Archive for Elvis Costello

10 Ways to Make Your Life Quite Interesting

The QI Manifesto

This summer, I spent a month traveling through England, Scotland and France (and what a month it was!). One of my favorite days was at the Cornbury Music Festival, where I had the privilege of seeing the fabulous Elvis Costello perform as the headliner. Wow. What a powerhouse!

Before Costello started, my mates and I did a photo essay on people wearing Wellies (we were in the middle of a rainy stretch), and then we went to a beer tent, where I saw a large poster sporting the QI Manifesto. I’d never heard of QI but was drawn in by the content. I want to share it here and am eager for your thoughts on it, too!

Here’s what I found out: QI (short for “Quite Interesting”) is arguably the hardest panel game in the world. It is built on the philosophy that everything in the world is quite interesting, provided you look at in the right way. It is a 26-year-long project, created by the BBC in England.

The QI Manifesto

Ten steps to making your life more interesting:

1. Everything is interesting. You just have to look at it the right way. At the beginning of QI, we set ourselves the Quite Boring challenge to see if we could turn up anything that was intrinsically dull. We failed. Allow yourselves the luxury of looking closely and patiently at anything—a turnip, the history of Chelmsford, a letter from an insurance company—and new layers of detail come into focus.

2. Ask more questions. QI is one long string of questions. Six-year-olds are full of questions, before school and busy parents teach them that you get on quicker by pretending to know things. Socrates asked lots of difficult questions. He might have ended up dead (who doesn’t) but he was never bored and he never bored anyone else.

3. We all know less than we think we know. That’s what “general ignorance” means. Cultivate humility and a sense of mystery. “The wise man knows that he knows nothing” (Socrates, again). Despite what some scientific fundamentalists tell us, we still don’t know how or why the universe began, what consciousness or light are, or even the best way to bring up our children.

4. Look for new connections. We always tell our researchers to only write down things they don’t already know. They find this hard, because formal education is all about recycling and repeating other people’s knowledge (some wag once defined education as the process by which the notes of the professor appear in the notebooks of the student, without passing through the mind of either). Interestingness is a lot like humour—it can’t be defined or taught, it’s a spark which arcs between two previously unconnected things.

5. If it’s worth writing down, it’s worth writing down clearly. Technical terms, jargon and mumbo jumbo might give you the fleeting warmth of belonging to an exclusive club, but they are the enemies of truth. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote, if you can’t explain yourself to a 12-year-old child, stay inside the university or lab until you have a better grasp of your subject matter.

6. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in. Too many of our knowledge institutions base their authority on spurious claims of “comprehensiveness.” We prefer storytellers to panels of faceless academics. QI isn’t about lists of trivial facts, as we’ve said, it’s about making connections.

7. Digressions are the point. We’re burrowers not grazers. What might start out as a question from the back seat of the car: why do pigeons not fly away sooner might lead to an investigation into how the brain processes visual information; the truth about carrots and night vision; the history of pigeons as a communication device; the Dickin Medal for Animal Bravery; how migratory animals navigate; the chemical constitution of bird dung; the design and ornamentation of medieval dovecotes …

8. Take your time. The interesting stuff doesn’t just roll over and ask to have its tummy tickled. We reckon it takes three hours of reading, thinking and researching to get into the QI zone, when you might notice the unseen link, the mind-altering fact, the life-changing insight, lurking in the fireplace.

9. Walk towards the sound of gunfire. Fear is what stops us, everywhere in our lives, particularly the pointless fear of what other people will think. We know when something isn’t right. We should trust our instincts and risk saying so. It’s surprising how often things turn out for the best when you do.

10. You already have everything you need. The most interesting thing you have is you: your instincts, your curiosity, and your own ignorance. But the great paradox is that, in order to be most yourself, you have to shut up about how much you know. The great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote that the greatest poets carry “us to such a lofty strain of intelligent activity, as to suggest a wealth which beggars his own.” We all have this lofty strain; we just have to find our frequency.

How does the QI Manifesto resonate with you? Please comment. I am super interested! Let’s get a dialogue going around this fabulous material. Happy thoughts to you all!

What’s so Funny ‘bout Peace, Love and Understanding? Making Cross-functional Teams Succeed.

Have you ever endured a team meeting that went from productive to disastrous? Where the people from the departments that make up the team just didn’t seem to get it? They fought with each other, protected their own departments and were distracted by a bazillion side issues and personal problems? Did you drift off, thinking of Elvis Costello’s plaintive cry, “What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?” Does it make you want to go back to the good ol’ days where each department did its job and didn’t have to worry about what was going on in other areas of the organization?

I hope not, because those days are gone and not likely to return. With your organization’s competition re-re-engineering, Six Sigma-ing, TQM-ing and getting even leaner and meaner, now is the time to get your cross-functional teams working better together.

A cross-functional team is made up of at least three people from different functional areas working toward a common goal. This team will have members with different functional experiences and abilities, and who will likely come from different departments within the organization. A team member might even be an external partner. A cross-functional team is typically responsible for all or some segment of a work process that delivers a product or service to a customer who is either external or internal to the organization. The work process requires input from several functional areas, therefore group collaboration is essential. When managed properly cross-functional teams provide flexibility, control and speed, coupled with multi-disciplinary knowledge. In fast-changing markets, cross-functional teams can quickly respond to customer needs.

So what can you do to get a cross-functional team operating at its peak potential? Start by establishing shared values and a common goal. Emphasize collaboration and team rewards. As a team, agree upon how you will operate. How you will communicate and how often? How will you hold each other accountable? How can you best help one another? Effective teams are committed to communication and collaboration as well as constructive conflict. People working on teams also develop mutual accountability for the success or failure of the team’s efforts.

What can you do to be a better team member?

  • Consider things from the point of view of your teammates
  • Think about how your work impacts the work of others on the team
  • Look for input, advice and ideas from others on the team, and don’t push your solutions on others
  • Share ideas freely; don’t be afraid to give away your “secrets”
  • Embrace the diversity of your team
  • Get to know your teammates—what they value, how they like to be recognized, their preferred methods of communication

What if you’re the team leader? Do all of the above PLUS take on more the role of a coach than a traditional manager. You champion ideas, but don’t command. You don’t give orders or assignments, but you rely on the entire team to take part in decision-making. You are not “over” the group, but rather a contributing member of the group. You promote performance and makes sure that the team efforts are in line with the goals of your organization. It is also your responsibility to be the liaison for upper management, suppliers and other outside entities. In a sense, you are the team’s key spokesperson that keeps a clear vision of the team’s goals and promotes activities to obtain those goals.

The return on investment will be increased productivity, creativity and efficiency. The end result will be better because you have developed a product or service that meets the customer’s needs and has the sales associates’ buy in. AND you will have improved quality and innovation because you are getting all the best ideas from everyone. Cheers!

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