You may remember that I started a series of 5 questions posts awhile back. I haven’t put one up for awhile. The last one, a conversation with Kay Ballard, has such an atrocious introduction that I couldn’t put up a new one without ap0logizing publicly (I’ve already taken care of that privately), and I couldn’t figure out quite what to say.
However, the best way you do what you don’t know how to do, Tim Walker would probably say, is to do it.
So know that Kay is a good friend, all the more evident because of her graciousness in private as well as in public. We have known each other through twitter for a year or so, we tease each other, and talk by email. Sometime we might actually talk by phone. She encourages me more than you know (and likely more than she knows).
Now, go back and read 5 questions with Kay Ballard and then come back and read my conversation with the aforementioned Tim Walker.
Tim Walker lives in Austin and is working on a doctorate in history at The University of Texas (“hook ’em Horns”). (He has a really cool day-job with Hoovers, too.) We started talking because I was intrigued with the Austin connection (having a degree from there myself) and because he introduced me to the concept of “deliberate practice.” That concept has shaped my thinking for the last year in remarkable ways.
Tim also keeps pushing me (and all of us) on getting rid of multitasking and just working. He’s really annoying that way. Which is, of course, why I wanted to ask him five questions.
1. You are, by training, an historian. Your writing for Hoovers is about the present. What aspects of being an historian shape how you write about (and think about) now (in contrast to the occasional delightful historical presentations you do (the Gutenberg one, for example)? (How much is the way of thinking, how much is the training of just being a scholar, how much is the long view, how much is ___)
I hope that my historical training brings me two things: (1) a long-view perspective, and (2) a critical eye for evidence. The second point should be common to all scholars, whether they’re in the humanities, the social sciences, the hard sciences, or a professional field like business or law. Good scholars constantly ask “But how do we know?” — and, when evidence is presented to answer that question, they then ask, “But how do we know this evidence is valid?”
Bringing that back to my work, I see many assertions about business — Twitter, for one, is full of them — that link causes to effects in ways that a scholar couldn’t support. Yes, I see that A happened and that B happened, but how do we know that A caused B? What if B caused A? What if A and B both arose from C? What if A and B arose one after the other by pure coincidence? Or by some much more complicated string of causes and effects? It pains me when people draw a straight line from A to B based on their own ideological leanings or their own shortsighted self-interest. So I try to provide a corrective for that.
Getting back to my first point about long-view perspective, it also pains me when people make assertions that are uninformed by historical knowledge — and especially when they make glib assertions about how something (poster child: social media) “is totally unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” Well, no, it isn’t totally unlike anything we’ve ever seen — and the parallels between Thing X and what’s gone before are actually quite instructive. So I try to instruct a bit, but always with a spoonful of sugar (humor, stories) to help the medicine go down.
2. You write against multitasking. I’ve been thinking about why we do bits of so many things at once. I’m wondering if, for pleasers in particular, it’s a way of keeping as many people partially happy as possible. Because there are so many “I can do that for you” commitments on the todo list, the pleaser does a little bit of every one of them to keep people happy. The result, of course, is that everything falls behind. Does this make sense?
It makes perfect sense, and in fact it’s common for extroverted ADD-ers (ahem) to be pleasers. We make sense of the world by relating to people, we have interests in a large number of things, we get frustrated or bored when we have to stick to any one thing for too long, and if we’re lucky we may even have talents that span many areas. So we try to do it all and please everyone.
The reason this is categorically unwise is that every single one of us is going to die.
Here’s what I mean: our time is finite. To make the most impact, we must — absolutely, incontrovertibly must — focus our attention on just a few areas if not on one. (You can be the exception to this rule if you’re Schweitzer or Goethe. I’m not.) Multitasking is a lazy, fearful, and death-aversive response to this reality.
(Aversion to thoughts of death, by the way, is a major problem for most people in our culture — but maybe that’s a topic for a separate discussion.)
3. You make your Hoovers writing have a very personal voice. However, it isn’t Tim the whole person because it is a business blog. You have, I think, struggled with keeping a personal blog going. When we write so personally for work, does that complicate the private blogging? (and does that question make sense?)
The question makes sense, but I don’t think that’s the logic that has hampered my personal blog. My lack of time- and priority-management has hampered my personal blog.
And, by the way, I think you’ll see a much higher output — on both blogs — in the months to come.
4. “Have you been working out?” You tweeted about someone saying that. Why are you going back to fitness (and what triggered it?)
We’re ridiculously spoiled in this country. We’re fat and lazy. This is not an effort to channel the colonel from Dr. Strangelove (“precious bodily fluids”), but just an observation about the ailments — physical and otherwise — that waylay us.
I figure I have several mutually reinforcing obligations to keep myself in good health:
- Our bodies are a blessing to us, and we’re beholden to be good stewards of them.
- As a father and husband, I’m intent on modeling healthy behaviors for my family.
- As a friend to many, I’m intent on modeling healthy behaviors for those around me.
- Being fit is important to me psychologically, to the point that if I don’t do it I feel like I’ve betrayed myself. That’s not a good spot to be in.
On top of all of this, lifting weights and running are fun and meditative activities for me.
5. Do I remember correctly that you grew up in a pastor’s family? What should we not assume about kids that grow up that way (including my own two kids)?
We shouldn’t assume that they’re fundamentally different from other kids, just that they grow up under more scrutiny for their behavior. And, to put it mildly, sometimes it’s the scrutiny itself that leads to adverse behavior.