Discipline is hard – harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
The list of posts on this blog referring to the 10,000 hour rule, the need for deliberate practice, the books Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, is long. We have chronicled the ascendancy of, the centrality of — call it what you will – “work ethic,” “it take s10,000 hours to master anything…” thinking.
The quote that indicts me personally, in a way that I cannot escape, is the one from Gawande: “We can’t even keep from snacking between meals.”
With the exception of our military, we are a flabby lot, and I’m not just talking about girth. We are merely disgusting in that department. I’m talking about our self-discipline, our individual will, our self-respect, our voluntary order.
Note the operative words: self, individual and voluntary.
We don’t need bureaucrats and politicians to dictate how to behave; how to spend (or save); what and how to eat. We need to be the people we were meant to be: strong, resilient, disciplined, entrepreneurial, focused, wise, playful, humorous, humble, thoughtful and, please, self-deprecating. We have all the tools and opportunities a planet can confer.
We are a flabby lot. And it shows – not in a good way. We’ve read all about 10,000 hours, but how many of us actually put in the work?
As always, we are back to the “knowing-doing gap.” We know, we just don’t do…
Take inventory. Be honest with yourself. Are you flabby, undisciplined, unfocused? If so, you’ve got your work cut out for you (as do I). Let’s get to it.
Back in my preaching days, I had the challenge of preaching a thanksgiving sermon each year. I loved the challenge – there is, always, so much to be thankful for.
I remember my favorite Thanksgiving “story.” It was told by the great British Preacher W. E. Sangster. He told of one woman who simply refused to be grateful for anything. He pushed her, and prodded her, demanding that she find one thing she was grateful for. She finally said: “I suppose I’m grateful that my last two teeth hit each other.”
Well, there is one recent, wildly popular book, that is, in reality, one long Thanksgving paean. It is Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. He demonstrates that success is the result of so many different influences; the 10,000 hours of practice (deliberate practice); culture, family. But he ends the book with his own grateful remembrance of where his success came from. You’ll need to read the last chapter on your own to get the full context of these thoughts. Here’s the really terrific last paragraph of his book:
My great-great-great-grandmother was bought at Alligator Pond. That act, in turn, gave her son, John Ford, the privilege of a skin color that spared him a life of slavery. The culture of possibility that Daisy Ford embraced and put to use so brilliantly on behalf of her daughters was passed on to her by the peculiarities of the West Indian social structure. And my mother’s education was the product of the riots of 1937 and the industriousness of Mr. Chance. These were history’s gifts to my family — and if the resources of that grocer, the fruits of those riots, the possibilities of that culture, and the privileges of that skin tone had been extended to others, how many more would now live a life of fulfillment, in an beautiful house high on a hill?
“history’s gifts to my family…” — Happy Thanksgiving!
My colleague Karl Krayer teaches eight principles in his sessions on writing skills. One principle is this: economize words. It is a valuable principle.
I recently took some Q&A. The last question was asked by a guy in the front row. He said “What’s your take on the true value of a university education?” I shared my general opinion (summary: great socially, but not realistic enough academically) and ended with a description of a course I’d like to see taught in college. In fact, I’d like to teach it.
It would be a writing course. Every assignment would be delivered in five versions: A three page version, a one page version, a three paragraph version, a one paragraph version, and a one sentence version.
I don’t care about the topic. I care about the editing. I care about the constant refinement and compression. I care about taking three pages and turning it one page. Then from one page into three paragraphs. Then from three paragraphs into one paragraph. And finally, from one paragraph into one perfectly distilled sentence.
Along the way you’d trade detail for brevity. Hopefully adding clarity at each point. This is important because I believe editing is an essential skill that is often overlooked and under appreciated. The future belongs to the best editors.
I do think this is right; good; useful.
On the other hand, the details matter too. “You’d trade detail for brevity,” said Fried. Yes, you would. So, study the writing of both Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell. I think they both have learned how to provide great detail, with few words.
So – learn what Fried suggests, then work on getting detail back in, in few words. Economize words, even in your details.
And remember this from Frank Luntz. Provide the “perfectly distilled sentence.” Then the one-page executive summary. Then, for those who want more, in a click away, provide the three pages of details:
(A Luntz Lesson) The number one priority: information. More is better than less. Details are better than generalities. Comprehensive is better than simplistic. Long term is better than immediate… Summarize the material for those who want to read less, but provide the fine print for those who want to know more.
(from What Americans REALLY WANT…REALLY: The Truth about our Hopes, Dreams, and Fears)
Malcolm Gladwell has a new article. That sentence alone sends me to read the article immediately. He is the most curious of writers, and such a good and thorough storyteller.
His latest, Overdrive: Who really rescued General Motors? is based on the book Overhaul by Steven Rattner, and tells the story of the overhaul of General Motors. It is filled with insight. But this section jumped out at me:
Kristin Dziczek, of the Center for Automotive Research, estimates that the “new” G.M. is roughly eighty-five per cent the product of the work that Wagoner, in concert with the U.A.W., did in his eight years at the company and fifteen per cent the product of Team Auto’s efforts. That seems about right: car companies stand or fall, ultimately, on the strength of their product, and teaching a giant company how to build a quality car again is something that can’t be done on the private-equity timetable.
This is business success in a nutshell. After all is said and done, the quality of the product makes all the difference.
A few years ago, I was driving out in Lewisville (near Dallas), and noticed a new large store. I don’t remember the name, but walked in to check it out. It was clearly some kind of Container Store knock-off. They were trying to out Container Store The Container Store. What an impossibility! The Container Store oozes quality, along with its superior and legendary customer service. This store looked similar – but a walk though the aisles told me quickly that the quality was simply not a match. This was a counterfeit, a pale imitation… And, predictably, the store is long gone.
Whatever your business is, here’s your real test: how’s your quality? If it’s not the best, the top…if you don’t ooze quality, then your work is cut out for you. Get to work on quality. Only after the quality is there can you do all that other stuff that is needed for success.
Here’s the latest list of Hardcover Business Best Sellers. The New York Times publishes this on the first weekend each month.
Here’s one observation – look at the how long a few of these have been on the list. The “champion” for the longevity prize has to be the Ferriss book, The 4-Hour Work Week, which came out in April, 2007. Gladwell’s Outliers came out in November, 2008. Both still on the best seller list. Amazing! Plenty of others from the list have been around quite some time!
|1||DELIVERING HAPPINESS, by Tony Hsieh. (Grand Central, $23.99.) Lessons from business (pizza place, worm farm, Zappos) and life. (†)|
|2||OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell. (Little, Brown, $27.99.) Why some people succeed — it has to do with luck and opportunities as well as talent — from the author of “Blink” and “The Tipping Point.”|
|3||THE BIG SHORT, by Michael Lewis. (Norton, $27.95.) The people who saw the real estate crash coming and made billions from their foresight.|
|4||SWITCH, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. (Broadway Business, $26.) How everyday people can effect transformative change at work and in life. (†)|
|5||THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER, by Dave Ramsey (Thomas Nelson, $24.99.) Debt reduction and fiscal fitness for families, by the radio talk-show host. (†)|
|6||GOOD BOSS, BAD BOSS, by Robert I. Sutton. (Business Plus, $23.99.) How great bosses differ from the just so-so, or worse. (†)|
|7*||THE MENTOR LEADER, by Tony Dungy. (Tyndale House, $24.99.) The former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts football team offers tips for helping to inspire growth. (†)|
|8||THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK, by Timothy Ferriss. (Crown, $22.) Reconstructing your life so that it’s not all about work. (†)|
|9||THE ORANGE REVOLUTION, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. (Free Press, $25.) A guide to building high-performance teams capable of transforming organizations. (†)|
|10*||STRENGTHS BASED LEADERSHIP, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. (Gallup, $24.95.) Three keys to being a more effective leader. (†)|
|11||AFTERSHOCK, by Robert B. Reich. (Knopf, $25.) Looking at the future of the United States economy, the Clinton-era labor secretary fears that inevitable national belt-tightening could trigger a political convulsion.|
|12||REWORK, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. (Crown Business, $22.) Counterintuitive rules for small-business success, like “Ignore the details early on” and “Good enough is fine.” (†)|
|13||DRIVE, by Daniel H. Pink. (Riverhead, $26.95.) What really motivates people is the quest for autonomy, mastery and purpose, not external rewards.|
|14||SUPERFREAKONOMICS, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $29.99.) A scholar and a journalist apply economic thinking to everything: the sequel.|
|15||THE ONE MINUTE NEGOTIATOR, by Don Hutson and George Lucas. (Berrett-Koehler, $21.95.) Simple steps for reaching better agreements. (†)|
(Wiki/Twitter activism) is simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause.
(Malcolm Gladwell, from his latest…)
I am a big fan of the whole social media, Twitter revolution, Wikinomics era thing going on.
I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell. (I’ve presented his first three books at the First Friday Book Synopsis).
In Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (I can’t wait to read Tapscott’s new book!), we learn that there is a whole new world out there from the connections, put everything up there and out there on the web, approach to innovation.
So – Twitter, wiki, everybody gets access, everybody gets connected, is the answer to all of our problems. Right?
Not so fast.
Malcolm Gladwell’s latest is: Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted. He acknowledges that Twitter, and the whole new world, has its place. Its place is just limited. When you want a real revolution, it won’t provide what we need.
In the article, Gladwell contrasts the massive work behind the scenes in the Civil Rights era 50 years ago to the environment of today. Consider these excerpts:
These events in the early sixties became a civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of the decade—and it happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or Twitter.
Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.
The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life
But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
Gladwell reminds us that the people who sat at lunch counters in the 60’s were literally tempting some goons to bash their heads in – and some of the heads were bashed in. It took a lot of preparation, a lot of serious organization, a lot of courage – not “weak ties,” but very, very strong ties. Twitter wasn’t needed, and would not have been enough to pull this off.
In the world of politics, there is a new observation developing, which Gladwell alludes to. People who read blogs and even write in blogs are under the impression that they are involved, they are activists, changing the world. But the evidence is not yet backing this up.
Here’s what I think. Gladwell is a master at raising the right question – a master of tapping into the Zeitgeist, saying just the right things at the right time. I’ve read this new article carefully – even as I have just thrown Tapscott’s new book, Macrowikinomcs, into my “I should present this book” mix. Let’s just say that I am trying to figure out just what Twitter and the new world can – and cannot – accomplish.
Read Gladwell’s article here. It’s worth the time.