The Walkman decision

There’s a great story about a decision Sony made when they shipped the legendary Walkman.

Against the advice of market research, Sony’s co-founder had asked the engineering team to build a portable music player that would ease the boredom on long flights. The engineers then came back with what could only be termed a product manager’s dream – for nearly the same amount of effort and cost, they were able to add an additional feature – a record button – to this cassette player.

But, to their dismay, Chairman Akio Morita asked them to remove the record button.

By reducing the device to serve a single use case, he eliminated any potential user confusion. In the same way McDonalds removed cutlery from restaurants to make it clear how they wanted customers to eat their burgers, Sony released the Walkman with a lower range of functionality to give them the highest chance to change customer behavior.

And change behavior they did.

(H/T: Alchemy by Rory Sutherland)

Experimenting with different hows for the same why

For nearly eleven years, 95%+ of my writing during weekdays happened in the morning. Writing out a post for a day was a key part of my morning routine.

Since April, however, I’ve been writing in the evenings and it has become a key part of my evening routine.

Similarly, for a few years, I used to take a lot of care to start with thinking about my post for the day vs. getting to my morning news and feeds. Of late, I’ve switched that up to start with morning news and feeds followed by email.

There are reasons for both changes. Part of the motivation was to mix it up and try something new at a time when there was a lot going on. The other part followed a realization that the new routines flow easier with that of the kids’. The end of the day, for example, has become ideal for reflection given their long and calming bedtime routine.

I have no idea if these switches are for the short term or the long term. I’ve learnt to become a lot more flexible about the “how” as long as I’m clear about the why and accountable for the what. For example, as long as I’m clear about why writing here matters and ship a learning every day, I don’t need to micromanage how I do it.

This approach turns out to be pretty useful when we manage ourselves.. and just as useful when we manage others too.

The patience regimen

The biggest lesson I learnt in my first year as a parent was flexibility. That year was a journey in accepting that few things would go as per plan. I’m now more flexible than I’ve ever been. That, however, was the easy first lesson as our first was still a baby.

The second year was all about realizing that I needed to curb my instincts to fight fire with fire. I’ve written before about my instincts and the challenges posed by it. I was also fortunate to read Marshall Rosenberg’s wonderful book – Non-Violent Communication – at a time when I needed it.

This third year has been about figuring out a path to dealing with the root of those instincts – impatience. When I take stock of my good and bad parenting moments, patience tends to be the common factor.

In the good ones, I demonstrated plenty of patience and approached the situation with a desire to understand as well as a willingness to be creative and tactful. In the bad ones, I had none of it, rushed too quickly to an attempted solution, and sacrificed effectiveness for a misplaced sense of efficiency.

So, I’ve begun to think of my experiences as a parent as my opportunity to get better at being patient. I have the benefit of having plenty of opportunities to practice every day while also being blessed by a partner/role model who seems to always have plenty of it.

I don’t expect to become the most patient person around. But, I do hope to become more patient and learn to channel my impatience better in the coming month.

Here’s to that.

Reflections on The Algebra of Happiness

I listened to “The Algebra of Happiness” by Scott Galloway recently. There wasn’t much that was new as it was a compilation of posts from his weekly blog – “No Mercy, No Malice” that I’ve enjoyed reading over the past months.

I’ve shared a few of his posts from time to time as I find his writing a nice mix of interesting, provocative, and heart warming. Amidst notes with strong points of view and occasional humble bragging, there is plenty about the struggles he’s faced and continues to face. The struggle to be a better son, father, friend, teacher, and citizen.

It is that struggle that makes life interesting and challenging all at once. And, I’m glad he shares that. Those are the sorts of notes that help put things in perspective.

My notes from the book are sparse. But, as I look back on what I’ve taken away, there are three notes that resonated.

First, Prof Galloway observes that hard work and a lack of balance early in a career has a disproportionate impact later. In the early years, speed helps. There’s no right way to do this – only we can decide what trade offs make sense for us.

Second, the ratio of how much we sweat to watching others sweat is a leading indicator of success.

And, third, the most important decision we make is who we marry – if we decide to do so.

Aggression and pain

I was on the receiving end of some aggressive behavior on a public playground yesterday. We encountered an aggressive teenager (I think) who was determined to use most of the field to hit the baseball really hard.

As we were encroaching on his personal play space (we were playing soccer further away), he started whacking the ball with the intention of hitting us. After two scary near misses in rapid succession, we walked up to him to see if he might be willing to direct hits away from us.

That, as you might imagine, was an exercise in futility.

We walked away after a slew of abuse, racist insults, and a threat to fight one of us and “make him bleed.”

So, we shook our heads, walked away, and moved our group as far as away as we could. We soon realized that he and his three friends only needed the field for about ten extra minutes. So, all that aggression, bullying, and violence for ten extra minutes…

It took me a few minutes to process what happened. I was mostly struck dumb as the exchange got heated. And, as I processed it, my first reaction was surprise at the level of stupidity with many sarcastic post facto mental retorts.

After a couple of minutes of that, I remembered what I learned from “Non Violent Communication” and realized I was missing the plot. It takes a lot of internal hurt to lash out the way he did with every intention to cause physical and mental harm.

I walked away with an appreciation for the amount of pain the boy must be going through… with gratitude for the cards I’ve been dealt with.

There’s so much we take for granted when things are, in the grand scheme of things at least, good.

How we have more ideas

When we think of ideas of various kinds – those that spur creativity, gratitude, or learning for example – we generally start off assuming we don’t have them.

However, once we begin to pay attention to them (e.g. by writing them down), we realize that there’s more of them than we first thought.

All we needed to do, it turns out, is change how we see.

Once we habitually do that, we shift our perspective. And, suddenly, they’re everywhere.

Salvaging a bad day

There’s always a temptation to attempt to salvage a bad day with a bit of extra work to get this or that done.

Resist it.

Just as we ought to write off bad investments and ignore sunk costs, end bad days quickly and get rest.

We often overestimate how much we’ll get done on a day that just hasn’t been productive. On such days, aim to do less, say lesser, and take the break we need.

The beauty about this approach is that we also underestimate just how much we can get done when we’re on a roll. That will happen tomorrow.

PS: A post on this is both a recurring theme (there’s probably been one per year for most of the last decade) and a reminder of how long it takes to actually learn something – i.e. to put a lesson in action. It took a while to understand this concept and a while more to implement it once I had identified the day as one that wasn’t great. Now, the challenge has shifted to identifying such a day as quickly as possible…

The relationship between have and be

“If I have more love/money/friendship/fame, will I be happier?”

Whenever we see “have” preceding “be” in such questions, we can be sure unhappiness is lurking around the corner.

Flipping the order, however, changes everything.

The question we’d ask now is – “What kind of person do I have to be to have more love/money/friendship/fame?”

By being trustworthy and caring, it is likely we’ll attract love and friendship into our lives.

By being skilled at something valuable and disciplined in our practice and execution of the skill, it is likely we’ll attract the financial security we seek.

And so on.

There is a chance we’ll win the lottery and have what we desire before being the person who deserves it.

Waiting to win the lottery, however, isn’t good strategy.

Better to flip the question and be the kind of person who deserves what we want to have.