Humility and Curiosity

Over the past five months, my wife and I have been adjusting to our roles as new parents. It’s a stressful gig! There are endless amounts of diapers, sleepless nights, and fits of crying for no apparent reason. Of course, there are also moments that make it all worthwhile – the smiles and giggles that now fill my phone.

Parenting comes with an immense amount of responsibility. Not only are you charged with providing for this little human, you’re supposed to raise him into a respectable adult. The pressure!

There are countless online articles listing out values we should instill on the younger generation for a better tomorrow. I know because I’ve spent quite a lot of time reading about them. Even before he was born, my wife and I were pouring over a list of 30 rules we wanted our son to adopt; maxims like: “In a game of HORSE, sometimes a simple free throw will get ’em.” and  “If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.”

I recently finished reading Factfulness, an insightful book about why the world is in a better place than it might appear. I have a lot of highlights from the book, but one in particular stood out as I had this idea of raising a respectable little human running through my head.

Most important of all, we should be teaching our children humility and curiosity.

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How (and Why) Do You Protect an Idea?

In the 19th century, Francis Cabot Lowell stole an idea. More importantly, he stole an idea from Britain and brought it back to the United States, largely transforming the American economy.

The target of Lowell’s espionage wasn’t exactly sexy, but it was effective nonetheless.

In 1784, Edmund Cartwright, an English inventor, pioneered the mechanical loom. For many years prior to his invention, looms (a tool for weaving fabric) were powered manually. The invention led to a drastic increase in output and productivity.

As a result, Britain’s textile industry boomed, and they fought hard to protect the source of their dominance. It was illegal to sell power looms to manufacturers outside of Britain and textile workers weren’t allowed to emigrate to other countries for fear that they would spill design secrets. British customs officers even searched visitors as they left the country.

Enter Francis Cabot Lowell.

As author Matt Ridley describes in The Rational Optimist, Lowell made a trip to Britain and visited a number of mills around the country. During his stay, he memorized the details of the power loom and brought them back to the United States. When he returned, he had a mechanic and inventor turn his memories into a close replica.

Idea stolen.

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Do Hard Things With Good People (and Other Life Maxims I’ve Borrowed)

“Pet a cat when you encounter one” isn’t likely to be found on your typical list of rules for life. It was, however, in Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

The natural evolution of reading someone else’s “rules for life” is thinking about your own rules. This mental exercise was prompted even further by reading Nate Green’s “10 Short Sentences I Use To (Basically) Run My Entire Life.”

I’m certainly not self-aggrandizing enough to suggest that I can come up with my own “rules for life.” I don’t believe I’ve experienced enough to come up with my own unique maxims. However, I have developed a habit of stealing from smart people.

So, with that in mind, here are 10 maxims I’ve borrowed from other people and adopted as “rules” of sorts for running my life. They’re like guiding principles that I reflect back on often. Hopefully, they help you in some way. If you ignore the rest, follow rule #10.

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Why You Should Be Obsessed With the Frontline of Your Business

A week ago, I called 10 different contractors trying to find someone to do a bit of work. Zero answered. I left five voicemails and didn’t receive a single call back.

Recently, my wife and I walked into a restaurant in downtown Denver to get some food. We stood by the host stand for five minutes while waiters walked by and bartenders served drinks. Not a single person said anything so we walked out.

Yesterday, I was on the phone with a utility company trying to set up a new service. They said someone would need to come out to finalize the installation. “Sounds good – how can I set that up?” I asked. They responded that someone would eventually reach out to me. No estimated time frame. No estimated installation date. No contact information I could use to get in touch with the installation team.

In each case, I’m trying to give someone money, but my experience as a customer makes it far less likely that I’m going to do so. I’m definitely not going to recommend them to a friend.

These experiences reinforce a simple idea – the bar for customer experience in business is low.

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The 3 Foundational Roles of Successful Leaders

In Good Boss, Bad Boss, I came across this definition of what it means to be a leader:

A boss’s job is “to eliminate people’s excuses for failure.”

The author, Robert Sutton, went on to distinguish two aspects of a leader. The first aspect is to manage and oversee performance meaning are you doing everything possible so your people can do great work? The second aspect involves humanity. Are you helping your people “experience dignity and pride” in their work?

If you Google “definition of leadership,” you’ll get over 500 million results, each highlighting a different aspect of what it means to be a leader. Some keep it short and sweet in a single sentence. Others list out 10 commandments leaders should follow.

I believe the true definition of leadership is a personal one, and it’s unique to each individual person.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the same conversation with multiple people. In those conversations, I defined the three characteristics I believe make up a good leader so I wanted to share them here.

My personal definition of leadership is that it involves three pieces:

  1. Setting the vision for where your team is headed.
  2. Providing actionable feedback to help them get there.
  3. Developing your people by connecting them with opportunities for growth.

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The Toxic Tandem in Leadership

“Followers look a the leader; the opposite does not happen as regularly or intensely.”

The above is from Good Boss, Bad Boss. It’s a quote by anthropologists that study group dynamics among chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons. These species are unique in that they have a set power structure. They have alpha males and leaders among their ranks.

Anthropologists studying these groups noticed something unique:

Studies of baboon troops show that a typical member glances at the alpha male every twenty or thirty seconds.

Followers revere the leader of their group, assembling cues on how they should think, feel, and act. Psychologist Susan Fiske elaborates on why this might be the case:

In an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power.

This makes sense. If someone has even a small stake in your future, it’s in your best interest to understand how they think and respond in specific situations.

This wouldn’t be a problem if leaders were always conscious it was happening and acted accordingly. But, that’s not always the case. There’s plenty of evidence that power warps the awareness, thoughts, and attitudes of those that have it*.

The overarching themes are laid out in Good Boss, Bad Boss. Leaders tend to:

  1. become more focused on their own needs and wants
  2. become less focused on others’ needs, wants, and actions
  3. act as if written and unwritten rules others are expected to follow don’t apply to them

The “toxic tandem” is this: Leaders are under intense scrutiny from those around them yet their position often results in self-serving behavior.

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2017 Retrospective

The new year provides a natural self-reflection point. It’s an opportunity to review the past year, identify what went well and what didn’t go so well, then lay out plans to make the upcoming year even better.

This kind of self-reflection is a skill just like riding a bike. The more you practice the skill, the better you get at being honest with yourself and identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

Each year, I set aside some time to reflect back on the previous year and set some personal areas I want to focus on. You can read my 2015 retrospective here and my 2016 one here. I borrowed this tactic from Nate Green. If you would like some loose guidelines about how you can write your own retrospective, I would suggest reading his post here.

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Create More Value Than You Consume

“Think Different.” “Don’t be evil.”

It’s common for brands to have catchy taglines. The former is from Apple. The latter was made famous by Google. At Automattic, our goal is to “democratize publishing.” We also have a creed that helps to guide our actions with some simple statements.

In a recent Tim Ferriss podcast with Tim O’Reilly, I was introduced to another slogan (for O’Reilly Media), “Create more value than you capture.” The slogan has stuck with me since I originally heard it on the podcast.

The real implications of “create more value than you capture” extends beyond a company slogan and can really be used as a guiding value in your personal and professional life. It can influence the choices you make, the projects you pursue, the recognition you strive for, and how you treat others.

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Building a Photo Site With GatsbyJS Part 4 – Building a Grid Photo Layout

We’re making progress! In the third part of this six part series, we started getting some content on the page by creating the header component that will sit at the top of our home page and single photo pages. Right now, if you change into your photo directory and run gatsby develop, you should see something like this:

Final Header

In this fourth part, we’ll put together the grid layout for the homepage. Then, all we’ll have left to do is build the individual photo pages, add social tags, and deploy.

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Building a Photo Site With GatsbyJS Part 3 – Building the Header

In Part 2 of this series, we mocked up the layout we’re looking to achieve and walked through how GatsbyJS handles data with GraphQL. We then practiced running a GraphQL query in the IDE to make sure data was returning.

In Part 3, we’re going to start building. We’ll put this thing together in three parts:

  1. Header component present on all pages
  2. Grid photo layout for the homepage
  3. Individual photo layout for single pages

Let’s start working on the header component.

Oh – also, if you happen to be following along and building this thing while we go through it, would you mind tweeting me (@jeremeyd) and just showing off what you have so far? I’ve received a few DMs from folks, which is pretty awesome!

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