If your job is not going well, if there are problems you can’t stand the default answer from many people will go towards courage.
Courage is the word we link to the spartans, to the great epic conquerors of the past, to the people with enormous success.
We expect courage to fix all the problems, because in the mindset of “fake it till you make it” (which isn’t wrong per se), we think that courage will trump any other thing.
Until it doesn’t.
Courage, much like willpower, is finite.
We need to recharge, to instill courage and willpower into ourselves.
Therefore courage can’t be the solution to all the problems.
Often we need empathy from the world and an introspection into what we truly value.
Making a point of what we believe in and trust that value.
The outside world might guide us towards other goals, but what’s truly important is what our values are. In that we should put our faith.
The title was an intriguing phrase I got to read (in italian, so pardon my translation).
There is something about it, something very powerful. It lies into the idea that when we face crisis we don’t really get a chance to form our character, but instead to choose a path.
They call for us, for our choice, for our path. To stand up fiercely and do what we are called for.
We’ve all had that moment: “Oh, this is so simple, why don’t you do it right away?”
It could’ve been a product, it could’ve been an action and so on.
We got that impression that something is easy to do.
Working lately on products I can’t stop thinking at how magical complexity really is.
Let’s move away from products for a second to make a point: Think about the act of drinking a glass of water.
For many of us it doesn’t require much thinking. If we have the glass ready in front of us it’s a matter of taking it and drinking.
My soon-to-be 2 years old instead watches the glass as a skill to master. She uses two hands to grab the glass and slowly moves it toward the mouth. Then she tries to drink but managing the flow of the water, the drops that fall, etc, results -often- in a mess.
Which, btw, is amazing and beautiful.
You might say “yeah, but this is an action. When we’re talking about products and so on some things are simply easy”.
Which can be obviously true, but we take for granted so many things we see.
Like a door.
If you played videogames you surely encountered a door in the game which is… a door. Like the real doors.
A door is something simple. It can either be open or closed and can be opened/closed.
That’s it right? So simple.
Which leads me to this video about doors in videogame that I recently saw. It sparked some fresh thinking into what complexity is.
Because a door has an enormous amount of details to get right into a videogame and the result is the mix of many small choices and decisions.
It is the result of many questions to get into the details of how things works, how it should open, at what speed, where the camera should be and behave, how the player would move while opening and passing to the door, if the door can be opened partly and so on. (which, btw are somewhat linked to my “making good questions” article because that’s how you get deeper into a topic.)
As you see even a door can be complex yet simple in plain sight. It’s a door afterall.
In any product (good or bad) there’s so much complexity hidden that we don’t see, so many outcomes from each decisions that have been taken into consideration before releasing.
Which is these days I rarely have a definite answer for some questions.
Because I know that whenever I get a question like “It should be easy, you simply need to do it like that”, I know I might discover some hidden complexity.
That’s why it’s magical, because it’s hidden and we often forget about it, yet it’s something we should be constantly aware of.
We rarely get something “easy without tradeoffs”.
I am starting wondering if people outside the software development world still get that kind of “deep focus” you get while developing.
I recently coded again and it was a pleasure to find myself immersed into the task, entirely focused with no distraction tempting me.
If so, how do you reach such concentration in a job that has many facets of operations? How do you focus so much on a task/topic to reach its conclusion?
Is it by writing? By reading? By recapping things?
When we lead we’re often tempted to shortcut.
To give a quick solution to a problem or to guide people towards what we think is best.
If we have an higher rank we might fall into the trap of thinking we have the right to interrupt and speak, or to move the conversation of a meeting towards a different topic.
But what these actions truly achieve is to lower the power of the team.
Why? Because you (the leader, or the highest in rank) are the example.
If you get distracted, you allow everyone to do so.
If you don’t make space for other’s opinions, people will shut op or even worse, they’ll talk over others.
If you won’t respect the time people are putting into this conversation, the others will do the same.
If you don’t trust, you won’t create trust.
If you don’t let them free to experiment, you won’t get experiments.
If you will be superficial you won’t see people going deeper into a problem or a topic.
To get the maximum out of the team you need to be your personal best example.
If you show a mediocre example, you’ll get a mediocre result.
It’s when we face the unknown that we grow.
It’s when we are not perfectly suited for the job, that we have a chance to add skills and improve them to survive the context.
When you have constraints you can’t remove or skills you didn’t refine enough, then you can grow, because you’re filling the invisible gap that lets you learn how to move differently, how to think differently.
It’s like when you first learn a new topic. The gap is enormous, but step by step you start to fill it, to understand it.
If you were already good at it you wouldn’t learn or (worse) if you -think- you’re good (but you’re not) then you won’t learn.
But in all the other situations you’ll be learning, moving forward and doing more.
Recently I had to make a software selection based on many technical aspects of each product.
This was a cross-functional team initiative, so each team would need enough ownership to dive into the product and assess whether or not the feature was complete, sufficient, etc.
So I decided to prepare both a document with all the features to check for each team and a spreadsheet with a list of them to easily compare the products between themselves.
On each row I added two columns. “Is it feasible?” “Notes/Extra details”.
During brainstorming we thought about also adding a value number, like 1 to 5, to have an instant idea of how good/complete it was.
When I started evaluating such column I immediately thought: “How can a number express the complexity of a feature of product?”
Yes, if the feature is simple it might be ok, but we’re talking about SEO, API integrations, extensibility option, design options, etc.
They’re complex things.
Also, for each topic we had many different aspects to evaluate.
The fact that one topic had more things to check didn’t mean they had all the same value.
Some are more important, some are less important.
Some might be intentionally overlooked while others differently considered depending on the context.
A number would make it easier to make a choice in the end.
But it wouldn’t necessarily help us make a better choice.
This is an easy post to make, maybe even too much conventional.
I’ve been always a fan of focusing, of having some dedicate time. As a developer first and foremost, this was something I craved.
Uninterrupted time can do wonders in letting you dive into a direction or topic.
So why even bother writing for something that’s already well known?
Well, for one I lost focus in the last year.
Not because of me, but because of the staggering amount of meetings I had each day. Hours of meetings with no space in between and no way to dedicate more than half an hour to a more complex thought.
To be honest, I started thinking it was my problem.
Until yesterday. An entire day of uninterrupted time.
I had to get used to it again, diving deeper into a topic, digging all the options, lying out a complex plan.
It was amazing.
Which reminded again the value of focusing and uninterrupted time.
The more we have of it, the more we’ll create out of it.
One thing though that didn’t work for mewas blocking half a day for working.
It’s probably because of mental space. I still read emails, I still think about what I’ll need to do or prepare for the next day and so on.
Instead of focusing on important task, I faced (because obviously I wanted to be ready for each call) on the ones I’d need first.
But that robbed me of mental space. Which is why focusing was hard.
Many people will tell you “block some hours a day” and my response now is: “It -might- work”.
It might work because it depends on the job. If I was more a dev and less of a manager, yeah. A laid out list of task is enough to keep you busy and relax you in that timeframe.
But if you need to enrich the vision, create a plan, document complex topics and prepare things for the rest of the day, it might not work as planned.
It’s the “uninterrupted” (internally and externally) time that truly works.
That is what we need to achieve.
It’s hard to truly know your value.
If you’re humble you’ll underestimate and miss the clues around you, the messages from the people. If you’re overconfident you might overestimate and miss the feedback.
Or you might do the opposite. Knowing your value is a hard task because, often, the value depends on the context.
Your range of experience and knowledge might give an incredible amount of value in a specific field, while being useless in others.
When you look around for ideas, companies, friends, it’s hard to know how much alignment there is between your skills and their needs. There is no easy path to discover it, you must always try.
But there are also times when you have clues around you that tell your value. People reminding of the amazing work you do each and every day. People that respect you and admire you.
And if they’re honest and you don’t feel too much overconfident you might as well shut up that voice in your head for a second, to be grateful for such an amazing group of people that cheers for you.
Have you ever thought of a nice idea, like a story for a book, and stopped by executing it because someone else was first?
I surely did. And I also knew that ideas alone are of no value, yet it blocked me anyway.
In my mind I thought I was simply adding repetition to the world, nothing new. We like “new” ideas. We like being first in something and that’s probably one of the reasons I stopped pursuing that idea.
Let’s take the idea for the book I told you before. It was about a different outcome in WW2.
Can you imagine how many stories on this topic have been made? Even a tv series.
They didn’t stop and it was the right choice.
An idea by itself is not enough to be neither interesting nor revolutionary. An idea can be a nice concept, but alone is worthless.
It’s what you put into the recipe that makes the difference. It the things around the idea, the execution, your take on a problem, that makes it different.
Take on ideas that you like even if they are already present in the world. Think basecamp, nobody thought it would succeed this way.
There will be many ideas that will produce failure, but that shouldn’t stop you unless you absolutely need to have them succeed.
In some cases success is simply being able to express the idea in its glory.