Let’s start with a quote from Paul Graham:
One of the biggest things holding people back from doing great work is the fear of making something lame…Many great projects go through a stage early on where they don’t seem very impressive, even to their creators. You have to push through this stage to reach the great work that lies beyond. But many people don’t…Imagine if we could turn off the fear of making something lame. Imagine how much more we’d do.
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How to Finish Great Work: Discipline AND Adaptability
Inspired by: Take the Turkey Out of the Oven by Taylor Pearson (7 minute read)
Two weeks ago, I introduced you to Taylor Pearson, one of my new favorite online writers. In his pre-Thanksgiving newsletter, he used the idea of cooking a turkey to encourage you and I to finish our projects.
Cooking a turkey is a surprisingly good metaphor for most projects. Most people only have one or two big projects they are working on over the course of a year or so. They take a long time and are typically the “main course” of our careers.
The worst mistake that most people make with most projects is that they get about 80% of the way done and realize that it didn’t turn out quite as they hoped. Then, they leave it in the metaphorical oven, an 80% done project with little raw bits in the middle. This is bad. Do not do this.
The way to solve this is to commit that when you get a project to 80% of the way done that you ALWAYS take the turkey out of the oven…
…The mind will play all sorts of tricks on you when you get to 80% complete with a task. It will try to seduce you into doing something unrelated or new. Never give in to that. Get hungry and focused when you get to 80% complete.
An “almost done” project is precisely about as valuable as an almost done turkey. Most projects have a pay-off profile that looks something like this.
For coaches (you and I), there’s an interesting tension at play any time we take on a new project (for example: building a new education curriculum for our athletes).
We want to have the discipline to carry something through to completion, but also the adaptability to pivot towards better options in our trial and error process.
If we don’t have discipline, we’ll be distracted by shiny object syndrome–especially when we get a project 80% finished and want to be done with it.
As you build out your equivalent of the education curriculum, will you be able to take the project from nothing to done? Or will distraction, The Resistance, or some other force win the battle and stop you from bringing that project to completion?
The flipside of discipline is adaptability. When a truly better option comes along, are you able to recognize the opportunity and pivot? To take advantage of the options before you and choose the best path.
For the education curriculum, maybe the original intention was to present it as a series of lectures, but you realize that it’d be better off as a series of videos, podcasts, or articles. Or perhaps it’d be best as a season-long series of 5-minute talks before practice. Being able to adapt to the latest feedback and information is critical, and you won’t produce your best work without adaptability.
So how do we reconcile these two seemingly opposed traits? Can discipline and adaptability co-exist?
I say yes.
To illustrate this, let’s draw from the Bible. Psalm 119:105 says of God’s word that it is “a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”
I think this is a useful way to think about our discipline/adaptability dichotomy as well.
Discipline is the lamp for my feet. Its light is concentrated on the ground right in front of me and helps me take the next step in any creative project. I know what I set out to do and discipline helps me take the very next step.
On the other side of the coin, adaptability is the light to my path. It’s like a floodlight that helps me see the broader picture and identify where I should pivot and take this thing in a different direction.
But here’s the key: you need both. Discipline without adaptability leads to more completed projects, but their impact is probably not as great as it could have been. But adaptability without discipline produces a different result: lots of started projects with nothing to show for it.
If you had to choose one, you’d pick discipline without adaptability. The good news is that you don’t have to choose. Just remember to always take the turkey out of the oven.
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Around the Web
The best of what I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to.
1. Reading Quickly is Reading a Lot by Cedric Chin (5 minute read)
Reading is interesting. Most people have some sort of desire to do it more often. Whether it’s from genuine love of reading or guilt, people seem to understand reading’s importance and feel like they should do it more often.
But one common hindrance to reading is that it takes a long time. A book feels like a momentous achievement in a world of 280 characters and disappearing selfies. But I have good news.
Reading is like any other skill: you get better by practicing.
If you want to read faster, there’s no hack, trick, or speed reading technique that beats out the long-term compounding benefits of reading often.
2. The Big Lessons From History by Morgan Housel (14 minute read)
Housel absolutely knocked it out of the park.
“There are two kinds of history to learn from,” Housel states. One is the specific events. What did this person do right? What did that country do wrong? What ideas worked? What strategies failed?
It’s most of what we pay attention to, because specific stories are easy to find.
But their usefulness is limited.
The second kind of history to learn from are the broad behaviors that show up again and again, in multiple fields and different eras. They are the 30,000-foot takeaways from events that hide layers below the main story, often going ignored.
How do people think about risk? How do they react to surprise? What motivates them, and causes them to be overconfident, or too pessimistic? Those broad lessons are important because we know they’ll be relevant in the future. They’ll apply to nearly everyone, and in many fields. The same rule of thumb works in the other direction: the broader the lesson, the more useful it is for the future.
This year has been an interesting case study to look at (to say the least).
It’s an inflection point where we can look back and study what led to this point, while also looking ahead and wondering what lessons we will learn (if any) from all that’s happened.
I wonder what we will have learned…
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Did you miss last week’s most popular links?
What does it feel like to get coached by me? (2 minute read)
Your Theme (6 minute YouTube video)
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That’s all for today’s newsletter.
As always, I appreciate you giving me some of your precious attention.
Here’s to a great week,