Availability bias, news, and Google vs. Apple/Amazon

I think it is possible that the amount of news coverage an event receives today equals ten years of news coverage in the 18th century. This amount of chatter greatly affects perception. And, the amount of chatter is definitely not correlated to accuracy.

An example from this week is the news on the earnings from all the major technology companies. We had news from Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc. A lot of the news in the past 4 years around Apple (since Steve Jobs left) has revolved around whether Apple has what it takes to continue making money without their visionary founder. And, until a year ago, I was in that camp.

And, this last quarter, Apple sold 74 billion dollars of products. To put that number in context, that is more than the revenue of a collection of the next few technology firms (Microsoft, Google, Facebook) put together. And, in that one quarter, Apple’s profits were larger than Google’s revenues. There are similar negative perceptions about Amazon’s stock. Google, on the other hand, has had a consistent stream of positive press for its ‘moon shots’.

But, here’s a dose of reality –
– Apple makes money by selling premium devices to the high end of the market. The high end of the market isn’t going away any time soon.
– Amazon is still less than 2% of North American retail and, once cloud computing takes off completely, Amazon Web Services could dwarf its e-commerce sales in 10 years.
– Google is searching for ways to compensate for its declining advertising revenue by investing in a whole host of businesses. Google’s stronghold was on the desktop/laptop. Mobile hasn’t worked nearly as well. That’s not to say it won’t figure out the next step. It is just that the news around Google in comparison to firms like Apple is often dis proportionally positive.

All this news and chatter affects our perception. Information that is easily available to us feels right because we can easily recall it when making decisions. But, just because we’ve heard something 10 times doesn’t necessarily mean it is right. Availability bias, however, is something we fall prey to repeatedly and is a big part of being human.

The <15 word summary of the post so far could very well be interpreted as – ‘Beware news. Dig deep to understand what is really going on.’

But, the point I’m hoping to make is a level deeper – it is to think intentionally about the content we consume. This means –
1. Audit your sources of content – news, feeds, facebook, twitter, linkedin friends, etc. – and understand where we develop points of view on what’s going on in the world
2. Develop a content consumption habit and plan in alignment with the sort of person you want to be. If you want to think deeply about the automotive industry, find the best automotive industry blog and shelve time spent on reading stuff that doesn’t add value

These small decisions inform the way we think about and approach the world and our lives. Let’s approach them with care.

When to be disappointed and when not to be

When to be disappointed
When you ‘mail it in’ instead of giving the process your best shot
When you don’t prepare as well as you should have
When you don’t perform to the best of your ability
When you don’t relax and enjoy the occasion

When not to be disappointed / when disappointment is wasted emotion
When you aren’t picked
When the result isn’t what you’d have liked
When there was someone more suited for what you were going for than you
When you didn’t click with the people you were in conversations with

When I was a secondary/high school student, I cared about my exam performance a great deal. And, the fact that my parents’ questions revolved around whether I had prepared well and given it my best shot used to infuriate me. I didn’t understand it and couldn’t get why they didn’t see my point – I didn’t care how well I prepared. I only cared that the results turned out good.

I was obviously wrong.

As you can tell, the message here isn’t ‘don’t be disappointed’ or ‘avoid disappointment.’ It is – learn when to be disappointed and when not to be. Be very disappointed if you didn’t do the process justice. And, use that disappointment to inform the next process. There is no excuse to make the same mistake twice.

If you did do the process justice, let go. This is hard to stomach. But, that’s about all you can do.

In the long run, doing the process justice is all that is going to matter. The cream always rises to the top..

If by Rudyard Kipling

There came a moment yesterday when I was reminded of ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. So, I whipped my phone out, searched for it and read it aloud.

I first read the poem in my English textbook in my 8th grade and I loved it. For the uninitiated, it is Kipling’s letter to his son. I’ve posted the poem here a few times in the past 7 years but, somehow, it never gets old. Even to this day, there are some lines I repeat to myself at times – “if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too,” “and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise,” and “if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” There are many incredibly powerful lines and, no matter what your current emotional state or need may be, I trust you’ll find a line that resonates.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

He definitely left the best for the last and this also happens to be one of my mom’s favorite lines. “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the world and everything that’s in it” – never a truer word spoken. Thank you, Mr.Kipling.

Paul Bennett on Design – MBA Learnings

Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at IDEO, the famous design firm, was at school yesterday. He delivered an engaging 50 minute talk on his perspectives on love, beauty, religion, and death. I am not going to attempt a perfect summary of the talk. But, I thought I’d attempt what I took away..

– We are all designers. Businessmen design businesses, teachers design classes, etc. This was the all important base line we started with. Now that we understand we are designers, let us learn to think like one and understand the sorts of barriers design is breaking through in today’s world.

– Design transcends agenda. This was a profound line from a conversation with a princess from the royal family in the UAE. Paul had conducted a brainstorming session in Dubai where he’d asked designers for their dreams for Dubai. The women designers had written some really powerful thoughts along the lines of “we want to matter.” Paul had shared these in his TEDx talk the next day as a way of thinking about designing Dubai in the future. As a designer, sharing these wasn’t about judgment. It was about transcending the agenda and meeting purpose.

– Remember to answer the question. He spoke of the moment when he had been diagnosed with diabetes. He was listening to the doctor throw all sorts of medical terms when he had just one question in mind – “will I be able to eat during thanksgiving?” Sometimes, all we’re looking for is answers to the simple questions – e.g. “will I be okay?,” “do I have a real shot at this opportunity?,” or “will you give me a hug?” Let’s design for those.

Death and religion. Paul spoke about how IDEO is designing for taboo topics like death and religion. These topics are entering the mainstream and they make for great design opportunities. And, while topics like “designing for death” remains somewhat morbid, the fact is that most human beings share common misconceptions and irrational fears around death. Can we make the experience better? (We don’t know yet but we’re certainly going to try!)

Conversation is design. This was the most powerful insight I walked away with. In the vein of us being designers, I think we can extend the “we are all designers” insight into the idea that we all design lives, moments and experiences. And, maybe, we could make more of an effort to design conversations that matter? It isn’t easy to have these conversations around topics like religion, fear, death, and all the other difficult issues that we face in society. But, if we don’t, who will? And, how will we inform our responses to these topics if we aren’t exposed to viewpoints different from ours?

I loved Paul’s talk. He was warm, vulnerable and humorous. It definitely made me think.

And, I think I’ve walked away with ideas for a couple of my projects as well as for my lives. I can think of 2 that I’m going to work hard to implement –

1. Consciously design experiences when designing products, services and events. Apple just sold its one billionth iOS device in what was a quarter described as “monstrous.” They get this idea. Buying an iPhone is designed as an experience. Unwrapping it is part of the experience and using it is definitely another. In the final analysis, it is because we don’t remember what we did.. we do remember how we felt.

2. Have more tough conversations. The inner geek in me loves this idea. In some ways, the talk reminded me of why I am in school – to get exposed, to think, to reflect. There are so many great conversations to be had. And, it is up to me to make them happen.

Chatter and MYOB

I reflected on a recent remark I heard about our age being the ‘age of chatter.’ Thanks to social media and the fact that every person has a megaphone and an audience (of sorts – depending on the medium), there is an unprecedented amount of talk about what’s going on in the present.

This presents a few challenges to people trying to get stuff done. For example, the start-up founder going through the struggle sees hundreds of reminders about fellow start-up founders who seem to be enjoying fame, glory and an abundance of venture capitalist attention. Some of these guys were his classmates at school and their lives seem ideal. Where did he go wrong?

The difficulty with all this chatter is that it is hard to differentiate between the signal and the noise. Additionally, even if some of these awesome success stories are accurate, they’re only accurate in the short term. The long game is a different matter altogether. However, as human beings, we are, on average, poor at thinking about the long term. So, some of this chatter can chip away at our self-confidence. And, self-confidence is a critical element of long term success.

The solution? MYOB – Mind Your Own Business.

Every person tends to have their own squiggly lined path to wherever they are headed. If they work well and hard, the squiggly lined path can generally be a little less squiggly. But, over time, things work out in one way or the other. And, if they don’t, we tend to learn something valuable – which isn’t a bad outcome. But, it is hard to keep this perspective if we try to process all the chatter around us.

So, it is vital we embrace MYOB. Keep calm, keep focused and keep plugging away. In the long run, good processes lead to good results.

Crazy odds and star stuff

It doesn’t really matter what you want to do – the odds are always crazy. Every time we move forward to accomplish something meaningful, we take on even crazier odds. Think about the entrepreneur who overcame incredible challenges to make a billion dollars. Did she stop then? No, she took on the challenge to do something even more worthwhile with that money.

If the odds of overcoming your next challenge are playing on your mind, just remember Carl Sagan’s note on the magic of this moment –

‘You are alive right this second. That is an amazing thing. When you consider the nearly infinite number of forks in the road that lead to any single person being born, you must be grateful that you’re you at this very second. Think of the enormous number of potential alternate universes where, for example, your great-great-grandparents never meet and you never come to be. Moreover, you have the pleasure of living on a planet where you have evolved to breathe the air, drink the water, and love the warmth of the closest star. You’re connected to the generations through DNA — and, even farther back, to the universe, because every cell in your body was cooked in the hearts of stars. We are star stuff, my dad famously said, and he made me feel that way.’

If the next challenge doesn’t quite work out, the one after that will. The odds will never get easier. But, as Carl Sagan points out, we are “star stuff.”

PS: An easy way to never forget we’re capable of magic – just give someone you like an unexpected hug and thank them for being amazing.

Selection bias and winners – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to TimHarford.com, Lifehacker.com and Professors David Dranove and Brett Saraniti at Kellogg.

In 1943, the American statistician Abraham Wald was asked to advise the US air force on how to reinforce their planes. Only a limited weight of armor plating was feasible, and the proposal on the table was to reinforce the wings, the center of the fuselage, and the tail. Why? Because bombers were returning from missions riddled with bullet holes in those areas.

Wald explained that this would be a mistake. What the air force had discovered was that when planes were hit in the wings, tail or central fuselage, they made it home. Where, asked Wald, were the planes that had been hit in other areas?They never returned. Wald suggested reinforcing the planes wherever the surviving planes had been unscathed instead.

As blogger Tim Harford points out, this makes for a classic example of selection bias and also a great life lesson. It is natural to look at successes. But, if we don’t examine our failures, we may end up putting our time, money, attention or even armor plating in entirely the wrong place.

Abraham Wald planesSource and thanks to: Digitalroam.typedpad.com

‘The data that isn’t present may tell as important a story as the data that is.’

Digital workflow

First, I must say it is lovely to hear from you every time a post resonates with you. Whether it is via the comments or via the email, thank you so much for taking the time to write in. Your notes are much appreciated!

And, since a couple of you wrote in with thoughts on digital workflow in the past week, I thought I’d share my current digital workflow in rough order of where I spend most of my time (my combination is Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga, an iPad 2 and an iPhone 5) –

1. Microsoft OneNote (laptop) – This is where I organize my life. My OneNote has record of practically everything meaningful I’ve done in the past 6 years. It is an incredible tool. I find it a pleasure to use.

2. Outlook (laptop) + Sunrise (phone) – I’ve written about Outlook many a time. I prefer Outlook to Gmail. It just works for me. I’m less picky on the phone – just use the default Mail and Gmail apps. And, I use Sunrise as my calendar app on my phone. Sunrise doesn’t yet allow me to invite people on my Exchange server – but, aside from that, works really well.

3.. iTunes and iTunes Radio (laptop mainly). I have music on nearly throughout the day. And, I buy all my music on iTunes and enjoy listening to iTunes Radio when I’m in discovery mode. I like owning my music vs. renting it on Spotify.

4. Audible (phone) + Kindle (iPad). Awesome apps – this is how I do all my reading. Audible is for all non-fiction books and Kindle is largely for bed time reading.

5. Whatsapp (phone). Whatsapp is great – all my favorite groups are on Whatsapp and it makes for the best “keep-in-touch” tool for close friends.

6. Chrome + WordPress + Lastpass (laptop) – I am really liking WordPress after a few teething issues when I made the switch from blogger last year. And, Chrome and Lastpass are both awesome. If any website is important, it is on my bookmarks bar and the password is stored on my Lastpass.

7. Feedly (laptop) + Reeder (phone) – I use Feedly to aggregate my feeds. It works. And, I try and do most of my feed reading on Reeder. I love the Reeder app. It somehow makes reading news headlines, etc., feel easy.

8. Dropbox + Crashplan (laptop mostly) – All my files are on my Dropbox folder (I’ve accumulated 8.5 GB of free space and that works well). I back up my Dropbox stuff and my photos on Crashplan. Dropbox alone means I don’t ever have to worry about accessing a file – whether it is a document I’ve created or scanned copies of documents like my passport. And, Crashplan means I never have to back up anything on an external hard drive. That’s cool.

9. Google Drive and Microsoft Excel/PowerPoint/Word (laptop). Any team that I work with typically has a shared folder on my Google Drive. I also have a bunch of personal documents I keep on Google Drive. It just works and is great for collaboration. If I have to create documents, however, Microsoft Office is still my go to.

10. Envelopes (phone). To keep track of my finances. I use this along with Google Drive for budgeting.

11. FaceTime > Skype > Google Hangouts (iPad, Laptop). FaceTime is my favorite. Skype and Google Hangouts are used as and when necessary. I only wish FaceTime had conference facilities.

12. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn for different purposes (Laptop, iPhone). Facebook primarily for serendipitous staying-in-touch and sharing blog posts (Google+ too – though I’m not sure if anyone reads it on G+), Twitter for serendipitous checking to see what the people I follow are saying and LinkedIn as an amazing research tool before I meet anyone.

13. Google Authenticator. For 2 factor authentication. If you don’t have it, enable 2 factor authentication now!

14. Fitbit (pocket, phone). I’m not sure this counts as digital workflow but I enjoy carrying my Fitbit in my pocket. It has changed the way I think about walking and I push myself to hit the 10,000 steps / 8.7 kilometer mark at least 3 days in the week. I allow myself up to 2 Fitbit points out of my weekly exercise target of 7 for 2 days where I’ve hit the 10,000 steps goal.

That’s a wrap. As you can tell, I am more a laptop person than a phone person. I think I just prefer the big screen and I use my phone as a tool to get things done while I’m on the move / waiting.

Looking forward to hearing some of your workflows. Hope it helps.. and wish you all a great weekend!

The struggle and the road

There are many ideas that aren’t taught or discussed enough – personal finance, marriage, relationships, happiness, learning how to learn, and so on. In some way, the focus of this blog is about all these things (some more than others).

One such topic that I try to do justice to is what ex-entrepreneur and a16z venture capitalist Ben Horowitz terms ‘the struggle.’ I see the struggle as life’s way of testing our mental strength. And, mental strength is also one of those topics rarely discussed even if the idea of “grit” is beginning to surface in discussions around leadership and success. Ben describes it well.

The Struggle is when you are surrounded by people and you are all alone. The Struggle has no mercy.

The Struggle is not failure, but it causes failure. Especially if you are weak. Always if you are weak.

Every great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through The Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it. That is why it is The Struggle.

The Struggle is where greatness comes from.

Ben describes it in the context of entrepreneurship. I think it is equally applicable to life. We’re all entrepreneurs and leaders of Me, Inc., after all. And, most of us have experienced the struggle at some point. And, if you’ve ever attempted to take initiative, start something, or ship something, you have definitely experienced the struggle. Once the romance of starting something new goes away, the struggle usually takes over.

The hard part about the struggle is that it is something you almost always have to face yourself. It is our customized mental strength regime – we just don’t know it. Yes, they often tend to be first world problems but that doesn’t make them any less difficult. Problems that test mental strength are often the hardest of them all. Depression and mental illnesses hit human beings regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Ben shares a few ideas in his post that might help. My favorite is “focus on the road.” He says – “When they teach you how to drive a racecar, they tell you to focus on the road when you go around a turn. They tell you that because if you focus on the wall, then you will drive straight into the wall. If you focus on how you might fail, then you will fail. Even if you only have one bullet left in the gun and you have to hit the target, focus on the target. You might not hit it, but you definitely won’t hit if you focus on other things.”

Thanks Ben, for sharing your wisdom. And, here’s to writing and discussing ideas that aren’t discussed enough.

Do defaults save lives? – MBA Learnings

A powerful study by Goldstein and Johnson in 2003 explored the relevance of defaults in organ donation. We discussed their findings and the implications in our class on “Values based Leadership.” Most countries have big problems with organ donations due to the large gaps between the number of donors and the number who need organs. However, this graph illustrating the difference in organ donation rates in the European Union is telling.

Organ donor consent rates

As you can see, countries like Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany average around 10% while the rest are close to a 100%. The difference? Defaults.

In the “default” countries, citizens see a checked box in the form they submit to sign their driving licenses (for example) that says they will donate their organs when they die. It is up to them to un-check the box. And, clearly, very few do. This idea has been documented in researcher Richard Thaler’s book, “Nudges,” which discusses how small nudges by policy makers can make a big difference in society. This is an example of that. And, Goldstein and Johnson’s research shows that defaults are a powerful way to influence people.

I think this research also speaks to the power of strong cultures. Strong cultures are built around defaults and the idea of “this is what people like me do.” Defaults may just be the closest shortcut to cultural change. Governments such as the UK have understood that and have been setting up “Nudge committees” to study areas where important policy can be nudged. The challenge, of course, is that people hate the government playing big brother. However, nudges and the idea of defaults are here to stay and it’ll be interesting to see how policy makers use these tools to influence us.

One such researcher who is working hard to change things is Dan Ariely. And, I am reminded of this comment from him when I interviewed him 2 years back.

“I look at the whole world, and then I say, “Is this a place that is the outcome of 7 billion rational people? If everybody was perfectly rational this would have been the best world imaginable. The conclusion very easily is no. In a couple of hours I’m leaving for Africa where there’s a tremendous amount of illness and poverty. There is also a tremendous amount of hope. If this world is not the outcome of 7 billion rational people, maybe we can do better.

It’s true that when you look at individuals, you can say for each individual, “I wish you were more rational in some ways.” But for the planet as a whole you say “My goodness the gap between where we are and where we could be is tremendous.” There are a lot of things to improve. I think we can do much more. That’s my hope. My hope is that as we’re learning more we will improve things. Both in terms of my personal life and in terms of my outlook on the world in general, it’s a good thing.”