Think day

The end of December is holiday season in most parts of the world. And, traditionally, there’s a lot to do during these days. There’s a good chance you’ve got some travel planned or are having a family get together at home. I’m sure there are more things you’d like to do with your time than there is time. Nevertheless, here’s one idea I’d love to throw in the mix – take a “think day.”

There are 3 broad ways to approach the think day –

1. A career focused think day. A career focused think day can be about thinking deeply about how things are going in your career. What are you doing well? What could you be doing better? Are there skills you’d like to focus on in 2017?

2. A craft/industry focused think day. When you are in the thick of things, it is hard to focus on what is going on with your craft or industry. So, how about taking a day to read and think about what is happening in your industry? Find an industry analyst or publication you trust and go through their summary of important changes in 2016 and predictions for 2017.

3. A life focused think day. Take time for an audit of how things have been going in 2016. Pick 2-3 things you’d like to focus on, see if you can roll it up into a theme and make a simple plan for daily/weekly practices to help execute these themes. The key here is simple. If you can’t remember it off the top of your head, it is probably too complicated.

Of course, there’s enough in here for three days (or more). But, starting with just one day dedicated to one of these would be a huge win. The beauty about a think day is that there isn’t a clear outcome expected. Instead, the only thing that matters is that you go through the process. The fact that most people around us are slowing down means we finally have the bandwidth to take stock.

So, here’s to giving it a shot.

PS: If you are feeling too busy for a think day, Bill Gates used to take a “think week” twice a year.

Waiting 15 minutes to try out a watch

I needed to charge my phone when I was out last weekend and went down to an Apple store in the mall and asked if I could borrow a charger. As my phone was getting charged, I thought I’d ask to try out a watch. I was politely told that I have to wait 15 minutes to try out the watch. Would I be willing to wait?

Since it would take that long for my phone to get charged, I said sure.

And, so, I waited. Every 5 minutes, I’d have one of the store folks walk up to me and say – “Thank you so much for your patience. You are #__ in queue.”

And, 15 minutes later, I was told I could finally try it. It turned out to be quite the anti-climax as the queue was for a blank watch with a screen wiped out. The wait was only to test how the watch feels on my hand. I soon realized I could have played with the watch’s user interface without waiting 15 minutes. But, as I walked out, I reflected on how ridiculous this would be in any place but an Apple store. If the screen is blanked out anyway, why not just have a few more straps lying around? While the official reason is that this is to guard against theft, I think they have other more strategic reasons.

Apple would like two things to happen with customers interested in the Apple Watch –
1. They want the trial to feel special – sort of like test driving a Lamborghini. Anticipation brings excitement -> Marketing 101.
2. The first generation of the watch is far from perfect. While I enjoyed playing with it and can see utility, it is similar to the first generation of iPhone. Potentially revolutionary, but not fun to use as yet. So, Apple would want the sort of person who wouldn’t mind waiting hours in the queue or, in this case, wouldn’t mind waiting 15 minutes to just find out how it feels. This sort of person would fall in love with the watch right away and wouldn’t mind the fact that it is buggy. This sort of person would also report the bugs and make sure the next version is much better.

Apple doesn’t want a customer like me. So, it does things that alienate me. Instead, it focuses on the real fans. Smart strategy.

The only caveat – there are very few companies that can pull this off. Don’t try this at home..

Case-by-case analysis and why strategy matters

Imagine someone came to you with a proposal regarding local industry garment workers facing increased competition from foreign competitors. $1 billion from the country or $4 from you (assuming a population of 250 million) would save their jobs. $4 per year to save a few jobs – that doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Now, imagine the steel industry comes to you with a similar request.  Then, the auto industry, then the television manufacturers and so on. All of a sudden, you are paying $250 per year to bail all these industries out. There is no way you would have agreed to this if you had known this would be the end outcome. But, consider the situation case by case and you will find that it is possible to say yes to each individual request.

That is why a case-by-case analysis without a big picture overview is dangerous. And that is exactly why strategy matters.

For example, the biggest criticism leveled at self-help books is that many of the ideas don’t work for those who read them. Of course they don’t work. If you go in with a willingness to test every new idea, many will fail. The strategy here would be to really understand yourself – your values, your drive and your approach – and then pick ideas that align with who you are.

Similarly, a smart football manager’s strategy is to pick a formation that suits her team. There is no point attempting a counter attacking strategy if her team is not suited for quick counter attacks.

If you approach a new environment without an overarching strategy, anything and everything can seem like a good idea. Your strategy is the filter that helps you make sense of the world. It is the way we think about and approach the world and it is fundamental. Here are 2 examples of a strategy for the first month at –

a) Your new job: Key priorities  i) Understand what the deliverables are and what success looks like ii) Spend time getting to know my co-workers iii) Focus hard on the core task and don’t worry about additional opportunities (revisit as necessary)
b) Your graduate school studies:  Key priorities i) Recruiting – because it is a great process to learn for life and because the results matter ii) Academics – because I am here to learn iii) Extra curriculars – because it is a great way to get to know people iv) Social – because I must prioritize time to get to know people from different social circles

So, what if we get it wrong? Good news – like life, it is iterative. If it didn’t go so well today, don’t fret. Learn. We will do better tomorrow.

(Hat tip to Avinash K Dixit’s book – The Art of Thinking Strategically)