The New Yeoman

Thoughts on Making a Living

Category: Professional Development (page 1 of 2)

Self Discipline and Self Employment

Whenever and wherever the client wanted was not a form of self -discipline for me

I have always prided myself on doing the work wherever and however it came. My only requirement was that it be interesting work. I’d travel anywhere and do anything within reason. At one point, that meant working on projects in Kuwait and Los Angeles simultaneously while living in England. Another meant spending every week in Estonia for 6 months. Another meant splitting time in Bogotá, New York, and Cambridge while living in Nevada. It was exciting travel and good work. However, at the age of 52 and with kids in the age range where my being here is critical, I am focussing on core issues again and again. Part of that is my work and what I am willing to accept in terms of what I will do at this point of my life. Another part is trying to live the life that I am encouraging my kids to live. e.g.

  • Find something you love.
  • Commit yourself to doing it well.
  • You can only truly control your own actions and feelings, not anyone else’s.
  • Know your own personality and plan your own actions accordingly. i.e. don’t regularly put yourself in situations where you know you are likely to do things that you’ll regret later.

What I find, though, is that I have developed some bad habits over the years. This was not a problem when I would take work wherever it led me. Now that I am putting some boundaries on the type of work and where it is located, I’m finding that I need to shape up my own ship. Nothing like circumstances and parental guilt to get your ass in gear, no?

Influential people to me on my path to professional self discipline and self knowledge

That’s where two people have influenced me lately. Jocko Willink and Jordan B. Peterson. Willink is heavy on self discipline. Peterson is heavy on self knowledge. If you want to share this with your kids, Willink’s “Way of the Warrior Kid” is a great way to do so. Also look up Willink’s back story on getting this particular book published against a skeptical publisher’s wishes. Peterson’s Self Authoring Suite is for adults. It helps the individual focus on their life and what they want from it, so that a rational psychological bias for action on those points can be built.

I hope these recommendations are of use. They have helped me begin to improve my professional discipline with self imposed restraints that I want to be part of my life.

“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.”

  • James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

Coding is the New Average Job, Not Blue-Collar

Article: Coding jobs are the new blue-collar jobs

​Wired writes that ” The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding”. Aside from the odd use of “blue-collar” to simply mean “average,”I generally agree with the idea that coding will become a strong field for middle class employees. It really is just another form of doing the things we already do with a new kind of language.

Blue-Collar or “Average”?

However, why substitute “blue-collar” for “average?” As Mike Rowe as repetitively shown us, blue-collar does not mean average. A master carpenter is blue-collar, but far from average and a really good one with ambition can be far above middle-class too. So, in my humble opinion, coding will become the new average job, but we need not redefine blue-collar to make the point.

Does everyone need a computer science degree?

I think this article makes a valid point about the educational requirement to get the necessary skills,

Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school.

On another note, for all you parents out there, simply getting your kid to dabble in programming for fun is not enough. When something becomes the new normal, it means that it is a minimum requirement, not a guarantee. Coding is becoming more like writing – a basic requirement.

On still another note; Although, I agree with much of this article, I worry that we are in the process of moving this wonderful tool (coding) of self-employment, independence, and self-enrichment into the next bureaucratic and organizational “job.” I would much rather see us loan kids $50K to get $5K worth of programming training and use the $45K to start a business with a mentor rather than using it on worthless university degrees spread over 4-6 unproductive years.

Doing Business Versus Project Management

I think Stuart Hamilton gets this right. I work with a lot of start ups that are looking to grow fast. I can normally tell if they are going to make it when they make their first few Project manager hires. If they are widely experienced (not even deeply experienced in many instances) and can make things happen day in and day out and can explain themselves in multiple, daily “hallway” discussions, they’ll be fine. However, if the first hires are documentation buffs who avoid discussions by pointing people to the voluminous project documentation, the organization is normally doomed.

Elliott Hulse and Non-Jobs

I like Elliott Hulse. The guy is mesmerizing. How often do you run into a guy who is so physically fit that is this eloquent? If you are an older guy like me looking to improve your health, check his Strength Camp video channel. If you are a young person and are debating university, watch this one. If you don’t like the cursing, ignore it. Elliott is speaking to an audience that he understands and the cursing helps his authenticity. I love his message which is truer than many will accept.

Elliott’s view on NonJobs is boiled down to these points.

  1. Find something you love. This is sometimes hard, but Hulse’s point is that you have to keep searching, even, no, especially when you’ve found it.
  2. Share the love. I like his point about credentials. If you get a degree… a piece of paper, you may or may not know much about it. It probably depends on why you went for the degree. However, if you LOVE a topic, you “ooze” your knowledge and that is attractive to other people. It is far more attractive than a degree.
  3. Receive the love. Our world is cynical, but the love does come back, if we gave it freely. I can’t tell you how many times I have bought something after having someone give me something for free that I loved and valued. I want more of that person, I feel a connection with them, and I want to make sure they are fairly compensated for that.

Watch this video below and if you like it, you can get more from Elliott at the NonJob website.

Disclosure: I get no payment of any kind from Elliott Hulse or any of his affiliated businesses. I am just inspired by the guy. Good luck, Elliott.

Coincidence?

Coincidence? – Four very similar views from four very different people of what it takes to get into a zone and create work of lasting value.

Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

War of Art – Steven Pressfield

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Lose Yourself – Eminem

Deep Work and Meetings

Here is a good article from Help Scout on How to Sabotage Any Meeting. In reference to my previous post on Deep Work, the work that gets done at meetings is normally bad too, because everyone is flitting about on the surface with too many distractions. Number three on How to Sabotage Any Meeting,

Do synthesis work at the meeting

…. I’ve learned the hard way that while meetings are useful for outlining what can be done, they’re god-awful for putting paint on the canvas. Feedback becomes relevant when The Thing has taken shape—even if it’s just a fragment of the final result.

Collaboration has its limits. Use meetings to chart the course, to get visceral reactions along the way, and to push past the finish line. Don’t use them to synthesize on the spot. Create alone, decide together.

I couldn’t agree more. Rather than spending the time to do the Deep Work and bring a thoughtful proposal to the table, most people are either too lazy, distracted, or scared. Lazy, because they are trying to get others to do their work or don’t want to do more than one iteration. Distracted, because they have lost the discipline to do Deep Work. Scared that their Deep Work would look amateurish. My advice on this last one is to not worry. If you really do think about the issue deeply and consider the situation, you will almost always out-think the distracted rest-of-us at the meeting.

That article about The Collaboration Curse from The Economist is a good one too. Good fodder for another post.

Photo Credit:

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Harlem branch, Boys club meeting” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-8207-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Beautiful Questions in a Target Rich Environment

“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” ― ee cummings

In A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger makes the case that in a world full of easily accessed knowledge, the real skill is to pose better questions. I like the title wording of Warren Berger via ee cummings. Our new world is not bereft of questions. I get tons of them. Most of them could be solved by the person asking them with a DuckDuckGo search.

In fact, our new world is full of answers and full of questions. However, the answers often have no context and people don’t often frame the questions well. Part of this ties in with what I wrote last week in Deep Work and Self Education. The ability to think of a really good question is often what separates true understanding from mere collections of fact. What keeps us from formulating a good question is often not thinking about it deeply, because we are busy and awash in information. Its a vicious circle, but one we must break.

Elegant questions are what make our work meaningful and give us real priorities, rather than artificial deadlines to do something. Taking the time to answer the basics, understand them, help others understand them, and put them in context before posing an intelligent question is what separates the professional from the amateur. Insightful questions are also what gets the attention of the experts you may be seeking to involve in your project or cause. The best way to be ignored in professional circles, and social circles too, is to ask simple questions that show no understanding or empathy for others’ time or concerns. What intrigues people is when you ask something that shows you spent some time trying to understand the subject and you are looking to them for a deeper understanding.

Berger’s theme is that more beautiful questions are what is needed to increase innovation. To tie in Steven Johnson’s assertion that good ideas are derived from the chaos at the edge of current knowledge, the glut of information and lack of good questions present a target rich environment. For those who can grasp the context and continue to push out the knowledge with perceptive questions, the adjacent possible comes into view.

I also think that stimulating questions make for better plans. What I really like about the Minto method and the Army Operations Order is that you start with a fully acknowledged Situation and Complication before you decide what you should do and how you should do it. Using modern Army parlance, “The enemy gets a vote.” By making this understanding explicit, one gains the confidence of the people one will eventually ask to do something. With that confidence and an expectation that those involved will also be expected to ask compelling questions, the network mind is activated.

If you are looking for your next professional read, I highly recommend Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.

Deep Work and Self Education

In his new book, Deep Work, author Cal Newport goes in to detail about why the ability to focus on work that requires deep thought and multiple levels of inquiry has become a competitive edge. No doubt, this type of work has always been relatively rare. However, it is more so these days due to the much discussed proliferation of technologies that nip at your attention like a pack of hyenas trying to pick off the weak in the wildebeest herd. Sadly, in our world, the attention-hyenas have grown fat and don’t even have to give chase. We sit in our chairs and wait for them every morning.

I think Newport’s thesis is correct. The ability, not the time, is actually what is missing. Lots of people say that they just don’t have the time to set aside and think deeply on things that are important to them. However, I don’t need to quote specifics –about the billions who use social media all day long or the people who respond to emails in seconds like it is some lab experiment to grab pellets when the bell rings– to make the point that we are not using the time wisely. (yes, I see the irony in this article… get back to work 😉

Because we have been doing this now for one or two decades, many of us have lost our ability to do the deep work even when we have the time. Stare at a blank document or project plan for twenty minutes, meet the first obstacle, and freeze. Send an email to Fred to see if he got that new data. Text Mary for an update on how the meeting went. Read our “professional” newsfeed for the fourth time this morning, etc. We are all talking about talking about talking. We’re just doing it on new and different platforms.

The ability to think deeply and present new ideas on how to tackle problems is now the rarest of things. I often see this in the board room. The conversation flies around, but nothing is tackled in depth. No one brings deep critical thinking to the table. Every one just brings the latest data, report or presentation. None of it sticks to the walls and becomes deep conversation.

I agree with Newport on career development too. If a person wants to make themselves valuable to themselves or to an organization, they need to develop the ability to go into a quiet room, think deeply on an issue, and come out with either a new option on the issue or deep analysis of which known options are better and actionable. Either output is far more valuable than anyone else is likely to bring to the table.

When one ties this ability with the other rarity of the modern world which is the ability to self-educate, a person will have a formidable set of skills. In fact, I’ll go further. Teaching yourself to A) work deeply and B) self educate is the whole education that most should be seeking. If one develops the discipline and skill to work deeply on any topic and develops the skills to educate themselves with the near-universal amount of knowledge available today, there is no need to predict what comes next. One with these two capabilities doesn’t care. They can analyze any market, make deeply considered choices, and educate themselves to tackle what they choose. If they are wrong, they can start again. They are not one-trick ponies. In other words, strive to be adaptable, not prescient.

Finally, I think this is New Yeoman territory too. Any trade is susceptable to improvement in these skills. Don’t waste time in the truck on Facebook before the next customer call. Read the trade journal and come up with new ideas for your customer. Consider how your invoices and receipts may help you convert more sales. Develop that nagging idea you’ve had for a new specialized tool. Think deeply, turn it into digestable chunks of work and take action.

Slavery

Charles Bukowski via Brain Pickings,
In a letter to a friend that encouraged him to pursue his art, “You know my old saying,”

“Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

IMHO, it is not just artists that this applies to. It applies to everyone who would rather work for themselves rather than toil for someone else for a wage that erodes in one form or another over time. It is certainly right for many, but I truly believe that a lot more people are employed than should be. A size-able chunk of the employed workforce owe it to themselves to become self-employed and do greater (or just happier) things to put food on the table.

In another letter via Jay Dougherty, Bukowski writes,

“I have one of two choices–stay in the postoffice and go crazy…or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”

That was Bukowski at age 49. It took him a long time to stop working for someone else and start doing what he was meant to do. It is never too late.

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