A hill worth dying on.

I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, but there is a phrase that goes something like this:

Is this a hill worth dying on?

While I have been hard pressed to find a definite origin of the phrase everyone seems to believe that it embodies the question of whether or not “something” is worth committing all of your resource towards.  In military terms it denotes a spot (a hill) that you believe you need to continue your offensive.  In humanistic terms it means something that you believe in so strongly you are willing to fight to keep or gain.

It is an interesting question in that if you sit back and really think about it you eventually end up going through your list of priorities and determining whether or not this particular item deserves to be in the top rank with your other priorities.  You need to evaluate the effort to attain that goal or objective versus the effort to go around and try alternative approaches.  You need to objectively differentiate between “wants” and “needs”.  You need to be able to think about long term goals and whether or not your effort should be expended now or saved for later.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter.

Every so often you come across something which deserves to have a line drawn in the sand.  Something happens and suddenly this is a hill worth dying on.  Whether it is the 17th similar event that has occurred or whether it is the 5th different event but on the same day, every so often the switch flips and you rise up, ramrod straight, hold your head high and say “no”.

A leader will find a hill worth dying on because it is the right thing to do.  A manager will find a hill worth dying on because you are violating policy 62A, Section 2, paragraph 3a) and 3b).

No matter what, however, it is your choice. 

Combining Analog and Digital

There is a gentleman by the name of Steven Johnson.  He is the author multiple books, the creator of multiple companies and the father of multiple kids.  (Seriously, that is how he describes himself.)  He wrote on a website called Medium about something called a Spark File.  Created by one of the originators of the Blogger platform, Ev Williams thought that there had to be a better way to communicate and share ideas than Blogger, so he created Medium.

When Steven gets an idea about something, he jots it down in his Spark file.  Every few months he goes through every single entry in his Spark File and sees if there are additional connections or additional information that has subsequently come to light to make the ideas more full bodied.  While the idea of a Spark File is important to understand, I immediately gravitated towards the tools that he talked about:  Evernote and Moleskine.

For those that aren’t aware, Evernote is a tool that allows you to share “notes” amongst the various platforms you may be using.  For instance, I have it running on my Windows machine at home, my Mac machine at home, my iPhone and my iPad.  All of these are kept in sync so that a note that I create on one platform is available on all of my devices. The other tool is, quite simply, nothing more than a notebook:  Moleskine.  It is one of the more popular notebooks because of the high quality binding, the elastic to make sure the book stays closed and the cloth bookmark built in.  People use them to jot down ideas and collect their thoughts.  Combined they make a tremendous tool to help prevent you from losing ideas.  (P.S. Never pay retail for the Evernot Smart Notebook by Moleskine.  Buy it from Amazon.)

The idea that really seems to work for me is actually the combination of analog and digital.  Yes, we live in a digital world but many of us are more comfortable writing a couple of lines in a notebook than bringing out the phone/tablet, bringing up the correct app and then typing in the idea.  For those old timers out there, did you ever wonder why your teacher wrote chalkboard (yes, I am that old) after chalkboard of notes and had you copy them down?  Study after study has shown that if you are forced to write something down the effort of memorizing, even just for a few seconds, and transcribing that information is more likely to make you remember it than just reading the information.  (That is why us old people have minds filled with useless information, like the different speeds of a record player and heck, even what a record player is.)

The combination of analog and digital, notebook and virtual notebook, is what is appealing to me.  Human beings are not digital by nature as we have fingers and toes instead of USB keys and HDMI ports, so, to me at least, that blend of old and new is where I think some of the best ideas will come from.  So, when we think of solutions for our clients, don’t necessarily think of analog or digital, think of combing them to see what sort of solutions you can come up with.

Sometimes taking time is actually a shortcut

“Sometimes taking time is actually a shortcut” – Haruki Murakami from the book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

He made this quote when he was talking about learning to swim for a Triathlon, but the concepts are the same regardless of what you are talking about.  People, by their very nature want to reach the end as fast as possible.  They want to learn to play a new video game properly, but they want to get to the end boss as fast as possible.  They want to learn a new computer language, but use the same constructs that they used in the old languages.  They want to learn to play the violin but try to start with Ode to Joy by Beethoven.

When I was younger I really wanted to learn to play “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple.  That little guitar riff had me mesmerized. I set out to learn how to play it.  A friend of mine was a guitarist so he taught me the song.  Not how to play a guitar, but how to play the first couple of minutes of the song.  That is all I learned.  I didn’t learn the intricacies of how to play a guitar, I learned a single song.  ( I replicated that experience thirty five years later with Rock Band.  Ah, the memories.)

If you want to be really good at something you need to take your time.  You need to practice the little things before tackling the big things.  You need to know the basics and build on those basics to create more complex and more creative solutions or you may end up like this person.