Dispatch 02 — Ideas & tools from my process

I don’t have any plans for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) but for this second Dispatch I decided to give you some answers to what is definitely the question I get asked the most often: “how do you do it?!” By which people usually mean, how do you manage to put so much stuff in Sentiers week after week? Here are some of the things I align on and do, in part remixed from past articles elsewhere, in part new.

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Be curious

“Curiosity” is one of those words that gets way overused but I don’t see how I can skip over this, everything starts there. If you are not curious about understanding things, I don’t know how you can function in a knowledge economy. It’s how you can be a lifelong learner and keep advancing in your work and interests. And, as Ian Sanders put it; “All it takes is a commitment to ask questions, to explore new possibilities, to embark on a journey of discovery.” Be open to the new, be humble, don’t hesitate to say “I don’t know,” take notes, sketch, write, share. Cultivate the three types of curiosity; diversive, epistemic, and empathic.

[Empathic] curiosity makes us wonder about the thoughts and feelings of other people. Empathic curiosity is a conscious practice. As Leslie said, “Diversive curiosity might make you wonder what a person does for a living; empathic curiosity makes you wonder why they do it.”
— Paul Jun / Ian Leslie

It’s only by being truly curious, open and empathic that you can come up with the best questions and truly benefit from the answers.

To stay curious, we must be fascinated by our own ignorance. We must realize and admit all that we don’t know and be eager to fill the missing gaps with knowledge.
Paul Jun

Seek, Sense, Share

A lot of what I learn, and all of what I include in Sentiers and for clients is done through reading, so lets start here.

Capturing knowledge, as crudely as we do, is just a first step. Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) is a framework for individuals to take control of their professional development through a continuous process of seeking, sensing-making, and sharing.

One of the most recognized frameworks around knowledge management is Harold Jarche’s Seek, Sense, Share, which I’m shamelessy riffing off because it’s a good way of looking at what I do. I encourage you to look around his website to see the multiple ways he uses that method for learning and understanding business. My version goes something like this:

Collect & curate. We’ll see some of this in more detail later on but it’s basically reading newsletters, RSS feeds, a specific Twitter list, and using Nuzzel. Identifying what’s interesting or promising, and putting things in “buckets” I attend to at specific times or keep as references.

Read & connect. Depending on what I’m sitting down to do (like writing Sentiers or a client briefing); prioritize, read the top picks, highlight the best parts, note what they connect to, write down insights as I go.

Communicate. In Harold’s framework it’s a lot of sharing on social media and his blog, in my case it’s the newsletter. My social media is a lot of signal boosting (retweeting) as I scan the feeds.

Be question driven

We learn through others. From the author of a book, a teacher, a friend, a colleague. Even when learning from experience, when facing a challenge, advancing a project, even in failure, there is always someone around, teaching us something or who’s behaviour or deeds we can glean some new insight from.

Knowing this, it’s no surprise that we should often learn in conversation with others. They say “the best way to learn is to teach,” which can usually be understood to mean that in the process of organizing your thoughts to explain something you know, you discover more; you progress, you learn. It is much the same way with questions, formulating one to draw out a good answer, is a form of learning and, of course, so is the answer itself.

Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question—you have to want to know—in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”
Clayton Christensen

Also → My questioning and conversing is in large part done having coffee, fika as they say in Sweden. Loved this series of short videos on the topic.

Ask better questions

The art of asking questions should be something we all think about and work on. In today’s workplaces, there is an emphasis on developing critical thinking, on being creative and innovative, on becoming better collaborators. All of these can be accelerated by asking good questions. In fact, it’s essential. Challenge the established and think critically by probing and questioning; to create something new, understand the existing; to collaborate, understand who you are working with.

The quality of both work and learning depend on asking the right questions and linking with the most relevant nodes in the network!
Esko Kilpi, in Work is solving problems

And yet, questioning broadly is still something that is frowned upon in some workplaces and a skill that atrophies as we get older.

In a recent poll of more than 200 of our clients, we found that those with children estimated that 70–80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions. But those same clients said that only 15–25% of their own interactions consisted of questions.
Relearning The Art of Asking Questions

Listen!

Honestly, I’m including this section as much as a reminder to myself as anything. Most people should actively work on this.

[G]ood listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of—and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking.
— Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, What Great Listeners Actually Do

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman analyzed data describing the behaviour of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches, they then looked at the most effective listeners and identified the differences between great and average:

Dialog. “Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way ‘speaker versus hearer’ interaction. The best conversations were active.”

Support. The best listeners create a safe space for conversation, they make the other person feel supported and convey confidence in the other person.

Cooperation. The conversation and feedback flows in both directions, the great listeners are not in a competitive stance, looking for errors or gaps in reasoning. They try to help rather than win an argument. (This does not prevent disagreement or challenges.)

Suggestions. People often complain about someone jumping in conversations trying to ‘solve’ their problems. Surprisingly, this same trait of making suggestions is praised in the best listeners. Truly listening and then suggesting appropriately is well received; being silent and suggesting is not seen as credible.

Modes

This is something I’ve started noticing recently and find quite useful. A lot of people say they have a hard time reading books anymore, their brains are so used to streaming feeds, they can’t concentrate properly on long form, never mind whole books.

I’m not going to go into the various tips and tricks to develop a book reading habit (although some help, like starting small with 15 pages or 15 minutes every day) or how to make room for it (mercilessly cut the number of people you follow or make a super short list), and I’m not going to tell you to meditate (though it’s a good idea) to develop mindfulness but it’s roughly what I do more and more of and what I recommend. Start noticing how you are reading at that moment and try to switch modes.

For example; each morning I’ll go through a number of newsletters, a lot of them are lists of “signals” similar to my own or perhaps weekly digests from a specific media, I’ll open links in the background. When I hit one that requires more concentration, I’ll usually skip over it and get back to those few heftier reads separately.

Here’s where the modes come in: when I switch to the browser and start reading, I need to pay attention and specifically slow down my brain, almost like going from jogging to walking. Otherwise I’m scrolling through the article like it’s a feed of paragraphs and not paying close attention.

The same kind of thing happens when reading a book with more complex ideas; I need to slow my brain down even more and pay attention to what’s being said, not just understanding the words but the concepts.

All of this is pretty self evident but if you read a lot, especially different lengths and forms, it’s a useful practice to develop awareness, various speeds and the mental switches between them.

Gliding down a feed efficiently and settling down in a book are both useful skills, even though some people try to convince us that only deep work / deep reading is important.

Also → I’m not talking about Focused and Diffuse modes of thinking but they are very useful to know about too!

We master the details in focused mode, then comprehend how everything fits together in diffuse mode. It’s about combining creativity with execution.

Tools and methods

Twitter, the interest graph

I know, it’s had a bit of a bad reputation for a while (!!), it’s the land of nuts and trolls. But it’s still the place where news breaks, where the most ideas are dispersed and where it’s most practical to build your network of interest. We still refer to it as a social network, and there is still some truth to that, but it’s a very powerful tool to follow your interests instead of—or in addition to—your friends. It’s always funny to me when people complain about what’s going on on Twitter. Yes, some of the aggression you can’t get away from (and it’s a serious issue) but you can still chose a large part of what you see. You don’t have to follow anything, you don’t have to read what your crazy cousin or malevolent “leader” is saying, pick your sources and rearrange aggressively.

Lists. As forgotten as they seem to be by Twitter itself (although they’ve recently resurfaced a bit), they are the best way of choosing what you see and managing different domains of interest. You can have multiple lists, make them private or public, follow other people’s public lists and you don’t have to follow everyone you include in your list. You can actually keep lists as “topic radars” and follow only a small subset of your favorite friends and sources. In some Twitter apps you can also make a list your primary feed and only read that.

RSS

Blogs and RSS are dead, did you know? And yet, not really, there are still some excellent ones of the former and some pretty good readers for the latter, including the return of NetNewsWire. I try to go through most if not all unreads every morning but usually have to catchup every couple of weeks. I scan and send anything interesting to Instapaper, nothing much else to say, including it here for the sake of being complete.

Nuzzel, the filter

Not new but still quite unknown, this is a pretty fantastic service. You create an account and link your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook profiles to it. Nuzzel will then keep an eye on tweets and posts and surface the most popular links being shared within your networks. You can receive a daily email of the most popular links or consult the same compilation on the website to catch up (they only keep 4 days of “archives” though).

What’s also very useful is that you can do the same thing for specific lists. I have secondary topics for which I have lists, and lists for specific clients. I can go to the lists’ Nuzzel page and see what is popular amongst the accounts I included there. Those are lists I don’t even look at through my Twitter client, I just have a recurring task in my todo app and browse through the previous few days of what has surfaced during that time.

I’m barely on Facebook, but it’s still valuable to have the links shared over that platform amongst my friends also inform my homepage on Nuzzel.

Pinboard, the foundation of my system

Pinboard is a super simple, clean and efficient bookmarking service. You can pay for a full archive of your bookmarks so—like with Pocket Premium—you have a full text copy of everything your save. No more losing valuable resources through link rot and a smaller heap of straw to search through when looking for something you’ve read. Pinboard can also automatically bookmark every link-containing tweets you publish. Finally, its API means loads of services connect to it. Why is that important? Because using IFTTT (which connects to the API, see below) I create an archive in Pinboard of everything I read and mark online. Having it all available for a full text search gives me a quite complete and easy to access record of my wanderings online. I’m then able to find sources years down the line when I make a new connection and want to attach some dots together.

IFTTT

If This Than That” lets you connect two services together. For example “IF I archive an article on Instapaper, THEN add a bookmark of it on Pinboard.” As I alluded to above, everything I mark “read” (archived) in Instapaper or Pocket is bookmarked on Pinboard, every favorite on YouTube and Vimeo, everything I post(ed) to Tumblr. I can then search my archive on Pinboard and find liked videos, read articles, etc. It can connect dozens more apps too, I’ve used it with Evernote, Dropbox, email, RSS feeds and more.

Instapaper and Things

Pretty much everything I read goes through Instapaper, sometimes just for archiving purposes and the above actions. I’m guessing all of you already know about these read later apps so I’ll stop here.

I also use the sharing menu in iOS profusely to append stuff to text files (I use Bear) when preparing any kind of newsletter or report and send links or quotes to Things’ (my todo app) inbox or straight to a Research category project, although that’s the one thing I’ve lost control off, I at least clear the top of the project regularly.

Conclusion

The TL;DR of all this would go something like:

Part one → Be curious, get better at asking questions and listening, pay attention to how fast you are reading.

Part two → Pick your sources carefully (but open new lines of inquiry liberally), set thing up so ideas and topics you want to know about don’t disappear in the streams, build a system for retrieval. Be methodical.

I hope this has been useful, be sure to hit reply if you have questions or your own preferred tools you think I should know about.