How I read and listen

[My mom][mom] loved to tell people that ever since I was three, I’d tell people that my favorite hobby was talking[^hobby]. I haven’t changed.

As someone who spent the majority of his life with his mouth open, the few moments when I switch my brain from `SEND` to `RECEIVE` become very precious.

[mom]: TODO “Dreams… TODO”
[^hobby]: TODO make sure I haven’t blogged this story before.

### 1. Start with an oblique question ###

The only way I can get meaningful input is by asking a question different from the one I actually want the answer to: “How do you see the world?” Since, in a conversation, a direct question never gets you to the answer, I ask a different one and see where it will lead. (You can’t ask a book anything — and expect a response.)

Part deflection; part [obliquity][obliquity], I asked a friend, “So what other talk did you like?”

Friend: “I liked the talk by X. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to do a startup, so it was pretty cool.”

“I had to step out due to a phone call.[^ringtone] I missed half of it.”

“Oh, well it was very good. I found her practical tips helpful.”

“That’s interesting, did you write any of those tips down?”


“What?!” I teased, “I thought she said twice: ‘write everything down.'”

“I guess I didn’t actually follow her tips,” he replied sheepishly.

### 2. Write things down ###

I did. 😉

Here are my notes:[^sanitized]

> Before you take money:
> 1. Do we need it? [previous co] was let’s not lose money and didn’t need money. Just needed some time. And some cash but just enough to …
> 2. Is it big enough? [previous co] was not enough.
> The abbove was necessary but not sufficient.
> Raising money was not about the cash: it was about hte people and advice
> Pitch the VC. It’s like an alien spacesuit. The advice on the Internet was very weird.
> It’s about the team and the idea.
> Just told tr story and told them about who we were and how they were going to change the worrld. It became advice.
> 1. The person to be: is be yourself
> 2. *Write things down.* As soon as someone says things orally then come back and write email and say this is what we agreed to.
> 3. Give everyone a deadline. Investors need deadlines too. Say you are in or out by this date.
> The only decision more important than who you take money from is who you work with.
> 1. Clearly define roles. Talk about things and decide up front. Have a framework in place on how decisions are made.
> 2. Talk equity up front. Have a conversation and make decisions.
> 3. *Write it the fuck down.* Writing is most solid form also legally binding

(then my phone rang)

You’ll notice that my notes probably don’t make any sense. That’s not the point. The point is the **act** of writing things down makes it permanent. I didn’t need to refer to the notes when I was talking with my friend, because I was able to retain those details — more than him — simply because I took the effort to have the *habit of writing things down*.

You also probably noticed a lot of misspellings. Had you actually been at the talk, you’ll see a lot of outright errors in what I wrote. That’s because my laptop was charging in the back corner of the room at the time,[^power] so I took notes on my iPhone.

For when I don’t have an iPhone, I carry around a Rhodia notepad. It used to be a moleskine.[^switch] I never looked at that stuff. It doesn’t matter. No excuses!

My bookmark is a piece of scrap paper. When I was in junior high school, I used it to write down the character names as they were introduced in order to ace all my summer reading tests — never once missed a question on any of them + extra credit in seven years. Later it became a place where I’d write down vocabulary words I didn’t know.[^connotation] Now[^wordstop], it is a jumble of crap. I rarely reference them, and I stopped looking up the words anymore. It doesn’t matter. No excuses!

Here’s one from a recent book:

[ TODO: Image from Habit Course notes ]

Sometimes I don’t finish the book (this one took me months). At one point I was reading this book inside the bathtub, and it fell into the water. I just stop reading, and started sometime later when my “bookmark” had dried. If it happenned on the toilet, I’d probably still pull it out of the bowl and keep on chugging. It doesn’t matter. No excuses!

### 3. Live it when you listen ###

In an old issue of *MacUser*, I once read this story, it went like this:[^wrongwrong]

> There’s an story about the BBC asking a kid about which version of *Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy* he liked more, the television program or the radio show.
> “The radio program,” the child replied immediately.
> Shocked, the reporter asked, “Why?”
> “The pictures are better,” the kid explained.

The great thing about a book or listening to a person, is that your visual cortex is free. Half the higher functions in your brain are devoted to vision, so this observation is like saying you have half your brain freed when you read or listen.

So if you aren’t living what you are reading or hearing, my question is, “Why are you only using half your brain?”

If it is fiction, be like a kid: make your pictures better than in the movie.

(The brain is a muscle. If your pictures are not better than the movie version, you simply haven’t worked your brain enough. Practice. It will be hard at first, but you will be rewarded with being able to read books faster and get more out of them.)

You could apply that to non-fiction, but then you’d limit yourself to the sort of *New Yorker* non-fiction where the author wastes most of his copy describing how this scientist resembles a walrus, or that one looks exactly like Justin Bieber if Justin Bieber were fat, Asian, and 55.

I, personally, think Malcolm Gladwell is a tool[^gladwellthetool] so I prefer not to be so limited in my selection of non-fiction.

Instead, come up with an application/concept/story/shit-test and apply what you read as a prescription to it. If it succeeds, it serves two purposes:

First, you have an immediate application of what you have learned. I compared what the speaker said to my experiences with funding a startup as well as advice from investors I’ve received, tweaked it, and placed it in my rolodex. If I quit Wikimedia, I can reference this knowledge and apply it without ever reading what I wrote. I can use it as a “shit-test” on whatever a future investor or founder says, telling whether I should tune them out, or listen and read.

Second, and more importantly, applying things to your internal story creates a scaffold to hang the things you know but haven’t learned (yet). Knowledge is not a set of facts, it is a set of connections. Our memory isn’t Random Accessed Memory (RAM); our memory is a **reference** accessed memory. One thought leads to another. What’s the value in remembering anything, [if you don’t place it somewhere you can access it?][walkingwitheinstein]? Place the things you hear and read somewhere you might stumble upon it when you need it. And then it might be there when you do.

I started reading *The Power of Habit* to shit-test Leo Babauta’s *Habit Course*, because I needed to “sharpen the saw” after a lifetime of false starts. It got me blogging again, because I applied it to that concept of trying to fill in the holes that caused me to fail, or barely succeed. But why blogging? Because it met [this video][happiness], and blogging is a form of journaling. In the Habit Book the appendix is devoted to a framework to change your habits. It starts (and finishes) by writing things down. I said, “*write it down: it doesn’t matter. No excuses!*” Blogging is writing it down. 😉

But it didn’t stop there. Because I had a scaffolding I set up, the *The Power of Habit* quickly became fodder for a future talk on gameification. It’s also a lens by which I explain why I joined the Wikimedia Foundation, what I do there (besides being administrative overhead), and how we’re all going to succeed at fixing a five-year problem.

What if a book goes Malcolm Gladwell and fails your picture/shit test? You can take the good parts, but still be able to destroy the bad parts effectively: *Simplicity*, *The Innovator’s Dilemma*, *Code Complete*, and *Agile Web Development* all failed my picture in some way. And making the **simple** observation of **how** they failed are why I am a keynote speaker at conferences.

The other day, when apologizing for being rude to the director of a leadership seminar, the lecturer told me something that I’ve heard throughout my life, “You see things differently.”

But Marie recently corrected it, “You don’t think any different. If anyone follows what you say, they can see it’s obvious. They can see it also. You just think **harder** then other people, and that’s why you’re able to come to the conclusions you do. People say you’re different because they don’t want to accept they just didn’t think hard enough about it. It’s easier to say you’re weird instead.”

### A scaffold for what you just read

I gave three things I do when I switch from `SEND` to `RECEIVE` and read and listen.

Your reading teacher called this “thinking critically” but never explained it correctly. That’s because asking you to do this is direct, and as we learned the best way to start is to be oblique and see where it goes.

And perhaps, unlike my friend, you wrote some of this down.[^instapaper] 🙂

To those of you who applied my third tip and found this article lacking… The purpose of this blog is to: “write to create context for another to think.” And even if this article failed your “shit test” at least I accomplished that! 😀

[^ringtone]: I collect ringtones designed to make me pick up the phone. This one was “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Needless to say, at a web conference, even my quick hands couldn’t prevent half the room from naming that tune.

[^sanitized]: Personal information has been sanitized out on request.

[^power]: I had juggled the plugs during lunch. And it turned out the slot I used was the lightswitch (which was off) so it didn’t charge one bit.

[^switch]: The reason I switched is the paper quality of the Rhodia is lighter and it’s slightly smaller. Sometimes, I just want scratch paper, and I can rip pages out of the Rhodia. Also, perhaps most importantly, all the web hipsters started to carry moleskines about five years ago, so I stopped using them around then. 😀

[^connotation]: …or I wasn’t familiar with the word in that context. Connotation is particularly important to me. It’s not about using the word, it’s about using the right (write) word. 😉

[^wordstop]: I stopped looking up words because a dictionary is built into the Kindle. That freed me from having to look up words, but I didn’t stop the habit of writing things down.

[^wrongwrong]: MacUser was using it to justify why there were no color screens on the Macs (of that time). This story is **so** not applicable. Do you know why? If not, did you follow the prescriptions in this article when reading this article?

[^gladwellthetool]: Here watch this! I’ll tell an interesting story that I will later use to draw a spurious conclusion. But because you were watching, you didn’t see that I’m full of shit!

[walkingwitheinstein]: TODO “Link to moonwalking with einstein”

[happiness]: TODO “Link to hapiness video”

[^instapaper]: …or at least instapapered or evernoted it. (But unless you write down something in the notes, you haven’t made it yours.)

[obliquity]: TODO “Obliquity link”

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