GTD: It’s not about the technology

I was about to write a post walking through the new app that I’m using for my GTD (Getting Things Done) this year, but I paused. I paused because over the past year, as I’ve really tried to implement GTD into my life, one of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that the technology you use isn’t that important.

When we think about GTD, there are lots of shiny apps out there which are always promising to make you a more productive person. It’s obvious that it’s not the app that makes someone productive, but the person using the app! However, we often lose sight of that when thinking about becoming more productive, because it’s easy to think that a new shiny app or system will make it different to last time. Will make it better. “This time,” we say. “This time I will be more productive and stick to GTD! This time will be different.”

Last year, my biggest realisation was that GTD is just a number of lists you keep to remind youself of what you’re trying to do. That’s it. It’s that simple.

You make a commitment to yourself to check those lists often enough that your mind trusts them, enough to not remember what’s on all of them all of the time. It’s a slow process, building trust in a framework like GTD because it often feels like you take one step forward before taking two back. I found that being honest with myself and just refocusing on GTD, the framework, much more relieving than searching for yet another app to try and use. For most of last year, I used Outlook for my tasks and it’s worked terrifically well, mostly because I worked at using it terrifically well.

So, I’m trying a new app. I will probably post about it, because I like it so far. It served as yet another reminder to me that the technology we use doesn’t matter. You could equally implement GTD with a paper notebook and get the same peace of mind possible without any of the more modern technologies out there. It’s just a bunch of lists.

Diversity at events

There’s a great post that my colleague, Cindy Alvarez, shared with me earlier today which I wanted to share here. It’s written by the team at Spotify and walks through how they approached running a hackathon that was truly diverse, focusing on gender mostly in their first event. Reading the post, I’d say it’s been a terrific success.

The post reminded me a lot of the themes we would discuss and debate when running Trampoline in Melbourne in the early days. I thought I’d share a few things we picked up on when running these Unconferences, to keep the conversation going. A big hat-tip to Melina Chan and Pat Allan, who constantly had their eye on the diversity of the group we’d be forming through these actions.

The invite process matters. The Spotify article highlights this, but we used to focus on this so much it’s worth highlighting here again.

The channels where you spread the event decide the crowd that will apply. We wanted to expand outside our Facebook hacker groups. So we talked to university teachers, local communities, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends from other cities to push the event outside the usual “tech bubble”.

For us, when we ran the first and second Trampoline events back in 2009, Twitter was the main channel we used to market the event. But we also put a lot of effort into curating a list of all the people we could think of that we would LOVE to be at the event. This list ended up being a mix of friends and acquaintances that we knew had an interesting and unusual story to share and so ended up being quite diverse. We then emailed and personally reached out to many on the list to encourage them to come along.

After the first Trampoline, which we felt was a success, we had to think even more about this the second time around. We increased the number of tickets we made available to 150 and also planned staged releases to help ensure different groups got several chances to book – rather than just the folks that saw the invites go out on Twitter in the first instance. When we released the tickets, we had the first release (around 100 tickets, I think, but I’m most likely wrong here) go in about 10 minutes. After that, we kept the releases going over the next week or so to fill it all up.

I’ll be the first to say that this did add extra friction to the mix. And confusion. I’m not sure we’d approach it in the same way again if we had our chance, but generally it helped make sure that a diverse group ended up coming along, because tickets weren’t being snapped up by people who were generally able to be online, ready to register, at 9am on a weekday morning.

At the next event, Trampoline 3, we implemented a ‘gift ticket’ with registration to help combat this even more. Once you registered, you had an extra ticket that you could forward to someone else, which we encouraged people to use for someone that had never been to a Trampoline. Whilst this was a good idea and worked in some cases, we didn’t see most of the gift tickets get used – so they were eventually returned to the pool closer to the event.

For Trampoline, diversity meant more than the categories we use to define that now. Whilst gender, race, religion etc were all important form of diversity we were hoping to attract was in people’s careers and interests. By that, I mean we wanted to attract people who chose to use the productive hours of their weeks in a variety of ways. That led to some amazing sessions, from how to swim the English Channel, to juggling lessons, to 3D printer displays and barefoot running lectures. We also had a mix of technology talks, career development talks and family/parenting talks. At one event, we had an 8 year old run a session and an 80 year old! It was this diverse group of topics that led to the most interesting event. I think, in hindsight, it led to the attendees also being diverse, too.

I’d finally add that, even with all of this, the group became more homogeneous over time. As people connected at the events and got to know each other they would come back time and time again, which meant the ‘interestingness’ slowed down a little bit. Even so, the events today remain some of the more fascinating and interesting ways to learn about a whole host of topics. It’s been far too long since I managed to attend one!

Run Better Meetings: The Engagement Continuum

A little while ago, I was keen to improve a number of the meetings I was running at work and I happened upon this great video by Col Duthie. Col’s excellent at this stuff and someone I have a learnt a lot from, especially in the art of running engaging (as he would say) generative meetings. It’s a short video but it’s really informed a lot of my recent thinking about ensuring I’m in the right ‘mode’ depending on the kinds of feedback and consultation I’m looking to lead.

Being clear and deliberate about the mode you’re in helps both yourself and the people around you interact with more honesty and clarity. It can really help you to clarify what you’re looking for from the meetings you either run or the meetings you participate in. And we all need a little more clarity in our lives. Thanks again for this video, Col.

**If you’re looking for help in leading a meeting or a workshop, Col has some terrific services in this area. See http://colduthie.com/services-new/

Revisting Xiaomi’s strategy and culture

Last week, I posted about a great example of cultural effecting strategy by linking to the latest Stratechery post by Ben Thompson. Late last week, Ben and James sat down and recorded the latest Exponent podcast where they discussed the ideas in the post in much more detail, including many cultural observations that Ben shares.

It’s a great listen and worth your hour. You can find it here: http://exponent.fm/episode-030-xiaomi/ 

Washing dishes

My first job was as a dish washer, affectionately known as a dish pig, where I would spend my hours tucked away out the back of a grimy Pizza Hut restaurant through my teenage years. It was great fun. Today’s post occurred to me when I was finishing up the night, cleaning up the dishes from our earlier meal. It’s hardly revolutionary.

It occurred to me that I still tackle doing the dishes in the same way I learnt to back then, when I would need to wash hundreds of plates an hour. Washing dishes at pace required that you sort and separate them into like piles. Plates were always the easiest, so they go together. Then cups. Then ‘others.’ Finally, the cutlery. It’s funny I still do this now.

It’s always curious when you catch yourself playing out the habits of days long past and can trace their roots back to inception. What skills do you still unconsciously carry out from long ago?

As for me…back to the dishes.

Blisters lead to purpose

Simon Terry and I shared a conversation on CoTap recently about my last post (Bliss vs Blisters) and shared his own post that he’d written about a year ago. Like everything Simon writes, it’s terrific. Here’s my favorite bit. Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are in the world.

More than ten years ago I was doodling on a pad trying to find a focus to my diverse career history. I decided to draw a network diagram of my personal and work interests, the work that I enjoyed most and always chose to repeat. I drew lines where there were connections between these activities and interests. I began to build a map of my past life experience.

Bliss vs Blisters

How do you follow your passion in your life? Through your career, your activities or something else? I’ve been thinking a lot about that these last six months or so and I think I have a few interesting ideas to share which were not things I’d originally considered. Before I get going, though, credit for the title of this post must go to Julian Waters-Lynch, who I shared a few conversations with on this topic when I was thinking through it a lot.

In Wrzesniewski’s research, the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.

This book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You:Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, really uncovered a particular bias I had adopted. It’s commonplace for someone of my generation to have this deeply held belief that we need to find out true calling in life – our passion – to be truly happy. Working, or doing anything for that matter, that isn’t in alignment with this ideal causes us to induce stress on ourselves that leads us to thinking we would be happier if only we were following our passion. This book looks and that and suggests that, in fact, those that are happiest in their careers are those that have worked at something for a great deal of their life. What they started in may not have been their passion in the beginning, but it has become something they’re passionate about over time.

In other words, working right trumps finding the right work

This really resonates with me, and I’ll tell you why. Because it primarly gave me permission to stop worrying about what my passion was. The corollary to believing that you should be following your passion is that you have to KNOW what your passion is. And that, at best, is a myth. Figuring that out is pretty close to impossible. The world is just too dynamic to really come to this easily. I tweeted this recently, from Nick Crocker’s great post about his system for better living.

It served as something quite empowering to me that what I should really be focused on was not figuring out my core passion in life; but instead focusing on the skills and things I’m doing right now and understanding how I can be doing them much better. Because within that I will probably find something I’m truly passionate about.

In the end, I still believe understanding what you’re passionate about is very important to continue attempting to understand. But more important is to continue developing the skills you have and the networks within which you practice them. You get the opportunity to do that, for the most part, every day when you begin spending time working. When you pair this with the approach outlined in the other book I wrote about recently, The Alliance, you’re left with a related number of powerful ideas which I’ve really been thankful for so far these last few months.

Message me and let me know what you think. 

An example of culture effecting strategy

There’s a new post out on Stratechery today which I enjoyed reading this morning. I’ve not really read up or investigated Xiaomi, nor have I been a customer, so many of Ben’s posts discussing the topic are interesting to me. Mostly, this is because my bias’s about the company are fairly low. I’m uninformed and ignorant about their strategy and their products for the most part. In that light, todays post certainly did resonate with me in an area I’d like to think I am less ignorant – organisational culture.

This strategy also explains Xiaomi’s international expansion strategy: India – the world’s 2nd largest population – is already well underway, and Indonesia – the 4th largest – just kicked off. Brazil (5th) is coming soon. True, the United States (3rd) isn’t coming any time soon, but why bother? Apple has the fans, everyone has appliances, and yes, there is a bit of an IP problem.

This may be a long bow to draw, between Ben’s post which is obviously very strategy focused, and my own desire to talk more about operating and organisational cultures here on my blog. But it’s for that very reason that I like what this example displays so much. It’s an overt example of how a companies culture impacts upon it’s strategy. Xiaomi is a Chinese company and so with that comes everything that goes with that culture – including the apparent choices to not expand into the US as a growth strategy. Here in San Francisco, and indeed even in Australia, the general cultural world-view I’ve been exposed to with regards to growing a companies size and profits is to expand to the US or the UK. Yes, there’s been a much bigger focus on doing business with China (and Asia more broadly) in the last decade, but I find most of this bias still extends mostly to the mining and resources sector. Personally, in my experience, our cultural norms keep us focused on expanding into places that we’re very familiar with.

This is true at lower perspectives, too, but they’re less easy to see when you’re in an organisation. The choice to follow one strategic path or another is absolutely a product of the operational culture that your company has incubated over it’s entire life.

Why ‘The Squiggly Line’?

Today’s task for Blogging 101 was to rename your blog (if appropriate) and add a tagline. It caused me to reflect on why I initially started this blog called ‘The Squiggly Line’ and what that has come to mean for me over the years. For the past 7 years or so, it’s been my home online. It’s served as my email address and any other internet accounts where ‘Steve Hopkins’ was already registered. To this day, I still really like it, so I won’t be changing it. I’m curious to know if people think my tagline helps them understand what the blog is about, but I also still feel good about that. I thought today I’d share where it came from and what it means to me.

About 8 years ago, I was part of a small organisation called Venture Tribe – along with people I still consider great friends. In one session early on in the organisations life, we were going through the task of naming it. Venture Tribe wasn’t something we’d come up with yet. So, we were doing some quickfire brainstorming about names. At the time, Cam had scribbled out some of his suggestions and in the pace to go around the table just simply said “…er, er, Squiggly Line.” I really liked it and instantly wanted to use it. I got this sense and image in my mind that it could represent how the world of business was becoming far less linear and much more chaotic and squiggly. We ended up going with Venture Tribe and so after that I asked if I could begin using The Squiggly Line for my blog. The rest, as they say, is history.

Years later, my passion is still around helping people within organisations think more about making their ‘work’ the best thing it can be. I work at Yammer, within Microsoft, where we create a product that millions of people use to make their communications with their team more social, open and transformative. I’m more and more interested in ideas such as Mindfulness and how that can positively impact the world inside and outside of a persons work accountabilities. And, I’m a passionate believer that we’re in the middle of seeing many of our worlds organisations transition to being much more responsive by adopting new was of operating. And amongst all of that, the world has only continued to get more and more squiggly. Thanks for reading.