Burn

My daughter came home earlier this week with burns on her arm. It was an accident at school involving hot oil, water, following her teacher’s instructions over her own instincts, with some instant repercussions. Worse still was her classmates castigation – that burned worse than the hot oil.

Respect for elders, and for authority, is a value that we have long spoken about with our kids. We’ve not spoken about the exceptions enough- the other side of the equation.  Standing up for yourself when the authority figure is stepping well beyond their remit, or abusing their authority.

Experiences such as the one she had this week are a reminder that nothing, even values, is black and white. We must learn from these experiences, kids and adults alike. We have to, or suffer the consequences.

 

Labour of Love

What brings people together, to forget their differences, to listen?

I started an experiment a few months ago, inviting a small group of people to listen in on conversations I would have. To eavesdrop, you might call it. There was no theme to the people I’d talk to. There was no official need for any one of my invited speakers to even do it. There was no need for me to do it either – it isn’t in my job description.  Yet, week after fortnight (oh, there was no consistency to it either :D), people would show up to these.  A handful at first. Then a few more, until it’s become a regular 70+ person attendance to these sessions. It’s swollen to 150 at times, and the conversations have sometimes gone well beyond the scheduled 55 minutes.

It’s incredibly satisfying to see this happen – a community form around a loose idea that humans around us are interesting, that they have a story to tell, and that we can all learn from each other. This is a labour of love, not a job and I’m grateful that I have the support to keep doing this week after week.

To my original question, what brings people together, to forget their differences, to listen? – I still don’t have an answer.

Everything Good Takes Time

Of late, I’ve been constraining my reading and listening/watching to a smaller set of people, but going deeper and longer than I’ve done before. Eavesdropping – how I like to think of podcasts – on these long form conversations  has been unlike much of the broad reading I have been doing for years.

What I do find really interesting is that even these deep, long conversations tend to cover a broad ground. It may sound obvious but an expert in a field does not mean she or he has knowledge only in that field.  Conversations like this or this for example give nuanced ideas from disciplines I didn’t even think existed, or new ideas from disciplines I thought I had some basic understanding of. I’m learning to let these ideas come to me rather than the other way round.

What’s most fascinating though is how these ideas start composing into newer forms in my mind. I’m not an academic, I’m simply interested in imagining how various combinations – people, ideas, things – might work together. Not all of them will. Maybe most of them won’t. When occasionally it catches on (I experiment with them at work mostly), I’m always amazed at the response I get.

“Everything good takes time” – Travis Oliphant to Lex Fridman

Promises and Lies

I wouldn’t do to my colleagues what I sometimes do to my loved ones: making promises, and not living up to my word.

I forget often that “prioritising” is just another fancy word of choosing which is more important. Not for a moment do I believe that ‘work’ is more important than humans. By choosing one thing over another, we simply decide it is worth more to us based on some scale we’ve chosen at that moment, and it might simply have been the wrong scale to measure against.

Joan Baez calls them “tunes of promises you can’t keep”

I’ve caught myself a few times in the last couple of weeks not living up to the promises I’ve made to the most important people in my life. The reasons don’t matter. The emotions do.

I can do better.

Under Pressure

Under pressure.

Not the Queen song of the same name, but how I was feeling this morning as my first meeting of the day/week began. How fascinating, I thought to myself (HT to Ben Zander). I could see all of us in that session wrestle with the ideas we were trying to understand ourselves first, and then put into a series of communications to persuade others of their value.

I took it upon myself to pull something together that gave voice to my perspective. It’s not the complete picture, it’s not pretty, it’s not even sound. I did it in about an hour so I barely had any time to do this right.

When I shared it with a few people (show your work early!), I got useful comments on how it could flow better, and I’m already seeing the value of having done that initial hard slog for an hour. It won’t take too long before it is forged into something much stronger  than it’s original version. I’m glad I had the pressure on me to help me put out an early basic version of those ideas.

Consistency

The weather outside was incentive enough to stay in bed today. It helped that it was Sunday and there were few demands. We binged watched reruns of Seinfeld – and it kept me thinking about how brilliantly the show lines are written.

Consistency, if I remember right, was Seinfeld’s mantra, dispensed to a young comedian Brad Isaac: “He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.”

After what was a long day of driving to the big smoke and back, at 10pm, the last thing I want to do is to sit down and write. I know the chain of writing hasn’t been missed, and I was not going to break that today.  I have an accountability buddy who is sending me a quote for my Spencerian writing every day, & I’m not going to let them down because I don’t feel like writing. And given I’m posting that here, I am not going to not write 🙂 (double negatives?!)

I’m grateful for the last week; the decentralisation discussion on Thursday has been a splendid highlight for me. I’m glad that more people are starting to lean in, contribute, speak up, and offer their perspectives in ways I have not seen. That is the best feeling ever.

 

Friction

The young lad wants to buy a game for his Xbox. Should be pretty straightforward but after so much struggle, we’ve just discovered that the thing he wants is not available for purchase unless he is 18 or older.  Why not put that basic message up, instead of having to get your users (particularly ignoramus parents buying for this kids) to meander through this mess and buy stuff that simply locks you into subscriptions you can’t / won’t ever use?

The extent of friction that most companies seem to inflict on their customers, despite the lip service that most of them give to ‘great customer experience’ could certainly be a good one to exploit?  Why do these billing processes/ systems make life so hard for everyone involved?

I wonder if it has anything to do with the dinosaur finance execs? My exasperation with the awfully retrograde views of several finance ‘leaders’ whose only knowledge of business technology seemed to be the grid of spreadsheets forced me to give up and move away from the career I spent over two decades in.  Any novel solutions – nay, even the thought of examining possible solutions to remove friction  in the billing/finance processes – seems to get this lot in knots. Rather than argue with them, and get them to change their views, most people (including myself) simply take it as one of life’s unchangeable challenges.

Begging the Question

“When in doubt, just say thank you. There is no downside. Are you honestly worried about showing too much gratitude to the people in your life?”

James Clear

I host a weekly session for anyone interested in sharing their ideas with a group of other curious people. Through word of mouth, the number of people regularly dialing into these sessions has quadrupled through CoVID. The topics of discussions are wide ranging, often of personal projects, stories of resilience, technology, data science & AI, contemporary research. I’ve learnt to apply some ideas from Rob Walker’s “The Art of Noticing” and John Hagel’s writing  into building this community. The discussions are robust yet respectful, but also from a tiny handful of folks.

There are a couple of individuals attending who can’t seem to help themselves from critiquing every subject. Finding something that’s wrong, or unsolved, or in the news. They dial in late, miss the context & framing of the conversation (particularly when the speaker has explicitly clarified that they are unaware of the solutions to the particular problem that is raised), & then attempt to turn the conversation towards their own uninformed point of view. Oh, and not once have I witnessed a “thank-you for doing this presentation, or the effort that’s gone into it” from them.

Of the many ways I’ve learnt to handle this situation, the simplest has been to request the offenders to present on a topic of their choice. I do think they have lots of good stuff to share, they’re so far unempathetic to the efforts required from others because they’ve not done it themselves yet. No one has agreed, not so far anyway.

Tip of the Iceberg

We went out for dinner last night, celebrating the preparation of over 2 years that the little man had put in for a test he took yesterday. Regardless of the outcome of the test, we’re proud of his efforts. It hasn’t been an easy road for sure, with missed days and tears and everything that goes with it. He persevered through it all.

We got to the restaurant about 45 minutes before closing time – and I could see the faces of the staff fall. It must have been a long day – a long two years for business – and they would have liked perhaps to just go home, never mind the small amount of business that would be this last dinner would fetch.

We were gently hurried through our order, which of course was itself the thing the little fella was looking forward to. It was all a digital workflow (iPads with the KOT and integrated billing etc) so within minutes, dinner was served. And of course, as usual, hungry folks overestimate quantity required to get over said hunger, so I had to walk up to the counter to ask for a doggie bag. Since I was there, I also decided to pay our bill, and engaged in small talk with the owner.

The other folks were busy tidying up and busying themselves. The young lady responsible for the cash till returned my change while the older gentleman kept talking to me, as all of us small towners like to do. Remembering their faces when we walked in, I left most of the change in their tip jar while we continued our conversation.

I could feel something change at that moment. As I walked away with the little container, I heard their chatter and caught the young lady pointing out the tip I had left. I went back because, as usual, the little man wanted friend ice-cream(!) and they cheerfully packed it for us, on the house. We walked out, with everyone profusely greeting each other good night.

It didn’t break our bank, that little tip. It wouldn’t have paid anyone’s rent. And yet, it seemed to have changed the way they saw us – or maybe me (I had just thrown on the first shirt I could find, was unshaven, and just shabby to be honest. Everyone else had dressed up for the occasion.)

Pay a little more attention to my appearance. Remember to leave a tip. And I’ve missed human conversation!