Showing my work: Analog color

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I’m leading an educational session at a conference this week. It’s a first for this topic for me, and I don’t feel I’ve found my framework yet. It just hasn’t clicked.

I’ve floundered around with digital tools — Keynote, Mindnode, text editors — but the flow hasn’t come yet.

So, today I turned around to my desk, away from my Mac, and took my multi-colored pen to actual paper and mind-mapped my ideas. And they flowed better than at any time in my thinking on this topic.

Analog before digital. Why can’t I stick to that?

It’s still not there yet. I’m imagining people sitting in my session wondering why they chose it and what the heck I was trying to accomplish. But I’ve done this enough times to know that something at least partially intelligible and maybe even meaningful will come out of me.

Priming my creativity with a pen in hand, some color, and a big sheet of paper is a reliable way to force some flow. 

Now, I’ve got to gather up those thoughts and string them together in a way that sparks some kind of transformation in my audience. What’s the point otherwise?

“The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” –John F. Kennedy

Be obsessed

Justine Musk (Elon Musk’s wife) had this as part of her response to a question on Quora about how to be as successful as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson:

Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

If you’re not obsessed, then stop what you’re doing and find whatever does obsess you. […] Don’t pursue something because you “want to be great”. Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you. Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an insane work ethic, so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.

Intrinsic rewards over extrinsic rewards.

Warren Buffett and the “avoid at all cost list”

Cal Newport shared this Warren Buffett story, which was passed on by someone else and may be only apocryphal. But the point of the story certainly seems in line with what we know of Buffett’s philosophy:

Buffett wanted to help his employee get ahead in his working life, so he suggested that the employee list the twenty-five most important things he wanted to accomplish in the next few years. He then had the employee circle the top five and told him to prioritize this smaller list.

All seemed well until the wise billionaire asked one more question: “What are you going to do with the other twenty things?”

The employee answered: “Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty come in at a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top five. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.”

Buffett surprised him with his response: “No. You’ve got it wrong…Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list.’”

Focus. Do less, better.

“The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” –Warren Buffett

Ordinary laziness

From the @AlanWattsDaily Twitter stream:

I’m torn between the desire to get big things done and make a dent in the universe and the inclination to chill out a lot more often, to just play and ponder.

Balance, right? The down times, the lazing about, can give fresh energy to the dent-making endeavors.

Most of us, though, lean hard away from, or at least try to appear to lean away from, the “pleasant mellowness” of ordinary laziness. Got to look busy, you know.

Elle Luna: The crossroads of should and must

This epic essay by Elle Luna was posted almost a year ago. I discovered it only today when Seth Godin linked to her new book that came from that essay.

The book looks beautiful. Purchased.

In this essay (and now in her book) Elle tells her story of finding her calling by resisting the path of Should and instead embracing the path of Must. Most of us are guided by what we think we should do while ignoring the call of our deepest desires and what we must do to be fully alive.

“What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? What if our jobs are our careers and our callings?” –Elle Luna

I have struggled, though, with the notion that we have some innate passion we have to find and follow. Maybe it’s just semantics. What an authentic life needs is to be true to what you genuinely love and to make an art of it, to do it as well as you can.

Pick a path the excites you, that seems like fun, but that also will challenge you and will compel you to mastery. Course correct regularly. Change your mind. Try and fail, but stick with something long enough to know.

Elle Luna closes her essay with a strong call to choose Must over Should, to have the courage to live the life that is calling to you:

“If you believe that you have something special inside of you, and you feel it’s about time you gave it a shot, honor that calling in some small way — today.

If you feel a knot in your stomach because you can see the enormous distance between your dreams and your daily reality, do one thing to tighten your grip on what you want — today.

If you’ve been peering out over the edge of the cliff but can’t quite make the leap, dig a little deeper and find out what’s stopping you — today.

Because there is a recurring choice in life, and it occurs at the intersection of two roads. We arrive at this place again and again. And today, you get to choose.”

Walt Disney and the long, long game

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I’ve referred to the long game previously, the perspective of considering the long arc of your story and a patient pursuit of an awesome life.

In the two Walt Disney biographies I’ve been reading, I keep coming across an even longer perspective. Disney was driven by a vision of a future he knew he would never personally reach.

Imagine that your work will outlive you by 50-plus years or so. Even if the memory of you fades, what can you contribute that will endure? How can what you do and what you make now reverberate into future generations?

“Make a fifty-year master plan. A fifty-year master plan will change how you look at opportunities in the present.” –Walt Disney

It’s not about ego. You’re going to be gone in just a few years. But thinking through the long, long game can add possibilities to your work that a shorter perspective just can’t.

 

Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and plussing your life

I’ve been immersed in Walt Disney recently. I’m reading a biography which is giving me a better appreciation of the impact one dynamic person can have on an organization and ultimately on society.

And then today I found this article linked from ToolsAndToys.net. It’s a piece by Rolly Crump, a former Disney Imagineer who worked on Disneyland projects like the original concepts for It’s A Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room. He shares some great insights about what it was like to work with Walt. (Disney refused to let employees, or anyone, call him “Mr. Disney.” He insisted on being addressed by just his first name.)

In all the stories I’m reading about Walt, he comes across to me as a kinder, gentler Steve Jobs. Both men had charismatic personalities that could bring out the best work in others. No one could out-dream them. Their ideas were bigger and bolder than anyone else’s.

Walt was not actually an artist. (He didn’t even draw the original Mickey Mouse. He just came up with the concept and the personality and the voice and got Ub Iwerks to do the drawing.) And Steve was not a computer engineer or a designer. (It was Woz who made the original Apple computers. Steve just figured out how to sell them.) But both men saw possibilities others didn’t. They asked for more, for better, for the seemingly impossible. And they got it more often than not. With their ideas and their drive and their communication skills, they sold their dreams and impressed their high standards on those who worked with them.

Here’s Crump talking about the way Walt would generate and improve ideas:

In designing for Disneyland you definitely worked more as a conduit for Walt’s ideas. He directed what you were doing, and his direction was far superior to your own personal ideas. His ideas were way ahead of yours—you had to play catch-up on that, and then you had to kind of read subconsciously what it was that he wanted and the direction to take. Walt would come up with an idea, and that idea would explode inside of him. It would get better and better. So when you showed him something, he would take what you did to another level. And when you gave it back, he’d take it to yet another level.

So many Steve Jobs anecdotes sound like that. His ideas were a few steps ahead. Go bigger. Get it done sooner than anyone thinks possible. Give it more “wow”, more “cool”.

Walt called it “plussing”. He would take an idea and “plus it”, make it a little better. And it was constant for him. He was relentless in plussing everything, from a scene in a movie to the way a cast member interacted with a guest at Disneyland. (Here you can listen to a recording of Walt talking about plussing and why he loved Disneyland more than his movies.)

Jobs and Disney must have had a sharply tuned sense of discontent. What most of us would accept as okay, they would ask for better. And the results are what make Apple and Disney the icons they have become in our culture.

Maybe most of us are too timid, too content with good enough. What if you asked for better from yourself and from those you work with. What if you plussed your life as relentlessly as Walt and Steve plussed their creations?