Bag Like an Artist

Groceries

I’m naturally pretty good with spacial things — I can imagine how physical things are in relationship to each other, how things go together, that kind of thing.

That eventually served me well at my first job, as as a bag-boy at a local grocery store. Putting things in bags was one thing; anyone could do that. Putting them in efficiently, maximizing how much goes in, keeping cold things together, putting fragile items on top, making sure the bag wouldn’t weigh too much –leveraging my spacial reasoning, these were things that came naturally to me. They still do.

To me it was as much art as it was work.

Which is how work really ought to be; certainly the best work.

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Showing Up is Over Half the Battle

Show up for your appointments

When we moved into our current home, over twenty years ago, we elected to enlist a service to mow our lawn and do some other basic maintenance on the large yard. We went through several services before finding one we would stick with for many years.

The most common cause of failure was actually very disappointing. While we expected the quality of the work to be the determining factor, it was something else entirely that had us more often than not looking for a new provider.

We ended up making our evaluation on what seemed the simplest of things: did they even show up regularly, as promised, to do the job?

Too many times the answer was “no”.

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Right & Wrong

Fight!

A hypothetical conversation with a hypothetical friend about a controversial topic…

Me: “If you believed CONTROVERSIAL POSITION(*), then you would have no other choice but to believe CONTROVERSIAL RESULT.”

Friend: “No I don’t. CONTROVERSIAL POSITION is wrong.”

Me: “That’s not the point. I’m not trying to debate CONTROVERSIAL POSITION, I’m trying to point out the mindset of the people that disagree with you.”

Friend: “It’s simple: they’re wrong.”

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“Get Up Early” is a scam. Do this instead.

Alarm Clock

One of the currently popular so-called productivity hacks is to get up an hour or two earlier to get your best work done first thing.

It’s a scam. In fact, it’s the exact same scam as Daylight Saving Time. While it might feel like you’ve created this new magical time that was just waiting there for you to take advantage of with its additional productivity, it comes with a cost that no one talk about. Either you must actually sleep an hour or two less, or you need to compensate by going to bed an hour or two earlier.

Read more“Get Up Early” is a scam. Do this instead.

Finding and Sharing Wisdom

Open Book on wood background

I’m reading Chip Conley’s book “Wisdom at Work” about reintroducing the wisdom of older, more experienced individuals into today’s fast moving and high-tech workforce. He coins the term “modern elder” for those with wisdom and knowledge to share with (typically) younger generations.

It’s great if you can have an individual to act as your mentor, which is exactly what part of this whole “modern elder” thing really is. It’s also cool if you find yourself in a position where you can act as a mentor by virtue of having experience that you’re willing and able to share in ways that are useful to others. I know I still, specifically, want both: even at 61 I’m looking for individuals from whom I can model and learn, and I’m looking for opportunities to share what I’ve learned with others.

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Why Listening, Really Listening, Might Be Declining

One of the comments made in Celeste Headlee’s book “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter” (or perhaps one of her videos) is that we may have been better conversationalists before the printing press was invented. Put another way, the rise of mass literacy may have caused us to become poorer listeners.

My sense is that it’s happening again.

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Writing as a Constraint-Based Creativity and Critical Thinking Skill

Placing sometimes artificial constraints on an activity is a fascinating creativity technique. The canonical example might be that Dr. Suess’ book Green Eggs and Ham was written on a bet — a bet that an entertaining children’s story could not be written using only 50 different words. That constraint led to one of the best selling children’s books of all times.

Constraints breed creativity. Create some limits, and see what you can accomplish within them.

The very act of writing is, itself, a constraint. What can you accomplish within the limits of language?

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Everything is an Investment

“Mental models” seem to be the latest and greatest thing. Popularized by folks like Charlie Munger, Ray Dalio, and even the Mental Model of the Month Club, they’re essentially a higher level way of looking at life’s challenges, situations, and opportunities. The 80/20 rule, aka the Pareto Principle, is one example.

I recently realized that I’d developed a mental model of my own that helps me make decisions. I don’t have a fancy name for it, but it’s really nothing more than considering everything an investment of some sort. This, then, helps frame decisions based on expected returns.

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The Cost of Failure

We often judge opportunities based on the potential benefit or “up side” as it’s often called. If we do ‘X’ we get ‘Y’. Typically the risk we consider is simply not getting ‘Y’ if we fail to accomplish ‘X’.

I’ve come to rely on an additional approach to judging both opportunity and risk. I call it the “cost of failure”.

It’s quick, easy, and now one of my most important evaluation tools.

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Back. Up.

The moderator of one of the groups of which I’m a member posed the following (paraphrased) question:

“If you had a chance to send a message to 20,000 people in 100 words or less, what would you say?”

Took me about a second to come up with a two word response:

Back. Up.

There. 98 words to spare. (99 if I’d chosen “backup” instead. 🙂 )

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Why I Stopped Reading “Enlightenment Now”

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker gained notoriety of late because of Bill Gates’ statement that it was “My new favorite book of all time.” Bill’s hard to ignore, especially when something reaches the top of any of his lists. I picked up a copy and dove in.

It’s a great book. Not sure it makes the “favorite book of all time” list for me, but even having not completed the book I can already heartily recommend it. And yet, I’m setting it aside.

Why? Because of something I stumbled across elsewhere, and the fact that I agree with the message behind the book.

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Facts, Misinformation & Priorities

  • Fact check before sharing. It makes you more authoritative, and makes the world a better place.
  • Misinformation shared only serves “the opposition.”
  • Focus on what’s truly important.

My morning was derailed by three separate articles that really struck a nerve. The concepts are so simple and important, and yet so often ignored, I’m having a hard time thinking about much else.

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We All Fear What We Don’t Understand

We all fear what we do not understand.
― Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol

I suspect that this quote actually pre-dates Mr. Brown’s 2009 book, but the original source is proving elusive. A longer, perhaps more telling version:

What we don’t understand, we fear. What we fear, we judge as evil. What we judge as evil, we attempt to control. And what we cannot control…we attack.

The author seems to be the exceptionally prolific, and in this case insightful, Mr. “unknown”.

All I can say is that humans apparently don’t understand a great many things.

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Habit Fad

Two days ago I wrote that I’d “techniqued” myself into inaction. I was trying to do so many things, seemingly all at the same time, that I could do none of them well, and some of them not at all.

There’s what I’ll call a fad right now that says improving yourself — be it your productivity, your accomplishments, your health, your whatever — is all about establishing the proper habits. There are a multitude of blog posts, articles, and books on how to go about doing that.

It has a fad-like feeling to me. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few years from now we’ll haved moved on to a different productivity or self-improvement fadtechnique.

And yet, at a practical level, I’m paying attention. Fads often carry nuggets of wisdom.

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