Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#61)

Favorite quote from the week:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

Mark Twain

We all get started by pretending:

Aside from the huge smiles that we all get and how much fun it is to play with Sam and his helmet, it’s gotten me thinking about the connection between the playing dress-up and pretending to be something versus actually being it. What’s the difference? We all start as pretenders and we all feel like fakes at first. What you wear (and how it fits) can make you feel invincible or invisible. You have to start somewhere.


More from An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth:

I loved this book. I read it awhile ago and think about it often, so seeing Chris Hadfield’s mental models in space come up last week again was a welcome site:

At NASA, we’re not just expected to respond positively to criticism, but to go one step further and draw attention to our own missteps and miscalculations. It’s not easy for hyper-competitive people to talk openly about screw-ups that make them look foolish or incompetent. Management has to create a climate where owning up to mistakes is permissible and colleagues have to agree, collectively, to cut each other some slack.” (friction and viscosity)

That is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as a way to be better at my work. The other is the following, which I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of:

The best way to contribute to a brand-new environment is not by trying to prove what a wonderful addition you are. It’s by trying to have a neutral impact, to observe and learn from those who are already there, and to pitch in with grunt work wherever possible.

Over the years, I’ve realized that in any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value.”


Universities are adopting the subscription model:

Makes a lot of sense, sign me up!

In 2020, academic institutions will start to offer lifelong admittance, paid for on a subscription basis. Rather than simply provide students with an on-ramp to a career and the occasional professional pitstop, universities will find ways to build ongoing relationships with workers.

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/university-lifelong-learning


The Blue Bananna is:

WHAT!?!?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Banana


The joys of sitting in a pub on your own:

100% agree. I love time alone in the pub and/or brewery.


The difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom and England:

Short view and taught me a few things I hadn’t realized.


How the internet is changing chess:

“It’s OK if you make mistakes,” she said. “Just move on in and have some fun with it.” And that’s a feeling that isn’t confined to the new guard. Finegold said he’s looking forward to where streaming is going. “Chess could be fun, too,” Finegold said. “It doesn’t have to be super serious all the time.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/video-games/fast-loose-culture-esports-upending-once-staid-world-chess-n1137111


New music I’ve been listening to in the office:

Yppah – Sunset in the Deep End


Something I’m grateful for this week:

  • The fact that Vivi is still into silly little toys, pretending to be a cheetah, and reading children’s books below her age and reading level
  • Art projects. Sometimes it’s best to just make a mess.

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

Categories
Kids Parenting

Get a helmet

I got Sam this race car helmet from the gift shop at the Glasgow Museum of Transport recently (an awesome place to go by the way). Museum gift shops are a guilty pleasure, I always find something I want that’s usually overpriced, and the kids always seem to as well. However, this helmet was only £4! It must have been a mistake, as I’ve seen all manner of plastic items with much fewer parts priced three times as much, so I considered it a purchase worthy of the few hours of fun that we would have with it.

The thing is, Sam barely took it off once over the course of the next couple of days. I think I actually had to tell him that he couldn’t sleep while wearing it on the first night.

That £4 purchase has now given us days and days worth of fun.

But the best part of the helmet purchase is seeing how Sam behaves differently with it on. He’s a race car driver! A superhero! He’s invincible! He pretends that the visor gives him an extra shield to protect him against the sun (which is actually kind of true) and against Grandpa’s robot laser beams and careens about shouting and sliding with wild abandon.

Aside from the huge smiles that we all get and how much fun it is to play with Sam and his helmet, it’s gotten me thinking about the connection between the playing dress-up and pretending to be something versus actually being it. What’s the difference? We all start as pretenders and we all feel like fakes at first. What you wear (and how it fits) can make you feel invincible or invisible. You have to start somewhere.

One of the best pieces of advice I have been given was from a former mentor who would tell people that really wanted to switch what they were doing professionally (i.e. take on a new role doing different work than they are currently doing) to simply find a way to start doing the work now, regardless of whether they had permission. In other words, get a helmet and start pretending.

A £4 helmet gives Sam permission to be something that he might not think he is, but that’s exactly where the path to being a race car driver starts.

Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#60)

St Andrews is cold (and awesome):


The power of great feedback:

My notes: It’s all about working out your confusion. What does good look like, get in sync. What’s your experience? Describe it. Find out more about the other persons experience. Then if there’s a gap, figure it out and look at it together. No blame.

Worth a listen


Concierge car buying:

Then a guy called wanting a car. Carroll said he didn’t work at the dealership anymore. And the buyer said he didn’t care. Carroll decided then he would go solo. Not as the usual car “broker,” who tends to charge a direct fee to shoppers, but as a car “concierge” who planned to charge customers $0. He would work on commission.

https://eu.freep.com/story/money/cars/2020/01/23/fired-car-salesman-brian-carroll-dealership/4533934002/

Side note: I had no idea that USA Today has a trimmed down, super fast site special for the European Union which is intentionally bland and simple and fresh air compared to the usual bloat and ads on most news sites:

https://medium.com/usa-today-network/the-tech-behind-the-usa-today-networks-eu-experience-5631e99539fd)


The bad client/clueless boss trap:

There are two secrets to doing great work:

1. Persuade the client to let you do great work.
2. Get better clients.

They dance together every day.
You get better clients as soon as you act like the creator who deserves better clients.


The intelligence coup of the century:

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret. The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/national-security/cia-crypto-encryption-machines-espionage/


Are people getting worse at the price is right?

Americans are worse at The Price Is Right than they used to be. On the game show, which has been running since 1972, four contestants are asked to guess the price of consumer products, like washing machines, microwaves, or jumbo packs of paper towels. The person who gets closest to the actual price, without going over, gets to keep playing and the chance to win prizes like a new car. In the 1970s, the typical guess was about 8% below the actual price. People underestimate the price by more than 20% in the 2010s.

https://qz.com/1740513/why-are-people-getting-worse-at-the-price-is-right/


Favorite book excerpts of the week:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running.” (Haruki Murakami and Philip Gabriel, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)

Running = life in this context I think.

“Many people think they’ve determined the next action when they get it down to “set meeting.” But that’s not the next action, because it’s not descriptive of physical behavior. How do you set a meeting? Well, it could be with a phone call or an e-mail, but to whom? Decide. If you don’t decide now, you’ll still have to decide at some other point, and what this process is designed to do is actually get you to finish the thinking exercise about this item. If you haven’t identified the next physical action required to kick-start it, there will be a psychological gap every time you think about it even vaguely. You’ll tend to resist noticing it, which leads to procrastination.” (David Allen, Getting Things Done)

Boiling things down to the physical behavior is annoying and hard but makes such a difference. I’m trying to get better at it.


What I’m thankful for this week:

  • Almost every time Sam sits down to go to the toilet he tells me: “Daddy, boys have willies, girls don’t have willies.”
  • Playing cribbage with my Dad in the evening, hadn’t done that in a long time and had forgotten the simple pleasure of playing cards.

Quote I was thinking about:

The way you tell your story to yourself matters.

Amy Cuddy

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

Categories
Work

Being the best

Ok, thought experiment for you: If you had a few wishes to burn, would you want to use one of them to become the best in the world at something?

Twelve-year-old me would have taken that wish in a heartbeat to become the greatest basketball player in the world (I was, and still am, a maniacal fan of Michael Jordan). I would like to think that later-in-life me would also take it to be something a little more practical and altruistic, but, if I was honest, it would probably be something similarly grandiose and not all that useful to solving world problems.

Anyway, most people think that if my wish was granted I would be given near superhuman jumping capabilities and a near flawless ability to shoot over any outstretched arm (which, being one of the shortest and least fit kids in my school at the time, would have been a sight).

But what if, instead of me gaining basketball superpowers, everyone else lost theirs? If everyone had their abilities stripped away to below my level, the wish is still granted, technically I’m the best! Of course, there would be no more dunking and barely anything but long range jumpers and layups (right-handed only of course) would take place in a given game. It would be ugly, and everyone might think that, gee that’s pretty cool that guy can do a perfect (right-handed) layup every time, because we can’t, but how boring is this?

It feels like a lot of people who want to be the best at something would be totally fine with this type of outcome. It’s not about raising the baseline or “the love of the game”, but about making other people feel that they are less by showing them how much better they are.

Sports are an easy analogy but you can see it politics, business, your workplace and even your local school parent group or club. It’s easy to spot. Look for the loudest ones, the ones that always seem to be critical of others, seemingly unwilling to admit a mistake or be open to changing their mind.

The trouble is that in many cases we’re incentivized not to make the sport, a company, or a group of people better, but to show that we are better than someone else. This is all too common in the typical performance review/bonus allocation process in place at many big companies that encourage competition, but you can also simply observe it in siblings who want to earn favor with their parents. My daughter could teach a master class. In the end though, this type of behavior just ends with crying (adults and kids alike).

What if, instead of wanting to be the best player, you wanted to create the best game? Or the best product? Or even just the best family dinner?

By working on raising the baseline for everyone you will become better, and maybe the best, because being the best requires that you make everyone better.

Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#55)

Two book excerpts I’ve been thinking about:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” (Cal Newport, Deep Work)

Very apt for the holidays this week and next.

“I happen to be in a very tough business where there are no alibis. It is good or it is bad and the thousand reasons that interfere with a book being as good as possible are no excuses if it is not. You have to make it good and a man is a fool if he adds or takes hindrance after hindrance after hindrance to being a writer when that is what he cares about. Taking refuge in domestic successes, being good to your broke friends etc. is merely a form of quitting.” (Larry W. Phillips, Ernest Hemingway on Writing)

Those are some tough words and also got me thinking about this post on how Tyler Cowen practices to be better at his work. To extreme for me but I agree that you have to practice deliberately anything you want to be better at.


New music is such a great gift: The KEXP DJs top albums of the year, along with the listeners top 99.3 albums, offers an annual avalanche of good tunes that carries me into the next year on a high. Here are some new albums I have discovered already from these lists:

The Black Tones – Cobain & Cornbread – blues mixed with hard/grunge rock

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – A Tuba to Cuba – upbeat latin-inspired jazz

Nicola Cruz – Siku – instrumental album with a tribal, ancient feel

Rudy Willingham – Dunk Reactions – really fresh mix of instrumental beats and samples


My favorite music of 2019: This year was full of change, here is the music that kept me company throughout.


A beautiful poem and thoughts on marriage: From Margaret Atwood on Marriage, really liked this poem and lots more in the link.

HABITATION by Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not

a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
the edge of the forest, the edge

of the desert

the unpainted stairs

at the back where we squat

outside, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder

at having survived even

this far
we are learning to make fire


Common sense that’s often ignored: The seven sins of meetings with remote participants


The crazy surveilled reality we now live in: One Nation Tracked is a fantastic exploration of the tracking devices we all carry with us each day.

Within America’s own representative democracy, citizens would surely rise up in outrage if the government attempted to mandate that every person above the age of 12 carry a tracking device that revealed their location 24 hours a day. Yet, in the decade since Apple’s App Store was created, Americans have, app by app, consented to just such a system run by private companies. Now, as the decade ends, tens of millions of Americans, including many children, find themselves carrying spies in their pockets during the day and leaving them beside their beds at night — even though the corporations that control their data are far less accountable than the government would be.


The dark world of online murder markets: Click Here to Kill. Woah, great read.


Quote for the new year:

No matter how big and tough a problem may be, get rid of confusion by taking one little step toward solution. Do something.

George F. Nordenholt

Free tools for images and illustrations for your site, docs, presentations, and more:


This is the last post of the year for me and I’m going to explore a new destination, read a bit, and play. See you next year!

In the meantime, check out what we’re up to now.