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Weekly 3: Actions Worth Judging, Be a Musician & Honest Self-talk

Summary: Be a better judge of people. Learn like a musician. Look at your actions to understand your

Idea Journal Weekly 3

February 11 · Issue #21 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Be a better judge of people. Learn like a musician. Look at your actions to understand your values. (~5 min read)
Hat tip to fellow entrepreneur Nate Littlewood, Co-founder and CEO of Urban Leaf, for bringing our attention to researcher Art Markman’s work in idea #2.

#1. To better understand people, pay more attention to what they do than what they promise.
Psychiatrist and author Gordon Livingston writes in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart that we are a verbal species, so much that we are “drowning in words, many of which turn out to be lies we tell ourselves or others.”
And yet for all those words, we are not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel. Instead, we are defined by what we do.
In judging other people, Livingston argues that we should pay attention not to what they promise, but to how they behave.
Following this simple rule “could prevent much of the pain and misunderstanding that infect human relationships.”
As Livingston notes, a lot of the heartbreak that people encounter is the result of ignoring the reality that past behavior is the most reliable predictor of future behavior.
#2. Learn more effectively by approaching your subject like a musician.
Art Markman, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at The University of Texas at Austin, writes that the annual South by Southwest festival provides an opportunity to explore the difference between how technology professionals and musicians view the use of information.
Many technology companies operate on the assumption that individuals and organizations will become more productive as access to information becomes easier. As Markman points out, this is because we tend to think about information as something that just needs to be accessed: “If only we could put the right information in the right place, people could use it effectively.”
But simply making information accessible isn’t enough to turn it into knowledge or action.
Many of the musicians who play at SXSW (and elsewhere) are testament to the power that comes from years of intense and sustained practice: “nobody thinks that they could learn to play an instrument at a professional level without actually engaging with it actively.”
Markman argues that the process of acquiring knowledge should be just as active as learning to play an instrument. 
He recommends the following four steps, borrowed from the world of music, to help make your learning more effective:
1. Produce something: A musician practices by playing, and the same should be true for learning conceptual knowledge. After reading an article or book, listening to a lecture, or watching a documentary, try to explain what you’ve learned back to yourself or to someone else – if this is hard to do, go back and review the material.
2. Get the details right: Musicians know that they haven’t learned a piece until they’re familiar with all the details, from changes in tempo to the pitch of the notes. The same should be true of knowledge that you consider important – it’s hard to come up with a creative solution if you don’t understand the details of the problem.
3. Learn your theory: Great improvisers in music have a command of theory that goes beyond just knowing notes. In your own area of expertise, you should focus on asking and answering the question Why?: “The better your ability to understand why things happen, the more effectively you can diagnose the cause of unexpected events.”
4. Know your scales: All good musicians have spent countless hours playing scale patterns, because these basic skills form the building blocks for more advanced performance. What are the key skills you need to have in your own line of work? Have you mastered them? 
#3. To find out what you value, look at your actions.
Author Derek Sivers writes on his blog that, no matter what you say to yourself or to anyone else, “your actions show you what you actually want.”
But what about the people who say they want to create a business, or learn a new language, or quit their job?
From Sivers’ perspective, if they really wanted those things, they would have already started.
He suggests two reactions to this observation:
  1. “Stop lying to yourself, and admit your real priorities.
  2. Start doing what you say you want, and see if it’s really true.”
Quote of the Week
“Perhaps it will be urged, that the tacit assent of their minds agrees to what their practice contradicts. I answer, first, I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”
- Philosopher John Locke in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689)
Idea Journal
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