Choices: how much?

Some questions to help you decide whether to buy something:

  • How many cups of coffee is this worth? (If it’s less than five cups of coffee, it’s not a very big decision – you should probably go ahead. And don’t spend longer on choosing something worth the cost of a cup of coffee than you would on choosing coffee.)
  • How far would you travel to solve this problem immediately? (If the thing in front of you probably solves the problem and costs less than the journey, buy it now, and definitely don’t spend more time on deciding than you would on the journey)
  • How far extra will you have to travel to solve this problem another time, and how much will that cost?
  • How big a deal is this if it’s the wrong thing?
  • How much extra would I pay if I knew for sure it was the right thing?
  • What other things could I do with the time I’m using to decide?

Do you need more information, or do you just need to decide?

Seth Godin

You snooze you lose

… is a fact of life.

  • It means if you’re not alert, you’ll miss out.
  • It doesn’t mean that it’s okay to snatch something out of someone’s hand just because they’re not looking, or that we shouldn’t set something aside for someone who’s running late.
  • It means that if you’re not in the game, you can’t score.
  • It doesn’t mean that we all have to play the same game, or keep score in the same way (or at all), or that other people’s score should be important to you.

You snooze, you lose…

Except, of course, when a nap’s just what you need.

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.

The new possible

My sister (let’s call her Sharky) bought me a book for Christmas.

Sharky lives in Argentina.

She bought the book from a shop in the UK.

I’m on holiday in a remote part of Indonesia.

She bought the book, told me about it, and I was reading it, in less than ten minutes.

This is the new reality – actually, not even that new anymore. Any information product (book, film, music, software, design) can go anywhere, in effectively no time.

The new possible consists of the things that this reality enables – not just instant access to information products, but information to go into products (3d printing designs, specifications) or for the delivery of products and services (your exact requirements or preferences, your real-time location, your purchase history, your credit rating).

What becomes possible in your field when the information is so relevant and so available, when the transaction becomes so fast, so frictionless?

AirBnB, and Uber are cannonical examples of the new possible, to which I’d add the fact that this year, Sharky bought me a Christmas present.

Work: living in the middle

With types of work (work: generative; work: decisive) the virtue is in the mean.**

One plants, births, grows, opens.

The other prevents, kills, prunes, closes.

And we have these gardens, between the wilderness and the desert.

** Aristotle

Work: executive / decisive

These are tasks that you can finish and be done with – at least for a time.  An annual report, paying a bill, creating a resource, completing a job, trying up loose ends.

Getting these things done closes down options, shuts down possibilities.

We decide the scope of a project – and cut off the possibilities outside it so that we can focus and get things done.

We carry out a project – execute on a task, deliver a result – and it’s done.

We say ‘no’ to an offer or request – and save hours of thought and work down the road.

Executive and decisive work are central to our ability to get things done. It feels good to finish. Closing doors and cutting things away reduces friction and brings us closure. It’s worth learning to execute well.

At the same time, improving at this kind of work only brings incremental gains – you do what you were doing before, only faster. You might change how far you go, but it won’t change your direction. 

Parallel processing: finding the right people

In computers, parallel processing is the processing of program instructions by dividing them among multiple processors with the objective of running a program in less time.

TechTarget

.

Vision of the future

Computer processors haven’t actually got much faster since the early 2000s. The speed of an average computer’s CPU has hovered around 3 billion cycles per second (think about that for a minute) since the Pentium 4 in 2002.

Computers as a whole, though, have got a lot faster. This is in large part because of parallel processing – more processing units doing different jobs in parallel.

CPUs often have six cores where they used to have one. High-end graphics cards – processing high resolution graphics is about the most intensive work most computers do – can have thousands. And you’ll need them to run a 4K computer display (8 million-plus pixels) at 100 frames-per-second: each pixel requires a complicated set of calculations to determine its colour.**

Get with the program

We often call the things our organisations do ‘programs’ too. One way of looking at your team is a system running a set of instructions that together make up your ‘program’. You take your inputs, the system runs, and the combination of all the operations (a successfully operated ‘program’) creates a desired result.

There’s lots that you can do to improve a system like this – simplify or improve the quality of the inputs, write a more efficient set of instructions or script for each operation (having a script at all is a good start), identify and cut out unnecessary steps – and all of these things will make you more productive, and your life easier.

Once you’ve got good scripts, you can hand off parts of the operation to other people, and give yourself more time to focus on the intensive processing – and this will help a lot too, if you do it right.

But you’re a bottleneck. Everything. Still. Comes. Through. You.

The people you really need to find are people with the ability and the will to shoulder an entire area of activity – a whole process – entirely independently.

You decide what needs to happen and leave them with it. Pow. Now you can do something else – something entirely different – at the same time.

You’re parallel processing.

** = with apologies if I’ve completely murdered the technical analogy. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Too many buckets

You can fill a bucket pretty quickly under a tap. But try and fill a lot of buckets at once – a drip here, a squirt there – and it can take a long time before you have enough to work with in any of your buckets. And you’re probably wasting time, energy and water moving constantly between them.

Blood and Bone (3): Drucker on decisions

All events but the truly unique require a generic solution. They require a rule, a policy, or a principle. Once the right principle has been developed, all manifestations of the same generic situation can be handled pragmatically—that is, by adaptation of the rule to the concrete circumstances of the case. Truly unique events, however, must be treated individually. The executive cannot develop rules for the exceptional.

The effective decision maker spends time determining which of the four different situations is happening. The wrong decision will be made if the situation is classified incorrectly.

By far the most common mistake of the decision maker is to treat a generic situation as if it were a series of unique events—that is, to be pragmatic when lacking the generic understanding and principle. The inevitable result is frustration and futility.

Equally common is the mistake of treating a new event as if it were just another example of the old problem to which, therefore, the old rules should be applied.

Peter Drucker, The Effective Decision, HBR1967

When to decide

Decide before it happens. Ahead of time, when it’s easy to decide, when you can plan a strategy – set up a game – that will make it easier for you to do what you want to do when the rubber hits the road.

If, for example, you want to be a runner, the time to decide whether or not you’re going to go for a run today is not in the morning when it’s cold and dark, ten minutes before your run.

You can gameify it. You can make a deal with yourself that you’re allowed stop running, but first you have to make it to the mailbox. You have to put on your shoes and your running clothes, and go out the door and run to the mailbox and then you’re allowed to make a decision that you’re too busy, or too tired to run.

Seth GodinAkimbo – The Wedding Industrial Complex

.

Seth is spot on. I’d add a couple of things:

  • Make it as easy as possible for yourself – put your alarm out of reach so you have to get out of bed, have a cup of coffee or a drink in the fridge, find those socks, put out your shoes the night before. Get the thin end of the wedge** on your side.
  • Running clothes first. Shoes second.

**Apparently I’ve never posted on this – coming soon…