Kindness vs righteousness

I am working with my son these days on 'choosing kindness over being right.' In some places, it is obvious and he sees it, and it is easy for me to work with him. In some places, it is extremely hard because his sense of righteousness kicks in. It is an area I have to walk very carefully to balance between his sense of being morally right and choosing kindness. 

I see this in workplace as well. Businesses are optimized for results and kindness becomes a nebulous grey area that leaders have to tread carefully. This can be related to culture, bad performers, management, etc. While there is no template here, the general framework becomes, how can you continue delivering results for the company while being kind and empathetic to people's lives.

It is important to constantly probe ourselves in this area. Kindness and empathy leads to a stellar culture, which truly can become a unfair competitive advantage for every company. 

Where is your attention?

What matters to us is important.

It will be reflected in the work we do, the books we read, the friends we make, and the things we touch.

What matters to us is important because it controls what we put in our head and what we put in the world around us. 

But, how often do we think about it? In a culture where attention is quickly becoming a currency that is scarce, how often are we able to divert our attention to understanding what is truly important to us rather than responding to every stimulus that comes our way? The constant beeps of a phone, the unanswered emails sitting in an inbox, endless tweets and posts are always fighting for our attention.

And, they get our attention. Not because they deserve to, but because we think they do. 

What matters to us is important. But we will never to get to the truly important things if we don't change the status quo on who gets our attention.

But still...

Not every song can be a billboard top 100. But still, thousands of song writers and singers come to work everyday.

Not every book written, story told, and words masterfully crafted together will be on the best sellers. But still, thousands of writers show up to work everyday.

Not every line of code can put a man on the moon or win intergalactic wars. But still, millions of lines of programs are created everyday.

Our world is better because the work we do is a natural form of expressing ourselves. It is important. Whether we design a hairpin or a rocket, whether we write hundreds words in a blog post or part of a book, whether our art uses paper or the world itself, as its canvas, it does not matter. It only matters that we show up to work everyday and do our best work. Because, I guarantee you, we are making the world an amazing place to live.

 

What you know and don't

I was working with my son on some number sense and quickly I realized a pattern that was playing in his mind - "But I don't know that."

And, we focussed our efforts on writing the problem on the paper and writing everything we know that might help us solve the problem. And, soon he was starting to leverage what he knew to get to what he did not know.

Too often in careers and life, we get stuck in this cycle of don't knows. That is the point. We are not supposed to know everything every time but should be able to get the knowledge by leverage what we know already.

Get to what you don't know by leveraging what you know already. You will be surprised at the results.

Learn and teach

Learning and teaching is a powerful cycle. There are two types of people, one who want to always learn but not teach, others who want to learn and immediately teach what they learned. Of course, there is a third kind, of people who are not interested in learning, and we are not talking about them here.

What is the point of learning without teaching? If for nothing else, teaching allows you to talk about what you learned and it can serve as a great way to validate our learning and also create discussions that will allow us to learn more. 

Teaching does not necessarily have to be through one particular medium (blogs, videos, group settings etc). It can be any medium which brings people together with various perspectives and skillsets to synthesize on the core message you are presenting. It is very powerful.

Do you have such a medium where you talk about your work? Your learnings?

Combining product mindset and engineering mindset

A product mindset asks why. An engineering mindset asks how.

'Why' should always come first followed by 'How', followed by 'Why' again. How much time do we spend on each of these buckets determines how robust and relevant our product is going to be.

Too often, we focus on the why without too much understanding on how, and we come up with a  product that is hard to implement. On the other side, if we spend too much time on the how, we fail to implement something that can provide feedback on the why.

Personally as a rule of thumb, I love to spend a week on why, looking at data and putting together quickly testable user flows and designs, and then spend few weeks on how. The aim is not to build the best product, but to validate our hypothesis. Then, come back to the why.

Combining product and engineering mindset is the key to building something that is robust and reliable.

Do we want our employees to fit in?

Or do we want them to stand out?

Because fitting in is to fit in our way of thinking, our way of solving problems. Fitting in is to make our lives easier because we have designed the system and it is a pain to work with outliers.

If they stand out, we need to cater to their needs. We need to adjust our system to accommodate. And, sometimes we are not willing to do that. We need to tweak the rules of our carefully crafted assembly line of processes that industrialization has taught us. 

It is good to desire excellence and innovation. It is good to desire uniqueness and perspectives. It is. Desiring is one thing. Accepting and rolling with it is another.

 

What can you change today?

Do yourself a favor. Change one thing around you that has bothered you for sometime.

It can be a simple act. Clean your room or pick up the trash or water a plant or vacuum your car or write that letter or make that call or say your sorries. It can be anything. But can you do it?

We are not busy to do small things. We are only busy to do big things. They are daunting and we have more important things to do, more distractions to feed and more excuses to justify.

The beauty however is that, if we stay busy with small acts that change the world, the big things take care of themselves eventually.

So, what are you going to change today?

Poking the box...faster

Have you read Seth Godin's poke the box? If you have not, you should.

The premise is simple. Take initiative. Start shipping. And, poke the box. Because when poke it, the box will poke you back. What is a box? Everything that is in front of you. 

One thing that Seth implies but does not explore is how do you poke the box faster. You have a voice. You are an initiator. You start things. You ship them. You challenge status quo. You are a unicorn in a balloon factory.

You need tools. Seth argues that by poking enough times, you will know what works and what does not which has an underlying implication on the tools that you will build along the way that helps you poke the box faster.

The tools can be craft, community, processes, data, etc. You need to be aware of what your tools are? And, the initial set of tools can play to your strengths until you find the next set.

Poke the box, but pay attention to how efficiently you can poke it. Pay attention to the tools you are using to change the world. Because, some tools will work great for you, others won't.

Habit is opposite of fear

If you are afraid to speak publicly, speak a little everyday.

If you are afraid to sell, sell something everyday. 

If you are afraid of writing your thoughts, write a little, every day.

If you are afraid of saying the wrong thing, speak your mind, a little, every day.

A little goes a long way in making a habit. And, habit goes long way in replacing fear.

Doing less is the way to win

There is a plan. There is a plan B. There is a plan C.

Those are three things.

Now, your team does twenty things. For everything, there is a plan A, plan B, and plan C. Sixty things. Your company has ten teams. Six hundred things.

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but also not. Companies fail because they try to do more and not be good at anything. The secret to winning is in fact no secret at all, it is just to "do less and obsess."

Read the book Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More. It's worth your time.

Brick makers

Higher level abstractions are what makes technology mainstream. Commoditizing anything requires an out of box experience where users don't have to deal with complexity, and things just work.

Computer programming existed in some form or the other from 1842, when Ada Lovelace, worked on the first mechanical general purpose computer, writing the first algorithm. But it was not until one hundred years later, when IBM released Fortran, that computer programming picked up. It hid complexities and offered a simple interface to work with. And, the trend still continues.

Very few people want to tinker. And a subset of the few are able to commoditize what they tinker, creating simple interfaces fronting powerful building blocks that the world is excited to build on. These are the brick makers, who shape the foundation.

The world is built on these bricks. And, people who build things out of these bricks are the early adopters who make technology mainstream.

If you are a tinkerer, ask yourself, do you have a potential brick in your hand that could shape tomorrow in interesting way? 

 

Don't confuse truths with opinions

Don’t confuse opinions with correctness. You have a voice and a voice gives your thoughts wings. Don’t cage your thoughts because you are not sure if you are right.

You don’t have to be right all the time. But, your voice should be heard. Your voice will change as you grow, mature and learn new truths both about yourself and the world. A changing voice does not mean lack of conviction, it merely means personal growth, new truths, new ideas. Over time, you will find that your voice will settle down into few themes that you deeply care about. But until that time, there is no point in worrying about what that voice should be and what is the story you are telling.

The story you should tell is the story of yourself, your growth, your work, your community. Just be honest and your honesty will give uniqueness and strength to your voice.

Don’t keep quiet because you are not sure if you got it right.

Bad performers

Treat your bad performers with dignity.

It is far too easy to get caught up in the moment and treat someone like you don’t want be treated yourself. You think that employee is not working out and your goals are being impacted, and your bonuses are getting reduced. In a cut-throat culture that favors fire faster to preserve efficiency, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the other person is human, inherently flawed and not perfect. And, certainly at the wrong place at this point in time.

Treat them with dignity. Give them options and part ways gracefully. You never know the full picture. 

Shut the authority

The authority in your head tells you not to do something because someone will tell you off. It tells you not to take risks and follow the safe path because you will fit in. It tells you to always ask for permission. It tells you that your bosses are right and you should maintain status quo. It tells you not to speak up when something is wrong, because it is the way the world works.

There is an authority in your head, that is serving as a proxy to all the other authorities in the world around you. 

Shut that thing off. Ignore it. Make ruckus. Create art. Don’t give a damn to that voice. Because beneath that voice, there is another one, which is quieter. That is the voice tells you to hope, dream and change the world. Your goal should be to make that the primary voice in your head.

Earn my attention

Don’t threaten my attention, earn it.

When you want my attention, you cannot threaten to get it. You need to earn it. If you are a vendor selling your product or a company selling your services, you are going to find yourself in my spam folder by trying to shame me into responding to your emails. 

What efforts have you put to show that your service or product is indispensable to me? If you think I cannot live without your product, show me. Just don’t send me emails with the subject lines “3rd attempt to connect.”  Because honestly, I am neither obligated nor willing to respond to any attempts of emotional manipulation.

 

Rules for working in a team

Rules for working in a team

  • Be empathetic.
  • Don’t hide your work.
  • Seek and offer help.
  • Accept different viewpoints.
  • Invest in your teammate’s success.
  • Don’t keep your desk sloppy.
  • If you are sick, stay home.
  • Challenge but don’t criticize.
  • Smile.
  • Make that problem yours.
  • Share the credit.
  • Support.
  • Don’t compromise on quality.
  • Hold yourself to a high standard.
  • Tell the truth.

Take control

There is enough inspiration in this world to keep you inspired for the rest of your life. You can follow the footsteps of any artist, designer, writer, entrepreneur, monk,…you want. Yon can control the news you get, the content you read, the things you create, the thoughts you nurture.

The world will give you what you ask of it. Ironically, the internet will also give you what you ask of it. 

So ask wisely. Take control. Choose only the things that makes you who you want to be.