Navigating Without A Map

January 31, 2014

“Here’s the truth you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map. Don’t you hate that? I love that there’s no map.” – Seth Godin

Useful to bear this in mind when reading business books and articles. Beware of looking for a map that doesn’t exist!

There are some interesting additional comments on the map metaphor here (no map is perfect but neither are we).

Skills For The 21st Century

January 29, 2014

On the 4th February, you can watch or listen live to a summit being held at the RSA on the above topic:

As of September 2014, the UK will make computer programming part of its national K-12 curriculum, making it the first G20 country to put coding at the centre of education reform.

Inspired by this ambitious policy, Codecademy, Index Ventures, Kano, Pearson and the RSA convene a thought-provoking gathering to re-imagine “Skills for the 21st Century.” Together with international policymakers, business leaders and today’s most exciting education entrepreneurs, we will explore how to fix one of the most disturbing challenges faced by this generation: youth unemployment and the shortage of job seekers with relevant skills.

During the day, we will re-imagine a basic school schedule and the new approaches needed to teach each subject, with sessions on Entrepreneurship, Coding, Maths, Arts & Humanities, Science & Engineering and Design.

Hopefully they’ll discuss multidisciplinary aspects – I’ve always thought that breaking subjects down into strict domains was unnecessarily limiting, as showing or encouraging links can often be just as important.

And it’s not all theory, the 11 year-old daughter of a friend of mine is fascinated by Design through discussions and activities at school, as Design & Technology is a taught subject!

Why not contribute your views? Twitter: @SKILLSsummit

Challenge, Fix Or Change

January 23, 2014

“If it doesn’t make sense, challenge it. If it appears broken, fix it. If it doesn’t work for you, change it.” – Michael Lopp

If you’re unhappy with something, it’s very tempting to moan and complain (and do nothing). It would be far better to decide whether it’s actually important or not (most things aren’t) and if it is, then apply the mantra above.

How To Start The Day

January 20, 2014


I started planning my new work regime for 2014 in mid-December last year. Unfortunately, probably like a lot of other people, it’s still not started! However I came across an infographic recently (see above) which helpfully reminded me of a few basics plus adding some new viewpoints.

My comments, from left to right:

(Twain) Worst/hardest thing first – I can still clearly remember a Japanese collaborator telling me to always start the day with the task you’re least looking forward to – this is surprising as this was over 30 years ago! I do this sporadically but it’s excellent advice. In the infographic above it’s the hardest thing first, which is a bit different but similar.

(Robbins) Visualising the day – I’ve never actually done this, so something to try. I’ve tried visualising my future (in five years time and so on) but have never found that very compelling. Perhaps a shorter term period, like a day or week, might work?

(Obama) Working out – when I started to work freelance one of the first things I did was to buy myself an exercise bike. I’ve found that using it at the start of the day certainly made a big (positive) impact. However, in hindsight, my exercise expectations were too unrealistic to make it stick, so I’ll aim for more modest aspirations in the next few weeks. Hopefully it’ll become a habit.

(Karp) Real work versus email/feeds/twitter – looking at info is the the first thing I do most days and, one way and another, it seems to take at least an hour and then it’s throughout the day. I’ve attempted to delay looking but have always failed. However I’m now going to try this for a week to see if I can manage it.

(Newmark) Customers first – currently, for me, this is something rather indirect as I’m (in the main) spending my time writing a book. However it’ll be interesting and hopefully motivating to start to think this way – see also here.

(Jobs) Why are you doing any of this anyway? That’s a hard one! I guess, even if it’s a seemingly small step, like finishing a book section, it’s still leading to something worthwhile and fulfilling when browsing emails and news feeds (and procrastinating in general) isn’t.

The overall feel I get from the advice above is that it’s important to dictate the pace of the day rather than having it determined for you and this is best done by taking a step away from it several times during the day. Tools and systems are secondary and can often be a distraction in themselves.

As an aside, you often read that habits take 21 days to establish. Not unsurprisingly giving any date for this is questionable, although a daunting 66 days seems to be the current best estimate – see here:

The bottom line is: stay strong. 21 days is a myth; habit formation typically takes longer than that. The best estimate is 66 days, but it’s unwise to attempt to assign a number to this process. The duration of habit formation is likely to differ depending on who you are and what you are trying to do. As long as you continue doing your new healthy behaviour consistently in a given situation, a habit will form. But you will probably have to persevere beyond January 21st.

Picture credit: here.

Goals And Key Conversations

January 13, 2014


“Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.” – Unknown

I came across this quote a couple days ago and it got me thinking, especially as I’m doing an annual review of sorts. The quote is helpful as it emphasises that goals and personal development (for want of a better phrase) can be strongly interlinked. Doing one can change the other and vice versa, it’s an evolving system.

There’s a lot of discussion on whether you should even set goals at all of course, whether they are just too confining and mechanical. In practice I guess I go through phases of having a concrete goal and then, almost as a reaction, to being more free-form just to ‘see what happens’. It may not be the most efficient approach but it does allow me to produce as well as to feel like I’m having fun. For instance, I’ve written over 80 posts on this blog this year plus about a quarter more as draft ideas that I decided not to publish plus a load of other book-related material.

For the first time, I’ve also been keeping a personal journal so I can better understand where my time and effort goes. I’ve tried various approaches but the most natural so far seems to be a ‘stream of consciousness’ method where ideas, web links, tasks etc all get captured and noted simply as they occur. I don’t tag or categorise as so far I haven’t found either helpful (I found I spent more time fiddling with my system that actually gaining any benefit from it). That’s probably because the outliner software I’m using (although excellent in it’s own way) doesn’t quite match my work/research flow (see aside below).

Looking through the journal entries for last year, it becomes quickly apparent that I tried to do too many things and conversely, there are an infinite number of interesting thing to try! Thank you internet.

To get good at anything takes time and discipline and to get even better takes even more time and discipline. So you have to make some hard choices on what you’re (mainly) going to focus on. Having some flexibility is important though as it allows for serendipity and the ability to change plans, sometimes in big ways.

However, apart from these generalities, perhaps the biggest insight I got was the importance of key conversations. All the best ideas got going through them, I can even remember each one quite clearly.

A conversation with a friend on something that really interests you, when perhaps you’re feeling a bit fed up or unsure, can be worth it’s weight in gold. A couple of minutes of positive and/or imaginative conversation can easily exceed hours of surfing for inspiration or ideas. You need both but, in hindsight, I spent too much time researching/thinking and not enough conversing! I expect this is fairly common.

Even though I wanted to talk on specialised topics (which I thought would not necessarily be of great interest), I found that:

  • People like to help and to feel that they can help (in their own, special individual way).
  • Some things are so obvious you need someone else to point them out to you (wood for the trees syndrome). Don’t worry when they’re astounded that you hadn’t realised the blindingly obvious as it usually works both ways.
  • Some ideas take ages to incubate, that’s just how it is, so don’t fight it. Friends might be surprised at the apparent lack of progress, but just feel lucky that change is happening at all!

From this, one novel ‘goal’ for 2014 would be to have more conversations with an ever wider group of acquaintances and friends on topics that are important to me.

I’ve never had this as a goal before so it’ll be interesting to see how this turns out. I’ll also write up details of the conversations in my journal, something I don’t usually do.

For a bit more on the role of conversation in business and research, especially the role of knowledge cafes and similar, see here.

Aside on note-taking:

There’s an innovative piece of software that might offer a more natural alignment to my work methods as it is designed to handle emergent structures. It’s mac-only and is called Tinderbox (an exciting new version is just around the corner, Tinderbox 6). One of my goals for 2014 is to get to know this software better.

Independently, the person responsible for Tinderbox, Mark Bernstein, has a really interesting blog – it’s worth a look, he certainly has a wide variety of interests (mainly books, cooking, politics and software)! There’s a good practical overview of the current version of Tinderbox here.

The How And Why

January 3, 2014

“Information is about who did what, where and when while knowledge is more about how and why.” – David Gurteen

This neatly summarises why knowledge management, whilst a rather nebulous activity, is also fairly key in all organisations, even if this is not always immediately appreciated!