5L Issue #011

Gates, Gifts, and Getting Better at Stuff

Wrap Battle

‘Tis the season, and whether you’re getting the [new thing] you covet or a disappointing [unit of fossil fuel] - at the very least let’s hope it’s well wrapped!

So, in what might a contender for the best link of the year, I present to you this excellent resource summarising a few very advanced gift wrapping techniques.

13 Clever Gift Wrapping Ideas for Any Occasion

Asking Questions With Velocity

I loved this article by one percent better on ‘high-velocity questions’. The premise is that there is value in asking considered questions that help get the recipient moving in a particular direction.

I think strong conversational skills can be a superpower, and so I loved reading this guide to asking better questions.

Recently I heard a host open his podcast conversation with this question: “how did you go from working on Wall Street to becoming a professional miniature golfer?” 

This is a low-velocity question. It can be argued that this question is going in a direction, but it will not get there anytime soon. In effect the host is asking for his guest to tell the story of his entire professional journey. Depending on the detail the guest wants to use in telling that story, the entire conversation could contain this one question only.  Paradoxically, the host initially might be pleased because he is getting his guest to talk, but in reality he has lost control of the conversation. When it will be his turn to ask another question remains unknown. 

The question above is not a bad question.  It invites the guest into the conversation with very low stakes.  It gives him freedom.  It will never fail.  But we can do better.  

Imagine what would happen if this same conversation opened with a high-velocity question such as: “what did your wife say when you told her you have decided to become a professional miniature golfer?” There is no expecting this question, and yet it travels in the same direction that the host hopes the conversation will go.  This question is creative and original, but it’s more than that.  This question cannot be prepared for.  It demands that the guest go to his memory and pull out an anecdote that will often surprise and delight him. It gets the guest to think about the situation in a new way while getting right to the center of the journey that the host hopes to take the guest and the listening audience on. 

High-Velocity Questions

(via For the Interested)

Writing Well, But at Normal Speed

As I mentioned in Issue #008 when I linked to this excellent-though-sarcastic guide to writing better legal briefs, as well as asking better questions I think writing well can also be a superpower.

These references to ‘superpowers’ is just another way of describing a set of skills that can be leveraged to achieve disproportionate results compared to the effort required to master and exercise them. I’m making a little list of them. If you’re interested in learning more you should reply to this email and let me know :)

I loved this ‘handbook’ (essentially a series of free articles - but what a great way to refer to them) on writing well by Julian Shapiro. It’s short, easy to digest, full of useful tips, and finishes with a free cheat sheet you can take away with you. Well worth a bookmark for when you have some time for self-development.

To write is to think with the help of paper.

That's why becoming a better writer makes you a better all-around thinker. You learn to communicate more clearly and more persuasively.

The world's great minds became brilliant through the habit of writing. Writing is how they realized their intellectual potential.

Writing Well

(also via For The Interested)

This New Trainee Gates is a Bit Full of Himself, Isn’t he?

Did you know Stephen Curry has a successful YouTube Channel? For the Australian audience: no, not Stephen Curry of ‘I dug a hole’ fame, but an American basketballer. Anyways, so he has a podcast-style-YouTube-channel, and apparently because he’s pretty good at the ‘ol hoop-ball he gets some amazing guests.

How amazing? Try Bill Gates amazing. And President Obama amazing. And he seemingly doesn’t waste his opportunities, either. His whole interview with Gates is perhaps a bit long, but check out Clippy’s Dad giving an excellent response to the standard ‘why should we hire you’ interview questions.

I’ve not made it through the Obama interview yet but I’m looking forward to it.

Bill Gates best job interview answers

This Year I Learned

To finish off, check out this list of 52 things learnt in 2020 by Tom Whitwell. I love it because each item is short, sharp, and super interesting. It’s exactly what I want this newsletter to be, but wrapped up in one blog post. In fact, now that I’m typing this out it’s making me feel super inadequate.

Perhaps have a read but don’t tell me how much you love it. My ego is too fragile.

Some examples:

All of the ten best-selling books of the last decade had female protagonists


When swimming became popular in England in the 19th century, the new municipal swimming pools displayed frogs in tubs, so that would-be swimmers could learn from their movements.

52 things I learned in 2020

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