Some remarkable numbers. The corresponding infographic for 2013 can be found here.
Picture credit here.
Mr. Frost, my superb economics teacher in England, once shared the story of two people talking about a lecture given by the late Milton Friedman, the father of Monetarism. The first said, “Twenty years ago, I went to the worst lecture I’ve ever heard! Friedman gave it and I still remember how he just muttered on and on and all I could make out was the word ‘money.’” The second man responded, “If you can remember what the key message was some twenty years later, I think it might be the best lecture you ever heard!”
Indeed, Friedman’s singular message — that by controlling the supply of money, you can stabilize the whole economy — became, arguably, the most impactful economic theory of the second half of the 20th century. The point I wish to emphasize is not an economic one, but a human one: if you try to say too many things, you don’t say anything at all.
He highlights a few key lessons he’s learned over the years in giving effective presentations:
See also, Why Are Most Events Rubbish?
Rereading this latter post, it may be a bit unkind but the underlying point is still a good one and one that everyone still seems to be struggling with.
Quote from the entrepreneur Richard Farleigh:
Do you remember your best and worst business decisions?
I can remember the worst ones. Psychologists say when something works well we put it down to ourselves, and when something goes badly we put it down to luck. I try the opposite. All you can say is you learnt from each one.
See also here, on the fascination of failure.
Worth clicking on…
Time management is a perennially popular topic, there are articles and books on it everywhere (mostly saying the same things over and again).
You often get the feeling that the aim is to try to extract the very last drop of ‘value’ from your allotted span and that there may be some hidden trick that you’re not aware of that will allow you to do this.
Over the years I’ve bought quite a few books of the subject and read lots of articles and posted a few myself as well.
In this general context I was interested to read a couple of articles recently on some of the more intangible aspects of time management. One was by the journalist Rosie Millard, which emphasised that time wasting may not be a bad thing at all and was motivated by a recent book:
Getting to the airport frightfully early, we now learn, is a bad strategy. In his book How Not to be Wrong: The Hidden Maths of Everyday Life, he summarises it thus: “If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re not doing it right.”
The article ends with:
Indeed, when I apply the Prof’s wisdom to my own crammed, time-poor, frantic lifestyle, I realise that the only moments I feel wholly relaxed are when my time-saving devices are nowhere near me, and I am actually “wasting time”. Running miles and miles along the Regent’s Canal tow path, for example. Or sitting leafing through ancient bird books at my parents’ house. I once spent 12 hours waiting for a plane at Sao Paulo airport. It’s the sort of thing that would have driven Prof Ellenberg crazy. I don’t even remember having a book to hand. I just drifted around and looked at people, who were also drifting around.
It was good.
That certainly rang a bell with me.
The other was by the writer A N Wilson on the value of a university education (prompted by record complaints by students that much of university teaching is not worth the fees):
That is why so much of university life should be a waste of time. The eight-week term flies past. If, in that time, you have fallen unsuitably in love (or, even more time-wasting, suitably in love); and/or if you have been acting in a play, or improving your squash, or becoming obsessed by Swedish cinema, the likelihood is that you will not have been giving enough time to your friends. And friendship, for many people at university, is its chief glory. This is the first time in your life when you are away from home, and away from the very limited circle of school contemporaries. You could, potentially, meet anyone from any walk of life, and this, for many people, is where friendships for life are formed.
Is it any wonder, in such circumstances, that you might neglect your work? Just a little?
Although the above viewpoint may be a little dated and whimsical, the underlying premise remains.
“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Bertrand Russell
I keep notes on most things I do, from work to personal interests. These range from speculative, random ideas to well-defined project tasks. Regarding the random ideas, now and again I go through them and am often surprised at how many I’ve completely forgotten about. Also, as time progresses, the original idea will often have quite a different connotation and occasionally be in a better position to be acted on. However I don’t really do this trawl in a very systematic way, say via a regular review, so progress comes through luck and mood rather than method.
This is why for the past eight years or so I’ve been maintaining a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books. I now keep it as a Google document so I can update it from wherever I happen to be. There’s no organizing principle to it, no taxonomy–just a chronological list of semi-random ideas that I’ve managed to capture before I forgot them. I call it the spark file.
The key aspect is the regular use of a review:
Now, the spark file itself is not all that unusual: that’s why Moleskins or Evernote are so useful to so many people. But the key habit that I’ve tried to cultivate is this: every three or four months, I go back and re-read the entire spark file. And it’s not an inconsequential document: it’s almost fifty pages of hunches at this point, the length of several book chapters. But what happens when I re-read the document that I end up seeing new connections that hadn’t occurred to me the first (or fifth) time around: the idea I had in 2008 that made almost no sense in 2008, but that turns out to be incredibly useful in 2012, because something has changed in the external world, or because some other idea has supplied the missing piece that turns the hunch into something actionable.
I might try this myself although I’ve also started using some innovative software called TheBrain (from TheBrain Technologies) to do something similar.
Whatever approach you use, the importance of the regular review remains of course, so I’ve now got the next three scheduled in my calendar. I’ll also make brief notes on the reviews and include them in the list as well as that’ll be an interesting way to see how my thoughts grow.
Aside: TheBrain has been described as a knowledge visualisation tool but to get a feel it’s best just to watch one of their many explanatory videos. The free version of TheBrain is very good in it’s own right so you might want to give it a trial (it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux). For an independent assessment, see also the illuminating posts on Steve Zeoli’s site.
Whilst exploring my local library, I came across an interesting book by Gavin Esler ‘Lessons from the Top: How Successful Leaders Tell Stories to Get Ahead – and Stay There’ (published in 2012). Gavin Esler is a well-known presenter with Newsnight on BBC2. His journalistic experiences span over 30 years and through this he has interviewed a wide variety of influential people in politics, business and the arts.
At the end of the book (which I started with) he gives sixteen tips which he finds ‘striking and useful when considering successful leaders’ and which are applicable to everyone not just global stars.
Tip Two is:
Every leader tells a leadership story in three parts: ‘Who Am I?’ ‘Who Are We?’ and ‘What is our Common Purpose’ You must learn to answer the ‘Who Am I?’ question adequately, or the others do not matter.
And as an aid to doing the above, he gives Tip Three:
Remember the Earwig. All successful leaders create their own memorable way of answering the ‘Who Am I?’ bit of the leadership story succinctly. Think of it as the headline you would like to see attached to your name, or the epitaph that would fit on your tombstone.
The ‘Earwig’ he mentions is the story you can’t get out of your head and so won’t forget.
After reading this I thought about the leadership-type talks I’d been to recently and none seemed to resonate with Tip Two (at least as far as I can recall). There was often talk of the latter two parts ‘Who Are We?’ and ‘What is our Common Purpose?’ but little of the (more difficult) ‘Who Am I?’.
The ‘Who Am I?’ is presumably intended to build up the trust and confidence that is the bedrock for what follows. That’s a pretty tough task to pull off well, particularly with a cynical or demanding audience eg a company or organisation going through difficult times. There’s also the opposite problem, that it may in fact come over as quite believable but is in fact fundamentally false and contrived.
Anyway, it’s an interesting point of view and an important topic so I’ll write more on his thoughts later.