Why me?

One of the little changes I’ve been happy about making over the past couple of years is not asking “why me?” when things don’t work out.

This change was due to a story I shared here a few years back. When tennis legend Arthur Ashe announced he had contracted HIV due to a poorly administered blood transfusion procedure after a heart surgery, he received letters from fans who asked why, of all people, had he been chosen to have AIDS?

To this Arthur Ashe reportedly replied – “The world over– 50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5,000 reach the grand slams, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 make the semi finals and 2 make the finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god “Why me?”.

It is a story that has stuck with me since.

If I’m not asking “why me?” when things do work, I have no right to ask “why me?” when things don’t.

Thank you for the gift of perspective, Arthur.

Why me?

Tiger – Spy in the Jungle

Thanks to some wonderfully innovative camera techniques involving elephants carrying cameras on their trucks and placing “log cams” at various parts of the forest, the BBC Wildlife Specials crew led by the one-and-only David Attenborough have a fantastic three part series called “Tiger – Spy in the Jungle.”

As elephants are treated as harmless inhabitants of the forest, they can come and go as they please. And, they do so with aplomb. Over a 3 year period, David Attenborough tells us the story of a mother raising 4 tiger cubs. Innovative filming techniques were required because tigers are solitary animals whose behavior is very different when humans are not around. It is also not easy to film in the dense Indian jungles.

I found it fascinating to watch the tiger cubs’ learning process. It begins with play among the siblings. Then, it is following their mother when she goes hunting. Their mother hones their skills over time through some skillful coaching intended to develop specific skills – the ability to carry the carcass, to complete a kill, to get as close to the prey as possible. It reminded me a lot of the process of deliberate practice. It was also delightful to see the cubs take every opportunity to play.

David Attenborough and BBC’s work to capture nature’s great sights and sounds is such a treat. I find that it elevates my understanding and appreciation for nature. Every one of these animal focused documentaries remind me how beautiful these animals are and how important it is for us to do our bit to maintain the delicate balance in nature.

This and more available on Netflix. They come highly recommended.

Tiger, Spy in the jungle

2 questions for most team dysfunctions

If you’ve worked in teams long enough, you realize pretty quickly that most dysfunctions come down to the answer to just two questions –

How much do you care about the cause and about each other?
How much do you trust each other to do the right thing?

They tend to be related. The more you are sure your teammates care, the more you are likely to trust and vice versa.

You know the best part? Neither is an innate ability we are born with. Both involve us making a choice.

Jobless Einstein

Albert Einstein was unemployed for two years following his Diploma. He was rejected from every research post he applied in Europe. He came to believe that a part of it had to do with the fact that his impudence had annoyed his thesis adviser. The rejections were tough for him to stomach because he (contrary to how he’s occasionally been portrayed in popular culture) was an excellent student.

Einstein’s letters from the time speak to his frustration, frequent disappointment and, at the same time, many bouts of optimism and self belief all at once. At his lowest point, he was so disheartened that he considered giving up his pursuit of a career in Physics for a career in Engineering at his father’s firm or even selling insurance.

Just when all hope seemed lost, his Marcel Grossman’s attempts to secure him a position as a patent examiner came through.

His Nobel prize winning papers were submitted while he was still an examiner.

This is Albert Einstein – probably the single greatest scientific mind that has ever existed – having difficulties finding a research job. Maybe we should remember that when our “plan A” doesn’t work out.

And, maybe, just maybe, when faced with plan B, we’ll remember what he did and knock the socks off our plan B.

jobless einstein

Yes, but, how much?

People throw around “I care about…” a lot. The pertinent question when you hear that the next time is not “Oh really, how nice!” but to say – “Yes, but how much?”

A few examples…
…do you care enough about your health to not just sign up for the best gym in town but to actually exercise 4 times a week?
…do you care enough about your family to walk out of the office in the evening and spend time with them?
…do you care enough about your mental energy and capacity to make decisions to get enough sleep?
…do you care enough about learning to actually read or to spend time with people who push you?
…do you care enough about your friends to interrupt your schedule to be there for them when they need you?

Sure, asking “but how much” might make you look impolite. So, ask different questions, politely if you will. But, ask.

The more you can call bullshit out by ignoring what people say and watching what people do, the less time you will spend fabricating stories that make you look good.. for the time being.

And, to be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong in not caring about yourself, your health, learning or your family and friends. If that’s how we behave, let’s at least call a spade a spade.

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The two best pieces of health advice I have gotten

  1. Listen to your body
  2. When you fall sick, it is the universe’s way of saying – “Dude, take a break.”

I seem to think of these two pieces of advice nearly every time I don’t feel 100%. Years of paying attention to our bodies teach us a lot and I felt something was just not right this morning and it was better to get to it rather than push through and try to behave like nothing happened.

The agenda for today is Tylenol, rest and lots of TV, a.k.a, “dude, take a break” day. I am looking forward.

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The baldness game – The 200 words project

Six year old Emma had been undergoing therapy for cancer. The day after her head was shaved, she walked into class to find her classmates making fun of her. Emma dreaded going to school the next day.

When their teacher walked in the next day and greeted the kids in her usual cheerful way, she took off her scarf and showed off her bald head. The kids were all taken aback and, that evening, every one of them asked their parents to shave their heads bald.
The teacher saw opportunity in the little girl’s first day of suffering. She wore her bald head like a fashion statement and saw it as an opportunity to increase bonds, create solidarity, and most importantly, have fun. So, she created a game and everyone wanted to play.

Whenever we face a situation that creates winners and losers, it is probably worth reminding ourselves that we always have a choice to create a win-win game. The possibilities always exist.

Many circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may only appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view. – Ben and Roz Zander, The Art of Possibility

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Source and thanks to: The Art of Possibility by Ben and Roz Zander

Interviewing Seth

I had been looking forward to a Skype interview with Seth at school for many months. It took me a few months before I was sure the technology would work. I promised him a good experience and I definitely felt a bit of the pressure of the promise in the days leading up to it. It all worked well (thank you to KIS – our tech team!) and the interview was a real treat.

Unfortunately, though, the video recording was not the best. So, I’m afraid I’m unable to share that with you. Seth has very kindly offered an audio interview for this blog in the future. I won’t be taking him up on it anytime soon as he was so generous with his time and perspective. But, I look forward to doing so in a year or two.

Until then, I am pleased to share my notes. These are paraphrased and “I” refers to Seth.

Thank you so much, Seth. I intended to have a cliff notes version of the talk. But, there were SO many pieces that resonated.

On general and specific. There’s a difference between a wandering generality and a meaningful specific.

On how we’re measured. Today, we are measured on the change we make on other people.

On daily blogging. It is malpractice to not have a daily blog. Because, if you write something in public every single for 50 years, you will be better. You will be happier, you will be smarter and more connected.
When you look back on your posts, what you are going to see is your intellectual development. Doing it in public is much better because you can’t lie to yourself and you can’t skip a day.

On whether there’s the pressure of writing one of the most read blogs on earth. I love the fact that I’m about to touch people. But, if someone doesn’t get it, that’s okay – for both of us, I hope. That’s the only way I can do the work – by saying this one’s only for the person who gets it.

On productivity and the MBA. (I asked Seth a question about productivity but he decided to talk about what he thought was more important. I am glad he did) In some ways, it is the best time in history to get an MBA. In some ways, it is the worst. It is the worst because there is more supply of people who did what MBA’s did than ever before. There are also less organizations who demand the blue chip stamp. And, then there are other organizations who are asking you to do things that aren’t necessarily things you want to do – they’re just paying more.

The reason this is the best moment is – if you choose to, you can see. You can see how the world works, you can see through the lens of behavioral economics, industrial history, social movements. You can see all of these pieces fit together – not from a technical point of how do I do this or that. None of the technical stuff is going to matter 4 years from now. What’s going to matter 4 years from now or 20 years from now is – are you the person in the room who sees the world as it is and cares enough to change it? There are very few people are privileged who can do both of those things. I think that is 10,000 times more important than your productivity. What we know is that it doesn’t take an enormous amount of sleepless nights to do those 2 things. What it takes is the bravery to do something that might not work.

On mentors and heroes. There aren’t enough mentors for every mentee. Heroism scales. If you decide to be a long term investor, you can ask – what does Warren do? And, you can read his book or the Berkshire Hathaway annual report. Heroes don’t have to be rich or famous. They just have to be on a path that you hope to go on one day. The magic of that is that you can inculcate their beliefs and act as if. And, sometimes, you can get really good at it and do it better than they did because you are starting with a bigger head start.  (So, you can read my 7,000 posts and go farther than I ever did. I’m just trying to be a compass.)

On being right. Being right about the strategy is irrelevant if your audience isn’t enrolled. You’ve been trained to be right. It has taken me a long time to train myself that being right isn’t all that important. The people who are daring and are doing it out of generosity make WAY more impact. If you look at the list of products that Apple and Microsoft have made over the last 25 years, it will stun you. It just goes on and on with one wrong product after another. You can be wrong a lot of times and make the iPhone and you will be fine.

On Trust. Trust comes from making promises and then keeping them. The goal is to not just be consistent but to make bigger and more generous promises.

On career choices. Acceleration is a change in velocity. I picked a job after school based on two things – was it in an industry that was growing fast? and who was going to be my boss?

I’ve done projects all my life. With projects. you realize that you don’t have to hit home runs ever. Singles are better than a home run. People who talk to me about regrets after business school bought safety when they left. They started wanting to do that for 4 years. But, what they don’t do when they get there is share an apartment and eat brown rice and white beans everyday. Instead, they buy a BMW (since they have a miserable job) and the next thing you know, they get a promotion and stock options. Then, they worry about losing the stock options – haven’t you guys gone to your sunk cost class? :-)

Trade safety for acceleration and freedom.

On being “on duty.” If you can be the person you choose to be when you are being judged, you can be that person all the time. Then, your life becomes way simpler. You don’t have to worry about who’s watching. Just be that person in your private life and you’re going to do great. The mistake is to let the person in private be the person you are all the time. Then, you are going to disappoint us.

On management and leadership. Management is getting people to do what they did yesterday, but faster and cheaper. Leadership is helping people go where they want to go. Leadership is about getting people signed up to do what all of us want.

On the AltMBA. The goal is to transform into people who see the world as it is, to understand how to use words and images to cause other people to change their mind, and how to make better decisions. If we can help people do those 3 things, sky is the limit.

Everyone of you, even those with appropriately sized egos, is more powerful than you imagine. The challenge we face is – given that power, what are you going to do with it?

On creative process. As I get older, I get better at my creative process and get less creative. Because I don’t think those two things go together. There is no such thing as a creative process. Creativity is the work you do when you are not afraid. And, whatever method you can find to stop being paralyzed by your fear – because you can’t make it go away – but, so that you can dance with it is good. People who have something to show for their creativity have it because they decided it was important and cared enough to live with the fear.

Every one of you is an artist who has been pushed to fit in. The hard part now is to care enough to fail, to care enough to say – “Here, I made this.” And, when the person says – “I don’t like this, I don’t like you, you are a fraud”, you can say – “Oh, it must not be for you.” Then, offer it to somebody else.

You get to be the best in the world by not running away from the hard work that makes you the best in the world.

On quitting. Quit before you start if you are not prepared to stick it out to the end.

On parenting. Every kid is home-schooled between 3 o clock to 11 o clock at night. Even if you are not at home, they are home-schooled. You’re going be asked to trade-off time with your family for metrics of money or notoriety. I hope you’ll choose to trade some of it, maybe even a lot of it.. because they are counting on you.

On difficulty. I’ve been bounding out of bed every morning for 38 years. It is a choice. I’ve been to places where any of us would do almost anything to not have to live in that village with no electricity. And, I remind myself on a regular basis – this is not hard work. This might be difficult but it is not hard work. Hard work involves helping someone with leprosy, burying someone you grew up with. This is the safest human beings have been in our history, more powerful. What a privilege.

On infinite games. As the industrial age ends, information is not finite. Either we keep playing finite games and blow ourselves up, we will adopt a different mindset and just keep playing. We won’t pass it forward because we will win. We pass it forward because we can.

Seth, Kellogg

Waiting for passion

There are a lot of people on the planet waiting for passion. That is a bit like a person walking around waiting for bird poop to land on their head. Someone they met told them that bird poop is a lucky charm that will change their life and that they knew of a couple of other folks whose lives transformed when they had bird poop land on their heads.
So, this person roams around feeling certain that it’ll show up. And, when it does, they believe they will be on the path to success.

passion, waiting, choose

Jack Welch’s famous people evaluation systems at General Electric had a large weight for passion. But, passion for what? It turns out that it didn’t really matter. As he said, passionate people are passionate about everything. It didn’t matter if it is their kid’s softball team, their musical instrument or their not-for-profit, people who choose to be passionate will be just that, passionate.

Cal Newport wrote a whole (very good) book debunking the idea that finding your passion is bad advice. His thesis was that you work your way into getting good at something and that’ll lead you to passion. Starting with an attempt to find passion will take you nowhere. Instead, get good, become awesome, and you will likely find passion. It is an approach that is almost guaranteed to work.

My only addition to that would be – “Choose to become passionate.” Passion isn’t something you need to wait for. At some point, you just need to choose to give a sh*t, to care about what you do and who you spend time with. You can start anywhere you want – it doesn’t matter. You just need to care enough to sweat the small stuff.

The moment you do that, you will find that once you are passionate about something, you will care and be passionate about everything.

And, yes, you will be transformed.

What you are doing vs. who you are being

Of late, I’ve been pondering the difference between two ideas – what you are doing and who you are being. On the one hand, they seem closely related. One might imagine that what you do generally flows from who you are. But, that assumes you walk what you talk and vice versa.

Whenever there is a gap between what you are doing and who you are being, you come across as inauthentic. We’ve all experienced this with people we’ve met – that feeling of dissonance, that sense that something isn’t right.

And, on the flip-side, we’ve likely been on the receiving end of someone’s mistake. But, given we know how much they care (or who they are), we’ve been happy to forgive them.

In an age where there’s media everywhere around us that lionizes people who succeed, it has become more important than ever before to understand if what we do is aligned with who we want to be. We might do many of the “right” things, but if they aren’t consistent to who we are being, then it isn’t going to work.

After all, people don’t remember what we said or did. They remember how we made them feel.

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