Right things and things right

We always have a choice between doing the right things and doing things right. That is the difference between:

Leadership and Management

Effectiveness and Efficiency

Focus and Intensity or Focus as a verb and Focus as a noun

And several such ideas that are all just different ways of describing the difference.

The reason we talk about this difference is because, when push comes to shove, we often defer to optimizing doing things right because it is harder to pick the right things to do.

In many ways, it is a false choice. A false choice is the kind of choice where the answer is replacing the “or” with the “and.” We need management AND leadership, effectiveness AND efficiency and so on. We should be habitually focused on being able to do both.

But, when in doubt, our default setting needs to focus on the right things. In the spirit of Peter Drucker, there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that shouldn’t be done at all.


Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power, which distinguishes bullying from conflict.

When you first hear such definitions, it doesn’t sound like it might apply to you. It didn’t to me. Until it did.

Bullying is more common than we think and happens more often than we realize. And, sadly, it spreads across generations because victims of bullying regularly become bullies themselves.

It is natural to think of extreme cases of physical and mental abuse when we think of bullying. In reality, however, bullying could be a silent part of a relationship with a manager or co-worker as well. Its habitual nature normalizes it.

The biggest sources of bullying are cultures where artificial hierarchies are imposed. In essence, that is every culture. Some cultures revere age, others revere masculinity and some others respect aggression, wealth and power.

The first and hardest step when you encounter bullying is to identify it. Once you do identify it, the next step is to walk away. Bullying arises from extreme insecurity and, as a result, it is very hard for a bully to change. Sometimes, extreme circumstances (e.g. being found out in public) can force change. But, not always.

A simple rule – if you find yourself in a relationship that has you feeling inadequate more often than not, walk away. Or, get help.

Question behind the question

Listening to the person on the other side of the table and answering the question they asked is a good first step.

But, it is only a first step.

When we take a moment to listen and understand where they’re coming from, we hear the question behind the question. That’s when we get a real understanding of their thought process, their motives and concerns.

Answering the question behind the question is how we make progress.

Direction, Outcomes, Processes

The most important goal setting tool is direction. We might get goals and processes wrong but we always want to be moving in the right direction. When in doubt, over index on getting direction right. For example, “I want to get fitter” or “We need to acquire more paying customers” or “I want to get smarter about 3D printing” are all directions.

Next, have a rough sense of what a good outcome looks like. Take the time to describe it in some detail. So, “I want to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks” or “We need 100 paying customers by the end of the month” are outcome goals.

Finally, create a process which you think will help achieve the outcome while staying in the right direction. The process is where you’ll spend your time every day. So, create one that suits your style. Taking the fitness example, you’ll need a fitness regime that is proven to lose weight while also making sure it is something you can do.

As you work through your process, keep checking in on the outcome to tweak your process as necessary. But, be flexible on the outcome while keeping focused on getting direction right. You may realize mid-way that you didn’t set the right outcome goal. For example, maybe 10 pounds in 2 weeks wasn’t a smart target. But, “getting fitter” still is likely the right direction.

And, finally, an overlooked part of a great process – complete acceptance of the outcome. There is no guarantee that the outcome you want will be the outcome you get.

But, in the long run, good processes and good outcomes go together. And, besides, in the really long run, being in the right direction matters more than everything else anyway.

Gym goer motivations and Doug Conant

Professors Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fischback from the University of Chicago tested whether gym goers were more motivated by the workout process or workout results. The found that gym goers depended on extrinsic motivation (or the outcomes of a good work out) when they were planning to go the gym.

However, during the workout, intrinsic portions – i.e. how it felt at the moment, were more motivating.

This is one of the reasons why we are extremely poor at predicting our happiness at a future job. We greatly overestimate the power of extrinsic motivators like salary, bonuses and status when we are searching for a job and don’t look enough at the stuff that will make us happy when we get there. These typically include a great manager/team, learning and an environment with goodwill.

Doug Conant of Campbell Soup wrote 30,000 thank you letters in his time as CEO. They had a wonderful, positive effect on the organization. And, it is likely that employees of felt more rewarded by such gestures than extrinsic motivators.

When designing work environments, it is worth remembering that our deepest motivator is our connection to others. As Viktor Frankl said, our salvation lies with love and through love. – Dan Ariely (paraphrased)

Source: Payoff by Dan Ariely, The Intrinsic Motivation study

Waiting for blockbuster moments

It is human nature to wait for blockbuster moments. The next blockbuster moment is, as a rule, a few weeks or months away.

Life will get significantly better, we tell ourselves, after that next thing.

But, it never does – at least not in the way we imagine. The worries, problems and obstacles of today are simply replaced by those of tomorrow. So, in a way, waiting for such moments is a recipe for unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

The truth, it turns out, is that blockbuster moments are everywhere. They are in the small moments of delirious laughter, of hugging a loved one and of choosing to share our work. They co-exist beautifully with our worries or and problems.

The crux of spotting these moments is realizing that life isn’t an exercise of postponing or avoiding difficulty. It is learning to dance with it.

So, if you find yourself waiting for a blockbuster moment, remind yourself that opportunities to experience such moments are all around us. There’s no need to wait.

Switch off the feedback for a day

Here’s a way to do better work. Switch off the feedback for at least a day after you ship.

That space will enable you to get started on the next thing. By the time you start seeing the feedback, you’ll have put your previous work in perspective as well. And, in time, the practice of not seeking feedback and validation for everything you do will enable you to ship more.

All time spent seeking validation is time wasted. The work is done and you don’t control the rest. So, it is best to use the positive momentum from having finished something to start the next thing in earnest.

We generally have to do more before we can do better. After all, with deliberate effort, more will give us the experience and judgment to ship better.

Day 1

There’s a story about how U2, the Irish Rock band, always described themselves as “arriving.” They believed that the moment they “arrived” as a band would be the moment they became irrelevant. I thought of the “arriving” analogy as I read Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders and his insistence that it is always Day 1 at Amazon. Below are a few of my favorite parts.

Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?” That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic. “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.

I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. Then, beta testing and research can help you find your blind spots. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.

Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

Use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.

Recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment.

Every one of these are courses in management and leadership.

There are many companies that aspire to acting like its “Day 1.” But, few have our trust. Jeff Bezos has been walking the talk since 1997 (It is why I’m confident Amazon will be the world’s first Trillion dollar company). It illustrates That’s why integrity is at the root of trust. You are trusted when you make commitments and keep them.

I find the idea of Day 1 incredibly relevant to my writing here. It is at the heart of the learning mindset that this blog is about. But, every time I have a lapse and forget that, it is nice to be able to turn to Jeff Bezos and be reminded of why it matters.

Thanks Jeff.

The real problem

The problem they mentioned is not the real problem.

The problems people mention are those that sound acceptable. So, they sound logical and generally “make sense.”

“The price is not right.” Or “I feel this might not be the right time.”

But, if we were to peel the onion to understand the real concerns, they would sound much more emotional and visceral.

“I am worried I will be ashamed of making this decision.” Or, “I fear failure.”

So, when we hear that logical objection, let’s take a moment to parse the emotion behind it. Dealing with the logical objection and reducing the price, for example, will not solve the problem.

Finding a way to help them conquer fear with trust and a willingness to take the leap will.

Reasons to always share credit

There are many reasons to be obsessive about always sharing credit with everyone who helped you.

1. You show you care. That’s the essence of leadership.

2. People appreciate it. So, they will want to work with you and care for you. It feels great and it shows up in performance reviews too.

3. You set guardrails against becoming a world class jerk. People aren’t born jerks, they become jerks. And it is hard to think too highly of yourself when you write that thank you email and realize the list of people to thank is longer than you imagine.