FF Insights #566: Thinker around

January 13, 2022: How to conduct better meetings; When do you stop working?; What do you need?

Founding Fuel

[From Pixabay]

Good morning,

To thinker around may be a good way to be. This is an idea Ian Leslie talks about in Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It.  

“A portmanteau of ‘think’ and ‘tinker’, the origin of the verb ‘to thinker’ is unknown. I was introduced to it by Paola Antonelli of MoMA, who traced it to a presentation given in 2007 by John Seely Brown, a Silicon Valley legend and until 2000 a director of the legendary Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (Xerox PARC). Brown and Antonelli use the term to describe a social, collaborative way of working. But I’m using it to name a style of cognitive investigation that mixes the concrete and the abstract, toggling between the details and the big picture, zooming out to see the wood and back in again to examine the bark on the tree. Here is Peter Thiel, venture capitalist and co-founder of eBay, introducing a series of lectures he gave to students at Stanford University on the theme of entrepreneurialism:

A fundamental challenge—in business as in life—is to integrate the micro and macro such that all things make sense. Humanities majors may well learn a great deal about the world. But they don’t really learn career skills through their studies. Engineering majors, conversely, learn in great technical detail. But they might not learn why, how, or where they should apply their skills in the workforce. The best students, workers, and thinkers will integrate these questions into a cohesive narrative.

“What Thiel describes here is what I’m calling thinkering. Benjamin Franklin was the archetypal thinkerer. Although undoubtedly an intellectual, he didn’t fit the popular image of the philosopher, as captured by Auguste Rodin—a sedentary, solitary cogitator in repose, shuttered from the world’s distractions. Franklin was a man of action, an implausibly productive doer who built better versions of things that already existed, like printing presses, and things that hadn’t yet been born, like fire services and democratic republics. He was physically active (he once swam down the Thames from Chelsea to Westminster) and socially hyperactive; he loved to sit around a table with friends and new acquaintances, drinking coffee, telling stories, and making plans for a better world. He was as at home discussing airy abstractions like freedom and virtue as he was the best way to count a vote or to organise one’s day, and he approached the former by way of the latter. Franklin loved life, with all of its surprises, kinks and uncertainties. His epistemic curiosity was fed by an accumulation of experiments, like what happens when you spread oil upon a pond. In the eighteenth century there were plenty of people who tinkered with Leyden jars but there were fewer with the intellectual toolkit to consider how the crackle in the jar related to the flashes in the sky.”

Happy thinkering! 

In this issue

  • How to conduct better meetings
  • When do you stop working?
  • What do you need?

FF Exclusive: How to conduct better meetings

In his latest essay, Arun Maira shares insights from his long experience of solving problems by bringing together a diverse set of people—be it in a relatively complex manufacturing facility or much more complex societal problems. Here is a list of principles from his essay that apply to all meetings, whether they are conducted in person or online. 

  • Always be clear what the purpose of the meeting is, and design it accordingly
  • For “systems” meetings, ensure ‘requisite variety’ in the participants. They are the ingredients without which even well managed meetings cannot produce useful insights
  • Make the purpose of the meeting clear to all the participants. The meeting is not a platform for the participants to impress others. It is a meeting to listen to and to learn with others
  • All points of view must be heard at the outset, briefly, since time may be limited.
  • Ensure that all participants listen while others are speaking: encourage them to take notes
  • After the first round, ask all participants by turn for the patterns they see, and any insights that have come to their minds
  • Conclude with a discussion about the implications of the pattern they see
  • Brainstorm some steps to continue learning and improve collaboration.

While applying these principles will yield immediate results, we urge you to read the full essay. It has some fascinating stories and insights. And most importantly, it will help you internalise these principles and make the tweaks for different contexts.

Dig deeper

When do you stop working?

Stop working at the peak of your career is an argument we stumbled across when scrolling over a newsletter by Thomas Bevan on Substack. To make his point, he examines the career of Bill Watterson, creator of the legendary comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

Bevan’s research has it that Watterson faced rejection letter after rejection letter for four years, before finding success. But, “After ten years of Calvin and Hobbes Watterson called it a day—right at the pinnacle of the strip’s popularity and quality… Watterson retired into private life where he remains to this day.”

He goes on to investigate the lives and careers of those who do not retire when at their peak. “Failing to bow out at the peak leads to what I like to call Metallica Syndrome. This idea simply states that five good albums + five (and counting) bad albums = diminished legacy. Then quality of the obituary is gradually decreased.

“Now all of this is easy to say with hindsight.

“But I think that artists should keep their body of work as a whole at the forefront of their mind. They should think more about this idea of legacy. Because I believe that most if not all artists know when they should call it a day.

“They feel it. I believe they are able to intuit, on some level, when the work changes from being a life-giving obsession to being a job, a paycheck.

“And I believe that once such signals are received that it is only money, fame, self-gratification and other ego-driven things that keep such artists going.

“As the quote I opened with has it: ‘artists are only creative for ten years.’ Now this might be an overstatement. But baring the rarest of the rare I do believe that the life of creativity is finite, just as the career as an athlete is. You age, you diminish. This is nature.

“Better to confront this thought and consider your artistic goals as a whole. Start with the end in mind, is not just good advice for telling a story. It is also good advice for how to go about living a life.”

Dig deeper

What do you need?

(Via WhatsApp)

Found anything interesting and noteworthy? Send it to us and we will share it through this newsletter.

And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

(Note: Founding Fuel may earn commissions for purchases made through the Amazon affiliate links in this article.)

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