Criticize with CRIBS

Have you ever been asked to edit someone’s written work?  For most of us, it is hard to provide constructive feedback to a writer beyond noting spelling errors or grammatical issues.  However, what every writer needs to be successful is honest criticism and sharp editting that can push their writing to the next level.

person holding orange click pen writing on notebook

I am taking an online course called Write of Passage, and in the last class the instructor David Perell, shared a simple approach that anyone can use to provide quick, helpful criticism.  It is titled with the acronym of CRIBS. As an editor moves through a written piece, they use the following five items to provide useful feedback:

  • Confusing – The section reviewed doesn’t make much sense
  • Repeated – The information was shared earlier and nothing much was added this time
  • Insightful – This section provided valuable, engaging information
  • Boring – This section doesn’t hold the reader’s attention
  • Surprising – The information was unexpected and thought provoking

I’m going to use CRIBS myself in the future whenever I am asked to edit someone’s work.  I invite you to try it yourself and let me know what you think.

Taming Unproductive Habits

Have you thought about your habits recently?

A habit is the name given to an action that we repeat on a regular basis.  Most habits are mundane, such as the steps done in the morning before heading out the door for work.  Others can be self defeating or destructive.  Charles Duhigg wrote the definitive book on the habits in in 2012, which included steps on how to start and change habits.

Recently Darius Foroux wrote an article for Pocket that examined unproductive habits.  This is because he says “The reason I study productivity is because I’m an unproductive person. I truly am.”  In the article he identifies 11 unproductive habits to quit.  Some of them are familiar to those who study GTD, such as:

“Relying On Your Memory
Not writing down your thoughts, ideas, tasks, etc, is insane. Why? Because you’re wasting a lot of brain power when you rely on your memory. When you write everything down, you can use your brainpower for other things. Like solving problems. That’s actually useful and advances your career.”

design desk display eyewear

Other unproductive habits include overworking, worrying and complainingExplore these and the rest and then see which ones you want to quit.

Get Ready to Unfocus?

officeyogaWe often associate success at work or in a creative endeavor to be the result of focus.  With so many distractions in the world, people search for ways to focus their mind in order to get things done.  While it is important to focus, does this mean that being unfocused is a waste of time?

Not necessarily according to Srini Pillay in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.  Titled, Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus, Pillay explains why too much focus can be problematic.

“The problem is that excessive focus exhausts the focus circuits in your brain. It can drain your energy and make you lose self-control. This energy drain can also make you more impulsive and less helpful. As a result, decisions are poorly thought-out, and you become less collaborative.”

Deliberately unfocusing the mind shifts it in ways that are extremely beneficial.

“When you unfocus, you engage a brain circuit called the “default mode network.” … Under the brain’s conscious radar, it activates old memories, goes back and forth between the past, present, and future, and recombines different ideas. … you develop enhanced self-awareness and a sense of personal relevance. And you can imagine creative solutions or predict the future, thereby leading to better decision-making too.”

Learn more about the power of “unfocus” and techniques to do it by reading the rest of the article.

Choiceology

Hands up if you are a human?  Okay that is everyone except you Google bots!  Well if you are human, guess what, you are liable to fall for mental fallacies.

What is a fallacy?  A fallacy is invalid or faulty reasoning that can lead to a wrong decision.  Let’s look at a simple example.  It is easy to judge a decision based on its results. However, is it always true that a good outcome resulted from a good decision?  After all, a person might get home safely one night while driving drunk, but he would be a fool to think that being intoxicated made him a better driver.

To learn more about our fallacies and how to counteract them, I highly suggest listening to the podcast Choiceology.  As described on their site:

“Can we learn to make smarter choices? Listen in as host Katy Milkman shares stories of irrational decision making—from historical blunders to the kinds of everyday errors that could affect your future. Choiceology, an original podcast from Charles Schwab, explores the lessons of behavioral economics, exposing the psychological traps that lead to expensive mistakes.”

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There are three seasons of Choicology episodes available, so why not give it a listen?  I think it would be a good decision.

 

 

Failure is Thankfully Unavoidable

All knowledge workers will fail!  Guaranteed!

Nobody likes to fail.  In fact, a harsh stigma is often attached to failure.  Yet ironically failure is a natural part of life.  It is both unavoidable and necessary especially in the realm of knowledge work.

Remember that knowledge work is composed of tasks and goals that must be defined by the knowledge worker themselves.  Alas, even with their best judgement and experience, knowledge workers are often faced with a deficit of information.  Based on an incomplete picture, they are forced to make their best guess and then see how it plays out.  A knowledge worker living in fear of failure becomes paralyzed into inaction, perpetually avoiding a decision.

To counteract this problem, I agree with blogger Venkatesh Rao in that our approach to solving problems should be similar to that of software engineers.  Successful software engineers are constantly tinkering with code, testing it over and over again looking for bugs and creating situations where it will crash.  It is only after many different trails and iterations that they reach a pragmatic success.  This approach, known as “agile” has its own mantra, “Fail Early, Fail Often.”

Therefore, I believe that agility is a key factor for a successful knowledge worker.  They must be willing to learn from mistakes, course correct, and experiment constantly until they reach the desired goal.  When viewed this way failure is not a problem, but instead a necessary component of the path.  Once this is understood, failure loses it sting.  The knowledge worker can become fearless!

UC-TeddyDon’t worry about your failures, as each one is a stepping stone on the path to success.  As President Theodore Roosevelt said:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, then to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

How Software is Eating the World

Look around your room.  How many devices do you see that run on software?  Our computers obviously, but we often forget that software runs our televisions and cable boxes.  Many people now own smart appliances or have Ring doorbells.  All recent cars have a software package that controls vital aspects of the car.  With the spread of software, we are more and more reliant on an invisible profession to manage our days: software engineers.  As Marc Andreessen wrote in his 2011 Wall Street Journal article, software is eating the world.

raoVenkatesh Rao has deeply explored how software design process altered our way of living.  In fact, he champions that idea that we need to think more like software engineers who embrace failure and use it to constantly improve their work.  In his online series, Breaking Smart, he argues that software has become a transformational technology on par with the development of language and money.  Yet being in the middle of this transformation, we still struggle to understand its full effects. Venkatesh writes:

“As a simple example, a 14-year-old teenager today (too young to show up in labor statistics) can learn programming, contribute significantly to open-source projects, and become a talented professional-grade programmer before age 18. This is breaking smart: an economic actor using early mastery of emerging technological leverage — in this case a young individual using software leverage — to wield disproportionate influence on the emerging future.”

This is clearly demonstrated in the impact of people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google.  Venkatesh’s ideas are complex, but the Breaking Smart blog is worth tackling if you want to get a better sense of the often-unseen impact that software has on the world.

The Two Problems in Life

davidallenSome days it seems like our lives are full of problems.  They appear to come at us in all shapes and sizes, adding stress and tension to our days.  But perhaps all these problems are not really different from each other.  Maybe they all have something in common.

According to David Allen, we only have two types of problems.  In his recent blog post at Getting Things Done, he shares his theory.

“You only have two things you ever need to be concerned about. Not only are there only two problems—they are really quite simple. Ready?

Problem #1: You know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it.

Problem #2: You don’t know what you want.

“Anything you can define as a problem can be reduced to one or both of those statements.

“Now, since there are only two problems, it follows that there are only two solutions that you will ever need. You need to make it up, and make it happen. You must decide and clarify what outcome you’re after; and you must then determine how you get from here to there.”

Learn in more detail how you can solve either of these two problems by reading the rest of David’s blog post.