Being smart vs being on the right train

We all know how important it is to be smart. But, what we don’t think about enough is about the importance of working on the right opportunities.

All opportunities are not equal. If we aren’t working on the right opportunities, we’ll rarely get a shot at accomplishing something meaningful. We all hear of the “high visibility” projects in big companies, the start-up that is just exploding and on it’s way to changing the world – do you think the folks in there are much smarter than you? In the conventional sense, heck no! In the “finding the right opportunity” sense, probably.

So, how do you jump on the right train, or “rocket-ship” in Sheryl Sandberg’s words? I can’t say much having never done it myself. But, my guess is that they were fantastic at building relationships and thus heard of great new opportunities, were always open to the next big thing (Sandberg’s willingness to jump from Google to Facebook is commendable), and willing to fail.

And, I think it all starts by internalizing the learning – after a point, it matters less how smart you are and matters a lot more which train you are on.

Time or Money

You generally have one of these in limited supply. While we are students, we have money in short supply but an abundance of time. This reverses once we start working – suddenly time becomes a bigger problem than money.

Constraints never go away. We just need to stop viewing them as constraints and start thinking of them as forces that help us prioritize better. Yes, we’d generally like more time/money travel, hang out, and have fun but these constraints make sure we focus on getting what we need rather than getting what we want.

We do hear of folks who use lack of time as an excuse to not live happy lives. That’s bullshit in my opinion. Giving someone who moans about a lack of time more time will never solve the problem. As the quote goes, if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

Constraints are good. They help us live better lives. We just have to use them well.

Life lessons from a friendly dog

We were on a break a few days ago and visited a hill station. During our 2 nights at the hill station, we stayed in an inn of sorts that had many very handsome dogs. They looked like crosses between a pure bred Alsation and multiple street dogs. This post is about the dog that hung out near where we stayed. He (I think it was a he) became an instant hit. Here’s why –

1. He always wagged his tail. You were never left with doubts about it’s intent. He always wanted you to know that he was friendly.

2. He never came to you if he sensed fear. There were a few in our group who weren’t comfortable with a dog hanging around them. So, he just didn’t go close to them. He was willing to spend time with you if you were willing to spend time with him.

3. He never overdid the affection. No jumping, licking or annoyances. It feels like he’s learnt from experience and was very civil throughout.

4. He always went away to spend time by himself after an extended period hanging around us. The introvert in me appreciated that.

5. He was willing to get out of his comfort zone. This was best demonstrated when we went out on a walk one night. Once we were out of the boundary of the inn, the dog began showing serious hesitation. We figured it was well outside his territory. But, he came with us anyway. 5 minutes later, he stopped again for a good minute seriously considering if he should join us. Eventually, he did. We appreciated his company and it’s always nice to have a guard dog around.

We only spent 2 days with this dog and fell completely in love with him. He was always positive in his intent, understood people and seemed to have learned from previous reactions to his behaviour, was comfortable spending time with himself, and was willing to step outside his comfort zone.

I guess there are a few lessons to learn from that.

Quaker teenagers – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath..

An analysis of teenager decision making showed –
– 30% of teenager decisions were just statements or “yes-and-yes” decisions. E.g. “I am going to go to that party,” “I am not going to smoke.”
– Another 35% were “whether-or-not” decisions. E.g. “Should I go to that party or not?”

In other words, teens are very binary. They don’t consider any options and instead spend a lot of time mulling over one option.

In an analysis of 168 decisions made by companies across industries, researcher Paul Nutt found that only 29% of the decisions made by companies had options => companies were worse than teenagers in making decisions.

In fact, large acquisition decisions were often a result of a “yes and yes” decision. The CEO decided a company was worth acquiring and everyone else worked hard to prove him right. A famous example is Quaker’s failed acquisition of Snapple for $1.7 Billion. Ex-Quaker CEO, William Smithburg, later admitted that the acquisition had no one within the company challenging it. Think about that – the largest acquisition in the company’s history had no one challenging it.

Do we consider options when we make big decisions within our teams?

Source and thanks to:

‘There was so much excitement about bringing in a new brand, a brand with legs. We should have had a couple of people arguing the ‘no’ side of the evaluation.’ | William Smithburg reflecting on the Snapple debacle


“Houston, we have a problem.”


“Hey, I think we have a problem here. I’m going to try and fix it. I’d love your help too.”

It’s not just about the words. It’s about the mind set. We either walk into organizations, relationships, and groups as either renters or as owners.

And, as always, we choose.

Just like you

Telling a person you know someone else who looks just like them feels like a great conversation starter. But it isn’t. We know there are 6 other people on the planet who look like us but we pride ourselves in being unique. And we’d actually would prefer to hear that there’s no one like us.

So, how does that work when dealing with customers? When it comes to complex issues that need trust (e.g. legal advice, admissions advice), telling them you’ve dealt with “people like you” is a great way to build trust. But, as you go to the higher end of the service spectrum, it comes down to showing you understand the base rate but thrive in the uniqueness.

Yes, when considering a million people at once, we are all largely similar and our behaviour can be predicted pretty accurately. But, marketers have nothing to gain by telling people that. And, if you are in conversation with someone who looks familiar, neither do you. :-)

Price and value

We deliver value when a product becomes an experience. Taking your iPhone out of it’s cover is not about the phone – it’s about the experience. It isn’t just about the packaging, the wait for the phone, or even the phone itself – the experience is more than a sum of the parts. And the best service experiences are frictionless.

To illustrate, Resorts A and B charge about the same amount for a night’s stay. Both resorts are up-scale. When you check into resort A, they take orders for all your meals for the day and you pay for them at checkout. No worrying about signing bills, no calling room service, and no contact required – just go ahead and enjoy the experience.

Contrast this to resort B – every morning at breakfast, you are reminded that while breakfast is free, a cup of coffee is not. The cup of coffee costs $3.50. Instant friction. Would a guest staying mind if $3.50 was pre-included in the bill? Absolutely not. But, somehow, resort B decided it was in its best interest to remind guests about the cost of a cup of coffee. I’m sure they had their reasons and I just hope they were good. At least for me, it was an instant turn off.

Approaching pricing from a cost plus margin lens blinds us to the customer’s need to experience what we offer. It’s not about the money. It’s about the surprise and delight. It’s not about the number. It’s about the feeling. The moment we make our product or service an experience, we deliver value.