I was reminded of the poem Desiderata yesterday. I thought I’d share some of my favorite lines from the poem-

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

I first heard about Desiderata around this time 4 years ago from Gary, an inspirational shoe repair shop owner, in London.

That last line, in particular, is one I’ve thought about and shared repeatedly. It resonated deeply with me as it came to me at a period when I was struggling with letting go. I won’t say I’m fantastic at letting go now but I think I’m infinitely better than I used to be.

So, yesterday, when I caught myself fretting at a minor disruption to my plans, I remembered Desiderata and realized that it was time to take a deep breath, take stock and move on.

The universe is unfolding as it should.

Not perfect

The easiest way to get rid of the obsession with perfect is to simply commit to doing a few things consistently. Imagine you conducted a certain kind of meeting every week. Some weeks are going to be great and some, well, not so great. That’s the beauty about committing to something consistently – you understand how hard it is to repeatedly do simple things right.

It doesn’t mean you don’t hurt when you walk out of something you did knowing it wasn’t perfect. But, you do become more tolerant of the idea over time and make peace with it.

For example, on most days, after I finish writing here, I do a bit of editing and find myself saying – its not perfect but it works. On the rare occasion, I do manage that perfectly edited post. On most days, however, I don’t. There’s always the next thing I need to get to and the aim is just to do my best given the constraints.

My learning has been that perfection is what you make of it. There isn’t any objective measure. In my case, perfection here is thinking about what I’ve learnt, showing up every day and doing my best to communicate these lessons in a manner that makes sense and that, every once a while, leads to something insightful.

The results don’t always reflect it but I’ve learnt to make peace with that and trust the process. As Dory might say, what really matters is that we keep swimming.

not perfect, keep swimmingSource

Working capital and cash conversion cycle – MBA Learnings

Let’s imagine a company we called Nile, Inc. Nile is a vegetable retailer who has the following metrics –
Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) = $365
Average inventory = $10 (they have low levels of inventory in general)
Sales = $1095
Accounts Receivable = $30
Accounts Payable = $30

Based on these metrics, we can do the following calculations –

Inventory turnover = COGS/average inventory = 36.5
Nile, Inc. turns over its inventory 36.5 times a year. That’s a good sign. The more turns means the more efficient its inventory buying process.

DSI or Day Sales Inventory = (1/Inventory turnover) *365 = 10 days
This means it takes Nile, Inc. 10 days to convert its stockpile of inventory into cash. If Nile turned its inventory slower, it would take longer. Since it is a vegetable retailer, we can imagine it requires to turn fresh produce quickly.

Receivables Collection Period = Accounts Receivable / (Sales/365) = 10 days
This means it takes Nile 10 days to collect its receivables. This is common in businesses that work with consumers as credit card money comes in within 5-10 days.

Payable Period = Accounts Payable / (Sales/365) = 10 days
Nile takes 10 days to pay its suppliers – a short payable period for most businesses. But, this is on account of Nile’s size. As Nile grows, it is can extract longer payable periods (e.g. 100 days).

So, if we now think of what this looks like –

cash conversion cycle, working capital

So, Nile takes 20 days to convert inventory to cash – 10 days to convert it from inventory to a sale and 10 more days to convert the sale to a cash. However, since it takes 10 days to pay suppliers, we can now reduce the  20 day number to 10 days.

10 days is Nile’s Cash Conversion Cycle. The Cash conversion cycle is an important idea since this means Nile requires 10 days worth of “working capital” (Current Assets – Current Liabilities on the balance sheet) to keep its business solvent. Since, at any given point, Nile will require enough cash to support 10 days of operations, if it doesn’t have the cash itself, it will always need access to a revolving line of credit that can make sure the business runs. Reducing the cash conversion cycle is an attractive prospect for most small businesses as it means less dependence on external capital. It also reduces the working capital requirements of the firm.

Amazon is an example of a firm that does an outstanding job with working capital management. Amazon’s cash conversion cycle (CCC) is actually negative. This means Amazon receives cash very quickly, turns over its inventory quickly and takes much longer to pay its suppliers. So, the business is practically throwing off cash. Negative CCCs work well for growing businesses. However, when a business stops growing, these cycles can be painful since it means you have to pay your suppliers greater amounts than you make.

Aside from a thank you to all our Finance professors, I’d like to also give a thank you shout out to Prof Aswath Damodaran from NYU Stern. Prof Damodaran has some fantastic resources available online for different kinds of finance problems.

Stacking meetings and owning your calendar

If ever there was a principle for managing your schedule as a knowledge/office worker, it would be – “Own your calendar.” Until you have help to do this for you, take those few extra minutes every day to own meeting invites yourself where possible. This will enable you to do two things that add value –

1. You can stack meetings so you have more uninterrupted gaps to do focused work
2. You an group meetings on a certain project to avoid unnecessary context switching

While switching contexts fewer times in a day is a big win, I think the biggest benefit is more uninterrupted gaps. As long as you get into the discipline of switching off your notifications during uninterrupted time, these stretches will end up being among the biggest sources of value you add to the world.

An uninterrupted stretch isn’t a guarantee that you’ll end up doing work that matters. But, it sure maximizes the chances.

Calendar, stacking meetings, owning

Inspiration without structure

Many organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring in inspirational speakers to speak to their employees. When employees walk away from these talks feeling inspired, it all seems worth it.

structure, inspirationSource

But, when they go back to their desks and get to work, reality hits them. While the talk inspired them to think about innovative ideas, their organization never really encouraged innovative ideas. Sure, they said they wanted more of them. But, you always found yourself embroiled in organizational politics when you attempted to push change through.

Leaders and managers often wish for a more inspired work force. But, in situations like this one where there are no structures to support inspired employees, inspiration can often be counter productive. Employees in such organizations walk away from attempts at inspiration feeling frustrated and cynical.

There are two important takeaways for us as leaders –

1. If we seek to inspire our team, the most important thing to do isn’t to give an outstanding talk about why we do what we do. It is to provide the structure within which our team can go out and express themselves. This means providing them clarity on why we do what we do, establishing clear norms and expectations on how we do our work (our culture) and being open to helping them define goals that help the team move forward while also helping them to learn, grow and hone their abilities. Structuring work well requires openness to change and a great deal of thought as good structure needs to provide a certain amount of flexibility without it feeling like anarchy.

2. If we seek to be inspired ourselves, no amount of inspiration will help if we don’t have structures in our life that help support doing work that matters. This means a world class collection of habits that help us focus through the day, be present with our loved ones and take care of ourselves.

Inspiration without structure is like an artificial flower – it looks good from a distance but it doesn’t feel or smell like the real thing.

Quantity and creativity – The 200 words project

Two artists, Ted Orland and David Waylon, relate the story of a ceramics teacher who found herself teaching a class on two separate days, neatly divided in half. She decided to try an A/B experiment. To the first half of the class she said what she’d been saying for years – “You’ll be graded based on the quality of your work. At the end of the semester, turn in the single best piece of pottery you created.” To the other half of the class, she said something very different. She explained to them that they would be graded purely on quantity – “Crank out as many pots as you can this semester.”

At the end of the term, she noticed that the best pots – both technically and artistically – didn’t come from the quality group, they came from the quantity group. By making pot after pot after pot, they were learning, and adapting. They didn’t set out to make the best pots, yet they did. Meanwhile, the other half spent the semester aiming for perfection and falling short.

We succeed by trying and failing, not by striving for perfection. Perhaps persistence isn’t so much sticking with something as it is persistently improving.

“What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. – David Bayles & Ted Orland

quantity, creativitySource

Source and thanks to: Ken Norton’s essay – 10x, not 10%, Art & Fear by David Bayles, Ted Orland

Heidi, Girl of the alps

This Saturday, I thought I’d turn the clock back to a time 15 years ago. Every Saturday and Sunday, I used to tune into Cartoon Network to watch “Heidi” between 1pm-2pm. Heidi marked a very special memory for me. Heidi told the story of a little girl who found so much joy in the simple things – a green meadow, a breath of fresh air, and the beauty of nature. To this day, I love walking on grass, do my best to appreciate nature and enjoy the breath of fresh air. Heidi has a lot to do with all of this and many other quirks revolving nature. Her journey taught me not to take the smell of fresh air for granted.

I’ve searched online for the English version of the show many times since. As I was did this again a few days ago, I stumbled on the Wikipedia page of the show. While I knew it was a dubbed version of a Japanese anime cartoon, I learnt 2 interesting things. First, Heidi is touted as one of the major reasons for Japanese tourists visiting the Swiss alps. The second was an interesting snippet –

The entire series has been re-dubbed into English on two separate occasions — first in the late 1970s, when the series was shown in the Philippines, and again in 2001 for broadcast in India on Cartoon Network. Although this dub was done by the animation studio for airing in India, they never included the English audio on subsequent DVD releases. Interestingly, none of the DVD releases around the world have English subtitles on them either.

For some reason, the English version seems to be lost. In my searches, I stumbled on many others who’d seen the show on Cartoon Network asking about the show. I found the Japanese version with the English subtitles – it is definitely not the same. The dub was fantastic and Heidi’s voice still strikes a chord somewhere deep inside.

As I write this, I hope the English version will be found at some point. It was a beautiful show and is one I hope kids all over the world will get to enjoy and learn from. I certainly did.


Benefits of laptop crashes

I have a love-hate relationship with Windows. There is more love than hate thanks to comfort bred by familiarity and Microsoft Office. Yes, yes, MS Office is available on a Mac but I don’t think it is nearly the same using Excel on a Mac.

The biggest reason for the hate part of the relationship is Windows Update. It has crashed my laptop twice in the past couple of years and caused all sorts of issues previously. For example, there was an automatic update to Windows 10 last week followed by a “critical update” that caused a crash. Windows has become better about Windows update linked issues and crashes over the years but there are still problems. And, to me, it speaks to the complexity of ensuring compatibility across devices produced by so many different manufacturers. When it comes to user experience, there are many benefits to complete vertical integration.

A bright side to these crashes is that I’ve learned to become very nimble when it comes to my data – thanks to a combination of Dropbox Pro for my files, Lastpass and Chrome sign in for all things browser, 2 Gmail accounts that bring together all personal email accounts, and the awesome Ninite installer, it takes me about an hour to get set up on a new laptop. Dropbox Pro deserves special credit as I even had a paid subscription to Crashplan before switching to Dropbox Pro. The Dropbox user experience is so much better.

I’ve learnt that I’m most attached to my laptop among my devices. I could comfortably go a few days without my phone but it is my laptop that makes me feel “in control.” So, these systems go a long way in making sure I don’t have too much trouble when things go south.

As the wise Rafiki says – “You can either run from it… or learn from it.”

laptop crashes, benefits, rafiki, learn from it,Source


Predictable ways

I noticed some behavior from a couple of folks I admire the other day and found myself saying – “Awesome people are awesome in very predictable ways.”

I was reminded of Tolstoy’s fantastic quote

All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I think Tolstoy’s quote channels a central idea – to be happy and to do good requires you to live life in accordance to certain principles. As I wrote the other day, it is become increasingly apparent to me that the central principle that underlies all these principles is love. Building off Scott Peck’s definition of love as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual mental/growth, happy families are willing to do the hard work required to love each other. This primarily means prioritizing each other, committing and re-committing to each other and giving each other the necessary amount of attention. This isn’t easy. But, it is the foundation on which happy families are built.

I’ve seen a similar thread from people I consider awesome – they care a whole lot about helping other people. That doesn’t mean they always say yes. Over time, they’ve learnt to say no to most requests as they’re focused either on their own work or saying yes to other requests that will likely benefit more folks. Their judgment is likely not perfect every time. But, it gets better. They get better. And, most importantly, they’re out there every day, hustling, smiling and giving it their best shot.

It is all very predictable. But, it isn’t easy to do. And, that’s what makes them awesome.

predictable, awesome

KIS – MBA Learnings

As I reflected on my graduate school experience the other day, I was reminded of the fact that there have been many unsung heroes who’ve gone a long way in making this experience meaningful and memorable. While I naturally thought of the many support staff at school who’ve helped with the many “small things,” the office of student affairs with whom I’ve partnered on a bunch of occasions, among others, I thought of a group that has been ever present through the experience – KIS or Kellogg Information Systems.

KIS has had a huge impact on my experience in two ways –
1. The support side of the  team has risen to the occasion every time I’ve had an issue to my laptop. Just this Sunday, I had a Windows update crash my laptop. I requested KIS for help by Monday morning and my laptop was ready by Monday evening. I’ve had a few of these over the past year – not every one of them had as smooth a resolution. But, when I needed them, KIS have always been there – supportive and helpful.
They’ve also put up with my requests for shared mailboxes for every team I’ve led as they’re wonderful tools for collaboration. After some initial hiccups as it was an unusual request, we’ve got on great on this front too.

2. The events side of the team, on the other hand, has been a true partner that has played a role in the success of every event I’ve organized. My events have rarely been plain vanilla events and, as a result, the requests have consistently pushed them – “Can you get a seamless Skype/video call experience with state-of-the-art microphones? Can you now record this call? Can you live stream it to the next room? Can you set up the auditorium differently? How about the lighting in this place? Can you set up a nice looking stage?” They’ve always answered in the affirmative, always been constructive, and when things have gone wrong, they have always risen to the occasion.

The KIS team, to me, represent all the wonderful support I’ve received here as a student. They don’t just their job – they go the extra mile. And, it shows.

As I thought about the KIS team and all the support staff, I realized that, every little thing that is done well, is a lot like a human pyramid – it has more people supporting it than we often realize. So, when things go well, it helps to pause and give thanks to all those who made something work. It takes an understanding and appreciation of all the pieces that make something work to build systems that work yourself.

Thank you, KIS, and all the support staff from team Kellogg.

KIS, Kellogg information systems, supportSource