Combined they formed barbedwire, that stunning tool used to keep people and animals in and out of places. Invented in the mid 1800s, you can learn all you need to know at the Barbed Wire History Museum.
There is of course, a museum for most everything. Beyond the physical manifestation, barbs and wire show up everyday in our lives. Prickly people who don’t align with our thinking and desires. Technology that doesn’t bow to our will or in other words deliver on the promise of improving our productivity. They are things that slow us down. Or at the worst, stop us in our tracks.
We all know what these things are. They’re both the same and different for each of us. Little irritants that derail an otherwise perfectly stellar day. I would even venture to say that barbs comprise all the alerts and emails and notifications pinging you non stop all day every day. Unless you minimize them.
The wire is the connections and path taking us towards our goals. Dreams. It’s the conduit of course. Like the power in your house. Or the lines overhead connecting you to the grid. In this case, the grid is your network of people and tools who help you along the way.
The trick is overcoming all the barbs attached to the wire because success is never a smooth path. It’s a choice. Do you say ‘ouch’ and panic? Or do you say ‘dang’ and keep going?
It’s time to take stock of how I did living my words for 2017 and introduce three new words for 2018. Not that this year’s or prior years really go away. It gives emphasis on what I should pay attention to as I navigate the year ahead. I said I’d reinvent myself this year and in some ways I have. Others not so much yet. It was a year of much newness I’ve embraced with gusto. Explore: I continued to wander around cities I go for business and ventured a bit beyond to others and into the French countryside for a decadently magical experience. Much remains to be explored. There is still room to be more exceptional and I focused much on communication this year – written and verbal. Always room to improve.
We live in the age of distraction and I find myself often distracted. Hey look, squirrel! We check our phones too much, spending too much time consuming sound bites rather than engaging in the kind of thinking that contributes to growth and creativity and richer experiences. I commit to being more intentional in my actions and the activities in which I engage including time with others where I am more fully present. I think this year will be one where more of us engage in a digital detox and take back our time. Life in analog is rich and the digital doesn’t always live up to the promise of more productivity and more time for what matters. Here’s to a year of living intentionally.
We often make things harder than they need to be because we don’t take time to connect the dots whether that’s in how we communicate and connect with others to how we work. And what we say. There’s an art to simplicity. Simple is simply hard. And it takes time. It takes more time to write succinctly. More time to edit for clarity and in the photo world, to select the absolute best work that says exactly what you want it to say. In marketing, simple is pure magic. It’s where engagement happens effortlessly because you took the time to demonstrate how you solve real problems better than anyone else. No matter how complex your product, you can distill it down to the crux of what you do. But it takes work. And I plan to engage in the elegant art of simplicity. It builds on being exceptional in all I do.
Connected with being distracted by all of the digital inputs and interruptions is a loss of focus. This is a reminder to get clear about priorities in all areas of life – work, ambition, parenting, friendships and fun. It’s deciding what really matters and pursuing it with gusto and grace. It’s about making a difference after a year that arguably left many of us so distracted and disillusioned. Let’s focus and make good things happen.
We live distracted lives. That’s not a secret. And research over the past few years has shown how our brains are getting rewired, we’re facing more anxiety and depression. More FOMO. We’re essentially skimming the surface as several studies have shown it takes 20 – 25 minutes to regain focus after each distraction whether that’s a text message, email or colleague buzzing by your desk.
We’re not creating value in this state of mind. Real value comes from concentrated focus. What author Cal Newport calls Deep Work. This requires finding uninterrupted time to focus. At minimum, 90 minutes. But it’s better if you can find 2 – 4 hour blocks of time.
While Nicholas Carr has shown how our brains are being rewired in the digital age, neuroscience shows that because our brains can be consciously rewired through focus on a subject over time. Called self-directed neuroplasticity, we can choose not to be so distracted.
When algorithms can replace much of the work we already do – and much of the thinking – it’s the value we create through deeper work that will keep us relevant. And that will differentiate you from others. Because it is hard. It takes intention. Vision. Discipline. All things eroded by digital distraction.
Check it out here. Not only will you create more value, you’re apt to live a more satisfying life.
The best teams are selfless. But each of us has an agenda. A lens though which we view the world. Unless each of us commits to the greater vision of the team, we’ll undermine the team success for our own benefit. Yet conversely if we give ourselves selflessly to the team we’ll get the rewards in the long term.
Our lizard brains though trick us into focusing more on short term gains. Just look at Wall Street for how prominent that approach is. Few are committed to building companies with legacies. The norm is on how fast you scale and exit. Grabbing a nice pot of cash on your way out. I get the logic in this. Who doesn’t want to be rich?
Yet for society to thrive longterm, we need to think more about building selfless teams. The kinds of teams that can win. And win big. If we get out of our own way.
I read recently Scott Adams’ focus on systems over goals as a means towards success. If you can build a system within a team and operate effectively within that system, you should hit your success.
While you were busy checking Facebook wondering what your friends were up to, posting to Instagram, checking Twitter and YouTube, others were creating. Writing. Drawing. Designing. Thinking. Shipping.
We often regret the time we waste on things that seemed productive in the moment, lamenting where the time went. If we’d achieved our goals and dreams we’d look back with satisfaction. Yet how many of us do that? You can’t go back. Time once expended is gone.
On the flip side, parsing your time into massive productivity slices isn’t the answer either. Being busy organizing, cleaning, responding is just that: keeping you busy with the false illusion you’re doing something productive. True productivity is doing the right things. And only you know what those are. Those nagging goals and dreams currently unfulfilled.
I’m not advocating a slovenly lifestyle. Clean. And stay that way as that frees your mind from the clutter of distraction. And dust bunnies everywhere are just gross. Whether in your head or your home or your office.
There’s also the argument that idle time is also time well spent. Time where you sit quietly with your thoughts. Where the digital is not present. Ideas happen here. Do this.
Don’t go another year and look back with regret on where the time went without anything to show for it. Look back next year and smile at the experiences you enjoyed. The work you did. And the difference you made. And if you achieved your dreams this year, where are you going next?
How often do you ask questions before blindly doing something you’re asked? Do you seek to understand the ‘why’ behind the mission or just follow it?
I ask a lot of questions in business and personal. I am curious to learn more, to understand why we’re doing something. What makes someone get up in the morning. It’s a way of sussing out a bigger story and perhaps finding more innovative solutions. Or connecting the dots in a counter intuitive way that resonates.
When I interview prospective job candidates, it’s all about asking thought-provoking questions and I enjoy the process of learning about people. I find that those that don’t ask me questions are not so curious. They tend not to think critically and are thus less equipped to navigate ambiguity and change. They are less likely to be able to create a map when there is none.
Be a curious explorer. Questions may beget more questions and take you down a path you hadn’t initially envisioned. A path that leads to stronger outcomes.
What questions are you not asking today But should?
In the spirt of focus and building on last year, here are three words I’m using to guide me in the year ahead. Last year’s were so simple, but still hard. I often forgot about them. Yet I smiled when I went back to them late summer and noted the first one, again – Do. Earlier in the summer I attended the Do Lectures. Maybe it’s serendipity or maybe it’s a stretch to connect the two, but I hadn’t thought of this word when I signed up in the Spring. I would like to think putting the word out there contributed to being there in some small way. What words will you use to guide you this year?
2016 was a year of intense self exploration and awakening leading to some significant changes in 2017. When the ball dropped on 2015 to usher in the next year, I had no idea what lie in store. It was during this year that I went through the key stages of change – Endings where you’re in denial and feeling sad, then the neutral zone where you have much anxiety and confusion and chaos, and finally New Beginnings with a renewed sense of purpose. It’s not been all linear. Sometimes I went back through these stages. But we’re now at the end of 2016 and I’m poised for reinvention. Maybe it’s an awakening, but I think it’s something more. It’s the start of a second act perhaps. Bold? Pompous to say? Perhaps. I’ve been sitting with this for awhile and am committed to reinventing myself to be the best self I can possibly be. Much better than the old. And a self that can offer so much more to those around me because I do feel I have much to give. So here we go.
This isn’t necessarily something new for me as I’m always exploring the cities I travel to for work. But I like this word for what it promises. It feeds my keen curiosity for life and people and how things work. And may provide some focus to how I explore the world around me. It’s not just places either, but feelings – getting out of my head, where you’ll often find me spending much time. And letting go of perfectionism to try cooking new things, pursuing new sports (for me) like cycling – I have an eye on Cycle Oregon 2017. But then running may overtake that with a goal to run one 1/2 Marathon per month. In any case, to explore means to be open. To pay attention to the moments and experiences – especially the little ones that can add so much depth and texture to your day. No matter where you are, explore what is around you. You may be surprised at how much you discover in the process. And what you’ve missed before.
There’s so much mediocrity around us. It’s easy to be average. Whether it’s customer service or the communications we send, we do so much on auto pilot. Focus on checking things off the list more than ensuring they have the impact we want to make. And so I want to elevate the concept of being exceptional. Choosing something to master and create wow and delight. To be better than average because that’s where you can make a difference. And after 2016, who couldn’t use a dose of exceptional? In a job market filled with oodles of college graduates all producing resumes filled with much the same gobbledygook – I read many of them – it’s more important than ever to rise above. So here’s to being exceptional in 2017. In how we communicate. How we write. How we show up. Be exceptional.
It’s no secret we’re facing momentous change given the election results. Like many, I never thought this would come to pass and have had to pick myself up out of depression for what this means for our country. Whereas Obama gave us hope – and delivered on that promise for all intents and purposes – we now face divisiveness and ugliness. My initial desire was to pretend it was a bad dream. That it didn’t really happen. But it did and it’s out of our control. Running away isn’t an option. But focusing on what we can control is. It may not always be easy. Few things worth doing are. As a consummate thinker I process possibility. I visualize the good, the bad and everything in between.
Outside of the election, 2016 has been a year of change for me and will continue to be well into 2017 – that I am certain about. Spending more than a few hours above 30,000 feet during the year affords much time to envision the future. To reconcile what’s working; what’s not working. To think about all of the mistakes I’ve made. And no doubt I’ll continue to make more as long as I navigate this circuitous path called life with more intention and authenticity than perhaps I’ve done in the past. None of us can go back. But we can move forward. You can either let change blow you around willy nilly. Or you can stare it in the face. Grab ahold of it. Throwing a pity party isn’t going to feed your soul. I’ve awoken this year in ways that are tough to articulate. It’s as if I finally got the memo. But then I am a guy and sometimes we’re a little slow on the uptake.
The election aside –I still have to compartmentalize that disaster – I feel more at peace. More alive. And more hopeful than I have. Part of it is through acceptance; letting go. And part of it is a desire to live the best life I can going forward. Why not? The Do was instrumental in this. As is much of the reading I’m drawn to. In fact, it seems books show up at the most serendipitous times. I’m currently working through ‘Designing your Life’ by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans – just out this fall! I recommend you work through it too. It’s about surfacing options rather than accepting the one solution staring at you. It’s about applying design thinking to your life. You don’t need to be a designer to do this and it can help spark positive change.
I often share this article on why most change initiatives fail: it’s because change causes physical pain in the brain and only through focus and repetition can you transfer this new change from one part of the brain to another. Remember how hard you had to think when learning to drive? It’s like that.
Even as I write this and ponder possibility – I am a dreamer at heart, and innately curious – I know there will be bumps on the journey. And it is always a journey. I’d like to call this texture. But I believe it’s how we face such bumps that makes us stronger. Here’s to navigating such with grace and style.
The Do Lectures are hard to describe. Some say it’s like Ted meets Burning Man on farm. Others will say it’s about uniting the Doers of the world and sharing stories. Whatever you do, don’t call it a conference though. Where else can you go sleep in a Tipi with strangers, shower outside and hear the most amazing stories?
Each February for the past four years you’ll find me in Amsterdam. I spend the day I land walking the city with camera in hand, looking at how I can see and discover things I hadn’t in previous trips. There’s a lot you miss when first visiting a new city; particularly one as visually rich as Amsterdam. I love this city’s architecture and saw it differently on this trip, although I’m always drawn to the areas around the canals.