All the noise

There’s all this noise. The news, the chatter about others we know, the chatter from others we know, the plaudits about the movers and shakers of the day, and everything else that we think we need to keep up with.

The default setting for the noise in our lives at this time is “on.” And, it is easy to forget that none of it matters unless we earn our livelihood by writing about the noise.

For most of the rest of us, all that counts is just what we do with what we control and how thoughtfully we do it.

The more time we can spend with the noise turned off, the more we’ll ship, the better we’ll get at shipping what we want to ship, and, if we’re thoughtful about it, we might learn a thing or two about living these days better.

So, let’s put those proverbial headphones and get to work.

Flossing and the power of great product design

Most of us know flossing is good for us. Getting to the area between our teeth is impossible with toothbrushes. Floss helps us with that. It makes sense. And, yet, I hated the idea of flossing. The traditional approach to flossing involved an elaborate dance with my fingers and I ended up finding excuses on most nights.

Then, I read about Listerine’s flosser and decided to give it a spin. Listerine ensured the product was designed with a handle and replaceable heads. It sounded great. And, it was.

One of the top reviews on the Amazon page of this product was “Habit forming.” I couldn’t agree more – that is what this did for me too.

This flosser, thus, has become a daily reminder of what great product design looks like. By virtue of thoughtful product design, it makes it easy for users to form a habit to do something that they both want to do and is good for them. It is exactly what the best products do.

Learn from the flosser, we can.

Resilient and antifragile

I’ve been mulling one of Nassim Taleb’s notes over the past couple of days – the difference between being resilient vs. antifragile. In his words –

“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love, adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”

This distinction between resilient and antifragility has broad applications – in systems, businesses, teams, and even in our lives. It gets to the heart of the “why” behind being obsessive about reflecting about our own experiences and ensuring we are learning from them (as painful as that process might be in the short term).

The goal of all learning is to change what and how we do things. And, while our mental strength may ensure we are resilient, our ability to continuously learn and adapt is what enables us to go from resilient to antifragile.

PS: I am a relatively late entrant to the Nassim Taleb fan club. But, as I get to half way mark of his book “Skin in the Game,” I find myself committed to make up for all the lost time.

Entertainment on the cheap

I hung out with my daughter for about an hour today while she happily ran up and down carpeted stairs. We conversed a bit, sang a bit, and mostly just went up and down those stairs. Times like this are a great reminder that there’s so much entertainment available on the cheap.

As we journey through life, we get exposed to many forms of expensive entertainment – fancy gadgets, expensive sports, and so on. And, while many of these are great, it is easy to forget how little it actually takes for us to have a good time.

As I was taught this morning, a combination of some physical activity, outdoors or a bit of novelty in the location (in this case, carpeted stairs), and folks you like hanging out with is all it takes for a good time.

I wish you plenty of that over the weekend. :-)

Explaining problems better

Here are 5 questions I’ve been thinking about a lot as I seek to explain problems better (no shortage of ongoing issues :-))-

1. What is the problem?

2. Where does it lie?

3. Why does it exist?

4. What could we do about it?

5. What should we do about it?

I’ve been finding it helpful to just write out my answers to these questions and then rearrange them in some version of “Situation-Complication-Solution.”

The principle here is to do a better job separating the thinking process from the writing process. And, the first step to separating the thinking process is ensuring the thinking is done in the first place.

(H/T Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle for recommending these questions when approaching problem solving)

Xerox Parc

In 1969, the Chief Scientist at Xerox – then a rich and famous photocopier company – suggested that they ought to invest in a second research center away from headquarters. They chose Palo Alto and created Xerox Parc.

In the next decade, the scientists at Xerox Parc incubated, among other things, the first graphical user interface controlled by a mouse, graphics display, and text editor.

Of course, Xerox never ended up commercializing any of this as their executives never saw the potential of these inventions. So, many of the best researchers left to places like Apple Computer and ended up inventing the future.

Xerox Parc was a one off in many ways. It was and will likely remain among the most productive research facilities in the history of mankind (Bell Labs, perhaps, would be its only real competition). But, the retelling of this famous story doesn’t fail to inspire humility.  The executives at Xerox weren’t stupid – they were just not incentivized to recognize the potential of these breakthrough ideas. That could easily be you or me.

It also never fails to remind me of the importance of investing a small but consistent portion of resources – be it at work, in our financial investments, or in life – in research/exploratory projects with no immediate pay off.  Many of these don’t seem to pay off for the longest time.

Until they do.

The law of unattraction and problem solving

The law of attraction implies that when you really want something the universe conspires to make it happen. The law of unattraction (an ALearningaDay creation) offers the counter point – “The universe makes something happen when you have put in your best effort and are ready to walk away.” 

The law of unattraction was born out of personal experience. For the longest time, I used to struggle with pushing a result through to no avail resulting in plenty of frustration. And, often, just as I’d resolve to walk away or actually distance myself, it’d come through. Why waste time in all the angst and frustration then?

I’ve been thinking about the law of unattraction again of late and its applicability to problem solving. We don’t have breakthroughs-on-demand on problems we want solved. Instead, they pop up when we’re in the gym, in the shower, or on a walk. The key, then, is to identify the problems we want to solve and give ourselves enough space for our subconscious to do the work.

So, take those breaks in the middle of the day, go for walks, and disconnect from the email flow in the evening to create more space. If the law of attraction isn’t helping you often enough, create opportunities for the law of unattraction to work its magic.