Monday, October 16, 2017

Leadership Means Selling

Over the last two weeks (here and here) I have posted articles about leadership. The reason being, leadership is an integral part of entrepreneurship. Today, I wanted to continue along the lines of leadership. But, I wanted to do it from a slightly different angle.

If you have ever been in a position of leadership, you know that all leaders sell. Leaders sell their values, ideas, vision, mission, etc. Sometimes the selling is little more than promotion. However, to be a truly effective leader, your sales approach should be tailored and relevant to your audience.

And, sometimes (often) it is an audience of one. Face-to-face, focused engagement, is an important element of leadership. Leaders know where they are going. But, they also take the time to get to know what their followers are looking for.

I recently read an excellent book, by Charles Green, titled Trust-Based Selling. I highly recommend giving it a read. In the interim, one very fortunately thing the author did was, he wrote a marvelous postscript, which does a beautiful job of summarizing the book.

Here is Green's postscript:

Very simply, the only way to be trusted is to be trustworthy. The only way to be trustworthy is to have your customers' best interests at heart. If you are trustworthy, you will come to be seen as trustworthy. And if you are seen as trustworthy, you will also become very profitable.

The paradox is, you can't set out to be profitable by being trustworthy–it destroys the concept. You actually have to care. Profitability is a byproduct; it disappears if you treat it as the sole goal.

You can measure the effect of trust and profitability in the long run, and you should. But you can't manage it in the short run without destroying it. The measure of trusted relationships is at the relationship level, not the transaction level. The right measurement of customer of profitability is the lifetime, not the quarterly, time frame. The right focus of customer profitability is systemic, not customer-by-customer.

The most influence comes when you stop trying to influence and just help. The best measurements come when you stop trying to measure everything and just do the right thing. The best relationships come from acting from our humanity, not from our spreadsheets. In the long run, spreadsheets will tell the tale; in the short run, act from your humanness.

It may be obvious that to trust someone, you have to take a certain amount of risk. There are no guarantees in trusting; that's the nature of the thing.

But it's also risky for the seller, the one aspiring to be trustworthy. It requires that you give up control over the short term of your secrets and your belief in tit-for-tat competitive economic models. It takes a bit of courage to behave in a trustworthy manner with no guarantee that every action will be met with an equally positive reaction.

And individually, they won't. But in the aggregate, they will. What you put out in trustworthiness gets more than repaid. You just don't know exactly when or from whom.

The ultimate risk–and return–lies in giving up control over your customers and clients. For your customers to trust you, you must trust them as well.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The "How to Be" Leader

Since I mentioned leadership last week, I figured, what the heck, let's talk about it again. Back in 1996, Frances Hesselbein published a wonderful article on leadership. The article was titled, "The How to Be Leader." You can read the entire article, below. (By the way, if the name Hesselbein rings a bell, it is likely because I have mentioned her before. Click here to read the previous post.)

Chief Executive magazine asked a number of corporate chief executives "to look over the horizon of today's headlines," "size up the future," and describe the most pressing tasks that lie beyond the millennium for chief executives. I was invited to do so as well. In my response I wrote, "The three major challenges CEOs will face have little to do with managing the enterprise's tangible assets and everything to do with monitoring the quality of: leadership, the work force, and relationships." After the magazine came out, a corporate leader wrote to me and said, "Your comment make great sense to me.I believe that the three challenges you describe are like legs on a stool. Yet I see leaders attending to just one, or perhaps two, of the legs!"

In the tenuous years that lie ahead, the familiar benchmarks, guideposts, and milestones will change as rapidly and explosively as the times, but the one constant at the center of the vortex will be the leader. The leader beyond the millennium will not be the leader who has learned of how to do it, with ledgers of "hows" balanced with "its" that dissolve in the crashing changes ahead. The leader for today and the future will be focused on how to behow to develop quality, character, mind-set, values, principles, and courage.

The "how to be" leader knows that people are the organization's greatest asset and in word, behavior, and relationships she or he demonstrates this powerful philosophy. This leader long ago abandoned the hierarchy and, involving many heads and hands, built a new kind of structure. The new design took people out of the boxes of the old hierarchy and moved then into a more circular, flexible, and fluid management system that released the energy and spirit of our people.

The "how to be" leaders builds dispersed and diverse leadershipdistributing leadership to the outermost edges of the circle to unleash the power of shared responsibility. The leader build a work force, board, and staff that reflect the many faces of the community and environment, so that customers and constituents find themselves when they view this richly diverse organization of the future.

This "how to be" leader holds forth the vision of the organization's future in compelling ways that ignite the spark needed to build the inclusive enterprise. The leader mobilizes people around the mission of the organization, making it a powerful force in the uncertain times ahead. Mobilizing around mission generates a force that transforms the workplace into one in which workers and teams can express themselves in their work and find significance beyond the task, as they manage for the mission. Through a consistent focus on the mission, the "how to be" leader gives the disperse and diverse leaders of the enterprise a clear sense of direction and the opportunity to find meaning in their work.

The "how to be" leader knows that listening to the customer and learning what he or she values"digging in the field"will be a critical component, even more so in the future than today. Global and local competition will only accelerate, and the to focus on what the customer values will grow stronger.

Everyone will watch tomorrow's leader, as we watch today's, to see if the business practices of the organization are consistent with the principles espoused by the leader. In all interactions, from the smallest to the largest, the behavior of the "how to be" leader will demonstrate a belief in the worth and dignity of the men and women who make up the enterprise.

Key to the societal significance of tomorrow's leaders is the way they embrace the totality of leadership, not just including "my organization" but reaching beyond the walls as well. The "how to be" leader, whether he or she is working in the private, public, or social sector, recognizes the significance of the lives of the men and women who make up the enterprise, the value of a workplace that nurtures the people who performance is essential to furthering the mission, and the necessity of a healthy community to the success of an organization. The wise leader embraces all those concerned in a circle that surrounds the corporation, the organization, the people, the leadership, and the community.

The challenges presented from outside the walls will require as much attention, commitment, and energy as the most pressing tasks within. Leaders of the future will say, "This is intolerable," as they look at the schools, at the health of children who will make up the future workforce, at inadequate preparation for life and work in too many families, at people losing trust in their institutions. The new leaders will build the healthy community as energetically as they build the healthy, productive enterprise, knowing that the high-performance organization cannot exist if it fails its people in an ailing community.

Today's concern about a lack of workers' loyalty to the corporation and a corresponding lack of corporations' loyalty to the workforce are sending a clear message to the leaders of tomorrow. The pit bulls of the marketplace may find that their slash-and-crunch and hang-on-till-death philosophies are as dead as the spirits of their troops. In the end, as organizations reduce their workforces, will it be the leader of a dispirited, demoralized workforce who leads the pack or will it be the new leader, guiding from vision, principle, and values, who builds trust and releases the energy and creativity of the workforce?

The great observers are not forecasting good times, but in the very hazards that lie ahead for leaders, remarkable opportunities exist for those who would lead their enterprises and this country into a new kind of community-a cohesive community of healthy children, strong families, good schools, decent neighborhoods, and work that dignifies. It is in this arena that leaders with new mind-sets and visions will forge new relationships, crossing all three sectors to build partnerships and community. This will take a different breed (or the old breed sloughing off the tired, go-it-alone approach), made up of leaders who dare to see life and community whole, who view work as an amazing opportunity to express everything within that gives passion and light to living, and who have the courage to lead from the front on the issues, principles, vision, and mission that become the star to steer by. Leaders of the future can only speculate on the tangibles that will define the challenges that lie ahead. But the intangibles, the leadership qualities required, are as constant as the North Star. They are expressed in the character, the power within, and the "how to be" of leaders beyond the millennium.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Leadership Over Fear

Terrible, terrible news. I think we have all seen what happened, last night, in Las Vegas. Hopefully you have been able to contact anyone you may know in the area. Being that the news is so fresh, I do not have any editorial comments to add. I simply feel sick to my stomach. Yesterday, I had planned to post a certain article, for today's blog post. Based on the title, alone, I think it is still appropriate to post that article.

The article is titled, "Leadership Over Fear." And, it was written by John Edwin Mroz. Here is the article, in its entirety:

President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the national despair of the Great Depression was simple and direct: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Today, much of the world lives in fear. Many tens of millions of young people around the world fear they will never secure a job. Increasing numbers of people, including many in the middle class, fear the destruction of their way of life due to global warming, or the powerful and unwelcome influences of globalization. Others fear that the so-called “clash of civilizations” between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds will become an inevitability. Ever-increasing terrorism around the globe, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and a renewed fear of global pandemics have added new uncertainties about our safety. Fear breeds a search for simple truths, which in turn contributes to intolerance, alienation, and extremism. This problem is a global phenomenon. A world increasingly devoid of hope and trust is an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable one.

Peter Drucker reminded us a decade ago that the world had entered a prolonged period of profound change every bit as dramatic and turbulent as that ushering in the Industrial Revolution. Since 9/11, we have had to deal with an additional layer of unexpected complexity and uncertainty. Our world is an extremely unpredictable place in which asymmetric threats make it difficult for governments to guarantee the safety of their citizens and the well-being of their economies.

Franklin Roosevelt boldly attacked the hopelessness of his nation in his first inaugural address, when he declared “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” FDR convinced the despairing victims of the Great Depression that the only way to gain control of their lives was to overcome fear. He challenged the American people to move beyond their fears and inspired them to take those seemingly impossible first steps forward, thus rekindling the spirit and strength of the nation. In short, he led.

While tens of millions of Americans crowded around their radios, the new president, in one mighty stroke, empowered the populace to take risks and believe again that their lives could and would get better. Millions of self-appointed citizen-leaders rose to FDR’s challenge. As that first wave of risk-takers stepped forward, the nation pulled itself out of its deepest abyss since its Civil War some seventy years before. The willingness of one leader to stare down fear worked because he was able to challenge countless would-be leaders across the nation to join him. And those leaders joined their president not only in overcoming the Great Depression but also in fighting and winning the world war that followed.

In today’s globalized world, top-down leadership by politicians and governments is simply not sufficient to cope with the challenges of keeping the global ship afloat in such turbulent waters. The public sector must partner with businesses and the social sector in meeting these challenges. A key task is to identify, mobilize, and challenge naturally embedded leaders in our societies to stand up and lead in a world that is increasingly seen by its citizens as being adrift. There are four things we must do: first, natural leaders in a world of fear and change must step up and lead themselves. Second, such women and men must imagine the possibility of change. Third, they must seek out other natural leaders who, like themselves, have had enough of watching and are willing to assert themselves. Fourth, they must set a pace that fits the context.

I am heartened to know that this same pattern of empowering naturally embedded leaders to step forward and take the risks of leadership is alive and well around the world—even in places where fear is the norm and hope a fleeting dream. For example, six years ago in the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia, the EastWest Institute, an independent and privately supported international “think and action tank,” recruited a dozen and a half women and men to try to do something that governments and experts said could not be done. Following years of bloody killing based on religious and ethnic lines, families living in these border areas faced their own great depression with no possible hope of life getting better. Moreover, their hatred for families just a town away was intense. They could not forget memories of the wanton killing and destruction inflicted upon one another just a decade previously. Our team of women and men had a single common mission: to mobilize citizens in these war-ravaged regions to work together across borders to build trust and help local communities begin the painful journey of exiting their world of poverty and hopelessness. To accomplish this goal would require our leaders to help build bridges over many years’ growth of deep-rooted fears, and to inspire people to themselves become leaders within their communities. What they accomplished during the past six years is well-known to the local populations and to governments all over Europe. It’s a story of enormous hope and testimony.

As extraordinary as I think each one of my colleagues is as a human being and a leader, they are “ordinary” women and men. One had no university education; another was a young mother of two small children living in a town where some of the heaviest fighting took place. The first was a Christian, the second a Muslim. Others came from other tough parts of the Balkans, with a few from European countries or the United States. All were driven by a personal commitment to do something larger than themselves. Most of these leaders took on serious personal risks, from the real possibility of becoming alienated from their own communities to endangering their personal safety—all as they worked to build bridges of trust between the two sides. Leaving their war-torn communities was unthinkable. They were men and women who had had enough and were ready to fight fear by taking the risks of going where others feared to go.

I sat with twelve of these brave leaders recently in a remote village hall that billed itself as a restaurant. As the evening progressed, I asked each to explain exactly how they had succeeded in bringing together communities devoid of hope and trust. I told them I thought the key must have been their ability to find others like themselves who shared a common vision for a future of peace. They respectfully begged to differ. They reminded me that for the longest time, no one in any of their communities would speak of peace or a common vision. Everyone believed that more violence was imminent.

Their initial success came in finding individual men and women within their communities who, like themselves, had come to the conclusion that the only way out of the quagmire of poverty and isolation was to try to find somebody—anybody—who also was tired of this hopelessness and wanted change. A tough initial hurdle was persuading communities to trust that the sponsors of this cross-border work were truly committed to impartiality and had no hidden agendas. Would we not take sides when the chips were down? Our leaders in the field and the EastWest Institute itself were tested once again.

The story of how our leaders were able to inspire everyday people to face down their own very real fears and to take leadership roles within their communities is instructive no matter what kind of organization you lead. The smallest incremental steps taken by the local populace became their building blocks to larger initiatives. Because they listened and continued to talk about and probe their most basic common interests, barriers continued to fall. When one previously hostile man proposed that he might let his son play in a sporting event for younger children with boys of a neighboring village of a different religious belief, our team on both sides of that border decided to try to organize a soccer match for younger children. Many months later it happened, although most families escorted their children to the playing field with weapons at their side. Several games later, they came without arms. Eventually they would bring food from home and share a community table after the match.

The initial risks people were willing to take were ones based on plain old self-interest. Could we together find the source of a polluted stream that was tainting drinking water for families on both sides of the border? Could children be given a normal experience of playing sports with other children? Success came by having our staff locally based and of the community; by not rushing; and by being fiercely independent as a sponsoring institution, remaining outside of the politics and focusing solely on the bottom line— improvement of the human condition. In the end, our teams were able to accomplish things no one dreamed possible in three difficult areas of the former Yugoslavia. Their inner drive and sense of purpose at first was tolerated, then came to be respected and even embraced by a growing number in the communities they served.

As I listened to their passionate discourse that evening, I thought about how diverse these leaders and their backgrounds were. In most cases, their success was due not to their particular educational backgrounds or special training, nor to their nationality, religion, family status and upbringing, age, or gender. It seems the only thing that really mattered was that these leaders shared innate leadership strengths springing from a fierce inner drive to face down fear and be part of a force for change that was larger than themselves. This resonated in others who stepped forward, every bit as much leaders as the initiators.

I asked our team of leaders whether their experience had taught them lessons that could be applied elsewhere—perhaps to how we in the West could do better in bridging the growing divide between Muslims and non-Muslims globally. Their enthusiasm then went to an even higher level, and the ideas started spilling forth. At the core was a baseline of shared values, especially a desire for fairness and integrity in others. I wondered what would have happened if we in the Institute had not decided to face our own fears and undertake the seemingly impossible task of cross-border work in the Balkans. In what kind of world would these women and men have found themselves? I thought of how comfortable President Roosevelt would have been at the table that evening some seventy years after he spoke his words that inspired so many.

Leaders willing to take risks to overcome fear are all around us. Therein lies our hope for dealing with the seemingly overwhelming challenges on our planet in this twenty-first century. A key leadership challenge today is how to mobilize sufficient numbers of these naturally embedded leaders across the divides that breed fear and extremism and threaten our future and that of our children. It all starts with our willingness to face up to our own fears, stare them down, and find the emerging natural leader within each of us.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Not Invented Here

People tend to have a bias against ideas they did not come up with. It commonly referred to as the not-invented-here bias. This bias causes problems for both individuals and for businesses.

Referring to the not-invented-here bias, Drucker said it is, "the arrogance that leads a company, or an industry, to believe that something new cannot be any good unless they themselves thought of it. And so the new invention is spurned, as was the transistor by the American electronics manufacturers."

This is a really important idea, which I hope to demonstrate by giving you a countervailing example. One person who seems to not have suffered from this bias was Steve Jobs. For example, upon seeing the device, Jobs immediately adopted the mouse from the Xerox research center.

This idea, of people resisting ideas they did not come up with, occurred to me last week as I was writing that little note about facing our demons

As I am sure you already know, this world is vast and complex. And, I am of the mind we cannot figure it all out on our own. This is where the not-invented-here bias can become a very big problem. Trying to figure out our challenges, by ourselves, can lead to some very real problems.

When we do not reach out, for help, it can feel like we are all alone. It can feel like we are the only ones dealing with any given difficulty. And, that feeling can compound the problem by making us feel broken or defective.

I really like reading books and researching various topics. And, one thing that always amazes (and humbles) me is how few things have not already been considered by other people. Meaning, off the top of my head, I cannot think of one problem which nobody is yet working on.

I believe, in a lot of ways, creative people are struggling against this very bias. Coming up with an original idea can be very enjoyable. It can also be extremely frustrating. I am certainly not against creation. What I am saying is, when you are facing difficulties, know that you are not alone.

I like bringing in the example of Steve Jobs. Because, we all know who he is, and we all know how successful his company has been. I can only imagine Apple's future had they suffered from this insidious bias.

If you not familiar with that story, about the computer mouse, click here and watch a short clip on YouTube. Admittedly, there is a fine line between borrowing and stealing. Do NOT steal. But, do borrow your ass off! It matters.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Face Your Demons

Most of use spend our lives running from ourselves. If you do, I believe, you will one day discover, there is no place to run.

This is a big part of why I love sales and entrepreneurship. Because, to succeed, you really have to face those demons!

What are the demons? Stay tuned. We talk about them all the time.

What are you running from?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Digital Minimalism

I tend to be a fan of Cal Newport. Professor Newport teaches computer science at Georgetown University. Among others, he has written an important book, titled So Good They Can't Ignore You, that I think you should read.

Newport is a big proponent of what he calls "Digital Minimalism." A main component of this idea is the fact that humans are easily seduced by technology. We participate is various new technologies because they are neat or cool.

We seldom scrutinize whether, or not, these technologies are necessary. Meaning, we do not consider whether the new technologies contribute anything important to our lives.

Cal recommends we stay aware of this natural tendency so that we may keep from overloading our lives with banality. Here is a great article Newport wrote titled "On Digital Minimalism":

The Curmudgeonly Optimist

People are sometimes confused about my personal relationship with digital communication technologies.

On the one hand, I’m a computer scientist who studies and improves these tools. As you might therefore expect, I’m incredibly optimistic about the role of computing and networks in our future.

On the other hand, as a writer I’m often pointing out my dissatisfaction with certain developments of the Internet Era. I’m critical, for example, of our culture’s increasingly Orwellian allegiance to social media and am indifferent to my smartphone.

Recently, I’ve been trying to clarify the underlying philosophy that informs how I think about the role of these technologies in our personal lives (their role in the world of work is a distinct issue that I've already written quite a bit about). My thinking in this direction is still early, but I decided it might be a useful exercise to share some tentative thoughts, many of which seem to be orbiting a concept that I’ve taken to calling digital minimalism.

The Minimalism Movement

To understand what I mean by digital minimalism it’s important to first understand the existing community from which it takes its name.

The modern minimalism movement is led by a loose collection of bloggers, podcasters, and writers who advocate a simpler life in which you focus on a small number of things that return the most meaning and value — often at the expense of many activities and items we’re told we’re supposed to crave.

Minimalists tend to spend much less money and own many fewer things than their peers. They also tend to be much more intentional and often quite radical in shaping their lives around things that matter to them.

Here's how my friends Joshua and Ryan (aka, The Minimalists) describe the movement:
Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

These ideas, of course, are not new. The minimalism movement can be directly connected to similar ideals in many other periods, from the voluntary simplicity trend of the 1970s to Thoreau. But what is new is their embrace of tools like blogs that help them reach vast audiences.

I first encountered this movement through Leo Babuta’s Zen Habits blog about a decade ago. This was the early days of Study Hacks and these sources soon played a major role in transforming my writing and speaking during this period. Most notably, they shifted my attention away from the technical aspects of studying and toward the philosophical aspects of creating a meaningful student experience (the Zen Valedictorian, for example, owes an obvious debt to Zen Habits).

It occurred to me recently, when I was pondering my philosophy on technology, that my thinking continues to be influenced by minimalism. I am, I realized, perhaps usefully described as an advocate for a new but urgently relevant branch of this philosophy — a branch focused on the proper role of digital communication technologies in our increasingly noisy lives.

Digital Minimalism

Adapting some of the above language from Joshua and Ryan, I loosely define digital minimalism as follows:
Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

To be a digital minimalist, in other words, means you accept the idea that new communication technologies have the potential to massively improve your life, but also recognize that realizing this potential is hard work.

Here's a preliminary list of some core principles of digital minimalism...

Missing out is not negative. Many digital maximalists, who spend their days immersed in a dreary slog of apps and clicks, justify their behavior by listing all of the potential benefits they would miss if they began culling services from their life. I don’t buy this argument. There’s an infinite selection of activities in the world that might bring some value. If you insist on labeling every activity avoided as value lost, then no matter how frantically you fill your time, it’s unavoidable that the final tally of your daily experience will be infinitely negative. It’s more sensical to instead measure the value gained by the activities you do embrace and then attempt to maximize this positive value.

Less can be more. A natural consequence of the preceding principle is that you should avoid wasting your limited time and attention on low-value online activities, and instead focus on the much smaller number of activities that return the most value for your life. This is a basic 80/20 analysis: doing less, but focusing on higher quality, can generate more total value.

Start from first principles. Digital maximalists tend to accept any online activity that conceivably offers some value. As most such activities can offer you something (few people would write an app or launch a web site with no obvious purpose) this filter is essentially meaningless. A more productive approach is to start by identifying the principles that you as a human find most important—the foundation on which you hope to build a good life. Once identified, you can use these principles as a more effective filter by asking the following question of a given activity: will this add significant value to something I find to be significantly important to my life?

The best is different than the rest. Assume a given online activity generates a positive response to the question from the preceding principle. This is not enough. You should then follow up by asking: is this activity “the best” way to add value to this area of my life? For a given core principle, there may be many activities that can offer some relevant value, but you should focus on finding the small number of activities that offer the most such value. The difference between the “best” and “good enough” in this context can be significant. For example, someone recently told me that she uses Twitter because she values being exposed to diverse news sources (she cited, in particular, how major newspapers were ignoring aspects of the Dakota pipeline protests). I don’t doubt that Twitter can help support this important principle of being informed, but is a Twitter feed really the best use of all the Internet has to offer to achieve this goal?

Digital clutter is stressful. The traditional minimalists correctly noted that living among lots of physical clutter is stressful. The same is true of your online life. Incessant clicking and scrolling generates a background hum of anxiety. Drastically reducing the number of thing you do in your digital life can by itself have a significant calming impact. This value should not be underestimated.

Attention is scarce and fragile. You have a finite amount of attention to expend each day. If aimed carefully, your attention can bring you great meaning and satisfaction. At the same time, however, hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested into companies whose sole purpose is to hijack as much of your attention as possible and push it toward targets optimized to create value for a small number of people in Northern California. This is scary and demands diligence on your part. As I’ve written before, this is my main concern with large attention economy conglomerates like Twitter and Facebook: it’s not that they’re worthless, but instead it’s the fact that they’re engineered to be as addictive as possible.

Many of the best uses of the online world support better living offline. We’re not evolved for digital life, which is why binges of online activities often leave us in a confused state of strung out exhaustion. This explains why many of the highest return online activities are those that take advantage of the Internet to improve important aspects of your offline life. Digital networks, for example, can help you find or form a community that resonates with you, but the real value often comes when you put down your phone and go out and engage with this new community IRL.

Be wary of tools that solve a problem that didn’t exist before the tool. GPS helped solve a problem that existed for a long time before it came along (how do I get where I want to go?), so did Google (how do I find this piece of information I need?). Snapchat, by contrast, did not. Be wary of tools in this latter category as they tend to exist mainly to create addictive new behaviors that support ad sales.

Activity trumps passivity. Humans, deep down, are craftsmen. We find great satisfaction in creating something valuable that didn’t exist before. Some of the most fulfilling online activities, therefore, are those that involve you creating things, as oppose to simply consuming. I’m yet to meet someone who feels exhilarated after an evening of trawling clickbait, yet I know many who do feel that way after committing a key module to an open source repository.

The above list, and much of the thinking behind it, is still tentative. I should also emphasize again that it applies almost exclusively to the role of digital technology in your personal life, and is largely distinct from my thinking about how to integrate technologies productively in the professional sphere.

But there’s something coherent lurking in the background here that I will continue to work through.

Digital minimalism, for example, has helped me better understand some of the decisions I’ve made in my own online life (such as my embrace of blogging and rejection of major social media platforms), while at the same time challenging me with areas where I could be leveraging new technologies to even better support some of my core principles. In other words, like any productive philosophy, it gives me both clarity and homework.

The bottom line of this general thinking is that a simple, carefully curated, minimalist digital life is not a rejection of technology or a reactionary act of skepticism; it is, by contrast, an embrace of the immense value these new tools can offer…if we’re willing to do the hard work of figuring out how to best leverage them on behalf of the things we truly care about.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Genius of Being a Baby

Last week I wrote a post about Shoshin or Beginner's Mind. The idea is to maintain a child-like openness, and humility, towards ideas and knowledge.

This week I wanted to remind myself about the importance of baby steps. Because, let's be honest, the main reason I write this blog is to cement ideas in my own brain.

Like I said, last week, us adults have a tendency to turn our back on all things childish. We tend to prefer affecting an air of maturity and sophistication.

Of course, the paradoxical truth is that, often, the most sophisticated thing we can do is to avoid sophistication. 

This led me to reflect on the genius of being a baby. In particular, I was thinking about the critical importance of baby steps. And, closely connected to baby steps is the concept of small wins.

I think a big part of the problem is television/internet. When we see expert performance, on TV or online, it is understandable to assume the person has some natural ability. We do not see the countless baby steps they took.

Now, not all of us are interested in expert performance. Which is certainty fine. However, all of us, at some point in our lives, will experience real challenges and problems.

From marital problems, to addiction, to injustice, and beyond, the world is full of very real and very thorny problems. When dealing with hard problems we really need to remember the genius of baby steps and small wins.

Karl Weick is a professor at the University of Michigan. And, many years ago, he wrote an article titled "Small Wins." As Weick explains, one of the main reason to focus on small wins is to keep from becoming overwhelmed.

Weick said, "When the magnitude of problems is scaled upward in the interest of mobilizing action, the quality of thought and action declines, because processes such as frustration, arousal, and helplessness are activated."

What a pisser! What a conundrum!

What the professor is saying is there exists a tug-of-war between motivation and deflation. On the one hand, we might use the size of a problem to rally our energies. However, that same energy can easily grow too big and become overwhelming.

Enter the genius of small wins and baby steps. Colloquially, we have cliches like the idea that the journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step. Or, eating an elephant one bite at a time. Or the saying, "Inch by inch is a cinch. Yard by yard is hard."

There are many ways to remember the importance of baby steps. For me, instead of running from our child-like qualities, I think it is wise to embrace them. How about you? How do you view small wins?