Learn as we go

Of course we’ll learn as we go. We don’t really have a choice if we want to live our lives with a semblance of consciousness.

But, foregoing an opportunity to prepare when we have the chance is irresponsible and, generally, foolish. In nearly every kind of work, a little bit of extra thought and preparation go a long way. We’ve all been there – that supplier who came well prepared, the interview candidate who demonstrated her thoughtfulness and the spouse who showed she cared.

There are more humans on the planet than we’d like who don’t have the luxury to take the time to prepare. So, preparation is both an opportunity and a great privilege.

And, with great privilege comes great responsibility.

Preparation is how we do small things with extraordinary love. And, that extraordinary love and care is what makes the world a better place for all of us.

3 scheduling tips for meetings with people you don’t know

Many of us reach out to people we don’t know every once a while. It could be for advice, for potential opportunities or for help of some sort. Here are 3 tips I’ve learnt from scheduling meetings on both sides of that table.

1. Be open to an email exchange. There are folks who prefer email if it is a simple ask. The best way to solve for this is to outline your ask clearly in the email. That way, if it just means investing 5 minutes into typing a detailed email, it is almost always preferred to the overhead of scheduling a call.

Related, the clarity of the ask matters a lot as it clearly illustrates the difference between those who are prepared and not.

2. Asker’s responsibility. If you ask for time, it is your responsibility to find times that work. My sense is that there is a three strikes rule of sorts here. I would try to avoid more than three emails going back-and-forth to find a time. And, as an asker, you can do that by being flexible.

3. Make it easy for them to say yes/no or propose a new time. When you have permission to find time on their schedule, draft a detailed email that outlines all the times you might be available in the next week. Assuming you are located in different time zones, a simple way to show thoughtfulness is to send times in their timezone instead of yours.

There’s a new trend of sending people links to online calendars. I think online calendars are great. However, I don’t think sending these is the best idea if you are asking someone else for help. There’s too much friction – clicking a link, finding a time that suits you, etc. That doesn’t mean they don’t or can’t work. I just think adding friction is not the best idea if you have no relationship.

A bonus tip – the best calls are those where you’ve made a good enough impression that the person on the other side is happy to take another call. Your preparation for the call will always come through. And, your follow up will go a long way as well. Always send a thank you note – ideally with what you learnt and what you plan to do next. And, if possible, stay in touch by giving them updates on your progress.

Cold calls are a wonderful way to build connections that might lead to relationships. Very few of them go great – that’s subject to chemistry. But, preparation can ensure none of them go badly. And, that’s a worthy outcome to work toward.

Lessons from queue optimization

I play the queue optimization game every time I go to a supermarket or gas station. The goal is to find a queue that’s moving really quickly and get out as fast as possible. So, I generally look around carefully before getting into a queue and then measure my progress. As with many games, I “win” on some days and I “lose” on others.

The other day, however, I was too tired to look around and calculate how well I did. So, I still enjoyed the same rush from attempting to find the perfect queue and disengaged after that. I learnt a couple of things about the feeling of happiness in the process.

First, happiness lies in the process. That became evident to me because I enjoyed the process of thinking about which queue would be best. And, based on what I saw – number of people, how many items those people were carrying, I made a decision that I was happy about.

Second, we lose any feelings of happiness when we spend our endlessly comparing our outcome. Not attempting to compare how I did turned out to be a big win.

Third, outcome data is necessary to get better. That doesn’t mean outcomes don’t matter. They do. But, the best way to think about them is to use the data to improve our models. For example, if I’d been held up in my perfect queue, could I have learnt something about what to avoid the next time? It is this data that has led to current models in the first place. But, it is important to look at it from the eye of data collection instead of judgment. By definition, we made the best decision we could based on the information. And, when our models get better with the data from this round, our decisions will get better too.

It is always interesting when you re-learn something that you know to be true. In this case, none of this was new to me. But, to learn and not to do is not to learn. So, I’m clearly still learning.

PS: 2 pro tips while we’re having fun –
1. Queues in the far corner are regularly neglected because nobody makes the effort to move beyond the middle.
2. The most important variable isn’t the length of the queue but the number of goods that a person has. Following similar logic, avoid refilling in a queue with large cars ahead of you.

PPS: This also illustrates why being an optimizer is tiring work. If possible, choose to optimize in very few things and switch to being a satisficer instead.