Nail your colours to the mast


It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and point out what everyone else is doing wrong.

Your detachment from the action might give you a valuable, external perspective but it’s unlikely you’ll find an participant in the action who will listen to your opinion.

Opinions are like arseholes – everyone has one – and right now, you don’t have any skin in the game.

If you want to change the flow of the action, the most direct way is to act yourself.

Your actions will have an impact on the dynamics of the situation and the action itself will have an impact on your opinions and perspectives.

They’ll be more valuable now they’ve been tested and vetted by the game.

Other actors will also be more likely to listen to you now that your opinions have been forged by participation.

This means you have to nail your colours to the mast and get out there if you want to make a real difference.

But who ever said it was otherwise?

The knowledge gap (or, how to deal with difficult people)


What we actually know is often a lot different from what we think we know.

If you want the limits of your actual knowledge tested, try to explain the mechanics of gravity pain, or fire to a curious 5 year old. You’ll quickly realise just how little you can take back to first principals because of large gaps in your knowledge.

Or maybe that’s just my weak spot.

(BTW – If you’re a physicist who just read that list and said “pfffff, those are easy to explain”, try doing the same with love, death and happiness :-))

Using this ignorance is the basis for the Feynman Technique for learning something.

Conversely, we have a lot of knowledge store up that we’re not aware of and don’t have ready access to – which seems a shame since it can often help us out.

A great example of this is in the best way to deal with difficult people.

Having unavoidable encounters with people who wind us up and get our goat is one of the more unpleasant realities of life.

It can feel like we don’t know how to work with these people in a productive and considered way, but that’s often not the case.

We’re often acutely aware of all the ways in which we find the other person painful to deal with. It’s just that we haven’t stored that information in a format which is useful to us or which we can action easily.

If you want to have a better relationship with a difficult person, then write a 10 bullet point guide for someone else on how to deal with them. The pithier and more “Buzzfeed” your list, the better.

“Have a productive encounter with X using these 10 simple tricks”

Like explaining gravity to a child, it will force you to go back to first principles with respect to the behaviour which you find difficult. Once you have isolated the behaviour, it’s easy to think creatively about the best ways to mitigate it.

For example:

If their own disorganisation means that they get stressed over time pressure, then one of your tips might be to always be early with delivery or appointments. Or, if you’re going to be late, give plenty of warning and suggest an alternate plan which they can easily agree to.

In both cases, it’s the externalisation of our knowledge which helps us to see the gap between what we think we know and what we actually know.

So if you’re going into a tricky situation, try to write down just what exactly what you know. It will give you a good idea of the gap between what you think you know and what you actually know. But more importantly, it will let you know if your knowledge is in credit or debit.

Check you intuition


We base a lot of our decisions on intuition rather than evidence.

It’s a sensible strategy most of the time. It’s faster, less effortful and it allows us to focus on more pressing concerns.

But the environment in which we make decisions can change quickly and our intuitions don’t auto-update.

Take 30 seconds to check your intuitions.

What are they based on?

Are they still accurate?

Are they still helpful?

A quick examination of our own thought processes can often help us to avoid sleepwalking into trouble based on bad intuitions.

Letting others paint


Sometimes it’s time to paint. Sometimes it’s time to wash the brushes and prepare the canvas for others.

This is true for everyone, even the full time artists.

The output is still there, but your role in its creation is different.

If you let someone else paint, the end result WON’T be the same as what you would have done. But is that such a bad thing?

Letting someone else paint doesn’t mean dumping them with a load of responsibility and obligation they’re not ready for or unwilling to accept.

It’s about creating the environment for others to stretch their legs and realising together what they can achieve.

It’s about creating a situation which benefits everyone.

Turning the right wheel


When we’re grasping at the past or pining after the future, we’re essentially yanking on a steering wheel that’s not connected to what we’re trying to influence.

We turn it this way and that, hoping to have some impact, but it only takes a small dose of perspective to realise how futile (and ridiculous) this is.

The wheel is however, connected to the present moment and every turn we make has an impact right now. Being deliberate and attentive to what’s happening right here and now is the only way to both steer our ship in the present moment and to have any influence over our future.