5th February, 2023
❝ Quote, 🔄 Loop, 📙 Publish
That feeling when you’ve proven you’re the best in the world … on one leg.
I have a complicated relationship to quotations.
I subscribe to the Don’t Quote philosophy (and, yes, I do appreciate the irony of linking to Derek’s post on this topic!)
I’ve learned that often when people quote somebody else it’s because they don’t quite believe the idea themselves yet - they prefer the safety of using others' words. I love it when I hear other people use words or ideas I’ve given them as their own. I reckon that’s real influence.
While it’s nice to be able to credit the person who convinced us that something was true, it’s also true that there is no such thing as an original idea - every time I think I've had one Google will quickly disabuse me of that. So, we’re only ever referencing one link in a potentially long chain. It is, as they say, turtles all the way down.
On the other hand, for as long as I can remember I’ve collected quotes to try and remember them - first in physical notebooks and more recently in digital files.
I’m always impressed when I find an example of a complicated idea that has been boiled down to a simple articulation that can be easily remembered and shared, and that feeling when you read something new and then instantly can’t remember ever not believing it.
I love to learn the back story to a famous quote too: who was the person who is quoted and how did they come to have that idea? Often the source of a famous quote is more interesting that the quote itself. Sometimes the person who is regularly quoted never said the famous lines they are credited with at all. Misattributing quotes to historical figures like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain is now an internet meme.
These quotes and backstories often find their way into my writing - not least because a quote is often the inspiration to try and write about an idea in the first place.
So, how to balance these two conflicting positions?
I’ve created a separate page to list all of the quotes I reference in my essays:
There are about 50 favourites listed already - with about the same again to add in the coming weeks. Where I can I’ve included additional background details, such as the source, the full context and sometimes other related quotes too. Previously these details were hidden away in the footnotes, so I’m pleased to give them their own home:
If you're not prepared to be wrong you'll never come up with anything original
But there are others where I haven’t been able to find those details:
Often the people who invent something and the people who work out what that thing is for are different people
Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.
If anybody can help me fill in those gaps I’d be grateful.
When you’re reading my essays keep an eye out for the green speech bubble icons which link directly to these pages.
I’ve been thinking about feedback loops, and specifically how these contribute to a performance culture in great teams.
When we get this right it makes it very difficult for those others to catch up. But it takes a lot of work to do it well. The key that unlocks it is when outputs from one iteration become inputs to the next.
I’ve recently updated my essay on this, with some more examples of the tools, techniques and habits I’ve seen in the teams I’ve been lucky enough to be part of.
Here’s a sample:
What makes us more uncomfortable: the possibility that we might be wrong, or the experience of having somebody show us we’re wrong? I think for many people it’s the later.
Often the reason receiving feedback makes us defensive is simply related to timing. Just being more explicit about the sort of feedback that is useful at each stage can make a big difference:
In the early stages, when all we have is a rough idea, feedback on the concept is valuable but feedback on the polish is premature. Ask for 30% feedback.
Later, when the idea has been developed but still has rough edges, feedback on the details is useful but feedback on the foundation is too late and so more likely to be annoying than productive. Ask for 70% feedback.
Finally, we eventually reach a point where feedback is no longer useful. When we want praise rather than feedback we should just say that. Anybody on the team who (like me) struggles to see when something is good enough will appreciate that. Ask for 100% feedback.
This is something that a team can work together to do better.
When we are more explicit about the type of feedback we want at the time we share our work, we are more likely to get useful suggestions that improve the work.
And this itself creates another positive feedback loop - the more we see the things we’re sharing improved by feedback we get from others, the more willing we become to share in the future.
If we get this right we create an environment where everybody in the team is much more willing to share work-in-progress at a point in time where it can actually be improved. Then we give ourselves the chance of creating something that is really great.
Read the full essay: Feedback Loops.
I’m interested to hear what you think.
What are the other things that you’ve seen to create these connections?
In January 2021 Robin Rendle published this gorgeous illustrated essay: Newsletters
Specifically he was talking about the things they he felt were lost when content was delivered via email rather than on websites.
This is the quote that stuck with me (from my list!):
Perhaps I feel this way because reading everything in my inbox is somewhat antiquated. It’s almost as if we’ve gone back to reading off parchment after we invented books.
Perhaps it’s poor form to reference this in a newsletter that most people will read in their inbox (👋 to all of you who subscribe to Top Three - you can subscribe now if you’re not one of them).
Anyway, how he feels about newsletters is how I’ve started to feel about posting on social media. For the last 14 years I’ve been happy to share my ideas first on Twitter. That hasn’t been all bad - it’s been a good place to knock the rough edges off half-formed thoughts. But, expanding on those and getting them back onto a website that I own has been a lot of work.
Thanks to a delightfully full January, and after many years of trying, I seem to have finally weaned myself off Twitter. The withdrawal symptoms aren’t as bad as I expected.
Instead, I’m committed to writing more in longer form.
I spent the last year organising and polishing the content I’d finally published in 2021. This year I want to get back to my growing list of unpublished drafts and get some of those out into the world. You’ll read them here first, so please stay tuned and, if you’d like to help, share what I send you with others who you think would be interested.
I’m also exploring the idea of a book, based on the 65-odd essays I’ve completed.
I’m looking for an editor who can work with me to turn these mostly disconnected insights and lessons into a coherent narrative. If you’re interested, or know somebody else who might be, please get in touch. I think it will be a fun project!
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