The Benefits of Being T-shaped

“First, he has a depth of knowledge and a focused expertise in one skill or discipline. This characteristic is represented by the vertical stroke of the T. Second, he has an interest in and a willingness to use a broad range of skills and disciplines outside his area of expertise.” – To Succeed in Work and Life, Be Mr. T

Leonardo da Vinci was a master artist but dabbled in anatomy, mechanics, and architecture (to name a few). Each of these sub-disciplines also served to make him a better artist. The Art of Manliness shares a couple of ideas for becoming a T-shaped individual:

  • Gain mastery in one discipline
  • Read broadly
  • Remain curious
  • Actively dabble

Having skills in multiple disciplines allows you to gain more insights into your area of expertise since creativity is largely about making connections between disparate ideas. Additionally, life simply becomes more interesting when you’re constantly on the lookout for ways to strengthen your range of interests.

Previously: Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist

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The Biggest Gap Between Men & Women: Confidence

An in-depth piece in the Atlantic this week delved into the issue of what’s really holding women back from becoming top earners and competitors in their fields. The surprisingly simple reason turns out to be not  the lack of accessibility (though it can be a factor), but of confidence.

In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality.

The shortage of female confidence is increasingly well quantified and well documented. In 2011, the Institute of Leadership and Management, in the United Kingdom, surveyed British managers about how confident they feel in their professions. Half the female respondents reported self-doubt about their job performance and careers, compared with fewer than a third of male respondents.

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How to Effectively Manage Worthwhile Ideas

Funnel designed by José Campos from the Noun Project

Funnel designed by José Campos from the Noun Project

Organizational psychologist Dr. Marla Gottschalk explains on LinkedIn why your best ideas tend to vanish into thin air, and what to do about it. Specifically, Gottschalk provides seven immeasurable insights on how to effectively manage ideas. Here are two of our favorites:

Narrow the field. At some point we have to focus on the ideas that are worthy enough to devote valuable time and resources. For that to occur, you must develop selection criteria relevant to your team and the situation at hand. (For example, those that meet an urgent need or ideas with the greatest potential to impact customers. (See other selection techniques here.)

Don’t look for a single “winner.” One trouble we encounter with idea management, we tend to narrow the focus quite quickly to one path — when it’s likely there is more than one great idea circulating. One idea really does not have to “win”? You can often combine ideas, to enhance product development or service improvement.

If you’ve found that some of your best ideas go missing in the workplace, Gottschalk’s advice is a must-read. Particularly if you’re concerned that opportunities have been missed or changes for innovation have gone unnoticed due to ideas fading away. Read the full story here.

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Emails Are Not For Real-Time Requests (and Other Rules)

Email by Christopher Holm-Hansen from The Noun Project

Email by Christopher Holm-Hansen from The Noun Project

You probably know of at least one person who uses emails for real-time requests. They annoyingly ask if you’ve read their emails, sometimes instantly after sending them. This expectation puts unnecessary pressure on you to interrupt your productivity by incessantly checking your inbox.

For those of us working with such people, consultant Cyrus Stoller has come up with some rules on using multiple channels to reach each other instead of just email. With smartphones, we’re able to create a simple system of sorting and escalating priorities.

He says that if you want a response from him in…

…30 minutes, you should call him. “This gives you an opportunity to make sure I understand exactly what you need done and you know exactly when I received your request. If you don’t feel comfortable interrupting what I’m doing to make a request to me directly then it probably isn’t that urgent and can wait a little while.”

…two hours, you should text him. “This gives me time to gracefully wind down what I’m doing and call you back.”

…sometime today, you should IM him. “Instant message works well for slightly more asynchronous communication. You’re interested in getting a short response promptly, but it doesn’t need to be right away. This is less disruptive than calling or texting. This works well when you need to find out a concrete piece of information before you can proceed.”

…a day or later, email him. “Most people I know feel like they have too many emails to deal with. Think twice about whether email is the right way to communicate your information. You should expect email threads to be truly asynchronous.”

With our workdays more fragmented than ever, we need such rules to keep our systems running smoothly. Read Stoller’s full blog post.

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Discover How You Really Spend Your Time

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Are you spending your time on the right things every day? We often misunderstand how we’re spending our time, which leads to lost productivity or overlooked routines. On The Daily Muse, Erin Greenawald presents a useful way of seeing just how you spend your time: draw it on a handy chart. Greenawald writes:

The first step in becoming more productive is understanding where your time is going now!

It’s simple—grab the [included] visual and then either print it out or open it up…using the paint tool (or your colored pencils), give each activity a unique color, and then color in each hour of the circle based on the activity you usually fill that time with.

 …You’ll quickly be able to see how you organize your day, the things you’re doing well, and the things you could probably improve upon.

I tried this exercise the other day, but instead of guessing how I spend my time I set a reminder on my phone to go off every hour. The alarm would go off and I’d write down how I spent the hour. At the end of my day I was able to see some spots where I clearly was spending time on things that don’t align with my higher objectives.

It’s also interesting to compare your chart to those of creative geniuses, something Greenawald highlights in her post.

Drawing out your day like this allows you to quickly see where your time is going and where you might have more free-time than you think. Be sure to download the chart and try tracking your own hours today.

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How One Man Went From IT to “Late Night with Seth Meyers”

Moon designed by Sebastian Langer from the Noun Project

Moon designed by Sebastian Langer from the Noun Project

For 20 years, Bryan Donaldson worked 9-to-5 as an IT Guy in Illinois. At 40, he had a wife, a kid, and a house with a big backyard. He also had a wicked sense of humor and a Twitter account. Two years and 40,000 followers later, he also has a new job as staff writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. A recent piece for Vulture explains how he made the jump: 

One of Donaldson’s longtime followers is Alex Baze, head writer and producer for Late Night With Seth Meyers. Last fall, when Baze began hiring for the writers’ room in anticipation of a February premiere, he had the notion of looking beyond the piles of packets coming from managers and agents and scouting for raw talent on Twitter. “If I go to somebody’s Twitter, I can see what he’s been doing the last two years — you get a much more complete sense of how he writes,” he says. “It’s like you get to flip through somebody’s comedy notebook.”

Donaldson had no idea he was auditioning for a job when he was tweeting. “Being that it’s Twitter, maybe I just couldn’t take it that seriously when those people were following me,” he says. “I never felt that I was at that level, as far as comedy writing.” A direct message from Baze was the first professional contact Donaldson had ever had with anyone in the comedy world. The Peorian greeted it skeptically. “I wasn’t going to consider uprooting my family at age 40 and starting a new career in New York, where I’d never even been before,” Donaldson says. “But my wife basically said I’d be an idiot if I didn’t give this a shot, because it’s such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The world is a meritocracy now more than ever: never be afraid to put your work out there. You never know who might be watching.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Stop Trying to Be Hemingway: The Myth of Creative Routines

Designed by Dmitry Baranovskiy for the Noun Project

Designed by Dmitry Baranovskiy for the Noun Project

The creative routines of famous creatives has been popular internet fodder this year. The Pacific Standard thinks this obsession and trend of emulating famous artist’s habits is problematic, to say the least. The larger picture, says Casey N. Cep, is that most artists did not always followed these routines they’re known for anyways. In the end they would have still produced genius work regardless of the kind of breakfast they ate, hours they worked, or whatever office supplies they used.

The idea that any one of these habits can be isolated from the entirety of the writer’s life and made into a template for the rest of us is nonsense. What none of these lists tell you is that sometimes these highly creative people weren’t waking so early on their own, but were woken by domestic servants. Or that some of these highly productive writers also had spouses or children or assistants enlisted in the effort. Or that often the leisurely patterns of drafting and revising were possible only because generous familial support made the financial demands of everyday life irrelevant.

Some of the more scandalous aspects of these artistic routines are also tragically stripped of context. The writer who never wrote without a few gin and tonics died young from cirrhosis. The journalist who relied on barbiturates died of an overdose. The painter who once said it was impossible to paint while listening to music married a violinist who then played constantly in his studio.

We often talk about process at 99U, so we think this is a great debate. Are we interested in the routines of great artists because we think replicating parts of their process will be what we were missing to succeed all along? While we believe strongly that the creative process matters, it’s worth contemplating whether it’s our process that needs tweaking or the work itself. It’s easier to put the fault on something we can change easily and control, like a routine, than it is to dig into the deep, personal issues within the work we’re putting out.

Read the rest of the article here.

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