The Tongue and Quill

For decades, “The Tongue and Quill” manual has been used by the U.S. Air Force to improve their written and verbal communication skills. The Air Force communication is required to be exceptionally clear and direct.

Unclear messages can cause expensive mistakes. Simplification of information and making each word count is vital in the military environment. But this is not limited to the Air Force, most of these techniques are valuable to have in the professional world as well.

The Tongue and Quill six-step checklist contains the six important steps for effective written communication:

1 – The First step is to question the need for communication and the receiving audience. Analyzing the purpose of writing helps to eliminate the delivery of information that might not be useful.

2 – This leads to properly being aware of the information being shared and having sufficient knowledge about it before sharing it.

3 – This also includes putting the logic to work and adding your thoughts to support the idea.

4 – Moving on to the structure, a straightforward format should be followed without any self-important words or fashionable phrases.

5 – The writing must be aimed to inform and not to impress. The language used should be as clear and understandable as possible.

6 – It is always helpful to take constructive feedback from others and make the necessary improvements.

When Taking Advice

The thing about advice is that it just tries to make you well informed. In the end, you will have to make the decision yourself.

You don’t get all the details you need, You don’t get it from the people who have the same perspective as you. Advice just tries to hint you towards the right direction. It cannot be used as a strategy.

People are not as transparent as you might want them to be. Everyone is inclined towards their biases that usually don’t get mentioned. They have their own experiences and struggles that also don’t get discussed.

It is important to ask for advice only from the right people who are qualified enough to provide you with accurate information.

Ultimately, it will just make the decision-making process easier. You will have to find the way out yourself.

Ask yourself if the adviser is a reliable source. It is not rude to refuse advice, it’s responsible. History teachers might not be able to give the best explanation on how to solve a math problem. Your grandparents might not be able to tell you the steps to create your social media account.

Insecure Leaders – Sunday Clippings

Hello there,

This week I wrote a new blog post that you might want to check out. It is about describing the block, an interesting problem solving-skill taken from Kiese Laymon’s recent interview. Moving on to the newsletter now.

This week’s newsletter issue is inspired by a story by Hans Christian Anderson I recently re-read. If you’re not aware, he is a Danish writer famous for writing children’s literature. Most of his stories and poems have a healthy balance of light and dark subjects and convey important moral life lessons which makes them ideal for children to read.

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short story by him that conveys an important lesson about insecure leaders and challenging the status quo. In this story, no one dared to speak the truth as they are scared of appearing unfit for their positions. Except for a little child who wasn’t afraid because he had no position to lose and when he said it, everyone joined him as if they were waiting to let it out.

“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said. “Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said his father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on”, a child says. “But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

One of the things that successful leaders have in common is that they want to take feedbacks and are constantly seeking to change and improve. The emperor in this story was insecure and fearful which lead to his ministers being insecure as well. It’s hard to challenge someone superior to you even if they are wrong. But ultimately change is absolutely necessary, especially in the cases where the leaders are wrong themselves.

John Lubans, Jr. is known for his relatively short yet informative essays on leading and leadership. Here’s an excerpt from his book, Library Administration & Management describing the insecure leader –

“Some highly insecure bosses can be decisive and seemingly effective; they are successful at masking the most visible of their insecurities. And if they are in a tradition-bound business with low expectations for innovation, they can be seen as “successful.” However, over time, the less-secure boss tends to develop a largely reactive organization because, in my experience, he employs acquiescent people and avoids independent thinkers.”

I found the last line of this passage particularly interesting, “He employs acquiescent people and avoids independent thinkers”. Acquiescent people are mere puppets nodding at everything the leader says. Hiring them is rather ineffective for the organization as there’s no constructive feedback when all employees agree to everything the leader says. Insecure leaders are biased towards them as they need people to confirm their actions whilst they’re unsure about it themselves.

The emperor cared too much about what people had to say about him and his clothes. Effective leaders are confident within themselves and learn from their mistakes. “Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best from themselves and others.”

Have a great week,
Vedant


This Week’s Clippings

1 – Blog Post – I found one of Morgan Housel’s blog posts this week very interesting. He explains how expectations and forecasts are two separate things. Here are some of the clippings:

“An expectation is an acknowledgement of how things worked in the past and will likely work in the future. A forecast is strapping that idea to a specific point in time. In an ideal world we could forecast investment details with pinpoint accuracy. But we usually can’t, because there are too many moving parts and unknowns to identify exactly when and how billions of strangers will act.”

“There is no reason to forecast unless you’re going to take specific actions tied to that forecast. If you want to take fewer actions without being willfully blind to the future, just have expectations.”

2 – Podcast – This episode on Naval Ravikant’s podcast on how we all are equal in our infinite ignorance. He says, “This brings us to the related point that science is never settled. We should always be free to have new creativity and new conjecture. You never know where the best ideas are going to come from. You have to take every idea that’s made in good faith seriously.”

(This issue is a part of the “Sunday Clippings”. Every week I compile various useful insights, learnings and my highlights from interesting articles, books and podcasts in a short and concise email newsletter. I’d love for you to sign up here and receive the future issues directly to your inbox.)

Describing the block

I recently came across an interesting piece of writing advice from author and essayist Kiese Laymon. In an interview with Literary Hub, he says, “With my head down, like I’m trying to concuss myself. I try to describe the “block” and once it’s described I decide what I need to go through it. Then you have to turn around and describe the feeling of running through it. We’re writers. We don’t run through anything without describing what we ran through.”

Not just in writing, this appears to be a great problem-solving skill to have. Describing an issue leads us to properly understanding what the issue is, we discover something new in the process of putting it into words, which finally leads us to find ways to fix the issue.

This is often in the destination – obstructions form but there several facts associated with both that play an important role in the clear understanding of the problem but go unobserved. As it’s rightly said, “a problem well stated is half solved.”

Inflated Praise – Sunday Clippings

Hello there,

This week I posted three new posts on the blog that you might want to check out: Good Reasoning on giving clear and accurate reasonings, Seeking Sacrifice on breaking out of the Gratification Trap and the difference between Opinions and Observations. Moving on to the newsletter now.

This week’s issue is about Inflated Praise which comes from the same place as bad feedbacks. Inflated praise is very unhelpful, especially for children. You’re telling them they’ve done the “best” in something which leads to unrealistic expectations they create for themselves.

“Adults may also try to raise children’s self-esteem by giving inflated praise. Instead of telling children they did well, adult may tell them they did incredibly well. In one study, adults read scenarios involving children with high or low self-esteem, then wrote down the praise they would give. Adults gave children with low self-esteem more inflated praise (33%) than they gave children with high self-esteem (18%). These findings were replicated in in-home observations of parent–child interactions.”Child Development Perspectives, Volume 10

The fascinating thing here is that inflated praise mainly has two effects on children with low self-esteems – Some of them are able to perform better as the praise might be a form of motivation for them. It creates an incredibly protective surrounding for them where they don’t feel down but rather are supported and encouraged to do better.

The second one is more common, the inflated praise creates large amounts of unnecessary pressure on a child who’s already struggling with low self-esteem and ends up feeling like they have to perform in a certain way to live up to the high standards assigned for them.

An article by Eddie Brummelman on Behavioral Science gives an interesting example: “A teacher told me about a boy in her class, whose mother gives him lots of inflated praise. One day, as the boy was making a drawing, he took a close look at his own drawing, then at the other children’s drawings, and said, “I’m not an amazing drawer… My mom tells me I am, but I know others are better than me.”

Telling someone they’re “extremely” good at something would usually be a false statement which is the reason inflated praise should be avoided while giving feedbacks. It is not realistic and might end up backfiring.

Have a great week,
Vedant


This Week’s Clippings

1 – Blog Post – These five questions in one of Seth Godin’s daily post this week are really useful for making things unclouded in the head.

2 – Article – Something else I saved for sharing this week was an article about Haruki Murakami and the Scarcity of Serious Thought. It’s about how working on creative processes becomes frustrating and stressful when you’re doing it with a full-time job. Here’s an excerpt:

“Against the advice of nearly everybody, he sold his bar, and moved to Narashino, a small town in the largely rural Chiba Prefecture. He began going to bed when it got dark and waking up with the first light. His only job was to sit at a desk each morning and write. His books became longer, more complex, more story driven. He discovered what became his signature style.”

3 – Article – This article about the differences between lifelong learners and skill-seekers. It talks about how skill-seekers are driven by economic benefits or improvements whereas lifelong learners have a lifelong love for learning and intellectual fulfilment. Here’s a clipping:

Skill-seekers are looking for ‘just-in-time’ education and training. They are seeking the fastest, most effective and most affordable options for accomplishing very specific goals. They want raises, promotions and new jobs. They want to put more money on the table for their families. And they want real outcomes and accountability. It won’t just be whether they finished a course or program but whether doing so actually leads to a better work outcome. They aren’t doing this for fun; they’re doing it for funds. And it is critical that any educational institution or employer understand the distinction.”

4 – Software – While learning some new keyboard shortcuts, I discovered a groundbreaking software by Microsoft called PowerToys. It has some really cool features like the pop-up run thing to search your files, colour picker and a feature that aligns your windows in a specific order. These features might not be necessary  for everyone but they’re great for speeding up the workflow system on your computer.

(This issue is a part of the “Sunday Clippings”. Every week I compile various useful insights, learnings and my highlights from interesting articles, books and podcasts in a short and concise email newsletter. I’d love for you to sign up here and receive the future issues directly to your inbox.)

Opinions and Observations

Opinions come from a very personal point of view, They portray a judgement I have formed about something or someone which may not necessarily be based on facts or knowledge.

The opinions of two individuals are usually distinguishable. They might be based on assumptions that lead to changes in them over time.

However, observations are not opinions. They’re based on facts and knowledge about something you have seen, heard or noticed. Even though everyone has the same set of human eyes, different people look in different directions which leads to discrete observations about the same things.

Observations can be proven true or false while opinions can’t be proven because they’re based on a person’s judgements and sentiments. These may be deceptive but cannot be categorised as false. “This book has 700 pages” is an observation statement and “This book is too lengthy and boring” is a personal opinion.

Seeking Sacrifice

While living in a world of instant gratification and getting things done immediately, seeking sacrifice becomes important. The Society seeks experiences that are meant for instant consumption, related to the current period of time and are subject to urgent action.

All this comes from a place of greed and even though it is satisfying in that very instant, hard work and sacrifice are more satisfying in a long term. All the gratification gets old and forgotten very quickly.

As you might have heard about the story of the Monkey Trap – a monkey puts his hand inside a jar of cookies to grab one. He realises that his hand is now stuck. The cookie is too large, the only way to get his hand out would be to leave the cookie in the jar and sacrifice it.

The monkey doesn’t do this out of greed and instead holds the cookie even more tightly. As a result, the hunters who set up the trap come and catch him. Seeking Sacrifice becomes important to get out of the trap of selfishness and lightning urge, which I’m sure everyone today can relate to.

Good Reasoning

“Sir, you are giving a reason for it; but that will not make it right. You may have a reason why two and two should make five; but they will still make but four.” – Samuel Johnson

Reliable reasoning is the building blocks of a strong argument. Not all reasons are good and not all of them are true. Good reasoning comes from a place of relevancy and knowledge.

People who have better-grounded opinions are able to have better discussions because they can well elaborate on it and convince people.

Good reasoning signifies the cause and purpose in a manner that makes it capable of carrying the “third operation” of our mind. It comes from thinking about “from what cause” and “from what purpose” of the action.

Another way of bringing the effective reasons out is by framing them using  “because”, “therefore”, “hence” and “since”.

They usually need to have a premise or a set to start from. And as described by this paper from the University of Southampton, reasoning does not always lead to new attitudes – sometimes it  leads us to reaffirm the existing one or to drop the attitude completely.

Being Average – Sunday Clippings

Hello there,

This week’s blog posts are A Good Definition on what makes a definition efficient and valuable for the audience and a list of Completed Proverbs by Lisle de Vaux Matthewman. Moving on to the newsletter now.

This issue is inspired by one of the poems I recently read called “To the Average Men” by Wallace Irwin. Wallace is known for his clever and humorous writing and this was the first poem in his book called Random rhymes and odd numbers. It describes the life of an average man, with average circumstances, average expectations and average results.

In this poem, he goes from writing:
“Statistics declare that the Average Man
Finds the Average Woman and mates;
That the Average Family, children all told,
Is something like two and three-eights.
(Though fractional children disturb and appal,
The Average Man isn’t worried at all.)”

to “But deep in the breast of the Average Man
The passions of ages are swirled,
And the loves and the hates of the Average Man
Are old as the heart of the world
For the thought of the Race, as we live and we die,
Is in keeping the Man and the Average high.”

I believe that there are two opinions on this. There’s a set of people who feels that being average makes you happier and more grateful as Wallace writes in most of this poem. It keeps you stress-free as you’re mediocre in everything and aren’t setting unrealistic standards for yourself.

The other point of view is more common – Being average restricts you and deprives you of the greater things you want to achieve. Being average makes your life boring and makes you less ambitious as you start settling with the result you get. I recently overheard someone say, “Aim for higher than you want, this way you’ll be able to at least get what you want.”

I understand both the viewpoints here and there’s a considerable amount of evidence to support both of them. Some studies even suggest that the ‘Better than Average Effect’ is observed because “average” is often construed as the below-median ability:

“[..]when assessing self-enhancement bias in comparative judgments of ability, it is important to ascertain how the judges interpret “average ability” and accordingly interpret the results with caution. When asked to compare their ability to an average person, some people may not grasp the intended meaning of the comparison target (e.g., median ability). Indeed, as studies have shown, when people are asked to compare their abilities to those of a vivid and specific, rather than general, comparison target.”

In my opinion – no one is completely average. The ‘average man’ Wallace describes in this poem doesn’t actually exist. It depends on the choices you make and how you measure being “average”. Choosing mediocrity is restrictive as you’re choosing to remain stagnant. There’s always a difference between who you are and who you want to be.

Have a great week,
Vedant


This Week’s Clippings

1 – Blog Post – I really liked Paul Graham’s essay on having a project of your own which is fun as well as productive. He writes about how we differentiate “work” and “hobby” and how it impacts our productivity negatively. Here’s an interesting clipping:

“If your projects are the kind that make money, it’s easy to work on them. It’s harder when they’re not. And the hardest part, usually, is morale. That’s where adults have it harder than kids. Kids just plunge in and build their treehouse without worrying about whether they’re wasting their time, or how it compares to other treehouses. And frankly we could learn a lot from kids here. The high standards most grownups have for “real” work do not always serve us well.”

2 – Research Article – This paper on how active learning increases student performance from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that lecture learning is extremely inefficient. Continuous exposition by the teacher where the students are supposed to take notes and occasionally ask questions is not useful at all. It’s not only boring but is also bad for exam preparation. Active learning methods such as discussions, role-plays and problem-solving seem to be the ideal way to go:

“The data reported here indicate that active learning increases examination performance by just under half a SD and that lecturing increases failure rates by 55%. The heterogeneity analyses indicate that (i) these increases in achievement hold across all of the STEM disciplines and occur in all class sizes, course types, and course levels; and (ii) active learning is particularly beneficial in small classes and at increasing performance on concept inventories.”

3 – Video – I’m attempting to learn how to use the computer more efficiently. A big part of being comfortable with technical devices involves learning the keyboard shortcut for things you do on a frequent basis. Earlier this week I was trying to learn some of these keyboard shortcuts. This video in particular was quite useful. I don’t know how many of them will stick with me but they’re absolute game-changers that save your time once you get a hang of them.

(This issue is a part of the “Sunday Clippings”. Every week I compile various useful insights, learnings and my highlights from interesting articles, books and podcasts in a short and concise email newsletter. I’d love for you to sign up here and receive the future issues directly to your inbox.)

Completed Proverbs

“Opportunity knocks once at every man’s door,” but often makes sure the man is out before knocking.
“It takes two to make a quarrel.” How about husband and wife, who are one?
“A fool and his money are soon parted,” when the fool has friends.
“Whatever man has done man can do” better.
“Look before you leap” out of the frying-pan into the fire.
“Honesty is exact to a penny,” but not always to larger amounts.
“The best things are not bought and sold” ; they are stolen and kept.
“Pity is akin to love,” but kinship does not always signify friendship.
“The second blow makes the fray,” but not if the first is well placed.
“There’s many a slip ‘twixt” the cradle and the grave.
“Everything comes to the man who waits,” except that for which he waits.
“A fool is never wrong” ; few of us are.
“No fool like an old fool” in the toils of a woman.
“He who hesitates” when lying “is lost.”
“Until a man finds a wife he is only half” ; thereafter he is still less.

– From “Completed Proverbs” by Lisle de Vaux Matthewman

What I really liked about this piece of writing from 1904 is how clever and succinct is. The way writers like Matthewman used to play with words and incorporate puns in their writings has changed over time. It was much easier back then, much better too.

Clare Victor Dwiggins’s illustrations in this book make it even more interesting. Some works like this remain relevant forever.