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IdeaLab 0604: Giving, horse mouths, allergic cars, and a 2x2 matrix grab-bag

(Note: Coming soon, a thought-provoking interview of Scott Ginsberg - a variation on my interview series. Stay tuned!)

  • Life's more interesting at the boundaries: That's why getting out of the comfort zone can be so rewarding. For example, gifts: The once with the greatest possible impact (read surprise + delight) require being on the "I love it!"/"Hmmm. Interesting" boundary. Giving a good one requires knowing the recipient well, plus taking a chance. But there's a risk! It might spectacularly fall flat.

  • What do we always have to give?: Compassion, love, attention, quality listening, a positive attitude, inspiration, support (for being courageous/making change). Others? My friend Samantha Bennett says "Our identity and our ability to choose." Wow.

  • Some accidental mashups of folk wisdom:

    • Don't bite a gift horse in the mouth.
    • "This package been pampered with" (from my seven year old daughter :-)
    • Too many griddles on the skillet.
    • A bird in the hand gathers no moss

  • Is it all about prioritizing and reminding?: I think first about this from Nicholas Bate, and was reminded when reading Constant, Constant, Multi-tasking Craziness:
    Because frequent interruptions are expected we noticed that some of our subjects use special artifacts that help them to PRIORITIZE and MAINTAIN [ed: my emphasis] their attention over their working spheres. These artifacts function like containers in that they hold information about central working spheres. The information included in the artifact plays the role of a REMINDER and, as pointed out by Miyata and Norman [8], it both SIGNALS the working sphere to be attended to and DESCRIBES with some detail what has to be remembered. The artifact is often updated across the day with results when work within a sphere has to be postponed.

  • Energy doesn't scale: In consulting and business, if you have to put more energy into something to generate income each time, it's not going to allow scalable growth. The opposite is products (information, software, atoms, etc): Yes there's a large up-front expenditure of energy, but it pays off after that with very low (or now) additional work on your part. (From my very good friend Liza's Power of One Blog: The Secret of Scalable Business.)

  • Two questions to ask when inviting something into your life: "Does it change the way I think, or make me smile?" Or maybe: "Does this help me professionally (do my job) or personally (give joy)?" Stimulated partly by VII Pillars Of Productivity:
    A basic principle of information economics is that information has no economic value if it doesn't change a decision.

  • Make cars allergic to people: My daughter and I came up with this when reflecting on the insanity of allowing these dangerous machines (fast, heavy, relatively uncontrolled, polluting) near where people walk. The idea is to mandate all autos come with a human proximity sensor governor. when. This would force cars to slow down (or completely stop!) when around people. Wouldn't this incentive drive people to take routes that avoid high pedestrian areas? Imagine!

  • The 2x2 matrix: In Value-Based Fees Alan Weiss says "I can prove anything on a double-axis chart." This little tool [1] is lots of fun, though, and can lead to insights. A few examples follow (cell names are definitely beta).

  • 2x2: Thought About vs. Decided:
    • No thought, No decision: Stuck?
    • No thought, Decision: Loose cannon?
    • Thought, No decision: Procrastinating sufferer?
    • Thought, Decision: Wow!

  • 2x2: Style vs. Talent:
    • No style, No talent: Stuck?
    • No style, Talent: Competent?
    • Style, No talent: Flamboyant?
    • Style, Talent: wow!

  • 2x2...blog?: From What If You......started a blog on a very tiny topic? How about a 2x2matrix blog? I'd be pretty surprised if someone hasn't done one yet... I'd be fun, though.

  • 2x2...?: What are your favorites?

  • "Crusty jugglers": From a hilariously odd scene in Hot Fuzz. A video
    Ohrwurm (eyewurm?) for me. (Related: Check out Mathematician Has Popular Equation Stuck In Head All Day.)

  • So now you want to know me!: Here's a networking test: Are you thinking of re-connecting with someone who you didn't take the time to get to know in the past, but whom you realize could now be of use to you? Bad news: It's pretty much irreversible with these folks. Good news: Change the way you look at people in your life now. Importantly: Practice palm upnetworking.

  • When does incremental processing not make sense?: That is, when is it better to let work collect and do it as a batch? Examples of when incremental wins: Small tasks that, individually are simple and fast to enter. For example, entering business receipts, processing business cards, shredding papers, daily checkbook balancing (if possible). Thoughts?

  • Why you never heard "I lost three hours surfing my microwave": One problem with modern work: A general purpose desktop computer is too general for humans to maintain focus. Because this one machine makes so much is possible, we get distracted and drawn in. Similar: TV. Unlike years ago when one artifact did pretty much one thing. Books are different of course - worlds unto themselves. Libraries are an interesting example. Bad if you're trying to work on one things ("yum! soooo many nice books..."), but great if you're open to happy accidents as a side effect of the shelving algorithm. Compare this to a mixer/blender. Biggest choices: grind, frazzle, explode... ?

  • How to use your IM status message for productivity: The default iChat choices for status include the expected ones like "Available," "Away," and "Out to lunch." I tried changing mine to match the workflow phases I teach - Gathering, Emptying, Planning, and Acting, and I found it helped me be clearer about what I'm doing in the moment. It also helped me stay focused when temptations arrived. What about adding non-productive ones like "wasting time" or "multitasking?" You could use Twitter the same way too. Related: A GTD WorkFlow Tool: The Five Stages On A Business Card Cube.


Reader Comments (10)

"We'll burn that bridge when we come to it."
"That's all spilled milk under the bridge."

June 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKel

Incremental processing - ah, hot topic in the productivity blogosphere any day of the week. Creative work is not good for incremental processing or batching of any kind. It depends on inspiration, not talented scheduling!

Some household tasks aren't suitable because they take time - try batching laundry and you'll be doing a lot of sitting around in between the washing, the drying, etc. Computer maintenance is similar, defragging, virus scanning, etc.

June 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoel Falconer

Great ones! Much appreciated :-)

June 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I love these lists, Matt. Always so stimulating to read what you're thinking about.
Regarding your interesting question about giving. The Bible offers at least two insights into the question.
1. Prayer. We can always offer prayer for others. God hears the prayers of His people, and honors those of the most lowly as well as the most lofty. So that's another thing one can always give, if one humbles himself to acknowledge there is a greater One whose hand is at work in all things.
2. Money. The Bible offers a great lifehack about giving. And it involves starting with money! Jesus said something odd: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew--the other Matt--6:21) It's an odd statement because it would be more intuitive to say "Where you heart is, your treasure will be." or something like that (meaning that you can tell what a person cares about by what they give to). That's probably true, but not the point Jesus want to emphasize. Instead, he is saying, if you invest money into something, the rest of you will follow, including attention, love, positive attitude, support and other things you might give. You've probably experienced that if you ever bought stock in a company--I know I never cared so much about Apple until I bought some of it!
Now, money is not something that we can "always give" as your post was asking, but almost all of us (especially those with stock in Apple) could give more money away than we currently are. But be careful about where you give it...your heart is going to follow!

June 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTonyP

I've always used "never lick a gift horse in the mouth." Provokes a lot of "ewww" reactions.

June 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDon Sakers

"Questions to ask when inviting something into your life."

I like this one I got from [ Steve Pavlina | http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2007/07/how-to-make-smart-decisions-in-less-than-60-seconds/ ]. He says that when he's trying to make a decision, he asks himself, "Is this really me?"

It's such a simple question, and yet can clarify so much.

June 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Braithwaite

Hi Joel. Nice to hear from you.

Incremental processing - ah, hot topic in the productivity blogosphere Thanks for letting me know what's hot, Joel.

Creative work is not good for incremental processing or batching of any kind. It depends on inspiration, not talented scheduling! I get your point, and there's another way to look at it. The first is that "binge" creativity doesn't work - it's a trap and a myth. For example, I have faculty clients who use to treat writing this way. "If I just have enough time to finish my manuscript..." They would put it off until summer, then race to finish. The problem is it's highly stressful, takes way from actually *enjoying* the time off, and isn't necessary. A far better approach (and one thats almost universally endorsed) is "little and often" (to use Mark Forster's words) - steady incremental progress wins every time (turtle/hare). But WAIT, you say! Creativity can't be turned on like a faucet. Well... I'd say think of the "creativity-as-muscle" analogy. Plant the seends (read, let it percolate, etc.) but put in garden time. The habit leads to productive work. Often just getting out your pencil/paints/editor and commiting to 10 minutes can get the juices flowing.

Some household tasks aren't suitable because they take time - try batching laundry and you'll be doing a lot of sitting around in between the washing, the drying, etc. Ah! Maybe we need some definitions. To me batching means gathering like items then dispatching them as a bunch in one sitting. Laundry: Gathering dirty clothes in a pile until there's enough to warrant a run. Incremental in this case would be cleaning each dirty item as it shows up.

Computer maintenance is similar, defragging, virus scanning, etc. Regarding long tasks requiring little oversight, these cry out for multitasking. This is in the rare "effective multitasking" category: They don't require attention during them.

Thanks for the stimulating comment.

June 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I love these lists, Matt. Always so stimulating to read what you're thinking about. Thanks for the feedback, Tony. I'm treating the format as an experiement.

prayer - Excellent one, Tony. From my atheistic perspective I can put this to use as positive, thoughtful intention for people. While (I think) the goal is not for me to feel better, I think that happens. I also suspect thoughts like this would adjust (positively) my way of seeing the world, and therefor how I interact with it.

money - Another good one. Just as you point out, I think I didn't include it because not everyone feels they can give money. Time, though...

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Very good to hear this - thank you.

Thanks very much for your comment, Tony.

June 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Thanks, Lisa. Reminds me of something Mark Forster told me: He says no unless he feels he can commit 100%. More here: [ Wholehearted Living by Mark Forster | http://www.homeworking.com/library/coaching/wholehearted.htm ]

June 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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