Good strategy

Good strategy is just as much about what we decide not to do as it is about what we decide to do.

That helps us stay focused on the things that we absolutely need to do in a sequence that gives us the best chance of achieving our goals.

The cancel-return adventure

I recently made a purchase in our corporate rewards store powered by Workhuman. Within a minute of making the purchase, I realized I made a mistake. I should have used my points for something else.

I searched for a cancel order button for the next 3 minutes and found a help center post recommending I call them. So, 4 minutes in, I did that.

Credit to them, they picked up within minutes. But, I was told they had no way to cancel it at the moment. It was Saturday and they’d have to call the supplier on Monday morning.

I checked in on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, however, the supplier had shipped it before I reminded them. So, the package was on my way. I could, however, call Fedex if I wanted it canceled.

When I called Fedex, I learnt that only the sender could cancel it. So, I called Workhuman back and asked them to request the supplier to cancel it.

They told me via email that this didn’t work. I have no idea why. So, I’d now have to wait for the Fedex delivery and refuse the package.

You guessed it. The Fedex delivery person just left the package at the door. So, I couldn’t do that. Can I get some return labels?

After a couple of email requests and calls, I finally received a quick questionnaire that I needed to fill out – including sending photos of the unopened box. Then, I finally received said return labels and, eventually, my refund.

The entire process took about 4 weeks.

To think of all of this could have been avoided by a cancel button.

If that breaks the order relay system, we could imagine a solution that delays sending orders by 15 minutes to external suppliers and thus enable users to cancel within 15 minutes (I assume that’s a reasonable window to catch a mistake).

Another great reminder that it’s got to be easy to remove a charge.

Akal, not shakal

We use a catchy Hindi refrain regularly at home – “Use your akal, not your shakal.”

It loosely translates to – “Use your brain (akal), not your face (shakal).”

We use it nearly every time our kids throw a tantrum as we demonstrate how they could have gotten what they wanted without the drama. It brings levity and a reminder that there’s always a way out with common sense.

But, as is often the case, I find myself reflecting on my own behavior every time I use this phrase. There is always a recent instance that comes to mind where I did the same – whined or complained instead of just using my brains/common sense.

As I attempt to teach, so I learn.

Costco and deterrents

Costco usually stations an attendant or two at the entrance and exit of their stores.

The person at the entrance checks for a Costco membership card. As you need a membership card to checkout, I’m not sure what this accomplishes.

The person at the exit, however, has a more straightforward role. She/he skims the receipt and then uses a black marker to draw a line across the receipt. That line indicates you’re done.

I typically chuckle at the seeming futility of this little exercise. As there’s always a queue to get out, they have to skim the list so quickly that there is no way for them to really know if you have an extra item. Besides, if you were enterprising enough, you could just grab a black marker, draw the line yourself, wave it at the door, and walk out.

But I’m sure they ran a test at some point and realized that theft goes down when they station folks at the end of the experience. Ergo – this practice acts as the deterrent.

While I’d love to see the cost/benefit numbers that led to this decision, it got me thinking about the importance of such deterrents. As an example, strong passwords and two-factor authentication are a good parallel to this.

A determined and enterprising hacker will likely find a way through your defenses. But strong passwords and two-factor authentication are powerful deterrents against everyone else.

Deterrents matter. It helps to be thoughtful about them.

Saying no to things we do want to do

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert once shared an exchange she had with someone who was trying to help her with her struggles as a writer.

This wise older woman asked – “What are you willing to give up, in order to have the life you keep saying you want?”

She said – “You’re right – I need to start saying no to things I don’t want to do.”

She corrected her – “No, it’s much harder than that. You need to learn to start saying no to things you DO want to do, with the recognition that you have only one life, and you don’t have time and energy for everything.”

Such a powerful illustration of what focus really is – saying no to things we’d like to do to say yes to things we need to prioritize.

Expectations unchecked

Left unchecked, our expectations have a way of ratcheting up. They keep doing so irrespective of the reality of the situation.

The natural result is one or both of disappointment and frustration.

So, it helps to pay attention when we experience these emotions and to use them to diagnose if they were caused by the ratcheting up of our expectations.

If they were, it may simply be time to reset and recalibrate to re-enable constructiveness and progress.