Advice Priorities Read Other People’s Stuff

Three Things About Priorities

(And, Read Other People’s Stuff: 6)

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It seems that I’ve spent a large part of my life coaching people through prioritization exercises. While there are all sorts of formal methods to help people objectively prioritize things (like my favorite, the Kano analysis), more often than not, prioritization can be — and is — done intuitively. Frankly, intuitive prioritization is wonderful; I tend to save formal methods for times when my (or our) intuition starts to struggle.

I’d like to share three things about intuitive prioritization that are, however, not all that intuitive.

1. Your highest priorities probably aren’t as high as you suspect.

Say you have a list — or backlog — of 100 items.

And say you prioritize each one, 1 (highest) to 4 (lowest).

How many of them are 1s?

Of those, how many are you actively working on?

Subtract that number from the total number of 1s.

If the number is zero, you’re a superstar, and you should pour a glass of your favorite beverage, kick back, and…move on to item #2.

If not, read on.

Of the 1s that you are not actively working on, how long have they been hanging around with that priority?

How many of them really deserve to be 1s?

I remember a few decades ago when I was introduced to the Franklin Planner’s lucid prioritization system. My teacher colored outside the lines and explained to me that “A” priorities are best thought of as do or die. That is, if an “A” priority were to be neglected, someone’s life or job would be at stake. In that sense, in most situations, very few priorities are truly worthy of Franklin “A.” That’s good!

Let’s get back to your list of 100 items. Of those, how many had to be done by yesterday? This may be difficult to swallow, but the answer is always zero. The soonest you can get any of those done is today.

“Have to” is a funny, overused phrase, and we’re all better off remembering that.

The vast majority of our high priorities are likely a Franklin “B.” That is, things that we would like to get done today, but if we can’t, nobody will die or be fired.

2. Your highest priority may be to feel good. Either own that, or do hard things.

Here’s another test of your prioritization prowess:

  • You have a prioritized list of five items
  • The first four have been determined to involve a lot of complex work to address
  • The fifth is easy to address
  • During planning, you decide you want to do the fifth item on the list first, because it will make you feel good to get something done

You’ve just committed a common violation of the laws of prioritization: you’ve lied to yourself about your priorities. Here’s the thing: it’s perfectly OK to want to do item five and feel a “quick win.” It means, however, that feeling a “quick win” is your true priority. Is that OK? It sure is! But you have to own it; you have a grand opportunity to reconsider whether or not items one through four are indeed your highest priorities. Do that openly, in the moment, while the thinking is fresh.

Many times, our highest priorities are the hardest things to address. With finite resources, it takes discipline to stay focused on getting those done if they are indeed high priorities, no matter how hard they may be.

3. Your highest priorities aren’t even in your to-do list.

Why do we all forego so much of the above, so frequently?

The answer is: priorities are about choices, and choices are not naturally easy to make.

Here’s a maxim: There’s no such thing as a perfect decision or choice. If a decision or choice were that easy, there would be no decision or choice to make! You would, as we sometimes say, proceed without having to think too much.

Many things have an intrinsic priority: our families, our friends, our personal lives, our moments of joy, and our moments of sorrow come to mind. Beyond those, there are smaller things, like self-care and emotional fulfillment. We may be able to sustain short bursts de-prioritizing these, but trouble is nigh if this goes on for too long.

In the healthiest moments of our lives, these intrinsic priorities don’t even feel like choices.

You may argue that some of your business processes are similar; fulfilling customer orders, for example. Given a choice of an innovation or following through on a customer need, the latter should probably win.

What puts us out of prioritization whack more than anything else is feeling conflict in the process of tending to things with intrinsic priority over things without.

When you find yourself at this moment…

“I’ve got 10 innovations to work on. I can’t work on them, though, because I have customers to serve.”

…you have two things you can do: 1) Serve your customers and let your innovations wait; or 2) Serve your customers and de-prioritize a few other things to start working on your innovations. Both options involve some pain, but the latter requires deeper thinking. For that, my friends, in the spirit of Read Other People’s Stuff, I can’t recommend this highly enough: Deep Change, by Robert Quinn.

Postscript, October 14, 2023: If you liked this, there’s one more thing…

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Advice Priorities

Another Thing About Priorities

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Here’s something that I didn’t think belonged in Three Things About Priorities, but that is important nonetheless:

In a pure prioritization process, you should not consider the resources you have at hand to address your priorities.

Why is that?

If something is important enough to be your #1 priority, then it is…your top priority. Whether or not you have the resources to accomplish it is another matter entirely.

If that priority is truly important, then your next step is to consider how to get the resources to address it.

If that becomes uncomfortable, and your #2 priority seems more appealing as a result, then your #2 is, in fact, your top priority.

You might say that this concept is adjacent to “Your highest priority may be to feel good. Either own that, or do hard things” in my previous post, and I would agree with you. In fact, avoiding the work that you need to wrangle resources for your #1 priority may be a form of feeling good.

Whatever choice you make, own it.

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Current Events: 2023

A Plea for Balance

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When you read studies like this, which was published last week, how do you feel?

I feel apprehensive.

At universities around the United States, the troubling decline in investment in the classic well-rounded liberal arts education continues unabated. This decline has its roots, no doubt, in a decline in interest for the humanities. A high-profile article in The New Yorker earlier this year documented and lamented the decline of the English major. An editorial counterpoint in The New York Times tried to explain what might be behind that.

American universities continue their massive investment shifts away from the humanities and toward STEM. Politics aside, the 2023 Pew study “finds that, despite recent declines in ratings, scientists and medical scientists continue to be held in high regard compared with other prominent groups in society. Smaller shares of Americans express confidence in business leaders, religious leaders, journalists and elected officials to act in the public’s best interests. As with scientists, most of these groups have seen their ratings decline in recent years.”

Our value system holds scientists in high regard; high schools award varsity letters for robotics teams; universities are hailing STEM über alles; and it’s clear that parents today are as hopeful for their engineering students’ future as they might have been for their medical students’ future a generation ago.

Yet Americans find themselves worried about their country’s competitive edge and feel we aren’t pushing STEM hard enough.

What’s missing? Fareed Zakaria got it right back in 2014. The sciences can’t thrive without a foundation in the humanities, which are simultaneously served by science and are of service to it. My life’s work, founded in rhetorical theory and invested in STEM, was inspired by Aristotle’s opening line of The Rhetoric: “ἡ ῥητορική ἐστιν ἀντίστροφος τῇ διαλεκτικῇ” (“Rhetoric is a counterpart of Dialectic.”) To distill the essence: There is more to philosophical debate than logic. To extend the metaphor: there is much more to life than what is scientifically, mathematically, or logically provable.

I cannot think of a period in history where we have nurtured such an imbalance in our educational values.

What do you think it will take for our American education system to come to terms with this?

If your non-traditional professional path resembles mine in any way whatsoever, I want to hear from you.

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Current Events: 2023

The TL;DR of This Year’s Best ChatGPT Explainer

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Technology leaders have had a banner year explaining generative AI to their companies’ leaders. Stephen Wolfram gave the world a wonderful (and, admittedly, not romantic) Valentine’s Day gift this year with his lucid essay, “What Is ChatGPT Doing … and Why Does It Work?”, whose only downside was its length. Visit the link and check out the size of your scrollbar to see what I mean. It’s turned into a bestselling book, to boot.

This is simply the best explainer of ChatGPT written to date. I’ve loaded this essay into my browser and displayed parts of it on large screens in the past 10 months more times that I can count. What it helped me understand is that ChatGPT is nothing more than an ingenious application of statistics, and if you can help others absorb this, it opens minds to what it’s actually doing…its limitations…and some good reasons why we shouldn’t be freaking out about it.

I’ve found that the following eight simple portions of Dr. Wolfram’s essay distill the essence of what he’s teaching us:

1) Start by looking at a small sample of text and count the number of times the letters occur:

2) Look what happens if we do the same with a larger sample of text:

3) Start using these probabilities to generate strings of letters, and throw in some spaces:

4) Compare the probabilities for letters to occur on their own…

5) …with the probabilities of them occurring in combination:

6) Then see what happens if we understand the probabilities of them occurring in longer sequences (2/3/4/5 letters at a time)…Wow! Just with this sort of application of statistics, we start getting words!

7) What happens if we do the same with combinations of words, rather than just letters? ChatGPT!

8) Best of all…what this shows us is how utterly formulaic and predictable most of our writing is!

That last part is truly important, and I don’t think enough of this year’s discourse has amplified that point. This is the principal reason that I asserted back in April that ChatGPT Challenges Us to Focus on Better Things. Are We Up for It?

I hope that this TL;DR version of Stephen’s generous essay can help you explain how ChatGPT works to others. Do yourself a favor, though, and give it a full read if you can. It’s well-written and worth your while.

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Current Events: 2023 Technology of the Year

Technology of the Year – 2023 Edition

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I published the 2022 edition of Technology of the Year on December 12, 2022, which was less than two weeks after the public release of this year’s winner, ChatGPT. What a year it has been.

ChatGPT ticks all the boxes of a successful technology:

Beyond that, there isn’t much I can add that I haven’t already shared in my April post, ChatGPT Challenges Us to Focus on Better Things. Are We Up for It?

ChatGPT is the Progressive CIO Technology of the Year for 2023.

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Love Willingness


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As an introvert — and a CIO — interacting with thousands of holiday shoppers over the course of a couple of days is not within my normal activity range.

But at this time of year, when I do my part as a greeter in Palmer’s Direct To You Market, my extroversion skills get a Schwarzenegger-style workout. Our market is a 174-year old tradition in Rochester, and I am thankful for every person who visits. Our clients deserve — and expect — a great experience when they walk through the door.

I am reminded of the following six things when I take this exercise on. What occurs to me today is that these behaviors support us in all aspects of life:

  • Through your voice and face, project a greeting with authority — mean it.
  • Give a genuine and lasting smile when you are doing it.
  • Do everything within your power to bring out the smile in others.
  • Do everything within your power to make them laugh, too.
  • Unless cultural norms declare otherwise, make eye contact, and keep it every chance you get.
  • Always care about other people’s children.

It was wonderful seeing so many familiar faces walk through our doors, from neighbors to long-time business associates.

A goal of mine for 2024 is to remember the six lessons of this week. A very happy holiday to you and yours! Cheers!

Yours truly on the left, with my colleague, Dan Walsh.

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Albums of the Year Current Events: 2023

Albums of the Year, 2023 Edition

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This year was saw a vast improvement in the music landscape. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that we are done with people’s “lockdown” albums, and people are writing and performing music together more often, bringing music back to pre-pandemic levels, for which I am grateful. There are a few things in this list that I noticed didn’t make any of this year’s more popular “best of” lists, which pleases me, and I hope you find joy discovering them here. Beyond that, this year saw me appreciating new music from performers who arguably peaked in the past.

1. Gord Downie & Bob Rock – Lustre Parfait

I live a few hours away from Kingston, ON, where Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip were formed and worshiped in a way that, were they a U.S. act, would have seen them become world-famous. To hear something this fresh-sounding, 6 years after Gord’s death was, to me, the musical event of 2023. If you are not familiar with The Hip’s work, consider this to be an entry point to the past, where, I promise, you will find much to love.

2. Peter Gabriel – i/o

I’m unabashedly a Genesis fan, and, separately, a Peter Gabriel fan. Here, we have a 73-year-old artist releasing an album that is as good as anything he released in his past, which is an accomplishment even the Rolling Stones couldn’t quite achieve this year. What a gift, and a delight.

3. Nation of Language – Strange Discipline

A youthful act with an appreciation for the past that brought many smiles to my ears this year. If Mozart was a student of Haydn, then Nation of Language ares students of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark in precisely the same way. We are lucky to have a fresh take on this music from the past. A simple joy of 2023.

4. Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy

Young Fathers take hip-hop and make it a true ensemble act, with an interplay, passion, and musicality that I wish more U.S. hip-hop acts would attempt. This is wonderful, daring music, full of texture, creativity, passion, and message. I’ve loved every one of their albums, and this one is no exception.

5. Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World

Here we have another band on this list that’s been around for 40 years, but this time, arguably at the very top of their game. Brilliantly performed and recorded, this is grand, creative, and as current-sounding as any young act today. On top of that, I don’t think anybody can make a Telecaster (undoubtedly my favorite guitar) sound the way that Ira Kaplan can.

6. Low Cut Connie – Art Dealers

This is, possibly, the most under-noticed and under-rated album of the year. A great piece in the Low Cut Connie canon, this album got more play time in my earbuds and stereo in the last three weeks of this year than I expected. While I like to let an album settle for a few months to appreciate its impact and perspective, I am sure this belongs with the others on this list. Great stuff, and a great sound to bridge us to what is, hopefully, a grand year of music in 2024.

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Foundational Values

2024: A Year of Revisiting the Foundational Values

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Happy 2024. This coming July, The Progressive CIO will be four years old. As I reflect on this milestone, I must admit that I feel it’s been too long since I’ve written in any depth about the eight foundational values that I hold close to my heart:


In the weeks and months ahead, I commit to you that I will revisit these topics, taking a deeper and fresh dive into what makes them critical for life.


Current Events: 2024 Read Other People’s Stuff

Read Other People’s Stuff: 7

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Ian Betteridge does a fabulous job illustrating what I feel is the single biggest risk to Generative AI: self-reinforcing junk.

Part of me enjoys watching the Internet as we know it burn itself down, because, even prior to ChatGPT, it was full of recycled and derivative content. The software-driven world often has a way of moving way faster than it has a right to, and checks and balances — in whatever form they take — are a blessing.

What should the next generation of the World Wide Web look like, though? If it were to look a little more like the original Yahoo!, would that be a bad thing?

We’ve all-too-proudly gone from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 (and even Web3, sigh), but what would be wrong with Web 1.9 or even Web 2.1?

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Current Events: 2024 Read Other People’s Stuff

Read Other People’s Stuff: 8

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Between DMA in the EU and this week’s DOJ lawsuits in the U.S., who can help wondering that the focus of both of these Apple-targeted initiatives is solely to address what bothers governments the most: Apple’s position as the only company who offers compelling security to average human beings?

A feature ≠ a monopoly.

The most cogent retort to all of this government nonsense is Steve Sinofsky’s recent (and long) piece, which is an essential read for anybody who wants to become informed of the issues the world is facing with these recent episodes of global government overreach:

Building Under Regulation

March 23 followup:

United States v. Apple (Complaint)