The Importance of a Daily Writing Practice

nier replicant grimoire weiss

When I first started listening to the FTGN Podcast, I kept getting tripped up on the quote that opens each episode.

How do I know what I think till I see what I say?

Wait, what?

But when you stop and think about it, it makes sense.

How do I know what I think… until I see what I say?

We often don’t know what the next word will be that comes out of our mouth, until it shows up.

The same goes for thoughts. They’re in there, swirling.

A recent episode with Susan Cain explored this, especially in the context of writing.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking  joins the show to discuss her latest book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. Joe and Susan talk about the power of harnessing our pain and struggles and turning them into creativity, connection, and transcendence. 

S2,Ep36: Susan Cain-Finding Strength in Pain, FTGN Podcast

Joe and Susan discuss the process of journaling and “expressive writing.” This is where you literally just sit and write, whatever is in there – let it come out.

I’ve been doing variations of this for years. Ten minutes in the morning. Just write.

Often, thoughts and ideas emerge that I wasn’t aware of. Often, these turn into tasks, projects, or activities.

Other times, it’s nothing.

And that’s okay. It’s a practice.


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Remember the basics of CQC

the boss close up intense metal gear

A very short piece over at From the Green Notebook on the importance of giving practical advice to your mentees.

The one thing I wish I had known before I started my last job is that, in mentoring relationships, the mentee is almost always looking for practical advice – not cosmic wisdom. 

The One Thing Series: Mentoring Through the Gauntlet

Sometimes you don’t want a soliloquy on the Philosopher’s Legacy, when all you need to know are the basics of CQC.


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…there’s a pulse

metal gear solid v big boss smoking cigar

There’s something about a long cross-country road trip that induces reflection. The passage of time, the dusty truck stops, miles and miles of road, lots of time with your own thoughts. It’s like you didn’t even have a choice, you’re going to do some reflecting.

I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the next newsletter which goes out next week. If you haven’t signed up, you should.

Teaser: “Oh, you thought this was going to be easy?”

For now, I’m settling into a routine, so posting should resume as normal.

Over the past month, a few things stuck out (ideas, articles, podcasts).

In no particular order:

  1. Writing Cabins. The importance of having a space away from what’s familiar (and familiar people) when you want to do any writing. I’d add time to this. I prefer early mornings.
  2. Educating Leaders for Future War. Interesting (and complete – one, two, three, four, five) series on educating leaders for future war over at MWI. This is a topic I find fascinating. Do we need future leaders to have different attributes for future war? I haven’t read through all of them yet, but from what I could garner these got some people worked up on social media. It seems PME is one of those subjects in which people hold very strong opinions.
  3. #OneThing – Lots of people changing jobs this summer(!). Most have at least “one thing” that they wish they had known before they started. A nice initiative from FTGN to scoop those up (I’ve submitted something simple, we’ll see if it hits).
  4. L2 Speak – I’ve always thought that a great way to learn a new language would be a simple role-playing game where you are forced to learn the language. That’s how you progress. Well someone is finally making it. Very excited to see where this goes.
  5. Gladiator School – II MEF Information Group started a podcast. I haven’t listened yet, but I listen to its cousin and enjoy it.
  6. What’s the point? – Maybe a bit of a darker thought while on the road, but in the moments inbetween when I’d pop on social media to see what was going on, most of it was nonsense. This thought extended to the whole ecosystem of military writing – there is so much out there right now, but very little of consequence. Nothing is landing. Or at least, nothing seems to be landing like it used to. I’m not sure if this is because there is so much out there, poor quality, or maybe so many have abandoned the hard work for performance. More on that in the newsletter.

And as always, sometimes things just ‘pop in there.’ Here are some future posts you can look forward to.

  1. Hyper Active Chaos. Is this a thing? Because people are saying it.
  2. The Father of Psychological Warfare. It’s Robert McClure. Who would the fictional ‘Mother‘ of Pyschological Warfare be?
  3. Context vs Character. What’s the difference here?
  4. Power Word Series. There are some words that just tend to get you excited. Like what? Like this newly-discovered trove.
  5. Information as a Warfighting Function. Are we there yet?

And more.


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Optimal Ignorance: Information You Don’t Need

war room from wargames lots of screens

One of the best articles I’ve seen on FTGN for awhile.

“Optimal ignorance,” a deliberately contrarian term, “refers to the importance of knowing what it is not worth knowing. It requires great courage to implement. It is far, far easier to demand more and more information than it is to abstain from demanding it.”  In other words, seeking optimal ignorance requires deliberately going about not wasting energy or time on information that distracts from the primary inquiry. 

Optimal Ignorance: A Filter for Intent-Based Leadership Above the Tactical Level – From the Green Notebook

We have been trained to pay attention to detail and ‘check small things.’ And these days, we have the technology and the means to keep constant tabs on everything and everyone.

The information is all there and available.

To be truly effective, though, we don’t need all of that information. In fact, too much information becomes paralyzing.

It takes maturity and confidence to realize you don’t need to know. You don’t have to have input or an opinion, either.

This is especially true for senior leaders. Every time a senior leader speaks, there’s a good chance those words are going to get scribbled down into a book and transformed into an order, tasking, or inquiry.

Even a simple request for clarification can turn into a multi-day goose chase for obscure information.

Of course, buying into optimal ignorance requires a great deal of trust within an organization. One of those things that briefs well, but might be hard to implement.

Related to this is the concept of “just-in-time” information. To squeeze the most out of a day, your system needs to be optimized to not saddle you down with information you don’t need right now. It should arrive precisely when you need it.

I, for one, choose to be just in time and optimally ignorant.


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Military Side Hustle

twins from cyberpunk after boxing match side hustle

Good episode for anyone interested in military side hustles. These are the projects that many in the military undertake that may complement the profession, but are not directly connected.

As Joe mentions in the podcast, someone can spend their nights and weekends doing any number of hobbies, most of which won’t cause anyone to bat an eye.

But if that hobby results in some kind of “observable” – there are some leaders who will view this as time wasted.

“Why are you spending all of your time on *that* instead of *this?*

From the episode, on the constant calls for innovation:

I think we see this a lot with calls for entrepreneurship inside the military – there are a lot of calls now for everyone to be an innovator and go disrupt, and we say that, but do we really mean it?

S3, Ep22: Mark Jacobsen – Growth Through Failure – From The Green Notebook

This reminds me of one of Colin Powell’s 13 rules:

“Be careful what you choose. You may get it.”

Leaders ask for more innovation all the time. The problem is innovation almost always means doing something a little bit different. It means being disruptive. It means coloring outside the lines.

In any large organization – especially the military – that is going to grind against the norm.

Leaders – especially those who have been steeped in the culture – need to take a deep breath and resist the urge to say “no” or “that’s not how we’ve done it before.”

Or my personal favorite: “Who told you to do that?”

Anyway, the episode is great. Especially if you are interested in pursuing your own side projects.


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Observing Senior Leaders

navy leaders giving a speech in white uniforms

A short piece over at From the Green Notebook on the lessons to be learned from observing your bosses.

Behavior is magnified. Manner of speech is scrutinized. Word choice becomes paramount. Even facial expressions or nervous tics become gossip fodder for the organization’s followers. 

An eye-roll or snarky remark will be remembered forever.

Additionally, many of us have experienced the chill that comes over a room when a senior leader expresses disappointment or anger over some small transgression during a routine meeting. Hushed whispers circulate immediately following the meeting to determine what was meant by some cryptic statement or sarcastic remark.

You have likely seen the effects of a strong or weak senior leader in your organization. The entire “vibe” of a place can change based solely on the behaviors and attitudes of “the boss.”

This works in positive and negative ways.

There is a lot to learn from simple observation.

The FTGN article pairs well with this from Harvard Business Review.

It’s easy to think that building a culture is about other people’s behaviors, not how you act as a leader. But I believe that culture change begins when leaders start to model the behavior they want the organization to emulate.

Leaders Can Shape Company Culture Through Their Behaviors

We can’t just tell our organizations to “innovate” or “focus on x trait.” We have to model the behavior first. We have to demonstrate that this thing we are saying is important by doing it ourselves.

And on innovation:

If you want to be innovative, you also need to accept failure. If our associates aren’t pushing boundaries and sometimes failing along the way, we probably aren’t pushing hard enough. But by accepting and even celebrating a failed effort, we promote innovation.

This is so important. If we truly want to innovate, we have to accept, embrace, and celebrate failure. If the reward for failure is punishment or admonition, it is easier to just do things the way they’ve always been done and avoid the drama.

Image source: DVIDS


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Reflection Partners

a mountain reflecting in a lake

Another good one from FTGN.

Joe and Cassie talk about the power of reflection and what got in the way of realizing its benefits earlier in their careers. They also share the story behind their recently released book, My Green Notebook: “Know Thyself” Before Changing Jobs. 

S3,Ep12: Cassie Crosby- Reflection for Busy Leaders

What I found most interesting about this one was the story and the history between Joe and Cassie.

This is such a small profession, and the pool of folks that dare to write (or podcast, or make videos) to ‘extend their influence beyond the chain of command’ is even smaller.

I’ve written about reflection before – and this whole blog (and newsletter) is an exercise in reflection.

But it feels like “small r” reflection. What they’re going after is “big R” Reflection.

They’re attempting to crystalize the process into something you can do as you change jobs to truly capture lessons learned and use them to grow – not just pontificate and move on.

As they discuss in the episode, there were so many opportunities missed because they lacked the process. And it is only when they were sitting there at their bunks at BCAP that they started to realize it.

What if you started earlier? What if you went through the process at the end of every assignment?

That’s what they’re going for.

And while I’m not sure this was part of their intent for the episode, it’s clear to me that both Joe and Cassie are reflection partners. I’m not even sure what that is yet, but it feels like it’s something that’s not quite mentorship and not quite just friendship. Through their work and effort, they enjoy a heightened reflective experience that I don’t think many of us experience.

It’s kind of like that peer at work who ‘gets it’ the same way you do. The one who goes out with you for a long lunch where you figure it all out.

Only this is a bit more professional. It’s good to have that peer.

Anyway, I’ve still got about six months before my next job change, but I plan on running their process when I get there.


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I thought it was about performance. Turns out it’s about PIE.

pies

I used to think that if I worked hard and did the best I could wherever I was, that would be enough. Work hard, play by the rules, and you can still keep moving.

And that’s a pretty good formula.

But it has limits.

Especially when you find yourself among others who are also running the same program,

They’re all good. And they’re all working hard.

So how do you separate yourself from the herd?

PIE, of course.

Performance. Exposure. Image.

Joe and Chevy discuss the art and science of mentorship.  Chevy shares how important it is for people to find mentors and provides tips on how and where to find them. He also explains why peers can be a great source for development.  Finally, they share stories of their own journeys and the role peer and more senior mentors have played in their development.

S3,E3: Dr. Chevy Cook- The Mentorship Episode

This episode is mostly about mentorship, but I clung to this concept of PIE. I’ve never heard of it before, but it made perfect sense. Instantly.

Performance is always important, but it’s not everything. Especially as you move further and further along. You always have to show up and do the work.

Image. How do people think about you? What person are you? What are you known for?

Exposure. Who do you interact with? Or better, who do you get the opportunity to interact with?

These three things account for a lot more of success than I had considered before.

And the rest of this episode is good too!


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The Veteran Card

abstract art of tank and civilian

The From the Green Notebook podcast continues to push the boundaries, just a little bit further.

Elliot Ackerman joins the podcast to discuss a recent article he wrote for Liberties Journal titled, “Turning in My Card“. Joe and Elliot talk about the dark side of identity and how it can prevent us from personal and professional growth. While acknowledging there benefits that come with an identity, Elliot cautions us to avoid using our identities to shut down discourse and warns everyone about the dangers of becoming a slave to identity.

S3,Ep9: Elliot Ackerman- The Dark Side of Identity

In this one, Joe speaks with Elliot Ackerman about what it means to be a veteran.

The whole thing reminded me of this episode, which feels like it is from a generation ago.

Elliot talks about the disservice we do when we open up a paragraph with “As a combat veteran…”

Or “as a” ‘anything‘ really…

It robs us of having to make an argument.

We’re saying ‘believe me because I did something, once.’

This is a good episode and one that cuts deep into the bone of what it means to define yourself by service.

It even throws badges and tabs into the bin.

The conversation eventually settles into a place where they begin discussing the civil-military divide, and the odd growing apart that is happening due to one side of that coin.

Want to know more? Go back to 1997 and this article. Still the single best thing I’ve read on the civil-military divide.


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The most badass Rabbi in the world

a artsy picture of the cosmos

Something a little different over at From the Green Notebook.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley sits down to talk with Joe about the power of self-reflection and how it can lead to inner well-being and help reduce conflict in our lives. He also shares lessons from decades counseling couples, earning his black belt in jujitsu, and serving in the Marine Corps following the Vietnam War.

S3,Ep7: Rabbi Mordecai Finley- Finding Inner Well-Being

Marine Corps veteran, black belt in jiu-jitsu, thoughtful sage.

I love the military-themed episodes that FTGN puts out, but I’m especially drawn to the stuff that pushes the circle outward.

Diamond Dallas Page was a prime example.

There are great things to learn from our own, and the recent podcast on “the battalion commander effect” is a good example.

But there is so much more out there.

I found myself drawn to Rabbi Mordecai’s thinking and methods. This episode is especially interesting to anyone interested in self-improvement, productivity, well-being, and self-discipline.

There were two things that stuck out to me.

The first was Rabbi Mordecai’s insistence that “you’re never too old.” He didn’t start jiu-jitsu until much later in his life when many of us are starting to pack away our physical hobbies and begin complaining about our knees. There are so many things in our lives that we cast aside as no longer possible due to our age.

Says who?

Says you, apparently.

How often do you hear lamentations from friends, family, or colleagues over not beginning some skill or hobby earlier in their lives? “

If only I had started when I was younger…” It’s never, “maybe I should start now.”

I’m just as guilty of this as others. It often takes more work and discipline to reach some of those goals (especially physical ones) as we age, but on the flip side, we have a lifetime of experience to apply to the goal. That’s something we often don’t account for. It’s not all about youth.

Take language for example. It’s “common knowledge” that children “soak up” language more effectively than adult learners. Everyone knows that, right?

Well it’s not exactly accurate. There is research that says adult learners may not be as handicapped at language learning as we think. This is because adult learners tend to understand how to better use their time in study and have learned different techniques that they can apply.

Children are just curious and willing to make mistakes. Adults are more self-concious.

The second thing that struck me was the Rabbi’s intonation to not “criticize, condemn, or complain.” This is sage wisdom that you may have seen before.

“Any fool can criticizecomplain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

It is tried and true and it works.

The episode is worth the listen. You will find yourself inspired.


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