Navigating Uncertainty: Climbing the Ladder, Going out to Sea

When we are learning something new there are usually some guardrails in place.

We’re learning how to DJ in the safety of our bedroom, not headlining Barclays Center.

We’re committing our code into a test environment, not straight into the App Store.

Our Spanish conversation practice is with a peer in the local coffee shop, not a televised interview with Alfonso Cuaron.

Sure, things can go wrong, but we can fall back onto the patterns and techniques we already know, refer to the guidebook, or ask our teacher.

It’s the Ladder of Certainty.

Continue reading “Navigating Uncertainty: Climbing the Ladder, Going out to Sea”

It’s hard to tell other people’s stories

You’ve probably heard that person at the bar, telling a story that isn’t theirs.

It’s still funny, or touching, or tense, but something doesn’t quite sit right. You can sense it.

Telling other peoples’ stories isn’t easy.

On the face of it this doesn’t seem especially important.

But stories are everywhere – not just anecdotes we share with friends over a beer.

Careers are stories. Confidence is a story. Even a curriculum is a story [1].

If you’re teaching something it can be hard to teach a curriculum that isn’t yours.

Sometimes you can add little embellishments or flourishes of your own but it isn’t easy to do this convincingly on the fly. Push it just a notch too far and the entire story can unravel surprisingly quickly. 

Tell that other person’s story without something of your own and the audience will know something’s not right. It’s hollow. You’ll lose them.

It’s a fine balance.

Actors tell other people’s stories all of course.

One of the ways they get good at doing it is to observe and absorb the story first. 

Read the book, learn about the author, watch the play, meet the characters in real life, try out the alternative adaptation. 

This needs a lot more time, energy and application than just telling someone else’s story.

But if you believe in the story, it’s worth it.

[1] Marc Lewis at School of Communication Arts takes this to the next level – his entire 1 year curriculum is a story he designs from scratch. Find out more on the Tickets podcast.

Hiring? Look out for the goalkeeper

This weekend, Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea made no less than 11 saves in the second half of his team’s game against Tottenham Hotspur.

De Gea’s incredible performance was the catalyst for two now-inevitable things to happen: a flurry of Internet memes, and reports of his agent demanding a new contract with doubled wages.

Last night I caught up with a friend. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, and he hadn’t seen the United game.

As we talked, he shared news of a new hire he’d made in his company.

This role was an internship: maybe not of note for those in larger corporations, but for the owner of a small business, any hire is a big deal and can greatly affect the chances of success (or failure) of the company.

I wondered how he decided this person was the one to bring in. He wasn’t short of applicants.

What sealed the deal wasn’t a school credential or experience at a rival company. It wasn’t the candidate’s ability to ‘hustle’

It was their position on the soccer field.

The new hire was a goalkeeper, just like my friend.

The goalkeeper has to play a different kind of game to the other 10 players on their team.

They may spend long periods of a match seemingly unoccupied but have to maintain a constant soft focus as they can suddenly be called into action in the blink of an eye.

Their decision making has to be swift and precise. They need assertiveness to claim the ball in a melee of players.

They are the last line of defence, and the best of them can also be the first line of attack – sensing opportunities and understanding how to unlock their teammates’ potential.

Their mistakes are hugely amplified. If a striker misses an open goal it doesn’t long stay in the memory; if a goalkeeper concedes a howler (especially one that costs the team the game), no one forgets it. And there’s nowhere to hide.

They rarely get the plaudits. David de Gea is recognised as one of the, if not the best, keepers in the world, but he’s still not in the same league as Ronaldo, Messi or Kane when it comes to fame and glory.

The goalkeeper needs to have resilience, decision-making abilities, quiet confidence, focus, an ability to play the long game and be comfortable sitting one step back from the limelight, allowing others to shine.

Not bad skills to have in your locker.


The trouble with saying No

A few years ago Derek Sivers wrote a popular post called Hell Yeah, or No.

I like this a lot.

It’s a simple and useful heuristic to use in many situations, particularly for entrepreneurs and independent workers who are overwhelmed, have taken on too much, or feel scattered.

But it can be misleading, especially in the latter situation. What if it’s a little more complicated than that?

What if you’re running on fumes?

Those flow states aren’t happening?

The short term financial pressure is real?

You’re flailing, fumbling, scrambling?

The Hell Yeah easily slips into Yes, I Guess. 

The gut No gets suppressed. It can even gradually turn against you.

I still believe Derek is largely correct, but it’s not always easy to be so clear cut when there are a few shades of grey involved.

Sometimes we may need to compromise and allow for a little bit of yes…I guess.

Trend Spotting: How to identify what’s coming next

A workshop session I designed and facilitated in Summer 2018 (annotated and abbreviated version, with some classroom exercises and notes included)

Yes, it’s that time again – I’m back with another of my annotated slide deck adventures.

This time we’re diving into Trends.

I created this short session as part of the growth & change management module of the AMP NYC accelerator program which ran here in New York City over the summer of 2018. Including the exercises it was about 45 mins in duration, and can easily run to 2-3 hours if you want to dive deeper into certain parts of the content.

At the time I ran this session there were a few blank faces in the room upon seeing this first slide up on the screen, and not just because it was another of my bad puns.

I realised this movie is now 24 years old; pretty close to the age of the younger attendees in our cohort.

It’s also, despite its international success, still very Scottish and even as a native British English speaker I still can’t decipher all the local Glaswegian parlance.

So that’s the last we’ll be seeing of Begbie, Renton and Sick Boy (for this session at least) – time to get into some Trend Spotting.

Continue reading “Trend Spotting: How to identify what’s coming next”

Be the person you needed when you were younger

Brad Montague of Montague Workshop.

A couple of months after we moved to New York it was time for our first trip outside the city. For that Thanksgiving weekend we flew out to rural Kentucky.

After a few days of bourbon, turkey, southern hospitality and some insights into American culture beyond the bi-coastal bubble, it was time to head back to NYC.

As the evening drew in on a sleepy flight home and the sky rolled from bright blue to deep pink and then dark grey, I noticed the glow of a laptop a couple of rows in front of me.

On the screen was what looked like a social media post being prepared. You know the type – a beautiful stock photo overlaid with a motivational quote in a mid-weight font.

The image could have been anything – it didn’t stick with me at all.

The text is still completely clear in my mind.

Be the person you needed when you were younger.

Not a bad mantra.

And unlike the social media feeds it ephemerally dissolved into, I’ve kept it pinned on my desktop ever since.

As a new year begins to unfold I’m still aiming to be the person I needed when I, and maybe a few others like me, were younger.

Who was the person you needed when you were younger?

It’s a question worth asking.


Note: The quote originally comes from Ayesha Siddiqui.

Undertaking an Annual Life Review (a Guide & Template)

This Medium post by Steve Schlafman hit my Twitter feed earlier this week.

I’ve tried reviews like this before but the process always felt either overly complicated and heavy, or too ethereal.

Steve’s method strikes a really good balance.

As I was working through it, I realised I was straddling two Google docs (one Sheet and one Doc), so I merged them into one and added some formatting to clean it up a bit and make it easier to navigate.

I was tempted to dive in on adding some more functionality but I think this time less is more.

Steve kindly agreed to share this template in the original post – hopefully it’ll help you undertake your own annual life review.

I’m happy to offer feedback if you’d like to share your own review – just drop me a line.

Original post:

https://medium.com/@schlaf/how-to-conduct-an-annual-life-review-that-will-catapult-you-into-the-new-year-d5aaffebac1f

Template:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ais6wP0HxoFfvHR9JVkf2sw2ft_EUBtb42JYOr6ObGo/edit?usp=sharing

What kind of artist are you?

Finding out with three lines, a few dots, and a long-sleeved shirt

Note: I found this post in my drafts today as I was looking for the shirt diagram. This post originates from May 2015. Even though some of my thinking has evolved since then I’ve decided to publish it in its original form.

Storage Solutions

When I moved into my current flat, clothes storage became a hot topic of conversation (I’m of that age now…).

The bedroom’s long and fairly narrow shape meant we needed to utilise height. We didn’t want to default to Ikea, and a lovely hand-crafted wardrobe was a little out of budget.

After much deliberation, a shopfitters’ storage rack was purchased; floor to ceiling on castors, with three shelves and two rails for jackets, trousers and of course shirts.

Once assembly was complete (slightly quicker than an Ikea nightmare build, but only just), I loaded everything on board only to find I had a surplus.

We’d vowed to keep the new place bereft of clutter, so I started working through everything, culling anything that had been on the substitute’s bench for more than 6 months.

When it came to the pile of shirts I’d rapidly thrown into a bag on moving day, I was shocked to discover that nearly half were either too long, some too wide (the ‘tent’ look), or with sleeves too short.


The Shirt Dilemma

Months later, long after the ill-advised purchases had been given to a better home, I saw this going around on Twitter;

Continue reading “What kind of artist are you?”

The Microscope & The Telescope

Sometimes we need to look at things through the microscope: the detail, the hidden particles, the connective tissue, the grit, and the friction. It can be surprising just how much is happening in a tiny surface area.

Other times we have to look through the telescope: the bigger picture, the vision we’re working towards. That huge expanse of unknown. We can look on it with wonder, and maybe a little fear.

Switching between these views can be tough.

The same happens when our eyes switch focus between objects that are near and far, or between environments that are dark and light: changing the view quickly causes strange discomfort in our eyes, like a straining muscle trying to realign.

Switch view too much and you’ll lose focus.

Don’t do it enough and you’ll miss what’s out there.

In tomorrow’s world we’ll all need to be able to deftly utilize the microscope and the telescope. One probably won’t be enough.

Two quick tips on Trend Spotting

This quote from Beth Comstock is a nice heuristic for spotting emerging trends.

Another way of looking at this is through writing.

If you notice something and find yourself writing it down three times in a short space of time, you may have just spotted a trend.

Go back to those notebooks and look for the patterns.

Who knows what you may find.


PS. I’m putting together a recorded version of a class I did on Trend Spotting (including the above Beth Comstock quote plus a bunch of other tactics and exercises)  – that’ll be going live next week.