Failure is Not an Option

One of my favourite quotes from someone I admire immensely, Gene Kranz. This was his speech to his subordinates at NASA after the Apollo I Launchpad fire that killed the three astronauts on board. Few people will make themselves and accountable and admit fault, this is the best example I’ve ever seen of someone holding themselves accountable and fixing their mistakes.

 

“Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, ‘Dammit, stop!’ I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did. From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.’ Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

A slight change

No doubt you have probably noticed the change in title of the website. The old name never really sat well with me and was only there because it was the only name I could use for the url. Obviously the url has stayed the same but the title is different and much more in line with what I intended. I also removed a couple of old posts that I’m not happy with – I’ll be working on them before reposting. Finally, I’ve added a couple of my favourite articles and websites I follow on the left – have a look at them, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Short break

Just wanted to say thanks to everyone that has stopped by so far to read my posts. I’m going to be taking a short break for a couple of weeks as I finish off a book I’ve been writing for about a year now. In the meantime I’m going to put up some favourite quotes and links to articles that I think are really good.

Sit or Stand – Don’t Waver

Thought for the day – whatever choice you are going to make, make it and own it. I’ve lost count of the times I was going to go to the gym and felt tired. Or wanted to do some writing but felt tired. I should have either done the writing or the gym, or taken a nap. Either way I would have gotten something. Instead I did the whole “can’t be bothered” and just watched DVDs or played computer games. Stupid. On the Monday just passed I was tired from a big get together my family had on Easter Sunday, and I wavered in the afternoon about taking a nap or going to the gym. I went to the gym, and it was epic.

Bottom line, just pick one and do it. Don’t procrastinate and instead waste the time.

Taking the Hard Road

I have recently moved back to my home state after a 6 year absence due to being in the army. With the move obviously comes a whole lot of new things, one of which is the search for a judo club. I immediately made preparations to go back to the club I first started at – a big university club with lots of competition and hard training. Then I thought it would probably be a good idea to at least see if there were any new clubs close by. I found one just 10 minutes from my house and went there last night.

It was a good club. The facilities were good, the people were really nice, and the coach was a man after my own heart who put us through one hell of a training session. Upon finishing though, I felt a little sad. I was going to have to make the hard decision to most probably not go back. You see, along with one other guy there, I was the highest grade. “That’s awesome!” I imagine many people would say. I’d get to kick ass there every session. Believe me, when you’ve been out and seen the big, wide world, such a situation is a hollow feeling. It is one thing to be the big fish in a small pond that you’ve never been out of – you don’t know any better. When you have been one of the small or medium fish in several very large ponds though, you know just how little the pond you are in is and being the big fish is no consolation.

I’ve seen this at a lot of “traditional” schools. Before I started judo, I trained for 6 years in jujutsu. My instructor was big on getting out there and seeing what other schools were doing, so during that time I visited many schools. Some were good, most were between average or very bad. The problem was that each instructor had essentially set up his own little fiefdom where he held all his students spellbound by his position and title. That an instructor was unfit or lacked real combative skills was never an issue because their students never experienced anything different once they started training there, so they just assumed the instructor was worthy of their position and a badass killing machine.

The point of this is not to slag off other schools, but that in any endeavour, if you want to reach your maximum potential you need to challenge yourself. You need to step outside your comfort zone and be a bit (or a lot) vulnerable.This may seem obvious, but when the going gets tough it becomes very easy to tell yourself that you’re good enough, that you’re comfortable and don’t need to do anything more. The world is full of such people. It doesn’t matter if you realise you’re never going to get the top, I don’t consider that a reason to just throw it in and sit in a comfort zone. At the age I started judo, there was no way I was ever going to make it to world championships or the Olympics, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t give it a red hot try and at least fight at nationals.

I got good at judo not only because I fought every difficult opponent I could find, but also because I started associating with such people. In addition to competing against them hardening your skills, when you associate with them you get a whole lot of mentors, because that’s the nature of the game. People pay it forward. While this is not true of every endeavour (I’ve known of some notorious hoarders of information in other fields, but they were pretty rare), most people will be only too willing to help you out once you earn their respect and they subsequently recognise you as one of their own. And the only way to earn this respect is to get out there and give it a red hot go. People don’t expect you to come in as their equal, but when they see you working your ass off and not shying away from the tough stuff, they will reach out that helping hand.

But they won’t do it for posers or people that don’t want to do the work.

What’s Important to You?

The reason I ask is that so many people I know have lives that indicate that they don’t know themselves. Ask anyone how they typically spend their days and you will find out very quickly if there is anything particularly important to that person and where their life is generally headed. All too often people take the path of least resistance in life which ultimately makes for little satisfaction and the feeling at a certain age that life has passed them by. To provide an example of what I’m talking about, here is a rough breakdown of my typical week:

  • 6:30 Wake up/shower/bfast
  • 7:05 Leave for work (checking email, facebook and news on my phone at the points I sit in traffic)
  • 7:35 Arrive at work. Professional development (currently doing a diploma of management, but also reading books related to my field etc)
  • 8:30-5:00 Work – 5 minutes every hour I take a walk up our street and back. My lunch hour I spend the first 30min taking a walk outside
  • 5:45 Gym
  • 7:00 Dinner
  • 7:30-8:30 Maybe watch some tv
  • 8:30-9:30 Writing
  • 9:30 Read a bit of fiction before going to sleep

2 days of the week I don’t go to the gym and instead go to judo from 7-9. Things are a bit chaotic at the moment as I’m either commuting to Canberra on the weekend or my wife is coming up here, so my time is a bit shaken up. Nevertheless, there isn’t much wasted time in there, is there? What can you glean from looking at my day about where my priorities lie? I’ll leave it for you to guess in the comments if you like.

I know A LOT of people who constantly complain that they don’t get promoted at work, that their life is boring, that they are always tired. All you have to do is look at their schedule to work out the problem. They stay up late watching tv or playing games and don’t get adequate sleep. They eat like crap. They spend their work day going through the motions, thinking that competence should equal promotion. Newsflash – you have to do a bit more. You have to develop yourself professionally. Likewise people waste hours watching television – I do it a couple of nights a week too if I’m tired, but really it is dead time that could be better spent doing other things.

My schedule is no accident. I didn’t obsessively plan it down to the last second, but I know what I want over the next few years and how I have my day planned will help make it happen. If you want certain things out of life, you have to make them happen. If I wanted to make the Olympics in judo, it wouldn’t be a case of just training a bit harder and seeing how things went – that’s setting myself up for failure (and giving myself an excuse to fail). I’d have to have a team of people helping me and have everything planned out, from training sessions to competitions to periodised strength and conditioning. This is no different to any other endeavour. If I want to rise to the top in the corporate world, turning up every day isn’t going to cut it. I need to plan out my day so I can keep abreast of what is happening in my industry, do online courses that will help my development, network with the right people and so on.

Time waits for no man. While you are wasting yours watching tv (which you wont miss once you stop doing it), other people are doing the things I mentioned above. You can choose not to do that, there is nothing wrong with it, but understand you have no right to whinge that things aren’t handed to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on Deliberate Practice

I thought I’d give you some of Cal Newport’s expertise straight from the horse’s mouth rather than write about it myself. This post is particularly good and it would just be a waste for me to say anymore on it when it is said so well here.

http://calnewport.com/blog/2010/01/06/the-grandmaster-in-the-corner-office-what-the-study-of-chess-experts-teaches-us-about-building-a-remarkable-life/

 

 

Routine is underrated

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Just a quick post today as I’ve started a new job and things are still not quite settled. I came across a post on lifehacks a week or so ago regarding breaking out of your routine if life is boring. Being spontaneous and so on. So much seems to be made about living an exciting life these days. Unless you are out at parties or clubs, hooking up and generally being seen you are a bore. Funny thing is, all the people I know that are really successful (well, apart from some in the entertainment industry where things are a bit more chaotic) generally have a fairly set routine. They go to bed early, they get up early. They have their meals made ahead of time. They eat much the same thing each day. They work out at the same time each day. These people are productive, healthy, fit and happy. They don’t find their lives boring and mundane, and could care less that other people do. Having been out of regular 8-4 full time work for 6 months, I have noticed several changes due to being out of routine. Eating and working out are less than optimal – your body becomes used to working out at a certain time each day and I felt tired and off when it became different. Productivity and sleep was also affected because my only routine was that I had no routine.

Now that I’m back in regular full time work, my sleeping patterns are stabilised and I feel tired at the same time each night and wake up the same time each morning. I’ve lost the couple of extra kilos I put on just by eating normally again. I feel much more satisfied and happy. Routine really changes everything when it comes to living a happy, productive life.

 

Why Every Child Deserves a Tiger Parent

I’ve been pondering over several things this last couple of weeks while I’ve been busy, one of them being parenting and the importance of school in a child’s future. I’ve written plenty here regarding how to build skill and expertise in virtually any endeavour one chooses and the message is always the same – lots of time spent on deliberate practice and eventually deeper work on the subject. It should come as no surprise then, that when it comes to children I advocate a very hands on approach as they make their way through school.

“Tiger parenting”, for those that haven’t heard the term, refers to the Asian (also seen in India, Pakistan and Jewish cultures) style of parenting which forces children to devote more time to study and achievement than having fun. This is pretty much directly at odds with the more laissez faire Western approach that is more along the lines of “let kids be kids”. The first I heard of tiger parenting was in this article written by Amy Chua, a law professor at Yale. I eventually went on to read her book titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which utterly fascinated me. I read this book before I had started thinking about expertise and how to build it and even then it resonated with me.

Now to be honest, I’m not a total fan. I believe her level of tiger parenting is excessive – however you cannot argue with her results. Similar results to, oh I don’t know, Judit Polgar, who I wrote about in my last post. The reason I am an advocate of tiger parenting (well, a lesser version of it) is because I was raised in the more Western method of parenting. I pretty much never studied, rarely did homework (and when I did it was half assed) and spent too much time at school talking in class. I was lucky enough that I could still get high enough grades to be in the top 20%. I barely even studied for my year 12 exams. Thinking about it now, it flabbergasts me – why the hell wouldn’t I study for my year 12 exams, especially since I wanted to go to university?

Of course my success at school ended when I hit university. I bombed out and I bombed out huge in my first year, because I didn’t know what a work ethic was when it came to study. Hell, I didn’t even know how to study. I eventually quit that degree, and made some really poor career choices which haunted me for the better part of a decade. I think back to my school days and wonder where I would have been if I was forced to study more (or at all), if I had taken school and my first degree seriously. I would probably have been an engineer rather than floundering about looking for a career that fit my passion (more on that later). I actually found one of my old report cards recently at my parent’s house and when I read it I was stunned. I went to my parents and literally said “what the shit is this? How could you have let me get away with these marks when I could have done so much better?”

This is why parents owe it to their children to help them build that expertise while they are at school. I’m not talking about teaching them to do maths before they can walk, but once they are at school parents should take an active interest in their child’s academic development and foster their growth. This includes actually being present during their homework time, until they have proven to be trustworthy. That’s right. Guess what? Children and teenagers aren’t trustworthy when it comes to school work. At that age, they’d rather be out playing sport, messing around on Facebook or playing Call of Duty. I was exactly the same. I spent most of year 11 and 12 in internet chat rooms. Leaving them to their devices instead of monitoring them throws away their future. We are no longer in the age where you can just get any job out of school as long as you have a certificate, the world is more populated and ultra competitive.

Helping children build their expertise at school should go hand in hand with helping to shape their career. Most Western parents seem to have the attitude of “follow your passion and if you work hard you’ll make a living” (and so much the better if that includes a degree, any degree). Wrong. The world needs certain things from the people living in it – if you are telling your child who loves English literature to just work hard and they’ll find a career in it, odds are they’ll have a lot of student debt that they can’t pay off, because who the hell needs someone on the basis of their English literature knowledge? A teenager leaving school has no idea what the working world is like, let alone the job market. How can we leave our children to just figure it out for themselves? As I said, I wasted a decade of my working life not knowing what the hell to do, do you want the same for your child?

Parents also need to be realistic and throw away their preconceived notions about careers. So many parents, as I said before, want their kids to just get any degree rather than taking what they perceive to be a lower status job which would probably suit them much better. A university degree has become the great sucker deal of our time, because unless it is in something vocationally relevant like the STEM fields, teaching, finance etc it is a waste of money. Many people that do degrees would have been far better served getting into a company at a lower level and working their way up – they would have been earning money sooner, building their knowledge and expertise in that field and coming out ahead of where they’d be if they had done a Bachelor of Arts for example.

Most importantly, parents need to teach their children the value of hard work. Even if they don’t like school and never want to go further than year 12, the work ethic they build while at school will do them well once they are working. You can’t expect children and teenagers to want to study and have a good work ethic. I didn’t actually want to study until I did my masters degree – at that time I was 27 years old and mature enough to push myself and know what I was doing it for. Kids and teenagers don’t have that maturity at school, they don’t see the endgame and what it is all for. This is why it’s the parent’s responsibility to step in and make them study.

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