Phil Knight: “We have so much opportunity, but we’re having a terrible time getting managers who can seize the opportunities. We try people from the outside, but they fail, because our culture is so different.” Mr. Hayami: “See those bamboo trees up there?” “Yes.” “Next year they will be one foot higher.”
I understood. When I returned… I tried hard to cultivate and grow the management team we had, slowly, with more patience, with an eye toward more training and more long-term planning. I took the wider, longer view. It worked.
Nike founder Phil Knight describing a learning moment in his memoir Shoe Dog.
Love this view of better results from growing leaders up from the people already around you, slowly and surely building a strong bench. Not simply expecting new faces to show up and solve everything.
“The first step is to tone down the prophecies of doom, and switch from panic mode to bewilderment. Panic is a form of hubris. It comes from the smug feeling that I know exactly where the world is heading — down. Bewilderment is more humble, and therefore more clear-sighted. If you feel like running down the street crying ‘The apocalypse is upon us!’, try telling yourself ‘No, it’s not that. Truth is, I just don’t understand what’s going on in the world.”
Yuval Noah Harari in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
This is a powerful, pragmatic, and motivational reference that I’ll revisit again each year.
The basic premise throughout is that any problem, dream, goal, or task are figureoutable. Meaning that if I break it down into achievable steps, face my fears about starting it, and truly want to say “yes” to it — and then take full responsibility for failing and learning from the experience — I can and will “win” because I learn and grow.
All you need is one core meta belief, a master key that unlocks every imaginable door in the castle of your consciousness. It’s like throwing a switch that instantly illuminates a field of infinite potential. If you haven’t yet guessed, the whole purpose of this book is to inspire you to adopt the supremely powerful belief that everything is figureoutable!
People are almost always confronting what computer science regards as the hard cases. Up against such hard cases, algorithms make assumptions, show bias toward simpler solutions, trade off the costs of error against the costs of delay, and take chances.
These aren’t the concessions we make when we can’t be rational. They’re what being rational means.
This book by Daniel Siegel guided me beyond the popular meditation apps like Calm and Headspace into something different, the “Whole of Awareness.” The idea is to integrate all types of meditation and awareness training practices from focus attention, to open awareness, to connectedness—non-duality.
The core practice involves visualizing a center hub of awareness, a spoke of attention, and a rim which holds all possible focuses. From the 5 senses, body awareness, thoughts/emotions, and feeling connected to other humans, beings, and things.
Dan repeats a phrase over and over to underline why a practice like this leads to improved well-bing: “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.”
Increase neural integration in the brain, enabling more coordination and balance in both the functional and structural connectivity within the nervous system that facilitates optimal functioning, including self-regulation, problem solving, and adaptive behavior that is at the heart of well-being.
Why do I avoid the backlog and overflowing todo list? Why do I shove one more tool into a drawer already full of bits and bobs? Why do I squeeze yet another outfit into an overflowing closet? Because confronting this mess is hard work. It means making tough choices. Most of the time, I’d rather not decide.
To make sense of my environment, my work, my life—I need to confront the mess. Once the clutter is gone I know I’m left with just the essentials. Once the dust is clear, I can get to work.
In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo explains that while the process of decluttering and cleaning your home is important to your physical wellbeing, the true outcome is happiness and clarity in your mind. The habit gives you the freedom to take responsibility for important decisions.
I learned so much from this book, from awareness and mindfulness to practical tips on folding and hanging clothes. The habit of tidiness is now a mindset for me rather than just a chore to be completed.
The process starts by discarding the inessential items. Tidying up defines what is valuable: learning what I can do without; learning which books, clothes, keepsakes, or kitchen tools give me the most joy.
In applying her principles, my books were the hardest. I had hundreds and many in the category of “I’ll read this someday.” I trimmed it down to 80-90 best of the best — including this one! Hah. Keeping sentimental, must-read again, and books I reference often. The rest I gave as gifts to a new home or donated.
Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.
A clean home is a perfect metaphor for a clear and organized mind. If my room and desk are clear and tidy I can face the reality of what’s in front of me. “It is by putting one’s own house in order that one’s mindset is changed. When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.” Am I scared of what I’ll find?
Because you have continued to identify and dispense with things that you don’t need, you no longer abdicate responsibility for decision making to other people.
Decisions are now easier as I see more clearly the work in front of me. And I enjoy even more the treasures, clothes, and tools I chose to keep.
My book review of Dawn of the New Everything, Encounters With Reality and Virtual Reality by Jaron Lanier (2017). The book is enjoyable and readable, though I did skip around over the more esoteric bits.
Alternating between a deep autobiographical dive into Lanier’s life and a straightforward account of the history of technology, with an emphasis on virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR). I enjoyed learning about early technologists like Ivan Sutherland, whose 1963 SketchPad presentation was the “greatest demo of all time” to Doug Engelbart’s 1968 productivity software demo than reads like a modern tech stack: file versioning, collaborative editing, and video conferencing.
More eye-opening for me than the history is the honest and thought description of VR from one of the industry’s true pioneers.
A lot of joy in VR remains in just thinking about it.
VR trains us to perceive better… we learn to sense what makes reality real. [Because] human cognition is in motion and will generally outpace progress in VR.
A sense of cognitive momentum, of moment-to-moment anticipation, becomes palpable in VR. Like the chi in tai-chi.
The investigation has no end, since people change under investigation.
The technology of noticing experience itself.
Lanier describes VR as feeling your consciousness in its pure form. “It proves you are real.” The exact opposite of what I’d previously thought of when considering VR—I perceived a “fake” or “out of body” experience. Instead, Lanier emphasizes that it’s meant to be temporary. It’s meant to make you think, not just escape. It’s intended to produce the enjoyment of coming back to your true senses, reborn.
Reading notes: I read the hardcover edition from my local library after seeing a mention in both Wired and The Economist. See on Goodreads.
I asked a whole bunch of designers what books, which weren’t specifically about digital or graphic design, inspired them.
Looking at the list I noted I’ve read four of the twelve books: 4, 7, 10, 12. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is one where I’ve purchased extra copies and given them to friends, especially those who say “I’m not visual” or “I’m not really a designer.” It’s a fun format, different from most other books I generally come across.
Last week I shared Amazon’s Leadership Principles, which includes “insist on the highest standards.” Modeling the higher standard myself, and expecting it in others I work with. The concept of leaders training new leaders is on my mind a lot lately, because it’s central to my role at Automattic and in the WordPress community.
When looking for new models to refresh my inputs and broaden my understanding, one logical source of inspiring leader is the military.
My introduction to military leadership started with One Mission by Chris Fussell, which led to Team of Teams by General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal — see my notes here.
The book follows Gen. Dunwoody’s wonderful and amazing life journey through career, family, and life. She grounds the narrative with lessons and principles. Guideposts.
Here are a few guideposts that resonated with me.
Whatever you believe about the nature of leadership, true leaders never stop learning, refining, growing, and adapting—and that’s the primary focus of this book.
On setting a high standard:
Meeting the standard is the expectation, but those who strive to exceed the standard send a signal about their character and their competence.
After managing nearly sixty-nine thousand employees, one thing is clear to me: there is a higher standard that provides the foundation upon which every effective leadership journey is built. It’s the difference between the leaders who excel and the leaders who fail. It’s their thought process, attention to detail, and execution that enables them to inspire and motivate their workforce to create and sustain high-performing, successful organizations.
If you take nothing else from this book—never walk by a mistake, or you just set a new lower standard!
Putting this high standard into practice means not walking by a mistake without correcting it — at Automattic we call this “trash pickup.”
He taught me to never walk by a mistake. Far too often we let little things slide. But just turn on the news and listen as the anchors lament an auto-part defect leading to deaths and multibillion-dollar recalls or a small leak in a gas pipeline causing an explosion that endangers wildlife. Recognizing when something is wrong, big or small, and holding people accountable can save industries billions and citizens their lives. Sergeant Bowen instilled in me instantly that if you do walk by a mistake, then you just set a new, lower standard.
…working longer hours doesn’t necessarily equal better performance. Working harder doesn’t mean working smarter. Longer hours mean less sleep, fatigue, ulcers, compromised decisions, and a lack of balance in one’s life.
On developing other leaders — what I would call “training the trainer” — finding your successor is another essential aspect of leadership.
The job of senior leaders is to develop other leaders. It requires senior leaders to weigh in on key decisions. Leaders who don’t weigh in lose their vote.
One of most important jobs a senior leader has is to develop leaders or to “build the bench.”
When leaders help subordinates overcome weaknesses or mistakes, they help the subordinate, they help the organization, and they help themselves become better leaders.
…as a lifelong skill, I have worked on developing the skill of giving people chances to improve their performance after a failure.
On diversity and inclusion:
Although the power of diversity is sometimes hard to quantify, Childs definitely got my attention. His success revealed a few points: (1) diversity wasn’t about numbers or quotas—having one of these and one of those—it was about diversity of thought, and not just anyone’s thought but the best-of-the-best thoughts; and (2) these folks had to have a platform from which their ideas could be heard and implemented.
I believe the strength in diversity comes from being able to leverage diversity of thought.
View the A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General book on Amazon and Goodreads.
This book is now a “daily devotional” for me; less holy scripture and more mindset for effectiveness in business, life, relationships. The improvement on my thought patterns was immediate: I noticed the ideas and principles coming up in daily work and life conversations, the mindset for effective time tracking and outward focus on contributions accelerated my career growth, and I deepened my understanding of business and how best to run an organization.
My all-time favorite — now well-worn and bookmarked — is September 4, “Practices of Effective Executives.” A distilled summary from his bestselling book of the same name.
The September 4 “Daily Drucker” reading details the five practices for effectiveness: 1) know where your time goes 2) focus on outward contributions 3) build on strengths 4) concentrate on superior performance and 5) make effective decisions.
Which ties perfectly into Ray Dalio’s masterpiece where decision making is a key theme.
As I said in the beginning, this book hit me with a wall of new insights. I’m still processing it after 3 reads! Hat tip, Matt.
Top highlights of the book for me:
A winning formula: meaningful work + meaningful relationships + making a living. This ties in well with the freedom and mission that WordPress and Automattic stand for—a livelihood for anyone in the world with a website, blog, or shop.
Good principles are effective ways of dealing with reality.
Beware ego block by remembering that you’re looking for the best answer, not simply the best answer that you can come up with yourself.
Use pain to trigger quality reflections, learn what causes your pain and what you can do about it. This is the most effective habit Ray developed over 40 years.
Practice being open-minded and assertive at the same time, and think about your and others’ believability when deciding what to do. Find the most believable people possible who disagree with you and try to understand their reasoning.
Ideas versus decisions. Meritocracy is for hearing everyone’s voice — not for everyone making the decision.
You’ll find much, much more in the book; see also the book’s website: principles.com and social media. On LinkedIn Ray’s been sharing the most popular principles as readers give him feedback — with short audio clips.
I suggest buying both electronic and the hard copy. In 2018 I’ll share more thoughts and insights from the book, plus share experiences and learnings from putting the principles into practice.
What were your top books from 2017? Did anything become a must-read or daily habit?