What a year it’s been!
Every December I spend about a week reflecting back on the year that has passed, and looking ahead at what’s coming. This year’s review was special, for both obvious and non-obvious reasons.
In hindsight, I think I will look back on 2020 with gratitude. I am thankful for the stress test that 2020 and the pandemic imposed on my systems, mental strength, and life design, because it helped me grow stronger in so many different ways. This post provides an overview of what I’ve been up to, what I’ve learned, and how I evaluate 2020 with 20/20 hindsight.
The year in bullet points
- Most grateful for (personally): 💁♀️
- Most grateful for (professionally): Having a job I’m genuinely excited to go to every morning.
- Most proud of (personally): demonstrated antifragility and came out of 2020 stronger than I went into it.
- Most proud of (professionally): my team for building RemoteWork.no mid-pandemic.
- Biggest mistake: assuming bad intent on the part of people close to me on two occasions (see “Lessons Learned” below).
- Area of most personal growth: Relational intelligence. And living up to my core value bravery in a few key situations, if I may add one more.
- Area of least personal growth: Health / fitness – too many hours spent at a keyboard, too few spent lifting heavy things.
- Area in which I felt most inadequate: Leadership.
- Favourite website: twitter.com.
- Favourite mental model: Antifragility.
- Second favourite mental model: Leading above or below the line.
- Best discovery: RoamResearch.com. And non-alcoholic beer.
- Most impactful book: “Difficult Conversations – how to discuss what matters most”.
- Most fascinating book: “How to change your mind”, by Michael Pollan, about what the author calls “a scientific, psychedelic renaissance”. I saw Michael live in Oslo got a signed copy too!
- Something I took a break from: Instagram.
- Favourite conversations: One with my dad, and many with my Enneagram/personal development coach.
- Book I’ve gifted most to others: The Road Back to You (purchased almost 100 copies over the last two years!)
- Favourite purchase: PRVKE Wandrd backpack. After trying 10+ backpacks for daily use, I think (I hope) I’ve found The One. (Close second: Manta sleeping mask).
- Best trip: Skiing in France back when corona was the name of a Mexican beer.
- Most shared article: “Your life is driven by network effects.”
- Best advice received: “Be here and now”.
- Best advice given: Design your life with intention, and develop it like you would a develop a product – with prototypes, quick iterations and real world feedback.
The year in two words: Applied Antifragility
I’ve been thinking and talking about the notion of antifragility for a few years, and have tried to remove fragilities from various parts of my life as best I could. But of course I wasn’t prepared for a global pandemic…
Antifragile = something that gains from disorder, chaos, stressors, shocks, instead of being harmed by them. The opposite of being fragile.
Thanks to COVID, 2020 was the best year in decades to test my own antifragility. How would I cope with established truths turned on its head, chaos in the business world, extended periods of lockdown and isolation, and an ever present sense of uncertainty?
Looking back, I’d say I passed the test with flying colours.
I treated the year as a wonderful opportunity to be heads down in “building mode”, inspired by Marc Andreesen’s “It’s Time to Build” article, and it feels like I have built a foundation on which loads of interesting things can be added going forwards.
Business wise, thanks to sound strategic choices and very hard work, our company Braver has done its best year ever by far, doubling both its revenue and profits from last year.
Personally, I have strengthened some of my most important relationships, developed a new and better “Life OS”, a system for learning, collecting information, making decisions and evaluating various aspects of my life, and re-started a path towards thinking and building in public on the internet.
In short: When chaos hit, I grew stronger. Applied antifragility.
Highlights from 2020
Got a wonderful girlfriend (woop woop)! This has most certainly been a learning experience, albeit of a different sort than what I’m used to. It’s hard to imagine a better time to get a girlfriend than in the spring of 2020, literally days before lockdown started. Being alone, together, was awesome. We ran away to the seaside for 6 weeks, and effectively tried living together before we even technically got together – an upside down approach which seems fitting in an upside down year like 2020!
Discovered Roam Research in March, which transformed the way I interact with all information of all sorts, and how I structure my own learning processes. It’s the best software I’ve tried in years, and now I can’t imagine my life without it. (High up on the list is the Airr podcast app, which pairs very well with Roam).
Rediscovered Twitter: I’ve had a Twitter account for years, but never used it properly. I cannot fathom how I have missed out on this absolute gold mine of interestingness, learning, smart people and engaging discussions. I may be late to the party, but boy, the party is freaking awesome! (Feel free to follow me!)
Went on inward journeys of self-discovery: Self-awareness is something I continuously seek to develop and deepen. This year pushed me further down that path. Since the year was so externally quiet, in the sense that very little happened, I spent even more time than usual on quiet contemplation, reading and reflecting. But perhaps even more importantly, in the absence of geographic travel outwards, I went on a series of psychological travels inwards.
Some of these reflective journeys were assisted by great coaches, equipped with thought provoking questions and deep empathy.
Some were pushed along by the Enneagram, my favourite framework for self-discovery. Other self-awareness boosters in 2020 have come through my new intimate relationship, which has highlighted a set of things I can improve (communication first and foremost, but also communication, communication and communication), as well as certain things I do well but didn’t give myself much credit for until they were pointed out by another human being.
For all of these journeys, some short and completed, others life-long and unfinishable, I am grateful.
Rebranded the business: Uromaker became Braver this year, which was long overdue. The name change and the updated look and feel of the brand were important milestones in our ongoing professionalisation effort – we’re growing up, I guess.
Doubled the business: Braver doubled its revenue this year, and got a bunch of awesome people on board. Most of this growth is directly attributable to COVID (!), and the subsequent creation of our project RemoteWork.no, which we launched in April to hedge against a possible crisis if our customers stopped investing in innovation projects. From April to the end of the year, we taught hundreds of RemoteWork.no customers how to work well together digitally. The RemoteWork project was truly antifragile – every time a new wave of COVID outbreaks rushed through Norway, the project got a bunch of new customers!
Made Early Stage 100x more scalable: Early Stage is a 6-week entrepreneurship programme we run for students every autumn. For four years in a row, we have spent two months flying back and forth between Oslo and Bergen where the ES sessions have taken place. Suffice to say, it’s been exhausting and unscalable. This year, we moved it online, for obvious reasons, which worked incredibly well – so going forwards we’ll just keep it going as an online, live, cohort-based learning experience for the foreseeable future, even if COVID comes to an end and things become “normal” again (whatever that means). Thank you, COVID, for giving us the kick in the butt we needed to recreate Early Stage in a scalable format!
Took a proper summer break: Working hard is great, but taking a hard break is awesome too. I have skimped on this for a few years, but in 2020 I did multiple weeks by the sea, phone off and Kindle on, just breating, bathing and recharging.
Lessons Learned in 2020
No good year without a set of hard-earned lessons learned. Here are mine from 2020.
Assume good intent: My two biggest screwups this year came from assuming bad intent on the part of another person. In both cases I made a ruckus about it, which cost me several weeks of rumination, anger, sadness and confusion. In both cases there wasn’t any bad intent at all – the real issues were poor communication and unclear expectation management. In short: assume good intent for as long as possible, and then a little longer.
Related idea: Occam’s Razor – when faced with multiple possible explanations, believe the simplest one.
Related idea: Hanlon’s Razor: Don’t attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.
Don’t assume people can read my mind: This is an oldie but a goodie from my dear mother. She’s said this for years and years, but I have not yet been able to live out its core meaning: that I need to be crystal clear about what I want, need, feel, and think, rather than assume people to be thought readers. Entering an intimate relationship has (to say the least) made this point blatantly obvious.
Catch-22s are everywhere – and they can be untangled: I’ve been wrestling with a recurring set of catch-22s for years.
- A consulting business can’t afford to hire more consultants before it has an excess of customers, but it can’t get more customers until it has consultants to showcase and sell.
- I don’t want to enter a new or challenging situation without knowing enough about how to deal with it, but I won’t know enough until I have faced the challenge and come out on the other side.
- You cannot see your blind spots. But you have to see your blind spots in order to fix them – at which point they are no longer blind spots.
And so on and so forth. Having dealt with the first one this year, and starting to see it dissolve, I have learned that Catch-22s can be untangled. The other two I’ve been working on for my entire life, and they too are moving towards unentanglement slowly but surely. There is hope!
Design matters. Braver operated for two years without anything looking good or professional whatsoever from a design perspective. That began to change in 2020. We invested in a proper graphic profile, and in bringing that profile to life across all our projects. It’s still a work in progress, but we’ve come a long way. Although it is hard to draw causal links, I am convinced that this has contributed heavily to the fact that we now have more customers, better projects and more credibility in the marketplace than we’ve ever had before. Looking back at our slides, website, logo, even company name from just one year ago makes me somewhat embarrassed. What the hell were we doing?
With that, I’m ready to close the chapter called 2020 and look ahead to “the roaring twenties” of our time. I’m excited to see what’s next for the world, for myself and for those close to me when the dust settles.
Thank you for the lessons you taught me, 2020. Cheers to 2021!
If you found any value in this post, feel free to email me. I’d love to hear about what you have learned this year, and what you’re looking forwards to in the next.
For more lessons learned in 2020, see our company version of this post – Braver’s 2020 Annual Review.
The Year in Photos
Because sometimes, 17 photos say more than 2020 words.
Also published on Medium.