Thoughts about the water we swim in

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Culture (to borrow an excellent phrase) is the water we swim in, the multiple interlocking systems, rituals, and values that bind a particular group together. Explicit systems may get the bulk of the work done, but culture suffuses the whole, giving it a coherence that helps it feel natural and fluid.

Companies are always on the hunt for “good” culture. They talk it up endlessly when they think they have it, and fret behind closed doors when they think they’ve lost it. “Bad” culture drives “good” people away and erodes the company away at the core.

When everything is important, nothing is

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Priority, goal, top, rank, list, most…

One of these words (or a close synonym) is the beating heart of most productivity systems. All are paths leading to the same idea — that we should look at the world primarily through the lens of importance.

For example, Warren Buffet supposedly advised his pilot to write down his top 25 career goals. He was then to circle his top 5 and avoid the remaining 20 like the plague. The lesson for productivity was clear. Rank the entire world, and do only what truly matters.

Another system, the Eisenhower matrix, uses importance as one axis of a matrix for…

Or, how not to manage selfishly

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Once upon a time, in a company far far away, there toiled a diligent programmer named Goldilocks. Against all reason, Goldilocks had three managers, which is terrible practice and created no end of confusion, but that’s the way it was.

One day, Goldilocks realized that she was a bit stuck — metaphorically lost in the woods. There was a puzzle before her, and uncertain how to proceed, she went to see Papa manager.

“This code is no good,” declared Papa manager before she got halfway through her explanation. “I wouldn’t have written it this way. Have you considered rewriting it…

Ask more honestly to learn more better

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Reports vary, but as children, we ask anywhere from 50 to 300 questions every day as we try to make sense of the confusion we are born into.

And that onslaught of why, how, and what makes sense. Unanswered questions are the drivers of scientific progress, the soul of our stories, and form the basis of our philosophical investigations. They are such an essential form of communication that they get their own symbol, the question mark, to denote them.

Still, as we grow up, the number, and more importantly, the scope of our questions tapers dramatically. We stop asking, “why…

Want to know how you’re actually doing?

One simple thing you can do to focus your feedback

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Feedback is the thing everybody wants and nobody gets. We all long to know how we are doing, and maybe more importantly, how we can do better. We hope that the more we learn about ourselves and our work, the better off we will be.

Sadly, despite our thirst, we are parched. The feedback we get usually feels less like a rushing stream and more like muddy runoff. The circumstances don’t seem to matter. Whether it’s a formal review that feels stiff and generic or off-target commentary from a peer, the experience of feedback often doesn’t match our hopes.


David Powers

David Powers has been a software engineer, business owner, consultant, and a Pilates instructor, but mostly he’s tried to help people build things together.

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