Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively

One of my favorite takeaways from Principles by Ray Dalio is the notion of above-the-line and below-the-line (hat tip: Matt). Dalio describes how to navigate both levels effectively in both work and life.

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To synthesize well, you must 1) synthesize the situation at hand, 2) synthesize the situation through time, and 3) navigate levels effectively.

Synthesis, in my own words, means the ability to identify, understand, and combine bits and pieces into a whole. A coherent end point. As my colleague Ian Stewart says, “Keep your eye on the prize. Or, on the next step.”

You could apply this principle in many areas of work and life:

  • Keeping meetings on topic with clear decisions at the end.
  • Converging on a minimum viable product launch.
  • Coaching and feedback conversations with peers, mentors, employees.
  • Business strategy and decision-making.
  • Presenting important information to a group: telling a story that sticks.

In addition to navigating the levels effectively, there’s an added benefit of shared language:

Use the terms “above the line” and “below the line” to establish which level a conversation is on.

This makes clear when a divergent or convergent conversation is needed.

Navigating the levels well means you are an effective communicator and decision maker. Able to balance inputs such as thinking, planning, and research with a clear and purposeful decision to move things forward.

Sensible Ideas

To engage you need sensible ideas.

It’s not enough to be the squeaky wheel. Barack Obama said that politicians and governments respond to people making noise and demands. But the biggest mistake made by activists “is once you’ve gotten the attention of people in power then you have to engage them and have sensible ideas.” Obama added that you have to do you homework, have your facts straight, and be willing to compromise. He is addressing this issue head on with the Obama Presidential Center, which is designed to help the next generation of activist leadership.

Via Fortune: Barack Obama: Lessons on Leadership, Power, and Effecting Change (May 2017).

Rare and Valuable Skills

The goal of my career philosophy is to craft a remarkable working life. The definition of “remarkable,” however, differs for different people.

On one extreme, it might capture a life of power and respect, where you’re at the center of important matters. While on another, it might capture a life of exotic travel with a minimum of work and a maximum of adventure.

Something most such visions have in common is that they contain traits that are rare and valuable. If you want them, therefore, you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. This requires that you stop daydreaming about a perfect job that will make you instantly happy, and instead focus on becoming so good they can’t ignore you.

Cal Newport in 2012

What are your rare and valuable skills? (Emphasis mine.)

Extract Your Own Insights

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Don’t ask for advice. Ask for experiences. Then extract the insights yourself.

Via the “Top Performer” class notes from Cal Newport and Scott Young.

Penny Allen on Key Traits of Technologists

 

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Penny Allen, quality lead for Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) inspired me with her keynote at PNSQC as she described six key traits of a technologist.

  • Curiosity beyond “what does it do?”
  • Inventive problem solver
  • Self-driven learner
  • Coherent communicator
  • Open-minded but practical
  • Adept at finding the signal in the noise

View the full video of her talk: Quality Engineering 2017: Trends, Tricks, and Traps. This slide appears at 32:42.