A giraffe, elephant, and diversity

A giraffe built a home suited to his family’s specifications – with soaring ceilings and narrow hallways. The home also included a home-office. As he working in his office one day, he saw an elephant he knew passing by and decided to invite him to work with him.

The elephant gladly accepted. But, as he entered the giraffe’s home, he started breaking things. The hallways were too narrow and the stairs weren’t built to take the elephant’s weight. In response, the giraffe first made a few minor adjustments by removing a few bolts and panels.

But, he soon realized that the elephant was not suited for the office/house and began suggesting the elephant take aerobics and ballet classes so he could fit in. The elephant, on the other hand, realized that a house built for giraffes wouldn’t make sense for elephants without major changes.

The story is a great way to think about how we often approach the subject of diversity and speaks to the massive opportunity that lies ahead of us if he considered the implications of this parable.


(H/T: Thank you Stephen Weiss for writing in and sharing this)

Mastery – The Terry Laughlin summary

Life is not designed to hand us success or satisfaction, but rather to present us with challenges that make us grow. Mastery is the mysterious process by which those challenges become progressively easier and more satisfying through practice. The key to that satisfaction is to reach the nirvana in which love of practice for its own sake (intrinsic) replaces the original goal (extrinsic) as our grail. The antithesis of mastery is the pursuit of quick fixes.

I haven’t read George Leonard’s 1990s classic “Mastery.” But, I came across this synthesis of the book’s core ideas from legendary swimming coach Terry Laughlin and thought it was spot on.

The quote – “Life is not designed to hand us success or satisfaction, but rather to present us with challenges that make us grow.” – is a keeper. And, “The antithesis of mastery is the pursuit of quick fixes.” is one for anyone facing a tough challenge.

Contribution and Impact

“Your contribution is what happens when you’re in the room. Your impact is what happens when you’re out of the room.” – Matt Dunsmoor

This is a beautiful articulation and is one for all of us who hope to have a positive impact on the world. Contribution is the process that leads to impact.

And, in the spirit of focusing on process over outcomes, perhaps we ought to stop asking ourselves if what we’re doing is having an impact. Instead, the the question to ask ourselves is – “Am I making a positive and thoughtful contribution?”

If the answer is yes, it follows that we are doing our absolute best to create the impact we hope to create.

Of course, when we know better, we’ll contribute better.

Metrics we could optimize

We’re all likely accountable for a metric or two in our workplaces. And, doing a good job optimizing these metrics can go a long way in shaping our career’s trajectory.

But, it doesn’t end there. Thanks to our phones and our favorite apps/websites, it is easy to find ourselves optimizing metrics in our personal lives as well. It could be likes on the photos of our new hobby or latest travel picture, listens on that podcast we do on the side, reshares on that witty quote, views on that video, subscribers on that newsletter, and so on.

Of course, we don’t have to optimize any of these. We could, instead, decide to optimize other alternatives that are less present – doses of insight that changed how we approach our days, the number of hugs we gave to those we love, times we resisted the urge to interrupt, changes we embraced, and positive contributions we made in rooms we were in.

The metrics that we most need to optimize for a better life are rarely found in any notifications tab.

The next, next big thing

One of the constants in competitive sports is hearing about wonder kids. The other constant is the fact that most of these wonder kids don’t make it. I’ve been reading excerpts from a book called “Next, Next Big Thing” that profiles 15 such football/soccer wonder kids and the stories in there are very poignant.

The wonder kids share powerful stories about their journey exposing various factors like injuries, a bad relationship with a coach, personal problems, timing, etc., that got in their way of becoming top flight footballers.

The stories reminded me of a chance conversation in London with a train ticket inspector who was an Academy player at Chelsea football club. He shared that most of the high potential kids stop playing because of injuries. The ones who emerge are either lucky to avoid them or have incredible mental strength to find a way back.

Similarly, reading each excerpt has been a profound reminder of both the importance of mental strength when the chips are down and the power of luck in shaping any success.

While we tend to have plenty of conversations about the former (“grit,” “perseverance,” etc.), we often neglect attributing our success to the latter. Perhaps we should… and perhaps we’d appreciate what’s good in our careers a lot more when we do.

The Pink Tax

I was purchasing T-Shirts for a team celebration recently and was intrigued to find that female T-shirts cost $10 or 25% more than a male T-shirt at $8. The reason I was given by our vendor (something about volumes usually purchased) wasn’t convincing . I realized I was seeing the “Pink Tax” in action.

I recently came across a fascinating 2015 paper by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs about the cost of being a female consumer. In the 397 retail products compared, women paid more 42% of the time while men only did so 18% of the time.

For example, girls’ toys cost more 55% of the time versus 8% of the time for boys. Girl’s clothing costs more 26% of the time versus 7% for boys. Women’s personal care products cost more 56% of the time versus 13% for men. And so on. This is nuts.

These costs add up over time and have powerful implications on women’s ability to save for retirement – to the tune of a million dollars over the course of a lifetime. Thanks to taxes, a penny saved is worth a lot more than a penny earned.

So, while it is great to see all the efforts going into achieving pay gap equality, we’ll need to pay as much attention to the pink tax. Improving the top line without paying attention to the bottom line is the definition of counter productive.

Reset – 30 minutes at a time

A few weeks back, I’d shared a note on “learning to reset” –

After reflecting on a year of attempting to “seek to understand and then to be understood,” I realized that my ability to do so seemed to decline through the day. I write a quick note at the end of the day with an assessment of how I did. And, I found that I was most vulnerable to interrupt-itis at the end of the day. This is especially the case if there were a series of meetings in the second half.

As a result, a skill I’m working on is learning to reset during the day.

My thought process at the moment is that my ability to listen gets lost as I flow unconsciously through the day. And, teaching myself to reset would be a reminder to be conscious about how I approach the next section.

This sounds great in theory. But, I’ve struggled, so far, to execute on the idea. So, as is usually the case, I’m writing about it to clarify my thinking on it and make a public commitment to do better at it.

I hope to have more on this in a few weeks.

I do have an update. After a couple of failed attempts, my current working solution is to run a recurring 30 minute timer through the day.

Every time I pay attention to my phone vibrating, it reminds me to take a deep breath and reset.

I pay attention (versus simply notice) 20%-30% of the time now. The next step is to increase that sense of awareness to 50% of the time. It feels doable thanks to this process. And, I’m hopeful these resets will help me become more aware of my impatience in conversations – 30 minutes at a time.

More to follow in a few weeks.