Pound of Obscure

A journey of 10,000 hours begins with a single bow (and a couple of thwacks to the head)

Complete and total awkwardness. An amazing lack of coordination between feet and hands. Bare feet rubbed raw and blistered. One blister bursting and leaving a trail of blood following me across the floor (which I, of course, cleaned up). A couple of lapses in concentration, resulting in a couple of hits to the head – one to the forehead, one to the bridge of my nose. More than a little soreness the next morning.

This was my experience at my first full Kendo class last week. I have not had that much fun starting on something new in a long time. In fact, it has been quite a while since I’ve started on anything so completely new to me.  I had forgotten how good it feels to take that first step into something new.

One of the many challenges of growing older is avoiding the ruts that await us. It is all too easy to settle into a certain routine, get comfortable, and never change it up. If you haven’t tried something completely new recently, I strongly encourage it.

It feels good.


Cynefin and mastery

When I first discovered the Cynefin framework, I remember thinking, “Exactly.” It is one of those things that once I saw it I realized how obvious it was, at least in hindsight after someone had pointed it out. Of course, I’ve been trying to actually figure it out ever since.

Dave Snowden blogged recently that he is putting together a history of Cynefin, and provides a brief timeline of its origins and where it is now. He also includes a diagram showing the diagram as it was in 2000 compared to what it is now:

My most recent post that included Cynefin looked at it in the context of  concept work and the role of deliberate practice in achieving mastery. The basic premise of that post was that success in the chaotic domain requires mastery, which is the result of a lot (10,000 + hours) of deliberate practice. Even though originally developed with a focus on knowledge management and communities of practice, the origins of the model, as shown above, seem to lend some validity to my understanding.

An added bonus to Dave’s blog post is the comment from Steve Barth (the emphasis is mine):

Something I’ve been thinking about lately relates to the original knowledge-training axis in the early drawings. It comes up working with clients to differentiate and merge knowledge management and organizational learning programs. Increasingly, I believe that knowledge and learning are often polar opposites, and the order/unorder sides of the model make this clear. Simple and complicated emphasize what we already know—or at least believe to be true—and further investigations and analysis must either accept or falsify these premises. We assume that our assumptions are correct. On the other hand, learning is largely about what we don’t know. That is, we must assume that our assumptions could be wrong.

I’m looking forward to the full history.

Pound of Obscure

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.

Pound of Obscure

You should write a book

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Pink when he spoke at a lunch event here in St. Louis. While we were eating lunch waiting for the main event, my friend Gene said to me, “You should write a book.”  Like many people I know, my initial reaction was along the lines of, “Yeah, sure. What would I write about?” And yet…

Over the weekend I gave the idea a bit more thought. Also like many people, I’ve often thought about maybe writing a book, and Gene’s suggestion got me thinking about it again. There are actually many things I could write about: parenting, autism, leadership, systems engineering, FIRST robotics, trampoline and tumbling.

And then the resistance – my lizard brain – showed up. “But that sure is a lot of hard work.” “You don’t even have 100 subscribers to your blog, who would buy a book by you?” “You think you know enough about these topics, but do you really?” “You’ve indulged the idea, now let it go and let’s get back to what we were doing before.”

By the end of the weekend, I’m sad to admit, the resistance had all but defeated me. All I had were the remnants of a very basic mind map to show I had been thinking about it at all. And then Seth Godin told me why I should write a book:

If you’ve never written a non-fiction book, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to. It organizes your thoughts. It’s a big project worthy of your attention.


If you want to change people, you must create enough leverage to encourage the change to happen…. A book is a physical souvenir, a concrete instantiation of your ideas in a physical object, something that gives your ideas substance and allows them to travel.

A lot of ideas that bounce around in my head, and many of them get published here on the blog. Many more of them are notes and sketches in the many notebooks I’ve accumulated over the years.

Most of these are ideas for change that I want to get across to people, to maybe change their minds about how they view autism and those who are autistic or to show gym owners and team parents how they can run a trampoline and tumbling meet that people will still be talking about years later. I have pages and pages of ideas on how to spread the work and word of FIRST, to get our kids interested in how they can use science, technology, and engineering to change the world for the better.

So, I guess what I’m saying is I’m going to write a book. I’m just not sure yet what I want to write first. Thank goodness for mind maps to help me sort through all the possibilities. Once I have my topic, I’ll set a ship date and get to work.

Pound of Obscure

FIRST and the sports model – is it getting out of hand?

Dean Kamen’s vision for FIRST is simple to state:

To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes.

Simple to state, but not nearly so simple to achieve.

The FIRST organization have chosen to use the sports model as the basis of their programs, as shown in the image to the right. Of course, many of the most celebrated people today are athletes, and much of the K12 experience here in the US revolves around athletics.

If you heard his kickoff speech for this year’s game, though, you know that Dean is becoming frustrated with how this model is working out, with the focus for many individuals and teams becoming the winning, not the competition itself. Or, in the terminology of the folks at TrueCompetition.org, these teams have moved from competition into decompetition.

In some ways, this is an inevitable evolution, the nature of professional sports (which, in my mind, includes college sports) in which the intrinsic motivation of young athletes with a love of the game transforms into the extrinsic motivation of the rewards of victory.

What do you think? Is the sports model getting out of hand and need to be changed? Or does it just need to be “tweaked” a bit.

Pound of Obscure

Some early thoughts on Linchpin

In the letter that he sent along with the early review copies of his new book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin asks us to “read it through (twice if you can)” before we review it. I get the impression from his letter, and from his introduction to the book, that he expects many people won’t like it, or won’t agree with it, and that many people will stop reading before they finish.

From my point about 1/2 way through I can see why he might think that; some people are going to find his ideas and suggestions quite radical. I really hope those people who don’t agreee, or don’t understand, take the time to read the entire book and reflect deeply on what it says. They will come out better for it, even if they still don’t agree with what Seth says.

That’s all I’m going to say here about Linchpin for now, I am going to wait until I’ve had a chance to go through it twice and really absorb it before I write an actual review. If you want to know what others are already saying about the book, check out the Linchpin lens on Squidoo.

Pound of Obscure

Jack of all trades, master of one

In his recent Zen Habits‘ article How Passion and Focus Will Rock Your Career, guest blogger Corbett Barr poses what he calls the “jack of all trades” question:

Is it better to be a Renaissance man or woman and be good at a lot of different things or to be laser-focused and really great at one specific thing?

My answer to that question: Do both and become a

jack-of-all-trades, master of one.

When I hear the expression “renaissance man”, the name that most quickly comes to mind is Leonardo da Vinci, that master of so many things. It would probably not be a stretch to say that he was a jack of all trades, and master of them all too.

But if you had had the chance to ask him what he was good at, what it was that he did, it is very likely that he would have answered with a simple, “I am a painter“. (Or, since he was Italian, probably “Sono un pittore” or “Ego sum a pictor“, assuming the online translators I used are accurate.)

Everything that Leonardo did was for the purpose of making him a better painter. His inventions, studies of anatomy, studies of birds in flight, understanding of light and shadow, and everything else he ever learned and did served a single purpose: to help him “see” the world around him so that he could put it down in paint.

In his article, Corbett goes on to recommend focus, to find your passion and become incredibly great at it. To that I would add, find those things that will make you better at what it is that you are passionate about and become good at those things so that you can become great at that one thing that matters most.