Before Bruno

Manchester United Football Club had two distinct phases this Premier League season – the period before they signed midfielder Bruno Fernandes and the period after.

The difference is stark – until the signing, the team was in 6th place in the league and looked disjointed and out of ideas.

In the 14 games after Bruno Fernandes was signed, the team was top of the league table (and third place overall).

Before he was signed, Bruno Fernandes wouldn’t have been mentioned in a list of the top 10 or 20 or even 50 players on the planet. How, then, was this transformation possible?

It turned out he just brought the kind of skills the team needed at the time with a willingness to work very hard and show up to every game and practice session with a great attitude and the desire to win.

It has been fascinating to watch the transformative effect of this one player’s arrival on a massive football club. And, that he did it with a great combination of skill, heart, and attitude makes it all the more inspiring.

It is a great reminder of the effect this combination can have on any team.

If he can do it, perhaps… just perhaps… so can we.

What great educators do

Good educators ensure we remember and apply one core idea they shared for the rest of our lives.

Great educators make us fall in love with the subject.

Outstanding educators – a rare breed – make us fall in love with learning.

While many associate education with schools, the presence of great educators is not limited to schools. Instead, they’re all around around us – as managers, parents, teammates, friends, coaches, and leaders.

The difference between them and everyone else who attempts to educate is they do so by doing, not telling.

Good days, bad days, busy days, quiet days

Some days are good. Some are bad. Many seem to hover in between.

Similarly, some weeks are busy. Others are quiet. A few hover in between.

It is tempting to over analyze these days/weeks as we work our way through them.

Unless we’re finding ourselves stuck in a rut, a better approach is to put aside any judgment and accept them for what they are.

After all, we never know if a good day is a good day in the moment. The best we can do is keep plugging away in earnest – regardless of whether the currents are with or against us.

In the long run, good processes inspire good outcomes.

Activating teams – the two highest leverage actions

Observation: The two highest leverage actions we can take to activate a team toward a goal:

(1) Share a clear problem statement that explains the problem, who it is for, and the value of solving it.

(2) Create a scoreboard coupled with the ability for teams to measure progress.

Kick off meetings, brainstorming sessions, pitches/speeches/public commitments, et al, can all be useful additions and have their place depending on the situation.

But, if any of them shortchange our ability to craft a clear problem statement and the means to measure success, they end up hurting our ability to activate teams toward making progress.

(Note: I made a scheduling error on Sunday evening leading to yesterday’s post being published this morning – two posts today as a result, apologies!)

Andy Slavitt and the playbook

We caught up with a few friends over the weekend. One of them is based in Germany and was sharing his excited about 100% normalcy starting next week.

After reopening restaurants and bars a few weeks ago, offices started with work on alternate weeks. As new COVID-19 cases have slowed to a bare minimum, they’re now ready for offices to reopen completely starting next week.

It blew my mind.

I found myself wondering if we’d experience that 12 months from now in the US (optimistic case).

Then, I saw an excellent thread by Andy Slavitt – a former Federal government Healthcare head.

He makes the case I’ve been attempting to make over the past weeks in my COVID-19 updates (he just does it 1000x more articulately).

(1) We are 6-8 weeks away from getting to where many countries who experienced bad outbreaks are.

(2) For these 6-8 weeks, we’d need to commit to a) universal mask wearing, b) all hot spots closed (bars, restaurants, etc.), c) prohibit interstate travel or travel into the country, d) enable families with symptoms to isolate in hotels, e) 90% lockdown

(3) We’d need unemployment insurance, will have a rough few weeks (albeit with the ability to enjoy the outdoors). BUT, we’d experience exponential decay and will see new cases become a trickle within 6-8 weeks.

(4) The blessed economy could then restart. We could test aggressively and experience the sort of normal so many countries are already beginning to experience. The risk wouldn’t completely go away without a vaccine but we’d reduce the stress on our healthcare professionals, ensure employers can begin hiring again, and can deal with the occasional outbreak as it pops up.

In his thread, he says “lets not pretend this isn’t an option.”

Another way to say the same thing would be to say – “There’s a fucking playbook out there. Let’s just follow it and prevent thousands more from dying.”

Moments of one-ness

We were in conversation about a few moments today.

Being present with thousands of people singing as one.

Memories from a wonderful two week trip with people we loved.

Cheering for a team along with tens of thousands of people.

All these moments are special because of a feeling of one-ness among large groups of people. We’ve felt it – in concerts, in prayer, in events, on holidays, and in a sports game.

I miss those moments. And, I’m going to appreciate them a lot once we’re able to experience them again.

The panda and his weight

The turning point in the Kung Fu Panda movie is when Po (the panda) and Master Shifu realize that there is no point expecting him to be like all of the other fighters.

Po was fat and perennially thinking about food.

And, it turned out that all they needed to do is create a training regime that involved using food as motivation.

I’ve seen parents, teachers, and managers attempt to use comparisons to motivate others. While it works sometimes (in the short run at any rate), these comparisons are blunt tools. They encourage folks to attempt to “be like others.”

The magic happens when we learn to work with our own unique cocktail of strengths, weaknesses, and motivations instead.

Much like Po.

Chicago and plastic bags

Dan Heath shared an interesting case study about city of Chicago’s quest to reduce the use of single use plastic bags.

The city council started with a ban on single use plastics. But, they soon realized that this was not having the intended effect. To ensure carbon neutrality, citizens would need to use a paper bag at least thrice or a cotton bag 130 times to ensure the trade-off made sense.

They didn’t.

The city council then replaced it with a 7% tax on all paper and plastic checkout bags that started in early 2017. A research team lead by economist Tatiana Homonoff found that the use of single use plastic bags went down from 80% to 50%.

As shoppers had to make a more conscious choice, many either skipped using a bag altogether or made a conscious effort to use their own.

I thought this story was fascinating for three reasons. First, it reiterates the idea that there are no solutions – only trade-offs.

Second, I love the approach the Chicago City Council took. I wish there was a central repository for city councils all over the world to learn from these experiments.

And, finally, it goes to show how hard it is to get upstream interventions right.

Home screen v4

In the first version of my phone’s home screen (~2010), I did my best to fit all my most used apps. I was optimizing for ease and convenience.

In the second version (~2015), I reorganized the home screen based on apps I wanted to use.

In the third version (~2019), I focused on only using half the home screen’s real estate as I embraced more simplicity in every aspect of my life.

As I reflected on the positive effects of increased simplicity in my life during my half yearly reflection two weeks back, I realized it was time for v4.

It is a keeper.