Friday connect-the-dots time

Here’s an idea for today/Friday. Take 10 mins – or maybe 30 – today and just invest in connecting the dots for yourself or others.

What does connecting the dots even mean? We are, for the most part, working in places that are matrixed and cross-functional while dealing with problems that are multi-faceted. So, you can think “dots” as the people in these places or ideas that constitute the many facets of the problems we face.

Here are some examples –

People: Find time to get to know two colleagues you work with personally, block an hour to have a get-to-know conversation with your manager (under the pretext of career development if needed), or organize a lunch or activity for your team.

Ideas: Take the time to delve into a hard problem, map out your development goals, start a monthly internal newsletter sharing insights from your customer conversations, or interview someone who is either insightful or productive.

Start with a small idea today. Then, rinse and repeat next week and the week after until connect-the-dots time is a fixture on your calendar.

Every one of our workplaces and jobs thrives on connection – between people and ideas. These connections make workplaces more collaborative, productive, and smart. While it might seem like we’re spending time on “extra-curriculars,” it is the unsaid bullet in all our job descriptions.

And, tiny, consistent investments in making these connections can transform our outputs and outcomes.

Life and segmentation

Our final “Intro to Marketing” class in graduate school aimed to condense some of the most important insights from the class and apply it to our lives. To that end, our Professor re-shared a simple definition of segmentation – “Your ideal segment is one that loves what is good about you and doesn’t mind what is bad about you.”

He went on to explain that the quality of the most important choices we make – finding a spouse, a job, friends, managers – comes down to our ability to understand this truth.

This remains one of the more powerful insights I took away from studying marketing. We’ve all been in environments where we can bring 100% of ourselves. In such places and around such people, we’re appreciated for who we are and not dinged for who we are not. Being in environments that do the opposite can grate on a day-to-day basis.

The natural response to such environments (or people) is a feeling of inadequacy and a desire to change who we are. Roughly half the time, that feeling of inadequacy is well placed. We do need to change, to evolve, and to become better versions of ourselves. What got us here won’t get us there.

However, on the flipside, when this happens, it is also worth exploring if the environment and the people in it are our segment. Sometimes, it just means we need to do a bit more research and exploration to find the right segment.

PS: Applies to building products too.

The worry triple whammy

Worry is focused on what we don’t control. If it weren’t, we’d presumably just go ahead and do something about it.

Now, any time wasted on what we don’t control takes away from focusing on what we actually do.

That, then, is why worry serves up a triple whammy. It messes with our minds and productivity, negatively impacts our health, and wastes our time.

There’s a lot of value to be gained by learning to deal with and, ideally, banish worry from our lives. And, the first step to doing so is understanding why its presence should not be tolerated.

Sharing user manuals – a team building activity

At a recent team offsite, we tested a new activity – sharing user manuals. Every member of the team created a 1-2 page user manual with some or all of the following sections (these were just a guideline)-

  1. My working style
  2. What I value
  3. What I don’t have patience for
  4. How to best communicate with me
  5. What I am trying to improve / how to help me
  6. What people misunderstand about me
  7. Anything else that’s important to know about me

We then spent time going through each person’s user manual, listening to the “why” behind some of their notes, and sharing our observations.

I came away with a few reflections. First, I came away feeling inspired to refresh my own user manual after what I’d heard. Everyone had their unique spin and some notes were very useful. For example, I hadn’t shared “what people misunderstand about me” and felt that was particularly useful.

Second, I came away with a lot of appreciation for everyone’s self awareness and the team’s shared values. It helped us all understand each other and that understanding is key to trust.

This activity is a keeper.

PS: The article we used as inspiration was an article on user manuals from Quartz.

The racket or the net

When teaching the serve, great tennis coaches know to check for where their players look as they serve.

Beginner players inevitably look at the net as they want to get their serve over it. But, these players only conquer the serve when they learn to look at where their racket makes contact with the ball.

Every beginner thus learns that the best way to influence the outcome of a stroke is to focus intensely on doing justice to that moment of contact. They’ll need to read the situation quickly, set themselves up for the stroke, hit it, and follow through. The quality of that process will determine the quality of the eventual outcome.

The question for us, then, – as we start our weeks with a list of the outcomes we want to influence, are we focused on the racket or the net?

Decisions and culture

As parents, we make many decisions on behalf of our children. We were feeling particularly stuck about a schooling decision recently.

As part of our process, we decided to pause on attempting to make the decision and solve for a different question – what shared culture did we want to create? After a bit of deliberation, we aligned on a first draft with 3 words/phrases – “hungry,” “thoughtful,” and “learning-focused.”

Hungry implies having the drive and desire to make the world better. The thoughtfulness and a focus on learning, on the other hand, hopefully balance that desire and make the journey a happy one. Aligning on this simplified our decision making – we didn’t believe this choice would help with the “hunger.”

We are still new to this and are figuring our way through. But, the lesson from this decision was to take the time to define the culture we wanted to create before we attempted to make what felt like the “right” decision.

It holds true for organizations, for families, and for ourselves.

Profitable, difficult, or important?

This weekend, I’m reflecting on a vintage Seth Godin blog post from this week – profitable, difficult, or important? I hope you take the time to go read it.

Seth talks about two talked about trillion dollar companies – Apple and Amazon – who’ve each gotten to where they are by doing work that is “profitable” and “difficult” respectively. They made a choice, stated a promise, and kept it. It is commendable.

He then goes on to make a powerful point about “important” work.

“But the most daring and generous, those that are often overlooked and never hit a trillion dollars in the stock market, are left to do the important work. The work of helping others be seen, or building safe spaces. The work of creating opportunity or teaching and modelling new ways forward. The work of changing things for the better.

Changing things for the better is rarely applauded by Wall Street, but Wall Street might not be the point of your work. It might simply be to do work you’re proud of, to contribute, and to leave things a little better than you found them.”

I’ve observed that very few careers combine profitable, difficult, and important. The best most get to is a combination of two of them.

And, it is on us to work toward the combination that fits how we will measure our lives.