I’ve been practicing documenting every decision and piece of information that might be of interest for the last few years with clients. It has lead to increasingly asymmetric impact just because the stuff I work on stays around for longer. And is therefore valuable to the organisation for longer, even when I’m not there anymore.
But I have just found the best example of how powerful it is when people write down institutional knowledge: The GitLab Handbook… It’s a mind-blowing tome, some 13000 pages of highly actionable insights and information tid bits like this:
Don’t wait. When you have something of value like a potential blog post or a small fix, implement it straight away. Right now, everything is fresh in your head and you have the motivation. Inspiration is perishable. Don’t wait until you have a better version. Don’t wait until you record a better video. Don’t wait for an event (like Contribute). Inventory that isn’t released is a liability since it has to be managed, becomes outdated, and you miss out on the feedback you would have received had you implemented it straight away.
I happened upon this amazing motivational speech by Stelli Efti earlier today. It’s a short video about what committing really looks and feels like, ending with a short exercise. Listening to it I felt inspired and shared it on twitter. To my great surprise Steli actually replied:
After someone as busy as Steli took the time to kick me towards better prioritisation, I felt like I needed to try the exercise. And you should do it with me!
1. Write down what you’re doing
List your commitments and projects. All the areas of life where you spend your time. Don’t get into the details, but list them out. Start with family and occupation. Stop when you get to that instrument you haven’t touched in a year.
2. Sort into two categories: commit, or participate
Commit is where you are really commit. Where there’s no plan B, you’re gonna do it or fail. Not failing slow, not letting things fizzle out. Commit is where you need to do it.
Participate is where you’re going through the motions a bit. You’re showing up but there’s always a side track, always an escape route. Maybe it’s something that doesn’t crash if you stop for a week. Maybe it’s more of an intention than a must?
3. Ask yourself the hard question
Are you really committing to what you want out of life?
My result was, just like Steli said, really insightful. In short I’m not truly committed to anything except my family.
All of my projects right now are all full of plan Bs and safety nets. I’m not committing, failing, and learning. I’m more wandering around and exploring safely. Lazily drifting from interest to interest…
Now that I know this. I should just pick one, and commit. Making hard choices is a lot easier when you’ve got some perspective on why you need to make them.
Listening to Steli Efti talk about avoiding having a half-assed life by committing fully to whatever we’re doing. Being ready to give it our all, not hedging the bet, and letting something fail if it doesn’t work out.
It’s a powerful message, and I’m feeling very inspired to be less distracted and hedge less. The idea ties together really well with Derek Siver’s axiom Hell yeah or no.
I read this wonderful article by Matthew Ball about Nintendo and how they differ from Disney in their approach to leveraging IPs. It’s an interesting read and if you have half an hour to spare I recommend it. But in the middle of the article was with wonderful tidbit:
Creator Shigeru Miyamoto actively requires development teams to reinvent the franchise. Following the success of the first entry, a top-down action adventure game, Kotaku reports that Miyamoto-san told “the team—not the Zelda 1 team, but an entirely different team—that he wanted to make a side-scrolling action game where the player had to attack with, and defend against, high and low attacks.”
To be clear, this approach is why Nintendo is so spectacular.
If you don’t already know Mr Miyamoto is the legendary creator behind both the Mario and Zelda franchises, his creative works are second too none. I find this little legend especially interesting because Miyamoto is deliberately adding constraints instead of reusing the same tried and true pattern. Even though this is a huge financial risk.
When was the last time you did something deliberately harder?
I don’t think I’ve deliberately thrown away working patterns in my designs at any time. Definitely not in the last five years. I’m intrigued to find out what happens if I try it.
I wish I could remember who tipped me off. It was a podcast I listened to 2-3 weeks ago on which on of the hosts said Show your Work by Austin Kleon had helped them start showing off their work. I’m only half way through, and I feel inspired to say the same!
If you struggle with publishing your work, this is the book for you. It only takes two hours or so to read.
I recently made an observation, a very smart person I know blurted out an idea in a meeting and was convinced the idea ended the conversation.
The person who blurted out the idea is very smart, but the idea was not very good. I’ve seen great organisations implement bad ideas many — many — times. But this time I asked myself: why does this happen? What causes brilliant people to jump on bad ideas, and take decisive actions that are clearly not great?
My hypothesis was that stress causes us to believe that the real linchpin in a situation is having an idea, any idea, of what to do next. As if an idea was all it took to solve problems.
I wrote a Twitter thread about it to see if anyone else had similar experience. It turns out a lot of people do.
I’ve made an observation recently, and I’d love to hear if you’ve seen the same? People who are stressed (very busy) tend to believe ideas are more valuable than they really are.
Some very smart people chimed in with their own experiences and it seemed like I had stumbled upon an important insight. Then my friend Fredrik offered this insightful reframe of the behaviour:
It could be rephrased like this, people who are very busy think in basics. Speed at the cost of depths and I wholly agree with your observations
This reframe is powerful because it removes the emotional component from the idea completely. This behaviour is not something that some people do. It’s not an error that pops up as the side effect of fuzzy thinking. It’s a classic error that is innate to humans, blank and white thinking.
To avoid this behaviour myself in the future I want to define this problem as follows.
Stress causes humans to think in basics. Which means we’re grasping for straws, and an idea that seems to solve the problem, no matter how badly, is preferable to not making a decision.
A side effect of this behaviour is a tendency to believe ideas are more valuable than execution. Because by choosing an idea, the stressed human believes they have taken action.
January I was working hard as hell, trying to keep it together running a small product team at a video infrastructure company.
February I was looking for new gigs and starting to worry about acquaintances getting increasingly hysterical online about this virus spreading around Asia. We still went out and saw friends.
March the lockdowns started. Now Sweden never locked down, but we were asked to keep their distance and wash their hands often. Well everyone not only did that, but most people went full on prepping mode, and quarantined at home. The capitol of Sweden even ran out of toilet paper, for some reason I still can’t understand. The place was a ghost town. I was really worried how this would hit the economy (people don’t have savings in socialist Sweden) so we did cautiously go out a few times and were shouted at by close friends… Despite following all recommendations from the public health authority. It was a strange month.
April was pretty much all closed. We were both working from home, which we usually do anyway, but the city was deserted. We did check into a luxury hotel for my birthday since all the hotel chains dumped their prices.
May finally brought the light back. We had some lovely sunny days during April, but in May it was finally getting Luke warm. I think the entire country celebrated finally being able to be outside, even being able to socialise (at a distance). I also started a job at a huge grocery chain, working on the in-house toolset to manage grocery stores. Turns out there was some confusion about what my role was supposed to be, more designer or more developer. But I didn’t know that until much later.
June was unusually warm, a wonderful summer month! I even went swimming on my lunch hour. We met friends outside, had a champagne tasting and spent some time in the archipelago. Oh, and I bought a hat.
July was full on summer. Since we can’t travel anywhere we took Mondays and Fridays off all of July and hung out with every friend that dared, and ate a lot of gelato.
August was unusually cold. We were at a couple of cray fish parties and I got very tired of video meetings. Actually it’s not the video that I had issues with, just unproductive meetings in general.
September was beautiful. But for us it was terribly sad, as Agnes father passed away suddenly. We spent as much time as we could with her family, but life can never be the same.
October had the last few warm days of the year. I tried to soak it all up. But it’s never enough. We had a beautiful, corona safe, funeral for Agnes father. I also had a health issue, with another blood clot appearing, despite eating blood thinners. Which isn’t great. And required some radical rethinking of my situation.
November was the month of change. To make time to work on my health, and my entrepreneurial things, I quit my job I only just started in May. It was a good job, with a good team. But I didn’t have my mind in a long term change process, and I needed something else. As if on cue, my friend Annelie asks me to join her company for a period to help out with some big technical projects. So I jump in at 80% time. Keeping 20% time to work on my own.
December became the cosiest month since my nephews discovered xmas. We celebrated Agnes’ birthday, every advent Sunday, and Christmas twice. The entire month was a blur of cozy Christmas celebrations.
What I Learned
Like every year, I’ve learned a lot. Too much to summarise effectively. But a few things have really stood out to me.
Alcohol is bullshit. I drink too much. Actually everybody does. We’ve had two sober months this year and I’ve always known I feel better without alcohol, but I didn’t know how big the difference was… It’s huge. So I’ve cut down to nearly nothing, and I’m really happy about it.
I’m old, and scared of success. I’ve been working on building my own projects and products since around the start of the millennium. But I’ve learned this year that I’m spending most of my time preparing and researching action instead of trying things. Well it’s time to change that. I want to create things, and life is ticking away.
How much risk is reasonable? My friend Annelie has a great mental model: how much risk would I take, if I were a Chinese entrepreneur? This really brings me clarity. I’m very under-leveraged. I should take on a lot more risk, and worry a lot less.
Sweden bores me. My best friends are international, I don’t like the climate here, not the natural one nor the intellectual one. So we’ve decided we’re moving to Berlin when the lockdowns end.
Health & Fitness
I put my money where my mouth is and paid an excellent trainer, and it has helped, but I’m also uncomfortably fat right now. I have nothing to blame but boredom.
My health is sadly not perfect. I’ve been getting more blood clots and I’m not a permanent high dose of blood thinners. It’s hard to know what this means. The doctors don’t really want to talk about what happens after something like this.
I’m probably not dying right now. Which is good. But I think this will kill me. And probably much earlier than I would have otherwise died. I need to act accordingly.