altMBA: Week One

As those of you following along will know, I’m in the process of undertaking Seth Godin’s altMBA program. This Monday morning I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the first week, so I can share the things I’m learning with you lovely people, and also to help me cement in my own head some of the changes that are taking place.

Projects

The first three projects (of thirteen!) we worked through this week revolved around setting goals, ideation, and decisions.

Goals

Until we pick a target, we’ll never know if we’re hitting the right mark. I’ve always had goals of various levels of specificity for different areas of my life, but this project really challenged me to first get really specific about the what of setting a goal in a way I don’t feel I’ve ever dug deep enough for before.

Dig deep enough into the what of a goal, and you’ll get clear about the why in the process. If you still aren’t crystal clear on the why, you need to keep pulling back layers.

Ideation

It’s amazing how much of the time we’re just getting in our own way. The people who are prolific aren’t really any different from you and I—all they’ve done is figured out how to get out of their own way a little bit and let the stream pour forth. So it is with articulating ideas. Judging and filtering are mental processes that have a clear time and place—and a critical role in producing anything of quatity—but most people thoroughly overuse these tools in the early stage of the creative process.

First you need to go for quantity. Everything else—format, detail, and yes, even quality—needs to stay flexible to start with while you focus on getting past your inner critic. Only once you’ve done that should you pick up the filter tool, and even then, don’t be too eager.

Decisions

The prospect of being eaten if we made a crappy decision has baked a natural propensity for loss aversion into us over the millennia. That turned out to be a hugely successful strategy, but now that it’s led us to these recent innovations in social structure and technology, that software routine is all but obsolete for making optimal decisions. To make good decisions today, we need to not only understand the fallacies that humans succumb to, but experience first-hand what it’s like to observe your brain falling for them even though you know better. Once those insights have marinated a little bit, you need to commit to making decisions using external tools to keep you honest.

Ignore sunk costs. Deliberately question the frame of every decision. Make sure you know what the decision is for. Understand the decision tree, and the probability of all the contingencies along each branch. Rank your priorities. For decisions big and small, these tools will always improve the quality of your choices (or at least your understanding of them).

Giving and receiving feedback

In addition to the projects themselves, the exercise of reading other people’s work, processing it, and finding ways to comment on it that challenge people to go further into the nooks and crannies where there’s still room for more substance is very thought-provoking. More than anything, including receiving the comments of others on my work, this aspect of the course has forced me to re-examine my own work and thought process and look for ways to level-up. It’s hard to say exactly how I’m changing as a result, but I can tell something is happening.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

On their own, these projects are all showing me useful things about myself, my process, and my potential. Collectively though, I can already sense some changes happening in the way I’m approaching my work, my writing, my conversations, and my internal dialogue. It’s still a bit blurry and hard to make out, but the shapes are moving around out there, and I’m certain they’ll come in to focus more and more as the weeks roll on.

I can’t wait to see what week two has in store.

Update: Read my week two summary here.

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