Hard Things

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers. A young, first-time entrepreneur CEO recently reminded me of this gem. There isn’t a better operating manual for the rough-and-tumble of starting up a company, clawing a way to survival, and (if you’re lucky) thriving. The reminder is timely, as Ben Horowitz has a second book coming out this month.

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Watch your language

When the Whistle-Blower’s complaint erupted last month, Jane Rosenzweig, director of the Writing Center at Harvard, found something notable about the complaint itself: The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write. Three days before, Pope Francis came out against adjectives saying, “I am allergic to these words,” and “We have fallen into the culture of adjectives and adverbs, and we have forgotten the strength of nouns.” In particular, the addition of “authentic” to “Christian” pushed him over the edge.

This was a moment. Written or spoken, communication is tricky. One word can make the difference between meaning-making and meaning-muddling.

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Back to Built to Last

When the Whistle-Blower’s complaint erupted last month, Jane Rosenzweig, director of the Writing Center at Harvard, found something notable about the complaint itself: The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write. Three days before, Pope Francis came out against adjectives saying, “I am allergic to these words,” and “We have fallen into the culture of adjectives and adverbs, and we have forgotten the strength of nouns.” In particular, the addition of “authentic” to “Christian” pushed him over the edge.

This was a moment. Written or spoken, communication is tricky. One word can make the difference between meaning-making and meaning-muddling.

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Of the people, by the people, for the people

Most of us don’t hate change. What we don’t like is when it comes out of the blue, makes no sense, and is done to us, not with us. Drop-kicking change into an organization from the top down can lead to ill-informed, misguided fixes, as well as resentment and victimhood.

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Composureself

It can be just a little nudge, almost imperceptible. Or it can be a full-on heart pound that makes you wonder if you’re gonna need a trip to the emergency room. You’ve been triggered. Maybe it’s a snarky comment in a meeting, a critique from your partner about how you might’ve scrambled those eggs better, the tipping point of a crushing workload, or your manager just found a mistake in your analysis. If it’s a little thing, it might distract you from what you’re doing for a bit. If it’s a big thing, it can bring an out-sized sometimes regrettable reaction, or cause you to shut down. And it doesn’t feel so good.

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Dabbler Obsessive Hacker Master

When Mastery: Taking it Home by George Leonard hit the pages of Esquire’s May 1,1987 “Ultimate Fitness” feature, along with John Poppy’s The Keys to Mastery, it went the viral equivalent of its time — lots of letters to the editor, requests for copies and reprints, and CEOs disseminating it widely within their organizations. “A navy carrier pilot . . . wrote that he had been having trouble landing the F-14 Tomcat on an aircraft carrier . . . ‘Insights from Mr. Leonard’s outline of the master’s journey gave me the extra 10 percent of mental discipline that I needed to make the trek down this portion of my path a relatively easy one.’”

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How am I doing?

“I don’t really know how I’m doing” is a familiar refrain. Even when an organization has a 360-feedback process and regular performance check-ins, people are still not sure how they’re doing or why they may not be progressing as quickly as they’d like. As a bookend to this, managers struggle with how to put words to the feedback they’re trying to give. They want it to be clear and actionable, yet they find their conversations often don’t deliver.

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What really matters, part two

We’re drowning in this stuff. Ten steps to this, four ways to that. I like that Gallup has for decades teamed up with other organizations, economists, psychologists, and scientists, to understand the elements of a life well-lived — how we experience our lives and the things that are important to us — and they’ve kept it data-based and fad-free. While global well-being research informs broader societal decisions for employees, communities, and countries, it’s helpful for us to be reminded of what really matters, as we often operate on autopilot in our busy and distracted lives.

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What really matters, part one

Culture is the “it” of our current work moment. And for good reason, as Peter Drucker coined, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The way things get done in an organization — the systems, behaviors, and practices — guided by a set of values, define its culture. (And sometimes the values that are actually lived are not the ones on the website.) How we work together drives our personal engagement and performance, which in turn determines how well the organization does.

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Where have I been?

It has happened several times in the last few months — young leaders I’ve encountered calling out Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as inspiring, guiding, and causing them to change how they are navigating the world. The book even served as the basis for one company’s core values. Of course I’d known about it for decades, though I’d not read it — it seemed dated and sales-y — a sort of “to seem rather than to be” thing.

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Once upon a time… in your mind

The only thing we know for sure about the stories we tell is that they’re not true. Not completely, anyway. Our make-believe can range from getting the details surrounding an emotional event wrong to being unshakably sure of the stories we tell about ourselves that are often turn out to be mind-made.

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Clean up that mess

Integrity is such a big word. It’s the most common value people and organizations cite as “table stakes,” a have-to-have. We want to have it, we want those around to have it, we want our organizations to have it. It’s hard to live up to, especially when we’re challenged and our emotions get the better of us, and our blind spots can get in the way.

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Roseto, bunnies, and Google

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers begins with Roseto, a small town in the foothills of Eastern Pennsylvania, named for the place in Italy where its residents immigrated from. In the late 1950s, when heart disease was ravaging the nation — the #1 cause of death in men over 65 — men in Rosetta showed no sign of heart disease at 55, and were experiencing it at half the rate of the US at 65. A local physician, Stewart Wolf, discovered this, got to work conducting careful research, and brought in friend and colleague John Bruhn, a sociologist. Bruhn recalled, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were basically dying of old age. That’s it.”

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A river runs through it

A river is a wonderful metaphor for life — melting snow from a mountain, just a drop at a time, grows to a trickle that develops into a stream and before you know it, it’s a river full of life with blind spots, hairpin turns, exhilarating and sometimes treacherous rapids and waterfalls that instantly transform into brilliant still pools of water full of fish and teaming with birds and wildlife, all surrounded by beautiful vegetation.

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Not yet

The first thing I’ll say about Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is this is a must read if you’re raising kids. I read it after raising my kids. I offer a blanket apology. 

In the decade plus since this research was published, what Dweck calls a “growth-mindset” vs. a “fixed-mindset” has influenced school curriculums, organizational thinking and practices, parenting, sports, and relationships.

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The Spyce Boys

Four MIT robotics-obsessed engineering students had a complaint. Then they got to work. The water polo teammates were united by a love and appreciation of delicious and healthy food, and a frustration that it cost $10 to $14, out of reach of their student budgets. They called on their combined smarts, curiosity, swagger tempered by humility, and, not knowing any better, built proof-of-concept robotic woks in their fraternity basement.

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The Coach’s Playbook

At its core, coaching is a fusion of questions that open doors, deep listening, and keen observation used to help people find their own answers. It’s based on the belief that the best way forward lies within us, and that learning is more powerful and sticky when we figure things out for ourselves. And, we really don’t like to be told what to do… even when we ask to be told what to do. Just hang out with any two-year-old.

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That! Yes, that!

Looking up from the table in my office, there’s an entire shelf of books focused on how to communicate with each other including: Radical Candor, Fierce Conversations, Difficult Conversations, Crucial Conversations, and Thanks for the Feedback, I googled “most popular books on feedback.” One of the top hits was “48 Best Feedback Books of All Time.” Forty-eight?

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What’s the problem?

A big problem in solving problems is knowing what the real problem is. This is a constant in my work with individuals, organizations, and in my own life! Rule of thumb is that the problem we think we have usually isn’t the real problem. It takes some detective work to get to the root. And good root-finding can lead to good solution-finding.

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EGADS!

The credit for this one goes to Lucy Kaplan, the badass octogenarian teacher/coach and faculty member at the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute (BECI) who is a dynamic blend of humor, compassion, honesty, and rigor. She artfully packaged one of the (let-me-count-the) ways our brains have of holding us back from doing what really want to do in an easy-to-understand acronym that helps us resist our resistance.

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