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Building feedback loops for finding flow in serious work

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marshall Kirkpatrick @

“Inspiration arrives at surprising times, but it prefers to find you working,” Picasso reportedly said. As someone who aspires to develop my self and my skills, and to make the world a better, more just place, I like to think about working in many different ways.

One of the ways I’m thinking about work is this: building feedback loops to optimize for the conditions conducive to entering a state of flow may be a powerful enabler for competing in competitive endeavors.

“Serious Work” seems like a category in and of itself. While reading the wonderful book Checklist Manifesto, I was struck by the difference between my aspirational checklists (20 things I try to do each morning before leaving the house) and the checklists used in building construction or surgery. My aspirational checklists are really helpful, but it’s not the end of the world if I fail to check of some or many of the items on them in a given day. The same cannot be said about the checklists used at construction sites for complex real-world structures.

This morning when reading about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to China where he used language from the Chinese government that observers say suggested a new willingness to concede to Chinese aspirations of expanded regional dominance, and he said that US media visibility into his trip wasn’t something he needed to accomplish his mission – I thought, “there’s a man I’d like to see using a different checklist for this very serious work.”

Much of our work probably falls somewhere in the middle of the continuum between construction or imperial statecraft on one hand and my morning to-dos that include filling the bird feeders and doing push-ups. Even where our work might not fall into the category of Serious Work, though, I think that inspiration can be drawn from that kind of effort.  I want to be as effective as possible, both at work work and in my work outside of work.

Serious work is competitive and competition requires that winners enter into a state of Flow, at least some of the time. I listened to a wonderful podcast recently, which I’m unfortunately unable to find a link to, about the conditions most conducive to entering a state of flow. I took note of those conditions though: attention, risk, and embodied intelligence.

I’d like to introduce a third concept to this discussion (after Serious Work and Flow) and that’s feedback loops.

“Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen with everything,” wrote James Clear in a recent blog post. “Forget about predicting the future and build a system that can signal when you need to make adjustments.”

I would argue that keeping track of all the factors involved in doing serious work falls outside of a flow state and more into an administrative state. Administering checklists is a great way to do this, and monitoring those and other feedback loops at designated times allows you to focus on entering into a flow state during other times.

So in order to be competitive in a serious work environment, it’s good to use feedback loops that provide infrastructure for consistently entering a flow state.

A feedback loop for how often you’re creating the supporting conditions for a flow state is an exciting idea.

For the past month, I’ve been doing daily and weekly check-ins on four tactics. I just revised the list for the coming weeks and it’s now: meditation, book reading, keeping a log of execution-oriented tasks I’ve completed in a day, and Pomodoros. Those are tactics that help create attention, risk, and embodied intelligence – especially if I can keep a steady routine of exercise going. (Which I struggle with.)

Right now I’m using one page in a BlankieBook for logging each day’s book reading, execution tasks, etc. and then reviewing each Sunday.

I would argue that managing these feedback loops becomes a light form of Serious Work itself. I don’t want to screw it up. If I stumble in recording my efforts to create conditions conducive to flow, or doing weekly check-ins on my logs from the week, then I may just fall off the wagon entirely. As such, these feedback loops require both Flow and feedback loops on feedback loops. Getting into a flow state around tracking and revising behavior based on feedback loops helps imbue that work with a sense of inherent meaning.

Finally, this ends up feeling like a nested pattern of serious work needing flow, which needs feedback loops, those feedback loops being serious work, that serious work needing flow, and that flow being supported by the aforementioned feedback loops. Feedback loops on the conditions conducive to flow can be serious work. And that’s a process I’m excited to explore. Towards no specific goals.

“Inspiration arrives at unexpected times, but it prefers to find you working.”

What I’m working on this month

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marshall Kirkpatrick @

I love a good log book. “Captain’s log, Star Date…” Etc.

I’m big into keeping a journal, I have been for the past couple years, and I review month and year old entries each day.

A log is great for context, history, accountability, self-awareness, and more.

In that spirit, I thought I’d start a new page on this site: a log of what I’m working on. I’m going to try to update it monthly. If we talk, and you’ve already read that page- then you’ll already know what I’m up to in general and we can jump into specifics. What are you working on right now?

Here’s my log.

AI will never be fully automated

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marshall Kirkpatrick @

AdWeek covers a Coca Cola exec, Mariano Bosaz, the brand’s global senior digital director, saying at Mobile World Congress this week, that Coke is interested in doing a lot of automated, AI-powered ad creative work.

“In theory, Bosaz thinks AI could be used by his team for everything from creating music for ads, writing scripts, posting a spot on social media and buying media. ‘It doesn’t need anyone else to do that but a robot—that’s a long-term vision,’ he said. ‘I don’t know if we can do it 100 percent with robots yet—maybe one day—but bots is the first expression of where that is going.’

“Bosaz isn’t alone in envisioning human-less creative. AI is already being used to create commercial music and jingles and publishers like the AP are experimenting with using robots to write copy.”

I’d argue that the framing here is counter-productive: AI shouldn’t be thought of as free of humans, it’s much more about collaboration with humans, hopefully extending and augmenting our human work. Increasing labor productivity, but usually still involving human labor.

How is the common perspective this article advances off-base? How many ways will, and should, humans always be a part of the story?

Humans will need to…

  • Clean the data that trains the AI
  • Set the parameters for what a desirable outcome will look like
  • Judge the effectiveness of the output of the AI, based on criteria and assumptions that hopefully will be equitable and just
  • Interpret the data that AI crunches, including with symphonic thinking that draws connections between one conclusion or one data set and another.

And much more. Much better to think of AI as a part of a large trend of augmenting knowledge work. Advertising, for example, won’t be done by AI – it will be (and programatic ad targeting already is in some cases) done with AI.

A Networked View of Value and Cost

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marshall Kirkpatrick @

We’re entering into a networked age where the value created by single organizations is being surpassed by the value created by networks, and humanity’s participation in networks is giving each of us a new opportunity to engage in something bigger than ourselves, like a global brain.

graphofideasThose were among my favorite take-aways from futurist Ross Dawson’s really interesting talk at an Ericsson event in Mumbai, written up this week by Vanessa Cartwright: Value creation in a connected world: 4 key insights for organizations to lead and succeed in a networked economy

Lots to chew on there, but I’d like to add the following: it’s not just about creating value through the network today, we are also moving into a better position to understand costs paid by the network, too.

All the things that traditional economics has called “externalities,” like pollution or adverse social consequences, are clearly relevant to any organization that intends to tap into its network of stakeholders for value creation. Uber may be a great example of networked value creation, but the labor conditions for drivers (and employees!) in the network are hotly debated. Likewise, if (or when) manufacturing or distribution firms start leveraging networks extensively for value creation – they’re going to need to look at the costs incurred by those network participants, too, if everyone wants this networked economy to last.

I don’t mean to just be a dark cloud – I actually think that tapping into a whole network of stakeholders for identification of emerging risks and opportunities, for costs and benefits, is a really exciting idea that will make our organizations much more effective.

I’ve been thinking of the phrase Networked Foresight for some time; foresight that leverages networks for exploration and takes the interests of all participants in the network into consideration.

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