Reflection

[…] if you applied this approach, there’s not a strengths-weaknesses binary. It’s, “is this particular skill where I need it to be or not?” […] That could be a skill—if I’m understanding this correctly—that you’re identifying, “I need to get this even farther to get where I want to get.” You might be at a skill level there that everyone would say that’s a strength of yours, you’re really good at that. And so it seems like the strength-weakness binary, is not that useful, at least in this framework. It’s just where you’re trying to get, and what skills are not where they need to be to get you there.

~ Cal Newport ~1h9m from, Deep Questions episode 39 with David Epstein, https://www.buzzsprout.com/1121972/6035176?t=4140

David Epstein is, most recently, the author of Range. Newport and Epstein’s conversation ranges—sorry—widely, and nearer the end they get into talking about reflection as a mastery tool. Epstein mentions a particular reflection process as something he had included only in passing in his first book, The Sports Gene.

Newport’s point, quoted above, changed how I think about skill level. Epstein had been discussing how he’d learned of Marije T Elferink-Gemser‘s research. Based in the Netherlands, a team had been running these things called the Groningen talent studies for over a decade studying skills, proficiency and mastery in Soccer athletes.

These were questions that, the first time I asked, she sent and said, you answer these at least every month. What’s your goal has to be as clear as possible, but it doesn’t need to be realistic at this point. …dreaming is allowed at this point. Do you have any idea of what’s needed to perform at the level you aim for? How do I make sure how do I make sure that I get an even better idea of what’s needed to perform at that level? How am I going to arrange that? Who are the people I need to reach that goal? And how can I make sure that they’ll help me to reach that personal goal? Am I sure I want to reach the goal and why? Those were the original set of questions that I received.

~ David Epstein, ibid.

That’s a tremendous set of questions for self-reflection!

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Three habits

The thing about really deep learning is it actually changes the structure of your brain. You are breaking an old pathway and creating a new neurological pathway. […] The three habits I’ve talked about—seeing in systems, taking multiple perspectives and asking different questions. Those are the natural habits of people who are farther along in this adult development path. If we can encourage ourselves to develop some of those patterns in ourselves, and we can be learning those things in ways that create new neural networks, then suddenly, we are living our way into these more advanced forms of development as we are just going about our daily lives.

~ Jennifer Garvey Berger from ~1h 13m into, The Mental Habits of Effective Leaders with; transcript edited for clarity; https://fs.blog/knowledge-project-podcast/jennifer-garvey-berger/

This episode from Shane Parrish’s, The Knowledge Project, podcast is excellent. About two-thirds of the way through the 90 minutes, they start going really deep into mental habits including specifics of how to change one’s mindset. The title of the episode could well be expanded to, …of Effective People.

I’ve been asked how it is that I do what I do, in podcast conversations. Here Berger and Parrish have explained it; Frankly, I better understand how I do it, now having listened to Berger. These three habits she points out are the magic that I use to power my conversations. I’ve always had the habit—my parents would say, “to a fault”—of asking good questions. About 35 years ago, when I became immersed in engineering, physics, computers, and the Internet I perfected the habit—here I would say, “to a fault”—of thinking in systems. And 10 years ago, as I began my journey rediscovering my personal movement, I realized the magnificent knowledge and experience available to me through others’ perspectives.

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Audience

Elisa Graf is both a writer and an editor and has started a podcast called Mystic Takeaway. She loves stories about the transcendent and the everyday world colliding, and the surprise, joy, and wonder that ensues. Her podcast showcases extraordinary stories of mysterious encounters and miraculous healings.

In our conversation, we found ourselves talking about podcast show statistics. They come up often when people first dive into podcasting. Everyone quickly realizes there’s an array of numbers that can be tracked. But what do those numbers mean? What numbers should we be shooting for? What does a “download” or “listener” even mean? But rather than dive into techno-babble, I was curious about what first surprised Elisa about podcasting stats when she published her podcast.

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Storytelling

Linda McLachlan is the host and creative spark behind The Arena. Our conversation began with the topic of storytelling. I was interested in learning how she was using storytelling in the context of her podcast. In particular, I wondered if her thoughts on storytelling had changed after applying it to podcasting.

In The Arena, Linda uses a mostly consistent set of questions to power her conversation with her guests. This started as a backbone around which, in each conversation, she could find other questions to ask and build it out. Unexpectedly, the story that comes out each time is quite different.

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Consistent, Current and Context-driven

The podcast episode, Consistent, Current and Context-driven, is a scant 5 minutes and 43 seconds long. You’ll probably want to pause and take some notes. After it widens your eyes, go revisit your copy of Getting Things Done—or omgbecky buy a copy, …how do you not own a copy?

Everything I have ever accomplished is because I have systems within which I can think and operate; our brains are for having ideas, not for remembering things [such as: to-do lists, dates, reminders, etc.]

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Mastery, purpose, and autonomy

A highly influential book for me in designing Automattic was Daniel Pink’s Drive, where he eloquently introduces the three things that really matter in motivating people: mastery, purpose, and autonomy. Mastery is the urge to get better skills. Purpose is the desire to do something that has meaning, that’s bigger than yourself. These first two principles physically co-located companies can be great at. But the third, autonomy, is where even the best in-office company can never match a Level 4 or above distributed company.

~ Matt Mullenweg from, https://ma.tt/2020/04/five-levels-of-autonomy/

I’ve read and listened to a bunch of stuff from Mullenweg and he’s consistently someone with his head on straight and his priorities—particularly those related to the many people working for his company—in order. If you just went, “Matt who?” definitely read that little post, and then, perhaps, dip into his podcast, Distributed. (Maybe try the episode, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg on building a fully distributed company, to get a good taste.)

Also, yes, more autonomy for everyone.

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Vitality

Brett McKay: But how can men maintain that vitality, even when they have those responsibilities they have at home?

Vic Verdier: I personally use two strategies, if you want. The first one is very easy. It’s to read books, books and biographies, novels, books of adventures, books of people taking risk. I’m thinking Hemingway, Jack London, but also biographies of great leaders who took risks, and thanks to you, Brett, I learned more about Theodore Roosevelt and the way he reinvented himself all the time, challenging himself. And when you read those books, you realize that you don’t really have anything to lose by trying new things all the time. So that’s my first strategy, getting some inspiration from reading. The second strategy for me is to, on a weekly basis, to do some kind of self-assessment, meaning every week I’m thinking about my life and what I’m doing, and when I start to settle down, I know it’s time to do something different. Do you remember this movie, Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray is repeating the same day over and over again?

Brett McKay: Of course.

Vic Verdier: I think… If I live twice the same day, somehow I wasted one day. So I try to have some diversity in my life, and every time I think that I fall into some kind of routine, I know I have to explore something else or go somewhere else or do… Take another course or learn some new skills.

~ From https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-stay-fit-as-you-age/

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This wide-ranging conversation with Verdier touches on everything from his military and deep diving careers, to Parkour, MoveNat and general ways to stay fit and healthy. Worth a listen, and doubly-so if you’re a dude over 40. (Or know one.)

There’s an embedded player on that page, or find episode 704 of The Art of Manliness podcast, How to Keep Your Edge as You Get Older.

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The joy of being wrong

Now more than ever, opinions divide us. Meanwhile, our ability to effectively communicate has degraded, fueled by social media algorithms and self-selected information silos that confirm our biases, calcify our world views, and consequently drive us even further apart. As a result we suffer—individually and as a collective.

~ Rich Roll from, https://www.richroll.com/podcast/adam-grant-580/

I’ve been cherry-picking episodes of the Rich Roll Podcast, and this is another superlative one. Roll’s discussion—about a half hour in if memory serves—of trying to be a “lighthouse” makes clear an important point about modeling behavior: Be the change you want to see in the world.

Grant and Roll talk a lot about Grant’s new book; That’s a model for a podcast episode which I usually do not like. And they talk almost as much about competitive swimming and diving, which are two more things I’m generally disinterested in. But to my delight, I enjoyed through (contrast with the more usual ‘sat through’) the first half, and currently have the second half awaiting my ears.

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Narrative

Cinematic Portraiture … I try to make a picture that draws elements of a larger scene happening. For me it’s always that challenge of how do you come up with a picture that gets the essence of the person, but also does a little more.

It’s different depending on the medium, but there are some things that are the same throughout. One of them is, you have to know or define your narrative because you’re always telling a story whether it’s in a single frame or in a two hour documentary. The first thing for me is to know what story I’m telling. With photographs it’s often, I read about the person, I start sketching ideas, and hopefully I can make up a story that I can tell that is true with that person. If it’s a music video, I’ll try to get what I want to say about the song; Whether it’s trying to be very literal or trying to be very opposite, I still have to know the story I want to tell. With doing Off Camera, it really is— You could talk to anyone for 100 hours and not get even close to their whole deal, so the idea is to try to pick the things you really want to look into and develop a little narrative.

~ Sam Jones starting around 44:50, from https://www.richroll.com/podcast/how-to-cultivate-your-authentic-voice-with-sam-jones-rrp-126/

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Sam Jones is well-known for his Off-Camera project. Each “episode” is a photoshoot, documentary video, podcast and print magazine. This interview from 2015 on Rich Roll’s podcast covers a wide range of things related to being creative. This podcast episode is a true gem.

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