Attempting to explain something complex in writing

Every bit of writing that attempts to explain something complex needs to be written at least twice.

It first needs to be written in a way that makes sense to us. This version will be logically sound – but, by necessity, it will be more detailed and comprehensive than it needs to be.

It then needs to be written in a way that is easy to consume. That will require us to put ourselves in the shoes of a reader, simplify dramatically, and solve for clarity over comprehensiveness.

The tension that forces learning

Today was long. Another one in a long week. On a day like today, I get to the dishes in the evening with a few questions – “Do I have anything to share? Did I learn anything new? Did I get reminded of something that is worth writing about?”

The truth, of course, is most days are like today. There’s that tension that surrounds finding something worthy to write about. The tension that flows from having made a daily commitment.

On some days, the result of that tension is something deeply insightful. On others, it is relatively mundane.

But, regardless, that tension forces learning because it pushes me to focus on the process and think deeply about what I might be learning.

It is why creating great learning experiences requires us to create tension. The tension created by an activity to be done in limited time, by a twist that surprises, by a framework that pushes everyone to revisit how they operate, by a fact that challenges a long-held assumption, or by an unexpected moment of vulnerability from someone in the room.

No tension, no learning.

Make your bed

A couple of years ago, I read and then watched “Make Your Bed” – Admiral William McRaven’s commencement speech. There are so many great stories in that speech. However, one that has stuck with me is the story about the title of the speech.

“Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

Two nuggets have stayed with me since I first read this. The first is the sense of accomplishment at completing the first task of the day. That has a powerful snowball effect and applies to so many other things we do.

The second is his note that it is a reminder that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things.

It resonated.

Checklists – growth mindset in action

Creating a checklist for a process that we repeat is a simple example of growth mindset in action.

As an example, imagine we create a packing checklist that we maintain on our phone. Every time we go on a trip, we can just copy that checklist and ensure we’re packing everything applicable for that particular trip.

If we realize we forgot something we would have loved to bring with us on the trip, we don’t need to waste much time beating ourselves up. We just need to add it to our checklist – this way, we’ll never forget it on a future trip.

A checklist focuses our energy on constructive actions. It also keeps improving our system – thus improving the quality of our future decisions.

It is a gift that keeps on giving – a great example of a tool that brings the growth mindset idea to life.

Embracing imperfections

I was reflecting on my conversation with Seth this Friday. Here are my 3 biggest takeaways –

(1) Embrace your imperfections and start on the path was the biggest theme I took away. We talked about it in the lens of our efforts to fight climate change. But it was a theme that flowed throughout. We talked about how learning happens when we embrace “this might not work” and that’s okay.

It is easy to get caught in cycles of shaming, guilt, and judgment. All of those are unproductive. Just get started on the path and expect to learn plenty as you go.

(2) Everyone is a volunteer and everyone has more leverage than they think.

This resonated deeply.

Leadership is all about creating enrollment. And the first step to doing that is internalizing the fact that everyone is a volunteer. The next step is helping get everyone on the same page on a simple truth – we all have more leverage than we think.

(3) Configure your system to show up well. One of the telling differences on the call was that Seth looked straight into the camera when speaking and I decidedly didn’t. Between making sure I was okay on time, keeping up with the chat, etc., my eyes were all over the place. Then again, looking straight at the camera felt unusual as well.

But it makes such a difference.

Investing in a Seth-esque rig may not be for everyone. But a first step is simply becoming aware that of the improvements we can make in our setup. The next step is infusing more intentionality in how we show up.

Thank you to those of you who carved out time to join in. I’d be curious for your reflections as well of course. :-)

The 1 major project heuristic

I spent most weekends in the 2010s attempting to do too much thanks to a propensity to say yes to too many projects. The result was disappointment on many a weekend as I got far less done than I wanted. My weekend to do lists were far too ambitious.

Occasionally, it meant a lot of pressure on the work week too as I tried to squeeze out time in the evening/early morning.

It wasn’t fun or helpful and this stopped working after we had our second kid (it was on life support after our first).

To counter this, I adopted a simple heuristic in the past couple of years – I only work on 1 major project at any given moment outside work.

There’s no fixed “type” of project. It could be a project related to home, family, side projects, or something else altogether. Some projects take a lot of time over multiple weekends and multiple months before I move on. Some are much shorter.

Either way, the rule has helped inspired a lot of clarity in my decision making. It has helped me go into weekends with clear expectations of what I can get done. And, most importantly, it has made it easy to say no or not now to everything except the project of the moment.

Simple heuristics go a long way in helping simplify our decisions and our lives.