To do lists are just one of those things. We know they matter, a lot. We know that having them and following them certainly leads to getting more done. Then why is it, that they tend to get longer and not shorter? It’s because not all tasks are created equal. It’s because our human operating system is a 200,000 year old piece of software not designed for a list based society. Let me explain.
The Urgent and the Important
Generally the things we do can be broken down into either Urgent or Important. If it’s neither of these things it shouldn’t be on the list. Urgent stuff has deadlines and customer requirements and might even be a fire that needs extinguishing. Important tasks are the other things we’d like to do, and know we should do, but very often don’t get around to. We don’t get around to them because they’re well, not urgent. Our DNA is designed to respond to urgent, to fear, to danger. And while urgent tasks don’t mean a sabre tooth tiger is going to eat us for dinner, our emotive reaction is much the same. It’s why fear and urgency most often wins. In a modern, sans sabre tooth tiger world, we need to do the opposite of what our instinct tells us to.
The irony is that the less important tasks we do, the more urgent things pop up. By only doing the urgent we create a perpetual cycle of inefficiency. We start carrying buckets of water to the ‘fire’, instead of building a pipeline and hose system for the time a fire breaks out. If we ever want to get in front, and start hacking our to do list we need to undertake some counter intuitive actions. Are you ready for it?
- We need to miss some deadlines.
- We need to disappoint some people.
- We need to let some urgent things go unattended and go, wrong, break, fail.
- We need to embrace a metaphorical ground zero.
To get started it is worth splitting your do list into two columns: Urgent and Important Tasks – see what gets your attention at the end of each day and you’ll see the trap we all fall into. You’ll also see that important tasks also change their shape and often become urgent later. What we need to do is the important things which build a structure and system to remove many of the recurring urgencies. Once we have to courage to do this, we’ll end up being the people who can respond to urgent, the fewer times they occur. It may even be worth taking secret holiday for a week (pretend to be out of town, off line and on vacation) to get your important stuff in order and start a new pattern.
Happy To Do list hacking!
In a very short period of time, opinions of anything can change. It wasn’t so long ago that these statements were made about the internet as a commercial platform:
- It’s for nerds. “Fine, you nerds can do what you want but normal people are never going to use this thing.”
- It’s completely decentralized, which means you can’t trust it. No business is ever going to do anything on it because businesses won’t work on an untrusted environment. There won’t ever be any e-commerce.
- There will never be any internet payments. No one will put their credit card on the internet.
- It’s an open-source kind of thing so there will be no Internet companies.
- It’s got all these technical deficiencies. It’s slow. It’s unreliable. It doesn’t work right. When you do a search, sometimes you get an answer back and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes when you dial in you get a busy signal.
- What happen if your ISP goes out of business? Then you can’t get back online.
- Once you get on the internet, even assuming you get on the internet, there’s nothing to do. There’s no content. Time magazine isn’t online, the New York Times isn’t online. It’s just a bunch of nerd stuff.
These classic soundbites come from Marc Andreessen in a recent interview while referencing those who think bitcoin will never be more than some kind of digital space oddity. While we are on the topic of economic change, it is telling to have a look at the market valuations of the top 10 internet companies. That is, companies less than 20 years old who could not have existed pre dot com. The US top 10 public companies now have an accumulated value of $1.168 trillion dollars.
- Google – $585 billion
- Facebook – $170 billion
- Amazon – $155 billion
- Ebay – $65 billion
- Priceline – $65 billion
- Yahoo – $36 billion
- Salesforce.com – $36 billion
- Twitter – $24 billion
- Linkedin – $21 billion
- Expedia – $11 billion
We can also add the upcoming float of Alibaba.com to this at anything between a further $120 to $200 billion.
This takes my mind directly to the potential of 3D printing, web of things and the solar energy industry. All of which are in their 1993 era. The only question remaining for entrepreneurs reading is this; What are you going to do about it?
I’ve been doing some blogging and work in general for the good people at Pollenizer. My recent focus has been over coming the fear of leaving your job, and things we can do to reduce the risk and make the transition. I’ve written 3 posts in particular which I really think you guys will dig. There’s some links below and a little sound bite for each proving they are worth the 3 minutes each of them take to read. Remember we must first invest in ourselves before anyone will invest in us.
- The fast track, zero risk method to becoming an entrepreneur: This post is the ultimate startup life hack – and with a simple trick gets to you on the path to entrepreneurship in an instant. Serious.
- Startup training in a low risk environment: here I’ve written about ways you can up skill and help your self transition from employee to startup founder without risking anything. A must for those planning to escape their cubicle in corporate land.
- The worst case scenario for failed entrepreneurs: And finally a nice bit of entrepreneurial FEAR debunking, and reasons that taking the leap will not result in anything bad. This one will ease your mind.
Hope you enjoy these mind jams.
I was recently in an office where there happened to be a couple of Rubik’s cubes laying around. Once upon a time I wasted an inordinate amount of time learning how to solve it. So I said: “Oh, I can solve that.” Adding further that I could do it in 3 minutes, but my best time is under 2 minutes. The cube was quickly handed to me to prove my lofty statement. So I start the solve, got halfway through and completely forget the algorithm – and in ‘under 3 minutes’ I look like both a fool and a fibber.
It reminded me of something important. Just because we have been able to do something in the past, it doesn’t mean we can do it now. Just because we knew something once, it doesn’t mean we know about it now. They only way to stay on top is to continue to practice and relearn what we already do and know. Just because someone ran a marathon once, doesn’t make them a marathon runner now. The things we need to practice the most should be the things we are already good at. Especially when it is a craft we use for income generation.
So after this embarrassing little moment, I went and bought a new cube and got my mojo back. I’ve also made the decision to solve it once a day – just because it’s fun and worth remembering. A bit of grey matter exercise. And for those doubters out there here it is being solved in 16 seconds… ok ok I sped the film up just a little.
For those who are wondering the current world record time for solving is 5.55 seconds.
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I’ve spent an equal amount of time in large corporates and startups. With the success that large companies have achieved comes an entirely new set of cultures which they could do without. So here is my top 10 list of behaviours large companies could do without:
- Public reading events. Organise a room full of people and stop their work to read stuff to them instead of actually providing an inspiring change instigating presentation.
- Pre-meeting meetings: Getting everyone ‘on the same page’ – I felt sick writing that… yuck. Time wasting. Have some courage people.
- Promoting the best political performers: Ensuring the political champions kick on instead of those making a difference in the market.
- Skimp on the product: Remove cost from product instead of having a product in which customers would tolerate price rises for.
- Creating information spirals: Gathering more research to reduce risk and avoid making a ‘go’ decision while the market opportunity gets taken by nimble competitors.
- Developing slogans instead of getting stuff done: A company I worked for had a new one each year. One was Fewer Bigger Better. It was a great way to justify not doing anything.
- Developing internal language: Having a culture of industry jargon, codes and acronyms to create the ‘self aggrandising’ illusion of intelligence. Talking to themselves
- Mistake avoidance culture: Creating a fear of decision making, by rewarding staff for not making mistakes.
- Penny pinching: Closing the stationary cupboard during a tough year, yet the senior people can still afford those first class trips to international trade conferences.
- Global alignment: Ensuring the packaging for Australia is the same as the packaging in Lithuania when the product comes out of different factories and is served in different cultures. Confusing when global focus is a disadvantage.
What’s your favourite piece of corporate folly?
Fake it till you make it – sure you’ve heard that. But have you ever seen a documentary showing it in action? Been a fly on the wall while people make dramatic transitions? There’s an old UK television show aptly called ‘Faking it’. It’s now been off the air for almost 10 years but has serious lessons for entrepreneurs and anyone looking to make a transition.
It is truly inspiring to see what is possible for most anyone with focus, hands on practice and coaching from experts. One of my favourite episodes takes country boy James Sawyer dressed in tweed who speaks with a toffy voice to become a street graffiti artist in a mere 4 weeks. The premise of the show is that his mentor has to get their student up to speed so that they can sit a test, and trick experts who have to pick the ‘faker. The test James had was to go through a live graffiti art contest (pitch if you will), against 3 other actual graffiti artists followed by an interview on the hip hop culture in the hope of to stooging the judges.
It’s worth watching and you can watch it here.
The thing is that we are all faking it, even when we are regarded as an expert in our field. None of us really know anything with absolute certainty. We guess, we estimate, we take a chance, we copy others and we just forge ahead. We should remember this more in life and forget the fear of being called out as a fraud. Most of what we do to make a living or build a startup is not life and death. Getting it wrong wont really matter that much, unless you are building airplanes and bridges. (Airplane and bridge building readers, please ignore this post.) The rest of us should start acting is if we can.
There is a phrase which comes from a best selling book*
I tell all of you with certainty, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.
The economics of this statement are simple. If we want to get paid for you knowledge & skill, then we ought travel to a location where we are the unknown quantity.
*No, I haven’t read the book in question.
Deep down it’s as if we humans know that the ultimate in intelligence is fallibility. It’s the imperfection that comes with emotion. Almost as though there is some kind of perfection in not knowing or acting dumb. This not knowing leads to curiosity and new paths, the fork in the road. The wrong path if taken, also has the potential to lead to serendipity and discovery.
To this point, these seem to be qualities which are not present in machines and computers – and therefore artificial intelligence. So far, a machine has not been built to fake it, pretend, be mean, not care, be irrational or even be wrong on purpose. The artificial intelligence we have so far doesn’t want to have fun or be selfish, other than in the movies and in music. It’s been a one sided coin, all head and no tail.
A recent article referred to a form of artificial intelligence actually passing the turing test. A Turning Test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. They claimed that by adding the element of not knowing things and making mistakes to the algorithm it helped the machine ‘win’. It seemed like an interesting take or fork in the road towards finding intelligence as we humans define it. I feel like this trajectory is where intelligence needs to go in order to get more ‘real’. But the thing it makes me wonder for business is what other things have we been doing for 60 odd years or so which need an entirely new tangent?
I’ve had a lot of stuff buzzing around my head for the last few years. My local readers get their share when we have coffee. Recently I’ve put together a manifesto from my mind in the form of my debut book: The Great Fragmentation – why the future of business is small.
It is being published with Wiley and comes out mid July. Here’s a picture of the cover below and below that I’ve got some offers for readers of startup blog.
The reasons I wrote the book was that it was my view that most of the business books these days are too thin. They have a single idea and just tell a number of stories and examples around that idea. I feel like the revolution we are living through is much bigger than that. I felt as though we needed a business survival manifesto. Something which assesses the entire change in the business landscape – not just a trend inside of it. My view is that all the barriers to entry are being removed. That there is a dramatic power shift happening. An industry and by industry fragmentation which can’t be avoided and must be embraced. That the playing field is being equalised because technology almost has it’s own agenda. And that agenda is to become cheaper, smaller, more distributed and more powerful – with humans as the beneficiaries, not necessarily corporations. But mostly this book is the intersection, of Anthropology, Technology and how these forces shape the Business world. You can read a little blurb about it here, or even pre-order a copy here. While I can’t be sure if this will be a best seller, I can guarantee you it will be a best reader!
If you haven’t already signed up to my blog via email, you can sign up to updates on the book (and other projects) by clicking here. Before the book is released I’ll have advance copies and other cool resources for your startup / business. These resources will be crazy good & available only to those who signed up. (including a couple of world firsts).
I really look forward to the scary part of hearing your feedback on my 200+ pages of having nowhere to hide and instead say: ‘This is what I believe, I hope you got something valuable from it’.