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🧩 To let go of the “how,” get really good at defining the “what”
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Hi 👋, Pritesh here.
Welcome to the post #117.
Here’s a small snippet from a book that I read recently and thoroughly enjoyed.
“Every time I run into you for the rest of our lives, I'll ask you to make a game with me. There's some groove in my brain that insists it is a good idea.” “Isn't that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.” “That's a game character's life, too,” Sam said. “The world of infinite restarts. Start again at the beginning, this time you might win. And it's not as if all our results were bad. I love the things we made. We were a great team.”
Which book? You may ask. Read along and you will have your answer.
For now, here’s a quick glance of today’s post:
🎯 Winnable & unwinnable games
😐 Sincere, not serious
🪧 Social contracts
❓ What, not how
🎮 Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
💯 Get it done
And much more…
Let’s dive in right-away.
1. Winnable & Unwinnable Games
John Cutler starts the four part series with the following lines - “Imagine a framework or a way of working as a game. I know there are limits to this analogy, but stick with me.”
Over this and next two posts (fourth post is still pending) he goes on to paint a picture that you can see playing in your professional life time & again. It’s about why we play unwinnable games and how.
His narrative goes on to explore this situation and shows how to evaluate the impact.
I will leave you with this snippet from part 1 about ‘what makes a good game’. Such a well articulated definition!
2. Sincere and Serious
Michael Ashcroft’s essay “be sincere—not serious” talks of two different modes of operating.
We don’t give a lot of thought in realizing that ‘sincere’ and ‘serious’ are not the same. Michael does a fairly good job in showcasing this distinction and suggesting how we can push ourselves to be in the right mode
A couple of highlights from the essay:
That’s what it means to play sincerely—to be engrossed in the experience of the game without taking it too seriously.
A finite game, where the goal is to win, can easily become a serious, grave affair, devoid of fun and levity. An infinite game, where the goal is nothing more—or less—than continuing to play, lends itself to sincerity. Confusing an infinite game for a finite game can be a subtle source of suffering in life.
3. Social Contracts
Eric Bahn defines a social contract the following way:
A social contract is an agreement between people about how to engage—and what to expect while engaging—with one another. It’s essentially a set of unspoken rules that both parties need to understand, and follow, in order for the relationship to be successful.
They can be a powerful enabler for building a culture of trust & open communication. However, as they are not usually explicitly described and thus become a challenging norm to build.
He shares the three pillars of social contract that he uses in his org: 1) Blunt honesty—but with a caveat, 2) The expectation that things are going badly, and 3) Acceptance of risk
These are good, but may be more pertinent to his team & line of business.
A personal how-to or team FAQs are good examples of social contract. I’ve tried them to some success, and continue to evolve. Eric’s post has some good insights on how to approach building these for better success. I can sense some gaps in my approach and will try to fix them in the next set of iterations.
4. What, not How
“One of the hardest parts of being a manager is you need to be comfortable with “that's not how I’d do it, but that's a fine way to do it”
If you agree with the claim above, Molly Graham has got some helpful advice around delegation in “manage the what, not the how”.
She suggests - To let go of the “how,” get really good at defining the “what”
As a framework for delegation, she refers to Fred Kofman’s “clear commitments” model. According to this model, delegating well requires stating a goal, clarifying expectations about what “good” looks like in areas you care about (e.g., cost, quality, timeline), getting a commitment from the employee, checking in, and holding the employee accountable.
Step 3,4,5 are commonly left untouched or executed badly. Those are the iterative loops that if designed well can save you from falling in the micromanaging trap.
5. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
I don’t usually read or talk about fiction. But today I’m going to make an exception. A few weeks ago Sachin recommended reading “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin. I downloaded the audible version right away and have loved every moment of what I heard.
I loved the book. I tried to do a review, but just could not do any justice. So here I share my favorite review of the book (by Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air)
“Whatever its subject, when a novel is powerful enough, it transports us readers deep into worlds not our own. That's true of Moby Dick, and it's certainly true of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which renders the process of designing a great video game as enthralling as the pursuit of that great white whale….There are…smart ruminations here about cultural appropriation, given that the game, Ichigo, is inspired by Japanese artist Hokusai's famous painting The Great Wave at Kanagawa….It's a big, beautifully written novel about an underexplored topic, that succeeds in being both serious art and immersive entertainment.”
The audiobook format worked beautifully thanks to the beautiful voice & the way it brings all the characters to life.
The novel has its peak moments. This audiobook does a fairly good job to enhance those peak moments manyfolds. A couple of chapter that were really magical to listen:
Chapter 7: The NPC
Chapter 9: Pioneer
Thank you Sachin for the wonderful recommendation!
6. Get it done
Boz (Andrew Bozworth)’s blog has a great collection of ideas in team management & leadership. I had covered some of his work in #104 and #36. Here’re a couple more that I discovered recently and found worth sharing.
Get it done: In an ideal world everyone would be operating under conditions that allowed them to succeed on their own, but until we manage to create such a world loop you should do whatever you must to get it done, even if that means asking for help.
Bottlenecks vs Bandpass: In signal processing there is something called bandpass which allows certain signals to pass through unencumbered while others are attenuated or blocked. Instead of spreading themselves thin trying to examine every aspect of every vertical product, horizontal teams should create clear fast paths within which vertical teams can execute safely and with confidence.
7. Everything else
Some random goodness from the internet:
Go on virtual walks around Tokyo at night, or Times Square in snow, or London in the rain, or the back alleys of New Delhi. A few channels recommended by Kevin Kelly - Nomadic Ambience (NYC, Japan, Iceland), Virtual Japan (Japan), Watched Walker (London, Paris, Spain), Keezi Walks (India, China, Vietnam, South America). (via Recomendo)
A camping trip with young kids, as imagined by me before having kids. McSweeney’s curation of humor writing is simply superb!
A sneak peak of movements that make the traditional Chinese lion dance so mesmerizing. The coordination between the dancers and their precision is like magic.
The title of today’s post is from Molly Graham’s post.
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That's all for this week, folks!
I hope I've earned the privilege of your time.