Raising Chicago by 10 feet

Most cities have an incline that leads sewage and rainwater to rivers and seas. However, Chicago was absolutely flat and non porous. So, in the 1850s, the biggest contributors to cleanliness were pigs. Thus, regular epidemics were the norm. But, waste and disease were not connected in the minds of regulators and would not become conventional wisdom until another decade.

Finally, in 1855, the Chicago board of sewerage was created and Ellis Chesbrough was selected to be the chief engineer. After a visit to Europe to study sewers, he came up with a grand plan to raise Chicago by 10 feet. So, Chesbrough and team used jack screws (image below) to raise Chicago’s buildings by 10 feet (!) without interrupting people people’s daily lives. They moved buildings and houses as necessary and created a sewer system below – an incredible feat of engineering. Many cities followed this.

In time, this led to cities having a world underground – including trains and high speed internet.

The biggest victory, temporarily, was drinking water. The waste, however, went into Lake Michigan’s water. Thus, the drinking water supply became contaminated and disease rates went up again. More on what happened next week..

The subscriber would like to announce that he is ready to make contracts for raising building blocks to grade, and all other operations pertaining to the removal or raising of buildings of wood, brick or stone, of any size, to any desired height or distance. – Ad in the Chicago Tribune – Raising Chicago (Wikipedia)

Source: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

20 dollars to 500 dollars

I took a quick glance at options for a simple piece of furniture. And, the range of options was between 20 dollars (Ikea – in case you were wondering) and 500 dollars. I’m sure there’s a hidden 10,000 dollar option made of gold somewhere, too.

That range takes into consideration all kinds of preferences – price, look, feel, ease of maintenance, etc. It is up to you to pick what works for you.

My sense is that happiness works just the same way. Every situation we experience can inspire a range of reactions and responses. These reactions and responses vary depending on our default make up – our character, maturity, expectations and perspective. If we are repeatedly walking away from situations with responses that aren’t ideal, all we need to do is change that default setting.

As always, it is our choice.

Learning something you don’t know yet

Learning something you don’t know yet requires you to be willing to do something you haven’t done yet.

Learning something new means flexing a muscle we have never flexed. If you’ve attempted lifting weights the first few times, you know how painful that process is. The tough second step is building a practice routine and sticking to it. And, if that wasn’t enough, we also need to be reflective through the process and keep adjusting the above processes to get better results.

Finally, there is a direct connection between how valuable the skill is and how difficult the process is.

So, most folk start courses and training regimes and quit. If only it were easier and if only it could be done quicker…

This has 2 implications. First, if you are a coach or someone designing online learning material, create a barrier to entry. The trouble with most online learning is that they attempt to make content easily accessible. Content, contrary to what we might think, isn’t the hardest problem to solve. Motivation and commitment is.

Second, if you looking to learn something new, start with asking yourself a question – am I willing to make a 3 year connection to this learning journey? If the question doesn’t inspire excitement, spare yourself the trouble and quit. Instead, direct your energy to finding something you’d like to learn that will make the answer to that question a resounding yes.

Right things and things right

We always have a choice between doing the right things and doing things right. That is the difference between:

Leadership and Management

Effectiveness and Efficiency

Focus and Intensity or Focus as a verb and Focus as a noun

And several such ideas that are all just different ways of describing the difference.

The reason we talk about this difference is because, when push comes to shove, we often defer to optimizing doing things right because it is harder to pick the right things to do.

In many ways, it is a false choice. A false choice is the kind of choice where the answer is replacing the “or” with the “and.” We need management AND leadership, effectiveness AND efficiency and so on. We should be habitually focused on being able to do both.

But, when in doubt, our default setting needs to focus on the right things. In the spirit of Peter Drucker, there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that shouldn’t be done at all.


Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power, which distinguishes bullying from conflict.

When you first hear such definitions, it doesn’t sound like it might apply to you. It didn’t to me. Until it did.

Bullying is more common than we think and happens more often than we realize. And, sadly, it spreads across generations because victims of bullying regularly become bullies themselves.

It is natural to think of extreme cases of physical and mental abuse when we think of bullying. In reality, however, bullying could be a silent part of a relationship with a manager or co-worker as well. Its habitual nature normalizes it.

The biggest sources of bullying are cultures where artificial hierarchies are imposed. In essence, that is every culture. Some cultures revere age, others revere masculinity and some others respect aggression, wealth and power.

The first and hardest step when you encounter bullying is to identify it. Once you do identify it, the next step is to walk away. Bullying arises from extreme insecurity and, as a result, it is very hard for a bully to change. Sometimes, extreme circumstances (e.g. being found out in public) can force change. But, not always.

A simple rule – if you find yourself in a relationship that has you feeling inadequate more often than not, walk away. Or, get help.

Question behind the question

Listening to the person on the other side of the table and answering the question they asked is a good first step.

But, it is only a first step.

When we take a moment to listen and understand where they’re coming from, we hear the question behind the question. That’s when we get a real understanding of their thought process, their motives and concerns.

Answering the question behind the question is how we make progress.

Direction, Outcomes, Processes

The most important goal setting tool is direction. We might get goals and processes wrong but we always want to be moving in the right direction. When in doubt, over index on getting direction right. For example, “I want to get fitter” or “We need to acquire more paying customers” or “I want to get smarter about 3D printing” are all directions.

Next, have a rough sense of what a good outcome looks like. Take the time to describe it in some detail. So, “I want to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks” or “We need 100 paying customers by the end of the month” are outcome goals.

Finally, create a process which you think will help achieve the outcome while staying in the right direction. The process is where you’ll spend your time every day. So, create one that suits your style. Taking the fitness example, you’ll need a fitness regime that is proven to lose weight while also making sure it is something you can do.

As you work through your process, keep checking in on the outcome to tweak your process as necessary. But, be flexible on the outcome while keeping focused on getting direction right. You may realize mid-way that you didn’t set the right outcome goal. For example, maybe 10 pounds in 2 weeks wasn’t a smart target. But, “getting fitter” still is likely the right direction.

And, finally, an overlooked part of a great process – complete acceptance of the outcome. There is no guarantee that the outcome you want will be the outcome you get.

But, in the long run, good processes and good outcomes go together. And, besides, in the really long run, being in the right direction matters more than everything else anyway.

Gym goer motivations and Doug Conant

Professors Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fischback from the University of Chicago tested whether gym goers were more motivated by the workout process or workout results. The found that gym goers depended on extrinsic motivation (or the outcomes of a good work out) when they were planning to go the gym.

However, during the workout, intrinsic portions – i.e. how it felt at the moment, were more motivating.

This is one of the reasons why we are extremely poor at predicting our happiness at a future job. We greatly overestimate the power of extrinsic motivators like salary, bonuses and status when we are searching for a job and don’t look enough at the stuff that will make us happy when we get there. These typically include a great manager/team, learning and an environment with goodwill.

Doug Conant of Campbell Soup wrote 30,000 thank you letters in his time as CEO. They had a wonderful, positive effect on the organization. And, it is likely that employees of felt more rewarded by such gestures than extrinsic motivators.

When designing work environments, it is worth remembering that our deepest motivator is our connection to others. As Viktor Frankl said, our salvation lies with love and through love. – Dan Ariely (paraphrased)

Source: Payoff by Dan Ariely, The Intrinsic Motivation study

Waiting for blockbuster moments

It is human nature to wait for blockbuster moments. The next blockbuster moment is, as a rule, a few weeks or months away.

Life will get significantly better, we tell ourselves, after that next thing.

But, it never does – at least not in the way we imagine. The worries, problems and obstacles of today are simply replaced by those of tomorrow. So, in a way, waiting for such moments is a recipe for unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

The truth, it turns out, is that blockbuster moments are everywhere. They are in the small moments of delirious laughter, of hugging a loved one and of choosing to share our work. They co-exist beautifully with our worries or and problems.

The crux of spotting these moments is realizing that life isn’t an exercise of postponing or avoiding difficulty. It is learning to dance with it.

So, if you find yourself waiting for a blockbuster moment, remind yourself that opportunities to experience such moments are all around us. There’s no need to wait.

Switch off the feedback for a day

Here’s a way to do better work. Switch off the feedback for at least a day after you ship.

That space will enable you to get started on the next thing. By the time you start seeing the feedback, you’ll have put your previous work in perspective as well. And, in time, the practice of not seeking feedback and validation for everything you do will enable you to ship more.

All time spent seeking validation is time wasted. The work is done and you don’t control the rest. So, it is best to use the positive momentum from having finished something to start the next thing in earnest.

We generally have to do more before we can do better. After all, with deliberate effort, more will give us the experience and judgment to ship better.