How often before how well

Dentists generally start with the question – “How often do you brush your teeth?” If you don’t give the expected answer (2), that will be the first and most important recommendation. Then, you’ll likely be asked – “How often do you floss?” Again, if this isn’t daily or near daily, that will be the next recommendation.

It is only after that do they have the conversation about how well we do it.

The principle here is that quantity typically precedes quality. If we want to make better art, we have to first commit to making lots of bad art. If we want to write well, we’ll need to commit to writing poorly and doing it often. Similarly, the analogy for productivity is that some hard work and experimentation precedes smart work.

The challenge, however, is making sure that we’re conscious of this process and taking ownership of our learning.  Deliberate practice is far more effective than practice.

So, as you are working your way up the learning curve on a new gig, commit to quantity – just show up and plug away for a while. Allow yourself to experiment, stumble and fall during this time – but, use all these opportunities to soak up the learning and get better.

Then, do better.

The purpose of planning

The purpose of planning isn’t simply to be planned and organized.

Instead, the purpose of planning is to be able to deal with the unexpected and unplanned with the kind of engagement and spontaneity that comes from knowing that you have done your best to deal with everything you can control.

More of what we like

Imagine sitting at a magical dinner table that only existed to feed us more of what we like. If we take a morsel of our favorite sweet treat, the next morsel would be a similar or sweeter treat.

If we don’t keep tabs on our health often enough, it may be a while before we realize that this isn’t a viable strategy to keep good health. But, once we do, there are a few questions we’d need to ask. For example –

What is the best way to take what I need from the table, walk away and eat elsewhere?
How do I keep away from the short term temptation that does little good in the long term? 
How can I cook more and bring my own healthy food to the table? 

The internet content machine works similar to the magical dinner table.

And, it is on us to ask ourselves these questions.

How to lose with a billion dollar team

A Manchester United soccer team assembled with players worth a billion dollars surrendered meekly to a team whose squad cost a third in a two legged European Cup game yesterday. It was a two legged game that illustrated the power of mindset.

Right from the first leg in Sevilla, the Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho, set up the team to avoid defeat. The players seemed instructed to pass the ball sideways and take no risks. He approached the game like a Little League club might approach the game against the world champions.

If you’ve watched or followed soccer long enough, you know that the best strategy for a team with great players is to simply go out and play attacking football. Sure, they may concede a goal or two. But, you’d back them to score more than they concede often enough. When you force a “take no risks” strategy onto attack minded players, you paralyze them. Eventually, when the opposition does score that dreaded goal, it takes too long to overcome the inertia and fight back.

In that sense, a risk-free strategy is actually the most risky of them all.

Such (pathetic) defeats are a reminder of the power of mindset. You may have access to the best resources on a day-to-day basis. But, if your mindset isn’t any good, your results won’t be either.

Committing to re-commit

A lot of the literature around goal (and system) setting focuses on the act of commitment. We might make the commitment on a special day (read: new years), break it down to actionable components or a habit by using systems thinking, share it with friends or an accountability group, and so on.

While all of the above matters, I’ve observed that the biggest leading indicator to a goal’s success is our commitment to re-commit to it as often as possible.

We don’t acquire worthwhile habits or goals because we made a commitment. We achieve them because, in doing so, we commit to re-commit until we make them happen.

The takeaway for us, then, should be to be thoughtful and intentional about the re-commitment plan for any goal or system we commit to. A good re-commitment plan consists of frequent checkpoints – these could be weekly or even daily depending on importance. It doesn’t require anything fancy – a simple question at the end of our daily to do list to spark reflection works. The important thing is to surround ourselves with reminders.

There is nothing as important as the act of re-committing because stumbling and falling as we pursue goals or meaningful habits are inevitable.

And, recommitting is the equivalent of the quiet voice that reminds us that failure is not the falling down, it is the staying down.

Saving good ideas for tomorrow

During the first couple of years of writing this blog, I used to habitually “save good ideas for tomorrow.” I didn’t believe I had many good ideas – so, I thought saving good ones for later made sense. For someone who had committed to sharing a learning every day, my mindset was remarkably fixed.

Of course, this isn’t how idea generation works. Good ideas are just a function of the number of bad ideas you have. The more bad ideas you generate, the more likely it is that you will find a good idea. You just have to commit to paying attention to the process of cultivation of ideas and take them all, good and bad, down. You’ll learn to filter based on your needs.

Ideas, optimism, complements, goodwill, affection, care – we don’t have limited stock of any of these wonderful things.

The more we use and cultivate them, the more and better there will be.

And, we can start today.

We’re replacing your quarterly bonus with a lottery

“We’re replacing your quarterly bonus of ~$350 with a lottery.

The prizes are exciting. There are 1300 prizes with the grand prize at $100,000. But, the remaining 89,000 or so of you go back home with nothing. 

Oh, and to be eligible for the lottery, you need perfect attendance through the quarter. Getting sick is forbidden.

It’s exciting!”

The United Airlines Executive team shared these plans with their 90,000 union workers. The only surprise was that it took them 3 days to back track. It must be hard to appreciate the importance of ~1500 extra dollars in the year when you make upwards of ~$50M as a team.

It is easy to sit on the outside and question the intelligence and competence of the team that came up with this. But, it is likely the team is full of smart, qualified and generally accomplished people.

I’ve found it better to acknowledge that smart groups are capable of making dumb decisions if the culture of the group isn’t right. The truest manifestation of culture is in a decision making process. And, how a company hands out incentives, promotions and treats its employees and customers is the culture in action. This decision, then, points to a broken decision making process.

If you want to fix a group’s behavior, fix the culture. And, while that’s easier said than done, examining the decision making process is likely a good place to start.