-of go together, but we don’t really know how. The pieces scatter easily and don’t add up to much.

But as we find parts that go together, we eliminate possibilities and begin to get a sense of how the larger whole might look. We gain momentum, things start to seem obvious, and it comes together faster. The finishing touches – the parts that most people see – come together relatively easily.

Starting is the hard part.

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)