Throwing money at problems

In the past 2 seasons, Jose Mourinho, the manager of Manchester United Football Club, has spent upwards of $400M in recruiting new players. And, his predecessors had spent an additional $400M over 3 seasons (take a moment to let those numbers sink in). But, he wanted to set things right.

While there has undoubtedly been some progress in the past two seasons, watching the team play has often been a joyless affair of late. A recent article described this well – If a team reflects the personality of its manager, then United need help because Mourinho’s demeanor and personality since arriving at Old Trafford has been anything but the bold, courageous and charismatic that the club demands. It has been downright miserable and tetchy.

After a relatively mediocre season, he has reportedly asked for an additional $250M to spend over the summer. His response is simply to throw more money at the problem to make it go away.

However, money doesn’t make all problems go away. Having a certain amount can help with a few problems, sure. But, throwing money at your marriage doesn’t a happy marriage make. And, good luck trying to spend your way into happiness.

And, more importantly, money can never be a substitute for good leadership and a great attitude. Some of the best funded teams fail because they approach problems with poor intent and attitude.

Improving our attitude remains one of the best ways to improve our performances.

Optimal Stopping

We were trying to sell an old car recently and had placed it in a used car parking lot. These lots charge a monthly rent. So, you are incentivized to sell your vehicle within the first month. The question for us, then, – when is the optimal time to sell? For example, do we hold out till the end of the month and wait for the best offer?

Luckily, mathematics has a solution for us. The optimal time to stop is at 37%. If you have a 100 candidates for your next role, the most optimal way to make a decision on the best candidate is to reject the first 37 and then pick the first of the next few that is better than the first 37. Essentially, the algorithm suggests we use the first 37 to calibrate.

Optimal stopping can be extended to time as well. In this case, we had 30 days to sell and 37% of 30 days is 11.1 days. By that logic, we would hold out for the first 11 days and then sell – assuming a half decent offer comes along. Our first offer came after 14 days and we sold for a price that was eventually slightly lesser than we’d planned for. But, we had no regrets because math told us that we’d made the optimal decision.

Algorithms like optimal stopping are likely the future of psychology and behavioral economics. Optimal stopping can be applied to choosing a restaurant, a spouse, and while buying a house. As we learn about our fallibility in making decisions, we can use algorithms like this one to get better at making decisions.

(H/T: Algorithms to Live By – Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths)

How they got to school

We were on day 5 of a trek in the Himalayas staying in a picturesque valley. The place had a few small rooms with beds and no running water or electricity. As we got to know the family that owned the place, we learnt that the kids needed to walk 14 kilometers through difficult mountain terrain every day to go to school and back.

To put that in perspective, 14 kilometers is what most trekking groups manage in a day of trekking. Such commutes are the norm in Himalayas and many remote places around the world where kids risk their lives every day to go to school.

I think of this from time to time as I remind myself of the difference between challenging, difficult, and hard. We are challenged by small problems often – these keep life interesting. Occasionally, we face difficulties borne out of the effect day-to-day living has on us. Life is difficult and it only ceases to be so once we accept that.

But, if you are reading this, it is likely that life is never hard. Hard is struggling for the basics, toiling in difficult conditions, and hoping to get some food to fill your stomach that day.

Our lives are regularly challenging, occasionally difficult, and never hard. And, understanding that helps keep perspective as we journey from one day to the next.

Services I’m thankful for

For anyone on the web

Spycloud‘s free service will tell you if your passwords showed up in any breaches. It is a must have.

The Exponential View by Azeem Azhar is an excellent weekly newsletter that curates some of the most thought provoking articles on changes in technology, politics and society. Azeem is a great curator and I’d recommend subscribing.

WordPress.com is great if you want to run a blog on your own domain without worrying about getting hacked or phished. For $36, they take good care of you (chat support during weekdays)

Related, I just started working with Feedblitz to manage email subscribers on this blog. As I migrated, I’ve realized that there many subscribers from the past decade were stuck in Feedburner confirmation purgatory. Thanks to Feedblitz, I feel confident it’ll be better in the next decade.

Breevy is a great text expander for Windows. I use Breevy’s text expansion capabilities when I fill forms on the web as well as for any recurring phrases I use over email at work. They have a 30 day trial and cost $34.95 for a permanent license across all your devices.

As you can see, many of the above are paid services. I’ve belatedly begun to appreciate the benefits of paying for software. That said, there are a couple of free services I love. I don’t know what I’d do without Lastpass. Microsoft OneNote is beyond brilliant. And, Unsplash has a wonderful collection of free photos that you can use without worrying about copyright.

United States focused

Credit Karma monitors any password breaches as well – in addition to keeping tabs on your credit score.

Trim is a personal finance assistant whose team will negotiate those exorbitant AT&T and Comcast bills down on your behalf. They’ve brought my bills down by $260 this year.

A real world service – Earthbaby is a compostable diaper service that ensures you don’t make the landfill problem worse. I can’t recommend them strongly enough. I wish Earthbaby was available in every location on the planet. Sadly, it is a service limited to areas around San Francisco. I’m hoping there’s a similar service near you.

What happens after we use it?

What happens after we use that toy, book, t-shirt or mattress?

We could throw it in the trash and send it to a landfill somewhere.

But, on the other hand, we could also take the effort to give it someone who would use it. The construction workers at the site nearby would be happy to have your old mattress. And, there are plenty of organizations will take your old clothes, books, and toys.

We are mass producing things at an unprecedented rate. As a result, it has never been more important for us to think about our embrace of consumerism. Our current rate of consumption doesn’t make sense. We can change that – in our families and communities for starters.

The first step to doing so is asking – what happens after I use it? If you can find a way to avoid that landfill, you’re onto a great start.

Backing your car into your driveway

When you back your car into the driveway at the end of the day, you make a small investment to make tomorrow better. By sacrificing the ability to ease in to your driveway this evening, you allow your future self tomorrow to just drive out and keep that morning momentum.

One such investment we can make at work today is to make sure we finish Friday by putting down our top 3 priorities for the next week. As a bonus, we can also look  ahead at our calendar next week and block out time to work on the top priority items.

It is a small investment today that will enable us to hit the ground running on Monday morning.

Our future selves will thank us for it.

Whoops and Duke management lessons

Tomas Tunguz, a venture capitalist at Redpoint, has an old and interesting post about what a dog and a monkey that taught him about management.

When he was at Google, the 75 person AdSense Operations team used to gather every week for an All Hands. And, along with an update on how they were doing, the meeting always features two stuffed animals – Whoops the monkey and Duke the dog.

When Whoops the monkey was summoned, a handful of team members would retell stories about a mistake they made during the week – once or twice, these were million dollar mistakes. The group would then vote on a winner and that person would have Whoops in their cubicle that week. Then came Duke the dog. Now, team members would share stories about team members who went above and beyond their call of duty.

Whoops helped create a culture that value learning, openness and support and Duke ensured collaborative effort was recognized and celebrated.

I’ve seen variations of “Duke” in meetings over the years. But, I’ve rarely seen the equivalent of “Whoops.” I can see how it would be a powerful way to encourage a growth mindset. I’d love to give it a try.