Make systems from goals

Use systems to get where you’re going, not goals:

My problem with goals is that they are limiting. Granted, if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal. Systems, however, simply move you from a game with low odds to a game with better odds. With a system you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity.

Applies to personal life, biz, programming, hobby, whatever. Use goals to figure out what systems you need in place, then get habits and systems going to make those goals, or something better, happen.

Yet another way you can use your skills as a developer to construct a system that really solves the problem, and not a symptom of the problem!

Businesses can empathy too

Building an Ethical Business:

Empathy is sometimes described as a personal trait, but it’s a skill, a skill that can be learned, that can be honed, and that can be instilled as a core value of a company.

The post is about applying empathy to the core values of a business, how it shapes the actions and culture of the institution. But it’s a reminder empathy is about people, and how they experience you, your team, or your employer.

Follow up reminder: empathy is your most important skill. I’d go further than saying it’s a skill; those I’ve met with outstanding empathy basically have superpowers.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

Lately, I find myself stopping to make sure I haven’t previously written the thing I’m currently writing. For starters, I have a horrible method for moving things out of my “I should finish this idea” folder into the “I wrote about this idea!” folder. It doesn’t help that I often draft articles in my head while I run, shower, or do chores and then forget that I had the thought. It’s kind of a mess in here.

Assuming that I slip up and write the idea down twice, hopefully it’s in a way that doesn’t look like I’m plagiarizing myself. Is it weird to write about the same thing multiple times, if it’s nearly the same idea?

I hate repeating myself, telling the same stories over and over. “Have I told you this one before?” is a frequent prologue to great stories. But is it necessary? Hearing a mediocre story twice is slightly painful, but hearing a great story twice is no chore at all.

If I keep writing an idea, coming back to it, maybe there’s something important there? Perhaps it’s still bouncing around in my brain for a reason. I haven’t fully wrapped my head around it, or articulated the idea in a way I find satisfying and essential.

This is a personal website; the line between “just play the hits” and “stop trying to make fetch happen” doesn’t have to be so strong here as it would on, say, the New York Times. So, stop me if I write about an idea so much I run it into the ground. It’s just that I’m trying to get it out of my head in the right way.

Bridge enroute to Chilas

Let the right something in

There will always be more somethings we want to do than we have time to do. Right? Maybe.

  1. A lot of the right somethings can add up to a great thing, even if the somethings aren’t of the highest quality or express the biggest idea.
  2. A lot of the wrong somethings aren’t that interesting, unless your work is generally of great enough import that historians take an interest in it.
  3. A lot of the wrong somethings may not add up to much at all and are unlikely to attract the interest of historians.
  4. If you don’t care about whether something’s great, you can produce a lot of somethings.
  5. If you don’t care if something expresses a big idea, you can produce a lot of somethings.

A lot of truisms will tell you that quality is the important thing and quantity is secondary. But perhaps there are all sorts of cases where that’s not entirely true.

Mozart wrote way more music than Beethoven; Beethoven’s was more sophisticated but their bodies of work are considered on the same level. There are way more episodes of Law and Order and all its spin-offs than Breaking Bad; one made more money, one gathered more acclaim.

Rather than deciding to pursue quality over quantity, perhaps it’s better to:

  • Choose your somethings with care
  • Execute on the idea central to those somethings
  • Produce as many somethings as possible without hating the quality of your work

The false bad guy

A pet peeve, in writing and thinking: introducing a false antagonist to create tension in a story. This is rampant in tech writing. Apple vs. Google, Ive vs. Forestall, Rails vs. Django, Ember vs. Angular, etc. But there’s no there, there. It’s only filling space.

I would love to have Ernest Hemingway weigh in on introducing a bad guy where one isn’t needed. I suspect there would be a lot of cursing involved.

Quit your desk

Things I’ve quit doing at my desk:

Many writers maintain a private writing hut. The hut has one purpose: it’s the place they go to write. They don’t do anything else there. Once they can’t write any more, they go do something else. I think we need to think of our desks in the same way: these are places where we get work done.

I like my desk, but I know the hours I can sit at it and get work done before fatigue sets in are finite. I try to mix in standing at our bar-height dining table, sitting on the couch (most recently, with three dogs), working from coffee shops and occasionally sitting on the front or back porch.

The big idea from that article, burning a hole in my head, is that we should step away from our desks when we’re not working (for me, telling computers to do things). Thinking can happen on a walk, standing outside, or in the shower. Socializing can happen from the couch or mobile device. Procrastinating by reading, surfing, social networking, etc. can happen anywhere.

Once I freed my mind from the idea that I’m only working the moments my butt is in a chair at a desk in front of a computer, my work improved and my life got better. Quit your desk and find out for yourself.

Coffee and other warmups

Making a cup of coffee sometimes helps me prepare for the process of solving puzzles with computers. Something about choosing AeroPress, French press, Chemex, or Clever; heating the water to 212F or 200F; medium-fine, medium, or coarse grinding of the beans. The weighing and grinding of the beans, boiling the water, rinsing the filter, pouring the water, waiting, pouring more water, agitating, pressing the coffee, discarding the filter and grinds. Now I’m left with a cup that I made for myself. A minor victory for the day.

All sorts of things require warm-ups. Stretching, air-squatting, or a quick jog lets my body know it’s almost time to exert itself. Word association or playing little games tells my brain it’s time to improvise.

Updating some documentation. A tiny, superficial refactoring or layout change to some code. Drawing a picture in my notebook. Making some coffee. That’s how I know it’s time to solve puzzles.

Off my grid

Off my grid

Courtney regularly drives an hour southwest of Austin, past Dripping Springs, to practice dog agility at a barn her friend rents. It’s amazingly quiet once you get past the city, past the backroads, and out into the hills and trees. It was an overcast evening when I went with her so the sunset was a no-show. Yet, the serenity and variety of it wasn’t lost on me.

Ignorance: pros and cons

We can often, but not always, choose to ignore those on the internet, on TV, and in our lives with different ideas, philosophies, or opinions about the world. Whether intentional or accidental, this is ignorance.

Ignorance is handy because it can keep us sane. We can’t know all the things or have all the experiences. We all value things based on our own experiences and learnings. We cross-reference that with our ego and emotions and come up with our “truths”. Conflicting “truths” can hurt, and so we only let some kinds of them in and trim our lives to exclude the others. This is helpful for reducing stress and making for more happy days.

It’s not great though, because it isolates us from seeing more of the world and understanding it more clearly. Many media fights/beefs/arguments are rooted in conflicting “truths” and collisions of ignorance. You ignore the value of a supportive government, I ignore the value of maximum personal liberty, and boom! we’re arguing. We’re not getting things done.

Personally, that arguing is stressful. I’d rather not get worked up about politics, governance, and technical minutiae if at all possible. Therefore, I selectively engage in ignorance. I try to double check my assumptions and ignorance occasionally; I find ignorance is a useful tactic, not a long-term strategy.

If you could imagine a world where empathy ruled and everyone possessed a superpower for compromise, you might see a world where ignorance isn’t so much of a problem and amazing things can get done. Oh, what a fantastic, science-fiction world!

Ignorance is bliss and that which prevents us from achieving really big things. Use your ignorance carefully and with consideration.

Twice the podcast listening

I like to listen to podcasts and screencasts at two or three times the recorded speed. The application I use (Instacast) does this with pitch correction, a feature that’s probably built into iOS at this juncture. In short, I can listen to a thirty minute podcast in ten to fifteen minutes and they only sound funny when music plays. I do mean funny; listen to Radiohead’s “Creep” at 3x speed and it comes out downright chipper.

Our brains can process speech at these accelerated rates just fine. In fact, when I listen to some of my favorite podcasters in “real” time, they sound like they’re thinking really hard and speaking slowly, or that they’re flat-out drunk. The interesting bit is when an accelerated speaker has an accent or when there is radio interference with the FM transmitter I use in the car. At this point, all bets are off and I have to slow the podcast down or listen when the signal is better.

The bottom line is that, empirically, human speech has built-in redundancy. We tend to speak at a rate that, if you miss some sounds, you can probably still make out the words. Further, the space in-between words is probably filled with our own thoughts anyway; we only listen part of the time we’re listening.

Nifty things, our brains are.