Paul Dawson at Fluxx shares a great example of a constraints-driven exercise he calls "time boxing" to deliver a lesson on the power of constraints. After asking people to draw a cat in only 15 seconds -- he finds that their rushed drawings are all still pretty recognizable as a cat (my 15-second attempt is above).
He suggests that giving people a shorter amount of time doesn't make them draw something different, they just draw the same thing, only more elaborately:
Try time-boxing tasks (and particularly discussions) that seem hard, or decisions that take too long, and see what happens. You will almost certainly get as far as you need to in whatever time-box you allocate, and it will help you sift out what is important, and what is not.
Next time you're trying to get to the essence of something with your team, make sure you ask yourself if you really need more discussion time to make it perfect, or if you'll get the same insights from your minimally viable cat in a fraction of the time.
Happy President's Day! It's time for another Monday Morning Meeting. Ready to go?
The Idea: If you sleep 8 hours, you have about 1000 minutes left in your day -- essentially 100 ten-minute blocks. How are you using them?
It’s always good to step back and think about how we’re using those 100 blocks we get each day. How many of them are put towards making your future better, and how many of them are just there to be enjoyed? How many of them are spent with other people, and how many are for time by yourself? How many are used to create something, and how many are used to consume something? How many of the blocks are focused on your body, how many on your mind, and how many on neither one in particular? Which are your favorite blocks of the day, and which are your least favorite? Imagine these blocks laid out on a grid. What if you had to label each one with a purpose?
The Quote: “It is surprising how much one can produce in a year, whether of buns or books or pots or pictures, if one works hard and professionally for three and a half hours every day for 330 days." - Leonard Woolf
Spend some time with it every day. Fill it with your bad thoughts, your bad ideas. Tell it all the things you shouldn’t tell Twitter. It won’t judge you, troll you, or talk back to you. It won’t spy on you, ping you, or notify you. When you’re done with it, you can burn it for heat, or you can save it for your children, so they know what it was like.
At Filament, we're lucky enough to help our clients tackle their challenges during their meetings. Because of the nature of our space and our methodology, all the work we do is face-to-face.
However, there are some ideas that might best be shared anonymously. TED is teaming up with Audible to do just that, with their Sincerely X podcast for "ideas worth spreading [that] remain hidden because people can’t speak publicly about the very thing they feel the world needs to hear?"
Jorge Barba rises to the defense of generalists, and I think he's right -- and not just because I'm a generalist. He calls out a problem we've encountered with our clients at Filament:
Today more than at any moment in time, organizations want innovation; but reject creativity. Think about that. The funny thing is the only type of innovation that comes from specialization is incremental, and that has an expiration date. The longer you improve the same thing, the fewer improvements you make. It’s why all organizational failure is self-inflicted: a failure of imagination that results from the curse of knowledge.
It takes a Generalist or jack of all trades to make connections across disciplines and stimulate creativity; the type that is disruptive and game-changing.
The Idea: Instead of focusing your business innovation efforts on preparing for the things most likely to change, take a page from Jeff Bezos and instead focus on the things least likely to change in the next decade:
“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”
Engage the person in a specific solution. All too often managers offer criticism in general terms, leaving the receiver to guess what remedy is expected.
Good coaches are, by contrast, extremely specific: “Straighten your left leg” or “Be sure to spot the palm tree before you open your somersault tuck.” They encourage the athlete to problem-solve with them: “What felt off on that dive?” or “What could you do to get that leg straighter or start that twist earlier?”
Such an approach is equally effective in the workplace. Take, for example, the director of a large hospital who received complaints that a new manager was too abrupt in meetings and was failing to respond to requests in a timely fashion. Instead of taking the woman to task and explaining how she should change, the director explained the situation and asked her what might be done about it. She said, “It’s important for you to make good first impressions, but I’ve heard that some people think you’re too terse and not getting back to them quickly enough. How do you think you might change your behavior to shift those perceptions?” The manager suggested a few ideas and immediately implemented them.
Engaging employees in a specific solution ensures they’ll get it right next time, communicates respect for their opinions, and builds their confidence.
It's time for your favorite meeting of the week. Let's get started!
The Idea: Next time you're wondering how others (people, teams or companies) seem to have succeeded so much faster and better than you, remember that you don't get to see all their false starts and failures before their success. Paul Graham reminds us why:
Because biographies of famous scientists tend to edit out their mistakes, we underestimate the degree of risk they were willing to take. And because anything a famous scientist did that wasn't a mistake has probably now become the conventional wisdom, those choices don't seem risky either.
Biographies of Newton, for example, understandably focus more on physics than alchemy or theology. The impression we get is that his unerring judgment led him straight to truths no one else had noticed. How to explain all the time he spent on alchemy and theology? Well, smart people are often kind of crazy.