In his book, Originals, Adam Grant talks about how most original works are produced within the context of producing a large volume of material. This is because when you are producing a large volume of work, you have to reach further and further away from what is conventional to produce new work since you have already produced all the conventional stuff anyway.
I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that if we want to be creative, we will create one, super creative thing. But the problem with that is that all of our first ideas, and usually even our tenth ideas, are still super ordinary. It’s only through pushing yourself to create more and more that you will be pushed to get truly creative, and that is when your best work will happen!
My granddaddy grew up in the country working the family farm. He was an average student, an athlete and a young man determined to be the best he could be. To that end, he applied to go to college at Berry College and was summarily rejected. Here is how my grandfather describes it in his self-published autobiography:
That fall I knew I needed to attend college and one of my third cousins Milton Chambers and his sister Euna were already at Berry College. I wrote to Berry and asked if I could be accepted in September. Dr. S.H. Cook, the college Dean, wrote back and said they did not have room for me. I packed my old suitcase, told my family goodbye and walked over to the Roopville Highway and hitchhiked to Rome Georgia. I boarded the bus out to Berry College, walked in Dr. Cook’s office, gave him the postcard back and told him I needed to go to school. He assigned me to room with my friend Milton Chambers and that was the beginning of my new life.
It would have been easy for my grandfather to accept that rejection letter. If he had, he would not have met my grandmother, and I would not exist.
There is a lot of rejection to go around, but we don’t always have to accept it. Sometimes we need to push back, even when it seems hopeless. I’m glad grandaddy didn’t accept rejection.
Communication centers around context. If I say to my wife, “how much did you spend?” as she is bringing in grocery bags from the car, the context and question are clear. But, if I ask my wife, “how much did you spend?” at the end of the day while sitting on the sofa, the question is odd and confusing.
I am finding that as communication technology gets easier, people get so excited to communicate their thought (after all, it’s just a quick text) that they completely forget to give the context around their communication. As a result, I get emails like, “Adam can we resolve today?” To which I respond, “Can we resolve what?” (that was a real email from last week).
When someone communicates without context I believe they are making the following mistakes:
- The sender is assuming the recipient has first-hand knowledge that they may or may not have.
- The sender is assuming the recipient has the issue being addressed top of mind just like they do (this is almost always not the case).
- The sender is too busy (frantic) and working too quickly (frantically) to think through their communication. So the sender pushes off the work of thinking to the recipient, making the recipient either dig around to figure out what is going on, or making the recipient respond with clarifying questions.
As a result, people send off communications with a question that might mean five different things based on the context of the question.
I confess that I have often been guilty of this often and have made all of the assumptions above. I have seen how this has frustrated my co-workers and wasted time. So, I have come up with the following little checklist to consider in sending communication:
- Am I sure the recipient will know exactly what I’m referring to?
- Am I sure the recipient has the necessary knowledge to help me or answer my question?
If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then I’m good to send the communication. But, if one of those answers is no, I need to provide more context.
I was at the baseball field last week watching my son’s game when I heard a voice from behind me say, “Excuse me?” I turned around to see a man I vaguely recognized flanked by a boy I did not. He said, “You coached soccer a Mt. Zion right?” I quickly cataloged my memory to figure out if that was true, wasn’t entirely sure, but with the prompting nod of my quick-witted wife managed to answer “yes!” He went on to tell me that I had coached his son, the boy standing before me. And we chatted for a few minutes about his son and what he was up to today. It was a good conversation about a kid that I honestly had absolutely no memory of (I know that sounds terrible).
I coached that kid when my son (who is now almost ten years old) was three. That was seven whole years ago, and in so many ways it feels like an eternity to me. I can vouch that I was a terrible soccer coach, knowing very little about the game, but trying my hardest to make it fun for the kids, and memorable. I guess I succeeded in the later, it was memorable and thankfully so was I.
I say all of this to point out two things. First, we leave impressions on people that stick with them, sometimes to the point that they recognize you the better part of a decade later and it is up to us to make those impressions great. Second, I believe that we influence people in far more ways that we will ever know. My realm of direct influence while growing is humblingly small. But, I have a hope, a belief, that I’m influencing people more than I realize, improving their lives when they intersect mine.
I think in some way that is what we all want, to make people’s lives better as our lives diverge and then separate again. I want to be more thoughtful about that, and this was a great reminder.
I first heard this quote on “The Go-Giver Podcast” and am taken with it.
How you do anything is how you do everything.
It’s a simple idea, but profound. If I do basic tasks, like sweeping the floor, half way, I will be more prone to do everything that way. The same is true if I do my best work. I want to do all things to the very best of my ability, making sure that flows from menial tasks all the way to the important ones.
I don’t like to say no. In fact, one of our new team members at Sideways8 has taken to calling me the “yes” man and my business partner as the “no” man. I love to say yes because I’m a people pleaser by nature and I want people to like me. But, saying yes is destructive.
If I say yes to everything, all of my time fills up, I end up working on the wrong things, and what is most important takes a back seat. If I say yes to every meeting, every call, I will miss the important meetings, or worse, the family meetings. If I say yes to everything my team asks of me, I will lose focus on what I can do that actually grows the company and get lost in the details of their work.
I realize that good leadership, the leadership that defines you, starts with what you say no to. There are a million good things I can be doing, but I need to say no to all of them so that I can say yes to the best things, the things that matter, the things that bring growth.