Coronary by-pass surgery success – The 200 words project

Cardiologists who performed Coronary by-pass surgery were studied in hospitals across the US. The normal fatality rate is 3% and researchers wanted to find out if some doctors were safer than others.

It was found that it wasn’t so much the doctor as much as it was the doctor’s familiarity with the hospital. The more the doctor operated with a certain team and thus understood their strengths and weaknesses, the safer he became. And these abilities were not portable. The moment the doctor moved hospitals and teams, he became as un-safe as any other.

Wall street analysts also exhibited similar teething troubles. When top analysts were hired by new firms, it turned out to be a lose-lose if they didn’t bring their team with them – the firm never got the “star” they wanted while the analyst never ended up giving a star performance.

So, when we set out hiring stars, let’s keep an eye out for their team members. And, of course, when going for important surgeries, look for doctors who are familiar with the hospital’s set up.

Surgeons didn’t get better with practice. They only got better at the specific hospital where they practiced.

surgeryImage of a Coronary Bypass Surgery team – Source

Source and thanks to: Give and Take by Adam Grant

It is personal but don’t take it personally

Business decisions tend to be very personal. The “it’s not personal, it’s just business” adage is largely baloney. It is personal and anyone who tells you otherwise is generally lying.

There is, however, strong reason for you to not take things personally. Decisions are not a result of objective truth simply because there is no objective truth when people are involved. And, more importantly, decisions are functions of the specific situation. Situations, in turn, are functions of the context, the motives and character of all the actors. In a decision that involves you, you are just one actor out of the many that might be involved. You don’t control their motives and character and definitely don’t control the context. So, taking it personally is just a recipe to ensuring you feel hurt whenever a decision that involves you does’t go your way.

So, any business decision that involves you is personal. There’s no getting away from that.

But, for your sanity, don’t take them personally. Reflect on what you were meant to learn from the situation and move onto the next thing.

business, personal, personally

Diffusing tension immediately

The draw of devices and social media is that they help us diffuse tension immediately.

Feeling bad about something? Post somewhere to say you are and divert your attention to getting responses.
Feeling angry? Go on a rant somewhere on the internet.
Had an uncomfortable exchange? Delete the email or “fire” a reply.
Had a real world exchange that is stressing you out? Just check your phone and direct your attention elsewhere.

None of these solve the problem though. The immediate action and release might make us feel better for a little while. But, real problems are not solved by diffusing tension. They are solved by staying with the tension, accepting it and then figuring out a way forward that will actually attack the source of the tension.

Tension doesn’t need to be accompanied with feelings of worry and distress. But, it needs to feel just a bit frustrating as it will then requires us to move to a plane different from the one in which we created or experienced the problem. And, we won’t get there by checking our phone.

Fast isn’t always better. Better is better.

diffusing tensionImage Source

Data for trash

I’m hoping we are 10 years away from when you dump your trash into various trash cans for different purposes (recycling, compost, etc.) and wait to get your trash rating.

data for trashImage Source

The trash rating would come from scanners in these cans which can detect if you did the right thing. For example, they’d be able to tell if the compost level went down from 100% to 98% and, with data on the change of weight, the approximate amount of non-compost material you dumped. You would have scanned in your home’s card or ID number to get to the trash room. So, bad garbage dumping would have an effect on your overall trash adherence rating.

The trash adherence rating wouldn’t be all that different from a credit rating. In this world, it would have 2 important consequences –
1. Your adherence rating would be known when you file for a job and when you apply to buy/rent a house. Employers and house owners would want to keep their average adherence ratings down.
Why? Glad you asked..
2. A poor adherence rating would mean higher taxes. The rationale is straightforward – the poorer your adherence rating, the more work for garbage collectors and sorters and the worse the externalities for society. To make sure the tax incidence is progressive, we could target a part of the funds into lower income households while ensuring incidence is much higher on higher income folks.

Given what we know about our human penchant for not acting till we absolutely have to, maybe the linkage of our trash data and taxes are a bit far fetched. Hopefully, the rest isn’t though. I’d love to see home data for trash and energy use, for example. Just seeing the data and being able to compare our usage with local/global averages could go a long way in reducing pollution and energy waste.

The teacher or the course

Does it matter that your favorite teacher is teaching a course you are only partly interested in? Does it matter that the course you’re looking to study doesn’t have a great teacher?

I think both the teacher and the course matter – but, when in doubt, I’ve learnt to pick the teacher. If there is a skill or subject you absolutely need to learn, unless the teacher is downright horrible, it makes sense that you do it. However, there are very few courses that fall under the absolutely essential category.

Great teachers, on the other hand, transform your point of view on a subject. In teaching a particular subject, great teachers effectively teach the same thing – “how to see.” They teach us how to look at a problem, break it down into something simpler, make sense of the data and apply judgment as we make a decision. They stay great because they approach their subject (and, often, life) as students. In doing so, they teach us how to approach life as eager and curious students.

Most of all, they are great because they obsess about our learning and care more than anyone might think possible. So, when in doubt, I’ve learnt that it makes sense to just gravitate toward incredibly obsessive and caring people whether or not you care about what they’re teaching. Care and growth are guaranteed.

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Sharing praise and concentrating criticism

The best leaders I’ve worked with have been generous with the good things – the moment they were praised, they shared it with the team and gave us credit.

They also showed us the way by taking all the criticism of bad outcomes on them. The buck always stopped with them. When things went wrong, they didn’t muck around with excuses and politics. They just debriefed, learnt from the experience, rolled up their sleeves and got right back to work.

I’ve met quite a few good leaders who’ve done a good job sharing joy, but very few who’ve concentrated criticism. I recognize it is hard to do in large corporate contexts with all the politics – as someone told me once, you don’t want to be caught apologizing too often. However, I’ve found few things to be as inspiring as a leader who simply shoulders the criticism and says – “The buck stops with me.” You might know within the team that she/he had little do with the problem. But, externally, you always knew she/he’d had your back. It also inspired courage in other members of the team to stand up and say – “No, this was my fault” and avoid the blame game.

The biggest objection people have to the idea of concentrating criticism is that people might think less of the leader in the process. While I concede that could be true in many political cultures, in cultures which are built around meritocracy and getting stuff done, I have noticed that your respect for such a leader only goes up.

At least, that is definitely what I’ve found and this is why I’ve tried hard to copy these behaviors.

sharing praise, concentrating criticismImage Source

Any special requests? – The 200 words project

When Derek Sivers ran, one of the first places to buy music by independent artists on the internet, he intentionally built a reputation for delighting customers by just being human and authentic. For example, one of CDBaby’s biggest sources of PR was artists who exclaimed – “Somebody actually answers the phone! In 2 rings!”

Every CDBaby order form had a “Any special requests?” question. So, when one customer asked for cinnamon gum, the team sent cinnamon gum with the order and delighted the customer. Thousands of people heard about it.

Then, another customer who bought a CD with a squid on the cover asked, as a joke, for a plastic squid. It was somewhat fateful that an East Asian artist had actually sent the CDBaby team a plastic squid as a thank you. So, the team sent that to the customer.
The delighted customer created a video of the experience ( and shared his experience far and wide.

Organizations are collections of people, after all. Reminding customers of that fact can create remarkable experiences.

People remember you more for all of the little ways you make them smile over all the cool marketing you do.  – Derek Sivers

special requests, squid

Source and thanks to: Derek Sivers’ talk at WDS

Dealing with Death

A reader wrote in a few days ago expressing his devastation at a recent loss of a dear one. He couldn’t see himself getting over the loss any time soon and asked if I might have suggestions that might help.

Questions like this are really difficult. Even if I have dealt with loss before, every person has their own unique story and mental make up. And, I’ve realized over time that, no matter how close or similar your situation, you don’t ever truly know how another person is feeling. I asked him for a few days. And, the more I’ve thought of it, the more I’ve come to realize that I have only thoughts and lessons to to offer – no suggestions. So, here goes..

First, I have learnt that we must not deny or attempt to hold back our emotions. They are what they are. The answer after incidents that overwhelm us is to fully immerse ourselves in them and experience them. Only once we experience them can we accept what has truly happened. And, until we accept them, there is no way out. This is probably the hardest part of dealing with loss. I have known folk who’ve gone decades with having really accepted a loss of a life – it is not for the faint hearted.

Next, I have learnt that we must allow ourselves to play victim.. for a while. Jennifer Aniston once said that, when bad things happened, she gave herself 24 hours to play victim. I love that idea. Take the time you need to play victim but know that it is a limited window.
There’s a beautiful story story about a woman who went to The Buddha and asked him to bring her young son back from the dead. He said he would do it if she could bring food from a house in the village that hadn’t experienced loss. So, the woman knocked on the door of every house in the village and found that every home had experienced loss. Birth and death are a part of being human, she realized. Life must go on.

Master Yoda once said something very powerful – “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.”

In talking about the dark side, he pointed to a beautiful insight about the human experience. Mourning doesn’t do justice to the lives of those who are gone. Celebration does. Those who are gone stay with us in more ways than we imagine – their memories and ideals influence us and the way we lead our lives. Mourning does no good to anyone but ourselves. If those who were gone meant so much to us, maybe we ought to consider celebrating their lives by doing more good on their behalf?

I wrote yesterday that it is reflecting on deep experiences, and not age, that leads to wisdom. Adversity has the power to transform us into wiser and better people if we let it. Of course, you may ask, why this? And, why not something else? Nobody knows. All I’ve come to realize that the universe is unfolding as it should. We will likely never have the capacity to understand why it unfolds in this way.. but it does. We just get to choose our response.

And, when I think of responses to adversity, I am reminded of what has to be one of my (many) all-time favorite stories. A teenage girl was contemplating suicide after a few setbacks in school and in a relationship. She told her father that she was feeling suicidal. He took her to the kitchen and began boiling water in 3 vessels. She began ranting and railing about his insensitivity. But, he told her to wait. He then put in a potato, an egg and a few coffee beans into the 3 vessels.
Five minutes later, he said – when faced with water, people tend to react in one of three ways. Like the potato, many go in seemingly strong but come out soft and broken. Others, like egg, go in with a soft inside and come out hardened and cynical. But, then, when you look around, you notice the coffee beans – they go in, transform themselves, change the color of the situation and, if that wasn’t enough, add a beautiful aroma too. Now that you are faced with adversity, I ask you – what do you want to be? The potato, the egg, or the coffee bean?

The loss of a life is as difficult a test as they come. There isn’t an easy way out of it. But, there is a way out of it. It will require us to accept the pain, dig deeper, learn, grow and transform ourselves in the process. That isn’t easy. But, it is possible. It isn’t easy to do so alone. There is no way we would have emerged out of our losses if it wasn’t for our friends and family. But, we did. And, we are grateful for it.

Often, we seek to push very hard to change a situation we deem unfavorable without appreciating the fact that it is us who are meant to change.

Death, more than any other life event, can help us understand that this life is short. It is up to us to make it meaningful, make it count. We can choose to be the coffee beans.

death, coffee beans, potato, eggsImage Source

Age and wisdom – correlation and causality

If you ever want to understand what Economists describe as the “Identification error” – mistaking correlation for causality – just take a look at the relationship between age and wisdom.

There is undoubtedly some loose correlation between age and wisdom. Take a random 60 year old and a random 20 year old and it is likely that the 60 year old is wiser. While there exists this loose correlation, age and wisdom do not have a causal relationship. Or, to put it differently, growing older doesn’t automatically make you wiser.

Wisdom is defined as the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment. I would simplify this further as “the quality of having knowledge and good judgment.” This is because good judgement comes from experience, which, in turn, comes from bad judgment. This explains the loose correlation between age and wisdom. As we age, we tend to have more experiences and these experiences could improve our judgment.

To understand why it is hard, it is helpful to understand what I think are the pre-requisites or causes of wisdom –
An array of diverse experiences. If you have done the exact same job for 20 years, you have, in some ways, lived through the same year 20 times. The experience gained from such an experience is very narrow.
Reflection and assimilation of your learnings from these experiences. Even if you have had diverse experiences, there is no guarantee you’ve learned from them. Learning requires a commitment to reflection and assimilation.

It is hard enough to push yourself to find diverse experiences. And, it is exponentially harder to then extract the depth of insight from your experiences. That is why wisdom isn’t common and why it is flawed thinking to assume that age leads to wisdom.

It isn’t the years in your life that count. It is the life in those years.

age, wisdom, learning, depth of experience, diverse