The fastest way home was in the complete opposite direction

After the 4th of July this year we took a new way home. In the past, the fireworks would end somewhere between 9:50-10:10pm and I wouldn’t get home till 11-11:30pm. With two small kids in the back, I was pretty frustrated by the end. Just sitting in traffic, breathing fumes, no one is moving, and the kids are cranky and whining. Perfect.

This time I parked in the same spot, but, to go home, I went in the opposite direction. I went out of my way to go the “wrong way”. Turns out, the fireworks ended about 9:50pm and we were home by 10:10pm. Pretty remarkable! Happy ending.

As I was driving home feeling very happy, I couldn’t help but reflect on how this is a metaphor for life. In order to get where we need to go, we often need to take several steps in the “wrong” direction to get where we want to go. This is easily seen in business (at least for me) when you need to rebuild, start from scratch, wipe the slate and begin anew. It’s tough. You invested so much in that first project, that product, that team, that philosophy or ideal…and yet. And yet the best thing for the overall mission is ditching it and starting over. Sometimes in the wrong direction.

So next time you feel like everything is going terribly wrong, or you can’t catch a break, or that the workload is insurmountable, ask yourself, “what do I gain by continuing the path I’m on?” 

If you’re feeling stuck, if you’re in a position where the only way out is working more hours, if you don’t have the right team and you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, if your systems are failing or aren’t enough…then call a time out. Why continue to slam your head against a brick wall? Why?Because it’s easier than the alternative. Working more hours, doing the same thing, or throwing more resources at the problem is simply easier than facing the real issue. If the issue is personnel, it’s easier to leave that alone rather than having the difficult conversation (or firing them). If the issue is rebuilding the framework, that will require a HUGE investment and delay so many other projects that you’ve pressured yourself to ship on time. 

You have a sunk cost bias on whatever it is that you’ve invested in and you will struggle to let that go. The best thing you can do for yourself is let it go, drop it, and move on. You may feel shame because you feel like you “gave up”. To hit our overarching goal, sometimes the faster way home is starting in the complete opposite direction.

Praying for humility

 Have you ever wished that you were more humble? I have. It’s not a pretty ending.

I have a friend who wished for humility and soon after he got his car totaled, lost some things, and more bad things happened. His wife was understandably pretty upset with him as she relayed the story to me, with him in the room!

I’ve been reading the book Antifragile and been thinking, “I should become more anti-fragile.“ Well, that’s pretty much like wishing or praying for humility. You get what you asked for but it’s not fun. 

You wish you could learn it from watching Netflix rather than experiencing it. Yet it’s that very hard lesson that teaches us so much that it sinks deep into our core. Many of our memories fade. These lessons stick. Cherish these bitter tasting events as they guide you. Be grateful you failed because it made you stronger. 

Rollercoasters, Boredom, and Foie Gras Sandwiches

I wrote this post last summer, but have been holding onto it. I finally am ready to hit publish.

A couple years back I watched a travel channel/food network show one time with Canadian chefs who want to do fine dining and create an elaborate experience, but created a foie gras sandwich because that’s what the young market demanded. Essentially, the original was insufficient. It does exist and it’s in Montreal. It’s served at Joe Beef and is called the Foie Gras Double Down Sandwich, in case you were wondering.

In a similar way, technology is addicting. We are glued to social media, news, TV, Netflix, and so much more. I had to pull myself away from an article that didn’t matter to my life to watch my darling daughter play with a toy and simply relish that moment. My attention was attached to the wrong thing.

When was the last time you had the willpower to put down your computer, set your tablet aside, leave your phone, disconnect your watch, and any other items of technology and simply be? Were you too afraid because you were “disconnected” and all you had were your thoughts? When will enough technology be enough for us? If Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and others aren’t enough, what is the right number? If we need more devices (phones, tablets, watches, bluetooth speakers…), then when will it be enough?

Now is probably a good time to share that I love technology; I am no technophobe. I have many devices at home and allow my kids to watch TV and play games. But I also see the inherent dangers and the relational damage caused by it. 

There’s a reason the Catholic Church and other religions have called gluttony a sin. It’s not merely to protect our bodies (flesh), but to protect our lives (relationships and souls). We can binge on food, TV, work, and more — it’s not exclusively food that weakens our willpower. As we use food and other things as a distraction, what becomes of our souls?

Screens are a contraceptive to boredom. We’re afraid of our own thoughts, of the silence that may ensue. And yet…and yet that’s exactly what we need…to get off the rollercoaster because we cannot keep riding forever. 

Can we get off, to rest, to reflect, and to be grateful for the lives we’ve been given? How long can we keep binging?

Stealing ideas and original ideas

I reread the post Your First Thought Is Rarely Your Best Thought: Lessons on Thinking by Farnam Street and, upon reflection, thought about Lincoln Murphy’s open complaint about how people are stealing his material (you can substitute “Lincoln Murphy” for just about anyone as ideas are stolen or “borrowed” all the time). Aside from the hucksters who do it maliciously, why do we steal ideas? 

Could it be that our first idea was not so great? Could it be that we could not come up with something better? Maybe it’s because he or she has got it all figured out and there’s really nothing else to add. If a speaker, coach, or pundit is 100% correct, then what incremental improvement will I find down the road? 

So why do we steal? I think it’s because our best ideas require more effort and it’s easier to grab someone else’s lunch from the fridge than it is to get our own. We know Tom usually brings a good lunch and we are pretty sure he won’t need it because he’s scheduled to go out today. So it’s fine. It’s easier to take than to create.

Or take deadlines. If I have a deadline to write a college paper, save an account, or win an election, I’m under a lot of pressure. It’s far easier to take what’s already proven. Besides, it’s more like “borrowing” anyways. So we justify it. I’m tired, it’s the end of a long week of travel and I want the easy way out. 

Another possibility is since childhood we were taught not necessarily to be creative, but follow a form. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That English paper or math question taught us the building blocks of how it’s put together. So we disassemble and reassemble over and over. We learn structures, but not originality.

It’s easier to steal what works than to risk investing in something that may flop. This starts out with our thinking. We’re afraid to invest in thinking. As Shane says in the linked article above, “a lot of people see thinking more than a few minutes as a waste of time…” 
If we don’t explicitly see the return on investment, we usually scrap the idea. The same is true for thinking. Thus, we limit our investment in thinking. That habit leads us to steal from others rather than create because we lack the research and development. We don’t fully understand the nuances and components, so we source ideas from others.

You Become What You Measure

Spend a couple moments and fill in the blank: I want to become a better ________. 
Did you fill it something like employee, leader, or something related to your work? Maybe as I recently wrote, a thought leader? Or did you say something like “parent”, “spouse”, “friend”, or something a bit more personal? 
There’s the saying “you are what you eat.” There’s truth to it. In our Information Age, the phrase “the things that get measured, get done” is both powerful, and scary. Here are a few examples:

  • We have the number friends, followers, or connections on social media, so we are drawn to track our worth against that.
  • We use Screen Time or another app to minimize screen time, instead of maximize joy time.
  • We measure our worth by our salary, so we double-down on that.

Measuring the easy thing, not the right thing
When adventurous Europeans set sail westward and had no clue where they were going or if they were going to fall off the edge of the world (the Europeans believed in a flat earth then), cartography (map-making) was a critical key. They used the known stars to help guide them. They used other indicators (wind, direction, sun, and math) to help create maps so they know roughly where they were. As error-prone as their process was, they still had a terrific way of tracking where they were headed and how to get back home (usually). Their lives depended on measuring the right thing.
In our modern age, we often pick a metric that’s easy to calculate, readily available, or something that’s free. For example, why is it so hard to know how many customers truly find value in the product you deliver? Because it’s hard work. It’s not easy. It’s way easier to measure the number of logins, the number of active days (DAU or MAU, for example). It’s a proxy. But we use proxies all the time and everywhere. 

Transfixed by metrics
With measuring so many things under the sun, our minds are transfixed to metrics. They help us, they guide us. What time is it? Use a clock. When should I go to sleep? A clock helps me know what time it is so I don’t stay up till 3am! Metrics — loosely defined in this example — show me how many cups of flour, how much salt, water, and yeast to make bread. Without it, I’m sure I would have never improved my dough from when I first tried it as a five year old. 
Metrics are key. But metrics are a tool, not a savior. Becoming saturated in metrics enables forgetting the surrounding beauty. Spring recently pushed winter aside. Birds are out, plants are popping up through the ground, and the temperatures rise. Focusing only on certain metrics, while helpful to my goal, may also prevent me from smelling blooming flowers. In short, I can get so wrapped up in metrics that I miss all that is happening around me. Won’t you stop and smell the roses with me?

Unhealthy habits
We may not realize following certain metrics are to our detriment. Relentlessly tracking and improving the number of followers or friends on social media may help a business, but it ruins your soul. Metric tracking is a habit creator. When we measure something, we change our focus, which changes our mindset, which changes our lifestyle and beliefs. Are these the habits you want to form?
Are you excited by that? If you continue to measure for the next thirty years by the ways you’re currently measuring yourself, will that finally give you the fulfillment you’ve always wanted or will you find yourself still wanting? Measure carefully.