Posts Tagged ‘books’

I’ve been reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. The book is about how to make your ideas sticky, so that people immediately get them, remember them, and act on them. The Heaths describe 6 ways make your ideas more sticky: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotion, and stories.

I was reading about their principles as I was preparing for a couple of presentations, thinking about how I can frame things so that a business audience immediately relates to and embraces my ideas. But of course, I’m also constantly conveying new ideas to the monkeys, and it’s equally important that those ideas are sticky.

In fact, the ideas that I’m sharing with the monkeys are even more critical than then ones I share with businesses – they are ideas about how to be in the world: how to be good people, how to get along with others, how to avoid getting hurt, and how to accomplish new tasks. Stickiness is critical if I’m going to get a couple of 2.5 year olds to learn new ideas.

So I’ve been asking myself – what are some things that I do that make ideas sticky for my kids? And how can I do more of it? Over the next few days, I’ll be diving into each of the six ways to make ideas stick, providing examples of how I do it at home, and drawing lessons for work as well.

Lesson 1: SIMPLICITY: Distill your message down into the most basic principles, and reinforce that message over and over and over.

This is one of the hardest principles to follow at work, because the more information that you have, the more you feel that you need to share. We have a hard time letting go of data and information, even if it obscures an argument instead of making it clearer. Moreover, simplicity at work is hard to achieve because it can’t just be about making something rock dumb. It has to be about clarifying the idea, conveying richness and nuance, and still making something easy to understand. No small task.

Simplicity is actually one of the easiest principles to employ with your kids, though. Little people don’t really understand complicated concepts. And they won’t sit still to listen to a 40 page PowerPoint presentation. Kids force you to get mind-numbingly simple if you want to get your point across.

Recently, for example, we had a little incident with scissors. One monkey cut the other monkey’s finger, deeply, with a pair of scissors, resulting in an emergency dash first to the doctor’s office and then to the children’s hospital to see if he needed stitches. Luckily, he didn’t, and he’s just fine now. But the monkeys still beg to use the scissors on a regular basis. And since sitting at the table cutting paper and catalogs can keep them busy for almost half an hour, I really want them to be able to use the scissors.

In order to safely resume cutting with scissors, I had to get a message across. The idea: Scissors can be dangerous if used for the wrong purpose. Cutting people can cause some real damage.  If we’re going to be able to play with scissors, we have to use them safely. It’s not super complicated, but it is a bit nuanced. Instead of having a long conversation, I’ve created this mantra that the monkeys and I repeat on a regular basis: What are scissors for? Paper. What are scissors not for? People. Simple. They get it, and no one’s been cut since we started using it.

For work, it doesn’t make sense to try and think, how would I make this simple enough for a 2 year old to understand. That’s going to far. But it does make sense to think about making an idea so simple that someone outside of the field or outside of the industry can understand it. Although my mom is very bright, she’s a museum educator, not a business person or an innovation strategist. So for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to work on making my ideas so simple and clear that my mom can understand what I’m talking about, the first time I explain it. Simple.



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I like to think of myself as open minded. But sometimes I realize that, well, my mind isn’t as open as I’d like.
Over the course of several weeks, I read several mentions of the same book, Momma Zen. I’ve been writing about parenting and yoga and how one informs the other in my life, and the book seemed perfect. So I bought it, and loaded it in my suitcase to take with me to California. It was to be my treat, my pleasure-escape reading during a business trip.
After a long week planning the meeting, a long flight sitting in the middle seat, some long conversations, a quick dinner, and a long drive, I arrived at a gorgeous hotel in wine country. It was 3 AM my time, but I was determined to take advantage of my location and end the day with a relaxing book and bath. I cranked on the hot water, poured in the bath salts, and cracked the spine.
Within minutes, I was seething. Another book about how hard it is to be pregnant. Another book about how hard it is to have a newborn. Another book about how hard it is to transition from a person to a parent.

“Ugh,” I thought, “this writer has no bleeping clue what hard feels like.” I was thinking, of course, of how hard it was for me to be pregnant. How hard it was to carry two babies, not knowing if they would both survive. How hard it was to wonder if the in-utero death of one would cause birth defects in the other. That was hard.

Even as I continued to read the book, I was having a mental conversation with Karen Maexen Miller, the author, in my head. You know what’s harder than having one premature baby, Karen? Having two premature babies. And you know what else is hard, not being able to …

The mental comparisons went on and on, even as I continued to read the book. I’m not even sure why I continued to read it, but I did. And as Karen’s descriptions evolved from the early stages of parenting towards the toddler years, that little voice inside my head finally quieted. I began to enjoy the book, to see myself in it, and to learn from it.

I am, of course, very open minded. Except for when I’m not. And I now know that I have a very particular mental block: I can’t relate to folks writing about how hard it is to have either a healthy pregnancy or a single healthy baby. Now I know that it’s not really fair. I know that even one healthy baby can be challenging. But my situation with the monkeys was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, and often, those stories look to me more like best case scenarios than like a reasonable cause for angst. The little voice is pissed about people complaining about these situations, and angry that I never got to experience a ‘normal’ pregnancy. It feels unlike me, but it is, in fact, me.

If I had listened to the little voice in my head, and left the book in the hotel room, like it really wanted me to do, I would have missed the chance to hear a voice filled with reason, warmth, and enlightening thoughts on raising kids. 

I would have missed a reminder to take care of the present without worrying so much about what’s already happened or what’s to come. I would have missed the challenge to step into what’s most frightening and most exciting to me. And I would have missed the realization that there are times when my mind is not open.

We all have our mental blocks, these inabilities to listen to a particular topic. They come from areas of feeling that we know we must protect, even if we’re not sure why. And it’s OK to protect those feelings, and allow them to exist, for a time. But it’s important to recognize them, to know where they are, so that when you’re ready, you can engage with information that challenges them, pokes them, and loosens them.

I’ve obviously got to work through some feelings of anger and frustration that I have about my pregnancy and the monkeys’ infancy. But until I do, I can at least know that it’s there, so that the little voice doesn’t prevent me from hearing some really important stuff.

It’s funny, to be on this side of the fence. Often, what I do for a living is to poke at and challenge an organization’s mental blocks, or a team’s. I help them see something that they were blocking out with their own little voices, unable to process, because it touches on something that’s sensitive to them or questions something that’s core to who they think they are.

Since I do it to others all the time, it’s only fair to do it to myself, and to open myself up to similar challenges, similar opportunities to grow and create something entirely new. But it’s not easy. The little voice is insistent. And loud. I’m glad, Karen, that your voice was louder. And sorry about the cursing.







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How great is that quote? It’s from Oliver Wendell Holmes, quoted in Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I’m particularly taken with it as I’ve been thinking about how since I’ve recommitted to yoga, it’s impacted both my work and my home life in a positive way. Which is funny, because I’ve avoided it for a while because I worried that it would take away from those other activities. Instead, it’s given me another way of looking at the other things I’m doing, plus it makes me feel better physically and mentally. So Holmes and Jacobs are right – more life can equal better life – and more of an especially good thing breeds other good things.

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I watched the Fog of War last night – what a great movie. In it, McNamara and Morris highlight 11 life lessons. I’m not saying that raising kids is like going to war, but I will admit that some days it feels like it. Many of the principles apply pretty well to raising children, so I thought it was worth posting them here.

11 principles –

#1 Empathize with your enemy.
#2 Rationality will not save us.
#3 There’s something beyond one’s self.
#4 Maximize efficiency.
#5 Proportionality should be a guideline in war
#6 Get the data
#7 Belief and seeing are both often wrong
#8 Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
#9 In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
#10 Never say never. (And its corollary, Never answer the question that is asked of you, answer the question that you wish had been asked of you.)
#11 You can”t change human nature.

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I’ve never really thought of myself as someone who is good at hiring people. I tend to listen for what I want to hear, and I really want to like job candidates, which gets in the way of serious evaluation.When it came to hiring a nanny, I did a pretty poor job the first time, mostly because I didn’t know what I wanted. I was a new mom of 3 month old twins, knew nothing about parenting, and tried to hire someone who really knew what she was doing. Little did I know that by the time my boys were 6 months old I’d consider myself the expert in their care, and resent our nanny’s tendency to try to tell me what to do. When it came time to hire nanny #2, we interviewed three candidates and I immediately had a great feeling about one of them. She’s been with us for almost two years now, and we consider ourselves incredibly lucky.Our wonderful nanny will be leaving soon, taking off to travel with her fiance, and I’m worried that I won’t be as lucky a second time. But I’ve recently read First, Break All the Rules for work, and there’s a nugget of wisdom that I think will help our search be more successful.One of the premises of the book is that people who are most successful and happiest in their jobs have innate talents that lend themselves to the role. There’s an entire section in the book titled “The Art of Interviewing for Talent.” Basically, the book suggests that you ask open ended questions and then believe the first thing that candidates say. So no fishing for the answer you want to hear. No asking the question a few ways until you get an answer that you’re satisfied with. It’s about taking people’s initial responses at face value, and making decisions based on what you hear. There’s more in there about asking for specific examples of behavior and finding out what parts of the job are most satisfying for people.Hiring a nanny is such a stressful experience. There are so many different things that I am looking for: someone who will care for my children with love, help them learn to explore the world, have fun with them, feed them a healthy diet, handle any emergencies, be nice to our dog, etc. On top of that, there are issues around what kind of relationship the nanny wants to have with our family, and me in particular since I work at home. Whether she’ll be on time on a regular basis and if she’s not, whether she’ll blame the bus or take responsibility for herself.I like the idea of applying the principles from First, Break All the Rules for a few reasons. One, if I’m looking for talents, I’ll hopefully be looking for elements of her personality and her approach to the job that will address many diverse aspects of the job. And two, it gives me a framework for the interview, a way of approaching it from a structured perspective that I trust will get me good results. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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