Repeatable processes

The worst way to do something is to do it in a way that cannot be repeated. This typically involves procrastination, anxiety and a mad dash to the finish line. The excel sheet is a mess. You got the answer required (or so you say) but you couldn’t do it again. You have no idea what worked. It isn’t repeatable. It isn’t a process.

The success habit is created by repeatable processes. It isn’t created by managing around crises. This approach involves front-loading the work and the stress and is typically characterized by a focused and relaxed finish with ample time to check and re-check the final product.

So, how are repeatable processes created?

1. Assume you will be back to reuse what you are working on. No compromises on excellence.
2. Make conscious decisions right from the start. Front-loading work and stress is a conscious decision. Postponing decisions inevitably results in procrastination and bad non-repeatable processes.

I am thinking about repeatable processes as I enter the new year. Perhaps it will emerge as the theme of the new year. It is definitely an idea I want to get my head around. Another such idea is decision making. I trust you will see many more blog posts on both in the coming months.

Of course you’re afraid..

“Bran: Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?
Eddard: That is the only time a man can be brave.”

(Source: A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin)

Yes, taking a chance and speaking up could make you look stupid. And yes, keeping silent and taking the high road may require a ton of resolve. But, let fear not be an excuse for lack of courage.

True courage isn’t the absence of fear. It is knowing that there are other things more important than fear.

The 2 choice inhibitors

The 2 choice inhibitors – immaturity and an inability to look beyond your own self interest inhibit our ability to look beyond the obvious choice.

Choices always exist. Where others are concerned, the best we can do is alert the other to their presence. There’s not much we can do beyond that. It’s their decision to not look beyond that obvious choice. That’s a choice too.

Where we are concerned, we owe it to ourselves to look beyond that obvious choice. All we need is that bit of self awareness to alert ourselves of the narrow frame. If we can call our inability out in the heat of the situation, we’re half way towards solving the problem.

Finally, while we are it, we can, sometimes, find ourselves in situations where we can be made to feel bad because of someone else’s choices. A gentle reminder – it’s not your responsibility. Everyone has a choice.

When you eat your first morsel at the next meal today..

take a moment and think about the effort that has gone into the meal.

It is very likely that –

– many farmers in different parts of the world have toiled for many months together to harvest the grains and vegetables that formed your meal

– many dealers and wholesalers in these parts then paid these farmers to transport this to the retailer

– the retailer team organized many a marketing campaign to make sure these were sold while fresh

– someone in your family or in the restaurant you are eating now spent a great deal of time attempting to cook it to perfection

– and, lest we forget, many people in the companies we work in made buying this meal a possibility (thank you, pay-check)

That’s a lot of people whose efforts have made this morsel possible. And yet, it is highly probable that we just gulp it down without giving this effort a thought. Perhaps we even mentally sigh at the imperfection of the meal because we don’t have something we wanted to eat.

So, today.. I’d suggest we do things a little differently. Before you eat your first morsel at the next meal, take a moment to give thanks.. to the many who made the meal possible.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate our gifts.

Open Salaries and compatibility

Buffer, a social sharing start-up, made waves when they put their salary formula and individual salaries on their blog. Understandably, this has generated much publicity and plenty of discussion in multiple places. As I was skimming the most up-voted comments on their blog post, I was drawn to a comment that said they wouldn’t want the world knowing how much they made and if any of the members in the Buffer team had pointed that out.

I found this response from one of the Buffer team members instructive

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The learning for me here is that we often jump straight into make a judgment on a situation. Often, a tad too quickly. Practically, all I’m looking to understand when I see something like this is what I can learn. And I’ve learnt a few things from this –

1. It is easier to fight for your values than it is to live them. I applaud Buffer for living up to their value of transparency. Too many organizations and people pay lip service to their values.

2. This compensation structure will not work for everyone. I’m not sure if this will work everywhere. That said, it is thought provoking and should be a great discussion for every founding team.

3. Stop judging.. look for compatibility instead. A lot of folks on the thread are busy making a judgment of whether this is good or bad. I think they’re missing the point. No one knows if this is good or bad. It hasn’t been tried before. Even if it has, the context was most definitely not the same. The deeper point here is about compatibility. Buffer has made a strong statement about the kind of people it looks for. If you are the sort of person who will not be comfortable with having your salary out in the open, don’t bother applying to Buffer.

This isn’t all that different from life. It’s easy to go about classing people as good, bad, low quality, high quality, etc. Who the hell really knows this stuff? It’s smarter to just check for compatibility. We won’t work well with everyone. Hopefully, we spend time with people who work well with us and vice versa.

Overall, I’m impressed with what Buffer has done. I don’t know if this is the best business move. Only time will tell. I do however think this has raised the bar on defining “core values.” And, at the very least, it will make folks think twice when they talk about “transparency” as a core value. That’s a big win. Well done Buffer.

FaceTime Audio Love

I called a friend using my Skype credit 2 weeks back. The connection was choppy. We decided to give FaceTime Audio a shot. It worked like a charm.

2 days back, I received a phone call at home and we were having some trouble with the line. Cue – a switch to FaceTime Audio. Once again, worked like a charm.

I’ve been using FaceTime Audio extensively over the last few months for both professional and personal calls and it has never disappointed. A friend likens the sound quality of FaceTime audio to the experience of listening to the person standing right next to her. I agree. The voice quality is fantastic – often better than a direct phone call and definitely much better than cross platform competitors like Viber.

I don’t know about Apple’s prospects over the next 10 years. There are few who liken it to BlackBerry since the innovation these days seems fewer than when Steve Jobs was around. Maybe that’s true. I don’t feel the same way. I am very grateful to them for FaceTime Audio. Sure, it’s incremental – but I think it’s implications are huge. Add a conferencing feature to it and you have a very powerful disruptor.

I’d love to hear about telephony services that have saved you a ton of money.

(Sorry to all the non-iDevice readers!)

Time or money

Until we begin earning, money seems like a barrier to happiness.

Once we begin earning, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to be happy.

This isn’t completely true of course. Time and money are just constraints. If these are removed, others would appear.

The big question really is – how deeply do we care about being happy?

If we care, the solution is simple – embrace these constraints, accept the frustrations and just “be happy.”

It can be done. We just have to want to do it.

Identifying and treating wounds

In my post yesterday, I wrote

“Being right helps scratch that deep wound left by an insecurity. It feels good for a short while. But, as anyone who has nursed wounds knows, scratching a wound doesn’t help heal it. Wounds heal best when they are left alone.”

A long time ALearningaDay reader and wiser friend wrote in today pointing out (rightly) that leaving a wound alone is a bit of a cop out. Wounds need treatment. In his words..

“The treatment for me is to spend some time thinking about what it is that caused the wound – only by understanding that will you have a chance of eventually not feeling the need to scratch! That takes regular effort… But you’ll understand why you feel the need to scratch and then it becomes more of a conscious choice.”

I couldn’t agree more. I realize I left a lot unsaid when I said “leave the wound alone.” I couldn’t agree more with his advice – I’d just like to add a few ideas that help in the identification and treatment of these wounds. This will be long (sorry) but I promise it will be worth it.

I. First, identifying insecurities. I have found that 4 behaviors make an appearance when insecurity wounds are touched-

1.1 Bullying. Bullying is caused by the need to impose our will on someone else. It’s a strong word but we’ve all probably been bullies or been bullied at some point in our lives at various degrees. In most cases, we’ve probably been both because bullied folks typically respond by bullying others. Common areas where people are bullied are at work, at home, and at school by insecure bosses, parents, teachers, and friends. Unfortunately, many overly hierarchical environments breed bullies who seek to control others..

This is a very deep topic and merits a post on it’s own. But, in an effort to make a marathon post slightly shorter, I’d like to point you to 2 great posts by Seth Godin. (1, 2) Additionally, here’s a post from one of my favorite counsellors (my mom).

1.2. Anger. I’ve found anger to be caused either by unfair treatment or a reaction to contact with an insecurity. My guess is that 80% of anger is caused by contact with a wound.

1.3. Competitiveness. This is similar to the need to be right. Overly competitive people have rightly earned the title “insecure overachiever.”

1.4. Feeling unsettled. This emotion is difficult to describe. I’ve attempted to put it into words here. In short, this is a mix of anger, fear, and sadness. Wounds have a role to play in anger and fear..

When I find myself feeling close to one of these 4 behaviors/impulses these days, a red flag goes up. I know a wound has been touched and it’s important to tread with care. I’ve consciously tried to tread clear of “ego” when identifying wounds – this is a nuanced concept and not one that is easy to articulate. I’ll attempt to do so at a later time.

II. Before we progress, from my own experience, identifying insecurities is the hardest part. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you were a bully in a situation or that you only reacted in anger because of some previous wound.  So, how do we go about identifying insecurities? 2 ideas –

2.1. Surround yourself with emotionally mature people who help you with self awareness. The tough part here is that emotionally mature people are few and far between. The good news is that they help you become self aware. It is helpful to have varied sources of feedback on yourself and your behavior. Ideally, they are people who are close but not immediate family. For example, your spouse may or may not be a great source of feedback depending on the amount of bias involved. Your mom is definitely not a good source of feedback..

2.2. Self-reflection and analysis of your long term relationship scorecard. Proactively examine your long term relationships with people who’ve spent significant time with you. As I’ve alluded to insecure overachievers above, I’d like to point out that some of the most achieved people are very insecure. These insecurities often result in extreme competitiveness that, in turn, drives achievement. So, most of these folks have amazing resumes. The flip side is that these insecurities also result in very bad long term relationship scorecards. It’s hard to be a good spouse or parent or boss if you attempt to make your way by a combination of bullying and anger.

There’s no escaping self-reflection.

Now, over to treatment. Here are 3 ideas – 

3.1. Constant deliberate practice is the only way. As you’ve noticed, dealing with insecurities requires constant radical self-awareness. This is hard. The first step is making sure you catch yourself when behaving in ways described above. The good news is that self awareness takes us very far. For example, I hate anger. I’ve seen it destroying families and lives and dislike myself when I’m angry. So, just being able to identify myself as angry is a huge step. This needs to just become a habit.. have I mentioned this is very hard?

Writing one daily learning is how I’ve made daily self reflection a habit in my life. This blog has literally been a lab for my experiments with myself and, in many ways, this blog post is a culmination of 5.5 years of work.

So, sharing a learning every day idea I would recommend (please excuse the obvious bias). If you’d like to do it privately online, do check out Learning Diary – an initiative started out by a friend.

3.2. Learn to laugh at yourself. The single best way to do this is to hang out with people who can. Only secure people can laugh at themselves. You’ll learn a lot hanging out with such folks.. and even better, you’ll have a great time.

As a quote put it, insecurity often occurs when you compare your “behind-the-scenes” footage with someone else’s highlight reel.

Sorry for the shameless plug again but sharing an idea/learning every day is a great way to laugh at yourself. You realize how wrong you often are, you always have many years of written proof of your own stupidity, and more importantly, you realize that people are too busy fighting their battles to really care about you and your failures.

3.3. Be kind to yourself. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has insecurities. These insecurities often make a stronger appearance when times are hard (think: being unemployed, suffering a tough failure). They are a big part of who we are and are a part of being human. So, be kind to yourself along this journey. While some wounds can be cured fairly easily, others are much deeper.

From my own experience dealing with these, I’ve realized that it’s vital we realize this isn’t a 100m sprint but a life long marathon. And, if there’s one thing I remind myself about champion marathon runners, it is that the concept of competition is one that’s non existent (even if it looks like a competition from the outside). A marathon runner’s primary objective is almost always to beat his/her own time. Their focus during a race is constant reflection and self analysis and is a part of an effort to make sure they can be the best they can be.

I guess our lives aren’t too different.

Happy running!

Right or happy?

Which one would you rather be?

Being right helps scratch that deep wound left by an insecurity. It feels good for a short while. But, as anyone who has nursed wounds knows, scratching a wound doesn’t help heal it. Wounds heal best when they are left alone.

Perhaps being happy is what is really “right” after all.

What got you here..

.. won’t get you there.

4 years ago, I spent a significant amount of time thinking about the systems I was using to run my life. There weren’t any. I was a 4th year student in university and I realized that I’d better hop on the bandwagon and prepare for life as a “professional.” Many systems were adopted – planning the week, a daily accountability system to ensure I embedded basic habits like reading books, and a few email initiatives that helped me build discipline while ensuring positivity in my daily life. They worked well and I learnt a lot.

Now, the time has come for reflection again. The underlying principle here is simple – “What got you here won’t get you there.” Good systems can make us complacent to the point when we stop questioning if we can do things better. So, while the systems 4 years ago have resulted in some good habits, there have been a couple of big changes over the past few months, e.g. I graduated from my daily accountability system, and I stopped all the email initiatives in a bid to reflect and integrate. This reflection touches all parts of my life with the key questions being – What will be the themes for the next 4 years? How would I like to work/dress/do?

Whether we like it or not, change will come. We’re better off jumping on the bandwagon, asking ourselves questions, and making changes. In our own lives, we need to learn to behave less like complacent incumbents and more like scrappy start-ups. And, most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that what got us here won’t get us there.

At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to ask ourselves where “there” should be..