Search for talent

Companies all over are locked in a search for talent. And, every one of them will tell you how hard it is to find talented people – especially within the constraints of their internal diversity targets.

There’s one reason this “search for talent” is hard – companies only search for talent when they need to fill a position. So, it isn’t really a search for talent. It really is a search for whoever is available now who can do the job.

There is only one time to build your pipeline for great hiring – well before you need to do it.

This exact dynamic plays out in business. Everyone is rushing to please investors in the next quarter. But, every once a while, there will come a Jeff Bezos who decides to stick around and play a very different game. The best time to make a great investment is well before you need it.

But, this isn’t about them, it is about us too. After all, careers are no different. Nearly everybody you know is focused on a horizon between today and 6 months from now. Need to finish that project, get promoted and we’ll see what happens after that. There are very few who are consciously focused on what might be needed five years or even ten years from now.

We all have a choice. Yes, we need to engage with the present. But, we also can choose to build consciously for the future.

We need to plant trees well before we need their fruits.

Principles of Focus

Focus is the continuous, iterative process of keeping the main thing the main thing.

The verb and noun forms of “Focus” mean different things. For simplicity, I’m going to call the the noun form “intensity.” So, intensity is the ability to be 100% engaged in what you are doing at any given time.

Focus and intensity are analogous to effectiveness and efficiency or leadership and management. The former is about doing the right things and the latter is about doing things right.

As a result, the whole point of focus is to ensure that we’re optimizing for the entire-ity of the main thing or goal or how we will measure our life. It is easier to understand this with a manufacturing analogy. It is useless for a car manufacturer to produce more doors than a chassis requires. Similarly, it is pointless to optimize on one part of our goal (say, our career) if all else is suffering. Making progress on the main thing in its entire-ity is productivity. Everything else is activity.

So, focus is how we stay productive. That’s exactly why the process of doing so is continuous and iterative – it is hard to stay productive as life happens.

Finally, it is helpful to think of focus as we think of balance in our lives. We are always in the act of balancing, never completely balanced. Focus is no different.

Dealing with the unresolved

I wish there was a class on learning to deal with the unresolved. But, since there isn’t a good one that I know of, here’s what I’ve learned from the school of hard knocks.

The first step to dealing with the unresolved is accepting that there will always be something unresolved in our lives. We will always have to deal with the unknown, experience the fear of launching something new and walk into a game with trepidation knowing we are at a seemingly obvious disadvantage.

Sure, we can choose to worry. But, worry does nothing to solve the problem except make it seem worse.

Scott Peck beautifully pointed to the wisdom in accepting that life is difficult. As he eloquently put it, “once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

It works the same with dealing with the unresolved. We need to take the first step and accept that we will always have to deal with it.

There is no second step.

In it together

We all have our unique personalities, paths and problems. So, it is easy and natural to feel lonely and mired in our own problems. But, the truth is far from it – we’re all in it together in very meaningful ways.

A good friend forwarded Seth Godin’s post this morning and said it reminded her of our project. Background – a couple of close friends and I are working on a project coming your way in the next few weeks. And, one of the key premises of this project is that we’re not in to scale. Our only objective is to earn the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.

So, when I saw the post – “What if scale wasn’t the goal?,” I just pinged it across to our team with the note – “Seth is talking to us this morning.”

Hasn’t that happened to you too?

I haven’t met many of the bloggers I like and follow. And, yet, their writing often speaks to me as it is exactly what I need.

We might all look different, work in different places and do different things. But, our shared humanity means we all care about similar things – our well being, the people we love, our pets, our learning, our hobbies and our impact on this planet. And, in this process of caring for the things we care about, we all experience similar travails and tests. They may not be identical but they’re similar enough that the rest of us understand.

More of us want you to succeed and find happiness than you can likely imagine. For, if you do, it will impact us in positive ways as well as you will spread that learning and happiness.

You are part of a community of caring humans that’s definitely much larger than you think.

We are all in it together – in very meaningful ways.

Living without expectations

A good friend and I met after a few years. And, of course, we were in the midst of an engaging conversation just as he was heading to the airport. We spoke about changes we’d experienced in the past few years. And, one such change I spoke about was around expectations. I tried explaining how I’d been slowly attempting to re-wire my approach to life by taking expectations out of the picture.

Every once a while, we see a post on the web that beautifully encapsulates how we feel. And, Jason Fried’s excellent post on “Living without expectations” did just that. I’ve copied my favorite paragraphs below.

One of the few things in life we control is our reaction to things. And expectations tee up those reactions. They often set the odds on the outcome, and the odds usually aren’t in your favor. I’ve decided I’d rather stick with actual reactions rather than putting my reactions at a disadvantage by mixing them with with my everything-should-be-amazing imagination.

If you ever want to be disappointed by someone, set unrealistic expectations. Of course as you get to know someone you have a sense of what they’re capable of, but even then people just do as they do, they don’t miss, meet, or exceed my expectations.

I’m convinced that people would like things a whole lot more if someone else didn’t tell them they wouldn’t like it. Stuff’s pretty great, you know.

If I’m competing on something, I don’t expect to win. I want to win. I’ll do my best to win. But I don’t expect to win. My expectations have nothing to do with what I’m competing on, and I don’t control the other side.

I wasn’t always this way. I used to set up expectations in my head all day long. Constantly measuring reality against an imagined reality is taxing and tiring. I think it often wrings the joy out of just experiencing something for what it is. So over the past few years I’ve let those go and ended up considerably happier and more content.

And really, every day has a shot at being pretty great when your only expectation is that the sun comes up.

So true – thanks Jason.

Bell Labs, de Forest and SONAR

Bell Labs, the “idea factory,” was a result of anti trust law. Between 1930-84, all phone calls went through AT&T. They convinced the government a monopoly was necessary. So, the government made a deal with AT&T to make its patents/ideas public in return. Thus, Bell Labs’ inventions were open to everyone.

In 1910, inventor Lee de Forest tried amplifying radio signals to transmit human voice. This was a successor of the morse code telegraph invented by Marconi. Bell Labs’ engineers built on this to invent radio broadcasting.

While de Forest hoped radio broadcasting would spread classical music, it was jazz that actually broke through. Jazz sounds were better suited for primitive radios. Thus, the radio was monumental in bringing African-American culture into the white American living room.

Amplifiers followed. Then, “distortion” led by guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. And, alongside, in World War II, a device called SONAR began being used in World War II to detect submarines. This was thanks to a Canadian scientist who was intrigued by the challenge of preventing sea crashes like the titanic by bouncing sound waves off objects in the sea. Thanks to sonar, ultrasound followed.

(The story of sound continued from last week)

Amplifiers freed us from any constraints that we had artificially solved via operas and cathedrals. Adolf Hitler was one of the first exponents of this. But, it also made Martin Luther King’s speeches possible. Similarly, SONAR’s most powerful use was ultrasound which helped countless mothers during their pregnancy. But, it also led to massive female infanticide in Asia. Technology has always been a double edged sword.  | Steven Johnson (paraphrased)

Source and thanks to: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

When good intentions become a problem

Good intentions are great. They matter a ton.

But, good judgment matters more.

Every once a while, we meet individuals who combine good judgment with good intentions. Such people are rare. If you’ve found somebody like that, stick around.

Good judgment comes from soaking in lessons from others’ experience, experimenting and reflecting on one’s own experiences and squeezing every drop of learning out of previous displays of bad judgment. This is hard. And, for many, it shows up long after they most most need it.

 People often think they want to work with and build relationships with people with good intentions. That is true and assumes good judgment. But, given a choice between the intent-judgment combination, I’d index higher on folks with good judgment. There have been many great entrepreneurs and business leaders who’ve demonstrated great judgment even if they weren’t the bastions of good intention. I’d rather work with them than with someone who cares but has no idea about what they’re doing.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and bad judgment.

Synthesis and the learning loop

Synthesis is how we get from knowledge to learning.

We take a big step toward learning when we’re able to extract what is useful from all the knowledge, facts and data that we’re exposed to. And, we do this by developing mental models when we force ourselves to synthesize. These mental models, in turn, help us get to wisdom – understanding how to use the learning after we run facts through our mental model.

That, in turn, spurs action as wisdom brings about clarity. Besides, to learn and not to do is not to learn.

This loop can be self re-inforcing as the action can help us develop better mental models, and so on.

But, the key step is synthesis and that is incredibly hard. Think about how easy it is to just read the news or interesting articles or blogs over the internet without ever thinking about the implications of those ideas in our life.

That is is why synthesis is the entry point to this learning loop. It is a rite of passage of sorts.

We don’t learn until we synthesize.

Car scratch

I came back to my car the other day to a collection of scratches in the front corner.


How did that happen? When did that happen? Why hadn’t I noticed it? Why didn’t the person who did it let me know?

I kept working through questions until I came to – What can I do to fix this?

It turns out that I couldn’t really do much. Someone had probably grazed the corner of the car and driven away. But, that’s that. I could either choose to get it re-painted or ignore it and drive away.

I chose the latter.

Clarity is often a question away.

Un catchy titles

Everyone is fighting for your attention. One way to win this fight in the short term is to make every title a catchy title.

“Here’s what you need to know NOW.”

“Click this to learn the real secret of success.”

“You won’t believe what happened in XYZ yesterday.”

“ABC and DEF have declared war on each other.” (you’ll click to find out they haven’t)

Some of these catchy titles are, in fact, untrue. So, you realize you’ve been played all along. That, in turn, adds some distrust in the system and so on. But, the media companies will say they don’t have a choice. They do – but it isn’t an easy one when your business model is built on people clicking your articles. The catchy title fight is, thus, a street fight fought in mud and slush. Everybody involved gets dirty.

But, you and I don’t need to play that game.

We have the choice to just write about what we want to write about without trying to con folk into clicking. Yes, less people will see our work today. And, yes, we’ll have to do all that work to earn an audience (assuming that’s what we want) over time.

But, the folks who will have visited will have come seeking to understand what we’ve written. And, thus, we’ll have given ourselves a shot at actually reaching and, maybe influencing, the kind of folk we want to reach.

Everybody wins when that happens.