Running to Stand Still

With Jeff Immelt out and John Flannery in as General Electric CEO, The Economist describes the company as having gone through a lot of important changes without achieving greater results. Shuffling. Reorganizing. Yet in the same place as before.

“GE has been running to stand still. …what it now needs is less re-engineering and more consistent execution.” — General Electric picks a new boss

This made me think. When I have the urge to shift things around: team, products, projects, office furniture, books on the bookshelf — I can ask myself, “Am I doing this just to stay busy? Look busy? Feel busy?”

Instead of movement for its own sake, I should find impact where I am today in my exact location. With this team, this project, this company — not something new. Work on meaningful results to help people by finishing what I’ve started.

The Bias of the Absent Visitor

If your software product’s user interface doesn’t support _____, or support them well — your data won’t include _____ in your access logs. You could think they don’t visit often enough to include them in your team’s decisions about the interface. Instead, you can focus on segments of the population based on device, browser, OS, language and location, or any other criteria you feel are important and worthy of attention. It’s simple: make it work for the majority.

This is a blind spot. I call it the bias of the absent visitor. Since they’ve never come by, you can easily fall into assuming they don’t want to or need to use your interface. You might think you can just ignore them safely.

The reality is that they might have stopped by once or many times, had a terrible and unwelcome first experience, and have never come back. They could have seen a blank, white page instead of your carefully crafted design and content. Might have even told their friends not to bother.

This is one of my biggest blind spots. I hope that writing it down will motivate me to remember that the absent visitor is just as valuable as the typical one.

Be a Yardstick of Quality

Inspiration from Steve Jobs, in 1987. This is my milepost for 2017.

People judge you by your performance, so focus on the outcome. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.

From I, Steve edited by George Beahm (2011).

 

Smarter, Faster, Better

A few findings from reading Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Goodreads).

On self-motivation: Ask yourself, why am I doing what I’m doing? If you are doing something you think is stupid and meaningless, you’re not going to care.

Envisioning the day: Make a habit of picturing how things will go, what goals you have from meetings or tasks—it can make you much more productive.

Distractions: We can trick our brain to ignore things by spending time visualizing what we want to occur, like going to the store for only lasagna and ignoring the special display of holiday cookies.

Tests, finances, decisions: Slow down to make better choices, called “disfluency.” Also helps with overload of data; it’s easy to let your eye slide over it without absorbing anything. Fight it by slowing the information down, make it stickier.

Internalize new ideas: Tell someone about it, interact with the idea, and it’ll stick with you better. For example, telling a colleague about a book you’re reading, not to educate them, but to lock in the ideas.

Financial life: Force yourself to interact with the data, even if it seems inefficient. Sit down regularly and see what you spent money on—is it expected? Do you need to change habits? Not only look, but write it down.

Editorial note: I published this with the WordPress desktop app, a superbly focused and native experience to write posts and manage your blog settings.

Adam Savage on Problem Solving

From the “Recently Watched and Enjoyed” department, this video is now six years old, but still great: Adam Savage Presents Problem Solving: How I Do It from Maker Faire 2010.

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Questions he asks all throughout the problem solving process:

  1. How much time do I have left? Set artificial goals to help push ahead.
  2. Am I missing something stupid?
  3. How does this thing fit into the bigger picture? How does the whole look?

At the 75% mark of completing a given project Adam thinks, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” When he says, “I know how to do this,” he screws it up. Reminds me of The Investigative Mindset a bit.

AFK Oblique Strategies

If you’re not familiar with Oblique Strategies, they are a collection of short phrases, dilemmas intended to make you think. Originally published as a set of notecards in 1975, these contradictions are one of my favorite discoveries while working for Automattic.

In my case I like to say they cause brainwaves.

Luckily, you don’t need the original index cards to use Oblique Strategies any time you want to change your thinking, because there are electronic versions such as a Mac dashboard widget and an iOS mobile app (one of several apps).

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Example of the OS X dashboard widget.

The original strategies include phrases such as:

– Listen to the quiet voice
– Make what’s perfect more human
– Do the last thing first

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Example of the iOS mobile app “Oblique Productivity.”

I took two-and-a-half months off work this summer—a lot of AFK time (away from keyboard)—and I’d like to share with you several of my own AFK-related Oblique Strategies that came to mind as I planned meaningful activities during the break.

Which isn’t to give you advice or say I have any answers. Rather, these are food for thought that I hope jar your brainwaves like they did mine. Save them for your next thinking time, or for the next time you take a bit of vacation from your work.

– Stay at home on your travels
– Make today a dull repeat of yesterday
– Read an old book with new eyes
– Most frivolous as most meaningful
– Be still for as long as possible
– Start with the least urgent
– Turn the computer —on —off
– Are you more joyful?