Re-framing no

We often face great difficulty saying no to new opportunities. This is typically due to one of 2 reasons –
1. These opportunities offer clearer short term rewards – e.g., a bit of extra money or instant gratification
2. We don’t like saying no – we prefer to be liked vs. attempting to be respected for our choices

There is a link between the two reasons because if the rewards of saying no are blindingly obvious, it is hard to not say no. It is when the rewards are fuzzy that it becomes harder to make the like-respect trade-off. The problem with this is that we often neglect the most important things in favor of short-term wins. Clayton Christensen often talked about how it takes parents nearly two decades to see the results of the time invested in their kids. I think that is the case for most great relationships. They take consistent investments for a long period of time. They degrade similarly as well. We don’t see it coming.. until it does.

An idea that could help make it easier to say no would be to re-frame it and think about what you are saying yes to. By saying no to answering email in the evening, we would be saying yes to quality time with our loved ones, for example. By saying no to that extra project, we’d be saying yes to sleep, exercise, and better personal health. By doing this, we pay attention to the real trade-offs.

And, where there is awareness of trade-offs, there is likely a good decision that is being made.

Find your show dog – The 200 words project

I hope you’re having a nice weekend. Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to Prof Cerf at Kellogg with a bit of the backstory from Fundingverse.

When Paul Iams visited a mink ranch in 1946, he noticed the dogs at the ranch, who also ate food made for minks, seemed exceptionally healthy and beautiful. So, he developed Iams 999, a superior quality high-protein variety of dog food. However, sales stagnated at 100,000 dollars and Iams looked in trouble.

The vision of Clay Mathile, a new manager, however, changed everything. Mathile asked the question – what is a segment that would love what is great about Iams (superior quality => shiny coats, healthy dogs) and not mind what isn’t great about Iams (high cost, limited distribution)? Show dogs! So, he went on to focus all advertising on show dog owners who were more than happy to buy premium dog food and go through the difficult sourcing process so they had a competitive advantage.

Soon, Iams was ready to expand again. Next, they focused on breeders who cared about healthy, shiny dogs and didn’t mind the extra expense. Breeders naturally recommended the new owners continue Iams.

By 1999, Iams had 900 million dollars in sales and was acquired by P&G – a classic case study in the power of segmentation.

IAMSSource and thanks to:

“In finding the ideal market for your product as well as for yourself (e.g. your spouse and employer), your ideal segment is one that loves what’s good about you and doesn’t mind what’s bad about you.” | Moran Cerf, Kellogg School of Management

Keeping commitments

The hard part isn’t making the commitment. That’s just a one time thing.

The hard part is the 56,000,638 times you have to re-commit after making the commitment.

So, commit. But, really, commit to re-commit.

The only question – Jiro Ono and Rene Redzepi

Rene Redzepi, the chef and founder of Noma – the restaurant that has been consistently ranked the best restaurant in the world, conversed with Jiro Ono at Ono’s legendary sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. I am a huge fan of the movie on Ono – Jiro Dreams of Sushi. So, I enjoyed every minute of the short 12 minute summary video.

My favorite part of the conversation was (paraphrased) –

“How long did it take for you to feel like you became a master?”
“Till when I was 50 years old.” 
“Between when you started as a teenager to when you were 50, did you every think of quitting?” 
“No. The only question I asked was – how can I get better?”

Powerful. Thank you, Rene and Jiro-san. And, hat tip to Matt Mullenweg for sharing this.

The behavior you expect

(Before I begin, I apologize to all of you who read this on RSS for going MIA on you over the past 4 days. The RSS feed was broken and I didn’t notice there was an issue. I got that fixed this morning so you should receive 4 days worth of posts today. It is an annoying problem that I run into every months – the encoding system seems to take issue with the occasional apostrophe / single quote as it is interpreted as code and that, in turn, ends up breaking down the system. Thanks to those of you who let me know. Apologies for the trouble.)

A team I am a part of organized a meeting yesterday for our “extended” project team. I was planning to sit in the back and get some work done. But, I noticed the attendees were joining me in the back instead of sitting near the presenter (also a team mate) right up front. So, the presenter asked asked everyone to move forward. I urged them to do so, too.

To that, one of them just said – “I’m just following your example.”

I realized I was the problem, not them. So, I moved ahead, shut my laptop down and got ready to engage. Things got much better.

One of the funny / difficult things about leadership is that we often forget that our behavior is always noticed. That’s just the nature of the job.

And, it is a reminder that the most powerful way for us to lead the way is to simply role model the behavior we expect.

The simple things

I am listening to “Wonderwall” by Oasis as I’m typing these words out. This was among the first songs I fell in love with and has so many great memories attached to it as it has stayed on every music playlist I’ve had since my early teens.

It is 8:07am on Wednesday – I am looking ahead at a packed day with a new project commencing, a project wrapping up, two assignment meetings and a couple of other notes. It is going to be back-to-back and I’m looking forward to that.

It is at such moments that I realize that it is in these moments that we actually live our lives. Too often, we think of the weekend / the next big break as our only respite. But, this moment is where we live have our day-to-day struggles and challenges. And, it is such moments that add up to a life where we’ve hopefully explored the length and breadth of the road we traveled.

Sure, it isn’t perfect and there are a few things that would be nice if fixed. But, I’m thankful for this moment. It is said that it isn’t happy people who are thankful but it is thankful people who are happy. I believe that. Remembering to give thanks takes work..

But, in the final analysis, I can think of very few other things that will matter as much as being grateful for all we’re blessed with and savoring the simple things that make up the bulk of our experience. Let’s live today.

Understanding the theory of constraints.

The theory of constraints views any system as being limited by a small number of constraints. This is easiest to imagine in a manufacturing process – there is typically one machine that limits the production capacity of the plant.

It is no different in our lives. 24 hours, for example, is a constraint that limits us. In fact, the smarter way to think about it might be to view 12 hours as the real constraint. It is hard to sustain 12 hour days over a lifetime even if you might work harder than that for certain periods. And, even then, we’re discussing quantity of work and not quality. So, a really smart way to think about it might be to think in terms of the 3-5 hours of productive time we have in a day. On the one hand, it can be less of a constraint if you can drive that number up. On the other, it is important that we begin by just being aware of that limiting constraint.

Once you understand your constraints, the theory of constraints recommends that you design your system around that constraint. So, in our daily lives, that would mean ensuring we free up bandwidth to ensure we get the most out of the productive hours. It would also mean we sleep well, eat healthy and exercise regularly so we’re consistently pushing up the quality of our thinking during those productive hours.

Understand constraints is critical to understanding reality. And, understanding reality is critical to doing great work.

Seeing yourself as you could be

If you want to be calm under pressure, just start describing yourself (to yourself) as someone who is incredibly calm under pressure.

This transformation won’t take place over night. But, the next time things go wrong (and, don’t worry, they will), you might catch yourself reacting to the mishap. When you do, write down what you learn about yourself. After a few such experiences, you will feel the psychological trigger coming and start learning to take control of your response. And, a few more such incidents later, you will actually feel very calm under pressure. After all, you are one of those people who is calm under pressure.

As human beings, we care about being consistent with who we think we are. This makes labels incredibly powerful. Some of the smartest coaches of sports teams are very quick to label their players as the “best in the world.” It doesn’t matter if they are. It just matters that they begin behaving like they are the best in the world. Sir Alex Ferguson was famous to label Manchester United players as those who had the strength of character to snatch a victory in the last minute of a game. It didn’t matter if a player showed up at United yesterday. He’d suddenly find himself capable of doing exactly that. It was a self fulfilling prophecy.

A big part of being a great leader is bringing out the best in people. For that, we have to learn to see people, not just as they are, but as they could be. And, we’re best served if we begin doing that with ourselves.

70 year old selves – The 200 words project

Here’s this weeks 200 word idea thanks to To Sell is Human by Dan Pink.

How do you get people to save for retirement? Hal Hershfield from NYU conducted a series of studies which had two groups of participants allocate money between various buckets – a big expense now, other household expenses, and their retirement fund. Before doing so, group 1 was shown a picture of themselves now while group 2 was shown aged picture of their 70 year old self.

The 70 year old selves group allocated more than twice the amount for their retirement than the others ($170 vs $80). To test if this was a reaction to seeing older people, the researchers tried replacing photos of their aged selves with that of other older folk. This had no effect.

It turns out that our biggest barrier to saving for the future is forgetting that we will grow old someday. If we’re having difficulty making long term decisions like saving for retirement, perhaps we should experiment consider sticking a “photoshopped” picture of our older self on our wallets and internet banking dongles?

70 year old selvesSource and thanks to:

‘Do something today that your future self will thank you for.’ | Jeanine Jacob

Being a beginner

We gravitate to things we’re good at. Doing something we’re good at feels great – we’re in our element, we feel good about ourselves and we’re appreciated for what we do.

If success builds careers and failures build character, it makes sense that we gravitate to areas we can be great at in our careers. Notching successes matters. However, in our personal lives, I think it is critical we become beginners from time to time. We can do this by attempting a new difficult side project, learning a new skill or simply doing something we haven’t done.

I am experiencing this in a small project where I am, by far, the beginner. It has been a fun experience attempting to do the basics, feeling very grateful to the experts around me for having me around and encouraging me, and just experiencing the joy when I occasionally do a couple of things right. Being a beginner is a very humbling experience.

Someone I met said she would regularly ask people – “when was the last time you did something for the first time?”

That’s a question worth asking every once a while.