What they remember

Over the years, I’ve heard many people recount memorable meetings with people they considered great. For some, it was a famous athlete and, for others, it was a favorite author or leader. And, I always find it interesting to observe what they remember.

They rarely recount the big speech or the fantastic performance during the game. Instead, they remember the smallest of details. They talk about how the warmth they experienced when they shook hands or how their hero treated everyone around them with respect. I’ve heard how Bill Clinton made everyone in the room feel special. Rafael Nadal is always gracious and respectful to the folks on the side who hand him towels during the game. And, Indra Nooyi, known to be incredibly smart and tough, can give memorable compliments.

I’ve experienced this myself as well. With folks I consider my heroes, it is always the small things that I remember. The big things are expected.

While we all seek to have impact on the organizations we work for, most of us strive to have an impact on the people we work with. It is part of being human. We like to be liked and appreciated.

And, my biggest lesson from the “what they remember” stories is that, in the long run, the big meeting or presentation today won’t have the impact we think it will. It will all be about the small things. It will be how we chose to work, treat people and approach the day.

So, today, let’s stay engaged, pay attention, and commit to doing the small things with extraordinary love. Then, let’s do that again tomorrow.

For, it is the small things that are the big things.

The case against innate talent – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2, 3).
Researcher K Anders Ericsson has researched expert performance for the past 30+ years. In every case, his analysis has revealed one thread – every innate talent/prodigy story can be deconstructed to reveal “deliberate practice.”

Deliberate practice is practice that is typically guided by a coach that has specific goals, involves continuous stretching of the body and mind and, by nature, is hard. If you’ve felt the challenge when learning a new skill (whether it is a tennis swing or the guitar) from a coach, you’ve tasted deliberate practice. And, behind every great prodigy such as a Mozart or a Tiger Woods, there was typically a coach (in their case, dad) who developed their skills early. These practice techniques have been refined over time to the delight of competitive parents globally. Search for “child prodigy” on YouTube and you’ll notice the increase in the number of child prodigies over the years.

Often, kids with innate talent – be it IQ’s in mental tasks or better physical attributes in physical tasks – may get a head start. But, it doesn’t count for much without deliberate practice.

If innate talent isn’t everything we thought, what are the dangers of the belief?

While there is a huge benefit to starting young, it is only too late if the field doesn’t allow for participation based on age. Today’s octogenarian athletes are fitter than ever before. In 2015, Don Pellman became the first 100 year old to run a 100 meters in less than 27 seconds. – Anders Ericsson paraphrased

Source and thanks to: Peak by Anders Ericsson, The deliberate practice research paper

(The 200 words project involves sharing a story from a book/blog/article I’ve read within 200 words)

One book

I asked a friend recently to name one book that had the deepest impact on he approached life. I knew he was a voracious reader and was curious to hear what his list might look like. He asked me for mine as well. We decided to name a few before narrowing it down to one.

As we conversed, we shared names of many special books and authors. We spoke briefly about Dan Pink, Dan Ariely and the Heath Brothers. He shared his appreciation for the bible for all behavioral economics research – “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. I explained that I still got goose bumps when I thought of “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. And, we definitely waxed lyrical about “How will you measure your life.”

But, when it came down to the question – if you had to pick one book , what would it be? – it turned out to be a no contest. We both named “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by the late Stephen Covey. Both of us had read the book at a time when we didn’t know any better. We discussed the many books that had just built off Covey’s insights and/or re-purposed his ideas in different forms. We wondered as to how he introduced so many powerful concepts like the “emotional bank account” and meshed them with some unforgettable stories.

And, we both agreed that it was the wisest book we’d ever read studied.

To this day, I think 7 Habits manages more insights per page than many books combined. It lulls us into taking life changing insights for granted by making them commonplace. It does this by focusing on principles – immutable laws of nature that govern how the earth works. The “Be Proactive” chapter alone is life changing and the subject of many books. “Begin with the end in mind” and “Put first things first” teach us how to get the right stuff done. “Think win/win” asks us to approach life from a place of confidence and look for abundance instead of scarcity. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” and “Synergize” teach us how to build great relationships in our homes and workplaces. And, finally, “Sharpen the saw” asks us to commit to a life of continuous learning.

This one book alone has enough wisdom for a happy and effective life. I am still amazed at how Steven Covey managed to synthesize all of this into one book.

But, I sure as hell am glad he did. It changed my life. And, I am certain I am not alone in saying that.

Most people

A dear friend recently wrote about an experience that changed how he approached life.  In his words (slightly edited to remove details about the experience) – “By most people’s objective accounts, I was doing the right things, being the right kind of person and living a ‘good life.’ But, let’s be real – most people don’t know sh*t.”

That is both funny and wise.

“Most people” do get things right. Crowd prediction markets have shown that the crowds do have wisdom. The crowd can answer certain kinds of questions very well. There are also many traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation for good reason.

However, there are a long list of things that “most people” don’t do well. They don’t read enough, don’t eat healthy enough, don’t push beyond their biases enough and don’t live their lives intentionally enough. They also regularly over estimate how bad things are, regularly report being unhappy and don’t respond to change well.

Common sense, sadly, is just not that common. So, it is worth examining our default settings to understand when we default to what the crowd says or does.

When it comes to building things we consider valuable, including our own lives, I’ve learnt that it is better to err on what we believe instead of defaulting to what others believe.

Customer retention

For most subscription services, customer retention is the holy grail. Retaining a customer is cheaper than acquiring a new one. In addition, retention increases your chances of getting referrals. It is, mostly, a no brainer.

So, how do we actually go about retaining customers? While there are multiple levers, there are two that likely drive most returns. One of them is the obvious one – make sure the product or service is valuable. If there is a lot of value relative to what we are paying, we will stay.

And, the second key lever is customer service. If you have outstanding customer service, you do two things at once. First, through customer service interactions, you constantly surface additional value that we are probably not aware of. Second, you make sure we never leave in a fit of anger or frustration.

Now, the fact here is that value matters more than customer service in most cases. Comcast charged me an extra $10 on my bill for 4 straight months. I called their customer service 5 times in the process and was told, every time, that the problem was solved (until it eventually was). However, they do deliver a solid internet connection. And, besides, given their near monopoly where I’m at, they become more valuable. But, am I a loyal Comcast customer? Absolutely not.

On the other hand, the chances that you will get me to switch from either American Express, Audible or In Motion Hosting is very very low. They check the “deliver value” box comfortably. But, they outdo themselves in their customer service. In Motion Hosting, my hosting provider, is exemplary in this regard. I know they are an email away. I am sure they will be helpful. And, I also know that they’ll do so with cheer. They have made sure I will never leave.

The human analogy for a fantastic customer retention strategy is to think of competence and attitude. It helps a ton to be competent. In many cases, even if you have a bad attitude, if you are only among five other sought after rocket scientists on the planet, you will do just fine. However, layer in a great attitude and you will be indispensable.

Default setting

There’s plenty of great research that shows that our actions are heavily biased by the default option. Given how important defaults are to our decision making, every once a while, it is helpful to ask ourselves – what is our default setting?

For instance, we can choose to:

– Trust or to doubt.

– Take responsibility or make excuses.

– Read a non-fiction book or scroll further down our Facebook feed.

– Ask the hard question or stay silent.

– Acknowledge mistakes and learn from them or pretend they didn’t happen.

– Observe or judge.

– Save or spend.

– Respond with fantastic attitude or be defensive and prickly.

– Love or hate.

– Exercise or watch TV.

– Care or be ambivalent.

Whatever the decision, our actions are likely to follow our default setting.

It is on us to choose wisely.

Fully engaged

What would it take for you to be fully engaged throughout the day? By fully engaged, I mean paying full attention to whatever you are doing. You could be paying attention to two things at once if you are working through a repetitive task. But, that should be the exception and not the rule.

As I ask myself that question, I realize that full engagement entails a collection of ideas that I’ve grouped into hygiene factors (the basic things we need to get right), organization factors and the inspiration factor.

I. Hygiene factors

Sleep. Full engagement is tiring.

Good diet. Replenishing our energy store is important during the day. The better the diet, the better our energy in the long run. And, caffeine isn’t a long term solution. :)

An active lifestyle. Full engagement requires a high level of energy. And, it is hard to maintain high energy without an active lifestyle.

II. Organization factors

A solid week plan. I think a good week is structured like a music performance. It has its ebbs and flows (meeting days and deep work days) so as to allow you to push hard on some days and recover on others.

Clear priorities. Unclear priorities results in a lack of focus. I’ve also come to realize that clarity of priorities requires us to keep committing to re-prioritizing through the day as we get newer information.

A realistic to do list. Being overwhelmed isn’t conducive to full engagement. Keeping a realistic to do list requires us to say no to things we can’t get done in a day. This isn’t an easy practice. But, keeping our work schedule contained is an important practice for long term engagement.

III. The inspiration factor

Clarity of purpose. While the above ensure a certain amount of energy during the week, clarity of purpose is where energy and inspiration and come from.

Your list may be a bit different. Your ordering will likely be different. But, this collection of factors is likely to remain.

Regardless of what the specifics are, I’ve come to realize that asking ourselves the question – “What will it take to be fully engaged?” – is among the most powerful life process questions there is. For, attention and engagement is where love, growth and appreciation reside.