The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Ben Horowitz: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

The problem with most business books is they present a formula for problems that ultimately have no formula. You’re reading something with no practical value and you’re not really learning anything. There is no formula for dealing with complexity that’s always changing. “There’s no recipe for leading a group of people out of trouble,” writes Ben Horowitz in The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The book is one of the best business books I’ve read in a long time.

The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.

Most management books focus on how to avoid screwing up – or at least covering your ass if you do. Ben provides insight into what to do after you screw up.

Just because there is no formula doesn’t mean things are hopeless. Advice and experience can help guide us. But that’s the difference between Ben’s book and most: he shows you what it’s really like to make hard decisions, without offering you a three step formula. Horowitz walks you through his considerations, deliberations, thoughts, mistakes, regrets, difficulties. Through that journey, we learn. “Circumstances may differ, but the deeper patterns and the lessons keep resonating.”

Fear. Here is an interesting point on fear that’s representative and telling.

It taught me that being scared didn’t mean I was gutless. What I did mattered and would determine whether I would be a hero or a coward. I have often thought back on that day, realizing that if I’d done what Roger had told me to do, I would have never met my best friend. That experience also taught me not to judge things by their surfaces. Until you make the effort to get to know someone or something, you don’t know anything. There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all.

Seeing the world though different lenses.

Looking at the world through such different prisms helped me separate facts from perception. This ability would serve me incredibly well later when I became an entrepreneur and CEO. In particularly dire circumstances when the “facts” seemed to dictate a certain outcome, I learned to look for alternative narratives and explanations coming from radically different perspectives to inform my outlook. The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that’s needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.

We can’t do everything.

My father turned to me and said, “Son, do you know what’s cheap?”
Since I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, I replied, “No, what?”
“Flowers. Flowers are really cheap. But do you know what’s expensive?” he asked.
Again, I replied, “No, what?” He said, “Divorce.”

Something about that joke, which was not really a joke, made me realize that I had run out of time. Up until that point, I had not really made any serious choices. I felt like I had unlimited bandwidth and could do everything in life that I wanted to do simultaneously. But his joke made it suddenly clear that by continuing on the course I was on, I might lose my family. By doing everything, I would fail at the most important thing. It was the first time that I forced myself to look at the world through priorities that were not purely my own. I thought that I could pursue my career, all my interests, and build my family. More important, I always thought about myself first. When you are part of a family or part of a group, that kind of thinking can get you into trouble, and I was in deep trouble. In my mind, I was confident that I was a good person and not selfish, but my actions said otherwise.

The best thing about startups.

Marc (Andreessen): “Do you know the best thing about startups?”
Ben: “What?”
Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”

The type of friends you need in your life.

No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong—when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be?

Doing the hard things, not the fun things. Ben had a lot of mentors, Bill Campbell was one of them. Being present and letting people know where they stand is incredibly important. Four star General Stan McChrystal couldn’t have been the leader he was without being out there with the troops sleeping in the same conditions with the same risk. Here is an incredibly important lesson on leadership that most people miss.

After seven weeks, we came to an agreement with EDS. They would buy Loudcloud for $ 63.5 million in cash and assume its associated liabilities and cash burn. We would retain the intellectual property, Opsware, and become a software company . EDS would then license our software to run both Loudcloud and the larger EDS for $ 20 million per year. I thought it was a great deal for both EDS and us. It was certainly far better than bankruptcy. I felt 150 pounds lighter. I could take a deep breath for the first time in eighteen months. Still, it wouldn’t be easy. Selling Loudcloud meant selling about 150 employees to EDS and laying off another 140.

I called Bill Campbell to tell him the good news: The deal was signed and we would be announcing it in New York on Monday. He replied, “Too bad you can’t go to New York and be part of the announcement; you’ll have to send Marc.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You need to stay home and make sure everybody knows where they stand. You can’t wait a day. In fact, you can’t wait a minute. They need to know whether they are working for you, EDS, or looking for a fucking job.” Damn. He was right. I sent Marc to New York and prepared to let people know where they stood. That small piece of advice from Bill proved to be the foundation we needed to rebuild the company. If we hadn’t treated the people who were leaving fairly, the people who stayed would never have trusted me again. Only a CEO who had been through some awful, horrible, devastating circumstances would know to give that advice at that time.

Figuring out what the customer wants is the innovator’s job. And innovation requires a combination of skills.

It turns out that is exactly what product strategy is all about—figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage.

I’ve talked about the important role that coding will play in the future. Horowitz offers a simple lessons for programmers and managers alike: “all decisions were objective until the first line of code was written. After that, all decisions were emotional.”

Tell it like it is. When you start losing the truth is the first thing to go and everyone sees it.

One of the most important management lessons for a founder/ CEO is totally unintuitive. My single biggest personal improvement as CEO occurred on the day when I stopped being too positive.

As a young CEO, I felt the pressure— the pressure of employees depending on me, the pressure of not really knowing what I was doing, the pressure of being responsible for tens of millions of dollars of other people’s money. As a consequence of this pressure, I took losses extremely hard. If we failed to win a customer or slipped a date or shipped a product that wasn’t quite right, it weighed heavily on me. I thought that I would make the problem worse by transferring that burden to my employees. Instead, I thought I should project a positive, sunny demeanor and rally the unburdened troops to victory. I was completely wrong.

I realized my error during a conversation with my brother in-law, Cartheu. At the time, Cartheu worked for AT& T as a telephone lineman (he is one of those guys who climb the poles). I had just met a senior executive at AT& T, whom I’ll call Fred, and I was excited to find out if Cartheu knew him. Cartheu said, “Yeah, I know Fred. He comes by about once a quarter to blow a little sunshine up my ass.” At that moment, I knew that I’d been screwing up my company by being too positive.

Why should you it like it is? A few reasons: it builds trust; smart people will see through the lies anyways; it fosters a positive culture and ensures everyone is working from the same page with the same information. The pressure to be positive as a leader is incredible. People are looking to you and you want to inspire them. But the best way to do that is to be real with them. For example, if you’re trying to foster a culture where failure is ok, but you don’t get up there and talk about one of your massive personal failures, the culture won’t even have a chance to change.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is the best business book I’ve read in a long time. Perhaps one of the best ever.

(Image source)

Never Heard of It

I’ve been thinking about this ever since someone sent me Lyza’s beautiful article Never Heard of It.

Not long before, I had started noticing a habit I had, a tendency to nod or make vague assentive noises when people around me talked about things I’d never heard of.

When I did this, my motivation wasn’t to claim knowledge I didn’t have as much as to deflect a need for outright admission of ignorance. I’d let the moment glide past and later scamper off to furtively study up.

I recognized this in myself, this fear of looking like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and I didn’t love it. At the same time, there was so much to keep on top of … that to be entirely informed about all of these things wasn’t feasible either, no matter the level of effort.

I decided that I wanted to come to terms with not knowing everything, to be able to say never heard of it and not feel panicky.

Her fear, probably one we all share at some level, wasn’t that she didn’t want to look like she didn’t know what she was doing but maybe that she actually didn’t know what she was doing.

And no one wants to draw attention to themselves by asking a ‘stupid’ question. Or pointing out they don’t know.

In group settings, this has lead to what psychologists call ‘pluralistic ignorance,’a psychological state characterized by the belief that one’s private thoughts are different from those of others. This causes huge problems in organizations.

Consider an example. You’re in a large meeting with the senior management of your organization to discuss an initiative that spans across the organization and involves everyone in the room. You hear words come out, someone may even ask you, do you follow? And yes, of course you follow — you don’t want to be the only person in the room without a clue.

“To admit to ignorance, uncertainty or ambivalence” writes Tim Kreider, “is to cede your place on the masthead, your slot on the program, and allow all the coveted eyeballs to turn instead to the next hack who’s more than happy to sell them all the answers.” No wonder we have such a hard time owning up when we don’t know something.

So you walk out of the room wondering what you just agreed to do. You have no idea. Your stress goes up, you run around asking others, and quickly discover they are just as confused as you are.

This project isn’t doomed, it’s just a lot more work now than it needs to be. You either guess at what was intended and take a leap of faith or you spend an endless amount of time and organizational energy chasing this down after the meeting.

Information is coming to us with greater velocity and magnitude. “I don’t know” might be the most powerful admission you can make in the internet era.

Four Questions To Ask Yourself Before Opening Your Mouth

Yoga

A friend passed along a copy of Yoga Wisdom at Work.

The book is a quick read. I took enough away from it to feel like it was time well spent.

One of the best parts of the book for me was on authentic conversations and the right speech.

Here are four questions to consider each time you speak.

1. Is it true?
2. Is it necessary?
3. Is it kind?
4. Does it improve upon the silence?

These can be incorporated into the acronym THINK: True, Helpful, Improves upon the silence, Necessary, and Kind.

Here is the discussion on the three elements of truth that followed:

It is no coincidence that the first question is about truth. That is the standard of satya, the second yama. We see truth as having three facets:

1. Telling the truth as you know it.
2. Being willing to hear another’s truth as they know it.
3. Understanding that many things can be true at the same time.

At work, the third point is an important and often over-looked facet of a truth-telling where version of “What happened here?” and “Who did what?” are numerous and have significant ramifications. When things get derailed or problems arise, trying to untangle “who said what to whom and when” can create an energy-sapping blame game. In addition, claiming that your experience is the only “truth” is the antithesis of learning. The lessons of discovery that spring from understanding multiple points of view, each of which is experienced as true for the individual, get lost in defensiveness and recrimination.

Acknowledging that many things can be true at the same time enhances your ability to truly hear others, be curious about their point of view, and find common understanding that serves the whole.

As Oscar Wilde said, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

THINK before you speak.

(image via blue mountain fitness)

Why Clever and Lazy People Make Great Leaders

“You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person,” says Warren Buffett. “Intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.”

Ideally you want all three but people don’t always cooperate. These qualities tend to be difficult to judge in hiring someone.

So we end up with all sorts of combinations and permutations in organizations.

A lot of people feel that stupid people are the ‘worst’ problem. (I’d argue that intelligent people without integrity are even worse. They know the system, play politics well, and often end up in grey areas). With or without integrity, it’s easier to get rid of an unintelligent person than an intelligent one.)

Simplifying greatly (and removing integrity from the equation), we end up with four combinations: stupid and hard-working, stupid and lazy, intelligent and hard-working, and intelligent and lazy.

So what happens with smart lazy people?

* * *

Erich von Manstein, one of the top strategists in Hitler’s German Military, described Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr as “… probably one of the cleverest people I ever met.*”

Both men, according to Ben Breen, are widely credited with the following quote that gets to the heart of the matter.

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

* * *

This actually makes quite a bit of sense to me.

Stupid and Lazy
You can accommodate unintelligent and lazy people by separating work into chunks. We do this all the time by breaking jobs down into routine tasks, creating policies and procedures that remove any need of judgment.

(My guess is this happens eventually in every organization because at some point the response to consistently poor judgement calls is to create a bureaucratic process/policy that (attempts to) remove that error.) It’s all a very McDonald’s like and these people tend to be easily replaceable.

Stupid and Energetic
von Hammerstein-Equord recognized these people cause “nothing but mischief.” To him, they should be fired immediately. I tend to agree. Despite good intentions, they often create more work for others.

Intelligent and Energetic
You want these people around. I’m guessing that von Hammerstein-Equord thought they’d be fit for middle management. Which makes sense. I imagine he saw them as company men: safe, reliable, rule following.

He likely saw them as people that didn’t challenge authority or speak up. I think this is a bit of a leap, I know plenty of hard working smart people who, occasionally, challenge authority. I think this happens for a few reasons. Perhaps they’ve grown too frustrated with what they see as absurdity. Or perhaps, and this is more likely, they put away ambitions of climbing the corporate ladder. (Depending on your organization, smart and unquestioning can be the easiest way to a promotion).

Intelligent and Lazy
An under-appreciated aspect of today’s workforce that von Hammerstein-Equord thought fit to lead “because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions.”

These people can be challenging to work with. They delegate and trust people to do their jobs. They don’t micromanage; They question. They avoid unproductive things (think meetings, paper shuffling, busy work). They don’t seek consensus because often that means more work, not less. They focus on a few key priorities. They don’t run around with solutions looking for problems.

Often they have no desire to ‘move up’ in an organization. This gives them the freedom to be different.

Maybe von Hammerstein-Equord was onto something.

Considering the framework above, it’s interesting to contemplate the consequences of mis-matching types and jobs.

What do you think?
Leave a note in the comments.

(inspiration via @planmaestro; sources include: *straighttogo)

Rules To Success

In his quarter century of working in Silicon Valley at such companies as Apple, @Home, and Google, Jonathan Rosenberg has had a unique opportunity to watch successful people in action.

In this video, he shares his observations on what makes great people tick and draw conclusions on how a liberal arts education can arm the next generation of leaders.

(H/T @EricJorgenson)

The Unwritten Rules of Management

William Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management

William Swanson’s unwritten rules of management is full of pithy advice. Swanson is the Chairman and CEO of Raytheon.

Originally a part of a presentation to engineers and scientists at Raytheon, someone asked him to write his rules down.

Thankfully he listened, the result is Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management.

Not all of the rules are Swanson’s. Some of them were published in 1944 in The Unwritten Laws of Engineering by W. J. King. (The book was updated in the early 2000′s by James G. Skakoon.)

In The Unwritten Rules of Management, Swanson elaborates on these rules with a paragraph or two.

  1. Learn to say, “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.
  2. It is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.
  3. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.
  4. Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what’s there, but few can see what isn’t there.
  5. Presentation rule: When something appears on a slide presentation, assume the world knows about it, and deal with it accordingly.
  6. Work for a boss to whom you can tell it like it is. Remember that you can’t pick your relatives, but you can pick your boss.
  7. Constantly review developments to make sure that the actual benefits are what they are supposed to be. Avoid Newton’s Law.
  8. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.
  9. Persistence or tenacity is the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference. Don’t be known as a good starter but a poor finisher.
  10. In doing your project, don’t wait for others; go after them, and make sure it gets done.
  11. Confirm the instructions you give others, and their commitments, in writing. Don’t assume it will get done!
  12. Don’t be timid; speak up. Express yourself, and promote your ideas.
  13. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get the job done.
  14. Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports.
  15. Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements.
  16. Don’t overlook the fact that you are working for a boss. Keep him or her informed. Whatever the boss wants, within the bounds of integrity, takes top priority.
  17. Promises, schedules, and estimates are important instruments in a well-ordered business. You must make promises — don’t lean on the often-used phrase, “I can’t estimate it because it depends upon many uncertain factors.”
  18. Never direct a complaint to the top. A serious offense is to “cc” a person’s boss on a copy of a complaint before the person has a chance to respond to the complaint.
  19. When dealing with outsiders, remember that you represent the company. Be especially careful of your commitments.
  20. Cultivate the habit of boiling matters down to the simplest terms. An elevator speech is the best way.
  21. Don’t get excited in engineering emergencies. Keep your feet on the ground.
  22. Cultivate the habit of making quick, clean-cut decisions.
  23. When making decisions, the “pros” are much easier to deal with than the “cons.” Your boss wants to see them both.
  24. Don’t ever lose your sense of humor.
  25. Have fun at what you do. It will reflect in your work. No one likes a grump except another grump!
  26. Treat the name of your company as if it were your own.
  27. Beg for the bad news.
  28. You remember 1/3 of what you read, 1/2 of what people tell you, but 100% of what you feel.
  29. You can’t polish a sneaker. (Don’t waste effort putting the finishing touches on something that has little substance to begin with.)
  30. When facing issues or problems that are becoming drawn-out, “short them to the ground.”
  31. When faced with decisions, try to look at them as if you were one level up in the organization. Your perspective will change quickly.
  32. A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter — or to others — is not a nice person. (This rule never fails.)

The Tyranny of Email — 10 Tips to Save You

The Tyranny of E-Mail

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my habits recently and how they affect me. One thing I’ve placed an increasingly watchful eye on is email.

Email seems pervasive in our lives. We check email on the bus, we check it in the bath. We check it first thing in the morning. We even check it midconversation, with the belief that no one will notice.

John Freeman argues in The Tyranny of Email that the average office worker “sends and receives two hundred emails a day.”

Email makes us reactive, as we race to keep up with the never-ending onslaught.

In the past, only a few professions—doctors, plumbers perhaps, emergency service technicians, prime ministers—required this kind of state of being constantly on call. Now, almost all of us live this way. Everything must be attended to—and if it isn’t, chances are another email will appear in a few hours asking if indeed the first message was received at all.

Working At The Speed of Email

Working at the speed of email is like trying to gain a topographic understanding of our daily landscape from a speeding train—and the consequences for us as workers are profound. Interrupted every thirty seconds or so, our attention spans are fractured into a thousand tiny fragments. The mind is denied the experience of deep flow, when creative ideas flourish and complicated thinking occurs. We become task-oriented, tetchy, terrible at listening as we try to keep up with the computer. The email inbox turns our mental to-do list into a palimpsest—there’s always something new and even more urgent erasing what we originally thought was the day’s priority. Incoming mail arrives on several different channels–via email, Facebook, Twitter, instant message–and in this era of backup we’re sure that we should keep records of our participation in all these conversations. The result is that at the end of the day we have a few hundred or even a few thousand emails still sitting in our inbox.

Part of us likes all of the attention email gives us. It has been shown that email is addictive in many of the same ways slot machines are addictive — variable reinforcement.

Tom Stafford, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield, explains:

“This means that rather than reward an action every time it is performed, you reward it sometimes, but not in a predictable way. So with email, usually when I check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there’s something wonderful —an invite out, or maybe some juicy gossip—and I get a reward.”

There are chemical reasons this happens that go well beyond our love of gossip. If we’re doing something that pays out randomly, our brain releases dopamine when we get something good and our body learns that we need to keep going if we want a reward.

Connections

“Ironically,” Freeman writes, “tools meant to connect us are enabling us to spend even more time apart.” The consequences are disastrous.

Spending our days communicating through this medium, which by virtue of its sheer volume forces us to talk in short bursts, we are slowly eroding our ability to explain — in a careful, complex way — why it is so wrong for us and to complain, resist, or redesign our workdays so that they are manageable.

Life On The Email Treadmill

“If the medium is the message, what does that say about new survey results that found nearly 60% of respondents check their email when they’re answering the call of nature.” — Michelle Masterson

When you arrive at work and there are twenty emails in your inbox, the weight of that queue is clear: everyone is waiting for you.

So you clear and clear and clear, only to learn that the faster you reply, the faster the replies come boomeranging back to you—thanks, follow-ups, additional requests, and that one-line sinker, “How are you doing these days?” It shouldn’t be such a burden to be asked your state of mind. In the workplace, however, where the sheer volume of correspondence can feel as if it has been designed on the high to enforce a kind of task-oriented tunnel vision, such a question is either a trapdoor or an escape hatch.

At the workplace it used to be hard to share things without a lot of friction. Now sharing is frictionless and free. CC’ing and forwarding to keep people “in the loop” has become a mixed blessing. Now everything is collaborative and if people are left off emails they literally feel left out.

Working in a Climate of Interruption

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. — Herb Simon

We live in a culture in which doing everything all at once is admired and encouraged—have our spreadsheet open while we check email, chin on the phone into our shoulder, and accept notes from a passing office messenger. Our desk is Grand Central and we are the conductor, and it feels good. Why? If we’re this busy, clearly we’re needed; we have a purpose. We are essential. The Internet and email have certainly created a “desire to be in the know, to not be left out, that ends up taking up a lot of our time”—at the expense of getting things done, said Mark Ellwood, the president of Pace Productivity, which studies how employees spend their time.

Of course we can’t multitask the way technology leads us to believe we can. “Multitasking,” Walter Kirn wrote in an essay called “The Autumn of the Multitaskers,” messes with the brain in several ways:”

At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.

What does this mean in practice? Consider a recent experiment at UCLA, where researchers asked a group of 20-somethings to sort index cards in two trials, once in silence and once while simultaneously listening for specific tones in a series of randomly presented sounds. The subjects’ brains coped with the additional task by shifting responsibility from the hippocampus—which stores and recalls information—to the striatum, which takes care of rote, repetitive activities. Thanks to this switch, the subjects managed to sort the cards just as well with the musical distraction— but they had a much harder time remembering what, exactly, they’d been sorting once the experiment was over.

Even worse, certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy.

“In other words,” writes Freeman in The Tyranny of Email, “a work climate that revolves around multitasking, and constant interruptions has narrowed our cognitive window down to a care, basic facility: rote, mechanical tasks.”

We like to think we are in control of our environment, that we act upon it and shape it to our needs. It works both ways, though; changes we make to the world can have unseen ramifications that impact our ability to live in it.

Attention means being present. Being present helps mindfullness.

Thanks to an environment of constant stimulation the biggest challenge these days is maintaining focus.

“Immersing myself in a book or lengthy article used to be easy,” wrote Nicolas Carr in an essay entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?

My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

Carr wrote an excellent book on the subject, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. If you don’t have the time, or attention span, to read the book, you can watch the video.

Flow

Reading and other meditative tasks are best performed in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a “state-of-flow,” in which “our focus narrows, the world seems to drop away, and we become less conscious of ourselves and more deeply immersed in ideas and language and complex thoughts,” Freeman writes.

Communication tools, however, seem to be working against this state.

In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi writes:

In today’s world we have come to neglect the habit of writing because so many other media of communication have taken its place. Telephones and tape recorders, computers and fax machines are more efficient in conveying news. If the only point to writing were to transmit information, then it would deserve to become obsolete. But the point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along. In the past, educated persons used journals and personal correspondence to put their experiences into words, which allowed them to reflect on what had happened during the day. The prodigiously detailed letters so many Victorians wrote are an example of how people created patterns of order out of the mainly random events impinging on their consciousness. The kind of material we write in diaries and letters does not exist before it is written down.

It is the slow, organically growing process of thought involved in writing that lets the ideas emerge in the first place

In The Tyranny of Email, Freeman sums up the multitasking argument:

Multitasking may not be perfect, but it can push the brain to add new capacity; the problem, however, remains that the small gains in capacity are continuously, rapidly, outstripped by the speeding up and growing volume of incoming demand on our attention.

Why is it so Hard to Read These Days?

In his essay on Google Carr writes:

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

Some of this is due to changes in the medium itself. Newspaper articles are shorter and catchier. Text has become bigger. We’re becoming a powerpoint culture. We need bullet points, short sentences, and fancy graphics. We skim rather than read. Online readers are “selfish, lazy, and ruthless,” said Jakob Nielson, a usability engineer. If we don’t get what we want, as soon as we want it, we move to the next site.

But all of this has a cost.

What We Are Losing

“What we are losing in this country, and presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading,” said Dana Gioia, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “I would believe people who tell me that the Internet develops reading if I did not see such a universal decline in reading ability and reading comprehension on virtually all tests.”

“If the research on multitasking is any guide,” Freeman writes in the Tyranny of Email, “and if several centuries of liberal arts education have proven anything, the ability to think clearly and critically and develop an argument comes from reading in a focused manner.”

These skills are important because they enable employees to step back from an atmosphere of frenzy and make sense in a busy, nearly chaotic environment. If all companies want, though, is worker bees who will simply type till they drop and badger one another into a state of overload, a new generation of inveterate multitaskaholics might be just what they get. If that’s the case, workplace productivity isn’t the only thing that will suffer.

Freeman concludes his book by offering several tips you can do to take back control of your life and the mental space email is consuming.

1. Don’t Send.

The most important thing you can do to improve the state of your inbox, free up your attention span, and break free of the tyranny of email is not to send an email. As most people now know, email only creates more email, so by stepping away from the messaging treadmill, even if for a moment every day, you instantly dial down the speed of the email messagopolis.

2.Don’t Check it First Thing in The Morning Or Late at Night

… Not checking your email first thing will also reinforce a boundary between your work and your private life, which is essential if you want to be fully present in either place. If you check your email before getting to work, you will probably begin to worry about work matters before you actually get there. Checking your e-mail first thing at home doesn’t give you a jump on the workday; it just extends it. Sending email before and after office hours has a compounded effect, since it creates an environment in which workers are tacitly expected to check their email at the same time and squeeze more work out of their tired bodies.

3. Check it Twice a Day

… Checking your email twice a day will … allow you to set the agenda for your day, which is essential if you want to stay on task and get things done in a climate of constant communication.

4. Keep a Written To-do List and Incorporate email into It.

5. Give Good Email

6. Read the Entire Incoming email before Replying

This seems like a pretty basic rule, but a great deal of email is generated by people replying without having properly read initial messages.

7. Do Not Debate Complex or Sensitive Matters by email

8. If You Have to Work as a Group by email, Meet Your Correspondents Face-to-Face

9. Set Up Your Desktop to Do Something Else besides email

As much as you can, take control over your office space by setting aside part of your desk for work that isn’t done on the computer. Imagine it as your thinking area, where you can read or take notes or doodle as you work out a problem.

10. Schedule Media-free Time.

Still Curious? Read The Single Most Important Change You Can Make In Your Working Habits next.

How do you build a culture of innovation?

How does a successful company maintain a climate in which new ideas and risk-taking are encouraged?

In this interview, Tim Brown, CEO and president of the design consultancy IDEO, describes how he thinks about innovation and why empathy is an important part of the equation.

Organizations are well intentioned. They put people in charge of innovation. They hold meetings on innovation. They mandate innovation. Yet, despite all of these words and actions, to no one’s surprise, they largely fail to innovate. That’s because innovation is cultural.

A 2009 study in the Journal of Marketing set out to identify the factors that predicated whether a firm would innovate or not. While there are a lot of variables at play, the study found, the most important driver of innovation was internal corporate culture.

An article in Sloan MIT Management Review identifies a series of “building blocks” for an innovative culture, including hard-to-measure characteristics such as values, behavior, and climate. “An innovative climate,” the authors write, “cultivates engagement and enthusiasm, challenges people to take risks within a safe environment, fosters learning, and encourages independent thinking.”

Here’s the transcript of the Interview with Tim Brown.

Q: What do organizations need in order to innovate?

Tim Brown: Any organization that wants to innovate, wants to be prepared to innovate, I think, has to have a few things in place. One is-and perhaps the most important thing is-methods for having an open mind. A sense of inquiry, of curiosity is essential for innovation. And the quickest way for removing curiosity in my opinion is to have organizations that are too inward-facing, that don’t spend enough time out in the world, particularly with their customers or the people they would like to have as customers or the parts of the world that they would like to have customers in. But a sense of curiosity, an openness, a sense of empathy for the world, for people whose problems they might be trying to solve-that’s essential.

A second thing that’s important is an ability to create spaces where trust can happen, where risks can get taken. We tend in our operationally minded view of the world to try and mitigate and design out as much risk as we can, but if you want to innovate, you have to take risks. And to take risks you have to some level of trust within the organization, because if people get penalized for failure, particularly the kind of failure that’s most useful which is where you learn a lot, then they’re not going to do it, in which case you’re not going to get any innovation.

Q: What expertise does IDEO have internally? Are there advantages to not have expertise?

Brown: We do have a very broad range of sectors and industries and design problems and innovation problems that we try and take on, and the way we like to think about it is we come with a deep expertise in how to innovate, and we partner with our clients, who come with an expertise about their industry. And we come with what we might call a beginner’s mind. We come with an open mind to what the possibilities might be, and that can be quite useful. Now it’s not always useful, and sometimes it’s useful to have expertise as well, and there are certainly some industries, like healthcare for instance-financial services is another one-that we’ve done a lot of work in and where we’ve built up some reasonable expertise over the years. And we certainly try and move the knowledge around our organization as best we can, but we do rely somewhat on the value of having an open mind when we approach a new question. I think that’s perhaps the reason that we succeed in working across a lot of different industries.

We’re also insatiable in terms of looking for new problems to tackle. And we have, like many creative organizations, sort of severe attention deficit disorder, so we like to work on different things. We like to tackle new challenges. So that drives us a little bit as well.

Q: How do you think about the roles of intuition and analysis in the creative process?

Brown: The creative process is not what many people think it is, which is all intuitive. The intuition is a result of large amounts of input, right? And that input, if it’s gonna be useful, there’s some level of pattern recognition going on, which means it’s some level of analysis. It isn’t necessarily sort of analysis in a numerical sense, but we go look at a lot of people, we do a lot of ethnographic research, for instance, a lot of anthropology. That’s not numeric analysis, but it’s a lot of information. And it’s that information that then comes together to actually inform the intuition of a creative team.

And what I believe that as human beings we’re still relatively uniquely able to do-in other words the machines have not caught up yet-is that we’re able to synthesize large amounts of information and make what we think of as intuitive creative leaps. What we’re actually doing is we’re just synthesizing lots of data and we’re coming to a point of view about that. And that’s where the creative leap happens, and ultimately that’s the payoff of the creative process. But if you don’t feed it with lots of data, if you don’t feed it with lots of information, then it’s rare in my view that you get the interesting creative leap.

Q: As CEO, how do you keep your own organization innovating?

Brown: I have quite a lot of empathy for our clients, because I found running our own organizations, it’s actually really hard to keep innovating all the time around everything. Now we do have an extremely emergent culture at IDEO, where people are coming up with new ideas all the time. We’re definitely more of a 1,000 flowers blooming kind of organization than we are a driven from the top, we’re gonna innovate here, and then we’re gonna innovate there. My job is is to try and help and encourage us to do some pattern recognition across all of that stuff and try and imagine where the places where we might focus more of our resources.

But I suppose the thing that I most try and do is to encourage people to remember to ask all the same creative questions about our own process as we do about our clients-easily said, not always easy to do. And you have to give some time for that. You have to remember that like any organization, if you get into an operational mindset where we we’re just doing the job, then it’s easy to forget about innovation. So, you know, constantly we’re putting resources aside for teams to go and work on things just because we’re interested in learning about them, not necessarily because a client’s paying for them. So doing your own R&D, even in an innovation organization, is really important.

(source http://qn.som.yale.edu/content/how-do-you-build-culture-innovation)