Changing things up: time for a new theme, new name

My focus on this blog is on the content, so I try not to mess around with the design/layout very much. There comes a point, though, when things need to be relooked and freshened up, and that time has come around again.

I’ve been looking at different themes, with an eye on going even more minimal than I already am. Every time I’ve considered going really minimal, I still always end up with something a bit more “busy” than what I really wanted. After reading Linchpin, I now realize that I was just giving in to the resistance, doing what I thought others would want or expect me to do.  (Who are these “others”, anyway?)

After some quick research, I’ve put the Wu Wei theme by Jeff Ngan at the top of my short list of possible themes. I like the look, and the philosophy, of the theme. If you use Wu Wei, I’d love to hear from you.

As for the name of the blog, I’m not really sure what I was thinking including the word cum in the title. It doesn’t really matter that it is a Latin word in a Latin phrase. You would not believe some of the search terms that end up pointing here (OK, maybe you would) just because of that word. A bit on the Colbert Report last night about the renaming of the magazine “The Beaver” to “Canada’s History” also got me wondering about how spam filters would treat anything from here.

So, I’m changing the name to Brett’s Waste Blog. Shouldn’t be anything too controversial with that. Plus, I think it better reflects what this blog is all about.

This shouldn’t affect your experience with the blog, especially if you view this mostly through RSS. Just wanted to let you know in case you find your way here sometime and wonder if you are in the right place.

Live your life, don’t let it pass you by

Of all of the daily meditations in 365 Tao, yesterday’s meditation on Engagement is the one that most deeply resonates for me:

Prey passes the tiger who
Sometimes merely looks,
Sometimes pounces without  hesitation,
But never fails to act.

Don’t just let life pass you by. Engage with it, be aware of all of the opportunities (and traps) that come your way, and actively choose your response.

Solitary work genius in the age of tribes and crowd-sourcing

Is there a place for solitary work and achievement in this age of teams, collaboration, KM, social media, crowdsourcing, etc? Can one person still “change the world”, all by themselves?

I wondered about these questions recently as I read James Gleick’s biography of Isaac Newton. To say that Newton was a solitary genius would be to understate his lack of interest in working with, and sharing with, others.

While safely tucked away from the plague infecting England in 1665 – 1666, Newton developed the basics of calculus as well as the foundation of what would become his greatest work, The Principia : Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (which would not be published for many years afterwards).

Newton returned home. He built bookshelves and made a small study for himself. He opened the nearly blank thousand-page commonplace book he had inherited from his stepfather and named it his Waste Book. He began filling it with reading notes. These mutated seemlessly into original research. He set himself problems; considered them obsessively; calculated answers, and asked new questions. He pushed past the frontier of knowledge (though he did not know this). The plague year was his transfiguration. Solitary and almost incommunicado, he became the world’s paramount mathematician.

He also waited 30 years before publishing his “second great work” – Opticks. He designed, built, and used his revolutionary reflecting telescope for over two years before sharing it with anyone. Bottom line, he preferred to work alone and chose not to share the fruits of his labor.  At least not right away.

I’ve long believed that knowledge is an inherently personal thing. Only individuals can come up with great (as opposed to “good” or “acceptable”) insights and ideas, and individuals create and hold their own knowledge. Of course, these insights and ideas – this knowledge – are most often inspired or catalyzed by the ideas of others, and the value of the knowledge is essentially zero until it is shared with others.

Without Euclid and Descartes, Newton would not have been able to achieve what he did. And if his work had never been published, then his ideas would never have had the opportunity to change the world.

So learn from those around you, build on the knowledge that they share. Then share your newfound knowledge right back.

Chasing mastery is worth the trouble

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success (which I will be reviewing soon), Malcolm Gladwell discusses the 10,000 hour rule, which states that to achieve mastery – of anything – requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. (Readers of Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated will recognize this idea, as well.) This is, to put it mildly, a lot of hours.

Last week a couple of bloggers I follow asked themselves if they thought all this effort was worth it.  From Did I Say That Out Loud?

So then the next question is do I even want to be an expert at anything? Is it worth 10,000 hours to master something so completely? Or is my time better spent doing the daily tasks in front of me the best that I can? Or is there some organic blend of the two?

And from Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist:

There are a few things about the article [The Making of an Expert by Anders EricssonMichael Prietula and Edward Cokely in the July/August HBR] that really make me nervous. The first is that you need to work every single day at being great at that one thing if you want to be great. This is true of pitching, painting, parenting, everything. And if you think management in corporate life is an exception, you’re wrong. I mean, the article is in the Harvard Business Review for a reason.

I was trying to come up with responses to these to let them know that it is worth the effort if you’ve found something you love. I was having a hard time coming up with the right words, so took a break to watch tennis. To watch Roger Federer win the Australian Open, his record 16th major tournament win.

And it all became clear. Not a whole lot of words needed (though I ended up typing a lot anyway).

Is chasing mastery worth the trouble? Your damn right it is.

The importance of rehearsal

A couple of days ago I mentioned to some friends how I use rehearsal in my day-to-day life: Preparing for a presentation, walking through the steps of a plan, practicing a process. Especially when it is something important. (The subject came up because I am giving an important presentation to some senior folks in our organization later this week, and I had excused myself so I could rehearse.)

“Rehearse? What do you mean, rehearse?”

I learned the importance of rehearsal while in the military: Plan an operation, try it out, refine the plan. Sometimes the rehearsal can be a simple walk through of the basic steps of something. Sometimes, as is the case this week, it is a full blown dress rehearsal, maybe even with a video camera so I can be my own judge.

When I watch speakers on TED.com, or have the opportunity to hear speakers live, I always marvel at how easy they make it look. I also know that for every minute on stage they’ve probably prepared for an hour or more.

Like the old jokes goes: How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice practice practice.