Do goals prevent success? – The 200 words project

I hope you’re having a nice weekend. Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to Cal Newport’s Blog and Dr Saras Sarasvathy on Effectuation..

Dr. Saras Sarasvathy, of the Darden school of Business, conducted a study in 1997 with 27 expert multi-millionaire entrepreneurs from around the world. Instead of simply asking them their approach to business, she had each talk out solutions to a 17-page problem set containing 10 decision problems relevant to introducing a new product. The patterns she identified became “effectuation theory.”

In a nutshell, this theory notes that we’re used to thinking about problems by identifying a goal (e.g. sell 10 shoes) and then attempt to identify the optimal path to accomplishing this goal given our current resources. However, these entrepreneurs didn’t start with a final goal in mind. Instead, they began with what they had in mind (e.g. I have leather and a manufacturing plant) and allowed goals to emerge contingently over time (e.g. I could sell shoes or handbags or belts. I choose..).

This focus on the approach and process ensures that the entrepreneurs are open to changes in the environment around them and are optimizing for success given what they have rather than being stuck to a goal.

Do goals prevent successSource and thanks to:

‘Through their actions, the effectual entrepreneurs’ set of means and consequently the set of possible effects change and get reconfigured. Eventually, certain of the emerging effects coalesce into clearly achievable and desirable goals — landmarks that point to a discernible path beginning to emerge in the wilderness.’ | Dr Sarasvathy

Technical debt and management debt – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.

Programmers refer to taking coding shortcuts or “quick fixes” that prove to be very expensive in the long run as “technical debt.” As CEO of Opsware, Ben Horowitz referred to shortcut decisions companies and managers make as “management debt.”

He gave a few examples of management debt –
– Offering an employee a very good raise because he/ she receives a better offer from a competitor. Very soon, everyone threatens to quit to get a raise
– Rewarding low performers because it ruffles fewer feathers
– Avoiding an important difficult conversation with the team because it is, well, difficult

Ben’s experience taught him that these “quick fix” decisions always needed to be repaid with very high rates of interest.

We face so many such choices in our daily lives too – spending on a luxury vs. saving, watching TV vs. exercising – I guess that’s why day-to-day living is probably the biggest challenge of them all. So, here’s to remembering Ben’s idea of management debt / “life” debt and getting past our next shortcut decision.

Tech debt and management debtSource and thanks to:

‘The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want right now’ | Zig Ziglar

Partitioned cookies – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

Participants volunteered to help with a cookie tasting study (that must have been a tough decision) that was actually a test on how partitions affected decision making. They were to report back once they finished their cookie jar with 24 cookies each. Participants took 6 days on average.
However, in boxes where each cookie was individually wrapped, participants took 24 days to finish the cookies!

Similarly, participants gambled less when their funds were divided into different envelopes. Day wage workers managed their finances better when they split their wages in different envelopes. And, venture capitalists made better overall decisions when they split their investments in different rounds.

Partitions like these make sure we set boundaries so we don’t just escalate our commitment to existing choices. These boundaries ensure we make conscious decisions (do I really want another cookie?). Chip and Dan Heath suggest setting up more partitions in our day for conscious decisions – e.g. a call from the family at 5pm to check in on our productivity and ensure we head home in time for dinner.
Partition Cookies

Source and thanks to:

‘My approach to living with purpose has always been to create the life I want, one conscious decision at a time.’ | Oprah Winfrey

Selection bias and winners – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to, and Professors David Dranove and Brett Saraniti at Kellogg.

In 1943, the American statistician Abraham Wald was asked to advise the US air force on how to reinforce their planes. Only a limited weight of armor plating was feasible, and the proposal on the table was to reinforce the wings, the center of the fuselage, and the tail. Why? Because bombers were returning from missions riddled with bullet holes in those areas.

Wald explained that this would be a mistake. What the air force had discovered was that when planes were hit in the wings, tail or central fuselage, they made it home. Where, asked Wald, were the planes that had been hit in other areas?They never returned. Wald suggested reinforcing the planes wherever the surviving planes had been unscathed instead.

As blogger Tim Harford points out, this makes for a classic example of selection bias and also a great life lesson. It is natural to look at successes. But, if we don’t examine our failures, we may end up putting our time, money, attention or even armor plating in entirely the wrong place.

Abraham Wald planesSource and thanks to:

‘The data that isn’t present may tell as important a story as the data that is.’

The Matt Damon method of finding help – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea (and the first of the new year!) thanks to, Nathan Kontny’s blog.

On his blog, startup founder Nathan Kontny explains that the best way to find help is to first become the person you seek. He observed that he regularly bumped into people seeking help from others in their projects or careers – like business people looking for technical co-founders or people looking for someone else to write a press release about them.

Kontny, instead, believes actor Matt Damon had it right. Instead of looking for some writer to give him a starring role, he just became the writer and wrote the script for Oscar winner ‘Good Will Hunting’.

So, Kontny’s advice is – if you’re a “business guy” stuck because you can’t find a technical co-founder, go become the technical co-founder. Go to some classes, conferences, meet-ups and read technical blogs and forums – do what you think a technical co-founder would do. And, you’ll be surprised that the action of trying to accomplish this actually puts you into the company of a great deal of people who would make… really great technical co-founders.

Matt Damon waySource and thanks to:

‘A funny thing happens when you do the work to become the thing you seek so much from others. You find it.’ | Nathan Kontny

You never know when you had a good day – The 200 words project

Today marks the 50th 200 word idea since the start of the year and the 325th weekly learning over the past 7 years. Today’s is from our interview with Albert Wenger on I thought today’s quote and story made for a great way to start reflecting on the year that’s gone by (thanks Albert!). I will be taking a two week holiday season break from these notes myself. 🙂 So, more 200 word notes to follow in the new year and here’s wishing you happy holidays!

Venture capitalist Albert Wenger shared a close friend’s wonderful saying, ‘You never know when you had a good day’. In his words –

“In my first startup, an internet healthcare startup, we brought in a very experienced management team. I thought that was a great day. Subsequently, it turned out that team, which was very experienced, made some decisions that ultimately led to the demise of the whole thing. It turned out not to be a good day. Conversely, when the deal to buy a software company fell apart, I thought I had a terrible day. I had worked intensely on something for 2 years and it fell apart. That, though, turned out to be one of the best things – I wouldn’t be here doing this with you if the deal had happened. I would be in Cleveland working with that company.

One of the things I have come to learn is that you shouldn’t get too depressed on the downside, or too excited on the upside – just keep plugging away. Eventually, good things happen.”

You never know when you had a good daySource and thanks to:

“You never know if a bad day is a bad day” – converse of the Albert saying to give us heart as we think of a bad day/phase

Hail the fail whale – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from Things a Little Bird Told Me by Biz Stone.

Since Twitter was born out of a two week hackathon, the architecture of the site wasn’t built to handle its exploding growth and the service regularly went down.

Biz Stone, the voice of Twitter to its users, believed in being absolutely honest about the issues and the work being carried out by the Twitter team. While companies worked hard to convey a “perfect” image, his belief was that vulnerability is always rewarded with goodwill. So, the Twitter team created the now-famous “fail whale” – a humorous communication of the service’s outage.

He realized his approach was working just a few months in. When the Twitter team was working late at night before the Apple developer’s conference where an iPhone was rumored to be released, pizzas arrived at the office followed by a tweet from a few users asking if they’d received it. Their users didn’t think of Twitter as automated bots who caused them pain. Instead, they saw them as people working hard to make the service work. The fail whale went on to inspire many fan clubs and even a conference(!).

Here’s to vulnerability over attempts to look perfect.

Fail whaleSource and thanks to:

‘Perhaps the history of the errors of mankind, all things considered, is more valuable and interesting than that of their discoveries.’ | Biz Stone