Full text of Chris Sauve on The Habits of Highly Boring People @ TEDxCarletonU conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – The habits of highly boring people by Chris Sauve @ TEDxCarletonU
We’re going to start today with a quote by Gustave Lebel, and he said, “Be boring and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
And when I originally heard that quote, I thought it with a contradiction. It didn’t make any sense to me that you could be boring and exciting commonplace and original all at the same time. But I thought more about it, and I realized it wasn’t about being a boring person.
Boring people are unoriginal. They are unexcited. That’s the definition. It was about doing boring things, and that sometimes we could do boring things. We could put structures in our lives that made us less exciting in some way. But what they allowed us to do was they allowed us to focus. They allowed us to do more amazing things in other ways. So that structure wasn’t an inhibitor of creativity, as I thought it was. Structure was actually an enabler of creativity. It was an enabler of a more fulfilling life.
So I thought about boring people. Or at least, I thought about people who were boring in some ways but who did incredible things in other. And I looked for traits and behaviors that they had in common. And I found a few. I’m going to talk about them today. But I laughed when I found them, because they were so boring. They were so commonplace, so easy to implement, so obvious that I think we skip right by them. We try and be exciting right away. We don’t worry about doing that structure part, because that’s damn boring. But I’m here to tell you that that is the absolute key.
The first thing I found was that boring people who did amazing things wrote things down. Nothing exciting, that’s the way it should be.
And why do we have to write things down? Well, first, let’s think about how many things we can actually remember, because if we could remember everything, writing things down wouldn’t be a competitive advantage at all.
To show this, I am going to use a bit of a non-traditional example. This is Microsoft’s home page. They are an enormous corporation. They have hundreds of products, millions of customers. And when they’re describing themselves on their homepage, which is their face to the entire world, they do so in just six words. Microsoft knows it has more than that going on. But what they also know about us is that we are not smart, and in some cases we’re so comically unintelligent. They know that if they put 10 things here, by the time you reach the 10th we’d already have forgotten about the first three. They knew about this idea of the magical number.
This was George Miller, he wrote a research paper couple decades back now. And he argued that our short term memory, our working memory was limited to about five to nine items. So we think of these as mental juggling balls. As soon as we have more than five to nine things in the air, some of them start to drop off.
Now think about your schedule. If they’re anything like mine and I imagine a lot of yours are. There are dozens of events, meetings, appointments, classes, and you probably have a whole bunch of projects going on as well. And when I thought about this, I was amazed to find that since September of this year, I had started 182 projects. Six months, almost 200 things that I added to my life.