Having fun with it

Life delivers a mix of major and minor setbacks through the course of our journey. For most people, major setbacks happen once every few years while minor setbacks happen all the time.

Major setbacks typically deal with the mortality of people dear to us, our health or difficulties in our relationships. For these kinds of setbacks, I think the fundamental choice we have on our hands is akin to the line from Timon in “The Lion King” – “You can either run from it… or learn from it.” 

But, this post isn’t about major setbacks.

It is about the many minor setbacks we deal with as part of our day-to-day. As I grow in my ability to separate stimulus and response and keep things in perspective, I realize there something incredibly powerful when you realize that you can choose to not just deal with setbacks but to have fun with them.

I had a minor setback recently when I found myself stuck for a few hours. After a night of sleep, I went through the following internal dialog –

“Okay, it is what it is. I can’t change the situation. It sucks.” (acceptance)

“But, in the big scheme of things, it isn’t that bad and could be much worse. In fact, there are many positives.” (perspective)

“Now, I’m going to have fun with it.” (response)

And, have fun with it I did.

For many years, I didn’t really understand the concept of “keeping good humor.” But, with a bit of perspective, I’ve realized that good humor isn’t far away. And, where there’s perspective and humor, there’s the ability to choose to have fun with it.

And, so we should.

How to: Make introductions and connect people

Every once a while, we find an opportunity to make an introduction and connect people. Someone we know (person 1) wants to talk to someone we’ve worked with or know personally (person 2). If done well, the offer to make a connection is an act of generosity and is a wonderful way to build a network.

But, this can also go wrong. The most common way this goes wrong is when person 2 isn’t interested in the connection or is far too busy to deal with a new, unexpected, introduction.

There is one simple principle that helps resolve this potential issue – always ask for permission. It doesn’t matter how well you know the people involved – it is always in your interest to ask for permission. Let’s play out the scenarios –

  • You know person 2 really well and they would be thrilled to help you. Asking for permission makes them feel even more respected and cared for.
  • You don’t know person 2 all that well, haven’t stayed in touch and don’t know what is going on in their lives at the current moment. Asking for permission ensures that you are taking their feelings into consideration and not thrusting an obligation on them.

This is important to keep in mind even if you are the person asking for an introduction. It is in your interest to request the person who has offered to introduce you to ask for permission first. Else, your conversation isn’t set up for success.

The best introductions are win-win-win introductions where each person walks out feeling positive. And, asking for permission to make an introduction helps ensure that happens more often than not.

Potential to Kinetic

In science textbooks growing up, we used the the image of a rock sitting atop a hill as the example of potential energy. This potential energy is converted to kinetic energy when the rock is pushed down the hill.

However, the transformation from potential energy to kinetic energy is far from guaranteed – both in rocks and in humans. We’ve heard the wistful “He/she has so much potential” line among sports analysts and managers in the workplace alike.

Unlike rocks which need some environmental prompting to move, the transformation of energy in humans can occur from within as well.

And, for most folks, the difference between it happening and not happening is the outcome of two developed traits – discipline and a growth mindset. Discipline provides the push to convert the potential energy to kinetic every day.

And, a growth mindset ensures the use of the discipline muscle feels worthwhile.

Curators and synthesizers

Curators sift through a lot of what’s written or shared about a particular topic or topics and put them together in one place. Synthesizers, on the other hand, attempt to make sense of what happened.

Curators, thus, focus on breadth while synthesizers focus on depth. Excellent news outlets mix both curation and synthesis. They send you a “daily brief” that brings together the news you need to know. In addition, they also share links to deeper insights and analysis.

It helps to have a nice balance between curators and synthesizers. For example, if you love reading about technology, Benedict Evans’ or Azeem Azhar’s weekly newsletters are examples of curation. They put together a collection of links they think you should read. Ben Thompson’s Stratechery or Ben Evans’ blog posts (or The Notes by Ada project :-)), on the other hand, are examples of synthesis.

On average, more folks default to curation over synthesis. This is partly why Facebook is the media superpower that it is. It is easier to skim through a few links and a one line description than it is to commit oneself to reading analysis.

But, the more synthesis we read and understand, the better we learn and retain.

So, that then brings us to some interesting questions. For starters, is it worth revisiting what the goal of your information diet is? For example, if you only read the news to stay informed, can you reduce the amount of news you read by half and still be okay? And, if you read about your industry to learn, can you invest in reading more synthesis and, maybe, over time do some synthesis yourself by writing and sharing?

We all have fairly heavy information diets in this day and age and, on average, take in far more information than we need.

Time to cut those carbs, then.

Aircrafts and Canmore on Unsplash

As I open up the “post” collection of links these days, I open up 3 tabs – one with a WordPress “Add New Post,” one with the Hemingway Editor and one with Unsplash. I use Unsplash for images when I share the post on Twitter, on the ALearningaDay Facebook page and on LinkedIn.

Thanks to Unsplash, however, I frequently find myself admiring some of the photos. Below are 3 photos I admired today.

I’ve looked at this photo multiple times. I’d love to know where this is. But, there’s something both beautiful and haunting. How did the aircraft end up there? What’s the story?

This is a cloudy Macchu Picchu. I’ve always found Macchu Picchu intriguing and I hope to hike up this peak sometime.

This photo in Canmore, Canada, is just stunning.

Great photographs are such wonderful reminders of the power of still images to tell stories and ask important questions. These photos inspired awe while reminding me that there’s a lot more to life than simply driving “shareholder value.” :-)

Unsplash is special thanks to the many generous photographers who share their photos for free. Thank you to all of you. Generosity is a beautiful thing.

Conflict and humor

There are a few ways to deal with conflict. The most common approach is to avoid it and the next is tackle it head on. My natural propensity is to do the latter.

Both of these can be useful in some situations. Not every conflict is worth dealing with and many lose their edge with time. Then again, a few deserve to be dealt with head on. Some issues and differences in opinion require difficult conversations.

An underrated approach to dealing with conflict is to approach it with humor. I was in a meeting recently where we were looking for a way to get a commitment from everyone to engage with everyone in the meeting instead of their laptops. My natural approach to this would have been to have had a difficult conversation – being engaged is important and so on.

At best, this message might have been received as preachy. And, at worst, it would have been really annoying.

Someone then came up with another idea – every time we saw someone disengage, we’d ask them for a fun fact.

That changed the dynamic in the room almost instantly. A serious discussion had been transformed into a game.

This idea could be just as easily applied in other meetings and even on family dinner tables.

I don’t naturally jump to humor as a way of dealing with conflict. But, it is incredibly effective and I hope to use it more often.

When in doubt

When in doubt –

  • focus on what you control
  • be thankful for what you have

This is post #4316 on this blog. I think more than a hundred of these (at minimum) expresses this learning in different ways.

Simple rules of thumb like this take years to appreciate and synthesize… and decades to implement.

Spending our attention

Every once a while, I think of a wonderful passage from Eric Weiner’s “Geography of Bliss” on attention.

“Attention’ is an underrated word. It doesn’t get the… well, the attention it deserves. We pay homage to love, and happiness, and, God knows, productivity, but rarely do we have anything good to say about attention. We’re too busy, I suspect. Yet our lives are empty and meaningless without attention.

My two-year-old daughter fusses at my feet as I type these words. What does she want? My love? Yes, in a way, but what she really wants is my attention. Pure, undiluted attention. Children are expert at recognizing counterfeit attention. Perhaps love and attention are really the same thing. One can’t exist without the other.”

We have a finite amount of attention in our lives. It is akin to wealth that we get to spend. Except, unlike wealth, we don’t get to save it in the bank.

It turns out that the simplest way to build a meaningful life is to spend our attention on things that have meaning. It requires us to be attentive to where we spend our attention.

This weekend, like every other, we have many forces that demand our attention.

It is on us to spend it well.

Losing and being outscored

Legendary coach John Wooden was famous for reminding his players – You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you’re outscored.

The difference between losing and being outscored lies in the effort you put in. If you’ve given it your very best shot, you can never lose.

You may still be outscored – but that’s very different from losing.

Rigid on principles, flexible on process and vice versa

En-route to success, organizations, teams and people tend to be rigid on principles and flexible on process. You find resourceful people and teams who work with a first principles approach to solve problems. Once they align on the principles, they experiment with various approaches to get things done and, generally, find a way against all odds.

Disruptors are great at this. They don’t get caught up in the process that incumbents are constrained by. The focus on first principles such as an obsession with what the customer needs and work through approaches that helps them address them – usually at lower cost. The only principle that defines their process is experimentation.

But, once success arrives, something often changes. The same organizations and people become fixated on the processes that led to their success. Suddenly, they become rigid on process and flexible on principles.

Hiring and customer service tend to be the first to take the hit. When organizations are small, they focus on a few key principles and focus on a scrappy approach to hiring. But, once they’re successful, the executives involved often convince themselves that a certain archetype (that looks a lot like them) works best for their teams. Similarly, customer service employees are asked to focus on their manual versus actually attempting to solve the customer’s problem and care for them.

This may also be why most successful players make poor coaches and why ultra-successful folks struggle with being parents.

If we had to bring this all down to mindset, the simplest way to describe this would be that successful organizations and people start with a growth mindset. But, over time, they drink their own kool aid and begin managing themselves and others around them with a fixed mindset. They become more focused with keeping and expanding territory and convincing themselves that they’re right over actually testing and experimenting with a willingness to fail.

Of course, in the long run, the moment they become flexible on the principles that made them successful is the moment that marks the beginning of the end of their success.