The Washington Post has a good article on the much-rumored Apple tablet. Here’s the best part:
Conventional wisdom suggests that Apple will not be able to succeed where so many others have failed. But Apple makes billions defying conventional wisdom.
The truth is that most of us don’t understand the allure of a tablet computer because they’ve all sucked up until now. It’s the exact same reason that I didn’t understand the iPhone at first. My cellphones leading up to the iPhone ranged from “okay” to “junk.” The idea of getting one with such a high price tag was insanity to me. But within seconds of using the iPhone, I was able to tell that Apple had made something completely different. It wasn’t a cellphone as I had known them. It redefined the category. And while there are no sure things in the tech world, I would bet that Apple’s tablet will do the same.
TechCrunch has a good article on how things are progressing away from buttons and keys toward touch-based computing. The day of exclusively using touchscreen interfaces may come sooner than we think.
At the end of a year, it’s always good to reflect on major happenings, accomplishments, and lessons learned. At the end of a decade, it’s good to do this reflection for the whole decade.
So, that is my recommendation for you today. It doesn’t have to take long. Create a Word document, call it “Decade Review” or something, and take maybe thirty minutes to jot down whatever comes to mind in these three areas:
- Stand-out events, happenings, and accomplishments over the last ten years.
- Lessons learned.
- Course corrections and key items of focus for the next set of years.
Create three a heading in the document for each of these things; maybe call them “Happenings and Accomplishments,” “Lessons Learned,” and “Focus Items Going Forward.”
It doesn’t have to be fancy or detailed. Mostly, the usefulness of this comes simply from the act of taking some time to reflect. You can really do this any time, but the end of a decade is a good milestone that serves as a catalyst.
My local Christian radio station was asking for money yesterday.
There are two ways to look at that. The first would be to say: “Stop asking. You just had your share-a-ton two months ago. You’ve received enough from the people of this city, and if it wasn’t not enough to make your budget, deal with it.”
This way looks at society as doing the radio station a favor to let it be on the air. Sure, we’ll help you a little bit when it’s convenient, but please don’t ask for too much. We have other things going on.
Looking at things in this way would be wrong. Very, very wrong.
The second way to look at this says: “This station is worthy of being supported. Giving to this cause is not simply a discretionary act; the station deserves it’s support. It ought to be the case that many people give.”
This second way to look at things is the right way. For it realizes that we are not the ones who are doing the radio station a favor by “letting it exist if we give,” but rather the radio station is doing us a favor.
It is doing us a favor in two senses. First, it is doing us a favor simply by operating and proclaiming it’s message — even if we ourselves are not the primary listeners. It’s existence serves the public good. Second, it is doing us a favor by not insisting on its rights.
It is not insisting on its rights because it doesn’t require payment, but instead humbly asks for support, without creating a sense of obligation. I realize that there wouldn’t be a practical way to require payment to listen to a radio station. But to focus on that would be to miss my point.
What I mean is this: If you go to Target, you have to pay for what you get. So also if you go to Applebee’s or Amazon. They have a right to charge, and they do.
But when you benefit from a non-profit (either directly, in the case of a radio station, or indirectly, because it is an avenue through which we can help make the world a better place), you often don’t have to pay for what you get. This can have the side effect of making it look like what they do is not as worthy of payment as what Target or Amazon or Applebee’s does. It makes it look like they exist simply by virtue of the sheer grace of our society and a few generous donors, whereas for-profits deserve to exist (assuming people are willing to purchase their goods at a profit).
But, as is often the case, the appearances here are upside down.
It is not that “payment optional” means “less worthy to exist” and “payment required” means “we are the greatest thing since sliced bread — people pay for what we offer.”
“Payment optional” may in fact be a humble indication, in God’s design, that says: “The work this organization is doing is so important that people aren’t charged for it. The fact that the organization has to depend upon gifts is not a sign that it is less important, but is actually an indication that what they are doing is even more worthy of existing than many of the things that you pay for every day.”
This is not to diminish the great work that business accomplishes. Business serves society and is a high calling. It is a fundamental component not only of how society operates, but also for how we need to address many long-term societal problems (such as poverty in the developing world).
My point here is simply this: don’t conclude from the humble, simple requests that so many non-profits are making this time of year into thinking that non-profits are merely “nice-to-haves” that we do the favor of keeping in existence. Instead, realize that the fact that they are dependent upon gifts is, perhaps, precisely the mark that they are doing great work, perhaps some of the most important in the world.
Which means: your opportunity to give is an opportunity to be a part of something great. Take this opportunity at the end of the year to give.
And, since it’s also the end of the decade, maybe even give a little more.
A recap at Fox News.
Friday is the first day not just of a new year, but of a new decade. It makes sense to do some reflection in light of this, and to make some changes.
To help serve your efforts, I’m going to recommend one simple change for the next decade: Create one new, recurring routine in an area of high impact.
The way to make sure you actually stick to this routine is to set aside time for it. Which means: Create an appointment on your calendar for this routine and set it to repeat every week or every day. Then, keep the appointment.
After one year — let alone ten — you will see remarkable results.
Some obvious examples here might be prayer and Bible study, if you have a hard time being as consistent as you want. Another example could be weekly time for writing, or weekly (or daily) time for reading.
The time you allocate need not be extensive. The real impact in this comes from consistency over time, rather than quantity in the moment. Reading for half an hour each night, consistently, over the course of a year would yield significant returns. So would spending two hours every Saturday morning writing on important issues in your field, or in any area of interest. Or taking each of your kids out for one-on-one time once a month.
As it has been often said, “small things, done consistently over time, make a big impact.”
Now, for those who want to go a bit deeper, here’s a twist: this can work against us, as well — even in the case of good routines. When the good things we do consistently over time take time away from doing better things consistently over time, they diminish our effectiveness.
Hence, for those interested in taking things to the “advanced” level, a corollary to my advice here is to also identify one routine you can stop doing, or reduce, in order to make room for this more important routine.
The significance of both sides here — the impact of doing small things consistently, and the need to make sure that these small things are the best use of our time — has stood out to me even more of late as I’ve looked back on one particular routine of my own that I’m changing up.
Back in 1999, at the beginning of this decade, I started tracking our finances in Quicken. Eventually this turned into a routine of managing our finances and tracking our budget every Saturday morning. A few years later I read David Allen, and this time naturally expanded to include processing my inbox (personal, not work) and doing other household, administrative, and “getting things done” maintenance stuff.
The result is that I became quite good at dispatching with my workflow, and our credit score went off the charts. And those are things that I don’t want to lose ground on. But I wonder if, at the same time, this has crowded out some more important things I could have been doing in that time slot.
In one sense, this type of routine is driven by necessity and is quite efficient — you have to deal with both workflow and finances, and it makes a ton of sense to have a regular routine for dispatching these things. That is not something that should change.
But, I’m changing up this routine a bit to reflect more fully the fact that these things are not close to the “impact line” (for lack of a better term). They are essential, but they are supporting disciplines. You do need to spend time on them, but you want to keep it to a minimum.
The world of work provides a good example here. If you work at a for-profit, you want as much of your time as possible to be spent on tasks that are close to the revenue line. Likewise, in life you want as much of your time as possible to be spent on tasks that are close to the impact line.
Now, managing my workflow and keeping up with the finances hasn’t been taking a ton of time on my Saturday mornings (except when I have to skip a few weeks in a row!). But I still think to myself “if these tasks became so easy and basic simply by doing them consistently, how much progress would I have made if I had devoted some of that time each week to making progress on some additional things that were of greater impact?” I’ve already designated that time for work-type stuff (on the personal front), so why not redouble my efforts to preserve the bulk of that time for higher impact things?
I’d rather spend time getting some extra writing done, or staying in touch with a few more people, than becoming flawless at keeping up with my inbox. Not that you have to ultimately choose — I am not advocating that we not keep up with our workflow. Not keeping up with your workflow is like not taking out the trash — it will end up just getting in the way and mucking everything up. Part of my point, as always, is that we need to be as efficient as we can at our workflow processes so that we can spend as much time as possible on what is most important.
But my fuller point here is that what you actually schedule will have more impact than what you simply intend. This works on both fronts. First, it means that if you simply create a recurring appointment to do something of great importance, you will find great results over time. And second, it means that you need to make sure that the routines you create really advance your most important priorities, rather than simply things that are good but not best.
Therefore, be intentional in leveraging the fact that small things, done consistently over time, have a large impact. Create a new routine in an area of high impact for the new decade and, if necessary, reduce or eliminate something else to make room for it.
I hope that everyone had a good Christmas and is looking forward to the new year (new decade, actually). Thanks again to everyone for reading!
I’ve been posting a bit less the last few weeks of the year so that I can focus more fully on some large projects. I’ll probably have a few more posts this week, and then it will be back to normal in the new year.
This is a good word, quoted in If Aristotle Ran General Motors:
Architecture is about the good, the true, and the beautiful in our edifices and landscapes, and physics is about the good, the true, and the beautiful in nature.
Here are the six levels of initiative, as summarized by Stephen Covey in Principle Centered Leadership:
- Wait until told
- Act and report immediately
- Act and report periodically
- Act on own
I’ve been enjoying the book What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Pfeffer is a professor of organizational behavior at the Standord Graduate School of Business and former columnist for Business 2.0.
Pfeffer argues that most poor business choices arise when leaders do one of three things:
- Fail to consider the unintended consequences of their actions.
- Rely on naive theories of human behavior (such as “the great jackass method” [that's Stephen Covey's term -- not mine!] of the carrot and the stick).
- Ignore obvious answers and make things more complicated than they really are.
(As an aside — the resemblance here to the cause of bad decisions in economics and politics is quite interesting, although I don’t know yet if Pfeffer makes the connection.)
To test your application of these concepts, here are a few questions from the “pop quiz” on the back cover:
Are you concerned that your employees are spending too much time surfing the web? You shouldn’t be. By monitoring their downtime, you’re destroying their trust — and ultimately hurting your business.
Your bottom line looks like trouble. Where can you save money? Don’t touch your employees’ benefits. Short-term financial trouble is no excuse for cuts. You’ll pay the human cost in the long-run.
Your employees work long hours. Does all that time really pay? Hours-in does not equal good work-out. The absence of time with family and friends is one of the reasons U.S. health care costs are soaring, including employer health costs.
Advertising Age has a summary of the biggest media-related stories of the decade. They include:
- The dot-com bust
- The rise of Google
- The marketing of Obama
- The Great Recession
I think this answer is relatively on target, from the book :Managing Time: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges (Pocket Mentor):
You cannot successfully manage your time if you don’t know how you should be spending it. The biggest problem new managers face is understanding their goals and priorities. They are not really sure what they should be doing.
Because of this uncertainty, new managers often spend time working on the wrong things or let others pull them into activities that aren’t directly tied to their priorities and goals. To better understand how you should be spending your time, work with your supervisor to clarify expectations and responsibilities.
At the same time, start to get a handle on how long your new responsibilities take so you can better estimate and plan your time as you grow in your new role.
In one sentence:
“When your brain is always engaged, your best and brightest solutions are not likely to emerge.”
And this only gets at the productivity benefits of unplugging — let alone the intrinsic value of a change of pace and time for reflection.
We talk a lot about distractions, but it is helpful to realize that overall productivity is actually up from what it was 30 years ago. This is from the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Things Done:
Without offering an involved and wearisome discussion about rising productivity levels, let me simply say that today’s career professional, frittering and all, could beat the pants off of yesteryear’s career professional in terms of getting things done.
Today, workers in all types of organizations, including government, non-profit sector groups, health care, and education as well as private industry, devote a slightly higher percentage of their time to the tasks and responsibilities for which they actually were hired, and they have advanced tools that aid them in ways that the workforce ancestry could hardly imagine.
Although I wasn’t around thirty years ago (at least in the workforce), it seems to me that in spite of all the complications and information overload of the modern work environment, people do indeed get a lot done.
There’s still a lot of improvement that we can make, and our execution could become a lot smoother and more fulfilling, but the current work environment has a lot of good news. It’s worth keeping in focus that we don’t have before us simply (or even mainly) challenges to overcome (although there are a lot of those), but rather opportunities to capitalize on.
The Now Habit does a good job of articulating the two methods of motivation we often use (on ourselves and others) when it comes to challenging tasks.
The first is the “push method.” This method is “designed to stimulate action through fear of punishment.” It is not as though this method is always inappropriate; but in general “the ‘push method’ of management assumes that humans are basically lazy and that scaring the heck out of them will create motivation.”
The second is the “pull method.” This method, on the other hand, “assumes that we are naturally inquisitive, and if we are properly rewarded for our efforts we can persevere with even the most difficult of tasks.” (I would clarify that by “reward” here we should include both intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions.)
Here’s an example of the push method. This example is why I’m writing this post — I find it pretty funny:
“This freshman class had better learn now that you’re in for a lot of hard work. By the end of the semester you’ll have read this entire shelf of books; and by the time you graduate, this entire wall of books.”
Scary, but not very motivating — and I like to read! Here’s an example of the pull method:
“Imagine that, as you read one chapter of your textbook, you place it on this empty shelf. Chapter by chapter and book by book, you’ll be filling this entire shelf by the end of your first semester. By the time you graduate you’ll have read enough books to fill the shelves on this entire wall.”
Do you have to exercise or do you get to exercise? Do you have to work on that long project or do you get to work on that long project? Do you have to rise at 5:30, or do you get to rise at 5:30 so you can have a good start on the day?
There are many things we may not directly choose — for example, I exercise primarily for my health, and not because I intrinsically enjoy it. But given that we will be doing them, we might as well change our mindset and view them positively.
That way, these things aren’t something we have to “get out of the way” in order to get on with “real life.” First of all, that’s a recipe for procrastination. Second and more importantly, though, I don’t have time to fill my life with things that aren’t “real life.”
When your mindset is “I get to” rather than “I have to,” you are more motivated because now you are doing it because you choose to. You will also find that there are many aspects of those activities that you do in fact enjoy, in spite of the difficulty.
You don’t have to run — or do that project — simply for the benefits. Difficult activities aren’t something to just get out of the way so that you can get on with what you really want to do. But you won’t see that if your mindset is “I have to.”
The higher up in an organization you go, the more likely you will see appointments being scheduled in ten-minute slots. Below the top level, half an hour seems to be the shortest meeting achievable. Whenever possible, go for ten.
I haven’t read much John Maxwell, but I am intrigued by the subject of thinking, so I recently picked up his book How Successful People Think. Here are two good quotes:
“Nothing is so embarrassing as watching someone do something that you said could not be done” — Sam Ewing.
“Never tell a young person that something cannot be done. God may have been waiting for centuries for somebody ignorant enough of the impossible to do that thing”– John Andrew Holmes.
A brief word from Marcus Buckingham on how to start building on your strengths right now:
Well stated, from a Time article from a few years ago (but still very relevant):
Most high-tech companies don’t take design seriously. They treat it as an afterthought. Window-dressing.
But one of [Steve] Jobs’ basic insights about technology is that good design is actually as important as good technology.
All the cool features in the world won’t do you any good unless you can figure out how to use said features, and feel smart and attractive while doing it.
Many people are aware of how spam is my favorite food — to make fun of. It just about tops my list of things that should not exist.
Therefore, 10 points to any who can point out the flaw in this irrefutable logic:
- Nothing is better than a big juicy steak.
- Spam is better than nothing.
- Therefore, spam is better than a big juicy steak.
From Henry Cloud’s book The One-Life Solution: Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success:
The most effective people I know are people who have times when they give their entire focus to whatever they are working on — and there is no way they are going to stop what they are doing to see what just showed up in their in-box or on their BlackBerry. Certain blocks of time are guarded, and an e-mail or a phone call is not going to interrupt them or change the agenda.
Also, here are two very dense and interesting sentences from the article:
“Every piece of the business plays a part, every part is indispensable, every failure breeds success, and every success demands improvement.”
“If the company’s expressed mission is to organize the world’s information, it has a somewhat less exalted but equally important unexpressed commercial mission: to monetize consumers’ intentions.”
This is a paragraph from a recent article in Wired. I like Wired and find it helpful for keeping up with technology as it affects society. In this case, though, I’m not helped. I’ll quote the paragraph and then tell you what’s wrong with it.
Attention, Iowa shoppers: If you eat standard supermarket produce, figure an average transport distance of 1,500 miles (and that’s just for stuff grown in the US). Such is the price you pay in cash and carbon emissions — not to mention the tax dollars spent on repairing highways chewed up by behemoth trucks. In general, a longer, more global supply chain is also vulnerable to strikes, gas hikes, political turmoil, and contamination. All so you can eat what you want when you want it.
Do you see what has happened here? Something that is quite remarkable — something that is really good, and a blessing of God — is presented as negative, destructive, and even selfish (“all so you can eat what you want and when you want it”).
In actuality, we should look at these realities and say “what an amazing blessing. This is God’s providence at work to feed His world — and with food that is far better and varied than the nutraloaf he could have gone with if his aim for us was mere nutrition rather than enjoyment and culture.”
The fact that “supermarket produce” is brought from an average distance of 1,500 miles, and that trucks transport it over an incredibly efficient interstate transportation system, and that as a result we get to eat food that we like, and at times that are convenient to us — this is a good thing. It is a blessing. It is not something to be demeaned, as though humans are a plague on the planet. It is a reflection showing us the remarkable goodness of God.
And it is what we pray for when we pray “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), as Gene Veith points out very effectively in God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life:
When we pray the Lord’s prayer, observed Luther, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And he does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meail.
We might today add the truck drivers who hauled the produce, the factory workers in the food processing plant, the warehouse men, the wholesale distributors, the stock boys, the lady at the checkout counter. Also playing their part are the bankers, futures investors, advertisers, lawyers, agricultural scientists, mechanical engineers, and every other player in the nation’s economic system. All of these were instrumental in enabling you to eat your morning bagel.
Before you ate, you probably gave thanks to God for your food, as is fitting. He is caring for your physical needs, as with every other kind of need you have, preserving your life through his gifts. “He provides food for those who fear him” (Psalm 11:5); also to those who do not fear Him, “to all flesh” (136:35). And He does so by using other human beings. It is still God who is responsible for giving us our daily bread. Though He could give it to us directly, by a miraculous provision, as He once did fore the children of Israel when He fed them daily with manna, God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve one another. This is the doctrine of vocation.
The way that food is brought “from afar” to people all over the country should not be looked down upon because of the carbon emissions and interstate wear-and-tear it creates. Instead, it should be marveled at as God at work to provide for His creation through the doctrine of vocation.
This is funny, from a recent issue of Wired. I had no idea that nutraloaf existed:
Could science build a completely nutritious space food? Sure, but it’d be a lot like nutraloaf, a substance served to prisoners in solitary in some states.
It’s so unpalatable that it’s the subject of several lawsuits.
The ingredients are ordinary enough, and Vermont’s version of the recipe (this makes three 1,000 calorie loafs) is balanced for fat, protein, carbs, and vitamins. So how could such a harmony of food and science constitute cruel and unusual punishment? Because it tastes like cardboard, smells like rotten eggs, and looks like baked vomit.
By the way, the ingredients are: whole wheat bread, canned spinach, great northern beans, powdered skim milk, potato flakes, tomato paste, nondairy cheese, raw carrots, seedless raisins, and vegetable oil.