Best Practices: Developing a practice

 
Jerry Fisk, one of the premier bladesmiths in America, in his studio In Arkansas. Image credit: Tadd Myers

Jerry Fisk, one of the premier bladesmiths in America, in his studio In Arkansas. Image credit: Tadd Myers

 

In a conversation about his learning process, bladesmith Jerry Fisk instills the value of education and the value of being generous with his knowledge. Coupled with this is an ability to develop a practice. Designated an Arkansas Living Treasure and a National Living Treasure, Jerry turns out Damascus steel knives that sell for tens of thousands of dollars to collectors all over the globe.

Having started with no knowledge of forging and smithing, Jerry understands the frustrations of the beginner. Even with his depth of skill he is never satisfied with his knowledge, regularly challenging himself by taking stock of what he’s learned by questioning himself:

  • What new thing did I try I try today?

  • What risk did I take?

  • Did I remain in integrity with my Craft?

  • How can I improve?

  • How can I amplify my knowledge and share what I know?

As he put it,

“I will tell anybody anything about making knives because what I tell you now will be old to me in a year.”

Jerry views carrying knowledge forward and sharing it as a responsibility. He doesn’t charge a penny, believing in the value and meaning associated with helping others.

The transfer of knowledge from master to apprentice is a key component of effective learning.

John Billings, a mold maker and fine artist, John makes the Grammy awards. He’s known as the Grammy Man. He apprenticed for seven years to Bob Graves, master mold maker who made molds for metal figures for trophy companies at the time, and also made the molds for the first Grammy in 1958.

Dying of complications from diabetes and cancer, Bob he felt a strong need to pass on his trade.  

Every night John would stop by the hospital and they would get to work in their minds. Engaging in deliberate practice, they would discuss mold making with their eyes closed, practicing how Bob would teach John molds he had yet to make, as if he were blind. Even after seven years of working together they hadn’t covered all the bases of mold making John looks at the end design for molds he makes now for about a week, envisioning how the metal will be poured and shaped—every detail about the construction. The practice of detailed, deliberate visioning he learned with Bob guides John through his planning and execution, ultimately saving him a lot of trial and error. 

 
John Billings, mold maker of the only award still made in America, in his studio In Colorado. Image credit: Tadd Myers

John Billings, mold maker of the only award still made in America, in his studio In Colorado. Image credit: Tadd Myers

 

John reflects,

“It was a heavy responsibility. Just before he died I think he could relax, understand, and know that I was going to be carrying on his work. I can’t describe the honor it is to carry his tradition forward.”

Two powerful examples illustrating the duty people who live and work with Craft feel about sharing what they know. While you may not find yourself in dire life-or-death scenarios, there are times when you are under great pressure to perform, be effective, or provide a solution to a problem you haven’t seen before.

You can begin your day by preparing your mind. Think through what it is you want to learn for the day, what is likely to come up to disrupt that, and how you may respond.

You can end your day by reflecting and analyzing how you held to your goal, how you managed yourself in adversity, and the choices you made—so that tomorrow you can be more patient, more effective, freer from fear, and more content with your work.

The result of these tiny actions has a cumulative effect, making you stronger and more resilient. 

Ari Weinzeig’s prolific writing on visioning and leadership is an embodiment of this approach. Ari and his business partner tend to Zingerman’s Community of Businesses where he teaches his version of management to employees and workshop attendees from around the world.

 
Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, cofounders of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. Image credit: NYTimes

Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, cofounders of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. Image credit: NYTimes

 

Early in the morning or late in the evening—or when he can find a quiet moment—he makes time to write. He writes first for himself, not for anyone else, to process what he learns. This is partly why his work is so accessible—as he digests new ideas, he tries to understand them for himself and apply them in his own context. His practice isn’t for others, it’s for himself. He shares anecdotes about experiences he’s had in leadership (good and bad), thoughts he caught himself having or opportunities to improve and be better. He’s also practicing in real time—writing down little bits of wisdom from greats like Peter Drucker, John Dewey, Donald Schön, Dan Siegel, Daniel Goleman, Daniel Pink as well as the dishwasher, sandwich makers, and staff of his organizations that resonate with him.

An ability for critical self-evaluation is critical for personal and professional development. By revisiting the events of the day, asking yourself basic questions like:

  • What went well?

  • Where did things start to go off the rails?

  • What work remains unfinished?

You might not think of yourself as someone who journals. Maybe you’ve started and never found a way to keep it up. And, anyone can start.

Start to keep your own journal, whether it’s saved on a computer, your phone, or in a little notebook so that you can put every day up for review.

Journaling is a way to call yourself to the present, to recall the past, in order to more effectively manage the future. Recall events from the day or previous day. Be unflinching in your assessments. Ask yourself tough questions. Notice what contributed to your happiness and what detracted from it. Write down what you’d like to work on or like to see more off. It won’t magically happen—but by making the effort to record your thinking, you’re less likely to forget them.

There are many benefits to journaling, or even light note taking. First, you’re creating written “data” of your progress. Over time, you can start to look back on your efforts and take note of your progression. Second, journaling helps with sleep as it helps you purge anxious thoughts or unfinished business that can cause your mind to spin up when it should be winding down. Journaling helps you lay to rest those last thoughts of the day, allowing it to close in reflection rather than avoidance. And last, it can give us a very literal understanding of something we may already intellectually know—that our first thoughts are never our fault.

The thoughts racing through our minds are part of our wiring and ways of coping. However, our judgments, impulses, will, and choice are all within our control. Just because these things are within your control doesn't mean they aren't influenced by external factors: other people's opinions of you, physical sensations, etc. But ultimately, they are under your control because you can make a conscious choice to ignore your impulses or override the opinions of others.

There are things not in your control: how your body reacts, your property could get damaged or stolen, your reputation is in the hands of others, and anything that is not your own doing (basically all things external to your mind). There's an argument that these things are under your partial control, and that's true, but I'm trying to land a point.

 

 

 DEVELOPING A PRACTICE for regular self-evaluation

Start broadly.

  • What went well?

  • Where did things start to go off the rails?

  • What work remains unfinished?

Your practice may start and stop there. And that is ok.

 

 

Or, you can narrow in.

Consider an event and write about it. It can be anything from seeing someone at lunch to a major meeting. Choose something that isn't too emotionally jarring. List the aspects of it that were completely in your control and which weren't. This might yield some initial insights on what is or is not in your control.

Here is an example:

 

Met with my boss today to discuss the latest customer escalation close rates. I was a little nervous going in since I'm not quite hitting my mark. We sat down and discussed what action steps I could take to get back on track by the end of the month. A lot of the suggestions were helpful.

 

IN MY CONTROL

The intent to show up on time to the meeting

Valuing my boss's opinion of me and my work

The wish to reduce my close rates and turnaround times

The desire to get actionable advice from my boss (if it'd help meet most of my goals)

Conscious nervous thoughts/what I tell myself

OUT OF MY CONTROL

Actually showing up on time (another meeting might have run late)

My boss's opinion of me

Meeting my close targets (I can't force the engineering team to implement ALL my fixes!)

Actually getting useful tips

Automatic nervous thoughts and physical feelings of anxiety

You may notice the side of control is filled more with results and the out of control side has more desires, wants, wishes, etc. Both of the last points in both categories are automatic thoughts/sensations more or less--not everything in our bodies and minds are willed.

You don't choose for your heart to race or hands to sweat, they just do. You don't decide to dwell in worst case scenarios. It’s just a reflex. But once you notice them, you can choose (consciously) where to direct your thoughts, in spite of those automatic responses.

Your turn.


For ideas on how to start, check out posts on developing a Morning Practice, Evening Practice, and what it means to Maintain Tension.

Best Practice: Maintaining Tension (between knowing and not knowing)

 
Photo by  Casey Horner

Photo by Casey Horner

 

Purpose: to adopt a mindset of both “believing and disbelieving” to learn something new or widen your perspective.


Most of us are taught in school and later in our jobs that once we are successful then we’ll be happy. Yet, research demonstrates that happiness is a precursor to success. Optimizing for tangible “success” is so seductive. We even refer to them as “tangible outcomes” forgetting to observe the process for achieving them. We will suffer through arcane methodologies and esoteric language to achieve these “outcomes” forgetting to take note of the experiences we have along the way. We often had to learn the hard way that success is merely a byproduct of a particular approach, not an end goal.

A key component of happiness is curiosity. Curiosity is what makes us open to new ideas and unfamiliar experiences. Buddhist’s refer to this as entering with “the beginner’s mind.” Researchers call it “growth mindset.” Children naturally embody it. Adults when forced to change, experience it under duress. Curiosity helps us see new things, see old things in new ways, and be open to multiple truths. Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the notion of “muscular empathy” which challenges us to be open to some of the most difficult truths.

Muscular empathy is not the soft, flattering, hand-holding empathy. Coates describes muscular empathy as deeply rooted in curiosity. If you really want to understand a difficult topic, “it is essential that you first come to grips with the disturbing facts of your own mediocrity.” He counsels us to look at ourselves, first, and painfully examine ourselves before determining an opinion.

The first rule is this--You are not extraordinary. It's all fine and good to declare that you would [have done more, known more, been more]. But it's much more interesting to assume that you wouldn't have and then ask, "Why?" —Ta-Nehisi Coates

Certainty is the enemy of curiosity. Or as “Google Genius” Tom Chi explains, knowing is the end of learning. Being certain and knowing things is so tempting. Most of us, me included, have learned that knowing things and being certain is how we prove how smart or wise we are. The opposite is actually true.

Our certainty about people, organizations, and the world makes them predictable and it gives us a false sense of comfort and control in our understanding of how the world operates. This belief in a fixed world is an illusion and the source of our entitlement to certain outcomes and lays the foundation for our frustration, irritation, and sadness when things don’t work as we think they should.

We seek control when we feel out of control. This is most acute when we are tipping forward toward change as individuals or enduring change in organizations. The more control we seek, the more out of control we feel. It’s a cycle of our own making.

The most insidious illustration of this concept shows up in our relationships with others. When we feel out of control we try to control those around us. “Can’t they just be different? more like us? do what we want or need them to do? Others experience us like a vice, constricting their ability to express themselves, ignoring their needs, and dominating us.

 

It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility. —Albert Einstein

 

Every individual is growing, evolving, learning, and changing everyday. We are movies, always evolving toward a conclusion. We are not photos, frozen in time. When we make others predictable we rob them of that same possibility.

When others become predictable in our minds we give ourselves permission to stop listening. When we stop listening we aren’t really interacting with others, we are simply interacting with the simple (and convenient for us) versions of them we have created in our own minds. Sometimes we even make others predictable in a negative way to shift responsibility for what we don’t like from us to them.

If you feel out of control, let go of trying to control things. Life becomes magical when you let go of as much control as possible over what is beyond you and simultaneously claim as much agency as possible over what is within you.


 

Consider an event and write about it. It can be anything from seeing someone at lunch to a major meeting. Choose something that isn't too emotionally jarring. List the aspects of it that were completely in your control and which weren't. This might yield some initial insights on what is or is not in your control.

Here is an example:

 

IN MY CONTROL

The intent to show up on time to the meeting

Valuing my boss's opinion of me and my work

The wish to reduce my close rates and turnaround times

The desire to get actionable advice from my boss (if it'd help meet most of my goals)

Conscious nervous thoughts/what I tell myself

OUT OF MY CONTROL

Actually showing up on time (another meeting might have run late)

My boss's opinion of me

Meeting my close targets (I can't force the engineering team to implement ALL my fixes!)

Actually getting useful tips

Automatic nervous thoughts and physical feelings of anxiety


Alongside technical skills, people who can master a range of subjective skills are better able to influence, deal with ambiguity, bounce back from setbacks, think creatively, and manage themselves successfully in their pursuit of mastery. Learn more about the 25 Skills.