Louis Pasteur cholera cultures – The 200 words project

I hope you’re having a nice weekend. Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to Mastery by Robert Greene..

Louis Pasteur spent years arguing for the fact that diseases are caused by germs. This was contrary to the view at the time so he needed data from multiple experiments to prove his point. While experimenting with germ theory in 1879, he began researching cholera in chickens. However, his work got interrupted and he left the cholera cultures untouched for several months.

When he found his cultures again, he injected them into chickens and was surprised to find that they all recovered easily from the disease. Here’s what is amazing – Louis Pasteur was not the first person to see this occur. Many doctors had witnessed similar phenomena but, since this wasn’t what they were researching, they ignored it.

Pasteur, however, dug deep and experimented with old and new cultures. A combination of his broad understanding of the sciences as well as a willingness to be open to new ideas led him to a ground breaking discovery – vaccination.

As masters have repeatedly demonstrated, preparation, openness and opportunity go together.

Louis Pasteur                                                                                                      Source and thanks to: Wikipedia 

Chance favors only the prepared mind –  Louis Pasteur

Ben Horowitz on adding value and not following your passion

As I’ve written here, I don’t generally watch videos of talks as I think they’re largely a waste of time. However, Ben Horowitz is an exception. Every bit of content I’ve read or watched from him has been incredibly high quality. His blog is fantastic and his book, The Hard Thing about Hard Things, is the closest I’ve seen a book come to an entrepreneur’s bible. So, I did what a fan would and jumped on watching this 16 minute video during breakfast yesterday as I just expected it to be really good. And, it was.

These are my three lessons from his talk.

1. Think for yourself because you add value to the world when you bring to life a belief that no one believes to be true. This was the story of Brian Chesky at AirBnB. He believed that we would rent a mattress in our home to strangers. While most people thought this was absurd as you could be housing a serial killer, he did 2 things. First, he ran an experiment at home and it turned out to be just fine. Next, he dug into why hotel chains exist. He soon realized that hotel chains are a fairly recent invention. In the old days, people stayed at inns. However, these inns had too much variability as you could have some very bad experiences at some inns. He realized that, with the internet, information and reviews could make this transparent and enable people to choose well. It is that insight that’s led to a company valued over a billion dollars.

2. Don’t follow your passion. You don’t know what you are passionate about. And, besides, passions change. Start with what you are good at – you’ll get to passion. (More on this thanks to Cal Newport’s excellent book on the subject here)

3. A period of great opportunities. Yes, there’s global warming, terrorism and many bad things happening all over the world. But, there’s also the following facts (a few of the many he cited) –
– the number of people in extreme poverty today is the lowest it has ever been and one-fifth of what it was in 1900
– child labor is in steep decline and fell 1/3rd between 2011 and 2012
– expenditure of food as a % of income fallen in half since 1960
– Life expectancy has increased and we have grown taller (a measure of nutrition) oin the last 100 years
– Worldwide battlefield deaths are down, violent crime and global supply of nuclear weapons, also, are down
– In 2014, carbon emissions were flat for the first time in the last decade

There are still issues but you have technology available to you as a tool for change. But, if you contribute and think for yourself, you will be the generation that unlocks human potential.

Fantastic, as always. Thanks Ben.

No ask, no get

The other day, my wife and I booked a ticket for the last show of The Avengers. We were, however, exhausted that evening. So, when it came time to leave for the movie, we realized we weren’t in any mood to sit through a movie.

As we were wrestling with the idea of trading in $20 for sleep, I decided to give Cinemark a call and explain the situation. After doing so, I asked them if they’d be willing to allow us to use the ticket for a different movie.

“Absolutely.” – the manager said. “Just come any time in the next few days.”

And so we did.

Who knew?

“No ask, no get” is an ingrained lesson now. But, I have to admit – the results of just asking what often seems to be an outlandish question still keeps surprising me.

PS: Thanks Cinemark! I’m sure it only applies when movies aren’t running full. But, they’ve acquired a new loyal customer.

I am leader

The more you find a leader stressing his title, her opinion or simply the fact that he is in charge, the more you can be sure that the team or organization is suffering from a failure in leadership.

When that happens, you also know that the leader in question is operating under a false assumption that the people she leads work for her ( I call that “the boss paradigm”) . That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Your only job as a leader is to create an environment for everyone on your team to be their best selves. At every step, you work for them. True leadership stems from what you do and how you do it. And, a big part of what you do is to help everyone working with you. Things that help this cause are consistently playing janitor, cleaning up, never being the bottleneck and just being helpful. Things that don’t are a continuous propensity to show authority or take credit.

If it isn’t obvious as yet, it is, of course, all about the process. Great leadership isn’t about what you achieve with your team. It is how you get to where you go.

And, great results follow great processes.

A friend sent me this image (thanks Pixshark) a few days ago. Thanks RB – this sums it up.

Managing queues – MBA Learnings

I’ve been sharing a run of Operations learnings of late as a part of this series. This has been surprising as I never considered myself a fan of the subject. However, thanks to a combination of a Professor who’s more than managed to pique my interest and a realization that learning to manage business operations isn’t very different from managing life operations, I’ve enjoyed my time studying Operations. And, today’s topic is managing queues.

Managing queues is particularly interesting as we all experience, and generally dislike, queues. The average wait time in a queue is given by the following formula –

Queue formulaTo break down each of the parts of this formula in simple terms (with an analogy of a queue at an ice cream stand)-
– Mean service time is the amount of time taken by the person serving the queue
– Utilization is the amount of time he/she spends serving out of his/her total time on the job
– Variability (more on this later) is a measure of how steady the demand is. If people enter the queue steadily through the day, it is much easier to deal with demand versus random fluctuations

Things get interesting when we study the effect of utilization on increasing waiting time. This graph, from HBR, illustrates it beautifully –

What this graph is saying is that waiting times more than double when your solitary ice cream server is working 80% of the time. It doubles again when he finds himself working 90% of the time. Why? Because delays are caused by sudden fluctuations in the queue, e.g.,  a mass of tourists that come in to buy ice cream in the midst of their city tour. And, since our solitary server has no spare capacity, it is inevitable that waiting times go up.

So, if you are staffing your restaurant, for example, and if you find yourself running at 100% capacity all the time, that may not be the best thing for your customers since it is inevitable that waiting time goes up. (If you are an exclusive restaurant, it may not be a bad thing – that’s a different matter.)

The insight in managing our personal lives is pretty profound – if we organize ourselves such that we always find ourselves running at 100% capacity, it is inevitable that queues will build up on our plate. That’s because work doesn’t arrive at a constant rate. An emergency project is bound to show up and, if we’re running with no safety capacity, that could be a problem. Additionally, we’ll never have the bandwidth to deal with other sorts of fluctuations that may occur outside work – a family member that gets sick, a friend that needs help, etc. So, it is a good idea to maintain safety capacity.

And, how do you do that? Learn how to scope projects well. I had a manager who was a master at making sure we needed no late nights to get to the finish line on our projects. He believed our best work was done when we were relaxed. He reiterated that he’d rather we build models slowly, but accurately, rather than fast and requiring multiple revisions. He also believed we should always be able to deal with issues that come up with minimal stress. And, of course, he consciously developed this single skill that, in my opinion, distinguishes great managers from bad ones.

In short, he understood the importance of safety capacity. We should, too.


Getting comfortable with good enough

One of the challenges with attempting to ship a blog post every day is getting comfortable with “good enough.” Every once a while, there comes a day when I feel very pleased with the post of the day. On most days, however, it is just a struggle to get something “good enough” out of the door.

As I write this, I realize I make it sound like I was a recovering perfectionist. That wasn’t the case either. It is just that, when I imagined myself writing on a public blog, I imagined a thought-through blog post edited to perfection. Now, I’m just comfortable with the fact that, on most days, the grammar isn’t perfect and that the sentence construction could have been better. Good enough.

That is the trouble with not shipping. It makes you chase ideas like perfection that make it impossible to ship. It takes away all attention from the stuff that actually matters – learning to write, learning to observe, improving your creative process – and focuses it on stuff that doesn’t – perfection, adulation, etc. It results in too much pressure and makes it easier to do nothing. It just feels safer.

But, it isn’t of course. Good enough is what sheds light on the way forward. We only get better with practice. And, we need to practice with good enough till our good enough today becomes the perfection we sought yesterday.

The same long task list

Take a look at a long task list at the end of your day. And, you’ll find the following set of emotions accompany you – hopelessness, pessimism, negativity and discontent. If you force yourself to work on that list, you could sit for a good few hours and find yourself stuck on task #1.

Take a look at that same long task list once you wake up the next day. This time, you’ll likely find that hope and optimism appear. And, with that hope and optimism, you’ll get to work on that list. Rearrange it, start with a few quick wins, postpone the low priority items and, before you know it, you’ve built momentum.

The task list didn’t change. Your perspective did. The same long task list that looked insurmountable became doable.

When complaining about their inability to get things done, most folks point to a lack of time. But, as this example illustrates, all the time in the world wouldn’t have helped you that evening. All you needed was rest. Manage your mental energy well and you’ll find yourself amazed at how much an energized mind can accomplish. Manage your mental energy by resting your mind, exercising it (reading to it, challenging it by taking on tough problems) and providing it the right kind of fuel.

Sure, learn how to use time well. But, spend your energy managing your energy. It is that skill that separates the masters from the professionals.

Brain-writing – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to Lifehacker.com and Prof Leigh Thompson on Brainwriting..

There are two leading problems with the average brainstorming session, as Professors Leigh Thompson and Loran Nordgren at the Kellogg School of Management explain –
1. In a typical six- or eight-person group, three people do 70 percent of the talking.
2. Early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation.
The process, known as anchoring, favors the first ideas and forces the unique and creative ideas away through a phenomenon called conformity pressure.

So how can this be avoided? Professors Thompson and Nordgren suggest a process called “brainwriting.” The idea is pretty simple:
– Take 5 minutes and ask the group to write their ideas down on a stack of index cards
– Next, put all the cards up on the wall and ask the team to do a blind vote.
If done right, the best ideas will emerge very quickly.

Here’s to giving brain-writing a shot.

BrainwritingSource and thanks to: The Kellogg school

Prioritizing rest

If you’re like most people, the first thing that gets de-prioritized when push comes to shove is your own body. We are always capable of pulling that all-nighter, cutting down on sleep, eating take-out to save time, and canceling our exercise plans.

And, yet, our bodies never complain.

Well, until they do.

When I do fall sick or find myself down with a stomach bug, for example, I’m consistently amazed as to how I never even noticed my stomach when it was functioning well.

So, just for this weekend, let’s put away our plans for taking over the world. Instead, let’s appreciate this incredible machine – our body – treat it well and prioritize it over everything else. Let’s eat great food if we feel hungry, treat it to a great run or a fun game when we feel restless and, above all else, get as much rest as we need.

The quality of our lives is directly proportional to the quality of our health. And, we get just one shot at living well. Let’s use it well.

Cattle leadership

On one of Mandela’s long morning walks, he turned to his biographer and said – ‘You have never herded cattle, have you, Richard?’

Richard Stengel said he had not. Mandela nodded. As a young boy of eight, Mandela had spent long afternoons herding cattle for his mother or some others in the village. He explained, “You know, when you want to get the cattle to move in a certain direction, you stand at the back with a stick, and then you get a few of the cleverer cattle to go to the front and move in the direction that you want them to go. The rest of the cattle follow the few more-energetic cattle in the front, but you are really guiding them from the back.”

He paused. “That is how a leader should do his work.”

The idea Mandela wanted to convey that day is that leadership at its most fundamental is about moving people in a certain direction – usually through changing the direction of their thinking and their actions.

If you’re waiting for the opportunity to move people in a certain direction, look no further than yourself. Do you feel you are moving in a direction? Do you feel you changed the direction of your own thinking and actions? If so, why did you do it? Nelson Mandela’s greatness was not just because he succeeded in moving people in the right direction – he was, of course, outstanding at doing that. It was because he did so while living these principles himself. How else do you forgive those who kept you in prison for 26 years? It is that integrity – the consistency his words and actions – that made him an incredible leader.

Leadership begins within.