Let’s not be turkeys – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (a hat tip to Ian M for sharing the story). Regulars here might remember this story from a blog post 2 months or so ago – this is so good that I had to share this twice.

The graph below describes 1001 days in the life of a thanksgiving turkey. Mr.Turkey feels great about his life for a long time. He is well looked after and begins to expect food every time the farmer visits. This expectation gets reinforced with time and Mr.Turkey only feels better and better. Then, the farmer shows up with an axe one day and Mr.Turkey learns quickly that his expectations were catastrophically off the mark… And now Mr.Turkey is dinner.

We have many great examples of turkeys in real life – the company on the brink of disruption that was oblivious to the fact that it needed to change its business model, the executive who thought of himself as indispensable, the insensitive family member who never learnt to be nice, and so on. Because, like the turkey, they get fat, complacent, and begin ignoring the signs of the road ahead.

The lesson for us? If we’re feeling great about our companies/teams/ourselves, that’s great. But, we need to guard against being carried away for too long. Extreme emotions dull our sensitivity to obvious signs. We’re only as good as our next game. Let’s not be turkeys..

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Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘Just because you never died before, doesn’t make you immortal.’ | Nassim Taleb

The Kindle – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from The Everything Store by Brad Stone…

While Apple relied on its inspirational founder to relentlessly disrupt industries and cannibalize its own profits, Jeff Bezos characteristically followed a book. Clayton Christensen’s book – “The Innovator’s Dilemma” – pointed out that companies who successfully disrupted themselves created separate autonomous entities and staffed some of their best people to lead the venture.

After watching Steve Jobs disrupt music, Bezos realized that he had to do the same for books. Just as Jobs, a die-hard music lover, had an understanding of music, Bezos understood books and knew the future would be carrying digital libraries in one hand.

So, in 2004, Bezos pulled out Steve Kessel, who was heading Books (one of Amazon’s most coveted divisions) and placed him as Head of Digital – a new department. Under Kessel’s watch, Amazon started a separate company in the San Francisco Bay Area- Lab 126 – which consisted of a small group of hardware hackers who were tasked to disrupt Amazon. After a few initial proposals and ideas, they began working on an e-reader that would revolutionize the industry. The result was “The Kindle.”

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Source and thanks to: Amazon.com

‘If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.’ | Jeff Bezos

Cannibalize your own business – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from The Everything Store by Brad Stone and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

When Barnes & Noble decided it was time to wake up to the threat of Amazon.com in 1997, they created their own website, secured investment and spun it off as a private company. However, Barnes & Noble did not put their best employees in the new company as they didn’t want it to cannibalize their existing 2 Billion dollar business. We know who won that battle…

Amazon, on the other hand, cannibalized themselves many times over – a notable example was when they added “Mom & Pop” sellers selling 2nd hand books to their book catalogue, thus placing them in direct competition with the big distributors selling new books. This upset many people, internally and externally, since new books made more money. But, it was completely aligned with their principle of helping customers make better purchases.

Apple, too, under Steve jobs actively cannibalized their own business. When Apple insiders pointed out that the iPhone would eat into the sales of the iPod, Jobs was vocal in that it is better for Apple to cannibalize its sales than a competitor.

So, how do you go about cannibalizing your own business? Coming up next week..

clip_image001Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.’ | Steve Jobs

Exist to solve problems – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.

At a conference in the pre-iTunes era, somebody asked Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby.com – “What if every musician just set up their own store on their website?” CDBaby.com was then the primary place for independent musicians to sell their music.

“Well, if musicians don’t need CD Baby any more, CD Baby would shut up shop and I would just get back to making music.” – Derek replied to general astonishment.

Derek’s view was simple – a business is started to solve a problem. If the problem is solved, the business is no longer needed. Businesses are often guilty of keeping the problem around so they can continue solving it. But, these businesses die eventually – think businesses like Kodak and Blockbuster which refused to accept the onset of digital photography and the internet.

The best businesses, in fact, are adept at cannibalizing themselves. More on that in next week’s idea.

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Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘Any business that is in business to sell you a cure is motivated not to focus on prevention.’ | Derek Sivers

Sam Walton – the copycat – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

In 1954, Sam Walton, the owner of a variety store in Bentonville, Arkansas,  learnt that a Ben Franklin store was trying out a new kind of centralized check-out system at one end of the store. So, he took a 12 hour (!) bus ride to check it out.

Contrary to the old idea of checking out at every department (hence the name “departmental store”), this ensured efficiency, less employee theft, and more centralized control. Sam Walton immediately adopted the approach. Years later, as Wal-Mart CEO, Walton would spend hours at competitor stores studying their processes and copying their product ranges. He claimed to have visited more K-mart stores than anyone else.

Sam Walton realized that decision making can be lonely. So, he found clever solutions by asking himself – “Who else is struggling with a similar problem and what can I learn from them?”

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Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘Most everything I’ve done, I’ve copied from someone else.’ | Sam Walton

Clause 126 – No Brown M&Ms – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

At a time when concert safety wasn’t guaranteed, Van Halen did a 100 big concerts a year. Since their equipment required complex set up and high attention to detail, they needed a simple way to ensure their own safety. So, buried deep within their contract in clause 126 was a request that a plate of M&Ms be kept in the dressing room. However, the plate shouldn’t contain any brown M&Ms.

Thus, when Van Halen found a brown M&M in their dressing room, they cancelled the concert. They knew their event manager hadn’t really read through their contract and could be liable to make bigger mistakes.

Similarly, Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist, checks if an entrepreneur has had more than 5 secretaries in the past 5 years – his brown M&M test. And, venture capitalist Hunter Walk sees a red flag if senior executive hires can’t bring over their employees from other companies.

Let’s look at setting up our “brown M&Ms” or triggers for decisions e.g. if we haven’t seen a movie with our spouse in 30 days, it’s probably a sign we aren’t investing enough in our relationship.

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Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘Sometimes, the hardest part about a good decision is knowing a good decision needs to be made.’ | Chip Heath and Dan Heath

The nothing alternative – a procrastination hack – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from “Willpower” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.

Given our tendency to do everything except the most important task on our list, some writers and researchers have experimented with putting their most important task as task #2 just to trick their brain.

However, as far as procrastination hacks go, writer Raymond Chandler had an interesting process for writing that involved methodically waiting for inspiration.  Chandler’s process had 2 simple rules –

1. He would set aside 4 hours every day to write
2. He could either write or do nothing. He was allowed to stand on his head or look out of the window but he couldn’t do anything that counted as a task (e.g. admin).

And, thus, we have a simple idea against procrastination – we set aside time to do one and only one thing. Justifying not doing important tasks by doing less important admin is no longer allowed. It’s all or nothing.

clip_image001Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘Anyone can do any amount of work providing it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment.’ | Robert Benchley

Problem finding vs. problem solving – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from To Sell is Human by Dan Pink.

In an interesting 20 year study, researchers Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at the University of Chicago filled a room with about 20 objects and asked students studying art to paint something connecting a few of these objects.

Roughly one half (the “problem solvers”) took a quick look and went on to start painting. The other half (the “problem finders”) took a long time examining the objects carefully and figuring out the links between them before painting.

The paintings were then judged by people who hadn’t seen the artists in action; the “problem finder” paintings received higher scores.

Over the next two decades, a much larger proportion of “problem finders” went onto become successful as artists while many of the problem solvers ended up switching careers.

Our education trains us to take pride in our ability to solve problems. However, problem finding ensures we are solving “the” problem instead of just spending our energies on “a” problem. Maybe we should start sharpening our ability to find problems instead of just sharpening our ability to solve them.

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Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘The first group was trying to solve a problem: How can I produce a good drawing? The second was trying to find a problem: What good drawing can I produce?’ | Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

How to think vs. what to think – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from Clayton Christensen’s wonderful book – How will you measure your life?

Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, requested Prof Clay Christensen to visit Intel headquarters and explain his famous theory of disruptive innovation. When Clay arrived, Andy said he could only spare 10 minutes and asked Clay to explain what it means for Intel. Clay instead showed Andy a diagram of his theory and began walking him through it.

Ten minutes in, Andy interrupted impatiently – “Look, I’ve got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.”

“Andy, I can’t.” Clay persisted and went on to share the story of the disruption of the steel mill industry.

When he finished the story, Andy said, “I got it.” and explained how it applied to Intel.

Clay knew that Andy knew more than he would ever know about his business. Instead of telling him what to think, he taught him how to think.

A great lesson for us to apply as and when we are asked for counsel by our clients, team members and friends – let’s focus on setting a frame i.e. “how to think” (for example – in such situations, it is worth asking ourselves the following 3 questions..) rather than giving specific “what” advice.

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Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

“When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question directly. Instead, I run the question aloud through one of my models. I’ll describe how the process in the model worked its way through an industry quite different from their own. And then, more often than not, they’ll say, “OK, I get it.” And they’ll answer their own question more insightfully than I could have.” | Clayton Christensen

The Peregrine Falcon – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea inspired by an anonymous writer who came up with this very cool story.

A king once received a gift of two magnificent Peregrine Falcons from Arabia. He gave the precious birds to a newly appointed royal falcon trainer.

A few weeks later, the trainer informed the king that though one of the falcons was flying majestically, the other bird had not moved from its branch since the day it had arrived. The king summoned healers and sorcerers from all the land to tend to the falcon, but no one could make the bird fly. So, he offered a reward to anyone in his kingdom who could solve the problem. A farmer came in to try and within minutes, the falcon was flying above the palace gardens.

When the king asked him how he did it, the farmer said, ” It was very easy, your highness. I simply cut the branch where the bird was sitting.”

Despite our huge potential, we often cling and conform to the familiar and the comfortable. Perhaps it is worth examining which branches are in need of cutting in our lives.

clip_image001Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘A man grows most tired while standing still.’ | Chinese proverb