Water hypocrisy

The other day, I observed a friend doing the dishes with water left running on. A voice in my head screamed in disapproval as I felt a lot of water was being wasted unnecessarily.

Rather than say anything however, I just proceeded to wash my own dishes and regulated the water usage as I normally do. (I did feel self-righteous doing that.)

I thought about that moment a few minutes later and asked myself why I didn’t say anything. And, the answer that came immediately was in the form of a question – “Are you sure you aren’t just being hypocritical?”

A combination of being a student of human irrationality and growing self-awareness over the years had made me fairly conscious about my/our tendency to be hypocritical.

I then reflected on my own water usage. While I’m generally parsimonious, I do tend to indulge when it comes to taking showers. For good or for bad, I love my showers and showers waste a lot more water than an open tap while washing dishes.

Thank god I hadn’t said anything.


I took away 3 notes from this moment –

1. If you’re going to give feedback to people, make sure you check your own behavior. There’s a story about a woman who went to Mahatma Gandhi and asked him to advise her son to give up unhealthy sweets. Gandhi asked her to come back in two weeks. After he’d spoken to her son two weeks later, she asked him why he’d delayed the conversation. He said he had to give up unhealthy sweets himself before he felt qualified to give her son advice. While it is likely this story is just that, a story, the moral still holds.

2. The best way to inspire change in people’s behavior is to encourage change to come from within. While some part of that can be achieved by talking to people, most intrinsic desire comes from people observing others around them. We are the average of the five people we choose to be closest to. And, that’s because we generally learn most from these people – whether or not they’re trying to “teach” us.

3. An idea for driving down energy and water wastage would be to have meters that provide data on our usage versus the average in our community. Nothing like a bit of data and peer pressure to make people change behavior.

Bill Campbell style 1:1s

Managers in companies all over the world conduct recurring 1:1 meetings with their direct reports to make sure they’re aligned on key priorities.

Image source

Bill Campbell, executive coach to the top executives at Google, had a suggested approach to the 1:1. Instead of leaving the conversation open, he required both the manager and the team member to bring a list of 5 things to discuss. At the start of the meeting, they would match lists and talk about whatever is on both lists first. After that, they would spend time on 4 topics – performance on job requirements, relationships with peer teams, leadership and innovation.

The first step, however, was key. After all, 1:1s existed to solve problems. If a problem was on both lists, it was clearly top priority. On the other hand, if the lists had no matches, it suggested to Bill that there were much bigger problems at hand.

Here’s to testing Bill Campbell-style 1:1s.

Great management is a discipline, a daily practice of small things like a well-structured 1:1, that when summed across years of collaboration, create dramatic and sweeping change. – Tom Tunguz reflecting on Bill Campbell style 1:1

Source and thanks to: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

Relax hard

We talk about working hard, partying hard, studying hard, and playing hard. We don’t talk nearly enough about relaxing hard.

One of the best things I’ve learnt to do is to relax hard. This means switching off from anything that sounds remotely productive, sleeping till you’ve paid back any remaining sleep debt from the past few months, lying in bed till you’re actually tired of lying in bed and feeling completely at peace with all of this.

There’s probably a hundred scientific studies out there that tell us why this matters. But, do we really need a scientific study to tell us this?

Growing up with my mom, I learnt that relaxing hard actually doesn’t require much. Certainly no fancy vacation required. You can do it at home with near zero expense – all you need is the right mindset. Fix that and you can have an incredible vacation right at home. That was a valuable lesson – it is all in the mind, after all, and a big part of being happy is simply not wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else. Thanks mom.

So, this weekend, I hope you consider relaxing hard. Forget the task list for a day and enjoy taking time off. The task list will still be there tomorrow. You can get to it, then.

Relax enough and you will re-enter feeling more energized and productive. Re-entry is always powerful.

Teaching without teaching

As I reflect on people I’ve learnt a tremendous amount from, I realize that the common thread is that they’ve taught me an incredible amount… without ever intending to teach me anything.

A dear friend and I have a phrase we use from time to time when we talk about the people dear to us and find ourselves hoping that they’ll just continue to be be their authentic selves. We say – “you do you!”

In that spirit, these teachers/”framily” have lived “you do you.” They just did their thing and, in the process, taught me more than I realize or give credit for.

I guess great lessons can be taught without ever seeking to teach.

Privilege and thanksgiving

I thought of two related ideas today – privilege and thanksgiving.

When I thought of privilege, I thought of Paul Bernal’s excellent post – “A few words on privilege.” If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it. The last two paragraphs have stayed with me over these years.

Whoever you are, however intelligent and enlightened you are, you don’t know what life is like for other people. You don’t know how things are for them, how hard it is for them. I don’t know what it is like to be really poor, for example. I’ve been poor – but I’ve been poor and still known I have family that would support me in the end, that I have the kind of education and experience that can help me out, that I’m healthy and so forth. Men don’t know what it’s like to be women. Straight men don’t know what it’s like to be gay in the society we have today. Able-bodied people don’t know what it’s like to have a disability. White people don’t know what it is like to be black. Wealthy people don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

There’s an old saying: ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. There’s a degree to which it’s true, and it certainly seems that the current lot of powerful people are thoroughly irresponsible. I’d like to add another – though it’s deeply wishful thinking. With great privilege should come great humility. Those of us who are privileged – like me, and like Boris – should be able to find that humility. To know that we really don’t know what it’s like to live without our privilege. We can try to imagine – but we’ll never really succeed. And we should know that we’ll never really succeed – and be far, far more willing to listen properly to those who do know it. Most of all, though, we should know when not to talk as though we had all the answers. We should know when to shut up.

Thanksgiving is, by far, my favorite holiday. I enjoy taking stock of the year that’s gone by, the people who’ve made an impact and the process of expressing my gratitude to them for all they’ve done. At a time when I do most of my writing on a keyboard, I spend a good chunk of time in and around thanksgiving day writing out my thank you’s. It is amazing how odd it feels to actually write with pen and paper. These notes are a small labor of love.. I’m glad to be healthy and able to be able to take the time and express my gratitude.

This thanksgiving day, I feel especially aware of how privileged I am to have the life I have. It is unlikely I will ever understand the true extent to which I have been experienced privilege. I do try though. And, even if I will never succeed completely, I am always blown away by the amount of hidden privilege within systems I have grown up in. As Paul Bernal suggested, with great privilege should come great humility. I’m hopeful I will continue to stay hungry, stay foolish and make all this privilege count.

On that note, I wish you a very happy thanksgiving. Thank you for reading my daily notes. Your attention means a lot – more than I can express.

Spending time with my dark side

As preparation for an upcoming project, I read 2 interesting books this Saturday – “Why CEO’s Fail” and “The Wisdom of the Enneagram.” Both books explore various personality types in great detail and explore both the best and worst of these types.

I found “Why CEO’s Fail” simpler to digest and thought I’d share what I took away. This book was written by an executive coach and a Professor from Columbia Business School and built on the 11 derailers that Robert Hogan’s famous psychometric assessment popularized. The 11 derailers are –

  • Arrogance – you are right and everyone else is wrong
  • Melodrama – you always grab the center of attention
  • Volatility – your mood shifts are sudden and unpredictable
  • Excessive Caution—you’re afraid to make decisions.
  • Habitual Distrust—you focus on the negatives.
  • Aloofness —you’re disengaged and disconnected.
  • Mischievousness—you believe that rules are made to be broken.
  • Eccentricity—you try to be different just for the sake of it.
  • Passive Resistance—what you say is not what you really believe.
  • Perfectionism—you get the little things right and the big things wrong.
  • Eagerness to Please—you try to win the popularity contest.

Each of these derailers has a chapter dedicated to it with many examples of the sort of behavior exhibit by folks who have derailed (and, in some cases, folks who managed to take corrective action in time). The examples were largely from executives the authors had coached. It was particularly relevant for senior executives because, as the book observes, “a CEO’s jokes are always funnier and his/her insights are always more insightful.” That is a fantastic observation. Of course, the book is very relevant to every one of us.

I found it helpful to walk through the 11 derailers too. I realized that my biggest issues when I was going through my teens were – melodrama, an eagerness to please and perfectionism. I worked on melodrama and eagerness to please by spending time thinking about what I stood for and what I wanted. I’ve worked hard on the “perfectionism” (or what I describe as pseudo perfectionism as the core issue really is fear of failure) by learning to let go of the outcome. This is hard and an ongoing process.

The two biggest derailers that remain are arrogance and mischievousness. A combination of arrogance and pseudo perfectionism were the reason I started blogging here every day. Writing about my failures and focusing on developing my learning mindset muscle have helped me a lot over the years. Mischievousness, on the other hand, is one I expect to struggle with for the longest time. As the book describes it, this means I’m prone to starting to breaking rules for the sake of it (rebel without a cause) and start many a project without really completing any. I’ve attempted to combat this by over indexing on the idea of making and keeping commitments. But, it is hard nevertheless.

So, why does all this matter? Every one of these derailers is the flip side of a great strength. In fact, in almost every case, they are just overused strengths (typically under stress). As a result, we can never really get rid of them. The path forward is to accept that they will always be with us, be aware and accepting of them when they show up, and then learn to develop systems that help us deal with them consistently.

The first step, of course, is understanding that they exist.

Leadership and a bigger heart

There’s so much said about leadership. And, rightly so. Leadership isn’t a cloak you can wear for a few hours and remove at the end of the day. Once you take up responsibility, you are expected to be accountable for the results of everyone you lead (and this could just be yourself). Everything you do sets an example – one way or the other.

That’s why leadership is so hard to define or teach. It is one of those all encompassing responsibilities that changes you – whether you like it or not.

I have worked hard to understand this beast myself over the years. But, the more time I spend attempting to practice it (key word is attempting – :-)), I go back to a simple idea that Jack Welch shared in his autobiography – “Leadership is simply caring more than the next person.”

Caring, like leadership, has many dimensions – it means caring for your organization’s success, for your team’s success, and for the success of all the folks on your team. Caring means giving without expectations, experimenting without assurances and putting yourself out there expecting to take a few blows. It also means apologizing when it is not your fault and generously sharing credit when things go well. Caring, in its purest form, isn’t easy.

Caring is also the reason that leadership, when done right, is a thing of beauty. It isn’t a race to dominate, to stamp authority, to command or to show bravado. It is simply a race to care more. As a result, it isn’t, as one might expect, just a victory of a bigger brain or of iron will or of steely determination.

At its core, great leadership is a triumph of a bigger heart.


A requisite for good convergent thinking

Imagine you have dedicated some time to generate solutions to a problem. The typical structure of time dedicated to this is to spend time diverging before you spend time converging, i.e, generate 40-50 ideas first and then begin narrowing down to 3 you want to act upon.


This makes sense simply because you don’t want to focus too quickly on the first good idea that pops in. Take the time to explore before you narrow in. As a result, good divergent thinking is a requisite for convergent thinking.

It follows that, to be able to focus consistently in our daily lives, it is vital that we give our minds the license to explore, be distracted and be occasionally un-focused. In fact, if we aren’t experiencing many of these distractions or random idea explorations, the chances are that we aren’t fulfilling our full convergent thinking potential either.

But, how do we do so in our daily lives – especially considering we spend most of our days attempting to focus at work (or at school)?

This speaks to the importance of hobbies and doing things outside of your main sphere of work. They offer us the environment and time to diverge. This is precisely why many of our best ideas come to us while taking a shower or taking a walk.

We cannot force focus. All we can do is to create an environment conducive to focus and hope it happens. And, if we seek to create such an environment in our workplaces, it is necessary we create areas that feel different from the usual collection of work desks – areas that allow us to diverge. Hence, the need for game rooms and idea labs.

These aren’t just healthy or cool – they are necessary if we expect consistent convergent thought.

Discuss the flaws – The 200 words project

Imagine someone marches in to your office to tell you that your recent decision to try out plan A sucks and that plan Z is better. The usual instinct is to listen and then repeat the argument for why your decision is the right one.

Dave Hitz, founder of NetApp, handles opposition on decisions differently. He focuses the conversation on all the flaws of a decision. So, in this case,  he’d explain that Plan Z is reasonable – not only because of the reasons outlined but also because of two additional reasons. And, plan A not only has the issues you pointed out but three others.

He found that people found this openness very relieving. It made them understand that a good process was followed in making the decision (Dave saw to that) and that was typically the main reason for their concerns. Dave and his team understood that, while individual decisions may be occasionally wrong, the right process would be the best possible long term ally in their decision making.

Don’t confuse bad results with bad decisions. Worry about a bad decision process. Don’t worry about a bad result. Good decisions lead to good results in the long run. – Ken Crouse

Source and thanks to: Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

David Allen on Re-entry

There’s a David Allen story about re-entry that I love. He had been stuck at a certain Karate level and had been working really hard to make a break through. Try as he might, he just couldn’t. Frustrated, he decided to take a break for a few weeks.

When he came back a few weeks later, he found himself break through the previous barriers with ease.

The lesson he took away from it is – when you most feel like you don’t need a break is exactly when you need one.

I think the concept of “re-entry” is incredibly powerful as it involves a complete re-charge of your batteries. Vacations and breaks exist for exactly this purpose. But, it isn’t possible to take a week’s vacation every time you need to recharge. So, I’ve learnt to mix things up to create mini breaks. Sometimes, it just means sleeping an inordinate amount of time (a close friend called it my hibernation). For this weekend, it is a 24 hour break from my phone and a general break from all things email or work.

Loving it. And, looking forward to re-entry.