Creativity and pancakes

My friend Jen compares creativity to making pancakes. Both are processes that require a bunch of attempts, imperfections, and patience.

Think about it. No one ever nails the first pancake. You pour the mixture out onto the frying pan and it resembles a Pacman. Or a crescent moon. Or maybe it looks so warped that you wonder if it’s Jesus looking back at you so you take a photo and post it on eBay for $25k ala this guy.

All this before you embark on the treacherous act of flipping the damn thing.

When it comes to pancake numbers three and four now you’re starting to find your groove, maybe even showing off a little with a bit of a flip-it-as-high-as-you-can situation.

This process mirrors the creative one. No-one confidentially writes a final draft or shoots a final video edit first go. Instead, we try something new, see that it’s not that great, and then have an opportunity to work on making it better. And as we do we build momentum and confidence.

So, what are you waiting for?

For more Jen wisdom on pancakes, check out last week’s episode of The Long and The Short Of It.

My biggest aha of 2022

Last year my wife and I traveled through Italy. We swam off the rocks of Riomaggiore, drank wine in the vineyards of Val d’Orcia, and walked our way around the streets of Rome.

We also discovered something that ended up being one of my biggest aha moments of 2022.

That is: pasta can be the first course. ‘Primi’ as it’s known over there.

Now, it’s entirely possible this is obvious to everyone reading this and I’m the only one that missed the memo, but in my mind, at least down under, pasta is a straight-up main meal. The kind that is served in a huge bowl and leaves you walking (or rolling) out of a restaurant struggling to breathe and tapping your stomach gently as if to say “I know, I know, I’m sorry.”

Knowing that it’s possible to have a small, lighter serving of pasta before embarking on a main meal completely reframed something I had forever assumed to be a norm.

Naturally, I’ve used this as a metaphor to noodle on the following question:

What other rules or norms am I following that I might challenge?

E.g. Do I really need 60min for my next meeting? Is it necessary to have Slack notifications on? Does work need to feel ‘hard’ for it to be worthwhile?

Why goal setting is more important than goal achieving

Jen Waldman recently reminded me that goal setting and goal achieving are two different things.

The former is all about creating a strategy.
The latter is a binary measurement of whether you did something.

The former can create habits that last beyond the goal itself.
The latter does not.

The former is within your control.
The latter is often not.

Wondering what a good goal-setting process looks like? Think of it as an exercise in probabilistic thinking (hello maths nerds) and ask yourself questions like:

  • What am I hoping to achieve?
  • How might I increase my chances of achieving this thing?
  • Who do I know that can help me?
  • What habits do I need to develop and/or drop in order for this goal to be achieved?

Your answers to the last three questions are more important than your answer to the first. These are the questions that will lead you down pathways you can’t currently see where you’ll discover opportunities you don’t realise exist.

The questions I’m asking myself for 2023

This morning I told my wife I was determined to finish my 2022 reflection and 2023 planning today. Her response: “Haven’t you spent the last 3 days doing that?”

Nothing like some direct and honest feedback from a loved one to sort you out.

I since realised I was overcomplicating and overthinking it (who me? Never) and have now come back to these simple questions:

  • What do I want to do more of this year?
  • What do I want to do less of this year?
  • Where do I want to be 12 months from now? What do I want to have happened?
  • Who will help me get there?

Happy New Year, legends. Here’s to a noodly one.

PS. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a classic existential question for good measure: How is it 2023? Wasn’t it just a couple of years ago when everyone was playing Angry Birds and Paper Toss on their newly purchased iPhones?

The disconnection problem

Earlier this month I ran a leadership workshop for a group of high performing leaders at one of Australia’s largest organisations.

At the end of the session I asked: “What was the most helpful part of this workshop for you?” and one of the responses floored me.

“I learned my colleagues names.”

After hours of learning, thinking, stretching, laughing, question asking and conversations the most important thing for this leader was the simplest form of human connection.

It made me wonder about the state of your workplace culture at the moment and left me noodling on this question: How might we create more opportunities for human connection at work?

A ridiculous question to help us ship

Will you die?

Because we (read: I) love to create stories about why we (I) shouldn’t ship something into the world.

“It’s a dumb idea.”

“My boss won’t like it.”

“No-one cares what you have to say.”

“I’ve run out of ideas”

All of these stories are rooted in fear of the unknown and an overblown reality of what we think the stakes are. The reality is that the stakes are often very low. Speaking up in a meeting, starting that new project or posting another blog aren’t matters of life and death.

So what if we started treating them as such?

It’s a big reason this weekly blog still exists. Each Sunday I like to remind myself that I can share an idea (even a half baked one like this) and not die. Phew.

Unreasonable hospitality

As a leader, one of your goals is to empower your team to also be leaders and create the conditions for them to thrive. We do this by providing them with space and permission to think independently and creatively.

So what does it actually look like in practice?

Will Guidara has the answer, and it involves being totally unreasonable.

When you’re done, consider: where might I experiment with some unreasonable hospitality?

Permission to change your mind [repost]

You have it.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that changing our minds is a sign of weakness or surrender. We spend time, energy and resources on justifying why we’re right, telling others why they’re wrong and continuing to do things the same way we always have.

In fact the opposite is true. Changing your mind is a sign of strength.

To raise your hand based on new information and say “I see things differently now, the best way for us to move forward is to try this instead.” That takes guts and a willingness to lead people towards something bigger than your own ego or opinion.

The life of a changemaker is littered with opportunities to test assumptions and change our mind. The question worth asking in these moments (which I’ve written about before) is: 

Do I want to be right, or do I want to make change?

This post was originally shared in April 2019.

In a rare stroke of genius, Homer was right

Recent reads and listens – October edition

Hey legend,

Do you like resources? Or at least an email containing links to resources? I got you.

Here’s your small collection of resources that I enjoyed in October and recommend.

If you’re a workplace culture nerd like me:

Check out these two episodes (one and two) of Dare to Lead with Brené Brown, Adam Grant and Simon Sinek.

If you’re a workplace culture nerd looking for even more:

Checkout this amazing report from O.C. Tanner.

For a fascinating take on cancel culture

This podcast interview with Meg Smaker might make you rethink a lot of things.

If you just feel like a laugh

This interview with Steve Carrell is very likely to give it to you.

That’s it for this month.

What was the best thing you read or listened to last month? Let me know by replying to this email and in the meantime, keep being awesome.

Blackberries and experiments

In 2009, Blackberry phones were all the rage. Remember those days? You’d be sitting on the train minding your own business while a fully grown man in a suit was seated next to you, hunched over and furiously typing away on an impossibly small, toddler-sized keyboard. At the time the company controlled almost 50 per cent of the smartphone market and everyone from Bill Gates, to Oprah, was adamant that they couldn’t live without their Blackberries. 

Cut to five years later and the company’s market share had gone from 50% to 1% and the fully grown man next to you was instead playing Angry Birds or Paper Toss on his iPhone (seriously, remember these games?). 

In his best-selling book Think Again, the brilliant Adam Grant uses this example as a cautionary tale to make the case for business leaders to think more like scientists. Scientists, he argues, are always curious about what they don’t know and what they can learn. They’re constantly coming up with experiments and hypotheses to test the norms and beliefs they’ve always had.

So now it’s over to you: what might you experiment with this week?

If you’re feeling stuck, try picking one of these 10:

1. Experiment with having no meetings for one day.

2. Experiment with only asking questions in your next meeting.

3. Experiment with leaving your phone turned off for a full day.

4. Experiment with a new morning routine.

5. Experiment with a new nighttime routine.

6. Experiment with doing the opposite of what you would normally do (and make George Constanza proud).

7. Experiment with only checking your emails twice a day (10am and 3pm).

8. Experiment with a standing desk.

9. Experiment with a walking meeting.

10. Experiment with a 200-word count limit in your emails

Recent reads and listens – September edition

Hey legend,

Here’s your small collection of resources that I enjoyed in September and recommend them to you, too.

If you’re ready to rethink your relationship with your phone:

Stolen Focus by Johann Hari.

If you want to go further down the Johann Hari/I want to stop scrolling my face off all the time rabbit hole:

Check out this interview and on the Imperfect’s Podcast.

If you’re wanting to feel good and be generous:

This list of 50 ways to be ridiculously generous and feel ridiculously good by Alexandra Franzen are all you need.

That’s it for this month, just the three things to checkout.

What was the best thing you read or listened to last month? Let me know by replying to this email and in the meantime, keep being awesome.

5 steps to getting unstuck

If you’re noodling on a decision and feeling stuck, consider these 5 steps:

  1. Find a colleague, family member or friend
  2. Set a timer for 20min
  3. Share with them where you’re stuck
  4. Have them ask you questions for 20min (no statements, assertions or ideas, just questions)
  5. When the timer goes off, consider: what’s my next step?

Do the floss dance because you just unstuck yourself.

See also: Out loud and 16 reasons making an arbitrary numbered list is the best way to get unstuck and spark possibility.

I can’t touch my toes…

Not even close. I’m lucky to get past my knees before my hamstrings feel like they might rip off the bone. It’s a product of having not practised the skill enough and the out-of-my-control reality of being 6″7′.

On the other hand, and not to brag too much, I can reach the top shelf in any supermarket. A product of having practised the skill and being 6″7′. Therefore you might conclude my height is both a weakness and a superpower.

It’s a terrible weakness on a plane and an awesome superpower at concerts.

The same is true of all other skills and traits.

Being a super organised human is awesome until you miss out on serendipity. Being a hands-off leader is great until someone in your team needs instruction and guidance. Being a great question asker is empowering until someone is seeking your opinion.

We all have superpowers and we all have weaknesses. It’s worth keeping this in mind for yourself and those around you. Some questions for cultivating awareness are:

What can you do that others can’t (see this post)? How is it a superpower? How is it a weakness?

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to the supermarket to show off my skills.

Some questions on opinions

When creating or sharing something we’re likely to encounter many opinions. As such, it’s worth having a handy rubric (great word) in order to help us process and filter out the helpful from the irrelevant.

Try asking these questions:

  • Is the opinion coming from someone who I created this thing for?
    • If so, what can I do about it?
    • If not, what can I learn from it before letting it go?

People often treat their opinions as indisputable and universal facts rather than specific stories they tell themselves based on how they uniquely see the world.

It’s worth remembering this when someone shares any sort of response to your work.

See also: this podcast.

Recent reads and listens – August edition

Hey legend,

Here’s your small collection of books and podcasts that caught my eye in August and I recommend them to you, too.

To help explain our fascinating and complicated relationship with money:

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel.

To help understand how (and why) we should care about the future:

Check out this interview and learn about Effective Altruism.

If you’re feeling lost and/or confused about all things climate:

The Carbon Almanac will help.

For tips on the do’s and don’ts of returning to an office:

This episode of Work Life is a good place to start.

What was the best thing you read or listened to last month? Let me know by replying to this email and in the meantime, keep being awesome.

Leading with humility

In 2019 I was sitting in the office of a very accomplished entrepreneur. Someone who had built and sold multiple successful businesses, written best-sellers and long been considered a leading thinker in their field.

On the whiteboard he had written up an idea that he was noodling on and turned to me, and two others, and asked:

“What do you think?”

Here was a brilliant and accomplished leader asking the three of us for our opinion. For our thoughts, ideas and input. Together, the four of us had a conversation, threw more ideas around and co-created a new and improved solution

He did this not because he thought it was the right thing to do, but because he was genuinely curious what we thought. He had the humility to realise that he doesn’t know everything and so deliberately created space for us to contribute and add our ideas.

It’s moments like this that remind me humility is a superpower. One that some consider a weakness and others appear to lack in almost shocking quantities. So what if we all practiced it a little bit more?

A story most leaders tell themselves

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

It doesn’t matter how senior they are, whether they’re at a Fortune 500 company or Founded a successful Not-For-Profit. All leaders are making it up as they go and will experience moments of doubt, insecurity and, yes, feeling like an imposter.

Knowing this, what would it look like for you to remove that backpack full of perfectionism bricks and impossible expectation textbooks?