Is it “Lazy” not to Try and Change Something in Your Life?

We’re at the time of the year when people are starting to get tired of their New Year’s resolutions to hit the gym more, and the gyms start getting a little less crowded, and the gym companies start counting up their profits. If you’re one of the folks who fell off the resolution wagon, you might feel lazy. But what is “lazy?”

Understand something about our brains: they were originally built for primitive-level survival. We fall into habits because, back in Survival Days, those habits kept us alive. Changing things – eating a new berry, or trying something new – was often a good way to get killed. And so our brains are naturally resistant to trying something new, and naturally comfortable being in a safe groove.

Modern humans can recognize that and overcome it, which is where our innovators and disruptors come from. They know that “to try is to invite failure” is only one way to look at things; another way is, “to try is to live, and to fail is to invite another opportunity to try.”

Be the Master is in the hands of literally thousands of humans at this point, either physically or digitally. Yet very few bother to go through with The Grind™. Why bother? Where they are now is probably just fine, and going through the process represents something new. It doesn’t mean they’re lazy at all – it just means they’re doing what their brain has been conditioned to do over centuries of evolution. And that’s fine.

But I hope that some folks can recognize that conditioning, and force themselves to re-condition in a new way. To trust the process, to try it, and to keep at it until it becomes habitual. There’s zero danger to it, because the process doesn’t demand you change anything about your life. It merely asks that you look at it, and decide, actively, if that’s working for you.

That’s true for nearly anything where you might be saying, “someday, I should….” Why not today? Break out of the groove a bit and do something new, or different. See how it feels. Fail if you must, without fear.

Grab the book by popping in your email address below, and give it a shot.

Writing Workshop Part 2: List Your Points

Time for part 2! If you’re not familiar with this workshop, read the overview first. In this part, we’re going to look at making a list of points that you intend to make in your writing.

The toughest thing about writing is deciding what you will actually write about. It’s easy enough to set a starting point and end goal, as I write about in the previous Part of this workshop, but actually figuring out what goes between them can be hard.

I like to do this by brainstorming a list of bullet points that I need to hit on. As much as possible, I’ll try to put these in order.

I want to emphasize here that I personally do not value mind-maps. Maybe those work well for larger pieces; I don’t know. I’ve not run across a lot of successful writers who create productively from mind-maps. If they work for you, go for it, but remember something: while they can be good for endlessly capturing ideas and the relationships between them, mind-maps are horrible at evolving a linear sequence of ideas that build on each other. I see so many people spin and spin, growing ever-larger mind-maps, who come no closer to a cogent, sequential narrative after all that time.

Take this “Ask Me Anything” article on US Supreme Court Justice appointment. I knew when I set out that I wanted to make sure I made a few specific points:

  • Justices need to be impartial, but no human is apolitical.
  • What we say about our system to schoolchildren doesn’t necessarily reflect the complex reality of it.
  • The Constitution leaves a lot of blank spaces.
  • The Constitution is mainly a list of powers reserved for the Federal government, and everything else devolves to the States.

And so on. Those things aren’t necessarily in order, but they’re necessary to answer the question I was asked. As a second pass, I’ll try to order those in some sensible sequence. So I’ll rearrange the bullets until I feel they’re starting to form a narrative.

This bullet list is critical to me, because it serves as a literal checklist. When I’m done, I want to make sure I’ve covered each point. And yeah, sometimes I’ll go back and decide a bullet didn’t need to be covered, and that maybe I was being overly ambitious. It’s fine to modify as you go – just be wary of “scope creep,” and adding more than you need to cover to accomplish the goal of the piece.

After I get my bullet list done, I really triage it. Take this piece on DACA, for example. One of my goals, at the outset of the article, was to be “unbiased.” But as I started making my bullet list, I found myself with items like this:

  • Point to examples of the grief the DACA uncertainty causes.
  • Explain what Executive Orders are.
  • Explain discretionary enforcement.
  • Kids shouldn’t be punished for what their parents do.

As you can see, a couple of those bullets are contrary to my stated goal – they’re my opinions, and I didn’t set out to write an opinion piece. So during triage, I removed those. I’ll usually do triage a day, or even a few days, after I make the initial list. That gives me a cooling-off period, and lets me come back to the list with a fresh set of eyes.

Assignment

Taking the topic you’ve decided to write about, and your “start” and “end” points (from the Part 1 assignment), make your bullet list. Again, I’m open to reviewing and offering feedback prior to the end of 2019 if you post a link to your work as a comment here.

10x Thinking and You

There’s a meme that’s been going around for a while now about “10x thinking.” Basically, it’s the idea of looking at something and figuring out a way that you could not only make it a little better, but make it ten times better. And it’s a kind of thinking that everyone should be going, although not in quite the way you might imagine.

As an example: suppose you had to make a 10% improvement to email. That’s probably pretty easy to imagine. A better user interface might make your email client more productive, or better spam filters might help. But what if you needed to make it 10 times better? You’d likely end up with something that looks nothing like the email of today, and that’d make you a real innovator.

But what if you’re not an innovator? Does 10x thinking still apply?

YES.

If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. You know this saying, right? “If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” That’s a 10% improvement. What if you taught a hundred people? Apart from depopulating a marine ecosystem within two generations, you’d have made a 10x impact. You’re not fishing for 100 people; you’ve become a force multiplier and taught 100 people to fish. They can probably feed 1,000 people. So instead of feeding one guy, you’re indirectly responsible for feeding 1,000. That’s actually… let me get my calculator… 1000x thinking!

Look at the people around you. No, not the ones who’re smarter than you, or better than you, or whatever your Imposter Syndrome is telling you. The ones around you. The people at work, sure, but also the people in your home, your neighborhood, and your community. Where can you be a force multiplier?

This is the heart of the apprentice/Master message of Be the Master. Remember, Masters were primarily intended to protect and preserve the knowledge and skills of their trades by passing them on to apprentices. But one Master could potentially have many apprentices. They became force multipliers. Every village could have a blacksmith, rather than villagers having to travel for days to the nearest one.

This is how we improve the human condition. I’m not being dramatic, here. I’m pointing out that wealth, success, and happiness are locked up in two main axes: opportunity and skills. You can absolutely provide skills to other people. You don’t need to be an expert (Some blacksmiths couldn’t even make shields). You just need to have a skill that someone else can learn from you. Maybe you can’t provide opportunities for everyone, but if you can help pass along your valuable skills to others, then they’ve won half the battle.

Add 10x thinking to your daily life. Be a force multiplier. Start today.

Stop Trying to Impress Your Heroes

It’s a natural human thing to want to please the people you look up to. We do that with our parents, and we also do it with our heroes. You know, the people in our profession or lives that we admire, and perhaps want to be like. We should stop that.

Setting aside family, here’s my reasoning:

Wanting to impress your heroes sets up a sometimes-impossible situation. You’re taking someone who, by definition, you consider better than yourself, and you want to impress them? I’m not saying you can’t, of course. You definitely can. But why do you want to?

Instead of looking up at your heroes, consider turning around. Look at the people who maybe haven’t achieved as much as you have, or maybe haven’t yet learned as much as you. Who have less experience, maybe, or who simply haven’t had an opportunity that you may have had.

Be a hero to them. Impress them. And while you’re at it, lift them up. Teach them something. Give them an opportunity. Share some experience with them. And as you’re doing so, make it clear that you’re already proud of what they’re attempting and achieving, and that you want them to someday turn around and do the same for someone else.

That’s what being a Master is all about.

Writing Workshop, Part 1: Set the Scene

Time for part 1! If you’re not familiar with this workshop, read the overview first. In this part, we’re going to discuss the first thing I do anytime I start writing: set the scene.

Now, that’s not the same as “setting the scene” in a story, per se, but it’s close. For example, consider this article on impeachment in the USA. Right at the outset, I did two important things:

  • I stated who the article is for. That’s important, because it sets up some instant assumptions. Someone not from the US, for example, might not even be aware that we have two houses within our Federal legislature, and so my writing needs to take that into account.
  • I implicitly stated my goal. I want to explain what impeachment is, in a non-partisan fashion.

Any good bit of writing needs to put your reader in the center seat. The writing needs to be for and about them, not me. A lot of writers will tackle this bluntly and head-on, which is fine:

I’m going to teach you how to reinstall macOS on a computer where the operating system needs to be reset to the factory condition. I assume you know very little about installing macOS, but that you have a copy of the installation software on a USB drive that will attach to your computer.

That’s a pretty straightforward statement, but it can also be a bit “cold” for me. I might start with something like that in my planning process, but my actual prose might be a bit different:

Ever have a Mac that you need to sell or give to someone else? You’ll want to reset everything back to factory defaults, and make sure your own personal information is removed, right? But what if you’ve never done that before? So long as you have a copy of a macOS installer on a USB drive, the process is pretty straightforward. Let’s get started!

I’ve said the same thing, there, I’ve just done it in a bit more of a narrative style. In just one short paragraph, I’ve laid out the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me. I’ve let the reader know what’s expected of them, and what they’re going to get out of it. This isn’t about me – it’s about them.

And another thing: most of the time that I’m writing, I’m not writing about something that’s new to me. That is, I’m not experimenting, figuring stuff out, and writing about it. I’m usually writing about something I know well. There’s a very good reason for that.

Teaching someone something through writing is a linear, sequential process. As the writer, I pick where I start, where I go next, and where I finish. “Where I start” is determined by who my reader is at the outset, and “where I end” is determined by who I want them to be at the conclusion. Everything in between needs to present the shortest, smoothest path between those two points.

Learning and experimentation, however, are often non-sequential. I might try something, research a bit, try some more, and then realize I’ve screwed up and need to start over. I don’t want that to be the “narrative” a reader follows, because it would be confusing. So I need to write about things I already know and have done. That way, I’ve already charted out the smoothest path, and I’ve identified and eliminated the tangents I may have burned time on when I was learning.

Another point: don’t feel you can only write things that would impress other people. Most people who’ve worked with PowerShell for a while, for example, would tell you that Don Jones is a master of the shell. They’d be wrong. Very, very wrong, in fact. They see me that way because in most cases they learned the fundamentals of the shell from me, or my books, or my classes, or something. What they don’t know is that, past that entry-level and intermediate stuff, I’m nigh-useless. I’m really good at explaining what I do know, and there’s a lot of value in that, but there are plenty of people in the PowerShell world who far exceed my knowledge and skill, especially in more esoteric, advanced topics. So it’s fine to write about “basic stuff.” Someone out there will need it, and benefit from it.

Assignment

This assignment is twofold. Remember, you’re welcome to post your work in a blog post, or in a Markdown doc in a GitHub public repo. If you post that URL as a comment to this article prior to the end of 2019, I’ll do my best to review it and offer feedback. Sorry, but I can’t commit to offering feedback after the end of 2019.

Part 1: Decide what you’re going to write about. Try to pick a topic you can do in about 1,000 words, which is roughly two pages in Word. That means you need to think small. And it doesn’t have to be technical: you might explain something about your government, for example, as I sometimes do.

Part 2: Decide who your reader is and who you want them to be. Writing of this nature is about making change, and in order to do that, you need to define your start and end points, so that your writing can cover the in-between. This might be as easy as, “someone who doesn’t know what a Home Owners’ Association is” and “someone who can explain what an HOA typically can and cannot do.”

Get to it! You’ve got a week!

Mentoring (ugh)

I do not love the word mentor. That’s because it’s actually a dude’s name. Mentor. So saying mentoring is a lot like saying “oh, I was rogered at work today,” which British people will assure you is not a desirable thing. But the activity that we all use the word mentor to describe is useful, and it’s bidirectional.

Having a good mentor within your company – ideally someone in your basic part of the company, but not in your direct line of reports – can be invaluable. They can help you better understand company culture, spot opportunities from further away (so you have time to position yourself for them), offer advice and a sounding board when you need it, and help you understand the personalities of the company higher-ups. Mentors can provide invaluable recommendations when you’re ready to move up, and if you share your definition of “success” with them, they can help steer you toward it.

Being a mentor is also valuable. And… oh, wait. Let’s get this out of the way.

YOU ABSOLUTELY DO KNOW ENOUGH THINGS TO BE A MENTOR FOR SOMEONE ELSE, PLEASE TAKE YOUR IMPOSTER SYNDROME OUT BACK AND SHOOT IT IN THE HEAD, THANKS.

OK. Being a mentor is valuable, too. You get a different perspective on your company and your own career. You’re helping to uplift someone else, which is immensely satisfying. You’re often forced to think about things in a new way, which is good for all of us. You’ll improve your communication skills. You’ll start thinking about people as people, and you’ll start gaining empathy for other people’s perspectives, goals, and challenges.

And if you’re really, really lucky, one of the people you’ve mentored (I refuse to use “mentee,” because Mentor’s student was named Telemachus, not Mentee) will support you as you move through your career. And if you’re really blessed, they’ll surpass you. Trust me, there’s no greater feeling than seeing someone you’ve helped tae full advantage of it and rise to the heights they’ve earned.

Self-Paced Writing Workshop: Be a Better Writer, Blogger, Wordcrafter

After several reader requests, a great many discussions, and a good bit of thinking, de-constructing, and planning, I’m ready to launch a “self-paced writing workshop.” This will consist of a series of blog posts, right here, along with exercises you can do on your own. The goal?

To help you become the best writer/blogger/whatever you can be!

Now, some caveats:

I’m not going to assume you want to do technical writing, although this’ll work perfectly well if you do. I’ll try to provide both technical and non-technical examples as I go.

I’m not going to focus on the specifics of the language. That is, I won’t be trying too hard to exhibit perfect grammar, spelling, or punctuation. In professional writing, you tend to have an editor to help with those things, and I also don’t want to assume you’ll be writing in English, which is all I know. What I’ll cover should be applicable in any language.

If you’d like to play along, I suggest logging into your WordPress.com account (or creating one, if you don’t have one), and subscribing to this blog. That way, you can get an email notification each time a new post goes up (which will be roughly weekly, if you’d rather set a reminder to check back manually). You can always un-subscribe once the series is complete.

And a stern warning: like many topics, this will only work if you play along, which means actually doing the exercises. In fact, I’m happy to review as many as I can through the remainder of 2019. So I suggest that you set up a blog, if you don’t have one – Wordpress.com ones are free, and you can take it down when we’re done, if you like. As you complete each exercise, post its URL as a comment to the corresponding article here, and I’ll go through them as best I can. Make sure your blog permits comments, because that’s where I’ll leave my feedback.

And now a request! If you’re a good reader, then I ask that you lurk in the comments on my articles. Grab the URLs as they’re posted, and go have a look. Offer your own feedback to the author. Be polite, be professional, and be constructive – meaning your feedback is actionable. This is how we can all help each other not only get better, but gain more confidence in our work. Confident people produce more, which benefits us all.

The initial articles I post won’t have you creating full blog posts. Oh, no. We’re going to go through the process. So your initial posts will be capturing thoughts, producing short outlines, and so on. Again, you’re welcome to take your blog down, or delete the articles, once you’re done, if you don’t want your “process” to be saved for all time.

Alternate way to participate: perform your work in a public GitHub repo, and post that URL instead when you’re soliciting feedback. Commenters (including me) will open an Issue with feedback. Commenters, please open one Issue for all of your feedback; don’t open one for each comment you make.

Sound good? I’ll see ya next week!

[politics] Impeachment: An Explainer

A bunch of my non-US friends – and for that matter, some of my US friends – have asked me about my thoughts on the current Presidential impeachment investigation, and in doing so they’ve revealed some misunderstandings about the process that I wanted to try and clear up.

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Brainstorm Your Day

Do you ever wish you had more time in the day? You can’t, of course, but you can certainly optimize. Create better productive times, acknowledge needed breaks, and more. Let’s analyze your day and brainstorm some improvements!

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