The Secret of Success is Showing Up

Today’s post is one of my personal favourites types of post – it’s a post where I get to demonstrate what I mean in how I write it. Specifically, you can look down below and see over three hundred words which I wrote and then abandoned for one very good reason: awareness.

You see, I’ve come to believe that the opposite of productivity is distractedness. To understand what I mean by that I should clarify what both of those things mean to me.

Productivity is, as far as I am concerned, simply doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.

Distractedness is defined in my world as conflict between what you are doing and what you are not doing.

It’s easy to see how being distracted, in conflict, immediately negates being productive. How can you do the right thing at the right time in the right way while conflicted about what you’re doing?

But we can take this even further when we define what it means to be undistracted.

Woody Allen once said that the secret to success is showing up. Being there, in other words, is what matters. In the initial context he meant that physically but we have all seen and, indeed, been people who are physically there but mentally and emotionally on another planet.

Being undistracted, for me, means being present. Many would call this mindful or aware. And through awareness you can achieve the optimal state of productivity. Only awareness can enable you to do the right thing, at the right time in the right way.

As a coach I know that awareness and self correction are the best path to improvement. I see it all the time. Enhance awareness, decrease distractedness, and we begin to see an immediate but gradual change, slowly and surely towards doing the right thing at the right time and in the right way.

What has all this got to to do with the abortive blog below?

When I began to write this piece today I went off in a particular direction. I was moving quickly and feeling good. But then I slowed. Then I stopped. Before I knew it I was fiddling with my phone and looking at Twitter. I had become distracted.

Distraction is, as above, simply conflict. My clarity and certainty about what I was doing had ebbed away and my mind had become distracted. Twitter is, in this sense, not what distracted me. It’s just what I did when in a state of distraction. I could just as easily have rearranged my book shelf, paired up my socks or doodled on my notepad.

I become unhappy – I could see that I wasn’t being productive. And then awareness kicked in. I was distracted because I was doing the wrong thing! I needed to let go of my work and start again because my direction was wrong.

I then sat down and wrote out this new post in the space of ten minutes. I could certainly have tried to push through, applied will power to the problem and held my own feet to the fire of my poor choices earlier today. But not this man of mindfulness. Oh no.

You rarely get to see how the sausage is made. This is good for your love of sausages but if you’re thinking of becoming a butcher it’s a major impediment. I hope this by showing you the below abandoned post and by letting you in on my process, showing you the relationship between awareness and productivity, you’ll understand that the Hard Not Complicated philosophy goes far beyond what we normally call creativity.


Productivity is a big idea in business. It’s the holy grail, I’ve been told, of all business decisions making. If we could somehow define and clarify what it means to be productive, make it simple, then we could rule the world!

While I have no immediate plans for world domination, I’d like to share my personal Hard Not Complicated perspective on productivity.

We can define being productive in the following terms:

Doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.

A good way to think about this is to do a little thought experiment. Imagine that you run a factory making shoes. At one end you feed in raw materials like leather and rubber, and at the other you spit out shoes. You have various components and parts always in motion, different people doing different things.

Now imagine that in this factory you have a new, magical device that makes everyone telepathic!

All your workers are constantly aware of what everyone else is doing and even aware of how the machines are performing. You have a perfect flow of information around the factory.

Given this state of affairs, what would you need to do to ensure optimal productivity?

As far as I can see, all you would need would be a single binary piece of information:

  • Customer Satisfaction up
  • Customer Satisfaction down

With this simple binary input a system with a perfect flow of information would be able to self correct automatically, changes propagating through the group seamlessly and as each active agent responds to the needs and wants of each other active agent, driven directly by the needs of the consumer.

Over time such a system would reach an optimal state with independent, intelligent actors working with perfect, real time information. They would do the right thing – according to the needs of the consumer, in the right way – as arrived at through continual optimisation, at the right time – based on real time input.

NOTE: I’m not here saying that this system would be perfect. I don’t believe that any system can ever be perfect. Perfect is impossible. But I believe it would achieve the best possible state – hence optimal.

We can derive from this thought experiment, crude though it is, that optimal productivity is the result of optimal awareness.


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