When looking at an outcome and trying to replicate it, I often try to break it down by analyzing the things that contributed to it’s success. It makes logical sense that if I can break down everything that happens, I can figure out the reasons that things happened the way that they did.
People do this all the time. Books are written, talks are given, and curricula are organized all with the intent of formulating a step by step process to achieve a certain goal.
But it’s rarely that simple. As The Black Swan argues, “no evidence of black swans does not mean evidence of no black swans.”
In my experience, I find that even when I follow all the rules, and do everything that I theorized based off what I learned from other people, that the outcome is rarely the same outcome as someone else. Human life is so complicated that taking a specific habit or routine directly out of someone else’s life will work when applied to yours.
For instance, consider the area of health and nutrition. In my recent study of nutrition (reading In Defense of Food), it was brought to my attention that the results of eating natural, organic vegetables is completely different and much more positive than eating the exact nutrients known to mankind within the vegetables. In other words, having a healthy diet is much more than simply counting the nutrients in the foods, even though much of nutrition-ism claims equivalence.
The truth is, most things are so utterly complex, circumstantial and unpredictable that simply trying to sum parts together will leave gaping holes and blind spots that are impossible to be aware of.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that people should stop learning as much as possible from as many people as possible. The value in sharing experiences and learning from people isn’t in applying things verbatim, but having a wider range of perspectives in how to approach your own endeavors.
On one end of the spectrum, having too much information can be paralyzing and overwhelming, but with the right attitude and framework for learning, a vast wealth of information can be used to create a breadth of understanding that allows a person to be well rounded and wise in all areas, being open to the vast ranges of possibilities of things to come without the expectation of a single outcome.
Summing the parts you know doesn’t always result in the outcome you want, but it’s better than nothing.
I read a lot of content every day, but one of the few that I revisit often is Paul Graham’s “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule“. Essentially, Paul writes about the difference between how a maker schedules their time and how a manager schedules their time.
The reason I found that article so memorable and fascinating is because I found myself able to relate to both sides on a fairly deep level. Sometimes I work well on hourly divisions of my day, and sometimes I just need to focus in on one thing for a whole day and not be interrupted.
But most days, it’s a combination of the two. I’m generally a maker by early morning and late at night, and a manager by day and afternoon. In fact, I generally feel more productive in the mornings and evenings much more so than the afternoons. I call this “bookend productivity”, the reason why I have lost so many afternoons to unproductive slumps.
I’ve tried a lot of things to be as productive as possible, but somewhere along the line I realized that I was looking at time management all wrong. Connecting it with Paul Graham’s ideas, I realized that to be effective at time management, I had to learn how to be effective at energy management. In other words, it’s not so much about dividing up my time as it is dividing up my energy in a way to get over the humps of the days, weeks, months, and years.
That simple shift in thinking changed almost everything. I began paying more attention to where my energy was going, and what kind of energy certain activities were using. For example, I found that listening to podcasts and reading books work best for me late mornings / early afternoon. I also found that since afternoons seem to be too difficult to get any work done, I generally use that period to meet with people / do more social things.
In the past couple months that I’ve been paying attention to where my energy goes, I’ve found that there are a couple different areas:
- Social energy, the energy that I expend when I’m around people.
- Cognitive energy, the energy used when I’m working on a problem, writing code, etc.
- Linguistic energy, the energy used when reading, writing, or listening.
- Physical energy, the energy used when exercising.
- Emotional energy, the energy used in personal relationships, movies, or other forms of entertainment.
And instead of looking at these energy sources as a reservoir that gets used up, think of it as a muscle that needs to be trained. The more you work on one of these, it will feel good but drain you in the short term, but work you up to be more capable in the long term, and if you work any one of these too hard at any given time, it can drain you to a point where you can’t do any of them.
I’ve found that my most satisfied, productive, and fulfilled days are days in which I have a good combination of all areas and aspects of life.
I’m learning how to drive manual.
And in learning how to drive, like any other active learning process, there are two mentalities that emerge. The Inner Game of Tennis talks about these two mentalities that often are at odds with each other, often leading to a self-sabotage of the learning process.
The first, called the outer self, is the part of the learning process that thinks logically about the situation. For example, in driving stick, the outer self sets specific speeds at which to change gears, and attempts to give specific instructions on what to do with the stick at what point.
In contrast, the inner self is the part that learns intuitively and by feeling. When someone learning to drive stick stalls the car, the inner self assesses how the car felt during the time, and internalizes the feelings associated with failing.
As Timothy Gallwey argues, the inner self is what allows tennis players to achieve mastery through proper focus and mental performance. Most of the time, the outer self is much louder than the inner self, and reacts negatively whenever a mistake is made.
Thus, the challenge in letting the inner self learn properly is about knowing how to quiet the part of the mind that is micromanaging every action. It’s about learning to direct your focus on how things feel, and trusting yourself in the process.
While learning manual, accidentally stalling the car at a stoplight brings out the intense conflict between the inner and outer self. The outer self is calling myself stupid, while the inner self is attempting to learn from the mistake. Of course, since it all happens so fast, it’s easy to let the outer self take over, panic, and stall the car three more times at the same intersection.
Quieting the outer self is about being intentional about recognizing and acknowledging thoughts, but not engaging with or judging them. It’s about learning to focus deeply on what is happening, and how your focus or lack of focus on the task itself is affecting the outcome.
It’s not positive thinking, it’s properly directed focus.
If you haven’t seen your friends do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge yet, you’re likely living under a bucket. (pun intended)
The rules for the ALS Ice bucket challenge are simple. Once you are nominated by someone, you have 24 hours to either pour a bucket of ice water over yourself or donate $100 to the ALS Association. After you’ve completed the challenge, you then nominate 3 more people to do the challenge.
The ALS association has raised millions of dollars by putting out this challenge, and could be considered a successful campaign by many definitions.
(a random example off youtube)
In digging a little deeper, however, I began thinking about why the challenge has gotten the attention that it has.
- The challenge is easy to understand – Anybody can understand how the challenge works by watching almost any other challenge video. The people who conceived of this idea made sure to keep it simple.
- The challenge is (mostly) entertaining to watch – Who doesn’t like seeing their friends dunked in ice water? Many people have gotten creative with their videos in an attempt to garner more attention and publicity. (Example of one below)
- The challenge has a quick turnaround time – 24 hours is a very quick turnaround time to force people to not procrastinate. Probably the most vital piece of this whole challenge. The concrete deadline combined with the social and public nature of these videos makes for a very quick spreading movement.
- The challenge brought awareness to a cause – For those people who are more into raising awareness than providing entertainment, the challenge provides an incentive to help explain a good cause.
- The challenge has a pyramid scheme structure – By having the ability to nominate 3 people, it creates a pyramid scheme where the challenge spreads exponentially.
Food for thought when designing your next advertising campaign.
And as promised, my vote for my favorite video:
Over the past couple months, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. The founders of The New School SF, a charter school to open in the fall of 2015, asked me to help support their web and marketing initiatives. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a part of starting a school, an item on my bucket list that I thought I wouldn’t be able to cross off until decades later.
The New School SF is a charter school with three main distinction points. Firstly, the school will be k-12, making it a complete 13 year program from kindergarten to graduating high school. Second, the school will be mixed income, promoting diversity and openness to all of San Francisco’s children. And last (and probably the most exciting personally), the school will have an inquiry based education model.
The inquiry model is a model that is based fundamentally on student inquiry. The student takes initiative in asking the questions and figuring out how to learn. Through exploration, exposition, and expression, students are able to use the innate curiosity to fuel their passion to learn. I’ve read and written about inquiry based models for a long time, but I’ve only ever used it myself, not in an environment of a whole group of students.
Through exploration, exposition, and expression, students are able to use the innate curiosity to fuel their passion to learn.
Over the last two weeks, The New School SF put on a pop-up program in which we were able to bring together a class of students ages 5 to 10 to attempt an inquiry based learning unit. We had amazing teachers from the UCLA lab school (a school doing inquiry based learning for the last 100 years) come in to show us the ropes of inquiry based education.
The students learned about roots and wings through creating collaborative projects, learning aspects of communication along the way. Pictures can be found on our Flickr album.
Even though I was running around doing errands, taking pictures, and designing the website, I realized that even the process of what I was doing was a manifestation of experiential learning. In one of the debrief meetings after a day of the pop-up, I listened in on insights and perspectives of teaching that I’ve never heard before. Besides feeling completely unqualified to be a part of those conversations, I saw how inquiry based learning starts with building community and identity, and attempts to relate everything to empowering a child’s dream.
Throughout the whole two weeks, I couldn’t help but wish that my own education had been inquiry based. Getting to know each student individually brought a whole new depth of learning to each of the students that brought growth in a mere two weeks. I already miss the kids, but I’m excited to see how inquiry based learning scales from two week pop-up to a 13 year program.
“We all spend so much time putting up walls so that others can’t see our vulnerabilities, but those same walls often enclose us within our own insecurities” – Adam Braun
The Promise of a Pencil, a book by Adam Braun, details the journey of starting the “for-purpose” organization Pencils of Promise. Adam Braun, although coming from a upper middle class family in New York, responded to questions and challenges in a very uniquely purposeful and significant way. He recounts near death experiences, being laid off, and other big risks and realizations.
In short, Pencils of Promise is a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring education to children all over the world, mainly through fundraising and building schools in other countries. They’ve scaled to the point of opening a new school every 90 hours.
What fascinated me the most about this story was Adam’s ability to think outside the box, go against the life career path that he was set up to take, and go down his own unique path.
Let’s face it, we’ve all made excuses as to why we are not capable of taking a bold step to change the world. We’re not tall enough, fast enough, smart enough, rich enough, social enough, weird enough, knowledgeable enough, skilled enough, qualified enough, etc. Our excuses aren’t completely irrational, as much historical data points to people more or less growing up to remain in the same social position as their parents. Malcolm Gladwell even argues in Outliers that much of who we become is a function of our background and environment we grow up around.
I’ve always found this to be a tricky debate, torn between seeing people stuck with struggles similar to their parents’ and the idealistic hope of the American Dream. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that rising above the “glass ceiling” isn’t about working hard, but working smart.
Simply working harder won’t necessarily bring you to winning a Nobel Peace Prize, starting a company, or changing the world. In fact, many times hard work without proper grounding in passion and purpose leads to burn out and frustration. The question in our modern day connection economy is no longer how many units can you produce on a product line, but how can you work to be effective in the things that you produce?
Today is my birthday, and I’m giving it to help give kids an education. I’ve partnered with Pencils of Promise in an attempt to raise $1000 for kids all over the world. It would truly make my day if you could help some kids out!