Breaking up with the first draft

I spent some time over the summer re-learning how to write better documents at work. As I look back at the lessons I learnt by observing what I actually changed in how I approached writing, the biggest one was willingly breaking up with the first draft.

Barbara Minto in “The Pyramid Principle” made a strong impression when she said the biggest writing problem most people have is learning to separate the thinking from the writing. She poked fun at how the first draft takes on an “incredible beauty” in the author’s eyes that we don’t like to disturb.

I found her observation to be spot on. We write the first draft for ourselves – to clarify our own thinking. And, if we embrace the process of rewriting, we write subsequent drafts for our intended audience.

There’s a meta learning in this too – we have a tendency to get comfortable after an initial learning period in any new skill. It takes a lot of effort to fight inertia and break out of version 1.0 into the next. And, then again to the next. To get better, we need to embrace “what got you here won’t get you there,” push for feedback and learning, and embrace reinvention.

It is how getting better works – in life as in writing.

A principle for deciding on social engagements

The single most useful principle I’ve found for deciding on social engagements is the Derek Sivers decision making principle of “If it isn’t a HELL YEAH, it is a no.”

The principle isn’t universal as there are many decisions that need to be made with less than 100% certainty. But, I’ve found it to be spot on with social engagements – especially if you are introverted.

As introverts, we face a lot more downside from a crappy social engagement. So, it pays to be selective. :-) This principle helps us do just that.

But, perhaps the meta principle here is to find and use a principle that works for you to make decisions in areas like social engagements. Decision making is work. And, principles help make the process much easier while delivering consistently better outcomes.

Self-awareness is not what we think

Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and executive coach, assembled a team to understand self-awareness and shared her findings earlier this year. My top 5 takeaways –

1. We often refer to self-awareness as one “catch all” word. However, there are two distinct kinds of self-awareness – internal and external. Internal self-awareness represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions, and impact on others. External self-awareness means understanding how others view us.

2. Internal self-awareness is related to higher job and relationship satisfaction and happiness. External self awareness is related to a better ability to show empathy and take others’ perspectives. And, here’s the kicker – there is virtually no relationship between the two.

3. Many of life’s great truths fit into a 2×2. :-) And, this is no exception – the interplay between the two is illuminating.

4. Experience and power hinder self-awareness. In the study, most people assumed they were self aware – only 10%-15% were so.

5. To become more aware, stop asking “why” you feel a certain way and replace that with “what.” “Why do I feel irritated?” involves a lot of rationalizing. “What situations trigger irritation and what can I do about them?” focuses us on patterns that increases awareness and push us to productive action.

I am one of those who used to put all self-awareness in one bucket. In retrospect, this approach to segmenting self-awareness is spot on. Eye opening. Thank you, Dr. Eurich and thanks, Pankaj, for recommending the article.

Logic, principle, and interests

One of the best indicators of our ability to be logical and principled is our willingness to fight for stuff that isn’t aligned with our interests.

As a friend put it nicely, it is very easy to be principled when it aligns with our interests.

Productive communication

We often think of productivity in terms of work we get done. But, our ability to communicate has a big impact on our own productivity as well as that of others around us.

And, as a friend pointed out the other day, we can get a lot more done if we can manage to communicate consistently in a way that manages to challenge people’s thinking without making them feel defensive.

PS: I’m not sure yet as to what the key to challenging without creating defensiveness is – since I’m not good at it myself. Would love your ideas. I’ll aim to share a synthesis after giving this more thought.

Life and segmentation

Our final “Intro to Marketing” class in graduate school aimed to condense some of the most important insights from the class and apply it to our lives. To that end, our Professor re-shared a simple definition of segmentation – “Your ideal segment is one that loves what is good about you and doesn’t mind what is bad about you.”

He went on to explain that the quality of the most important choices we make – finding a spouse, a job, friends, managers – comes down to our ability to understand this truth.

This remains one of the more powerful insights I took away from studying marketing. We’ve all been in environments where we can bring 100% of ourselves. In such places and around such people, we’re appreciated for who we are and not dinged for who we are not. Being in environments that do the opposite can grate on a day-to-day basis.

The natural response to such environments (or people) is a feeling of inadequacy and a desire to change who we are. Roughly half the time, that feeling of inadequacy is well placed. We do need to change, to evolve, and to become better versions of ourselves. What got us here won’t get us there.

However, on the flipside, when this happens, it is also worth exploring if the environment and the people in it are our segment. Sometimes, it just means we need to do a bit more research and exploration to find the right segment.

PS: Applies to building products too.

The 3 laws of effective breaks

The 3 laws of effective breaks –

1. The effectiveness of a break is directly proportional to the presence of natural objects (trees, natural food, even people we like) and inversely proportional to the presence of to man-made objects (laptops, phones, tall buildings).

2. The more effective the break, the more productive the rebound. Put differently, the more we disconnect today, the more productive we’ll be tomorrow.

3. The relationship between work and breaks/rest is best represented by a fractal – they need to work together at every level to be effective. (H/T Dustin Moskovitz)