Failure is Carelessness, Success is Consistency

Failure is Carelessness, Success is Consistency

This Sunday I was at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin to watch the key Six Nations Rugby game between Ireland and England.  England won.

The Irish guy sitting next to me says: “We were by far the better team.”

I said “The score doesn’t show that.  We were more entertaining, some great play, individual moments of glory; but we were not the better team according to the rules of rugby.”

2013, Ireland vs England

The English Converted their Opportunities

The Irish team played most of the game in the english half of the field.  There were some inspiring periods of play.  There were some great moves.  However, all of this energy was not converted into points.  The Irish managed to drop the ball, knock it on, run into unsupported positions each time they got near the English try line.

The English got 5 penalties, all far out.  Owen Farrell kicked 4 of the 5 penalties.  12 Points on the board.  12 points all taken from cheap penalties far from the try line.

The Irish created lots of opportunity and scored twice.

The English were pretty boring, but converted 4 out of their 5 opportunities.

Boring and consistent will beat Brilliant and Careless every day.

A golf tournament requires consistent play over 4 days in order to win.  You can lose the tournament in 1 moment, but you cannot win it with one single shot.  I remember many tournaments where some player throws away a 3 shot lead, built up over 3 days… in an instant.

Life is similar.  Success is a few simple good habits repeated every day.  Failure is a moment of carelessness.

I cross the road everyday.  I look both ways every day.

Brilliant but careless against boring and consistent.

Consistent beats Careless

Your ability to get “Return on Luck” is more important than Luck.

The 3 Hardest Words in Management

What are the 3 words that managers find hardest to say?

They are possibly the 3 words that parents find hardest to say to children.  They are 3 words that teachers very rarely say to their students.

They are not “You’re the Best”. They are not “I love you”.  What might they be?

Confused…

The 3 hardest words for a manager to say are “I don’t know.”

The need to act under the lack of full information does not give the excuse of not needed to do the work.  One must do the work to examine the data that is available, to seek advice from wise counsel, to speak to others who have experience; but the analysis once done, must end.  A decision must be taken by the leader.

Orchids are not Fragile

I am reading Nassim Taleb’s latest book “AntiFragile” at the moment.  I received 2 gifts of this book for Christmas – I do hope it is not because I am generally seen as “fragile” and in need of some increased strength…

I remember a conversation with my friend Xavi, who runs a gardening business.  We were talking about Orchids.  He explained “there is a widespread idea that Orchids are difficult plants, they are fragile.  This is not true.  Any plant that has survived the millions of years of evolution to survive in its form today is in no way fragile.  It is not suited to certain environments, but it is not fragile.”

Most complex organic systems not only survive uncertainty, chaos, disorder, time… they thrive.  They grow stronger though dealing with their environments.  There are forests that need fire – certain trees can only grow past a certain point if they face fire.  A human muscle will atrophy if not used, it will grow stronger through being worked, through being damaged.

Modern education equates volatility with risk, equates non-standard with failing.  Statisticians hate the outliers.

Nassim’s central idea is that we cannot predict risks, but we can predict a system’s capability to cope with risk.  We cannot predict an earthquake, but we do know whether the 400 year old cathedral or the poorly built modern apartment block will fall first.  We cannot predict a financial crisis, but we can predict which bank will fail first.  We cannot predict loss of employment, but we can see which human will come back strong the fastest.

Leading in the Real World

The real world has surprises.  Hemmingway said that the “true” parts of his stories were the most un-believable.  Fiction is never as crazy as reality.

There are 3 things a good leader must learn to be able to do:

  • Act under Uncertainty
  • Take the Painful Decisions
  • Own the Decision

Acting Under Uncertainty

I teach a class towards the end of the course on the MBA program where my objective is to create uncertainty.  As the students give their answers, I give no expression, neither verbal nor non-verbal as to whether I agree with their answer.  This creates tension in the class.  The students are used to a class where they say their answer and the professor either writes it up on the board or grimaces.  If the professor writes it up, I got the answer right.  If the professor grimaces, I change my answer until I get a nod and a note on the board.

I believe education from “The All-Knowing Professor” creates a dangerous tendency for future leaders.  In the real decisions of life, there is nobody there to nod their head, nor to say “no” or “incorrect”.  There are many people making lots of noise, and the leader needs to commit to their course of action without achieving 100% consensus, or 100% of the information that could prove the course of action.  Leaders must be able to do enough work to be fairly sure they have a good course of action, and then commit to that course of action; and get others to commit.

If MBAs are learning always to wait for someone else to give then certainty, then they are not learning to lead.  We need to ensure that tomorrows leaders are getting practice in the world of uncertainty.  They are getting practice at having to move forward without all the information.

Taking the Painful Decisions

Odysseus must choose between definitely losing a few of his men by passing closer to Scylla, or possibly losing all of his men passing nearer to Charybdis, the whirlpool.  There was no “good” alternative.  MBA cases, video games, TV series tend to allow the hero to find a “good” outcome.  They allow the business to survive with nobody losing their job.  They allow the main character to finish the journey and get back to a comfortable life.  If you have a good option and a bad option, this is not a decision.  It is obvious.  A leadership decision is always between 2 bad options.

Many of school’s choices are between a good and a bad outcome.  Most of life’s choices are between two bad outcomes.

Own the Decision

When I was young, 12 or 13 years old, I was once caddying for my father.  We were at a par 3 and we discussed what club to hit.  I suggested a 7 iron.  He thought it was not enough, but after a pause, took the 7 iron anyway.  He had a look at the green, the flag.  He took a few practice swings. He stood up to the ball.  He swung the club making good contact with the ball.  It soared up and was in line with the pin.  It hung in the air for 2, 3 seconds… and then dropped…  15 meters short, landing in the sandy bunker.

He made a pained grunt and as he returned the club to me I said “sorry, I gave you the wrong club”.  He said, “No, you are the caddy, but I am the golfer. I chose wrong.”  At the time I remember feeling bad.  I felt that I wasn’t “respected” by him, that he didn’t treat my advice as serious advice.  Now I think that he acted then as he has always acted.  He owned the decision.  I gave advice, but at no point did it become my “fault”.  He owns his decisions, whether in golf, in business or in life.

Blainroe golf club 15th hole, where I learnt my golf

Learning to take responsibility for the choice, where it is the leader themselves who must choose, is a challenge.  It takes psychological maturity to own a decision that cannot necessarily be justified with the data.  It takes psychological strength to deal with the slings and blows of others who have not had to take the decision.  Leadership is solitary.  Any education of leaders must help the leader find the mental strength necessary to be alone.

Being alone and being lonely are different.  Alone is a choice.  Lonely is the desire to have someone else to take away the burden.

A good leader has mentors, friends, advisors…  but when the decision comes, it is they and they alone who are responsible.

Increasing your Question to Answer ratio

In an uncertain world, the art of “Muddling Through” is of greater importance than the art of long-term strategic planning.  Dealing with the chaos requires accepting the chaos, and then taking quick steps to understand the map, the compass.  In management life, giving answers shrinks our understanding; asking questions increases our understanding, our capacity to adapt.

How many of your statements are answers and how many are questions?

The person asking the questions is in control of the conversation.  It is hard to remain open to other’s ideas.  It is hard to stop saying what it is that I want to say, and giving the other what it is that they need to hear.

The Best Questions…

  • The best Leadership Question:  “What is the next right thing to do?”
  • The best Teaching Question: “What do you think?  What other options do you see?”
  • The best Coaching Question: “You have achieved what you set out to accomplish.  Imagine yourself there.  What does it feel like?”
  • The best Friendship Question: “How are you?”
  • The best Parenting Question: “What was the best moment of your day?”
  • The best Sales Question: “(I understand that price is important.)  What other criteria are important in making this decision?”  (The implicit question: “What are you comparing this to?”)

These questions come from my blog series The Origin of Leaders over at ActiveGarage.com.

What do you think?

Let me see how many times I can say “I don’t know.  What do you think?” today.

So… in the comments below…  What do you think?

Amazon Staff Meetings: “No Powerpoint”

“We have study hall at the beginning of our meetings.” says Jeff Bezos.

Staff meetings at Amazon begin with 30 minutes of silent reading.

Powerpoint is easy for presenter, hard for audience

Jeff Bezos of Amazon

“The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents with a powerpoint presentation, some type of slide show.  In our view you get very little information, you get bullet points.  This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience.  And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a 6 page narrative memo.”

All meetings are structured around a 6 page memo

“When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences, complete paragraphs it forces a deeper clarity.”

Why don’t you read the memos in advance?

“Time doesnt come from nowhere. This way you know everyone has the time. The author gets the nice warm feeling of seeing their hard work being read.”

“If you have a traditional ppt presentation, executives interrupt.  If you read the whole 6 page memo, on page 2 you have a question but on on page 4 that question is answered.”

And so that is what we do, we just sit and read.

“Think Complex, Speak Simple”

I love this idea.  In our communications courses we talk about “think complex, speak simple”.  It is hard work to prepare well enough to be able to speak simple.  Most presenters are figuring out what they really want to say as they are presenting.  This is a terrible waste of an audience.

This video is “The Single Most Important Ingredient in Becoming Influential”:

These quotes come from the Charlie Rose interview with Jeff Bezos.  It is available here: http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12656

NEW August 2015: View the Original email memo sent by Jeff Bezos (thanks to Pete Abilla)

P.S. If you liked this post you might also like 16 Lessons from the European HR Directors Summit and Zero Executive Presence: When I speak, People don’t listen. Why is that?

Discussion of this Post

Twitter:

Lots of Debate on Reddit:

Main Discussion Page http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/1ebavs/amazon_staff_meetings_no_powerpoint/

  • [friedice5005] Powerpoint isn’t the problem. It’s a very useful tool to augment information you are trying to get across. The problem is people people who are bad at it using it as a crutch. Powerpoint should basically be an outline of what you’re talking about with MAJOR discussion points and any images or graphs you need to show. It should not be blocks of text that you read verbatim.
  • [via Yajirobi ] if you dont integrate people into it, they just sleep. Forcing them with made up questions is a bad idea too. Getting random questions from the audience is the best way to do it. Its a GIFT. They make the presentation good for you, without any effort from your part.
  • [via EngineerVsMBA]I experienced this system, and I loved it. I will use it in every job from here on out. Let me explain why:1.) It requires meaningful preparation by the presenter. They cannot hide behind pretty slides, and you can’t use the usual confusion tactics. If you can’t fit it in six pages, you didn’t prepare enough.2.) You know everyone is going to read it.3.) These meetings are intense! The participants can’t just sit back and relax. They are digging into it. If you are the presenter, you can use that time to send some emails, or do some other work.4.) People with poor communication skills can’t suck the life out of a meeting. It allows good ideas to come out. There is always that guy that talks too much, and this meeting shuts him up.5.) This isn’t for the every-day meeting. This is for the multi-million-dollar business deal. Anything you would typically reserve for an hour-long power-point presentation.Power-point is for selling a concept or an idea. The written word is for discussion. Anyways, a good exec will print out the power points and make notes on those anyways. Might as well tell him exactly what you think instead of letting him interpret your spoken word.

Related Posts on Meetings:

Warren Buffett’s Greatest Error

Warren Buffett, when asked: “what is the biggest mistake you have made?” has an interesting answer.

He says that he has taken many poor decisions in his life, but these errors are nothing in comparison to the decisions that he did not take.

It is the investment opportunities that passed by and he didn’t pay attention, the people that passed through and they didn’t connect… these are the errors that are biggest in his life.

For myself, I suffer for the things I have done that turned out badly.  This seems to be a common human trait.  We suffer when we choose a path and it turns out to be a poor path, lead to a poor outcome.  My ego doesn’t suffer in the same way when I sit on the sofa and don’t do anything.

My ego fears sins of commission, my ego ignores sins of omission.

A Lazy Sloth

Making More Errors of Ambition, Making Less Errors of Sloth

  • Sins of Commission = Errors of Ambition
  • Sins of Omission = Errors of Sloth

This Saturday morning, I am sitting in a room of entrepreneurs.   10 people have volunteered to pitch their businesses.  I can see around me in the room a few faces that are expressing “I could do better than this guy”.  But, you are sat in your seat (omission), and this guy has put his hand up and taken the act of putting himself in the spotlight (commission).

“It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved.”

It is better to have done something poorly today, than to sit there and think “I could do a better job than that guy”.

Even better to practice a few times, and do it well.

Interview: Manel Baucells, Author of Engineering Happiness

Manel Baucells was the favourite Professor amongst students when I did my MBA at IESE Business School.  He taught Decision Analysis.  There are certain types of situation under which humans will take poor (rational) decisions.  We study this subject so that we can reduce the likelihood that we will take similar poor decisions under similar situations.  Examples of situations that cause poor decisions are sunk costs, loss aversion, prediction of low frequency events.

Manel’s new book “Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Lifehas just arrived to my Kindle.  I asked him to answer a few questions about the book, and about how a Microsoft Excel geek could end up at the fluffy end of psychology…  writing about happiness 😉

Interview with Manel Baucells

Engineering Happiness,
by Manel Baucells


What most surprised you in learning about happiness?
How much happiness depends on our attitudes, rather than on external circumstances.

What led you to write the book?
As professors, our audience are the students that attend our lectures and the colleagues that read our academic papers. There is a moment in our careers that we want to expand our audience, and publish a book for a broad audience. It is critical to choose a time that is not too early in one’s career, and ideas are not yet mature; or too late. Rakesh and I felt that this is a good time in our careers to write a book of this characteristics.

Who will benefit from reading the book?
Any one interested in being happier, or readers of popular science books. I feel that the audience for non-fiction, research based books is expanding. This increase is due, no doubt, to the growing quality and relevance of the research done in the social sciences.

What are the 3 most damaging things people do that reduce happiness?
The fundamental starting point of the book is that happiness equals reality minus expectations. There are three key things one needs to understand:

  • The first is that expectations shift. The moment one increases his or her living standards, one get adapted quite soon, and going back down is very painful.
  • The second is that our happiness is greatly influenced by how we compare with our peers, our comparison group.
  • The third is that happiness can be engineered by using a “less to more” approach. Always start low, and then increase.

What 3 things have you changed in your own life since writing the book?
Managing expectations better, create less to more (crescendo) patterns, and engage in activities that accumulate.

The book is accessible for anyone interested in the latest science on the field of human happiness: Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life.


Have you read the book?  Did you have Manel as a professor?  What are your thoughts about the concept of mathematically measuring and improving “happiness”?

Rhetorical Fallacies: Sliding down a Slippery Slope with Pigs

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” George Bernard Shaw
Beware of Pigs

One tool of “pigs” in manipulative persuasion is the rhetorical fallacy.  A fallacy is a deliberate mis-use of logical argument.  You’ll find them regularly in political, social and family “discussions”.  Don’t get drawn in to a debate centered on a fallacy.  Ignore the fallacy and re-connect with the argument.

Here are eight common rhetorical fallacies:
  • Slippery slope – “If we let Europe regulate our banks, next we will all be speaking German“. This fallacy connotates a small (reasonable) step with a much larger (unreasonable) outcome.
  • Sweeping Generalization – “Smoking kills; therefore all smokers are suicidal“. This generalizes one element of a decision to smoke in absence of the broader set of reasons for smoking.
  • Hasty generalization – “Everyone I know likes chocolate; therefore everyone likes chocolate“. My sample is not representative of the larger population.
  • Straw man – “If we just open up our borders, every beggar, lazy and crazy will be here tomorrow.”   This is a false argument that avoids the real issue.
  • False choice – “You’re either with us, or against us.”  This statement presents 2 options when in reality 3 or more choices exist.  Another common example: “If you really loved me, you would…
  • Argument from authority – “Because I’m your father“.  There is no logic involved.  This is not an argument.  
  • Argument from force – “Give me the toy or my big brother will beat you up.”  No argument, just the threat of force.  It can be subtle.  
  • Ad hominem attacks – “Vote for me because the other guy is a liar.”  A personal attack, ignoring the actual argument.


Beware the Pigs Inside

These are used by other people, but I sometimes find that some of my own inner reasoning falls into the fallacy structure.  As I reflect on my own thinking processes, I watch carefully for use of these fallacies.  My ego loves to come up with self-serving but false logic to prove my “rightness”.

Have you spotted any fallacies today?

"You are not doing that right!"

When someone tells me that I am wrong, what do I learn?

“You are not doing that right!”

“How did you let this happen?”

Do I learn what is intended?

I don’t think so.  I don’t often know what is intended – that I should feel bad or guilty; or that I need to see the world in a different way, act in a different way?  However, what I really learn; being honest is something quite different.

What do I really learn when you tell me I am wrong?

I do often learn one of three things:

  1. You are stupid
  2. You are blind
  3. It is no fun talking to you
Jake Lacaze tells a simple story of a time his mother didn’t tell him he was wrong, but allowed him to learn from a situation.
I have regularly focused on my “rightness” in conversations; and in winning the battle of “rightness”, I lost days of friendship.  
Marshall Goldsmith tells us to question “Is is worth it?” as I begin to get into a proof of how another is wrong.  I can learn to use the Japanese “Yes”:  I hear you, I understand that you see it that way from your point of view; but I don’t accept or deny the statement.  I don’t enter into a battle for truth, only accept that 2 different people are guaranteed to have 2 different points of view.  
There is a story about blindfolded kids and an elephant that I remember.  I am sure you can google it if you haven’t heard it.
If you think you are good at listening without judging try this 1 day listening challenge 😉
So, do you think I am wrong?  Or the bigger question, if you did think so, how could you really engage with me in a way that might allow me to open up to the possibility?

5 Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Carlo Cipolla

These laws were identified and developed by Carlo M. Cipolla who was Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley up his death in the year 2000.  The full description and implication of these 5 basic laws can be read in his article

The 5 Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.

  • Law 1: Underestimation Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  • Law 2: Independence The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  • Law 3: Loss A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
  • Law 4: Cost Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  • Law 5: Danger A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
From law 3 we have four basic categories of human action: helpless, intelligent, bandit and stupid.

The 4 Basic Categories of Human Action

If Dan does something that causes him loss, but gain to Sarah this is helpless.  If Dan does something that causes gain to him and gain to Sarah, this is intelligent.  If Dan does something that causes gain to him and loss to Sarah, this is bandit.  Now…  If Dan does something that causes loss to himself, and loss to Sarah…  this is true stupidity.

In many economic theories a human is assumed to act rationally.  In such theories, Dan would never knowingly cause loss to himself.

In real life we all regularly come into contact with Stupid Dan.

How can economists build models that take into account Stupid Dan?  How can we predict if the person in front of us, our colleague, our boss is about to choose Stupid rather than Helpless, Bandit or Intelligent action?


How can we reduce the possibility of Stupid Action?

Simple Rules for Effective Meetings

Here’s a new rule for people who wish to create a meeting:

Al Pittampalli asks “What difference could you make that requires no one’s permission other than your own?”  Do that first.  Don’t call the meeting until you have done that.

What do you think?  Feasible?

A Vaccination for The Meeting Virus?

“Lets meet to discuss it”  Black holes.  Time sinks.  They feel like progress, but they really are avoidance of the real work.

The average man spends 4.34 hours each week in meetings, the average woman 2.28.  75% say that these meetings were ineffective (NY Times research).

In my years as a management consultant with Accenture I was privileged to live 10 corporate cultures.  I worked in oil, retail banking, insurance, government department, monopoly telephone and mobile telephony.

Nowhere was the culture of meetings more widespread nor more ineffective than the ex-monopoly telephony company.  There were many employees whose concept of a job was attending meetings.  They did nothing except travel to meetings, sit through meetings, plan meetings and complain about having to attend so many meetings.  However, they spent so much time in meetings because it was far easier than the alternative of actually taking a decision, justifying it and getting on with implementation.  Meetings were used as an escape from personal responsibility.

“What difference could you make that requires no one’s permission other than your own?” 

If you have done that, and now need further resources you can call a meeting.

The leader’s role is to take the difficult decisions.  The meeting’s role is to present that decision and plan execution.  The leader’s role is to keep the meeting on track.  Anything that does not contribute to refining the decision or executing the decision should be taken offline.  Writing side issues up on a big flip chart in the room can be a great way of showing that these side issues have not been ignored, but this is not the time and place to debate them.

If the leader does not know what decision to take, a group meeting will not help.  1-to-1 sessions with affected people, peers, consultants can help the leader shape the criteria for the decision.  Often the most powerful tool is a blank sheet of paper and some time alone reflecting and thinking.  No meeting should be called without the basic criteria for taking the decision already in place.

How to solve Problems

Problem solving in business should be systematic.  Intuition has a role, but only within a systematic framework that ensures you are looking at the whole picture before jumping to an overly simplistic solution.  Here are 6 Steps for Business Problem Solving.  Work through these 6 steps before asking others for input.

My New Rules for Meetings…

  • There Must be an Agenda – No plan, no meet; How? and What? are both important; Plan together, agree agenda;
  • Hard edges – start and end on time. The end time is as important as the start time; don’t accept drift – leave. Don’t waste people’s time, finish when done.
  • Provide work for meeting – Don’t let people just wander into the meeting and say “Hey, so what is this all about then?”  Give pre-reading.  Give questions to consider before people attend the meeting.
  • Chair the Meeting – Participate, get focus, maintain momentum and reach closure;
  • Bring Tools – Each person must have pencil, paper, agenda;  Meetings are REAL WORK.  Require preparation. Give people things to read or do before the meeting, and if they don’t, kick them out.
  • Parking Lot – Send off-topic ideas to the Parking lot.  Do not allow drift.  It is not just your time that you are abusing.
  • Demand Presence – Mobiles off?
  • Include Everyone – End asking “Did we miss anything?” to every participant
  • End with Actions –  Distribute minutes (who was there, key items discussed, actions agreed with completion date); The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.
  • Seth Godin’s Rule – If someone is more than two minutes later than the last person to the meeting, they have to pay a fine of €10 to the coffee fund.


And 3 bonus ideas… but not quite in the category of Rules

  • Start with something interesting – A story, Music, a video, One word from each person… something that breaks with mundane and says that this meeting will be different
  • Preparation 10 minutes before – Every participant should be taking the 10 minutes before the meeting begins to think through how they can participate, what a good outcome looks like, what questions they have.
  • Sometimes…  Remove chairs – Don’t allow people to be comfortable – keeps discussion short and focusses on getting closure and action.

Can we put these rules to work?  Any thoughts?  Would love for you to join the discussion here on the LinkedIn Group.  Have a great Friday.

6 Steps for Business Problem Solving

The 6 steps for Business Problem Solving

  1. What is the Problem?
  2. What Alternatives exist?
  3. What Criteria are important?
  4. Analyse alternatives against criteria
  5. Choose the Best Option.
  6. Define the Execution Plan.

These steps come from the IESE MBA Course Analysis of Business Problems (ABP).  Wikipedia has a great section on Structured Decision Making models.

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