Ending the goodbye debate

I was about to drive the kids out recently and our older child wanted mom to come down and say goodbye.

As mom and child #1 were discussing this, child #2 – unencumbered by the lack of an ability to speak and weigh in on the discussion – simply fetched mom’s sandals and placed it near the door.

Cue: end of debate and smiles all around.

When in doubt, lead with action.

Worrying about what we should say or said

It is natural to worry about what we should say or should have said. We have been conditioned to improve our presentation style, be assertive, add value in conversation, etc. So, it is natural to want to over prepare and try to do it right.

Except – it is impossible to do it right all the time. We say a lot during the course of a day and there is no end to worrying about whether we said the right things.

A better approach might be to shift this focus from our words to our actions. Many talk, few do. And, more often than not, our actions speak louder and clearer than the words we speak. The colleague who follows up to your request when she didn’t need to and the manager who didn’t make any changes to your role despite your unhappiness said plenty without saying a single word.

In the long run, we are, on average, better off spending our energies on being better doers than we are better talkers.

PS: The best part about this approach is that the focus on doing makes us much better speakers with relatively minimal effort by simply taking all the pressure of the speaking.

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.

Can’t talk yourself out of a problem you’ve acted yourself into

I was reminded of a wonderful story from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book (I seem to be in Stephen Covey remembrance zone these past weeks) about a man in his seminar complaining about his wife calling him every hour asking him where he was and what he was doing. He just couldn’t seem to convince her to trust him. Curious, Covey asked him how he’d met.

It turned out that the man had met her at a similar seminar and had cheated on his ex-wife in the process.

“You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you behaved yourself into” – were Covey’s wise words to the man.

There’s a saying in George R R Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series (a.k.a Game of Thrones) – “words are wind.” In Westeros, what you say counts for every little. What you do, however, is everything. It made a lot of sense – they didn’t have social media to track reputations.

But, has social media and all the other kinds of media changed the fundamental principle behind the “words are wind” idea? I don’t think so. Yes, it is easier to build a beautiful facade around your track record. But, it is just as easy to break it – all it takes is one truth teller on Twitter. In some ways, the idea that “words are wind” applies more in today’s context.

All we have is our track record. If it is representative of who we are, then we must keep doing what we are doing. And, in the process, aim to do more with what we have, and better. If it is not representative of who we are, it is worth remembering that we can act ourselves into it.

What we do is the surest way of expressing who we are.

Being entrepreneurial vs. being an entrepreneur

The media loves the entrepreneur’s story. Just search for Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Larry Page and you will find no shortage of press articles and books that detail their obsessive habits, their exercise routines and anecdotes from their childhood. Why blame the media? We love the entrepreneur story too – the story of the one person who came about and changed everything. Many dream to be that person. It is definitely a worthy dream if the goal is to make a positive difference during your time on the planet.  And, it is definitely one way to approach the many problems our planet and the human race faces.

The other way is to just be entrepreneurial – wherever you might be. The entrepreneurship concept is built around three phases – idea/problem -> initiative -> action. Those who go about registering a new company to solve the problem/execute the idea are called entrepreneurs. As you might have guessed, this post is about all those who don’t, all those we will call entrepreneurial.

Let us consider the story of Brent James at Intermountain Healthcare who has been at the forefront of a movement to make health care better by making it easier for doctors to access data and make better decisions. Or perhaps the many change-makers at hospital networks and medical device manufacturers around the world who have helped save an enormous number of lives through changes they lead. Perhaps we could think about those in companies that have led agricultural innovations or maybe the early team at Twitter including folks like Jason Goldman who have helped make Twitter an agent of change around the world. Brent James and folks like him may not have started companies but, as change agents in large organizations, have probably driven more tangible change than most could hope for.

The way I see it – there is a small group of people who will have the combination of smarts, resources, and luck that Musk, Bezos and Page have had in shaping the world tomorrow. And, while they will undoubtedly make huge dents to life on this planet, the change they will make will be dwarfed by the change made by the many entrepreneurial folk who are driving change in their neighborhoods, tribes, communities and companies. These people may not have articles dedicated to their childhood on Fortune magazine and may just be lauded in an internal company-wide memo. But, it would be foolish to underestimate the impact that they have on our lives. We’ve been innovating at an unprecedented rate of late. That’s not because we have more superstar entrepreneurs. In fact, the number of superstar entrepreneurs has stayed constant over time. For every Bill Gates, there always was a Rockfeller. However, with more availability of information and resources, we do have more people who’ve been taking initiative and attempting to make a difference wherever they are.

So, you might have many reasons to not be an entrepreneur. That’s completely okay. There is, however, no excuse to not be entrepreneurial. You have more access to tools that can drive change than ever before. You can also spot people who’re out there attempting to make the world a bit better. If you don’t feel strongly enough about pushing an idea forward, be good at spotting those who are and join them. Just ask Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive – that works too.

We make the world better.. together.