Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Raising Your Standards

Success is about staying consistent. Staying consistent is about standards. Poor standards limit success. If you raise your standards, you raise your consistency and your success--the triangle of success grows.

Darren Hardy recently posted a video with his thoughts on the value of consistency in achieving success. I think that 's only true if you can consistently raise your standards to their highest level. It is easy to be consistent at a level that doesn't achieve success.

As a programmer, my first programs were good enough to meet my client's requirements and my boss's expectations. If I had stayed consistent at it, I would have achieved a limited version of success. Many of my peers did exactly that.

I started to recognize a model within the programs I wrote. I could copy a program that was already working, delete its unique features, replace other items in the original program with their analogs for the new one, and write the unique part of the new program. An inventory update program became the start of an accounts receivable update program. This cut my writing time in half and was f my standard practice for a while.

Then I realized that changing the "inventory" identifier to "account" added no value but introduced changes throughout my model. I could apply the changes consistently or eliminate the labels and make the code itself consistent. I did neither.

Instead, I eliminated the labels and pulled all the consistent code into a standardized set of modules. Then I built a new standard reference program to tie the pieces together in a standard way, and built a utility to make changes needed in the reference program. This package became my new standard, and with it a complex update program became a consistently reproducible process anybody could use. I had a new standard, a new level of consistency, a new measure of success. Work that took weeks could be dome in minutes.

Hardy's video refers to the familiar story of the tortoise and the hare. It is a great place to start. To that familiar race, let's add a puppy, who at birth can barely move and needs his mother to survive. Day by day, his consistent growth makes him bigger, stronger, faster.

Success can be achieved by being consistent, but only if the level of consistency is high enough (a good enough standard) and you have enough time. A rabbit lives twelve years, a dog  twenty, a tortoise two hundred. How much time do you have for success. How long do you want it to take?

In our competitive world, yesterday's high standard may be barely adequate today and irrelevant tomorrow. The world is littered with standards that have been made obsolete -- VHS tapes and floppy disks being obvious examples. Continuous improvement needs to be a goal we aspire to even for our standards.

I was never an athlete as a child and spent most of my adult life as a couch potato. A few years ago, I changed my habits, raised my standards, and lost 35 pounds. They stay off because my new standard is high enough to maintain my weight. If I want more, I need to raise my standard. Perhaps you do too.




Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Review: The Art of Learning

When I mentioned to a friend that I was reading the book The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, she asked why. "Is there anything you don't know about learning!"?

I think of myself as reasonably smart, but I used that gift to get through school. As an adult, I have come to understand the value of leveraging my strengths and therefore look for small improvements on things I do well. 

Is there anything I don't know about learning?  Since I don't know what I don't know, all I can do is assume there is. 

As Waitzkin points out:

"..:there are clear distinctions between what it takes to be decent, what it takes to be good, what it takes to be great, and what it takes to be among the best. If your goal is to be mediocre, then you have a considerable margin for error."

I was particularly intrigued by a 3 step approach to resilient, self-sufficient performance. 

1. Flow with the distraction, like a blade of grass bending to the wind. 

2. Use the distraction, inspiring ourselves with what initially would have thrown us off our games. 

3. Recreate the inspiring settings internally. 

The book covers developing mental skills, especially focus, to compete at elite and world-class levels as illustrated by the author's experiences in two different competitive arenas. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review - Deep Work by Cal Newport

Whether you read David Allen on stress-free productivity, Brian Tracy on eating the biggest frog first, or almost anything in the domain of personal productivity, the theme is juggling your actions. Newport argues that for people dealing with intense
complexity or creativity you need to carve out significant blocks of time for what he calls deep work.

This isn't about multitasking or task switching. The book focuses on why and how to create an environment where deep work is possible, and shares stories of people who have done it successfully. He gets into more detail, but the key ideas are block out the time and cut out the distractions.

You won't find anything new or astonishing on blocking out time here. Newport methodically walks through all the logical possibilities but in the end it is a matter of what works.

As for cutting out distraction, there is a lot of actionable advice, some of which may call for serious reflection. High on that list is cutting out social media. You may not be ready to do that, but perhaps you could get them off your phone and out the way. Newport walks his talk here--no Twitter account.

Not everybody needs to do deep work, but there are fewer exceptions than we realize. The book didn't help me block out time, but it did help me think.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone