Checklists – growth mindset in action

Creating a checklist for a process that we repeat is a simple example of growth mindset in action.

As an example, imagine we create a packing checklist that we maintain on our phone. Every time we go on a trip, we can just copy that checklist and ensure we’re packing everything applicable for that particular trip.

If we realize we forgot something we would have loved to bring with us on the trip, we don’t need to waste much time beating ourselves up. We just need to add it to our checklist – this way, we’ll never forget it on a future trip.

A checklist focuses our energy on constructive actions. It also keeps improving our system – thus improving the quality of our future decisions.

It is a gift that keeps on giving – a great example of a tool that brings the growth mindset idea to life.

Embracing imperfections

I was reflecting on my conversation with Seth this Friday. Here are my 3 biggest takeaways –

(1) Embrace your imperfections and start on the path was the biggest theme I took away. We talked about it in the lens of our efforts to fight climate change. But it was a theme that flowed throughout. We talked about how learning happens when we embrace “this might not work” and that’s okay.

It is easy to get caught in cycles of shaming, guilt, and judgment. All of those are unproductive. Just get started on the path and expect to learn plenty as you go.

(2) Everyone is a volunteer and everyone has more leverage than they think.

This resonated deeply.

Leadership is all about creating enrollment. And the first step to doing that is internalizing the fact that everyone is a volunteer. The next step is helping get everyone on the same page on a simple truth – we all have more leverage than we think.

(3) Configure your system to show up well. One of the telling differences on the call was that Seth looked straight into the camera when speaking and I decidedly didn’t. Between making sure I was okay on time, keeping up with the chat, etc., my eyes were all over the place. Then again, looking straight at the camera felt unusual as well.

But it makes such a difference.

Investing in a Seth-esque rig may not be for everyone. But a first step is simply becoming aware that of the improvements we can make in our setup. The next step is infusing more intentionality in how we show up.

Thank you to those of you who carved out time to join in. I’d be curious for your reflections as well of course. :-)

The 1 major project heuristic

I spent most weekends in the 2010s attempting to do too much thanks to a propensity to say yes to too many projects. The result was disappointment on many a weekend as I got far less done than I wanted. My weekend to do lists were far too ambitious.

Occasionally, it meant a lot of pressure on the work week too as I tried to squeeze out time in the evening/early morning.

It wasn’t fun or helpful and this stopped working after we had our second kid (it was on life support after our first).

To counter this, I adopted a simple heuristic in the past couple of years – I only work on 1 major project at any given moment outside work.

There’s no fixed “type” of project. It could be a project related to home, family, side projects, or something else altogether. Some projects take a lot of time over multiple weekends and multiple months before I move on. Some are much shorter.

Either way, the rule has helped inspired a lot of clarity in my decision making. It has helped me go into weekends with clear expectations of what I can get done. And, most importantly, it has made it easy to say no or not now to everything except the project of the moment.

Simple heuristics go a long way in helping simplify our decisions and our lives.

When there is doubt

I had shared a quote a few months ago from Frank Slootman that I was reflecting on today.

Years ago, I used to hesitate and wait situations out, often trying to fix underperforming people or products instead of pulling the plug. Back then I was seen as a much more reasonable and thoughtful leader — but that didn’t mean I was right. As I got more experience, I realized that I was often just wasting everybody’s time. If we knew that something or someone wasn’t working, why wait? As the saying goes, when there is doubt, there is no doubt.” | Frank Slootman, Amp It Up

Frank Slootman is the CEO of Snowflake and previously scaled both ServiceNow and Data Domain – a rare 3x successful CEO. The insight and experience buried in this quote resonated deeply when I first heard it in April. However, as I’ve been reflecting on it some more, my appreciation has continued to grow.

If it isn’t working, make the call.

When there is doubt, there is rarely any doubt.

A conversation with Seth Godin – coming live this Friday

Long time readers of this blog know that Seth’s blog has been a huge inspiration over the years. That’s aside from the fact that many of you first subscribed to this blog thanks to Seth sharing a link to this blog in his posts over the years :-). TLDR – I’m very grateful to Seth for the inspiration, support, and encouragement over the years.

So, I’m very excited about hosting a conversation with Seth on Friday morning 10am Pacific Time (1pm Eastern Time, 6pm UK, etc.). We’ll be talking about “The Carbon Almanac” as well as Seth’s perspective on careers and leadership. While this is part of a “Speaker Series” event at LinkedIn, we’ll be broadcasting this live globally.

You can register here if you’re interested.

I hope you’ll be able to make it.

Cutting through the noise of opinions

There are always going to be opinions about our work that irritates/annoys/makes us feel inadequate.

Very few of them matter.

There’s always going to be a lot of noise. That’s just a test of our effectiveness and maturity. The noise grows proportional with the size of our ambitions and actions. We can’t get rid of it.

But… we always get to choose what we pay attention to.

All we need to do is be disciplined enough to consistently ask – does this matter?

The question will show us the way.

Mrs. Vanaja Vimal

I didn’t believe I was capable of drawing or writing particularly neatly as a kid. My handwriting wasn’t bad – but it wasn’t good either.

I met Mrs. Vanaja Vimal – a.k.a “Vanaja miss” – in my 8th grade when she introduced herself as our new science teacher. She shared in that class that she expected neat submissions every time – no exceptions.

She then turned around to write her first set of notes on the white board.

I still remember our reaction when we first saw her writing. It was pristine. Almost like someone had typed it out in a cursive font.

She then drew something on the board. Again, pristine. It was clear she meant business.

That year, our science notebooks were significantly neater than all the others.

In time, that experience made me realize that I could write and draw a whole lot neater than I thought. It changed the game.

Sometimes, all it takes is for us to meet someone who has that combination of high expectations (both in what they say and do) and a belief in our ability to meet them.

“Vanaja miss” was certainly one of them.

Amazing Nature shows – Disneynature

There are two streaming services that we are permanently subscribed to – (1) HBO Max because it comes bundled with our phone plans, and (2) Disney+ because…. we have kids. :-)

As we’ve explored Disney+ content in the past year, we’ve become fans of Disneynature – Disney’s wildlife and nature focused studio. While we’ve not completed the set yet, the stories and filmography have been very compelling. Here are a few shows we’ve loved –

(1) Dolphin Reef: 10/10 – Narrated by Natalie Portman, this is a beautiful show that brings together the tales of a Dolphin family and a Humpback whale family. It has some beautiful moments interweaved with moments of tension – e.g., when the Humpback whales call to others for help when they’re attacked by Orcas.

(2) African cats: 10/10 – Narrated by Samuel Jackson, this features a movie-worthy story about a set of lions and a family of Cheetahs in the same territory. You will fall in love with characters like Mara (a lioness cub) and Sita (a mother cheetah).

(3) Polar bear: 10/10 – A stirring story about the life of polar bears from the viewpoint of a polar bear who describes how much the Arctic has changed since she was a cub. She refers to polar bears as “ice bears” – what will Ice bears do without ice?

(4) Monkey Kingdom: 10/10 – Narrated by Tina Fey, this is a mindblowing story that showcases just how widespread the idea of “caste” is among monkeys. This is the story of a mother who is born into the lowest rung in her tribe and her subsequent journey to royalty. It is a fascinating watch – one that made me reflect about the similarity in the structure of human societies.

(5) Penguins: 9.5/10 – A beautiful coming-of-age story about an Adelie penguin called Steve. Steve has many obstacles to overcome – including leopard seals and orcas – and he does so with the help of a lot of luck and skill.

(6) Bears: 9/10 – a beautiful story of the journey taken by a family of 3 Alaskan bears to… survive. It shows the 2 bear cubs learning a series of life lessons from an experienced mother who will leave no stone unturned in her quest to help them grow into adulthood.

(7) Born in China: 8.5/10 – Born in China covers multiple storylines – featuring Panda, Cranes, Snow leopards, and Golden Monkeys. Lots of interesting stories and fascinating imagery from remote parts of China. Each of these animals carry a lot of significance in China – they also comprise the list of core characters in “Kung Fu Panda.” :-)

(8) Ghost of the Mountains: 8/10 – this is the story of the film crew who go on an expedition to capture footage of the elusive “Snow Leopard” (who we see in “Born in China.” This filled me with gratitude for the passion and persistence of film crew who go above and beyond to make movies that educate and inspire us.

(Not Disney Nature) Secrets of Wild India: 10/10 – Secrets of Wild India isn’t a Disney nature show. But, oh my, this may be one of my favorite Attenborough productions. It helped me see India in new light as the team spotlights how species and human life in India live with each other because of a culture that attempts to live harmoniously with wildlife.

There’s also a line at the end that gave me goosebumps. After the Indian Cheetah became extinct, the Indian Black Buck has no predator who can compete with its phenomenal speed of 50 miles per hour/80 kilometers per hour. David Attenborough calls attention to a project to reintroduce the Cheetah in India. To this, Attenborough says (paraphrased from memory) – “Maybe the Black buck will then remember the reason for its phenomenal acceleration.”

That line gave me goosebumps.

I thought I’d document these notes as we watch more of these shows with our kids. Every one of them has filled us with awe and wonder while reminding us of the importance of living more sustainably.

I hope you find them useful. More to come.