One of my favorite quotes from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is that most advice we give is meant for our younger selves. I’d like to think that this is only partially lessons learned and more how to learn lessons. Much of school is memorization and building habits for getting work done. Then much of our early careers has to do with getting deep in a certain area and building skills. We work to master those tasks and we likely move on to other things. Those might be managing others, mentoring, or other domains entirely. In many cases, the scope of what we do changes so that what we learn gives us a growing foundation to continually build our careers on. There’s the (somewhat controversial) Malcolm Gladwell theory that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. That’s about five years of continual on-the-job work on one skill. While that was once something which would be handled by hands-on apprenticeship, five years in the digital age is an eternity. What’s merely formative now is either irrelevant five years from now or possibly table-stakes. So when I want to give advice to my younger self, it’s not to learn a specific subject. Rather, it’s to approach learning in a certain way and to use that learning to the best ends.
While I don’t have career regrets, much of what I’ve accumulated in knowledge or approach is being captured and is ready to be absorbed. I’ve been doing more reading and have found that it’s possible to get a jump start on your own path. As an example, at my last job, I built a point of view about competing with another company. I shared that when I interviewed with my current manager and had a meeting of the minds. The thought process was sound, made sense, and worked. The interview process went well and I took the job. A month or so later as I was walking at the company headquarters I saw a boiled down version of my approach on a poster which was on a few floors of the building. It was great that my approach was valid, but painful in that I came up with it primarily on my own while another company put it together at scale. At least it confirmed that I took the right job, because this is one of my other favorite quotes from Steal Like an Artist:
That may have been the first quote I’ve highlighted in the past couple years. I’ve highlighted a lot more since then as I’ve read more. Because I’m writing this at the end of the year, I’ll share some of what I’ve read in 2017 and some lessons I’ve gotten from the books. I’ll link to each at smile.amazon.com. I’m not an affiliate and don’t get paid for clicks. I do recommend buying anything on paper so you can annotate it and also use Smile instead of WWW so you can pick a worthy charity to route some money to.
Note that I often highlight or doodle out key parts of books I’m reading. If you’d like to see what I’ve got my head into, look for me at Instagram.
This is also the name of one of the most watched TED Talks of all time. Every person and organization should have a Why which is a driving force and value set which guides What they do and How they go about it. It’s a simple concept but difficult to work out. The mere process of identifying your own shows you purpose and trying to grasp someone else’s is a big step to understanding them. In a divisive atmosphere, going past whataboutism can point the way to understanding what drives somebody.
How to Think; A Survival Guide for a World at Odds – Alan Jacobs
Talking with people, particularly about politics and social issues, keeps getting easier and easier, right? Ok, maybe not so much. Alan Jacob’s How to Think is a good read to understand how to start getting to the root of conversations and tribalism. Consensus can be a bad thing, especially when it weeds out dissent instead of promoting thought. Lumping people into groups without understanding them is really bad. This is a very typical bit of insight from the book which is packed with solid content. It’s really helped me think about discussions differently – and we need to think about discussions differently. There’s a LOT of my book which is now yellow. It’s outstanding.
This is a book about people and big data. Admittedly, I work with customer data applications in retail businesses so I’ve got some experience in what can be gleaned from big data. This book is broader, though. There’s little that shows more intent than a Google search. We search for information, opinions to back us up, things to buy, funny pictures and videos. What happens if you combine those searches or overlay them on top of events like a presidential speech, a mass shooting, a sports game, or a terrorist attack. In a world that’s increasingly digital, our data tells quite a story. It’s used to sell us products, drive news cycles, and select issues for politicians to run on. One ingredient in everything we buy is data, we should learn how it impacts our lives.
It’s easy to think this book is full of itself or, after opening it, overly trite. It’s mostly a book of very simple sketched diagrams wrapped around common themes. A lot of them are, in fact, interesting and insightful. More than the insights themselves, this is great approach to breaking down concepts and making them simple. Back at that job interview, part of my personal pitch was how I’ve taught myself to do that when approaching business situations. It was a big selling point because it showed a thought process which directly applies to my work. If you look around my blog, you’ll notice I often apply it to life as well. This is absolutely a skill our younger selves can use.
This is a book on survival in the corporate world. Not just any survival, a path to success as an independent thinker who is passionate about finding new areas to succeed in. MacKenzie worked at Hallmark and was constantly trying to start new projects on the fringes of the organization. He’d stay close enough to the core mission of the company to maintain sponsorship and build new projects for the future. At the same time, he’d find ways to avoid getting pulled into the core hairball of conformity. He’d get restless around the time the current approach gained maturity and look for ways to pass it off and fire up something new. I learned a lot this while at an enormous software company. Gordon did some amazingly eccentric things in his approach to gaining and maintaining backing. Every time he sought out a new undertaking, he aligned it with where the company needed to head and made his case to defy the inertia sucking him into the hairball. I didn’t pull any crazy stunts, but I have learned how to point my interests in the right direction and find a way for them to match the company’s. The key is to work towards something successful, show steady progress, share and collaborate like mad, and ensure those at the top know it.
There was so much sound wisdom in this book that I sketch more than highlighted. I wanted to convey what worked for me more deeply, plus I was building some skills. You may think it’s a random and odd thing to pick a book by a choreographer if you’re looking for life advice and ideas. That’s probably the opposite. It’s a fabulous book full of great ideas and it’s refreshingly lacking in bullshit.
This isn’t my first Dan Roam book. It is the most accessible one, however. If you do any presenting, pitching, or storytelling in any vein of your life, this is a book for you. Even if you think you’ve got it all figured out, this is time well spent. I was actually looking for a different title while I was out of town and bought this one. It’s a terrific resource to help you boil down concepts and put thoughts in a meaningful sequence to back up your points.
I've been in the software sales and service industry since 1994. I am an avid biker, father of two, and have been happily married for nearly 25 years. This blog is simply to share some thoughts on what can help make you more aware of yourself and therefore more successful in your interactions.
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