Work-life balance – 2 anecdotal observations

2 anecdotal observations about work-life balance post kids –

1. There isn’t work-life “balance” or “harmony” or whatever other nice-sounding word we choose as a substitute for balance. There are only work-life trade-offs… and those trade-offs are real and best made consciously.

2. When we find folks with young kids who seem to have their stuff together, we can deduce with 30%-40% certainty that they have a thing or two they can teach us about personal productivity. However, we can deduce with 80%-90% certainty that they have either a) an amazing childcare support system, b) an incredibly supportive partner, c) both or d) a great ability to appear as if they have their stuff together. :-)

Kobe, Clay, and kindness

Over the past days, it’s been fascinating to see the internet explode with tributes about Kobe Bryant and, among the more geeky crowd, Clay Christensen.

Folks from all walks of life came together to celebrate two human beings who made a lot of difference in many lives. It was wonderful to see these tributes transcend differences in race, political leaning, and even nationality.

Death is often considered a morbid topic. But, it is in times like this we realize that death is the ultimate leveler and giver of perspective.

More than anything, such experiences remind us that we’re not here for long… so, we might as well be kind along the way.

After all, at the end of the day, all we have is each other.

The 80% experience

A question that has helped point to better product design every time I remember to ask it – what is the experience 80% of the users would want to go through? 

When asked, that question first reminds us that we must let go of all the complexity we are likely to introduce as super-users of our own products.

It then pushes us to simplify our flows to the few things most users care by removing any detailed how-to notes, unnecessary choices/steps, and excessive copy.

And, out of this exercise emerges a principle that applies just as well to product or process design as it does to effective communication – focus on clarity over completeness.

Great customer service and lifetime value

The biggest benefit of investing in great customer service isn’t in its ability to reduce the number of upset customers or prevent bad reviews.

It does that.

But, by transforming bad situations into memorable ones, great customer service inevitably increases the lifetime value of a customer every time they experience it.

(Inspired by a recent experience with Anson Belts)

The Joneses

We were in conversation recently about a situation that involved folks making life decisions in an attempt to keep up with the proverbial Joneses. Around the same time, I was reminded of this note from a Dale Carnegie classic.

“People are not thinking about you and me or caring what is said about us. They are thinking about themselves—before breakfast, after breakfast, and right on until ten minutes past midnight. They would be a thousand times more concerned about a slight headache of their own than they would about the news of your death or mine.”

He exaggerates a bit to make his point. But, it is regardless a powerful point.

Eliminating the “but, what would people think?” question makes most decision making processes better.

Trial and error

Trial and error is a powerful way to learn. The quicker and cheaper our tests and iterations, the steeper our learning curve.

It is all well to desire a culture of experimentation. But, such efforts go sour if we say we encourage experimentation but make a big deal of every (inevitable) misstep.

Therein lies the catch – trial and error come as a package deal.

PS: It is also just as important to make a big deal out of every win. The best way to encourage a culture of continuous learning is to take both in our stride and keep plugging way.

Clay Christensen

I saw the news about Clay Christensen’s passing away yesterday evening.

While he was famous for his work on disruption, his work on his excellent book – “How will you measure your life – made him one of my heroes.

As his work inspired a series of workshops in graduate school that we called “the good life sessions,” a thoughtful friend cold emailed his office and gifted me a phone call with Clay as a graduation gift (what a great gift!). I was reminded of that conversation today.

That conversation further drove home 3 ideas that I have been attempting to learn/live since I read his book –
1. Don’t let life happen to you
2. Search for integrative principles that cut across work and life.. and then hold to them 100% of the time.
3. The truest reflection of your priorities in work and life is how you allocate your time and available resources.

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom so generously, Clay.

It made a difference.

Bob Iger

I read Disney CEO Bob Iger’s autobiography – “The Ride of a Lifetime” recently.

The first and most important thing to say about the book is that it is fantastic. I read an Amazon review where the reviewer described the second half of the book as “business school gold” – I agree.

He is surprisingly candid and thoughtful in describing both his career prior to becoming Disney’s CEO as well as his exceptional ~15 year run as CEO. And, while I can talk about the many great anecdotes in the book, there were two things that stood out to me.

The first was how straightforward Iger was in describing his ambition to become the CEO of Disney (once ABC was acquired) and how stressful he found the selection process. There was no false humility about never having imagined himself as CEO at any point when there could have been. His natural candor and directness really came through.

The second was the patience he exhibited throughout his career. He was 54 when he became the CEO of Disney. And, even after a stellar career, he went through an excruciating process before he was chosen because he was seen as a stalwart of the Michael Eisner regime whose reputation had soured within the company and its board. However, he kept his patience and finally made it to that dream job. And, after doing so, he made his experience count.

Fascinating story and great book.

Thank you, Bob, for sharing your journey with us.

Milarepa and the demons

One day, the Tibetan teacher Milarepa left his cave to gather firewood. When he returned, he found that his cave had been taken over by demons. There were demons everywhere!

His first thought upon seeing them was, “I have got to get rid of them!” He lunges toward them, chasing after them, trying forcefully to get them out of his cave. But the demons are completely unfazed. In fact, the more he chases them, the more comfortable and settled-in they seem to be.

Realizing that his efforts to run them out have failed miserably, Milarepa opts for a new approach and decides to teach them the dharma. If chasing them out won’t work, then maybe hearing the teachings will change their minds and get them to go. So he takes his seat and begins teaching about existence and nonexistence, compassion and kindness, the nature of impermanence.

After a while he looks around and realizes all the demons are still there. They simply stare at him with their huge bulging eyes; not a single one is leaving.

At this point Milarepa lets out a deep breath of surrender, knowing now that these demons will not be manipulated into leaving and that maybe he has something to learn from them. He looks deeply into the eyes of each demon and bows, saying, “It looks like we’re going to be here together. I open myself to whatever you have to teach me.”

In that moment all the demons but one disappear. One huge and especially fierce demon, with flaring nostrils and dripping fangs, is still there.

So Milarepa lets go even further. Stepping over to the largest demon, he offers himself completely, holding nothing back. “Eat me if you wish.” He places his head in the demon’s mouth, and at that moment the largest demon bows low and dissolves into space.

When dealing with the toughest challenges – the kind that involves the demons inside of us – brute force turns out to be a blunt instrument. Acceptance, kindness, and a willingness to open our hearts and minds to the learning ahead of us enable us to make the progress we seek.

(H/T: Reboot by Jerry Colonna)