This week I was walloped by two words from a person I respect. Just two devastating words that threatened to down me. Two words that made me question everything I am and have been working toward. I am too embarrassed to say what they were or who uttered them. The point is it threw me into a tailspin. Normally I would just brace for impact, but maybe that’s not the best option.
Today I want to talk about the difference between unproductive mopes and highly successful people. Imagine a spectrum with prolific artists at the top and ineffective slugs at the bottom. You and I fall somewhere between these extremes. Sometimes we ship good work. Sometimes we ship oatmeal. Sometimes we fail to ship anything at all.
Could there be a secret that the prolific people possess? Are there warning signs that might prevent us from getting stuck in the sticky ooze of futility?
If we boil down the formula for creation down to its core elements it would look like this:
Pretty simple stuff. We all come out of school with relatively the same skills and knowledge. Our days all contain the same 24 hours and there is only so much we can accomplish before we run out of energy.
We try to get ahead by hacking the formula. We cram more work hours into our days. We eat right and exercise to keep our energy levels high. We attend meetups and stay on top of industry trends. Welcome to the rat race.
My theory is that highly successful people have an additional system that fuels their amazing breakthroughs. They employ a method beyond the life hacks we all use to improve our efficiency, boost our energy, and learn new skills. My guess has to do with feedback loops.
To steal a concept from Jim Collins, there are positive and negative feedback loops. Breakthrough comes from the flywheel loop. With each iteration the speed, quality, and productivity of the system improves. Conversely, the doom loop results in catastrophic failure because flaws are magnified and compounded with each spin of the wheel.
Here is an example of a flywheel loop:
I am engaged by my work, so I want to gain new skills, which leads to new knowledge, which leads to success, which leads to more energy, which makes me more engaged, so I want to gain new skills…
And here is an example of a doom loop:
I think I know everything about my job, so I shoot down ideas that challenge my knowledge, which causes political conflict with co-workers, which drains my energy, which makes me too lazy to learn new skills, so I fail to gain new knowledge, which makes me think I know everything about my job, so I shoot down ideas…
Recognizing the feedback loops in your life (or organization) is the first step towards optimizing for breakthrough. The two words I mentioned earlier could potentially send me spinning down the toilet of a doom loop. Instead, I am going to consider it another piece of data that allows me to keep optimizing my flywheel. That is the invisible choice each of us has every time life slaps us in the face.
Thanks for reading. If these words help spin your flywheel, consider following me. I post once a week with crazy ideas about surviving your daily apocalypse. Stay creative.