Learning, Like Falling in Love

I used to ask an interview question about what analogy someone would use to describe their relationship to learning new things. I had a couple of examples (drinking a glass of water, winning the lottery) and then I would turn them loose.

I always considered this an interesting question because I was trying to understand what their relationship was to learning new things and I was trying to set expectations in the interview process about what was expected. In this case it was, "I hope you like learning new things, because that is a big part of the job here."

Anyway, I got a lot of "it's like travel to a foreign country" or "it's like climbing a mountain." All of which had some element of both process and destination, and I always considered these to be pretty good answers.

Until one day when I got the title of this blog:

"Learning something new is like falling in love."

How remarkable that was - it was ALL process and no destination, and yet who can argue with the process of falling in love? You're compelled by the very nature of the thing to want more of it, wherever it may take you.

This was a fine answer. It was, in fact, the best and only answer. I stopped asking the question because I couldn't help comparing every other answer to it.

Interviewing can be stressful, much more so for the candidate than the interviewer of course, but to do a good job you have to prepare on both sides.

Here is what makes it all worth while though - whether you get the job or not - in the interaction the opportunity to answer a question and offer insight. It's worth thinking about in any interaction of course, but in a job interview something to definitely seek out.

What if there was no opportunity to offer insight? Would you still want the job?

What if you offered the insight and still didn't get the position? What does that tell you?

Monopolies: Here, There, Everywhere Until Their Not

Did you know that US anti-trust laws are designed to protect consumers and not competitors? And did you know that not every one looks at it this way?

Here is a good article on the subject.

Irish Times Article on Google Judgement by EU

And that led me to this article, which is older but gives some more context:

Wired Anti-Trust Article

This is why Amazon doesn't get prosecuted for monopolistic practices, but Apple did for price-fixing on books. Amazon lowers prices (good for consumers, bad for competitors) and Apple was trying to raise them (bad for consumers).

The European Union would look at this differently. They say that one company possessing too much market-share is inherently bad for the marketplace.

Can you really trust an Amazon to keep having a focus on low prices? What about when there is no more competition?

To answer that question I found one more article. You have to dig, but it's there at the bottom of the top paragraph of page 4:

Comparison of USA and Europe Anti-Trust Policies - PDF

Basically, you can trust them if their anti-competitive (but pro-consumer) price lowering has to stay low because any raising of prices will result in new players immediately entering the market.

What does all this have to do with technology? Well it helps explain some differences between the US and Europe.

The other thing that is related is that there isn't really a software or online business that isn't susceptible to a new competitor.

To create software you may need software developers and servers, but you don't need other raw materials or a factory, so the cost is much lower than in analog industries.

Software business are inherently winner take all because world-wide delivery is so simple, there are no geographic restrictions on products, therefore the best will win and when they win they will win very big.

But they can only stay on top if the innovate relentlessly or buy companies who do.

Otherwise someone will find away to come along and eat their lunch.

Saying it First, Saying it Best

Sometimes the person who says something first doesn't say it the best. It takes courage to articulate a new thought that is different from others.

It also takes courage to articulate a thought when you know may stumble because of it's novelty and freshness.

Say it anyway. Go first.

To help with this, surround yourself with people who can help echo your thoughts, improve them, and will still give you the credit for it.

Having people who can say it better than you means that your ideas will have legs and go further. You're more likely to see them out in the world running around in the future.

They'll be another idea that will come along. You should go first next time too. And the time after that.

Creativity and Habit

Being creative is a habit.

If it's a habit that's hard for you, never fear. It's simply a matter of developing the habit.

Here are some things you can do to start a habit of creativity:

  1. Write a blog post
  2. Tell your kids a story
  3. Learn to fix something you've never fixed before
  4. Draw an org chart for your team or company that looks different than what you have today.
  5. Talk to a friend about a new opportunity
  6. Start a club or meeting
  7. Take a class in something you're interested in
  8. Learn a new language
  9. Build a website
  10. Introduce two people who you think could be friends

Sure, some of these are harder or easier than others. But the difference is a matter of degree or scale, not in the fundamental creative act that sits behind them.

Positivity Bias

I'm in the midst of reading Hardwiring Happiness.

I am really enjoying it which is why I am sharing this before I'm even half done.

The book digs into Negativity Bias (which I've written about before here) and the reasons why it exists. AND, it provides you with ways to combat it and develop help develop Positivity Bias.

The exercises/practices it provides are related to mindfulness practices but are even simpler to get started with. The tools this book provides are designed to specifically attack Negativity Bias by changing your brain to be more receptive to positive experiences and hold onto them longer.

So, while these simple practices are behavioral (they are things that you decide to do and you develop the habits of doing them), the goal is much more than that, the goal is changing your brain.

This is pretty exciting and you can get started with them quite easily.

As a leader this is a crucial tool to develop if it doesn't come naturally to you. And Negativity Bias tells us that it won't come easy to most of us.

Check out this amazing book.

Journeys and Guides and Maps

It's hard to draw a map of a place if you've only ever been through it once, going in a straight line in a fast moving vehicle.

For a guide, you may want someone who can draw a map from memory. You may want someone who has been lost where you're going. You may want someone who has, at least, been there a lot of times, walking in more of a zig-zag pattern and seeing what's around.

OR you're accepting a guide who knows a little more than you but can't draw the map.

Both can work, but understand what you're getting and accept the advantages of the latter if you choose it. That is, you will be getting lost along the way, but you will also be a guide at the end of the journey.

Sometimes there is no map and never will be - for the country is forever new. In these cases we can only compare it to country we have been in before and offer help to one another.

Leadership, Budget, and the Speed of Light

You always have a budget.

Anyone who says, "There is no budget," isn't a leader and hasn't met the CFO.

Budgets can be a great driver of creativity and a path to finding the winning solution.

Don't look at your budget as a limitation. Look on it as the form in which you create, like a sonnet, a canvas, or the force of gravity (for you sculptors and architects out there).

The trick is to know your budget and understand how it drives your creativity.

What's your budget?

  • Money?
  • Your personal time?
  • The calendar year or fiscal year?
  • Composition of your team?
  • The speed of light?

Questions

I've written about the willingness to ask a question and how being the person who is willing to ask a question can be powerful. Usually when I say this I'm talking about the willingness to do this in spite of a fear of looking or sounding stupid.

I recently had a different, but related, experience.

I was in a contentious meeting. People were not communicating and everyone was digging their heels in for a fight.

I asked a question.

It wasn't a great a question. It wasn't a terribly insightful question. It was a legitimate question - something that I really didn't understand because it wasn't clear to me what a certain part of the disagreement was about. I also didn't understand why no one was talking about it.

It was enough to open a door to a different discussion in this case. It was enough to expose that there were things that were unclear to people in the room, and it gave everyone a chance to take a breath and look at the disucussion from a different perspective.

It was enough to make the discussion a lot more productive, if not 100% friendly.

A question won't always resolve these situations. However, asking such a question is important if you are going to contribute to a discussion (and hopefully a resolution).

And it can help others look at their own assumptions and realize they may have questions of their own.

Words: Always Open Source

When you read something, all of it is right there on the page or screen. 100% of the art is present and can be evaluated, analyzed, and understood.

This is not true of most other things in this world, including other types of art. In other art forms the artifice can and often does conceal the structure, but with writing it never does.

Of course, even with writing, what you don't see is the process that was used to achieve the finished product: edits, deletions, false starts, things thrown away entirely, etc.

But the effect and the way that words were used to create that effect are all in front of you.

The thing with a writing process is that you need to develop one. How do you write? How do you start? How do you edit? Who helps you? What are your sources of inspiration?

Mindfulness and Privacy

Because Mindfulness and other types of Focused Attention Training derive from religious practices, many people may feel that they are private or non-public activities.

There is some merit in this line of thought. The practice, any that I've seen, is private in that you are focusing inward to improve attention and enhance awareness.

But why really does this seem private?

There is nothing really private or revealing about it. Your thoughts aren't different when meditating than at some other time. Nor are they required to be shared with others. Nor are they shared with others.

What differs, really, is posture. The eyes are closed. You're sitting there. It's prayer-like in that way, even if what you're doing isn't religious. You're just paying attention to the mind. This resembles sleeping or praying and those are considered to be private activities in the West.

I guess sleeping is private in every culture. And it is the closed eyes, probably more than anything, that make it seem private to us.

Mostly it's different. If you aren't with a group of people, you're on your own and that can feel uncomfortable. Better to do that thing you're a little unsure of in private.

But ask yourself these questions:

What seems more personal to you, reading a book or meditating? Which would you be more likely to do in public? Which is actually the more private activity? Why?

Mindfulness practices are maintenance and improvements for the machinery of the mind. If we think of them this way then there shouldn't be anything more personal or private about them than any other activity you engage in for self-improvement.

Does that mean you should go out an meditate in public? I guess that's a personal preference and probably relates to your goals and why you meditate. Some people do it.

For the rest of us, just something to consider.