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Hugh MacLeod: How to be creative

I just finished reading through a presentation by Hugh MacLeod on how to be creative. I would recommend it to anyone that considers themselves creative, and I hope that is most of you.

A few key quotes:

The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.

Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.

Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.

via Hugh MacLeod



I want to pay you more money

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of leverage recently.

What do I mean by leverage? Essentially applying the metaphor of the simple machine a lever, to non-physics contexts.

In physics, a lever (from Frenchlever, “to raise”, c.f. a levant) is a rigid object that is used with an appropriate fulcrum or pivot point to either multiply the mechanical force (effort) that can be applied to another object or resistance force (load), or multiply the distance and speed at which the opposite end of the rigid object travels. This leverage is also termed mechanical advantage, and is one example of the principle of moments. A lever is one of the six simple machines.

via wikipedia

I think of this metaphor frequently when asked to improve the effectiveness or profitability of a given project. Sometimes it’s a task that is too time consuming to accomplish by a deadline. Or a product offering that doesn’t provide as much value as it costs to implement. Or perhaps an employee that wants an opportunity to earn more money.

The last example is one that I think translates into the most accessible metaphor for placing the concept of a lever into a new context.

When I am working with an individual that wants to “climb” the ladder, so to speak, I often start the exploration by asking myself “what can this individual do that will allow me to better leverage their daily tasks into higher value”. There’s that word leverage. Let’s dissect it in this context a little deeper.

If an employee comes to work and cleans their office from top to bottom, they have spent many hours accomplishing a task. Before they came to work, the office was dirty, now that they’ve finished, the office is clean. It’s a simple equation. The value is direct and observable. Once there was a dirty office, now through the exchanging of money for focused motion, the office is now clean. The transaction has completed and the task is finished. The office will become dirty again over time, but that’s not pertinent at the moment. The value that has been created to me is a clean office, which exists today.

Now, on day two, instead of cleaning the office, they sit down and write an essay about how amazing I am. The essay is quite eloquent and convincing. It takes the same amount of time to write the essay as it did to clean the office. But when the work is done and the worker goes home, I am able to use the essay to convince others of my amazing awesomeness. Well, the ability to convince others of my awesomeness is actually quite valuable to me, and it’s reusable. I can read this essay or portions of this essay to many different people, convincing all of them of my advanced skills and excellent grooming habits, be they business contacts or romantic interests. Even though work was performed for the same duration of time, I am able to apply the product of the second day’s labor in more contexts. In this sense the time expended on the second day is more “valuable” to me. Only so many people can come through to see how immaculate I keep my office. I encounter many more people throughout the day that could use some education on my efficacy.

This is a contrived, but not far fetched, example. It’s entirely possible that I have, working with me today, people who are metaphorically cleaning their offices, when they could be writing novels. Possibly not even metaphorically… they might actually be custodians who are capable of great works of fiction.

The exercise that great managers should go through is to take each individual and ask, “how can I get more value from this individual”. When working with developers I would often tell them directly, “I want to figure out a way to pay you more money. I am actively trying to do this because the more I can afford to pay you the better it is for me.” Thinking of every member of the team in this manner channels energy towards projects and professional developments that are deemed the likeliest to produce value.

Leverage is a powerful concept. It is in physics and it is in life. Executing well on tasks that are easily leveraged creates opportunities to significantly expand an individuals potential for influence. I’ve used the financial incentive in this example, but the concept can be applied to other goals as well. How do we influence a large group of people? Either by applying massive amounts of energy across broad initiatives, or applying a smaller degree of energy into sources more likely to be a lever.

Find the levers, and push on them, hard.

postscript: I would hate for someone to misconstrue my example as being somehow against the value of manual labor, or janitorial work. Working on a task with a direct and observable result is amazingly rewarding and highly valuable. The craftsmanship displayed by those who excel in any of these tasks is awe inspiring. I’ve had the pleasure of observing first class cleaning services and I will be the first to say that it requires a high degree of skill, craftsmanship and hard work and shouldn’t be minimized.

Little dogs get away with more

For the last week we’ve been dog-sitting an elderly pair of miniature dachshunds. They are a cute pair, Sassy and Rosie. They’ve been both a joy and a curse. It’s fun to come home to a couple of wagging tails, on the other hand, I could’ve done without the 5am wakeup call.

I was taking them out for a walk on one of our last few days together and found myself twisted and tangled, being pulled in two different directions as they both strained mightily against their leashes. In the midst of this tempest I realized something; these dogs are badly behaved. They beg at the dinner table, they whine for attention, they constantly pull on their leashes, they bark at any dog that attempts to cross their path, and the oldest has a habit of snapping at anything that surprises her (since she is deaf and blind that can be just about anything).

It took me a full week to realize this. If, instead of being miniature dachshunds, they had been a pair of 70 pound black labs I think I might’ve noticed a little sooner.

Being a little dog can have it’s advantages. It’s easier to fly under the radar, make a lot of progress towards your own personal goals before anyone notices that you aren’t pulling their direction. You appear to be “going with the flow” but that may be because no one has noticed your quiet dissent. But there is a downside; if you do want to be an influence it can be hard to get noticed. If you are straining mightily at the leash you may quickly get pulled back onto the grass.

Being a big dog has it’s advantages. People take notice. They watch your body language to see where you might leap next. In a fight, you are the one they want on your side. But there is a downside; The impact of your missteps are so big they are bound to be noticed. Snapping at the neighbors might lead to the euthanizing needle instead of a swat with the newspaper.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being one or the other, and in fact most of us play different roles depending on the group we are in. It’s more important to understand when you are playing the role and which role is appropriate to the situation. Generally there can only be 1 or 2 big dogs, and if you aren’t one of them, it might be better to embrace the role of the little dog and “go with the flow”. You might get things to go your way without anyone else noticing.

After all, I did wake up at 5am this morning to feed those dogs…

A Review: Field Notes vs. Moleskine

I’ve gone through a few note taking products in the last year or so and thought I would put together a quick review of my favorite two, the pocket Moleskine
notebook, and Field Notes.  I’ve broken it down by “feature” and highlighted which product I think wins in each category.

CoverField Notes: Field Notes seem to hold up longer in my back pocket.  Specifically, the spine of the Moleskine cover tends to rub and fray more than the Field Notes over a similar period of time.  It’s not usually a problem since I tend to fill up a journal around the time it starts to become structurally unsound.

DurabilityField Notes:  Mostly because of the aforementioned cover durability. Also the staple binding on the Field Notes feels a more solid than the stitching in the Moleskine.

PocketField Notes: It’s a bit misleading to say Field Notes win since they don’t have a pocket, but the reality is I’ve found the pocket in the smaller moleskins to be worse than useless. They tear as soon as I start using them. If you put something in the pocket, it may not be there when you go back to get it. This is only true of the thin Moleskines. The 192 pagers have a sturdy enough pocket to make it useful.

PaperMoleskine: I prefer the yellowed look of the Moleskine paper. It seems easier on the eyes and has a more classic feel. The Moleskine also has detachable pages. Tearing these pages out to give them to friends or love interests creates a lasting momento of their encounter with you, and will survive at least one washing. Style and practicality win out here.

VibeMoleskine: I’m a little on the fence here. It depends on your personal style but Moleskines feel a bit more mature, and Field Notes are a little more playful in their styling. Let me put it this way, I would rather have a Moleskine for a business meeting, but a Field Notes at the coffee shop. The choice is up to you.

Coolness QuotientField Notes: Everyone has a Moleskine these days. Let’s be honest, it’s cool to be different. Well ok, it’s cool to be mostly the same, but slightly different and edgy. Field Notes are definitely differently the same. (take that English professors!)

So who wins? I recently finished a 3 pack of Field Notes and switched back to Moleskine. It came out as I expected. I like the detachable pages, but I feel like it’s going to fall apart before I am done using it. My next order will probably be for Field Notes. I’m going to keep a stack of both and choose based on my mood at the time. Who says you gotta be a company man…