Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight. — Benjamin Franklin
Every day you can find something to worry about. Maybe even many times a day for some people. Some things you control. Some things you do not control. Some things for sure will happen. Some things may never happen. It only makes sense to worry about things that may happen that you have no control over. If you have control, then do something about it instead of worrying. If you have no control, then worrying does not help, so stop worrying.
Several years ago I got a call from a neighbor. Her young son had a part in a play and she said the director needed some adults for some of the parts. She asked if I would want to try out. Keep in mind I have never acted in a play before. The play was James and the Giant Peach. Children had most of the parts and the director wanted four adults to play the parts of the four bugs. I read the story many years ago and did not remember much about it. I assumed that the bugs played a minor part and so I went in to try out.
I tried out and they chose me to play the part of the Grasshopper. The Grasshopper narrates the story of the play; it is not a minor part! Although a little nervous about it I thought, how hard can it be? Other people do it. So I accepted the role and did my best and learned a new thing. I had a lot of fun and can say I would do that again. In fact, I did! I performed in a community theater performance of Seussical the Musical and had a blast again.
I read an article that tells of Prince planning to do a solo piano and microphone tour. In it he explains why he wants to put down his guitar and perform on piano alone on stage:
Why do this now? For several reasons. For starters it is a challenge. I rarely get bad reviews because this is something that’s been perfected 4 over thirty years. You have to try new things.
Life will give your Do not fear to take on new parts or roles in life. Try something new. How hard can it be? You will learn something new along the way and you just might find you like it!
Steve Chandler explains in a podcast that busyness really means laziness. You get too busy because you do not make the effort to say no. Learn to say “no”.
Every product tells a story. What story does your product tell? Can you clearly identify it’s theme? What plot takes you from beginning to end? What characterization helps your user get around? What style distinguishes yours from the rest?
When you get a new assignment, stand back and look at the big picture. How does it contribute to the company objectives? What do you know know about the assignment? What do you not know about it? Where can you find more information about it? You should start in the beginning to find the answers to these questions so that you do not spend too much time wandering around trying to figure out what to do.
It is easy to make a program that is right, faster. It is difficult to make a program that is fast, right.
— Michael A. Jackson (1936- )
When you work on a solution to a problem, you should first aim at creating something that works. Concentrate on doing it right. Include everything that comes to mind in your design and make it all work together. After you have a design that works, that accomplishes your desired end, then go about the business of making it fast, making it lean, making it fit.
A designer knows he has arrived at perfection, not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)
Once you have made it right, you will want to eliminate everything that does not directly help your design accomplish its purpose. This includes works of art as well as works of engineering. That book you wrote? Remove all that does not help the story. That painting you want to do? Remove all that does not portray the message of your work. That program you wrote? Take out the bells and whistles that a user will never use. That life you live? Take out the clutter and excess action. This process make take some time. The time you spend will make your efforts worthwhile.
The result of a year’s work depends more on what is struck out than on what is left in, on the sequence of the main lines of thought, than on their play and variety. — Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)
Strive to make every one of your designs a focused piece of work. Make it right, make it strong, make it clear, make it simple, make it meaningful. Nobody will misunderstand your design when you do that.
In Batman Begins, Alfred Pennyworth said, “Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up again.” Although this line sounds good, it fails to capture the real reason for the fall. We fall because we act on some incorrect premises. We have made bad assumptions about the situation; acting on those assumptions resulted in a fall. Think about any fall you have had. Stubbed your toe? Embarrassed yourself by something you said to your friend? The program you wrote fail to work properly for your customer? In all these instances, you mistakenly assumed some untrue things about the situation. You assumed that you had a clear path to walk. You assumed your friend would react more understandingly. You assumed that you had found all the errors in your code.
Although Pennyworth’s statement does not really explain why we fall, it points out a very important fact—we should learn from our falls. What should we learn? We should learn which of our premises we need to change. The fall gives us the opportunity to examine our premises and make adjustments. If we realize that acting on incorrect premises or bad assumptions caused our fall, we then can search for better premises to use in the future. We must then adjust our premises or we may fall again in much the same way.
After you pick yourself up from your next fall, take a moment to think about what you assumed prior to the fall. Determine more appropriate assumptions and then move forward with confidence that your previous assumption will not cause you to fall again. At the same time, realize that other assumptions may still cause you to fall again and prepare yourself to learn from future falls, as well.
Where do you focus your attention? Do you focus on one thing or does your focus jump from one thing to another, never staying in one place long enough to really accomplish anything? Focus does not mean the same thing as concentration. Concentration means sustained focus combined with intense mental effort. Concentration involves time, focus does not. Think of a pair of binoculars. You look through them and adjust the focus to your eyes and the distance of the thing of interest. Focus involves pointing the binoculars and sharpening the image. It does not require sustained looks in the same direction. You can change your focus quickly or slowly. Concentration, on the other hand, involves sustained looks in the same direction while examining and trying to understand what you see.
You should include both operations when you work to solve problems. Concentrate on the problem to understand what you know and do not know about the problem. Then draw on your instincts and let inspiration give you an idea of where to start. Scan the environment for hints about how other people have solved the problem, focusing on everything you can find. Concentrate on synthesizing a potential solution. Then concentrate on your work and solve the problem.
When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost—and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl. – T.S. Eliot
Eliot suggests here that we produce better results when we work under the pressure of a strict framework. How does this happen? If we have an open ended project to work on, we will continually try new things to get better results. This seems like a good thing, but having a lot of freedom also leaves us open to try things that may take us down paths that do not lead us towards our long term goals. To keep ourselves from having this happen, we should set specific short term goals and milestones that focus our efforts continually in the direction of our long term goals. We will want to create some goals that will keep us focused in the right direction.
If you find yourself in the role of team or project lead, sit down with your team as a group and with each member individually. Set some goals. Specify some milestones. Create a strict framework for them to work in. Encourage your team to prepare for inspiration. Then trust each member to apply his or her talents to do great work and produce the richest ideas. Follow up on any commitments they have made. Encourage a productive environment. Then do everything you can to make it possible for the team to succeed.
As a team member, often a team or project lead will work with you to set goals and milestones for you. In that case, take those goals serious and keep them in front of you every day. If you find yourself on a project without milestones worked out for you, you can set some for yourself. For example, suppose a manager comes to you gives you a nebulous goal of killing that problem. The manager tells you that this project does not have a deadline because it does not belong to any current products. When this happens, sit down and outline a path to go after the problem. Set some milestones for yourself with the purpose of showing your progress to your manager on some kind of periodic basis. Go over your plans with your manager so that he or she knows what you plan to do. This will help you keep your focus on producing something that will benefit the company and away from all the other interesting, but non-product related paths you may end up on without proper focus.
A strict framework will help you produce better results. It will help you come up with creative solutions to problems that will benefit the company and its products. The time spent setting up such a framework will more than pay for itself in the results you get.
In her book, The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, Ayn Rand defines inspiration in the following way:
What is colloquially called “inspiration”—namely, that you write without full knowledge of why you write as you do, yet it comes out well—is actually the subconscious summing-up of the premises and intentions you have set for yourself. All writers have to rely on inspiration. But you have to know where it comes from, why it happens, and how to make it happen to you. — Ayn Rand
Inspiration that we get when working on any problem, not just writing, comes from the “premises and intentions” we have previously stored away in our memory. Let me use a sports example to illustrate this idea. During his career, Michael Jordan made some truly inspired moves to help his team win games. We watch in awe as Jordan and other basketball players do the unimaginable and we wonder how they could even think to do it. They do not think about it. They have no way of knowing in advance how things will go during the game. They must rely on inspiration to perform as they do. It turns out well because they have prepared themselves beforehand so that they can make inspired moves in the game. They can make those moves because they spent the time to store away in their memory the premises of movement and intentions of getting more points and blocking the opponent from getting points.
Let us step back and look at something that comes natural to most of us: walking. We walk without thinking. We can navigate around a room thinking of what we plan to do when we get to our destination, never thinking at all about the steps along the way. Our foot avoids stumbling over a book left on the floor without more than a glancing thought when we see it out of the corner of our eye. How do we do that? We have stored away in our body all the information necessary for us to use to avoid or overcome physical challenges in the room. Yet we cannot explain how we do it. While you walk across the room, somebody tosses you a ball and you catch it before realizing what has happened. Try tossing a ball at a two year-old and you will realize the inspiration you use to catch the ball. Your past experiences prepared you for that moment of inspiration.
If you want to ensure that inspiration comes when you need it, you need get away from the idea that inspiration comes from some magical source that you have no control over. You do have control over it. The inspiration comes from inside you. If you find that you cannot come up with a solution to your problem, it means that you do not yet have a good background. What do you do in that situation? You look at what others have done. You review past problems you have worked on and look for similarities. You discuss your problem with a co-worker or manager. After some time, a light suddenly comes on in your head, perhaps in the wee hours of the morning, and you get inspired with a solution.
Where did that come from? Most people cannot explain it. It came from somewhere, though; it came from your intense activities to find a solution. If you understand this, you will realize that you do not have to wait until you have another problem to work on. You can get a head start on the next problem by simply brushing up on your current skills and studying everything you can find in your area of work. Engage yourself in meetings. Talk about your work with others. Study and exercise your brain and body to solve many different kinds of problems. Take refresher classes in your discipline. Get the basics down. Repeat them daily. Practice. Inspiration comes to those who prepare themselves.