Killing Two Birds with One Stone is for Chumps


(This post is dedicated to my friends who are Maximizers… you know who you are… and to the fact that it’s time to choose courses for the upcoming semester of my M.Ed Instructional Design program while contemplating lots of work-related travel…)

We all know the expression, but when is the last time you took a single action — or made a single decision — that took care of not one, not two, but many issues in a stroke? When is the last time you took out an entire flock of birds with a single, well placed pebble?

Well, taking out a flock of birds is kinda hard if we’re talking about seagulls and the pebble isn’t laced with anything toxic… but I’m seeing some real possibilities if we’re talking about a V-formation of exhausted migrating Canadian geese and some high velocity shards of granite… to say nothing (really, nothing) about high velocity angry birds…

When you choose that single “stone,” there is a world of difference if that figurative geological material is strategic or tactical in its composition. With good tactics, you can dispatch a couple of avian entities with a small effort. With good strategy however, you can effortlessly annihilate an abundance of fowl… metaphorically speaking, of course.

Two Birds with One Tactic = Optimization

Tactical “Two Birding” is simple optimization, like listening to an audio book or looking at an ebook during a long commute… or making sure you have a paper book to read in your hand, as you get onto an airplane, so that you can be productive while existing in that no-man’s-land of travel, free of power outlets or lawful access to your cell phone and other portable electronic devices, as you slowly-but-not-so-surely make you way between the entrance to airport gate c24 and maybe 7 hours later, hear the distinctive ping of a seatbelt sign and a murmuring pilot’s voice saying the words “cruising altitude of 30,000 feet” and “experiencing some turbulence.” Yes, you managed to travel a distance while catching up on some reading (two birds, in a metal bird, with a single tome?) but in today’s world of multi-tasking and plates that are too full, this is simply a minimum requirement.

Minimum requirements just won’t cut it anymore. We’ve gotta “next-level” it.

Many Birds with One Strategy = Alignment

Strategic “Multi-Birding” are decisions that create a system of interdependent effects that are self-reinforcing, like the effect of strings when they get braided into a rope. The best examples of this are when a person finds way to align different aspects of their life and create synergies (the real kind, not the fakey buzzword kind) by having things overlap in just the right way.

Traditional Alignment Strategies

There are some very common and traditional examples of people who align different aspects of their lives in order to maximize how they spend their time. Some of my clients in the upper echelons of the financial services world do this very consciously by braiding their work, social and philanthropic lives into one tight network of friends, deep business connections and a culture of “giving back.” Weekends and evenings are spent together helping out causes or communities while simultaneously strengthening bonds between members of the group. Some call it the Old Boys Club, but whether you call it that is more a statement about membership requirements than strategy. In other words, some folks (though, not all of ’em, to be sure) do this within the context of a diverse demography of age, race & gender. Lest you think this strategy is only for the well-heeled, picture almost any community house of worship, where time spend socially is also time spent religiously. In that case, both the social and religious elements are mutually reinforcing and the experience of both is augmented in ways that go beyond “two birds with one stone.”

Intellectual Alignment Strategies

Going to school and trying to hold down a job? Make sure your school projects relate to your job, and/or to each other. Recently I did this by enrolling in two courses that were closely related to the same topic and also closely related to a couple of work projects that I had. This not only provided a level of simple optimization (i.e., research certain content once, use it multiple times) but it also allowed me to perform my work at a much greater depth and nuance because I was approaching it from multiple angles at once. This is something that I started doing back in high school, so for me it probably doesn’t count as a “strategy” as much as it is just my way of assimilating information. My blog also reflects that tendency. Of course, I resist the notion of making my blog a specialist, single-subject, self-promotional tool that reliably cranks out variations on a narrow theme… I’d like to have 2 or 3 running themes, possibility self-contradictory themes, please. When I work on certain projects, I find tremendous leverage (again, true leverage, not just buzzword “leverage”)  to direct my blogging energy and attention towards that topic. Everything flows much more easily and I don’t experience as much “task switching cost” between school and work activities.

Aside from the above “garden variety”  configurations, you can create your own novel combinations. Choose your goals or set up your projects so that they integrate with multiple aspects of your life, be it work life, social life, hobbies, community service, spiritual life, family life or whatever other “categories” you have.  Don’t take it to an extreme, though… we’ll discuss that shortly… but first, another strategic alignment strategy:

Portfolio Career Alignment Strategies

There was a dinner table question that I used to dread. It went thus: “So, Dan, what do you do?”   It’s taken me a few years to figure out how to best answer that question — both correctly and succinctly. Part of getting the knack of that social situation has been by understanding the distinctions between a having a single career, a serial career (i.e., career/job switching), multiple part-time jobs, and having a portfolio career.

What is a portfolio career?  A friend and colleague, David Holloway, explained to me something that I had previously been unable to put into exact words. In a Hired Gun blog post, “Is a Portfolio Career Right for You?” he writes:

A portfolio career is a carefully organized set of independent income streams.  (…)   In the future, your income isn’t likely to come from just one job that someone else provides to you. It will come from a series of different services, products, and/or investments–all of which you will have to conceive and orchestrate yourself. But if you can do that right, you will never have to worry about losing your “job” again. You will be able to blend your creative, philanthropic, and personal passions with your work. And you will truly be CEO of your own career.  (…)   It … embraces, rather than denies, the change and disruption going on around us.

Holloway’s view of portfolio careers is that it’s more than simple hedging between multiple jobs or income sources. Done correctly, the elements of a portfolio career are self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating. In other words, it’s a synergy… you become a conductor of a symphony that is your working life. If you’re going to march to your own beat, better to do it with a band of your own making.

Too Many Birds with One Strategy = Environmental Collapse

All this talk about aligning your work and non-work interest begs the question:  When is there too much alignment?  When does that one stone become a snowball, then become an avalanche, then become a storm system, triggering climate charge and environmental collapse?  If you kill too many of the birds — if you don’t let enough of them fly freely — it’s going to be bad news for you down the road.

In other words, how to avoid having your life consumed by that one thing, which, if and when it changes or gets taken away, leaves you with nothing?

In all this Two-Bird Optimization and Multi-Bird Aligning, you also need to take a break.  You need a sanctuary — either in space or time — where you can recharge and be a whole person, too.

So it’s okay to put down that book — or that game of Angry Birds — and close your eyes and take a deep breath.

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on August 13, 2011, in Blogging, Business, Career, Learning, Productivity and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. While your article may have been worthwhile, I couldn’t get past the reference to “Canadian geese.” How do you know the country of origin of the geese in question? Were they truly from Canada or were they native to the U.S. and only migrating to Canada? Sometimes, “Canada geese” never get to Canada, as both ends of their migratory journey lie withing the boarders of the U.S.

    Now if your comments had been about “Canada geese,”(the correct name) the reference would have made sense. You see, a “Canadian goose” could be one of several different types of goose, such as the cackling goose, the snow goose (whether the white or blue form), the barnacle goose, the brant, etc. (or even the domestic goose) so long as it was Canadian (that is, from Canada).

    • Thank you for the feedback and especially this mini-lesson on goose nomenclature! Like those birds, I have been a boarder on both sides of the border and as a result get called different things by different people. As you’ve written, sometimes a single word incorrectly stated can create a trigger which prevents a listener from fully connecting with a message. Canada geese it is!

      cf. What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

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