Where blog posts really come from

One of the reasons I blog is so that I have a regular, disciplined practice of turning loosely-formed ideas into concrete, cogent, shareable posts.  Over and over again.  Until I get better at it.

Part of the power of repetition is getting to observe a process unfold repeatedly.  So, over the last 5-plus years of blogging (and of life), I’ve learned that most of the time my best ideas come through conversations.  When someone asks me a great, thorny, interesting question, and we engage in real dialogue about how to answer that question, I learn things.  This is a powerful piece of self-knowledge that I otherwise wouldn’t possess.  It informs how I structure my time and how I think about the conversations I need to have, and the people I need to interact with, to learn, to push my own thinking and my own understanding of the world and of my work.

Rare, though, is to have a photograph of that moment.

The most popular post I wrote in November was How do I get a job in impact investing?, and after I wrote the post I saw this tweet from Josh McCann.  It’s a photo taken the moment I was asked by the Warton Social Venture club how to get a job in impact investing. I was stumped, but I winged it, and we talked, and together we figured it out.

How to get a job in impact investing

Where do your best ideas come from?  Alone, or in conversation?  After a lot of reading and study or on the spur of the moment?  With a pad of paper and a pencil, a whiteboard, with a cup of tea or cranking at your desk at work, constantly jumping back to your Facebook feed (probably not)?

We all struggle with managing our time the right way.  Knowing where we get our best ideas can help.  This is one of the big ideas in Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself, an article that’s worth rereading at least once a year.

Peter Drucker – Managing Oneself

A little while ago, a colleague of mine sent around Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself article from Harvard Business Review.  He described it as “something to read and re-read over time,” and having read the piece a few times now I’ve put it on my “reread this one annually” list.

The whole piece is about self-knowledge, probably the most important lever in sustained and longstanding professional and personal success.

From the opening, just to give you a flavor of both the content and Drucker’s direct, no-nonsense writing style:

History’s great achievers – a Napoleon, a da Vinci, a Mozart – have always managed themselves. That, in large measure, is what makes them great achievers. But they are rare exceptions, so unusual both in their talents and their accomplishments as to be considered outside the boundaries of ordinary human existence. Now, most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves. We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution. And we will have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do.

Most of the article covers, with incredible clarity, topics you might expect: how to know your strengths and build on them; understanding your weaknesses; the power of real and honest feedback; etc.

But then out of left field Drucker spends a good chunk of time saying that it’s crucial to know if you learn best by reading or listening (apparently General Eisenhower was a reader,  President Lyndon Johnson was a listener).  Huh?

This pretty much stumped me, both because I’d never thought about it before and because, after thinking about it some, I had no idea whether I was a reader or a listener.  I assumed that since I read a lot and write a lot that I have to be a reader.

It turns out that I was wrong.  Here’s how I figured it out.  A few months after first reading the article I found myself preparing for a big presentation and wanted to include a discussion of a newer Acumen Fund investment.  I’d read piles of pages about the investment and had tons of information, but I just wasn’t feeling comfortable.  Then I sat down for 30 minutes with someone on our team to discuss the investment and everything changed.  I felt the texture, I could grasp the nuances, it clicked.

Turns out I’m a listener.  I’m pretty sure that having figured this out will have a big impact over time.

One final gem from the article that just made me smile – the kind of thing you don’t expect from a management guru:

Manners – simple things like saying “please” and “thank you” and knowing a person’s name or asking after her family – enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not. Bright people, especially bright young people, often do not understand this. If analysis shows that someone’s brilliant work fails again and again as soon as cooperation from others is required, it probably indicates a lack of courtesy – that is, a lack of manners.

Hope you enjoy the full article (“Best of HBR”) as much as I did.