Context matters

Not only are others blind to the larger context but we are often blind to their context. Only by zooming out and looking at the situations through the eyes of multiple people, can you begin to acquire perspective. And perspective is the key to removing blind-spots.

From https://fs.blog/2011/12/situations-matter/

For example: Knowing who wrote something provides useful context. In this case, the piece has no attribution—which is silly since it’s a useful, concise summary.

One way in which everyone—I can think of exactly one person, whom I’ve personally spoken with, who is the exception to that “everyone”—leaves out important context is by not being clear where ideas have come from. Everyone speaks as if each idea is patently obvious; “the sky is blue,” doesn’t need context when humans on Earth are speaking. But when you start to pay attention, almost everything else does need context. Where in fact did I hear this idea? Why am I repeating it here, in this conversation? Does my personal experience and opinion, agree or disagree with this idea?

A few years ago, I started demarcating ideas with, “I think…,” when it’s an original composition of thought, and “it seems obvious that…,” when that is the case. (And I only spout the third sort of idea—the ones I got from others—when I can recall or track down where I got it.) This forces me to sort my ideas by their contexts. Certain, uncertain, likely, unlikely, etc.. The first thing that happened was I started spouting off random crap far less often. The second thing that happened was that I found, (and have subsequently made a habit of looking into,) a lot of ideas in my head that were of dubious veracity.

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Do you have an “ask”?

I don’t always have an “ask.” But when I do, I make it clear and I usually lead with it. This plays out in countless ways, and I’m hoping it’s so obvious that I don’t need to give any examples. Rather, I’ll just go meta:

When you have an ask, is it clear—really clear—in your communication?

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Mindful communication

With few exceptions, e-mail use arose organically within organizations, with little thought applied to how digital communication might best serve the relevant objectives.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2015/06/18/the-e-mail-productivity-curve/

As usual, this is an interesting article from Newport. He proposes a productivity curve for email—how productive we are without, with-some, with-more, with-too-much—which explains perfectly why some people love email and some people hate it.

The key point about email is to use it intentionally. Not simply one’s own use; not simply, “I only check my email twice a day,” or, “I’m always at ‘inbox zero.'” The key is to deploy email wisely, in a way which increases productivity of a team, (family, community, whatever.) If adding email into the mix is going to increase productivity, then do so. Then zoom out and look at all your other communication tools, and perform the same calculus. Email is simply one example of a tool which initially [hopefully] increases productivity, but too-soon becomes a detriment.

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Why, on balance, I don’t use Slack

Someone asked me if I knew where the Slack was for such-and-so project. I said I didn’t know, but that I knew one did exist. I felt compelled to explain that I walked away from Slack entirely, but I couldn’t explain why succinctly. Next time this happens I can just link here. :)


What’s wrong with real-time chat?

I believe attention is one of your most precious resources. If something else controls my attention, that something else controls what I’m capable of. I also believe your full attention is required to do great work. So when something like a pile of group chats, and the expectations that come along with them, systematically steals that resource from me, I consider it a potential enemy. “Right now” is a resource worth conserving, not wasting.

~ Jason Fried from, https://m.signalvnoise.com/is-group-chat-making-you-sweat/

Slack is a stream of real-time communication. I don’t work that way. Yes, one can tune and configure just how/when/how-much the Stream from Slack interrupts and notifies you. But I prefer zero unexpected interruptions.

Here are three articles against Slack:

Productivity is best achieved through focus and flow, and anything that takes you away from your focus goes against productivity. So, Slack — which is built as an internal, real-time, “always on,” multi-channel system with notifications — is distracting by design.

~ Dvir Ben-Aroya from, https://medium.com/swlh/why-slack-will-never-replace-email-873a20856716

…in your 20’s you work by brute force, in your 30’s you find ways to work more efficiently, in your 40’s you see the horizon and think on more of a magnitude scale.

~ Kiki Jewell from, https://medium.com/@kikiorgg/why-slack-sucks-for-older-people-and-young-people-have-something-to-learn-8866a25e9951

With Slack I can either be there, being pinged regularly with company wide updates, updates for a channel that was relevant three hours ago but not now, questions from other users they could otherwise figure out but decide are easier to ask me; or select Do Not Disturb mode.

~ Christopher Batts from, https://medium.com/@chrisjbatts/actually-slack-really-sucks-625802f1420a

…and to be fair, one talking about some situations where it might be useful:

At one extreme are interruptions where your attention is demanded on the spot. These sorts of interruptions include a phone call or someone walking into your office. At the other extreme are interruptions that occur only on your time, email for example. Ideally all communication would occur over email (and not just to limit interruptions), but we do not live in an ideal world.

Slack and other similar tools fill the space between someone standing in your office and email.

~ Michael Atwood from, https://medium.com/@mdatwood/slack-does-not-suck-ea166d8a2fb1

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Spontaneity, creativity and the ability to connect

… A lot of it is relaxation. I ran into, the acting guru from the actors studio once, in an airport, and we just chatted. And he said, “you know what the actors in the movies in the 40s had, that was helpful to them? They knew how to make themselves relax on camera.” Because most of them were not experienced or trained actors, and they had to be comfortable. That’s why you constantly saw them lighting a cigarette or sitting on the edge of a desk. Anything to help them relax. And in that relaxation, which you can get other ways if you learn, comes spontaneity, creativity, the ability to connect with the other person, because you’re not worried about yourself. You’re not thinking ‘how am I doing, am I too fat…’

~ Alan Alda from, https://art19.com/shows/clear-vivid-with-alan-alda/episodes/4a35b668-2adc-4aa3-83b0-25ef831568d2

Theirs was a wide-ranging and very interesting conversation about the healing power of music. Around this part, they were talking about how some people seem to be natural-born communicators. In particular, how some people just seem to “fill up a space”—in a good way.

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