Velcro, geckos, and making friends

Some ideas for strengthening your connections within a group of people or scene:

  • Have good, generous intentions. Show up to serve or share where it’s needed and wanted and because being part of this network is its own reward (you like the people, you like what they do), rather than for what you might get out of it.
  • Start small – person by person. It’s helpful to think of the group as a network of people rather than as a a monolithic whole.
  • Relationships and trust take time – but the right group settings or events can speed this up.
  • First impressions always count – but not nearly as much as what you do and say consistently over time. People who know and trust you will interpret you generously and shrug off the clumsy mistakes that we all inevitably make as just that – understandable, human clumsiness. People who love you will stick with you through your real mistakes – the ones where you should have known better.
  • Build on connections – friendships, relationships – that you already have.
  • Lots of loose connections are helpful – relationships where you know them a bit, they know you a bit, and you share a general positive regard for each other. Each loose connection is like a single hook-and-loop in a piece of velcro – weak on its own, but strong when combined with many others. (see also: gecko feet)
  • … but the 80/20 rule will be at work here – a few people will be very interested in your contribution, and a few of those will be people you have a good rapport with… and a few of those will be key for helping you to connect with others.
  • Don’t worry too much about people who aren’t that interested in you or what you have to offer: they’re either genuinely not interested, or have something else on their minds, neither of which you can do very much about. Assume that you can’t do too much to influence them (apart, perhaps, if you can help them with their thing, the thing that’s on their minds) – but they might be influenced by the right sort of champion from within the network.

The hard thing about soft skills

The hard thing about the ‘soft’ skills of courtesy and consideration is that they’re only partly skills. They’re far more about our attitude: how much we value other people and their purposes and feelings, and the interest and care that we show them as we go about our business.

Consistently showing up for people – seeing, hearing and serving them – is far harder than going about our business focused only on our business. And there is a cost: it takes time and energy and attention to engage with and serve others when your ‘real’ job is doing something else. But it’s worth the time and energy, because this is the right way to be – whether we’re dealing with customers or the CEO or the person who cleans your office.

This means that ‘soft’ skills require us to be better at what we do, so that we have the time and energy to spare when we need them – you need something to be generous with. And if this is important to us, we need to do more than show up in the moment: we need to choose to manage our work and commitments so that an attitude of generous service is built into everything we do.

This is much harder than just doing your job.

Much harder, and much better – now and in the long run.

Champion, or Ways to Win (1)

There are a couple of types of champion:

Noun 1 A person who has surpassed all rivals in a sporting contest or other competition [as modifier‘a champion hurdler’ [OED]

This is the winner, the vanquisher of foes. We all enjoy being this kind of champion – as individuals (probably especially as individuals) and as part of a team (“We are the champions”).

There are good champions and bad ones – heroes and villains, magnanimous victors and churls – but champions are a good thing. It’s fun to strive for something, it’s motivating to compete, and more often than not we like it when someone wins.

It’s also fleeting (“This year’s champions”), and – if you think about it in the wrong way – sets you up for inevitable failure. Sooner or later, someone else will be the champion.

And the things that we can win definitively are rarely important, and rarely satisfying in the long run. They are small, clearly defined, rule-constrained, finite games*.

When we’re striving to win these games, it’s worth double checking what we’re burning up to get there – time, energy, materials, relationships, opportunities – and weighing carefully what we get in return, because ‘fun’ is really the main thing we get from being a champion.

In the morning, life goes on.

All the other rewards of being a champion – prizes, status, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are as winners, and what we say about everyone else – take their meaning from other games we play.

More on this tomorrow.

*See this post, or go straight to James Carse‘s Finite and Infinite Games

That little bit extra

… is often what makes the difference, for good or ill.

  • Still going for a run even though you’re taking the kids to the park, so will get exercise later
  • That extra ten percent of time to improve the finish on a piece of DIY – so that it gives you pleasure every time you look at it, instead of bugging you
  • The extra ten percent of money it costs to buy a product because it’s good, not because it’s the cheapest one
  • The not-strictly-necessary time that you spend catching up or doing fun stuff with your colleagues that makes you more than just people who work together
  • The extra job that you tick off so that you not only don’t have to spend time on it tomorrow, and – as importantly – don’t have to spend time and energy remembering tomorrow.

And in the opposite direction…

  • The extra helping / desert / few squares of chocolate that you eat each day, putting your calorie intake 2% above your use, instead of 2% under…

Crunch time

… isn’t the push to meet a tight deadline, or what you do under pressure.

Crunch time is when you have a bit of time, space and discretion about what to do, and you don’t really feel like showing up.

  • It’s paying attention to people and processes when they’re doing well, long before they break down
  • It’s committing a bit of time every week to work on the important, non-urgent tasks that will bear fruit (or suddenly overwhelm you) down the road
  • It’s going to the gym and doing something when you feel a bit off-colour
  • It’s about being a pro – about showing up and shipping the work – rather than being ‘authentic‘ or following your feelings in the moment

Crunch time about is what you commit to, under what conditions, and how you set things up and get the work done long before the crisis, so that crunch time in traditional sense rarely happens.

If you can keep your momentum when you’re not feeling great, when your motivation wanes, when there’s an interesting distraction… then you’ve done most of the hard work. The easy days will take care of themselves.

The time and the energy

As in, “I don’t know where you get them.”

I can’t make more time*, and you almost certainly know more than I do about managing your energy. But here are a couple of thoughts about doing stuff – and having fun – that relate to both.

Diminishing costs

You can (and should) ‘create’ time and energy by saving them through eliminating things from your life.

But you can also save time and energy by doing more, or at least by doing the things you already do more often, because doing them often makes them easier. For lots of things this is simply because you get better at them, so they cost you less time, and often less energy. For other things, the habit of doing them reduces the emotional energy needed to get going, or even to decide to get going.

Some examples:

  • If you exercise regularly, it gets easier
  • If you travel all the time, packing bags and getting to the airport becomes automatic
  • If you blog every day, a blog post can take ten minutes to write instead of two hours.
  • If you make films regularly – if, say, it’s your job – you’re probably an order of magnitude faster than an amateur
  • Giving feedback – and having difficult conversations with people about their work – becomes much easier if you do it relatively frequently
  • Cooking is easier if you do it a lot – you think and look for stuff less and spend more time actually cooking

This is partly about having things set up (you know where your tools are and they’re ready to use when you want them), partly about skill and experience (you’re better at the things you do often, so you’re faster), and partly about decisions (you’ve decided more things in advance and can get straight into the work, rather than sitting around and wondering about what font to use or shoes to wear).

Increasing Returns

For many things things, doing them more also increases their value:

  • Sport and exercise is way more fun when you’re fit. All types of exercise – not just the one you do – become more fun. And as you get fitter you discover more energy and fun in the rest of the day.
  • The more you write about something, the more you have to say about it – the quality of your thinking and ability to express it increases too
  • Cooking is more pleasurable when you’re good at it… people compliment you on your cooking, so you enjoy it more, so you do it more…
  • Reading is more interesting, richer, funnier, more useful the more you’ve read
  • The more you contribute to an area of work (or play), the more rewarding your conversations and relationships become, and the more new people, ideas and opportunities come your way

Some of these are just side-effects of things getting easier, but many things benefit from positive feedback loops and network effects: doing things and making stuff leads you to new ideas, techniques and people, and new things become possible… leading to more new possibilities.

Outcome

If doing something becomes easier, relatively cheaper, faster and more convenient to do at the same time that it becomes more enjoyable and more productive, you’re a lot more likely to feel like doing it… so you’ll find ways to do it, and you’ll do it even when tiredness might have stopped you in the past. And then you’ve got momentum, so you’re less likely to stop… so you’re more likely to enjoy the rewards and do it more.

Voila: time and energy.

*Send me a private message if you do

Asal dapur ngebul*

My whiteboard, in our dapur (kitchen) – a few to dos and a lot of posts in gestation

Indonesian saying.

“As long as the kitchen is smoking.”

Um…

“As long as there’s smoke from the kitchen (fireplace).” ?

“As long as the hearth is burning.”

… which is a way of saying, among other things, the important thing is that the important things keep happening… or that you’ve got to do what it takes to keep things going.

Do what it takes, and do a little every day. Just a step – enough progress that you don’t stop progressing. Keep the fire lit.

Never quit smoking.**

*more correctly – but less idiomatically – spelt ‘ngepul’

**But don’t burn the place down

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.

Courtesy and cold fusion

One yardstick of wealth is how much you give away. It’s easy to run out of time and money, but there are no hard limits to your supply of courtesy and consideration.

I’ve had several interactions with courteous, engaged service people this week, and they made a huge difference to a difficult week – I still feel glad about them. Being courteous – assuming the best, being polite, giving respect and space to people before you’re forced to concede ground or fight for it – is a wonderful form of generosity. It makes almost everything better, feels great, and almost always creates more energy than it costs.

It’s cold fusion.

Vision. Positioning. Execution. (4)

Execution

Being able to execute means being able to get the right things done at the right times. Good execution is a combination of:

  • Knowledge – do you know what to do and how to do it? This is a type of vision, but I include here for completeness.
  • Skill – are you able to do it? Skills need to be learned and practiced, and intuition improves with experience.
  • Will – are you committed? Do you make things happen and get stuff done? Skill doesn’t matter if you don’t take action.
  • Performance – how well do you do your part? Do you make the most of what you’ve got?
  • Bringing people with you – who else is involved? Are they ready?
  • Luck – do things go your way?

The Key

Having a strong will – strong enough that you consistently act on it – is the most important of these. Unless you’re committed and determined and actually show up, make things happen and get stuff done – nothing else matters.