Together with Alex, Keki and Zoli I had the chance to attend this year's Stretch Conf. In short, it's a 2-day "leadership and management conference", but I'd recommend it to everyone interested in self-motivation, self-consciousness, self-organization and related fields. It was an inspiring event. Therefore, I decided that instead of summarizing the talks, I list the best takeaways I had from the event. If you like one of them, the recordings are available from every talk, thanks to Ustream.

1. Be present.

David Allen's Getting Things Done was a huge hit in the Hungarian blogosphere in the mid-2000s, back when I used to blog regularly on Kispad. Still it was never this clear to me what his technique's best result is. "Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them". Stress comes from inappropriate engagement with things. Your mind is full of those things you haven't decided on - or you haven't parked in a safe place. If you manage to implement a system you can trust to capture and organize your thoughts, it will free you to focus on the moments where you are, to be present there - in your work, and with your family.

A small tip at the end that I liked: have a notepad by your bed - sleep better. [video]

2. Every conversation is public speaking.

Everyone is stressed about public speaking. But if you think about it, every conversation that you're having with at least one other person is, in a way, public speaking, and therefore a great opportunity to practice for when you have to talk in front of a larger group. Jan Nolte's coming from a theater background, and she shared some tips for public speaking that worked well for actors. Some of these:

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  • The director might know if you miss a word or make a mistake - the audience shouldn't.
  • Leave them wanting more (your encore is their questions).
  • Practice your body language. Simple exercise: stand up for a few minutes in front of your friends or family. Don't play with your feet, hands, don't walk, just stand.
  • Stronger and deeper voice suggests power. You can practice it when you order coffee, with your friends, etc. [video]

3. The implications that people hold determine outcomes.

Peter Heslin explained researches about the differences between fix and growth mindset. It was especially eye-opening for me as a parent of two young daughters. I'll just paste here a slide about a study that was done on students who received slightly different praises after the results of an IQ test. The left column is the fixed mindset, the right is the growth one.

[video]

4. Leadership is about listening to intents instead of giving instructions. Stop telling people what to do.

David Marquet, about to captain a nuclear submarine, quickly realized that the old navy authority pyramid is just not working when his first technically impossible instruction carried all the way down the hierarchy ladder without an eyebrow being raised. He quickly realized that everyone was blindly following orders, even if they knew these were stupid. He decided to reform the system to push authority down instead of bubbling information up, saying decisions should be made where the information is.

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This is initially hard for everyone, but can be practiced. For example, to try giving away control, next time you're in a restaurant, let your friend choose what you'll eat. It's also hard to make decisions for those who are used to just asking their bosses. They can be trained by asking questions back ("What would you decide if you'd be in my position?"), even framing it as a fast-forward ("Imagine we're 6 months from now, and think back to today, what do you think the right thing would've been to do?").

[video]

5. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

What Hugh Williams means is that by allowing yourself to recharge, keeping a good physical shape, and maintaining a successful life-work balance has a positive impact on your work output. He recommends taking all your vacation, getting the necessary sleep, not being on email 24/7, etc. - so you can maintain your performance and avoid burnout. [video]

6. The best ideas happen when you don't care about the output.

Rosemary King had a very entertaining talk about creativity, children's brains, and product development. "Having a playful product or service means it's inviting you to use it." [video]

7. If you don't have conflict, then the best decisions aren't being made.

Ty Amell's talk was titled "Conflict isn't a bad word", and he was indeed pushing for more conflicts at the workplace. He of course made it clear that conflict can only be built on trust, to make sure everyone feels safe, but once there is a "conflict culture", much better decisions can be made. He argued that fear of conflict leads to artificial harmony - and I can agree with that. [video]

8. Almost nothing went as I thought, everything changes on the road. Still, I can't go home unless I finish.

Zoë Romano is the only person who ran along the full route of a Tour de France. I repeat: she ran along the whole route, 3400 kms, 50km/day, 10 weeks. Incredible. When I saw the description of her talk in the schedule, I expected first-hand tips and techniques on increasing endurance, persistence, stamina. Instead, I got better: she showed that she didn't have any special tricks, she had the same challenges you'd face in every long-endurance event, and it was - as expected - extremely hard. She was honest about all the points where she was close to giving up, all the low morale situations, all the fears. Unexpectedly to me, of these, monotony was the most challenging. "The small, rewardless steps are the hardest; the big mountains offering huge rewards were the most exciting - so in a way the easiest." I think this can be applied to work too. Another one: "If you want to achieve something big, write it down, and make a progress log day by day." She trained for weeks for the Alpe D'Huez ascent alone. [video]