Leadership and consistency – The 200 words project

Essayists like Ralph Waldo Emerson who shaped the 19th century view on leadership defined it around heroic consistency of message – no matter what the evidence. So, political campaigns are now lost the moment a candidate switches views on a topic. While political candidates are often guilty of changing views based on when it suits them, we also end up punishing those who’re changing it because of better data.

The greatest leaders, however, have always been incredibly persuadable.

Abraham Lincoln, for example, was a notorious flip flopper who changed his views on the civil rights movement as new data presented itself. Sadly, the 2012 “Lincoln” movie made no mention of this inconsistencies –Pulitzer Prize winning historian Eric Foner lamented the absence of his hallmark of greatness – his capacity for change and growth. Even black scholar and activist W E B De Bois, who was often critical of Lincoln, admired his always critical and flexible brand of leadership.

As Jeff Bezos says – people who were right a lot of their time were often people who changed their mind. Perhaps we should revisit our responses when we see our leaders change their point of view based on sound evidence?

Abraham Lincoln is the greatest figure of the 19th century. He was to be admired not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet he triumphed. Out of his contradictions and inconsistencies, he fought his way to the pinnacles. And his fight was within as well as without. – W.E.B De Bois

leadership, consistency, change, flexible

Source and thanks to: Persuadable by Al Pitampalli

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Brexit reflections

The excellent Quartz daily brief newsletter opened with a few reflections on the Brexit this morning.

There are good reasons to leave a marriage—constant conflict, deep differences, a deranged partner. There are also less good ones—conversation’s a bit dull, the sex isn’t great, or you have the same thing for breakfast every morning.

British voters just called it quits on their 43-year-long marriage with the EU. The 52% who voted “leave” may have believed they did so over deep-seated and long-held grievances with the status quo: They were on average older and poorer (paywall) than the population at large. Yet their poverty was long-entrenched, not necessarily connected with growing economic inequality or foreigners taking jobs, and the regions that voted to leave were those that most depend on trade with the EU. Dull, passionless, and repetitive it may have been, but theirs was a boring marriage, not a bad one.

The Brexit campaign made a simple but alluring appeal to them: “Take back control.” And it worked. But some Britons are already realizing the grass isn’t magically greener. More than 80 pro-Brexit parliamentarians urged pro-EU prime minister David Cameron to stay in his job for stability’s sake; he promptly resigned. The “leave” campaign suggested that divorce proceedings with the EU needn’t be too hasty, but Brussels isn’t in the mood for delays. As the pound tanks and stocks tremble, it’s getting harder for the Brexit camp to maintain the claim that warnings of an economic wipeout were anelaborate EU plot to bully British voters.

Even nationalist leader Nigel Farage admitted one of his side’s key campaign pledges—to redirect funds from the EU budget to the national health service—was “a mistake.” And though Boris Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign and now frontrunner for prime minister, rebuked those such as Farage “who play politics with immigration,” the “leave” campaign played plenty of that politics itself, and Johnson may find it hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

Divorce can be thrilling, but in the cold light of the morning after, freedom isn’t always such fun. When you “take back control,” there’s nobody left to blame when things go wrong.—Jason Karaian

My 3 notes –

1. I found the speed with which the “Leave” campaign acknowledged that one of its key pledges was a “mistake” amazing. Politics is a different kind of beast.

2. I am a big believer in the power of incentives. It has been apparent for a while that David Cameron would resign if the “Leave” campaign won. It is interesting that the poster child of that campaign – ex-London mayor Boris Johnson – is the expected next Prime Minister in that event. Incentives drive behavior. And, egoistical behavior is typically indicative of bad decision making.

3. At the end of the day, however, the buck stops with everyone who voted. Google’s reports of post-vote searches for consequences of a “No” vote is both sad and scary all at once. Box CEO Aaron Levie had a pithy tweet in response to this as a takeaway for the elections in the US in November – “Before you’re allowed to vote in November, you should be required to watch videos of British people regretting the way they voted in Brexit.”

Damn right.

Understandably, there’s a lot of grief among the younger generation in the UK. A poignant comment left on the Financial Times website yesterday summed their emotions up beautifully.


The question the comment ends with – “But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?” is incredibly powerful..

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Go backward or go forward

In a huge step forward for 3D printing, Airbus unveiled the world’s first 3D printed aircraft earlier this month. The aircraft was tiny and windowless – yet, it was the star of the show.

In a survey of folks in the aviation sector in Germany, 70% of the respondents believed that airline parts would be 3D printed in airports by 2030.

Can you imagine the number of jobs that will be lost when that happens?

When faced with a proposition as scary as this, we have a choice – we can either focus on moving backward or focus on moving forward.

Focusing on moving backward would mean lobbying government to put all sorts of restrictions and tariffs to stifle innovation in 3D printing. It would mean doing everything in our power to keep the status quo or even reverse it if at all possible. This is the corporate version of fundamentalism and is one most incumbent companies practice. If this is your approach of choice, good luck.

Moving forward, however, would require us to embrace the scary idea that 3D printing will not just take away jobs in airline manufacturing but in many other industries. There will be millions of people displaced. The solution to this problem will not be obvious now. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. One thing is clear, however – we will only get there if we accept that change will occur whether we like it or not. It has its way of forcing its way through.

We can choose to either ride the wave or be drowned in it.

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Don’t scar on the first cut

Jason Fried has a great post on the excellent Signal v Noise blog about policies as organizational scar tissue.

The second something goes wrong, the natural tendency is to create a policy. “Someone’s wearing shorts!? We need a dress code!” No, you don’t. You just need to tell John not to wear shorts again.

Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual.

This is how bureaucracies are born. No one sets out to create a bureaucracy. They sneak up on companies slowly. They are created one policy — one scar — at a time.

scar, cut, policy

It is a beautiful post for 2 reasons. First, it explains nicely why so much of corporate policy doesn’t make sense to people who join years after their creation.

Second, it is as applicable in our lives as in our companies. We often tend to have strong reactions to negative stuff that happens in our lives. Many folks I’ve met over the years refuse to trust people because they were cheated once many years ago. Many parents, on the other hand, refuse to let their kids fail after their first experience with their kids suffering.

On the one hand, making a scar out of the cut feels like the right, safe thing to do.The trouble, however, is that by inoculating ourselves from the pain of a cut, we also stop all the beautiful stuff that follows. From making mistakes with trusting people, we hone our people judgment. By failing, kids learn to deal with adversity while parents learn to let go.

Don’t scar on the first cut.

Great advice – thank you, Jason.

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Teaching by being

Most teachers associate teaching with the act of teaching. However, if the point of teaching is to maximize learning, very little learning happens that way. Learning happens when teachers simply be someone worth learning from.

Sure, you might walk out of a “class” learning a nugget or two that might help your career. But, great teachers become great because they massively influence how we see the world and, by extension, how we live our lives.

We can all become good teachers by having excellent grasp of our content, by structuring our communication and by delivering it well. But, good teachers become great outside the classroom. They become great when they demonstrate, in thousands of small ways, how much they care. They become great when they demonstrate that being great teachers requires them to be as dedicated toward learning and mastering a craft as we need to be as students. They become great when they live by the idea that learning and growth is a 2 way street.

Great teachers don’t teach. They learn, grow, and inspire. Such people don’t come by often. When you find them, hold on tight.

PS: If it wasn’t evident, great teachers are rarely “teachers” by profession.

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Attitude toward discomfort

Many lives and attitudes are designed to avoid discomfort. Avoidance isn’t all that hard if you develop an attitude that seeks to avoid problems and treat discomfort as a bad thing.

However, that approach goes against the principle of mindfulness. To solve problems, we must spend time with them. Discomfort, typically, is one of the best indicators of potential problems. I say “potential problems” because the feeling uncomfortable doesn’t guarantee a problem and we mustn’t treat it as such. Instead, the feeling should be used to dig deeper and seek an understanding of the situation and ourselves. Discomfort, in effect, is an indication that further analysis is required.

This approach – dig deeper and analyze whenever you experience discomfort – can sound like paranoia. It is. Changing Andy Grove’s famous book title, I’d say – “Only the paranoid thrive.” Extreme emotions dull our awareness of the subtle indicators that help us be more mindful of what is going on around us. Understanding what makes us uncomfortable helps us make better decisions.

And, if that isn’t enough, the habit of being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a big contributor to happiness. Attempting to avoid it only prolongs the feeling and that, in turn, ends up playing havoc with our ability to let go of difficulty.

By helping us stay present and happy, our attitude toward discomfort goes a long way in predicting our quality of life.

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Fixed self descriptions

We all have self descriptions – a script that runs in our heads when we face challenges. For some, it is versions of “I am smart and tend to figure things out.” For others, it could be “I am very dedicated to a cause I choose” or “I don’t give up easily.”

These self descriptions tend to focus on fixed attributes – smart, beautiful – or fluid attributes – persistence, loyalty, dedication. I have found a strong correlation between fixed attributes and swings in confidence levels. That’s because fixed attributes aren’t easily changeable. So, if you consider yourself smart and spend time with folks who you think are smarter, your confidence could be rattled. However, hang out with people who are more persistent and you will likely find yourself to be more inspired to be more persistent. This ties with Carol Dweck’s idea of the fixed vs. growth mindset. Fixed descriptors leave no room for growth in our minds.

The easy way to identify the difference is that fixed self descriptions are results oriented while growth/fluid self descriptions tend to be process oriented. “I am smart” versus “I will persist to figure it out.” “I am very good looking” versus “I generally work hard to present myself well.”

This insight has implications for us as givers just as much as receivers. When we compliment people, do we compliment results or processes? After all, our self descriptions generally come from what we hear about ourselves from parents and friends.

What we think and say matters – being thoughtful isn’t an option, it is a responsibility.

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The Wright brothers’ lean startup – The 200 words project

After initial successes with a printing press and an aerodynamic bicycle, Wilbur Wright became interested in flying machines. He requested the Smithsonian museum for all materials on flying machines. The more he read, the more he believed his brother and him could be the inventors of flying machines. However, the others in the field were experts who had an enormous head start. The favorite was a team led by Samuel Langley, secretary of Smithsonian institution, funded by the government.

But, while all the other inventors focused their energy working in laboratories building powerful engines to get the machine in the air (versus keeping it flying), the Wright brothers focused on gaining real flying experience. They developed a feel for the product by spending most of their time testing their designs out. They frequently crashed, iterated based on user, i.e. their, feedback and kept getting better. They, then, built the three-axis control around the mental model of a pilot as a bicyclist who would learn to balance the aircraft with practice.

The rest, as they say, is history. They were likely among the first product managers who used the agile methodology / lean approach to building products.

Key to the Wright brothers success was that their competitors over-valued stability and tried to design wings in a V-shape to compensate for gusts of wind. But, Wilbur decided to think in terms of a bicycle – inherently uncertain but dependent on the rider. The pilot had to learn to work with the wind. = paraphrased from Mastery by Robert Greene

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Source and thanks to: Mastery by Robert Greene

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The real cost of weak promises

The real cost of “weak” promises (weak = promises we don’t intend to keep) is that we take our word less seriously, one weak promise at a time.

When viewed in the short term, this doesn’t necessary hurt us much. But, over time, this compounds into us completely losing trust in our own word. The danger lies in the compounding, of course.

The solution?

Don’t say yes when you want to say a no.

If it isn’t a HELL YEAH, it probably is a no.

If you find yourself faced with a promise you regretted making, keep it anyway.

If you do decide to break it, call it out loudly instead of slinking away into the darkness. You should feel the pain when you don’t keep commitment.

We learn to trust ourselves by keeping one promise at a time. And, if you can’t trust yourself, why should anyone else?

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Defining trust

I love simple definitions and came across a fantastic one on trust on a friend’s blog yesterday. This friend’s post was inspired by a post by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner –

Trust equals consistency over time. There’s no shortcut for either.

That is a fantastic definition – 100% true.

My only add would be that this definition illustrates beautifully the importance of integrity. Integrity is all about making and keeping commitments. This is so hard to do because of our propensity to make commitments we don’t intend to keep. It is only when we demonstrate integrity that we have the sort of consistency that builds trust.

There definitely are no shortcuts.


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