Developing kindness with awareness

Awareness is the gift of competence. When we become an expert tennis player, we develop heightened awareness of every move on the court. When we’re expert presenters, we observe the subtleties of the room and the audience better than others. And, when we’re good at life, we are intensely aware of reality and our ability to shape it.

But, while we all work hard on developing the increased awareness that comes with competence, we don’t often realize that the increased awareness needs to be accompanied with a bigger capacity for kindness. When we lose that ability to be considerate and generous, we develop a fixed mindset and react to any perceived incompetence with arrogance, annoyance, and frustration.

However, if we err on the side of ensuring we always have more kindness for every ounce of awareness, we develop the ability to help others grow.

Of course, what makes this all very interesting is that this needn’t be viewed with the lens of “others.” Kindness starts within. And, our ability to develop a growth mindset, thus, requires us to learn to be kind to ourselves. When we’re able to be that person for ourselves, we’re able to help ourselves grow while also being that person for others.

That is why it is more important to be kind than clever.

Yelp Review notes

I was looking at Yelp reviews recently for two businesses that are close to my heart.

The first is Earthbaby – a compostable diaper service that we love. They pick up dirty diapers once a week and convert them to compost. Diapers are a massive source of non biodegradable landfill waste and Earthbaby turns this bad outcome into something incredibly positive. It is a great example of a well run small business dedicated to a wonderful cause. If Earthbaby isn’t keen on global expansion, I’m hopeful Earthbaby’s copycats spring up everywhere.

Earthbaby’s Yelp reviews are a testament to how they run their business. Their customer service is superb and it is no surprise that every one of their 131 reviews are 5 star reviews. Yelp represents Earthbaby well.

On the other hand, I was looking at one for a South Indian restaurant that I love called “Dindigul Thalappakatti” (the name’s a mouthful). When Indian restaurateurs take their brands abroad, they change their spice levels and flavor. It makes sense to tailor food to the average customer’s palate. However, this restaurant doesn’t. They are un-apologetically spicy and flavorful. They also happen to be more expensive than their competition. But, to folks like me, it is worth paying the price to be reminded of home.

That, then, results in an average rating of 3 stars and a rating distribution that looks like this.

I took away two interesting lessons from looking at these reviews.

First, when building products and business, it is important to be conscious about what kind of product/business you’d like to be. Universal popularity is alluring and can work for some products (e.g. Earthbaby). But, for everyone else, you’ll have to start with clarity around who you are looking to serve/please.

Second, don’t just look at the average rating when evaluating restaurants on Yelp. If everyone rates a restaurant 3 stars, stay away. But, if you see a polarized distribution, read the reviews and see if you’re the sort of person who’d give it five stars. If you are that person, such places turn out to be the hidden gems.

Jim Loehr on Daily Journaling

I shared a note from performance psychologist Jim Loehr on stress and intervals earlier this week from Tim Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors (a fun read). When asked about a habit in the past 5 years that has most improved his life, he had this to say  –

“The practice of daily journaling has been a remarkable tool in helping me navigate the storms of life and be my best self through it all. The daily ritual of self-reflected writing has produced priceless personal insights in my life.

For me, daily writing heightens my personal awareness in a nearly magical way. I see, feel, and experience things so much more vividly as a consequence of the writing. The hectic pace of life becomes more balanced and manageable when I intentionally set aside time for self-reflection. I am able to be more in the present in everything I do and, for whatever reason, more accepting of my flaws.”

As you can imagine, his notes resonated – deeply.

Wishing you a great weekend.

The 3 laws of effective breaks

The 3 laws of effective breaks –

1. The effectiveness of a break is directly proportional to the presence of natural objects (trees, natural food, even people we like) and inversely proportional to the presence of to man-made objects (laptops, phones, tall buildings).

2. The more effective the break, the more productive the rebound. Put differently, the more we disconnect today, the more productive we’ll be tomorrow.

3. The relationship between work and breaks/rest is best represented by a fractal – they need to work together at every level to be effective. (H/T Dustin Moskovitz)

Uncertainty on Continuations

Albert Wenger, a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, authors one of my favorite blogs – Continuations. Yesterday’s post was about a new series on uncertainty –

I intend to write a bit about just how much of our lives is impacted by uncertainty (hint: all of it) despite us largely not acknowledging this reality. Then I plan to look at examples that illustrate how poor our intuitions are when it comes to dealing with uncertainty. With that in place, I will share the answers I have arrived at for myself for how to live with uncertainty.

He goes on to share three examples from his own life that involved major shifts that were far from certain.

I am excited about this series because a version of one of these stories inspired a classic ALearningaDay lesson – “You never know if a good day is a good day.” It has been five or six years since I first heard that idea from Albert and it is still one of those ideas that I think about every few weeks and write about every few months. For someone who struggled to learn how to keep perspective, that story was a game changer.

Repetition is a key part of learning. And, I love thinking about the topics I’m repeatedly re-framing and writing about – those lessons are the ones I clearly want to learn. At some point in the future, I hope to take on a project where I share some of the core principles I end up writing about every day.

One thing is for certain – when I do, the principle inspired by Albert’s story on the inherent uncertainty of our lives that reminds us of keeping things in perspective and plugging away will be key among them.

Discipline equals freedom

Former Navy Seal Jocko Willink has a great note on Discipline = Freedom.

“Discipline equals freedom.” Everyone wants freedom. We want to be physically free and mentally free. We want to be financially free and we want more free time. But where does that freedom come from? How do we get it?

The answer is the opposite of freedom. The answer is discipline.

You want more free time? Follow a more disciplined time-management system.

You want financial freedom? Implement long-term financial discipline in your life.

Do you want to be physically free to move how you want, and to be free from many health issues caused by poor lifestyle choices? Then you have to have the discipline to eat healthy food and consistently work out.

We all want freedom. Discipline is the only way to get it.”

This is one of those powerful insights that often takes time for us to internalize. The idea that a great time management system is what we need to enjoy more free time is one that seems to not make sense until we experience it. And, all happy careers, lives, and relationships take years of disciplined work to make happen and survive.

There is a transitory kind of freedom that comes with shirking discipline and responsibilities. But, if we desire the kind of freedom that stays with us, discipline is our best friend.

(H/T Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss for the Jocko Willink note)

Optimizing roadmaps for breadth vs. depth – Peacetime and Wartime

In talking about successful leadership styles, venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz makes the distinction between peacetime leaders and wartime leaders. He explains the distinction as follows –

In peacetime, leaders must maximize and broaden the current opportunity. As a result, peacetime leaders employ techniques to encourage broad-based creativity and contribution across a diverse set of possible objectives. In wartime, by contrast, the company typically has a single bullet in the chamber and must, at all costs, hit the target. The company’s survival in wartime depends upon strict adherence and alignment to the mission. 

I’ve found the analogy of peacetime vs. wartime to be very useful in thinking about how we think about optimizing our product roadmaps and focus at work.

When everything we work on is looking healthy and growing, optimizing for breadth makes a lot of sense. We can take on a couple of venture bets and keep a portfolio of projects humming along.

But, when the weather changes and we find issues with one of our core projects, we must, just as quickly, be ready to hunker down and focus. That’s the time to shelve any extraneous work and focus on the pieces we know will drive impact – at the expense of others if necessary.

Effective leadership of organizations/teams/products/self involves understanding when to optimize for breadth vs. depth. And, the peacetime-wartime analogy is a great way to put the current situation in context and tailor our response.

Jim Loehr on Stress and intervals

Jim Loehr is a performance psychologist and author who has worked with some of the world’s top athletes. Loehr’s philosophy is that one’s success is proportional to the strength of one’s character. And, he believes that character strength can be built the same way we build strength in our muscles – a powerful idea. In Tim Ferriss’ book “Tribe of Mentors,” Loehr says the following about stress –

“Another piece of bad advice: “Protect yourself from stress and your life will be better.” Protection from stress serves only to erode my capacity [to handle it]. Stress exposure is the stimulus for all growth, and growth actually occurs during episodes of recovery. Avoiding stress, I have learned, will never provide the capacity that life demands of me. For me, balancing episodes of stress with equivalent doses of recovery is the answer. Playing tennis, working out, meditation, and journaling provide rich mental and emotional recovery. Adhering to my optimal sleep, nutritional, and exercise routines during stressful times is critical. Seeking stress in one dimension of my life surprisingly brings recovery in another. Avoiding stress simply takes me out of the game and makes me weaker. In a real sense, to grow in life, I must be a seeker of stress.”

His notes on stress and recovery resonated deeply. As stress tends to have a negative connotation, I use the word “stretch” instead and have come to observe that intervals between stretch and recovery are a wonderful combination for growth.

TLDR: Be intentional about what you are looking to learn, seek challenges and work intensely when you are working. Then, switch off completely to reflect and recharge when you are not.

At least it won’t be for a lack of

Despite our best efforts, there is no guarantee results will go our way. But, focusing on process and letting go of the results is generally easier in theory than practice.

A practice I’ve found helpful is to commit to what I expect from myself as part of doing my best. And, the phrase that helps me make that commitment is “At least it won’t be for a lack of…”

For example, I approach most difficult situations with – “At least it won’t be for a lack of positivity, thoughtfulness, and a focus on learning.” Or, as a parent, “At least it won’t be for a lack of thought, kisses, and dancing.”

Framing it in this manner takes a lot of the pressure off the inevitable mistakes. It helps define simple cultural norms that in turn define how we approach what we do – i.e. our process. As long as we are thoughtful and learning focused, it will only take a while before our process becomes a good process.

And, in the long run, good results follow good processes.