Writing out presentations

Every time I have a presentation that matters, I’ve learnt that I should take the time to write down a draft of what I plan to say.

Even if there are slides and even if I know the key themes, it helps a great deal to be able to map all my thinking down.

2 things happen when I do that –
1. I cull unnecessary content. There always is a lot of it. And, writing it down helps clarify my thinking.
2. I feel very comfortable veering off track. I rarely end up sticking to the exact content. But, having written it down gives me the confidence to change strategy on the fly.

And, I find both things to make the pain of writing it out worth it.

Jeff Bezos on being right a lot – The 200 words project

One of Amazon’s leadership principles says “leaders are right a lot.” Jeff Bezos once shared an observation about this principle.

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He didn’t think consistency of thought was a particularly positive trait; instead, it is perfectly healthy – encouraged, even – to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today. He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.

And, what trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view. If someone can’t climb out of the details, and see the bigger picture from multiple angles, they’re often wrong most of the time.

‘He would flip on something so fast that you would forget that he was the one taking the 180 degree polar opposite position the day before. I saw it daily. This is a gift, because things do change, and it takes courage to change. It takes courage to say, ‘I was wrong.’ I think he had that. – Tim Cook on Steve Jobs

Source and thanks to: Jason Fried’s Blog

(This is probably the third time I’ve shared this story on this blog in the past few years. I find it to be a wonderful reminder to stay humble and keep questioning my assumptions.)

A 3 part framework for great managers

A few friends and I discussed great managers recently. There’s plenty of literature on this. But, I find myself frustrated when I see lists of the 435 characteristics of great leaders/managers/employees. We generally don’t remember more than 3 things. So, I sought to boil it all down to 3 characteristics.

After a bit of discussion, we ended up at the following framework that characterizes great managers –

  1. Great managers understand each member of the team. Every member needs to be managed differently. This requires an understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, personalities, working styles and motivation. The first pre-requisite is, thus, empathy.
  2. Great managers learn how to scope work well. The worst managers over-promise to their higher ups/clients and burn their teams by making them work 12+ hour days to achieve unrealistic, unproductive and generally unnecessary results. And, on the other hand, great managers scope work such that their team is regularly in the “stretch” zone and never in the “panic” zone. The ability to scope work is a learned skill. It also requires guts as it necessitates pushing back and saying no to unnecessary work.
  3. Outstanding managers care more about their team’s goals and individual ambitions than their own progress. While characteristics 1 and 2 make good managers great, an outstanding manager is one who simply cares a lot more than the next person. When you work with outstanding managers, you believe know that they always have your best interests in mind. And, even when you are going through difficult times as a team, you know that they care more about the team’s goals than their own.

We rarely come across managers who do all 3 things well. But, as a wiser friend pointed out, if you do 3 well / care more about the team, you are forgiven for not scoping work well.

There is, however, no escaping really understanding every member of the team.

Silent and Loud

I came across this quote – “Confidence is silent, insecurities are loud.”

The ego that arises out of insecurities makes a lot of noise attempting to announce, explain, and justify.

Confidence doesn’t need all that. You know you know.

I’ve found that to be very true. But, I’d never thought of it in this way. And, I’m looking forward to observing my silence and loudness and understanding where they come from in the coming days..

The first rule about advice

Take it with a healthy pinch of salt.

Nobody (not even your mom, dad or spouse) has the context you have.

Nobody is free of biases. We all love our own thought processes and generally believe we are right.

Nobody has to live with a decision you make in the same way you have to.

Nobody cares as much as you do.

So, listen to people who matter and then forge your own path.

And, if it helps, there is no right answer. There may be a “general” right way. But, there’s no guarantee that it is the right way for you.

PS: If you find yourself sharing your perspective or giving advice, state your biases. It helps the person on the other end.

Equanimity

An idea I’ve increasingly appreciated over the past few years is “equanimity.” Equanimity is defined as a state of mental calmness or composure in difficult situations.

I struggled with something approaching even a semblance of equanimity until a few years back. Highs and lows were the norm. Over time, however, thanks to all the self reflection that writing here required of me, I’ve learnt to keep perspective. And, in addition, I’ve realized that what matters most is to keep focus on the process / things you control.

An example of applying this was when my laptop stopped booting up last night. I had been having intermittent problems over the past couple of days. I hadn’t gotten around to figuring out the issues since I was busy wrapping up a project and switching locations. But, last night, just as I boarded my flight, it gave up on me. So, I reached home this morning and gave it a fresh shot.

Again, no luck. Damn. Can’t blog in the morning. Can’t do some work I wanted to get done. Can’t get through emails that required certain actions for a current project. Not good in my world.

But, I chose instead to spend my time unpacking. I’d been having a good couple of days and just viewed this as the inevitable “down” and moved on. After unpacking, I took it to our IT support folk at school. Within 3 hours, they’d identified that the problem was the result of a hardware loose contact and had fixed it (thanks guys!).

The best part about this was not the fix but the fact that I didn’t experience the slightest amount of stress or anxiety. While this is a classic first world problem, this would have caused hours of irritation and anxiety in the past. But, thanks to focusing on things that I could control, I dealt with it far better than I ever would have.

Truly a transformative experience.

(PS: A big part of this evolution has also been the absence of the manic high. More on that another day.)

Performance

It was only this morning that I realized that reviews at work are called “performance” reviews.

Performance has 2 meanings – an act of staging or presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment and the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function.

While the second definition is what we think of when we think of work, I am sure you and I know of people who come into work and act as if the only performance they know is the first kind. They prepare incredibly hard for their meetings, show up on time (you can’t be late on stage), bring their whole beings to their work, care for the experience of the people around them and try to make the world better with their work.

Sometimes, I think every word works a bit like the word ‘performance’ – there are always two meanings. You can work or you can “work.” You can be a friend or you can be a “friend.” I realize these differences don’t have as much effect in writing as they do in my head. But, there are those who approach work or friendship as everyone else does. And, then, there are those who just do it differently. Suddenly, work or friendship isn’t what you are used to.

That’s magic.

The magic of a Steve Jobs product launch was that he didn’t treat it as a product launch.

Decide-by-numbers

We have data and statistics thrown at us everywhere we go. And, if it is anything you do on a computer, it is likely that data has been analyzed in many ways.

It is tempting to just do things that make the numbers work. Write posts that generate more hits, make management decisions that improve your approval rating, and so on.

But, numbers lie. They might seem fool-proof and indisputable. But, the fact remains that they only show you the state of things at any given time. And, we all know that projections need to be taken with a healthy dollop of salt.

The solution is to learn to use numbers to inform your decisions, but not to let them decide everything for you.

Painting by numbers does make painting easy. But, it is also for amateurs.

The Eisenhower anger drawer – The 200 words project

US President Dwight Eisenhower used to have fits of anger as a child. Over time, he learnt that anger and hate clouded his judgment. And, in positions of leadership, he couldn’t afford to let that happen. So, he strived to make it a practice to avoid getting angry and hating anyone.

His technique for doing so was to write the person’s name on a piece of scrap paper, drop it into the lowest drawer of his desk, and say to himself – “That finishes the incident, and so far as I’m concerned, that fellow.” Over the years, the drawer became a sort of private wastebasket for crumbled-up spite and discarded personalities. During his time as Supreme Commander and President, he was frequently made a scapegoat by journalists for all sort of troubles. His anger drawer saved him from any negative reactions.

The learning that emerged for me – the anger drawer was Eisenhower’s method to pause and respond to adversity rather than react to it. And, he designed a system that worked really well for him. Here’s to doing that for ourselves..

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot piece of coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one that gets burnt. | The Buddha


Source and thanks to: Lifehacker.com

Thinking product

I didn’t do my product review post this week. That’s because I’m struggling with 2 questions.

But, before I get to the questions, I had an interesting experience after downloading the excellent Economist Espresso app. This was thanks to a reader who insisted I try out the Economist Digital subscription (thanks friend!). It has been a fantastic experience using the app. I’m sure I’ll review it shortly. But, the big break through was when I scrolled down to the bottom of the article by swiping up. I instinctively tried to swipe up to move to the next article. But, it turns out you have to swipe right. That works for photographs and makes sense. But, does it make sense when you are reading text? I am not sure. But, it feels great to find myself asking such questions and not taking design for granted.

Onto my questions –

  1. Do I just review products as soon as I try it? For instance, I might love the Economist Espresso. But, what’s the guarantee I’ll continue to use the app? Isn’t longevity the sign of a good product? The only issue with the longevity approach is that there will be very few products I will ever review as there’s only a few things that stick.
    Perhaps the way to overcome this is to just try as many products as possible and caveat that reviews are based on a short, quick usage experience.
  2. What is the right framework? I’m not satisfied with my product framework – I need something simpler that sticks. While borrowing a framework helped me get started, I’m beginning to gravitate towards the next version. So, I’ll plan to give this more thought and put together a simple framework I’ll use for the future

In short, more to follow. Fascinating process so far. And, looking forward to lots more learning and thinking about how technology products are built in the weeks and months ahead.