Every *little* step you take is magic (well, it can be if it’s purposeful)

Celebrate every little step you take (Credits: RamMorrison / FlickR)

Celebrate every little step you take (Credits: RamMorrison / FlickR)


In the series ‘Breaking Bad‘, lab chemist Gale Boetincher once talks about the purity of the crystal meth he can cook, guaranteeing his mafia boss 96% purity, a “hard-earned figure” he is proud of. The purity of his competitor (and future partner series hero Walter White)’s crystal meth is 99%. As Boetticher puts it:

That last 3%, it may not sound like a lot, but it is. It’s tremendous. It’s a tremendous gulf.

Relatedly, the Pareto principle (explained here) evokes that 80% of the value of a nation comes from 20% of the population. And business analysts would like us to think that the same applies to organisations and even ourselves.

The point here is two-fold:

  • Every step we take towards change is a hard-earned one;
  • Not every step we take is productive, however.

Focus on your leapfrogging steps

Change is hard, so we might want to focus on the changes we think will really be game changers. And as explained in the link above, you can actually consider your whole life from an 80-20 rule perspective, and find out where the value is.

So reflect daily, weekly, monthly, yearly on what creates value, what will allow you to work smarter. Thanks to a dialogue I had with an online mate, I have made it a weekly practice to reflect on what steps I’ve taken that allow me to be more effective, smarter.

Purpose (Credits: ??)

Purpose (Credits: Hustle-Grind)

Focus on outputs, and outcomes, not the activities and inputs you give. Focus on what creates effects, not what you are doing. Focus on others and how they become part of the effect, not just yourself.

Focus on your passion and on what makes you productive effortlessly. Find out where your purpose lies as the graph here shows.

And don’t compromise on reflection and on activities that also take your mind off the work. Sharpe your practice smarts toward the most essential and productive outcomes.

And earn every little step

And indeed remember that change is hard, even when you are willing to change.

But when it happens, it’s magical.

Whether it’s the fact that you are thinking differently about an issue and have basically evolved in your reflection.

Whether it’s that you are changing the language you are using, paying attention to very subtle distinctions that make a world of difference.

Whether it’s reflected in the way you act upon a situation differently.

Whether it’s connected to other people much more and your focus on change is actively embracing others.

Recognize, celebrate every one of these little steps. Dance to every step of the samba of change.

And on this musical note, finally, since the title of this post was inspired by two different tunes by The Police, have your shot at either/both of them.

Every breath you take…

Every little thing she does is magic…

Related blog posts:


Spur of the moment or long term purpose: when pinballs meet bulldozers

In working environments, one of the conundrums in personal and organisational knowledge management is the balance between following one’s ‘spur of the moment’ intuition and pursuing one’s longer term intent and purpose.

Balancing plans and opportunities is finding a balance between the pinball effect and the bulldozer drive

Balancing plans and opportunities is finding a balance between the pinball effect and the bulldozer drive

Planning and executing work then becomes a game of pinballs and bulldozers, where pinballs are projected in all directions, attracted by signals and rebounding on opportunities that arise, and bulldozers moving forward with a plan and avoiding derailing from their plan, no matter what.

Of course, we are neither pinballs nor bulldozers: we all evolve along that continuum and tend to mesh the two ends as we see fit.

At a personal level that is entirely ok. But when a complex situation requires different people to align their operating mode, complications arise. Here are a few instances of these that I or others I know have faced at work in the past 10 years:

  • Feeling hopeless and prey to everyone else’s agenda and actions – literally like a pinball sent in all directions, trying to cope with travel, backlog, email piles and the rest of it;
  • Planning work without keeping any open slot and feeling defeated at the end of the week for not having been able to do it all because the plan did not leave enough room for imponderables… ;
  • Spending the entire week meeting people and having conversations, only to find it a struggle to actually write stuff or do things, and perhaps – over time – slightly losing interest or ability to do that;
  • Being a victim to one’s email inbox and social media and responding to all of these on the spot;
  • Being under pressure to deliver and having to adjust one’s schedule to high level demands or encounters with moral pressure to execute, even if this means working systematically in the weekends or evenings and you promised yourself to keep a healthy work-private life balance;
  • Dealing with colleagues who find it natural to work every night, every weekend – as it is their way to cope with work pressure – as they expect you to do the same;
  • Being accused of being inflexible and not open to meeting people because you’re working on some deadline and are focusing on what you planned to deliver rather than what comes up;
  • Continuing on your trajectory (business as usual) without realising it’s not what you should be doing…

“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” (Will Rogers)

This post is as much therapeutic as it is reflexive. Time to look at how we collectively deal with our ability and inclination towards planning and seizing opportunities…

On a personal level…

Personal effectiveness survey gurus like Stephen Covey (and his habits of highly effective people) or Leo Babauta and his zen techniques to keep a balance, both insist on intent, purpose, planning and carving time out for quality work.

This is at the heart of my own approach to personal effectiveness. Work just goes on and on like a treadmill and if you don’t step back and look around once in a while, you might miss your purpose, forget what really gives you energy and what little steps you should be putting together to achieve a greater goal.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should just focus on that path and never step out of it. The keys to finding a balance might lie in:

  • Carpe Diem now or later?

    Carpe Diem now or later?

    Enjoying the moments as they come. Carpe diem (seize the day). It is probably the most important balancing mechanism to appreciate what you are doing at every step of your way – where mindfulness becomes the guiding path…

  • Reflecting regularly (every day? every week? after every important happening or event?) to see what works or not, what gives you energy or not, where you might change your approach regarding tiny details of your every day life, work, planning and enjoying – simple after action reviews can be a powerful mechanism for that;
  • Reflecting deeply (and particularly applying third loop learning in practice) to inquire about your own sense of purpose (and for those who wish, destiny) and what might be the next wave we ride;
  • Planning accordingly but knowing at heart that we don’t have all answers, that we don’t have the gift of foresight and that we have to remain open to what comes along the way, as signals that might take us for a better turn on our life path, and definitely keeping open slots for serendipity, creativity, seemingly unproductive time…
  • Avoiding – if we mind the pinball effect – to fall prey to every notification, signal, email, social media message or else that keeps popping up visually, aurally and kinesthetically (through the vibrating effect of a message popping on our phone)… Every sign of distraction like this might keep us away from finding more meaningful answers and questions that lie in longer term focus and discipline.


How do our operating wheels fit with one another? (credits Pbase.com)

How do our operating wheels fit with one another? (credits Pbase.com)


Collective effectiveness is a lot about how everyone’s operating wheels fit into one another and finding solutions for it has a lot to do with negotiating collective conventions. Some pointers here might be…

To agree on the long-term objectives and the short-term necessities of the team and organise work accordingly – following a broad main line – not the route that will be followed step by step but the map that connects starting point and final destination, with an idea of some stop-overs. This requires regular communication and is harder done than said…

Similarly to personal efforts, to regularly reflect on the objectives and operating mode of the collective and to assess what needs to happen to make this collective work and bring the best of its abilities to the fore. If unwanted/unexpected/unplanned signals drive too much attention away from the main added value of that collective, it might be good to reduce these opportunities.

To embrace ideas that stem from the collective’s individual practices, and to allow some time to sift through the experience and assess what might be the collective value of that individual practice. This is typically the case with one person trying a new social network and inviting their colleagues to reflect upon the potential for the whole team to use it (when, why, for what purpose, how etc.)? There is much value in exploration, it just needs to be assessed collectively at some point.

To gauge, as a team or organisation, the need for focus or exploration. This is to ask to what extent the collective needs to remain open to opportunities that come along the way (because it really needs to bring in a whiff of external perspectives) or needs to focus on its current pipeline because it already has well enough logical and useful work underway.

To discuss collectively how to deal with over work, work-life balance and what colleagues can expect from each other when it comes to weekend and evening work requests or attending to unexpected conversations when there are expectations to deliver outputs.

To agree on planned outputs and collective responsibilities to deliver these. Once that agreement is made it becomes easier to dedicate additional time and efforts to unexpected and spontaneous happenings. So long as it remains each individual’s workload the collective remains trapped in entropy and if it remains solely the management’s prerogative, commitment to deliver might be limited.

To reflect collectively on what (and sometimes who) distracts the collective’s plans and brings along opportunities that might indeed be very helpful or simply noise that reduces the collective’s productivity and purpose. And discussing what would be the practical implications of adapting the collective schedule to respond to opportunities and how it would be received in the wider ecosystem of which that collective is part (e.g. a team within a broader organisation).

There will likely never be a full balance between various individuals’ approaches and the needs of the collective when it comes to planning and opening to unexpected magic, but we might do much worse than talking, reflecting about it and acting upon collective conventions.

One thing’s for sure: conventions and cultures evolve and we should remain alert to these changes that affect our strategies. Together, we might see the hole we’re digging before it gets too deep…

Related blog posts:

Share your questions: The personal effectiveness and knowledge survey

What a chance!

What makes some of us fly high? (Photo credits: KenSchneiderUsa, FlickR)

What makes some of us fly high? (Photo credits: KenSchneiderUsa, FlickR)

I always thought that knowledge sharing and information management inside my organisation was left to the basics of organic gardening, that is: chaos, spontaneity and emergence. We always gave more attention to our external projects and clients; rightly so, of course, since our purpose is to work for others… But then you find that you have at times slightly dysfunctional communication internally and ‘pockets of expertise’ somewhat not connected as much as they could. Nothing extraordinary here, we are talking about universal KM challenges, the kind of issues that all organisations are dealing with, to some extent.

What is really interesting in such situations though, most people find work-arounds. As human beings we are resilient, so we adapt. And our work-arounds sometimes fill gaps even better than the policy in place or its absence. The challenge here is to tap into that creative potential, seek, explain and amplify the smart work-arounds already in use in some pockets.  The absence of guidance or ailments of frameworks and procedures in place can be very powerful sources of wider innovation – if indeed channelled.

And so it seems I might be able to work on this set of issues for my own organisation, so I am happy to compile a series of questions to interview my colleagues and find out more about the way they carry out their knowledge work and reach personal effectiveness.

After a discussion with my colleague and partner in KM crime (1), I’ve decided to design this questionnaire around a) explicitly seeking their good practices and tips to reach personal effectiveness and b) implicitly finding out how they use information and knowledge to leverage that.

I would love to tap into your collective smart folk brainpower to find more (or fewer) sharper questions:

Reaching personal effectiveness (explicit questions):

  • Keeping on top of your field: how do you keep track of relevant information for your field of expertise and how do you keep the knowledge and skills you need sharply up-to-date?
  • Planning: How frequently do you plan, on what time horizon and what tools do you use for this?
  • Time spending: how do you fill your timesheet and what are your observations?
  • Prioritising and making decisions: how do you juggle with multiple activities? How do you prioritise, on what basis, with what outlook?
  • Monitoring: how do you monitor your expertise, your work, outputs, outcomes?

Knowledge and information (implicit questions):

  • Identifying information and answers: how do you find good questions and identify the information gaps?
  • Finding information and answers: Where do you find it? Via who? How?
  • Creating knowledge: How do you create it? Where do you record it? Using what systems? How do you find focus and develop a creative environment? Do you create knowledge preferably alone or with others?
  • Using information: What do you use information for? Whose information (what sources) do you use? What for (for research, to write articles, to develop proposals etc.)?
  • Sharing knowledge: How do you share knowledge, with know, on what channels?
  • Documenting and storing information: Do you document discussions and events? What do you document?  How and on what systems or devices? Where (on what systems) do you store your information generally? How often do you do that, when exactly (at what moment)? Do you archive your information? How and what for?

For each of these areas, I intend to ask them about their personal advice or tips and tricks and sources of inspiration. In the process, I also intend to raise their awareness about a number of social media tools such as del.icio.us/Diggo, Slideshare, Twitter, Yammer, blogs on WordPress and Blogger, Quora etc.

A subsidiary question will be to ask them who, in their opinion is, the most effective colleague and for what reason. I hope this will really help us boost our information & knowledge processes and understand some homegrown sources of creative and productive inspiration. There should be some very useful lessons to tease out for the rest of you too – I’ll be sure to post here an overview of the key lessons!

For now though, your questions are more than welcome – make it work for you too!


(1)    Jaap Pels.

Related posts:

Fast flow vs. slow space – pacing matters

(The Twitter chat scheduled on 12/04/2011, 17.00 UTC, will feature the following questions: 1) What is the value of fast versus slow information & reflection? 2) How do you balance the desire to consume and share and the need to think and create? 3) How do you deal with different information pacing with your relations and clients? Join us on http://www.kmers.org/chatevents).

Yesterday I went back to the KMers website to see what Twitter chats are scheduled or upcoming. To my surprise, on top of the popular chat topics (there is a board where people can rate the topics proposed) was the one I posted a while ago about ‘speed, vs. quality & depth: how to combine fast flow and slow space? Hence this introductory post for the chat.

This post is about the speed at which we work. I am torn here: how do we balance our work and life between the fancy bells of the faster world and the blissful focus of the slow and silent world?

Slow - fast / can we combine the best of two worlds?

Can we combine the best of two worlds?

On the one hand, we have an opportunity, an impulse and a need to communicate quickly, to share knowledge speedily, to pass information instantly. The opportunity comes naturally with the social media and the mobile revolution that is going on – never have we been so completely connected and able to connect with the wider world. The impulse comes as a logical consequence from the opportunity: the medium makes us. We cannot resist to the flow of signals we received, to checking our updates, comments, likes etc. – fuelled by our knowledge ego-logy. Leo Babauta explains this very well in his book Focus – a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction. The need is what I’ve already blogged about in other posts (1) regarding the importance of not hoarding knowledge, but instead of passing it on quickly to ensure that insights collected quickly inform others – rather than at the end of a process.

On the other hand, we are facing the limitations of going too fast: a) we are developing ever more information, sharing ever more materials on the web and we end up adding to the overall noise – are we really adding value or increasing the risk of distraction? b) deep in the buzzing online swarm it becomes really difficult to concentrate, although that is precisely what allows us to think and to create, i.e. to add value to the info-clutter by focusing on our own ideas, our own imagination and creativity, by adding melodies rather than noise. Thinking and writing takes time – a time that is difficult to carve out in the modern info-glutter’s daily diet c) In the longer run we are also encouraging a type of society that only reacts to short span stimuli. Where is the depth and quality in this superficial appreciation of the world? Are we doomed to tweeting? How can we find time to blog? Can we even write books still? Who will sacrifice time to read them?

So how do you balance (2) the need to consume information and share knowledge quickly with the importance of focusing, thinking and creating in a slow space? What is the value of fast flow vs. that of slow space? How do we adjust to the pace of partners and clients, which may differ from ours? Do we try and convince others about adapting their pacing? In what direction: up or down? A recent article by the Harvard Business Review, are we thinking too much or too little?, ponders some of these questions too.

In the upcoming KMers Twitter chat which I will propose, I would like to focus on particular aspects of this balance:

  • What is the value of fast versus slow information & reflection?
  • What processes would perhaps benefit from going quickly and what processes would benefit from going slowly?
  • How do you balance 1) the desire to consume and share and 2) the need to think and create in the age of distraction?
  • How do you deal with different information pacing with your relations and clients?

Do you think this reflection is worth your time? If so, watch this space, I’ll announce the KMers chat when it’s planned.
(1) See Harvesting insights (2): Beautiful KM and Peter and Justin: when and how does information make sense?
(2) This also has to do with personal effectiveness and with personal knowledge management, a topic that was discussed in a previous KMers’ chat.