Wednesday, September 15, 2021

How to be Great at Something

I was in two different work situations recently, first person A was upset at person B, and in the second situation person C was trying to be motivational. Both situations were failures to prioritize or at least communicate those priorities. I didn't realize it until I was taking one of my usual 5-10 minute walks outside to relax and calm down for a few minutes, and also insure I don't get another pulmonary embolism from sitting too much. Instantly it made sense. Failure to prioritize means a failure to deliver.

You don't get great at something by optimizing your existing routine 5% and doing it all a little longer and harder. That seems like the standard American way, just do what you're doing 5% more. But time and again I watch people try to do that and either get burnt out, or get bogged down doing non value added things thinking those things are important. You get great at something by focusing on the top one or two or three things that add value and doing them 100% better than you used to, not by doing the value added and non value added things 5% better. Let me give two examples.

First marathons and ultra marathons, if you want to be really good at them you have to do long runs, and they have to be long and fast runs. They essentially become race simulations. It doesn't matter much what you eat, you don't need a lot of weight lifting or cross training, just enough to not get injured, and your other runs and workouts are really in support of your ability to do longer and faster long run days. I just boiled down hundreds of pages of books to a single paragraph which feels dismissive of the big picture, yet the person that had 15 good long runs in their marathon build up will run a good race. 

The second example is in mountaineering. The number one cause of death in the mountains is falling while climbing unroped, and the solution to that is don't fall, and the method to that solution is excellent foot work. On Mt. Everest, and other places, it's often horrifying seeing people in crampons trip over themselves and fall down on flat terrain because they don't have good foot work. It doesn't matter that you can climb 5.12, it doesn't matter how fast you can run, it doesn't matter how much weight you can carry, it matters that you can walk with crampons on just about any terrain. 

So there are two examples of what it takes to really excel in those two sports. In neither case does the amount of weight you can squat or the fact that you like Wendy's Jalepeno Popper sandwiches matter to your performance.

Getting back to the original inspiration for this post, I've been stressed at work because I'm getting requests to open work orders, close work orders, open discrepancy reports, close discrepancy reports, find actual hardware, know what hardware someone else needs to go find, and implement design changes. I spent an hour today putting up signs for shipping and receiving. It was kind of nice because it's a place where I can see my handiwork, those two signs bolted to the side of the building. It also gets me away from the computer and never ending stream of requests for a little bit. I put those signs up because I took a walk at lunch and watched an Amazon delivery driver drive around our little three street complex for no lie 15 minutes trying to find receiving. We only have .3 miles of road! So I realized that no one had prioritized putting those signs up, but without them we were wasting a lot of time for delivery drivers trying to find the place to deliver.  It's a clear example of prioritize and execute, as mentioned in the book Extreme Ownership. Because no one had been prioritizing something as simple as signs things weren't getting delivered to the right place and immediately getting lost. A company, like a factory, has inputs and outputs. If the inputs aren't coming in smoothly, it's likely the outputs aren't going smoothly either. 

Obviously I don't have the answer to every company what those few key things are that need to get 100% better for the organization to be the best. The point is to figure those things out and get good at them.

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