I'm not having as many conversations as I'd like lately. Probably neither are you.
By "conversation" I mean those experiences where you start talking and you're in one place—the things you "know" and believe—are patient to stay in the conversation long enough to allow for pauses when you truly listen, taking your time to express what you want to say, but also to suspend judgement... and get to a new place afterward. Sometimes your ah-ha comes during the conversation. Often, you feel the effects later.
I estimate these types of conversations take perhaps 1.5 to 2 hours to begin. When you have experience, you tend to get into it faster. They're supremely satisfying. Ask Terry Gross. Interviews are not the same. In fact, I did an interview recently where the conversation before and after the recording felt more intimate. It's the 1:1 vs. 1:many of social that does the trick.
What I noticed is that fewer conversations with other people tends to create more silence.
Silence is great for focusing on the subject of your ideas. You form thoughts before you write. People who work on theories invest time in this kind of thinking. Fixed stars are made this way. There are no shortcuts to doing the work here as with anything.
Sometimes, an easier strategy for working the kinks out of on an idea is to talk about it with someone. I have a tight group of friends—including a theorist and an editor—who help me figure out whether my idea holds in the first place. You'd be surprised how incomplete some of our intuitions are without proper digging.
I used to do this a lot more in the early days of Twitter.
You start with a conversation—perhaps with a colleague, or a peer—get feedback on your idea, share it with tweets (or in an active community), get more feedback, then create an article, give it a few edits (from cutting out big chunks to refining), publish, distribute, build on the idea some more, gather feedback and have more conversations.
This is how you create your own "serendipity engine."
Because I learned English as second language through the classics, I still suffer from using big words vs. the preferred online style: more conversational. Yet, the people who talk with me or have heard me speak say I'm terrific at the rhythm of conversation. Here's something I'm experimenting with: talking or reading my ideas out loud. Yes, even when I'm alone.
Even better: record yourself talking. There are apps for that (e.g., Otter). This is useful also if you're terrified of speaking without looking at the audience on the other side of the screen... which is the condition right now. And talking about speaking, here are a few ideas on the secret lives of talks.
Eventually, we'll emerge from our various situations separated from colleagues, friends, and audiences. Maybe it's like riding a bike, once you learn it... but just to be safe, some thoughts on how our over reliance on writing is hurting our ability to speak in public.
You can pick anyone to inspire you. That is both a blessing... and a curse. Because we tend to fall in love with a turn of phrase, or a particular way someone writes and talks. But it works for them.
What works for you may be completely different. Until you focus on your own ideas, it will continue to be hard to own and hone them. Conversations are tools to help us do what we do— and who we are, the agent part.
If you're reading this and you're not a subscriber, sign up here
How to prepare our pets for the time we will return
to offices and schools (assuming we ever do!),
so that they won't suffer loneliness too much.
For Washington Post.
Website . Twitter . Instagram
Are you talking to the right people?
I mentioned the anti-persona in an earlier letter. Knowing how to relate with someone is very useful. You would not use the same information for an executive briefing as you would with your team. Yet, I've seen this mistake all too often.
It's a matter of comfort level and confidence.
If you're a very detailed person who takes pride in that level of attention, you tend to want to do deep dives on everything, regardless of the audience. It's a mental habit that transfers into practice. When you know your audience ahead of time, you can plan what to share, when.
For example, you know that when you're talking to an executive who's not familiar with the background on your work, you do a brief intro selecting 1-2 key points to highlight, then move quickly through the "meat" of what they'd be interested in knowing, and conclude with an action item (likely yours).
But what do you do when you don't? How do you reconcile providing a strong explanation so they understand the opportunity, without getting bogged down in the weeds? Start by thinking there are different audiences:
The difficulty is that we're "insiders" in our own idea and often we like it so much that we try to cast a wide net. We end up either overwhelming people, or talking to people who are likely not going to be interested with too much detail and backtracking.
- Speak to insiders and people who are passionate about a subject matter digging into the details: beyond why xyz is useful to dig into all aspects of xyz. For example, technical people, scientists, experts tend to prefer this mode.
- Speak with anyone interested by extracting just the core idea. People who know a little don't like this approach, but people who are not in the loop or new at it will appreciate it. You can simplify without betraying the idea. But you can do that only if you understand it.
For strategists, assumptions about how quickly trends move through culture distort our perception. The relationship between what you and a small group knowns vs. society at large is not an automatically predictable information cascade. Yes, even social media is its own bubble.
Assuming "what most people think" distorts how the external world and the internal world of humans works and how we make educated guesses of what's likely to a happen next. Hence why conversation is useful to find evidence we're talking to the right people, at the right level.
Are you using the right metaphors?
I worked in and around insurance and financial services for a number of years. It was useful to become comfortable with the distinction between risk and uncertainty.
Metaphors structure the way we talk, but they also impact the way we think. Mike Elias has a useful framework to compare two different and conflicting metaphors of our age: facts and risk. But first an idea or a thesis put forth by Taleb: rationality-as-risk-management.
The most useful concept from the comparison of metaphor of facts (Wittgenstein's Revenge) with metaphor of risk management is that the latter implies
beliefs are investments, requiring due diligence
as a practical necessity.
This is brilliant because it frees us from believing today's prevailing opinions (or those in our bubble) is a moral imperative. Instead, it invites us to weigh the risks of being mistaken against the rewards of being correct.
Risk management, metaphorically speaking, is also pro-science. True scientific thinking is about updating knowledge as new information we can prove comes along. Right and wrong are not absolutes
, wrote Isaac Asimov.
The value of this idea is that it uncovers the veil of "certainty" illusion, thus reducing the psychological vulnerabilities created by the expectation of certainty—e.g., propaganda, tribalism, and social division.
Good-faith discourse is another positive outcome of using risk management as our metaphor. "Credulity is the new skepticism" is an interesting twist. If we had used that attitude more in January/February 2020, we could have saved many, many lives... and trillions.
Are we asking, "what if I'm wrong?" enough? I worry we never ask, "what if the prevailing worldview is wrong?" When we fail to ask that, that's when we stay stuck as a society, or a company.
Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell wrote a book about the distinction between "innovation-speak" and innovation and creativity (I added imagination because it's step one).
Their thesis: just as technology has the power to shape our lives, language has the power to shape our thoughts. Silicon Valley has used both with ruthless effect:
Yet all is not well:
- Innovation-speak allows us to acquire the power of Imperial Rome while insisting on its fundamental innocence.
- It lets us declare with absolute certainty that disruption is inevitable, unavoidable, and for the long-run benefit of humankind (and, incidentally, our short-term gain).
- It makes us winningly bashful about all the attention we get, and the influence a few of us have over billions of others.
- And it helps us sustain a childlike wonder at the trillions of dollars that keep pouring onto our balance sheets, which almost (but not quite) distract us from our mission of Bringing The World Together, or whatever.
There's more at the link above. You'll find similar jargon in other industries: home "remodeling" before maintenance and repair... etc.
- People keep complaining that this flavor and form of technology is leading to invasion of privacy, data leaks, loss of jobs to robots, child addiction to screens, and elections and democracies subversion.
- The pursuit of novelty for its own sake ALSO takes resources and attention from what really matters, which is maintenance and repair.
- More modest activities are undervalued in just about every way.
- Despite their invisibility, they are indispensable, and absolutely essential in a crisis.
- There’s nobility in “keeping daily life going, caring for the people and things that matter most to us, and ensuring that we preserve and sustain the inheritance of our collective pasts.”
- “It’s the overlooked, undercompensated work that keeps our roads safe, our companies productive, and our lives happy and secure.”
- Our focus on innovation leads us to under-invest in maintenance, which in turn makes innovation harder to sustain. Remember the pace layering diagram that shows how lower levels sustain the ones above?
Albert Wenger, Partner at Union Square Ventures, is writing a book by learning, creating, and sharing publicly. His goal is two-fold:
He argues that we should smooth the transition to the Knowledge Age by expanding three powerful individual freedoms: economic, information, psychological. The entire book is at the link above.
- To establish that we are currently experiencing a third period of non-linearity. The invention of agriculture shifted scarcity from food to land, industrialization shifted scarcity from land to capital, digital technology is now shifting scarcity from capital to attention.
- To propose an approach that will help us overcome the limits of market-based capitalism and facilitate a smooth transition from the Industrial Age (in which capital is scarce) to the Knowledge Age (in which attention is scarce).
Was this a buck worth of sustenance? Hit the button below to show your gratitude.
“The present generation
enjoys the greatest power in history,
but it appears to have the shortest vision in history.
That combination is lethal."
- Brian Eno