Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Podcast: The Myth of Serendipity

Thomas EdisonKevin Ashton, who wrote How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, said:
The more you work, the more likely you are to succeed.
That is not the message that you would expect to hear in a podcast about serendipity, but then perhaps serendipity is not what we think it is.

RN Future Tense did a 30-minute program on serendipity entitled "Designing for Serendipity." (See links below) In it there is also information on the myth of serendipity, hence the name of this blog post.  We think serendipity just happens, but there is work behind serendipity. Serendipity is based on doing the work, never giving up, spotting opportunities, and engaging in opportunities.

Hearing the podcast reminded me of two "events":
  • When I was a graduate library science student, many of the reference questions required me to go to the library and look for/through books. The subject area might contains dozens of books and I needed to find the one that contained the answer. I used to say that I found the correct book right before I passed out from exhaustion! It seemed like the mythical serendipity, but in reality I was doing the work and never giving up.
  • Job offers can seem like the mythical serendipity.  You hear people talk about an opportunity coming from "out of the blue". In reality that person has done something to make himself known and to demonstrate competence. It might mean that the person spotted opportunities that helped him demonstrate competence. The person definitely didn't just sit at home and wait. The person took action. (Yes, I had a job offer that fits into this category.)
At the New York Library Association Annual Conference last week, I enjoyed watching people take risks, seize opportunities, do the work and never give up...and I heard some talk about the fruits of that labor.  One out of work librarian (perhaps a recent graduate) took a huge risk during a fun event, which attracted the attention of potential employers. I don't know if it has led to a job offer and that may depend on whether the person has put in the effort in terms of education and previous work. Still it may all feel like the mythical serendipity.

I am still working on a large project. On this project, things don't just "happen", rather there is a lot of work that is going into every part of the project. Still some pieces might feel a little "serendipitous", yet when I look at those pieces I see that they were created by opportunities pursued and work completed.

Yes, doing the work creates opportunities. Sounds simple.

Designing for Serendipity notes and transcript: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/designing-for-serendipity-segment/6847728

Designing for Serendipity Audio: http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2015/10/fte_20151018_1030.mp3

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Article: How to think straight in the age of information overload

After writing a four-part series on the topic, it is nice to see that CNN published this article on decision fatigue just this week.  The article contains info that supports my series, including:
Turns out, the neurons that are doing the business of helping us make decisions, they're living cells with metabolism, they require glucose to function, and they don't distinguish between making important decisions and unimportant ones. It takes up almost as much energy and nutrients to process trivial decisions or important ones.
Go ahead...read the whole article and then work to lessen the number of decisions you're making by creating habits, routines, checklists, to-do lists or whatever it takes.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Decision Fatigue, Part 4

If you've just come across this four-part series, here are links to part 1, part 2 and part 3.

I noted is part 3 that decisions are made by groups as well as by individuals. Generally, we throw people into a room together, give them information, and ask them to make a decision...and then wonder why they can't make a decision and do it quickly.

First, groups work well together when they have time to get to know each other. Groups will sometimes engage in warm-up exercises or getting to know you exercises, and that is a start. However, being comfortable with each other and each other's style takes a lot longer than that. That learning about each other happens during meetings, in the hallway, and even over lunch. A group's ability to make decisions is honed as the groups makes small decisions (e.g., where to go for lunch) as well as big ones (e.g., which software to purchase).

Second, groups need to discover what role each person is playing in the group. There are a number of tests (e.g., Myer-Briggs) and other resources to help teams figure this out. What is your natural role on a team? Can you adopt a different role, if necessary, in order to bring a different perspective to the team? Can the team members voice this information to each other and keep it in mind as they work together?

Third, effective teams need to be able to be brutally honest with each other. Notice the "be able" in that sentence. You may not be brutally honest all the time ("I really hate that dress"), but you should be comfortable being brutally honest when it doing so helps the team and the decisions it is making. That ability does not happen overnight.

Fourth, teams need to have to-do lists, keep notes, etc., just like individuals do. They need to make guidelines, policies and procedures, which will cut down on the number of ad hoc decisions that need to be made.  (By the way, if you have guidelines for how something is to done, recognize that the  guideline outlines decisions that have already been made.)

Teamwork not only means that teams do work, but that it takes work to be a team. It also takes more work to be a team that can make decisions together and can do so with getting fatigued.

I hope this has been a worthwhile series for you to read. I know it has been a worthwhile series for me to write!  If you think others would benefit from it, please pass it along.


Note: I'm an Amazon Associate, which means if you click on the Amazon link and make a purchase, I'll get a tiny commission. Tiny.   

[Updated 08/25/2023]

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Decision Fatigue, Part 3

Sculpture: Time to Let Go...
Time to Let Go...
If you've just come across this four-part series, here are links to part 1 and part 2.

In part 2, one of the resources was to a mind sweep exercise.  The mind sweep exercise can be considered the groundwork for the planning and review process, which we often fail to do well. I had a client years ago where the client project team was continually remaking the same decisions over and over again, because they had not fully planned their work. Imagine the stress of knowing that a decision is not final and that it will get re-discussed and re-made at every meeting?

As a corporate librarian, I frequently got into the office early and had 10-20 minutes before the start of the day to review and plan.  As a consultant, I generally used Sunday evenings as the time to look at the week again and get organized. As an academic, I have not set aside dedicated time for review and planning, which is impacting me. That time is important. During that time, we cannot only see what needs to be done, but also understand what decisions need to be made and by whom.

Let me focus on "by whom" for a moment. You know of decisions that need to be made, but do you know who is the correct person to make that decision? Does that person know that he/she is supposed to make that decision? Since more of our requests for decisions are made through email, be more purposeful in how to write them and in noting what the decision is and who is supposed to make it. If there are multiple people on the email, that let's everyone know that information and likely will relieve anxiety among those who wonder if the decision is theirs.

In addition to the mind sweep and specific times for planning/review, our minds need down time. That times when you aren't consciously making decisions. For me, that is time walking from here to there. Amazingly, even though I'm not consciously making decisions then, I will often find clarity on an issue or decision, and that was clarity that wasn't coming to me when my mind was filled with a myriad of different details.

Before this day ends, I want you to do two things. First, look at your calendar and find time in the next week to do a mind sweep and to do some planning (those might be two different events on your calendar). Second, go for a walk. It could be a walk around your building, up and down the stairs, or outdoors. Walk for five minutes (or more) and give your mind some down time. It will thank you for it!