Though my posting frequency dropped this year (but increased during my write shorter, simpler, and more frequent blog posts experiment), due partly to creating new products  and a death in the family at the end, I wanted to finish the year with a hearty thank you. I sincerely appreciate your being here (which encourages me), your comments (which stimulate me), and your showing of support. Thank you. I'll finish the year with one of my occasional "The Word is ..." lists (see The Word Is ... "Law" and The Word Is... "Stick*" Notes, Girth, Laziness, And Pasta). Cheers!
- How do you stay open, especially in the face of scary changes?
- What highlights (good news and lessons learned) were there in 2009 for you?
- How are you looking at 2010, given dreary economic times?
The word is... Open!For the coming year, I'm thinking about how to stay open. To emotions, to relationships, to ideas, to change, to staying flexible, or to new data from your personal experiments . To that end, some entries from my Big-Arse Text File:
- Open-ended questions: Good in networking and conversations, bad in email messages . Check out Open Ended Questions build Rapport and Open-Ended Questions (interviewing techniques).
- Open to new inventions: From the interviews in Why Bad Times Nurture New Inventions, we're told that people become more open to new and efficient ways of doing things in bad economic times. How about you? Are there "out there" opportunities that need looking at?
Psychologically safe environments: A "wow" passage from The competitive imperative of learning:
In psychologically safe environments, people are willing to offer up ideas, questions, concerns - they are even willing to fail - and when they do, they learn. In her studies, Dweck found that some children - those who early on were rewarded for effort and creativity more than for simply giving the right answer - see intelligence as something malleable that improves with attention and effort. Tasks are opportunities for learning; failure is just evidence they haven't mastered the task yet. Driven by curiosity about what will and will not work, they experiment. When things don't pan out, they don't give up or see themselves as inadequate. They pay attention to what went wrong and try something different next time. In adults, such a mind-set allows managers to strike the right tone of openness, humility, curiosity and humour in ways that encourage their teams to learn.
- Before ever opening your inbox...: ... establish the day's top priorities. (From Email is like laundry..., and central to my daily planning program - see A Daily Planning Experiment: Two Weeks Of Accountable Rigorous Action, which led to my Where the !@#% did my day go? guide.)
Good science: From the lovely Project 2061 ~ AAAS:
The productivity spin: Keep good records - know your organization's retention policy and take solid notes from your meetings and conversations (requires skillful filing chops). My system: I put the date at the top, number the pages, and mark my new tasks and waiting for. (Related: Five Secret Filing Hacks From The Masters, Some Answers To "Should I Keep It?" When Filing, Two Little Joys And Sorrows Using My Filing System, and a reader's comment on how she marks action in Dealing With Meeting Notes - GTD To The Rescue!.)
Accurate record-keeping, openness, and replication are essential for maintaining an investigator's credibility with other scientists and society.
The Open Door: Here's a quote from this book by Helen Keller (out of print, but may be in your library) that for some reason helps me calm down when I worry about the future:
Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of man as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
- Surprise: In good science, be open to it! From a marvelous list  in the classic science talk, You and Your Research by Richard Hamming. (Long-time IdeaMatt reader and smart guy Brock Tice commented here on this piece, and shares an experiment he's doing: Dedicating Friday afternoons only to "Great Thoughts".)
- Desirable personal attributes: From How Do Scientists Use the Scientific Method?: Honesty, Flexible, Experimenter, Suspend Judgment, Attitude, Skeptical, Sensitivity, Knowledgeable, Motivated, Seek Truth, Communicator, Passion for Subject, Organized, Curiosity, Team Worker, Emotional Stability, Courage, Creative, Open-Minded, Logical Reasoner.
- Open door policy: The idea that being readily accessible to employees is compelling, but a strict implementation can hurt your productivity. Instead of literally having your door always open, consider creating time slots for availability. During these times, which you share with everyone, you make yourself free to be interrupted. For other times, people need to make an appointment, unless urgent. (If folks have trouble adapting to this, contact me for some ideas.) The article Be Accessible, Not Open-Door goes into this further.
Open systems: From Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (via Are You Organized For Failure?):
In traditional organizations, trying anything is expensive, even if just in staff time to discuss the idea, so someone must make some attempt to filter the successes from the failures in advance. In open systems, the cost of trying something is so low that handicapping the likelihood of success is often an unnecessary distraction... Open systems, by reducing the cost of failure, enable their participants to fail like crazy, building on successes as they go.
-  My two products (more in 2010!) are Where the !@#% did my day go? The ultimate guide to making every day a great workday and You Did WHAT? 99 Playful experiments to live a healthier and happier life. (Side note: Creating these was a big experiment for me, and the results have been fantastic. Thanks a ton to my customers :-)
 Check out recent experiments (and especially the comments) from Edison, the Think, Try, Learn experimenter's workbook:
- Edison - Extreme Batching - Intentionally Creating a Weekly "Vacation Tax"
- Edison - Change the Conversation
- Edison - Lose 20 Pounds In One Month
- Edison - Dress better in public
- Edison - Improve Sleep Hygeine
- Edison - Attempting the "Geek to Freak" muscle-building technique
- Edison - Work, Relationship, Fun Balance
- Edison - Try the "It isn't cancer" mind hack
- Edison - Vitamin D3 to Prevent Flu and Colds
- Edison - Will my homies start playing Akoha?
-  The tip is to minimize e-mail ping pong by making suggestions ("Should we meet at 10?") rather than asking open-ended questions ("When should we meet?"). From Death by Information Overload, by Paul Hemp (HBR summary here).
 I love this quote from the article: "The essence of science is cumulative. By changing a problem slightly you can often do great work rather than merely good work. Instead of attacking isolated problems, I made the resolution that I would never again solve an isolated problem except as characteristic of a class." Here's the list:
- Hard work (study, work, learn), thinking
- Confidence (early success)
- Stay free (e.g., from committees)
- Stick w/small problems -> larger ones
- See opportunity in problems or trivial assignments (defect -> asset)
- Have drive
- Solid steady work
- Tolerate ambiguity
- Belief balanced w/doubt
- Do good science - track contradictions to theory
- Complete commitment
- Focus only on the problem (starves subconscious)
- Mix w/diverse thinkers
- Work on an important problem (solvable)
- Plant seeds in different areas (diversify)
- Be open to surprise (don't be too safe)
- Allocate time for bigger-picture thinking (where field's going, opportunities, importance)
- Jump on opportunities
- Open door (diverse inputs -> ideas)
- Attack more general problem (change problem slightly) - solve general class
- Educate your bosses
- Work (don't fight) the system - you can either reform it or do great work
- Control anger
- Commit to something (ego will force to do, even if hard) - corner self
- Great work is stressful