Doing it right the first time

What would it take to do it right the first time?

Yes, of course, we can learn and iterate. But, what would it take to get it as right as possible the first time?

Not all ideas are iteration friendly. Some ideas and businesses can afford iterations more than others. As a friend explained wisely, if you are setting up a logistics business, you better think through your warehousing plans or you could crash and burn before you say “iteration.”

If we are rushing into a new idea expecting to learn-on-the-go, it’s worth asking ourselves what it would take to do it right the first time.

Even with our best efforts, we’ll have to iterate and keep improving anyway. But, at least iteration won’t be an excuse for a first time product that doesn’t do justice to our abilities.

Work Hacks Wednesdays: Avoid the easy-to-measure gratification trap

Progress in our jobs is easy to measure thanks to pay raises and promotions.

When we get to relationships and health, progress is still harder to measure. The troubles here are in the zone of “when do you call yourself unfit/unhealthy?” and “when is a relationship failing?” The inherent danger is that by the time we realize something is wrong, it’s too late to fix it.

Progress in our intelligence is the hardest. Not reading books that expand our intelligence doesn’t hurt at all. We could go through our entire life never having really understood how our brain works, why our brain works the way it does, and how that translates to why we do what we do.

I remember failing to hit my daily 30 minutes of book reading target when I first attempted it as a university student. My elephant responded with “Maybe you are too busy doing other important things.”

And I clearly remember my rider responding in anger “More important that reading books and learning? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Who do you think you are.. The founder of Microsoft? Oh wait.. He reads 10x the number of books a normal person does.”

That settled the argument on book reading. The same argument repeated itself this year as I sought to make exercise a 5 times/week habit instead of 3 times/week.

What we tend to forget is that each of these – exercise, healthy relationships, and great books – play a massive role in making us more productive at our jobs. Stephen Covey masterfully called them PC or Production Capability activities – stuff that helps you P or Production get better.

The learning? Make twice as much effort to spend time on things that aren’t easily measured – exercise, reading books, sleeping 8 hours, and spending time on close relationships. If you ever find your elephant fooling you with “you are too busy doing other important things,” send me an email.

I’ll make sure I respond with “Are you FREAKIN’ KIDDING me?”

Some reflections on Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 documentary on Jiro Ono, an 85 year old Sushi Master and owner of Sukiyabashi Ono, a Michelin 3-star restaurant. The film profiles the sushi master and his two sons. While the younger son has already started a sushi restaurant of his own, his older son (50) still works under Jiro and faces the prospect of taking over his father’s restaurant soon.

A few reflections..

The pain of deliberate practice. Jiro’s journey is one of deliberate practice. Forget Tiger Woods, forget Jerry Rice – Jiro is probably the longest practitioner of deliberate practice ever. He now proactively controls every bit of the job – from the choice of fish and rice for the day to serving just the right portion for the customer.

“I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”

Simplicity and purity. “If you were to sum up Jiro’s sushi in a nutshell..Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.”

Love is proactive. “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

There is no easy job.These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills. When you work at a place like Jiro’s, you are committing to a trade for life.” (Jiro’s shrimp dealer”

The power of social norms. I was struck by the power of social norms in this movie. Jiro’s old son Yoshikazu is still working for his dad despite being a great sushi head chef in his own right. His younger brother branched out 15 years ago because only the old brother could inherit his father’s restaurant. When asked if this made his envious, he said simply that, in Japan, it was expected of the older son to take over what his father did.

He just ignored the question and focused on his duty.

No safety blankets.When I was in first grade, I was told “You have no home to go back to. That’s why you have to work hard.” I knew that I was on my own. And I didn’t want to have to sleep at the temple or under a bridge so I had to work just to survive. That has never left me. I worked even if the boss kicked or slapped me. Nowadays, parents tell their children, “You can return if it doesn’t work out.” When parents say stupid things like that, the kids turn out to be failures.”’

Jiro is not one for safety blankets. Sink or swim. This seems to be the consequence of a childhood where he was abandoned at the age of 9. Tough times, tough people.

Good taste. “In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food.  The quality of ingredients is important, but one must develop a palate capable of discerning good and bad.  Without good taste, you can’t make good food.  If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customers how will you impress them?”

Your style may not be for everyone. Jiro’s customer and noted Japanese food critic described the experience of eating at Jiro’s nerve wracking. The sushi master serves you with a stern look on his face gauging your every expression. This is not for people who go to restaurants for a relaxing experience.

You go to Jiro’s for the food. And it is all about the food. Michelin’s inspectors feel it’s worth traveling to Japan to eat Jiro’s sushi and note the fact that it’s perfect every time.

The 30 odd minute experience also costs upward of US$ 400 per person. Doesn’t work for everyone but works well enough.

The apprenticeship investment. At Jiro’s restaurant, it takes 10 years for you to graduate from an apprentice to a junior chef (cue: Malcolm Gladwell). It’s only after 10 years do they give an apprentice a shot at cooking Jiro’s famous egg sushi – the current assistant chef spoke of how it took him more than 300 attempts to get his first one right.

He had tears in his eyes when Jiro finally gave him a nod of approval.

The movie was a stirring reminder on the importance of deliberate hard work.

I am guilty from time to time of being too impatient and trying to over-hustle to make progress.

Jiro Ono’s story is as an inspiration to everyone attempting to get better at what they do to never stop trying..

“Always look beyond and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.” | Yoshikazu, Jiro Ono’s older son

Interview with Purna Chandra Rao, CEO of

After a year away from building excel models, I’ve had a chunk of excel modelling over the past couple of months. The internet is a great resource for anyone working on a complex model and few websites are as good and comprehensive as

Purna Chandra Rao or Chandoo is an Indian entrepreneur who started out with a blog sharing excel tips. After three years of increasing readership, Chandoo quit his full time job to work on full time. He has been very successful at building this website into a niche business and has a team of 6 work for him.

Chandoo struck me as a very humble person through his posts and I was disappointed my teammate, Dhanya, called dibs on interviewing him. She had the pleasure of spending 20 minutes with Chandoo on Skype..

I hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did. Full transcript on of course.

On Wearing Fake Sunglasses and Suspicion

This week’s book learning is part of an 8 part series from The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. (Parts 1234, 5)

Last week, we were left with an intriguing question – if wearing counterfeits changes the way we view our own behavior, does it also cause us to be more suspicious of others?

To find out, Ariely and co. asked another group of participants to put on what they were told to be either real or fake Chloé sunglasses. They were asked to fill out a long survey with their sunglasses on. There were 3 sets of questions and they were asked to estimate the likelihood that…

Set A: people you know might engage in various ethically questionable behaviors such as standing in the express line with too many groceries.

Set B: When people say particular phrases, including “Sorry, I’m late. Traffic was terrible,” they are lying.

Set C: Given 2 scenarios with one honest and one dishonest option, the person in the scenario would take the opportunity to cheat.

The results? Participants in the counterfeit condition judged their acquaintances to be more likely to behave dishonestly than did participants in the authentic condition. They also interpreted the list of common excuses as more likely to be lies, and judged the actor in the two scenarios as being more likely to choose the shadier option.

Thus, counterfeit products not only tend to make us more dishonest; they also cause us to view others as less than honest as well.


Sketch by EB

To quote Ariely, “Thanks to self-signaling, a single act of dishonesty can change a person’s behavior from that point onward. What’s more, if it’s an act of dishonesty that comes with a built-in reminder (think about fake sunglasses with a big “Gucci” stamped on the side), the downstream influence could be long-lived and substantial. Ultimately, this means that we all pay a price for counterfeits in terms of moral currency; “faking it” changes our behavior, our self-image, and the way we view others around us.”

This brings us to another interesting question – are levels of dishonesty stable across culture? Another interesting experiment coming up next week..

Nice guys first

I interviewed Cal Newport for Real Leaders this morning. The first 30 minutes were a disaster – I was having internet connection trouble on my side and Skype didn’t cooperate. We switched to Google Hangouts and, in an attempt to stop the echo, I put on headphones to get the interview started. 7 minutes into the interview, I realized this wouldn’t work as the recorder wouldn’t be able to hear the audio. Cue feelings of embarrassment, disappointment, and annoyance all at once.

Luckily, we persisted. The next 30 minutes were much better. We did complete the interview. Cal was full of insightful ideas about work, excellence, and building careers. Regulars here know I am a big fan of Cal’s work, specifically his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” which I consider to be the best career related book I’ve had the fortune to read. So, in a way, I expected to walk out of the interview with these ideas.

However, I walked away with something different. I walked away remembering the guy who was empathetic, understanding, and patient through technology troubles and my screw ups. Nice guy first.

We’ve been fortunate to reach out to, and occasionally interview, a whole bunch of successful people thanks to Real Leader interviews. Ego and petulance could perhaps be expected (there is a lot of that out there, too). But, I’ve learnt that many of these folk are remarkable because they are nice, first.

As I reflected on the conversation with Cal, I read a first draft of our next interview due tomorrow – Chandoo of Excel geeks all over the world love – one of the world’s top excel help websites. Chandoo has been featured in Chris Guillebeau’s “The $100 Start-up” as well. And, Chandoo’s interview was one of the heartfelt interviews I’ve read (My lucky teammate called “dibs” on his interview first so I didn’t interview him myself). Nice guy first.

Regulars know how I have been continuously influenced by Seth Godin’s great work. Despite his many many commitments, Seth still takes responds to notes asking for help. Again, nice guy first.

So many other examples spring straight to mind.

You can say great things and back it up with great action. These guys do that. But, people hardly ever remember what you said or did as much as how you made them feel. You can be great at what you do but to truly inspire others, you need charisma – that ability to make others feel capable of great things. And charisma comes from being nice first.

I once heard an executive described as somebody who would “sell his grandma” to make sure he gets his job done and gets promoted. Sure, that’s one way to go – be hard nosed with a focus on success and nothing else.

Or be nice first while being remarkable at your craft, inspire others around you and be a leader in the true sense of the word. Your pick.

Can’t have everything and can’t have them all

A great tourist trip isn’t about waking up at 6am and staying out 12 hours a day attempting to pack it all in.

No, a great tourist trip starts when you’re willing to sit down and say ‘I’m at peace with the fact that I’m not going to be able to see and do everything. What do I really want to see? Why am I going to this place in the first place?”

Great writers don’t write for everyone. Great directors don’t direct for everyone. And, by extension, great people don’t aim to leave everyone they know with a positive impression.

The moment we move on to asking ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and what we want to achieve, we realize that the de-facto purpose of squeezing everything in/pleasing everyone was never the purpose.

It’s interesting how the acceptance that we can’t have/do everything results in us actually having a shot at having/doing “everything”.. in our definition at least.

Empty promises

“I will be in touch.”

“Let’s catch up for coffee sometime.”

“Thank you so much for the gift. I will read that book this weekend.”

“Great idea. I’ll think about it and get back to you.”

If we are in the habit of regularly giving empty promises to others, can you imagine how many of these we give ourselves?

The choice we have is to either follow up and do what we say or be honest and not make these empty promises.

Sure, honesty is painful. But, at least it’s honest.

(PS: There is possibly one exception to this rule – your spouse/partner/special friend. “Do I look fat?” is always followed by “Noooo” and “How do I look?” is always followed by “Gorgeous.” ;-))

Work Hacks Wednesdays: Debrief after a success

3 questions typically follow failure –

“What went wrong?”
“Why did it go wrong?”
“What could I have done better?”

Failure serves as a natural call to reflect.

Success needs a debrief too. A successful project requires an hour or more to reflect the following questions –

“What worked really well?”
“How can we apply what worked well to other projects/areas of work?”
”What did I do well? Did I exhibit any strengths during the project?”

“What could I have done better?”

It’s in this reflection that we learn our lessons.

The mistakes only get bigger

‘I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being–forgive me–rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.’ | Albus Dumbledore

As we grow in position, stature, learning, and wealth, our mistakes become bigger. It’s a natural consequence of taking bigger risks and/or making bigger and more consequential decisions.

Resisting this is futile and never helps. It’s akin to playing on a poker table with a bigger buy-in and continuing to make smaller bets. You don’t get very far.

The only way forward is to accept the fact that we have earned the right to play at a more important table, embrace the risk, and embrace the likelihood of bigger mistakes. There is no minimizing the risk. And safety is an illusion.