If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you’ll know that the hardest part about it is determining the guest list. If you invite your favorite Aunt Mabel, then you have to invite Aunt Daisy – even though you haven’t seen her in years. And if Mabel’s kids are invited, too, then there are all sorts of unspoken expectations that other guests’ children will be on the invitation list as well. You either opt for very small or bigger-than-you-expected because hitting the golden middle is extremely difficult.
I think that the “Goldilocks” expectation of being “just right” is the stuff of fairy tales most of the time. It’s hard to craft an important document that conveys detail and maintains brevity, so you opt for one direction or the other. It is challenging to deliver a speech that comes in exactly on timing – you often have too much to say in a short period or too little for the allotted timeframe. Determining the sweet spot of a budget takes some practice as well – after scrimping all year there seems to always be a mad dash to get a few more expenditures in before the fiscal year closes.
I think we falsely expect to hit any type of projection target with exact precision. Even a bullseye is, in essence, a range – the center circle affords several options as to where the dart may go within it. The key is knowing up front which end of the spectrum you are aiming for so when your later decisions are predicated on parameters set by your initial choices, you’re still able to hit your mark. Before you send out that first invitation, know if it’s more important to include everyone in the wedding or to keep it small.
In Tom Preston-Werner’s keynote, he spoke with glee about how he has been fascinated by magnets since he was a child. He used that curiosity to learn the application of magnetic fields in science experiments, motors, floppy drives, college physics and beyond.
I never really thought of magnets as “the coolest thing” but when you stop to ponder, they are pretty amazing. What other components do you know that can both repel and attract each other as well as draw in other objects from afar? Magnets are a litany of paradoxes: they hold things together and release freely, stay in place and are easily moved, as well as exerting attraction or repulsion to other surfaces like it.
Preston-Werner’s fascination with magnets was of the physical sense: the “inexplicable magic” of their properties. But think of how you can adopt some of the traits that a metaphorical magnet possesses. In your organizational setting, can you draw in others just as magnets pull in other metal objects from afar? Can you create ways to connect others together in a cohesive way? Do you serve in a role that repels forces working against you but attracts those in alignment? Can you hold things together but retain the ability to let go when the situation warrants?
Adopt some of the properties of the magnet and allow others in your organization to see your role as magical.
“Imagine all the world’s knowledge – known and unknown – as a huge, colorful and beautiful sweater…This super sweater has thousands, no billions of threads that aren’t fully weaved in and stick out at odd angles. The ends of these little threads are answers to questions. When you get curious about something and go looking for answers, you start pulling the thread. The more you pull, the more answers you get.”
So began the keynote by GitHub co-founder Tom Preston-Werner at an address to the local school district foundation. He went on to describe the delight he had as a child in pulling these “threads”, feeding his curiosity and learning about how things worked. His desire eventually led him to take classes, tinker with building, fall in love with computer science and start a company that was recently sold to Microsoft for $7.5 billion.
“Young children with a desire to pull on the thread of knowledge is the most powerful force in the universe,” Preston-Werner said. I would take that further and expand the power to anyone who has the thirst for knowledge. If you have a curiosity about any topic, you have resources at your disposal to learn about it – through online tutorials, classes or connections, via books, or by experimentation and old-fashion trial and error. Think of the liberation that occurs when you realize that you literally can learn anything that interests you.
What threads are tempting you as they dangle before you? The next time one catches your fancy, do more than just Google the surface-level response. Really pull on the thread to see what other discoveries it unravels and where it leads you. Finding more questions is often more powerful than stopping at easy answers.
Notre Dame head women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw was asked about her role as an advocate for women’s sports. Without hesitation, she gave a powerful reply that was passionate, fact-filled and powerfully made her point. (You can watch/read it here.)
Whether or not you agree with her stance, you have to admire the way she delivered her answer. McGraw has been an advocate for women in sports for many years and she certainly has her “elevator speech” well-honed.
Think about what you would say if posed a similar question by a reporter. Could you eloquently communicate – complete with facts and examples – the essence of your position on the topic that is relevant to your work? Do you have a cogent response to the challenges your organization faces that you could deliver without notes, on the spot?
If not, use McGraw as a role model to see how it’s done. Make it your mission today to gather those key points and supporting evidence and start rehearsing aloud!
Austin, Texas brands itself as the “live music capital of the world.” It’s a bold claim, but they own it and do their best to live up to the title.
One small way that Austin makes good on its boast is by having live music in the Austin-Bergstrom Airport. There is a permanent stage where solo artists can perform for travelers, adding to both their brand and the passengers’ pleasure. If you arrive at the “live music capital”, it’s only fitting that you should be greeted by live music upon landing.
What claim does your organization make that could be strengthened with some intentionality? If you profess to be out of the ordinary, take steps to deliver on that promise as Austin does and help others see your brand as you do.
Not long ago, I needed two people to help me cross this street. It was covered in a thick coating of ice and that, combined with the incline, made it impassable for me in my regular shoes. Even with assistance and slow, deliberate steps, we barely made it to the other side without all three of us falling.
I thought of this when I had to cross the same street again, only this time in clear weather. In about three strides I easily traversed the pavement and, had it not been for my harrowing crossing the last time I was there, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
While I wouldn’t wish ice on anyone, I think it’s good to have experiences that are easy under one condition and challenging in another. It helps develop empathy when we note that not everyone experiences the world in the same way or with the same abilities.
Where have you done something that varied depending upon the circumstances? Speaking is easy, except when you have laryngitis. Writing is effortless, unless you have a broken arm and need to use your opposing hand. Driving is routine, unless the sun is in your eyes or there is snow on the road.
Remember that just because we find something simple to do or understand does not make it universally so.
One more concept that I loved from Atomic Habits by James Clear: the difference between being in motion and taking action. Being in motion suggests that you are doing something, but what you are doing is planning or preparing or thinking about what needs to be done. Taking action is the behavior that actually produces an outcome.
If I read Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up, that’s motion. If I actually take everything out of my closet and purge things, that’s action. If I determine the topics for all the dots I will write next week, that’s motion but it’s not action until I actually sit down at the computer and compose them.
We have all personally been guilty of being in motion while giving ourselves credit for being in action, and organizations are even more culpable. They create committees, task forces, project teams and a host of motion-inducing tactics to appear that something is being accomplished without any viable outcomes to show for it.
Clear suggests that motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure. If we don’t actually take action and try something or put a product out there into the world, we avoid any criticism or chance that it will be less than the perfection we are planning. But for results to occur, we must put in the work.
Where are you fooling yourself – thinking that you’re taking action but really you’re just in motion? Stop the ruse today and get in action on what matters to you or your organization.
Atomic Habits by James Clear, 2018