July 14, 2022

Derek Laney on transcending emotional overload, openness for serendipity, balancing focus and discovery, and using threads well (Ep28)

“Not only is that overload factual, in terms of data and trying to figure out what’s true, but also it’s an emotional overload. How do you be intentional about your feelings and emotions as well so that you can pay attention to what matters for you right now, rather than all of the stuff that’s being served up, as all of the emotions of the world are available for you on the internet to consume?

– Derek Laney

Tim O'Reilly

About Derek Laney

Derek Laney is Technology Evangelist for the Future of Work at collaboration platform Slack, having previously held a range of senior roles at Slack’s parent company Salesforce.

Blog: Derek Laney

LinkedIn: Derek Laney

Twitter: Derek Laney

Facebook: Derek Laney

Instagram: Derek Laney

What you will learn

  • How to deal with information overload in the workplace (01:29)
  • Aside from information, why emotional overload has to be dealt with (04:07)
  • How to give autonomy back to the individual effectively (06:20)
  • How can individuals use an interface like Slack without being overwhelmed (09:43)
  • Three tips on how to use Slack to manage information overload (18:07)
  • How to make serendipity more possible in organizational information interactions (15:45)
  • How to balance focus time and discovery time (26:37)
  • What is the value in regenerating attention (31:01)
  • Why having a document hierarchy for note-taking helps in idea creation (34:12)
  • What is rubber duck debugging and its value in getting unstuck (36:20)

Episode resources


Ross Dawson: Derek, it’s awesome to have you on the show.

Derek Laney: Hello, Ross, it’s great to see you again.

Ross: You are now a technology evangelist at Slack having come from a good chunk of your working career at Salesforce. Slack is helping us deal with lots of information at work. The last couple of years have been pretty interesting. I’d love to pull back a little context to get a sense of where is the workplace at in terms of overload amongst other things?

Derek: Yes, it’s a really interesting topic, Ross. When you reached out to me, and let me know what you were doing, I thought of it and went, wow, this is the most important thing I never knew I needed to know. Suddenly after unpacking this, I’m like, wow, how did I not spend time focused on this as a topic for myself? It’s hugely important. Congratulations on the work that you’re doing. The podcast and the book, I think it’s really valuable, and plays well into our focus as well in terms of helping organizations build this thing called the Digital HQ, which is, how they connect all of their employees at work in this digital context.

You mentioned my career, my summary is it’s been 25 years or so in software development, leading teams, outsourcing, consulting, and talking with lots of businesses that led me to Salesforce, and then most recently, to Slack. I feel very, very tied in with some of the topics that you’re exploring as well. Thank you for having us. Thank you for making the time on your podcast.

I heard this quote from Alastair Simpson, who’s the VP of design at Dropbox, he said, if we’re honest with ourselves, work was pretty broken before the pandemic, it’s just that we didn’t do anything about it, and then suddenly, we turned on all our cameras, we pointed them at our staff, we recorded everything, and now, everything is visible two-dimensionally, and all this stuff that was broken, is now very much on display, and we’re like, how on earth, did we not solve these problems? Just what you’re talking about, a lot of this stuff has been around for a long time.

Harvard Business Review in 2017 had this really interesting piece of research that said, 71% of managers agree that meetings are a complete waste of time, they’re ineffective, and unproductive. Yet, it’s the primary mechanism that we try to make sense. We get together in a room in a 30-minute block, maybe a 60-minute block, a little bit more if you’re lucky, and then we have this really weird ceremony where we go through the process of trying to work together, and it’s really not effective.

Last year, people were really struggling. You talk about the great resignation that’s happening at the moment and that sort of thing, this is symptomatic of what you’re talking about. There’s this information overload, things happening in the macro environment, things happening in our world, not only is that overload factual, in terms of data and trying to figure out what’s true, but also it’s an emotional overload. If you just look at the last week, or whenever you’re viewing this podcast, think about what’s happening in your current week, there’s a lot going on you could care about. How do you be intentional about your feelings and emotions as well so that you can pay attention to what matters for you right now, rather than all of the stuff that’s being served up, as all of the emotions of the world are available for you on the internet to consume? How do you make sense of that?

This created this period, that leads us to where we are now where workers, in general, are questioning, why am I here, there’s so much going on in my world, my work now seems less important than it did before because that was everything I experienced, and this nice little control box that I went in from nine to five, it was pretty controlled of the information I was exposed to, whereas now I’m exposed to everything, and now my work in that context starts to make less sense.

I feel that’s where workers are in a lot of places. Most people are focused on, how do I change this? How do I make work more flexible? How do I give back control to our individual people to do their best? How do I enable them to work more together? That’s very related to the topic that you’re talking about in terms of thriving on overload. One of the keys that we’re finding is flexibility, control, and autonomy. These are the things that individual workers are craving to try and draw back. They feel out of control. They feel overwhelmed as you just talked about. One of the best things you can do is give them back some of that control. It could be things like controlling where they work, but actually, that’s not important as when they work. That’s a lot of what we’re trying to do, as we set up these new types of tools with technology.

Ross: I’d like to look back on the emotional piece a little bit, because that emotional overload is a critical part of this. If you think about being effective, there are two levels, individual and organization. In this complex world where organizations are never quite on top of where they’re at, individuals and organizations can make a difference, part of this idea is pushing back the autonomy or control to the individual, how do you frame that in a way that those individuals use that well? Because you can give the control, autonomy, and flexibility to the individual, but if they are still overwhelmed emotionally or by information, or are not knowing what to do, how can you foster the ability to use that autonomy well in them?

Derek: It’s a great question. My own reflection is that I was really good at developing and building out my IQ. It wasn’t until I came to Salesforce 15 years ago, I didn’t even know that I needed to have emotional intelligence and that was something that I needed to use at work. I’ve been on a journey over that time to figure out what’s right for me or how I make sense of it whether that’s managing teams, all of the different emotions and relationships that are part of teams, or whether it’s my family and thinking about their emotional health, through the day, and through the week. We’re just a lot more aware than we were in the past. I’m hopeful that this is not just my experience in high tech, but it’s happening across our communities.

It used to be like you’d leave work, you’d have some break, and then you’d go back to your life, we talked about this work-life balance, or whatever. But if you’re coming away from work, and you’re an emotional wreck, and you have nothing left to give to your family, which should be probably your number one concern of where that emotional energy goes, then we’re probably not doing our job as caretakers, or as a worker. We need to be careful in developing the intellectual capacity of our workers. We have to develop the emotional capacity.

That’s the organizational responsibility, your question was more about the individual. In my business, it’s more about thinking about leaders, managers, and how they help. In the past it was shit flows downhill, or whatever it was, the bad stuff happens to the people on the bottom, because the emotional pressure is put down, I think the days of that have gone, we can’t do that anymore.

We have to be listening, and empathetic, and thinking about how those that work with us and for us are going to emotionally process. That means good change programs, listening, coaching rather than telling, and the days of using emotional pressure to produce productivity. That’s what we’re seeing with the great resignation, that workers are rejecting that and saying, look, it’s just not worth it. I’d rather go and do something else with my time.

Ross: I do want to keep on that theme and dig into how that can be expressed, maybe diving straight to the coalface as it were, our interface to work. Slack is an interface for a lot of people to work and their colleagues. This is an environment which can be perceived as overloaded. There are a lot of channels, a lot of threads, and a lot of things going on. Some people find Slack as distracting as Twitter for its randomness of conversations. With Slack or other similar interfaces to work out there, how do individuals use an interface like that without being overwhelmed? How is it that they use Slack or something like Slack well?

Derek: That’s a good question. There are a couple of parts to your question. First is this idea of noise and control, and how do you balance those things. The second is a humanistic approach to system design, and how do you think about nonrational responses and emotional responses, and what are we learning about systems that we can create to be less inhuman and less depressing, to be honest.

Let’s get back to the first one. I hear this a lot from people where they’re like, I feel Slack is noisy. My response is, do you remember the first time you use the internet? You were like wow, so much on here, like I Google things, and there are millions of results, how am I going to read all these, and like, that’s not really how the internet works, it’s a catalog, it’s a searchable log of all of the information on the web. Slack stands for searchable log of all communication and knowledge, that’s the acronym. It’s about being how to discover, it’s about not only can you create conversations that you can discover, serendipitously, things that might be happening out in the space.

Now that requires some development in the way of working. It’s very important not to just throw a tool like Slack or anything else in there and expect employees to suddenly know how to use it because they’ve lived with email for 20 years, or whatever it was, and before that, other tools, letter writing, etc. and it’s a different way of working. One of the things that I love personally, is the fact that every time I look at anybody’s Slack instance, it looks different because they’ve tailored it just to them. If you’re using it well, you’re using it intentionally.

For example, I use the groupings on the left-hand side, and I have one that says read first, and I have one that says above the fold, and above the fold just means it’s not urgent but I’d like it to stay above the fold, not disappearing off. Then most of my other 10,000 odd channels or whatever that I might be interested in, they’re only there contextually when I need them. I direct what I work on. I use Slack to move the things that are interesting to me right now, to my focus, and everything else, I mute and turn off. Most of the stuff I have muted. I’m not interested in the notification so much.

In systems design, we used to think that we were going to be smart as system designers, myself included, we would work out the best thing that you could pay attention to. We would surface that up to the top of your feed. We would say to you in a call center or if you’re a knowledge worker, we’d say this is what you need to pay attention to, maybe even we would use these amazing things called algorithms that would be able to figure that out. They would surface that to you and say, here is what you should pay attention to and work would be fantastic because you’ll just be able to go through this prioritized list.

What we’re finding is that’s not really how it works and there are nonrational elements, and the way the brain works, that it’s not that interesting. If you work in any of these systems, where you have prioritized queues, a lot of the autonomy and joy that’s taken out of the self-direction, is taken away and productivity starts to slow down, and attrition starts to go up because I don’t want to work in a world where someone tells me what to do every step of the day and says what I should pay attention to, I want to explore what my brain is telling me is interesting, because it still has this amazing, humanistic capability to uncover information in ways that we don’t really understand and can’t replicate now.

In my Slack, it’s changes based on what I want to pay attention to right now. Then I love typing a search and then go wow, suddenly, I’m in this space where I’m learning about something, and I have access to all the people and all of the information about the topic that I need right now. That’s where organizations are moving to. We talk about the culture of learning and the new ways… My daughter is just about to enter the workforce and thinking about her skills, she needs to know so much just in time. She needs to be able to develop things as she becomes aware of a need, rather than potentially knowing 10 years in advance, doing university degree, knowing all the things and then going off competent into the world. I’m not sure that was ever the case but it’s certainly not the case now.

Being able to do that, in an environment where work can be tailored by the individual, they can discover the people that they need, the information that they need, make progress quickly, and then go back to whatever it is that they were doing next. That’s the noise and control thing and it comes back to autonomy. What’s interesting is that people love it, they really love working this way once they learn how to do it, and then you’ll take it out of their dying hands. They’ll be grasping onto this thing because they really see the benefit and huge productivity increases.

Coming back to the second part of your point. One of the things with this new style of systems that’s not immediately obvious is that the humanistic design that was used to create them does some really interesting things. For example, Slack has an unlimited ability for you to tailor and create reactions. I remember saying this five years ago and thinking, let’s try it, that’s just a gimmick that’ll go away but it turns out when you let people express themselves in an infinite number of ways, using moving visual names, suddenly, all sorts of interesting possibilities pop up.

The way that I react is not with thumbs up, thumbs down, happy face, whatever, the five different ways you can react on LinkedIn or whatever, it’s an unlimited number of ways, and in fact, mine are tailored to me. I have an emoji that was created for me on day one called Derek Laney Wow. If ever I do something cool, someone starts typing my name in the emotional reactions, they can choose my custom Wow emoji, it’s me with stardust happening behind my head. Someone does that and that is super cool, I just feel joy and feel that they care about me. They don’t have to do anything, they just type my name and hit go.

I’m triggered, all this wonderful brain chemistry is then just triggered in me to go, oh, wow, not only are you thankful, but you’re thankful in an incredibly personal and unique way. It’s very similar in the way that you see people use gifs as a way to communicate. Gifs are important in channels like Slack as well because they allow you to express something in a humanistic way that you almost can’t even define; you know what the gif means, but also you can’t describe it. Then you do that in a work context where you’re trying to get work done. It’s bizarre, it makes work more fun. The surprising thing is, that also makes it more productive because you have fewer misunderstandings due to the limited emotional range of reactions like the thumb, it’s the worst possible thing that was ever invented, and instead, you’re communicating more like what you do in life like what we’re doing now with our faces and our hands, there’s all this nonverbal communication, which is completely lost in digital media.

As soon as you start to bring that back, we’re early in this, but we’re doing that through things like gifs and reactions, and all that sort of stuff, you make digital communication more expressive, and more of the subtlety, and nuance, and humanistic stuff that’s hard to understand comes into it, and people absolutely love it, they’re more productive, and they enjoy it more.

Ross: Let’s say you’ve got a senior executive. He is dumped into a new extremely demanding role, he’s got an organization to run, Slack is the interface, he has never used it before, he has been told how to use it, and he knows how to use it, what are your three tips for how to use Slack well to manage his overload in the information? What’s the approach? What are the tips?

Derek: Yes, good scenario. I listened to something last night, I can’t remember which podcast it was but it was a new CEO of Best Buy. The new CEO had come in, and he was talking about some of the methods that he used when starting. I take inspiration from him, I take inspiration from our own CEOs. We have few CEOs and they’re all excellent. They collectively do many great jobs for us. Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, I think about the way that he would respond to that, and the way that this individual responded on this podcast. The first thing I would say to them is to be curious and open, pause the telling for as long as possible, and hold off. If you can be curious longer and have a coaching mindset, then you will be much more successful with Slack.

If you start to build a strategy, start to build out a hierarchy of how you’re going to control the organization, and start to figure out how you’re going to flow information down, you’re missing the point. Most CEOs now know that. Very few CEOs think about command and control as the way to run an organization. They think about a coaching mindset and think about how to discover. CEOs are the ones who love this thing because they can search and find out what the frontline is actually talking about. They can dive into these conversations, learn, and then be much more empathetic with what’s happening in their organization.

Of course, they can’t consume every conversation, why would they? They need to be intentional about their time, but in the same way that the undercover boss, which is the best by example, goes into the frontline store of Best Buy and starts asking people a few simple questions like hey, what’s working? What’s not working? How can we help you? Those three questions were the ones that he talked about. He just went to every store and asked them those three questions for months. That’s the way that every CEO should start in a new business. Slack is just allowing you to do that digitally. Dive into a channel and say, hey, great to meet you all, what’s working, what’s not working? How can I help?

That’s very much Stewart, our CEO’s style as well. He’s renowned for popping into new hire meetings and just asking questions of the new hires, trying to figure out what he can do for them and what their impressions are. I think that’s the new style of CEO. This idea that we’re running an army and it’s a top-down chain of command, and we need to flow down the orders, and then the troops will carry them out, and the more we can be agile so we can move fast, our orders need to be carried out super quick, that’s not the reality of how organizations work now.

In that Best Buy example, the value that he found was that the best practices were already existing, he didn’t have to come up with them, it wasn’t his job. His job was to have the empathy to be there, to point out what was working, and then to lift those things up and say, Wow, if you guys looked over here, this store has developed a custom responsive training module, where they conduct individualized training for every frontline store employee based on that employee’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs, to coach them to be the best that they can be every day. There’s one store that created this thing. They were like wow, this is awesome, we should roll this out to everyone, that’s what they did, and that’s part of how they did the turnaround. I think it was on Adam Grant’s podcast.

Ross: You mentioned earlier on serendipitous discovery in Slack. I always point back to the origin, the word serendipity, which suggests that it’s not just pure accidents, it’s things that you can engineer, you can help create, how is it that you can make serendipity more possible, more broadly around in organizational information interactions? How do you make those happy accidents more likely to happen?

Derek: I’ll tell you the number one way that you make serendipity, you need to get your pen ready, you’re going to write this down, that is, you do things in public, you do things in an open way. If you create private borders around things, the smaller the borders are, of where you communicate, it’s pretty obvious, if you were to walk out into a public square and stand on a box, I’m pretty sure that people did this, at some point, stand on a box and start to have an intellectual debate in open, other people would notice. Then they might be walking by and they might go, that’s an interesting idea, but what I do is different; they might chime in and say something different. Speakers’ Corner is a good example of that, and it’s no different in the organization. Unfortunately, this is a lot of work, especially the bigger your organization gets, the harder it is to be open by default.

If you’re a financially regulated organization, if you’re in government, for very good reasons, we have minimum disclosure, or this idea of minimum control, I might get that wrong but anyway, it’s the idea that as few people as possible should have access to information to keep it secure. That’s a very useful tool for customer data privacy and other types of data privacy. But in terms of serendipitous discovery, it’s very unhelpful. In fact, it’s destructive because what happens is that the executive team has a private channel, whether they’re using Slack or not, and they only talk in that channel, and unless you’re in that conversation, then you never have been exposed to those ideas. Also, they become an echo chamber very quickly, the whole idea of an echo chamber is walls around a conversation where it goes around.

Anytime you do that in email, in Slack, in whatever tool it is, you’re going to create echo chambers, and people are not going to be able to discover what it is that you’re talking about. You can do simple stuff, like have all-hands calls, where you share things with everybody, you can do some of the things that you think are private conversations, do them in public, are they really private? Are you discussing information that isn’t just conflict, I’m not talking about, trade secrets, I’m talking about stuff that’s company confidential, so people within the company need to keep it to the company, but that company might be 70,000 people.

There are levels of data management and control. You need to be much more intentional about what really does need to be controlled. There are definitely things that are like M&A and many different things need to be controlled, so you need to have good controls for that but you need to work with your risk and compliance folks to do that intentionally and say we’re going to put controls in where we need them; Where we don’t need them, we’re going to be open by default. If we’re in a regulated organization, we’ll use the discovery tools to figure out if we’ve gone wrong, and then we’ll do post-mortems to figure out what controls can be improved but we won’t just try and get keep everything secret, if it’s like what we’re having for lunch, or whatever.

Ross: The thing is, be open by default rather than closed by default.

Derek: It’s easy for a high-tech organization to say that but we also manage customer data, we manage trade secrets, we manage all sorts of very sensitive data, we’ve worked out processes where we can keep those things safe.

Ross: The whole thing is, there’s a mentality of saying, rather than keeping it closed and only open it if there’s a good reason to, you keep it open unless there’s extremely good reason not to.

Derek: Yes, right. Then, of course, it has to be searchable. If people can’t find it, if it’s locked in an email inbox, even if that email inbox is on the internet, we’ve got to figure out how to find it.

Ross: That makes all the sense in the world. Just going back to an individual, you mentioned a 10,000 channel Slack a while ago. You’ve got some things you got to focus on, you’ve got your day job, you’ve got some things you have to look at, you’ve got an open mind, you’ve got to look around, how do you maximize the chances of serendipity across 10,000 channels, when you’ve still got lots of things to get on with by the end of the day?

Derek: It’s a good point. In my world. I try and balance focus time and discovery time. This is different for everyone. What we’ve discovered at Slack through research into this, or research about 10,000 individuals, every quarter, you have a group called a Future Forum that publishes that study, what we’re finding is that everyone is different and that they need to create their own style of work. That’s the key to unlocking productivity.

I’m going to tell you what mine is but I don’t know if this is correct for everyone. I tend to be open and curious at the start of the day. As the day progresses, I become more and more focused on the top list of things that I wrote down at the beginning of the day that I need to get done. I start to close off things, I close down windows, I close off channels, heaven forbid, I may even close Slack at some point, because I might be writing something, and I need to be focused on completing that task. There are times in my day when I’m closing, I’m completing, I’m getting prepared for Ross’s podcast for the next day or whatever, I need to be focused. But even in those times, I find I’m more productive when I can reserve some time for myself.

I would think of this as selfish time. I might just pop out and slot in 15 minutes where I can just listen to something on a podcast just to refresh myself. I need that for my energy. If I’m not doing that, if I’m not allowing my brain to follow some tangents, I become very recalcitrant and unproductive. I am the world’s best person at completing my second priority. I just write my priorities one to five, and normally I’ll get two in five done.

Ross: You’ve got a lot of competition.

Derek: Yes, I’ll normally get two in five done. Number one never gets done. I’m the worst at procrastinating the number one priority. Hopefully next day, something else more important will come up, and then it’ll move to number two, and then I’ll probably get it done. I wouldn’t say I’m the best at getting things done in the order, my brain seems to enjoy doing the thing that isn’t a priority.

Ross: You’re not the only one of the world, Derek.

Derek: Now I just give into it. I just try to come up with something else that’s more important. Then I put that further. Then suddenly, I can do the thing, that’s number two because my brain has some pressure taken off, or whatever it is. I feel that’s a little bit of it for me. The other thing is because you’re working as much as possible in threads, there are other people who can provide stimulus. If I’m working on a piece of work and even though I’m focused, I’m working in a way that’s more public, I’m using collaborative documents, I’m posting updates, I’m posting little clips to try and put it out there and get some feedback as I go rather than maybe in the past, I waited till I was finished and I had this beautiful wrapped up never to be changed piece that I would release onto the internet; you might call it a published book, I imagine it’s somewhat like that, but before you can have the published book, you’ve got to test it, you’ve got to riff it on podcasts, you’ve got to do all this experimentation and reflection, and I think that’s where a lot of the serendipity comes from.

It’s like you expose some of these ideas to stimulus and things come back. I find I need to follow the tangents. I need to play out what that means. Sometimes there are dead ends, and sometimes there are absolute gems. In my most stressful moments, just before I have a deadline, a little tangent pops up and I’m like, I really shouldn’t pay attention to that but it just keeps on coming into my view and then I go look at it, I’m like whoa, this is cool, and then suddenly, I’ve got some cool, interesting story to put into whatever I’m doing.

Ross: Yes, that’s the balance. One of the wonderful balances we need to tread is between the focus and the breadth, and finding, as you say, in terms of how you do that in your schedules or how you essentially have a higher view on your consciousness, so that you can push it out or pull it in, as is appropriate, and sometimes it’s not obvious.

Derek: The other weird thing with me, it must be with people as well but I’ll share with you because you know, you’re an expert, you might be able to tell me if this is just me, the busier I get, the more I find I need to take up new hobbies. This has always been true for me. I learned this very early in my career. I had a super stressful, the biggest software implementation of my career, it was at Coca-Cola, it was implementing a massive system for Coca-Cola, it was a deathmatch, it was like back in the old days, before agile, six months deathmatch, we had to build this system.

I was so stressed. It was at that time that I took up cycling and juggling because I was like I am so stressed, I need something, I need an outlet, and I felt guilty at the time for spending time in these selfish pursuits when I had deadlines, I always felt guilt on all these things that I was doing, that were maybe taking away from what I was doing but I’ve since learned that the more stressful I get, the more important the thing is that I need to do, that’s the time when I need to pick up something new that’s completely unrelated, and that keeps me fresh. It actually makes me better at whatever I’m doing.

Ross: Yes. The way I frame it in the book is regenerating. We have different attention modes, regenerating is one of the most critical. Without regenerating, we can’t have attention. Whatever that may be, whether it’s going for walks, being in the ocean, hanging out with a partner, juggling, or whatever it may be, that is regenerating attention. If you don’t regenerate your attention, it’s going to run out.

Derek: Yes, right. It’s counterintuitive that that would be a learning thing. I’m overwhelmed having to learn something, I’m going to go learn something else to free up, regenerate. It’s counterintuitive that that’s the thing that regenerates for me.

Ross: Particularly the case of juggling, for example, using different parts of the brain, crudely, a lot more right-brained and left-brained. I think juggling is a fantastic example of something that really would rewire your brain and this expansive awareness. You need expansive awareness for juggling, as you do for appreciating an extraordinary natural vista. That breadth is part of what enables you to then focus the narrow, which is then running the software project, for example.

Derek: Yes, very good. Thank you for that. Thank you for the insight.

Ross: Just to round out, any tips or recommendations for anyone who is sitting in an office job overwhelmed with information and too much going on, any other thing, a couple of what we’ve already discussed, to suggest they do?

Derek: I can talk about this all day, I’ll give you a couple. Let me just give you my quick few things that I do. I use a document hierarchy for my notes taking. I have done it since university. I create a document for anything that I’m working on. I’m not planning to share it with anyone, it’s just my ideas. For me, the thing that makes sense to me is indenting, I have these crazy indentations, which are essentially just a big hierarchy of text that I use to formulate my ideas, and I push things up and down around the document as I’m learning things to organize it. Strangely, I very rarely go back and read them. It’s mostly the creation of them that helps me make sense.

Also at Salesforce, we have this bizarre culture with 30% of the employees in any point in time are building slides. I used to think this was unproductive and at some point, we tried to get away from it. We were like, let’s stop building slides, we are wasting a lot of time. What we’re doing is trying to tell the idea to somebody else in a visual form. That leads to a new level of understanding because it’s easy to write paragraphs on something, but to try and put it on a simple visual that you can express is a good way of clarifying. We use that a lot.

We also use threads. When I’m working with someone, I’m normally not working with them on one idea, we’re usually working on five ideas. Even if I’m an indirect messaging channel, I might have five active threads with five different conversations that are threaded, so that when we’re talking, we’re not in conversation, it’s actually better than conversation, I can simultaneously talk with you in an asynchronous way on multiple different topics and progress those different topics, and that doesn’t need to happen at the same time, they can happen at different times. It’s okay, you don’t have to stay on one topic at one time, you can talk on multiple things, you just have to use threads. Whether that’s LinkedIn, whether it’s Slack, or whatever else you’re using, using threads in a very intentional way is a big productivity unlock. Then, of course, you have different people with access to those threads.

Now, the other thing that I do, I do a lot of rubber duck debugging, which is an old software development tool, which is software developers used to have a rubber duck on their computer, then if they were stuck, they would try and explain to the duck what the problem was, and the solution would emerge because the process of teaching and telling helps you understand and your brain use a different way to tell than it does to listen so if you can start teaching as soon as possible, whatever it is, you’re trying to learn to anybody who listens, if no one will listen, just tell it to a rubber duck, then that’s hugely important. I use that a lot. These are a couple of little tips for you.

Ross: It’s fantastic. I very much believe in learning by teaching and that’s in the book as well but I wasn’t aware of it and I will now take up the practice of teaching rubber ducks.

Derek: Only if humans won’t listen, which in my family, at some point, they’re like, okay, I’ve had enough of your presentations, I can’t listen to another one of your presentations.

Ross: Thank you so much for your time and your insights, Derek. It has been a fantastic conversation.

Derek: Thank you, Ross. Wonderful to talk to you again.

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