Competence – you can only be trusted as competent if you clearly understand the limits of your competence. The great danger of experts is they forget the limits of their expertise – “it is better to trust a man of 130 IQ who thinks he is 125 IQ, than to trust a man of 180 IQ who thinks he is 200 IQ” Warren Buffett
Inverting – if you want to make life better, think of what you would do to make life worse. Charlie was an aviation meteorologist during WWII. His task was to give weather briefings to pilots. His role was unclear until he thought of the inverted perspective “if I wanted to kill pilots as a meteorologist, what could I do? Flying with iced wings, flying in conditions they will be unable to land.” This really clarified for him the important aspects of his role in keeping pilots alive. In our own lives, asking “how would I really make my life worse?” can be a valuable perspective on what really matters.
Collector – be a collector. How many collectors do you know who are unhappy? Identify things or experiences that you enjoy collecting and become a curator of your collections.
Integrate ideas between domains – most people focus on details within the idea (especially academics), few people look at the interaction between big ideas. That’s where there’s not much incentive in academics, but it’s very interesting for investing money.
Occam’s razor- go for simple… with a proviso that was initially shared by Einstein “Everything should be made as simple as possible but not more so” Einstein. Anywhere there is a “lollapalooza result” (Charlie’s term for a hugely positive and rapid outcome)… look for a confluence of causes. Academic experts find one cause. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There are rarely just single causes for high impact outcomes.
The problems of Social science– all chemists can answer “where do the rules of chemistry not apply?” In the high temperature plasma state. how many social scientists can answer “if you want to sell more should you raise or lower the price?” Where does this rule not apply? 1 in 50 will say “luxury goods!” Many social scientists forget to think of the exceptional cases.
Without the people around you taking good decisions, you will always need to step in to stop disaster from happening. In the IESE MBA program we have a course called “Analysis of Business Problems”. We teach a 6 step process for business decision making:
Life is too short to figure everything out on your own.
Humans spend the years from birth to 12 learning how to survive. Our parents have a vested interest in helping us develop the Stop there: we merely survive.
We live in a highly complex society. There is intense competition for status in whatever hierarchy you compete in. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to compete or not, society and humanity are designed to compete for resources. It is not those born strong that rise to the top of status hierarchies in today’s human society. It is those who learn to use their capacities most effectively and adapt quickly to changes in the environment.
There are two ways we learn to make positive progress in this society – 1) our own experience, or 2) through the experiences of others. Our own experience is a slow and expensive way of learning.
If I am to choose to learn most effectively, through the experiences of others, I must learn the art of meaningful conversation. Through my work with Entrepreneurs’ Organisation forum and Vistage groups I have worked extensively over the last 15 years on creating the type of meaningful conversation that allows one to learn from the experiences of another.
I’m sharing 4 ideas that I took from Jordan Peterson’s book the 12 Rules for Life when I read it this year.
“Your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe”
Your knowledge is insufficient. You must accept this before you can converse philosophically, instead of pushing opinions, convincing, oppressing, dominating or joking.
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
It is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption). You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things (as learning from the experience of others can be quicker and much less dangerous).
It takes conversation to organise a mind
“people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds.” The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche.
“Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own”
They say Aristotle was the last man who knew everything there was to know. Since the time of Aristotle (over 2300 years ago) society has become too complex for any one individual to know all that is known.
When I was in school, I took huge value in solving from first principles. I would prefer to solve mathematic problems from first principles and avoid using formulaic recipes that allowed you to shortcut to a solution. This was symptomatic of my whole approach to life. If I hadn’t figured it out myself, I didn’t value the knowledge. There is a heroic valor to this approach, but it is dumb heroics.
This article by Vistage CEO Sam Reese was originally published on the Vistage blog. Over his 35 year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizations and has advised CEOs and key executives of companies all over the world.
Over to Sam…
The COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges for leaders, but it also offers fresh opportunities to learn how to navigate their companies through uncharted waters. As employees accept the current crisis and adjust to new environments, routines and protocol, they look to leaders for transparency, stability and conscious decision-making.
Great leaders know leadership excellence is a challenging, continuous journey that requires hard work and determined attention. They reject shortcuts and take ownership of their development, especially in times of crisis. They bring rigor and grit, working hard to hone their expertise and continuously improve. They recognize it is important to keep an organized rhythm of communications and work progress that will keep their businesses busy and aligned during a crisis.
2. Carve out space to work on the business
Successful leaders routinely carve out time and space away from the business to reflect, acquire new knowledge and focus on strategy. This discipline allows them to gain the clarity they need to navigate the day-to-day challenges and understand the environment outside their business. The stress of leading through a global pandemic requires a leader to pause and regroup.
3. Challenge your thinking with fresh perspectives
Great leaders seek diverse perspectives on important decisions from trusted peers. They actively work to combat insular thinking and confirmation bias. They find other CEOs and business leaders who’ve tackled similar issues but in different industries. These peers understand the nuances and challenges of the role but bring fresh perspectives, unhampered by institutional knowledge. Now more than ever, when a group of diverse leaders learn from one another, this effect is amplified. CEOs can share the real-time learnings that come from leading a company through a pandemic.
4. Stoke curiosity
World-class business leaders are high on curiosity and low on ego. They are inquisitive, welcome new ideas from trusted sources and eager to explore. Vulnerability is viewed as an asset, and they are the first to admit they don’t have all the answers. They ask questions to seek input and pressure-test their assumptions, so they can come to the best decision for the business – not to prove their own point. These trying times present the opportunity to be open to and apply new ideas.
5. Apply discipline to decision-making
High-performing leaders follow a disciplined approach to decision-making. They use a systematic process that takes into account their instincts; judgment based on experience and data; and perspectives from peers, mentors and employees. The key is to focus on what can be done today, not necessarily developing long-term strategies that may need to be changed after a crisis. Focus has to remain on mission, vision, purpose and values as the North Star. With these values as the foundation, leaders can make decisions with speed, consistency and accuracy – even under the heavy pressures of a pandemic.
6. Find a trusted guide
Successful leaders view a coach or mentor as a critical component to leadership excellence, especially in stressful times. They value a trusted guide who challenges their assumptions, identifies their blind spots and holds them accountable. The most effective coaches and mentors approach the CEO as a whole person, not just the leader in the corner office. Leaders who take a comprehensive approach to development that includes feedback from trusted peers, effective mentoring, and insights from subject-matter experts continuously outperform their competitors.
7. Rise by helping others
Great leaders help others think critically through their challenges and in the process fine-tune their own decision-making skills. Leaders also recognize relationships matter even more during a crisis. Whether these relationships are with coworkers, customers, suppliers, partners or investors, CEOs and decision makers help others as they remain in constant, transparent communication. Accessibility is the No. 1 quality employees look for in their leaders during a time of crisis. By staying available, you will become acutely aware of the challenges that need to be addressed and convey a sense of stability and continuity during a crisis. High-integrity leaders leave a legacy. The way you manage in a crisis like this will be a key part of the legacy you leave and an example for those who follow in your footsteps.
The coronavirus has brought disruption and caused unprecedented challenges for CEOs, but it can also inspire innovation and lead the way to a company’s future success when life returns to normal. COVID-19 shines a light on the challenges of leading through change and crisis. By using these seven laws and providing clear communication, decision makers can take effective action for their companies today and tomorrow.
This video responds to the question: “I want to change career, but I am worried about the risks”.
Rather than worry about the possible mistakes you could make in changing, reflect on the story you want to be able to tell about your life when you are 80 years old. Will you regret not having tried?
The great danger in our lives are not the errors of commission, but the errors of omission… the opportunities we never even spotted along the way. Warren Buffett says he worries far more about the investments that he never spotted rather than the investments that he made that didn’t work out.
Managing Your Own Career
It’s up to you to identify your place in the world and know when to change course.
5 Thoughts on Careers from Peter Drucker:
Success is at best an absence of failure
People outlive organisations
People are mobile and will move
We must manage ourselves, and help others manage themselves
I have a lasting interest in how people make good decisions, especially when many people are involved, and many people are affected by the decisions.
Currently reading the book “Crucial Conversations“. Towards the end of the book, there is a section on moving from a dialogue towards concrete actions. The authors say that there are 4 methods of decision making.
The 4 methods of decision making:
Command – One person decides. It might be the main authority figure, or that individual might delegate the power to decide to another specific individual.
Consult – A person given the power to make a decision first consults widely before making a decision. Note: you can listen to someone’s opinion without taking on an obligation to use that opinion in your decision.
Vote – The group votes.
Consensus – we negotiate a position that everyone can agree to. This can take a long time, and can lead to many compromises on the decision being agreed.
When choosing which way to decide there are four questions to ask:
Who cares? – Don’t involve people who don’t care
Who knows? – Don’t involve people who cannot add value.
Who must agree? – Who could block the implementation later on if not part of the decision process today?
How many people must be involved? – The fewer the better.
If everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible. Great teams assign clear individual responsibilities and hold people to their commitments.
A leader should be interested in developing 2 competencies in the people within their organisation:
Good Decision Making (to take good choices about how to use the resources of the organisation to achieve strategic plans)
Influencing Skills (because if they cannot influence their peers, people will have to involve you every time…)
If your team doesn’t have #1 they are taking poor decisions. If your team doesn’t have #2 they cannot execute without your support (you will be sucked in to every initiative).
In order to take Good Decisions, you need to ask great questions.
Most people ask few questions and rapidly jump to a solution. Great decision makers ask many questions and get many perspectives before they commit to a decision. Here’s a set of great questions…
This set of questions was inspired by the Global Digital Citizen Foundation and by Vistage Issue Processing where we help leaders develop the ability to ask great questions to help leaders think more deeply and see new perspectives, clarify objectives and take disciplined effective action.
The Ultimate Guide to Great Questions for Critical Thinking
Divided into who, what, where, when, why, how…
…benefits from this?
…is this harmful to?
…makes decisions about this?
…is most directly affected?
…have you also heard discuss this?
…would be the best person to consult?
…else has overcome a similar challenge?
…will be the key people in this?
…deserves recognition for this?
…is the impact on you?
…is the impact on those close to you?
…are the strengths/weaknesses?
…is another perspective?
…is another alternative?
…would be a counter-argument?
…is the best/worst case scenario?
…is the most/least important?
…can we do to make a positive change?
…is getting in the way of taking action?
…else would we see this problem showing up in your life?
…else have you overcome this type of challenge?
…are there similar situations?
…is there the most need for this?
…would this be the greatest problem?
…can we get more information?
…do we go for help with this?
…will this idea take us?
…are the areas for improvement?
…is this acceptable/unacceptable?
…would this benefit you?
…would this cause a problem?
…is the best time to take action?
…will we know we’ve succeeded?
…has this played a part in your past?
…can we expect this to change?
…should we ask for help with this?
…is this a problem/challenge?
…is it relevant to your goals?
…is this the best/worst scenario?
…are people influenced by this?
…should people know about this?
…has it been this way for so long?
…is there a need for this today?
…is this similar to _____?
…does this disrupt things?
…do we know the truth about this?
…does this benefit you/us/others?
…does this harm you/us/others?
…do we see this playing out in the future?
…can we help you?
[Edit: this poem was shared by my Dad upon receiving this post]
I Keep Six Honest Serving Men Rudyard Kipling I KEEP six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west; But after they have worked for me, I give them all a rest.
I let them rest from nine till five, For I am busy then, As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea, For they are hungry men. But different folk have different views; I know a person small— She keeps ten million serving-men, Who get no rest at all!
She sends’em abroad on her own affairs, From the second she opens her eyes— One million Hows, two million Wheres, And seven million Whys!
The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain. As it tires, your brain looks for shortcuts. The 2 most common decision avoidance tactics are:
to act impulsively (without seeing the consequences of the decision)
to procrastinate (do nothing)
Taking decisions takes willpower. Willpower is a form of mental energy that can be exhausted. It is like a muscle that gets fatigued with use.
There are a limited number of good decisions that one can take in a day. You might be a more effective decision maker than those around you, but you will still have a finite limit on the number of good decisions you can take in a day.
How do you Ration your decision making?
In the toughest days of my life as a CEO – dealing with the fallout from the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the collapse in bank lending at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, I hit my limits of decision fatigue. In order to get through the weeks and have energy to deal with the things that would allow us as a business to get through these tough times, I rationed my decision making.
The first step was to specify when and where I would take decisions. (Initially… when: on a Friday; where: only in my office). Previously my team would approach me at any time in the day, over coffee, over lunch, via email, via sms to request budget for small projects or permission to do some new activity. I felt responsable as leader for providing an immediate answer. It was killing me and leaving me with no energy to dedicate to building our future once we survived the immediate crisis.
“That’s great, bring it on Friday…”
I decided that I would take all budget decisions on a Friday between 9-12. If someone came to me with a request, I learnt to say “that’s great, bring it on Friday and we can take a decision”. It was hard at first, people were frustrated and angry and didn’t like my lack of willingness to engage at the time and place that they wanted. Over the following months, the people around me learnt to plan ahead and bring the information necessary to take a good decision on the Friday before they needed the decision.
It gave me peace at lunchtimes, in the break area, even in my office when someone opened the door on a Tuesday. It was a challenge to remove my sense of responsibility to decide at all moments. I learnt to be able to have a conversation where I could contribute ideas, but allow it to be clear that no final decision would be taken during this discussion.
When One decision is not really One decision…
My wife realised that one of her struggles with going to the gym is that it was never just one single decision. Each trip to the gym was a series of decisions: do I change at home or at the gym? do I shower at the gym or at home? will I eat there or not? which t-shirt will I bring? which trainers will I use today? which bag will I use? As the idea of gym came up, her brain knew that it would be exhausted by the series of 20 decisions. Her solution? She wrote down all the questions that she used to ask herself and wrote the answers. She make going to the gym become one simple decision, with a written template of pre-decided answers (shower=yes, trainers=blue, eat=there…)
In Vistage one of the first processes of change that we see in a new CEO member, is a greater awareness of which decisions they should be taking and which decisions they should not be taking.
Are you taking €10,000 decisions, €100 decisions or €1 decisions?
If you are taking the €1 decisions, your brain’s decision willpower will be depleted before lunchtime.
If you are taking the €1 decisions, your €10,000 decisions will not be receiving the analysis and impact that they deserve.
Jack Welch spoke about the size of decisions that he allowed himself to be taking. GE is a multi-billion business. As leader Jack allowed himself to only be taking decisions that could affect at least $50M of the market capitalisation.
Steve Jobs is famous for having a wardrobe full of identical blue jeans and black t-shirts. It was not a fashion decision, it was a conservation of decision willpower for the important decisions of Apple. Barrack Obama speaks about a similar challenge as President of the USA. He set up a structure around him that ensured that he would take no more than 5 important leadership decisions in a day.
The Structure of Leadership Decision Making
The Vistage Decision Model captures 60 years of experience of working with CEOs as they take operational and strategic decisions to lead their companies and their lives. There are 3 levels of Decision “skill” – Instinct, Judgement and Perspectives. There are 5 areas of leadership decision: Talent, Operations, Financials, Customers and Leadership Style.
The most relevant for me was number 9, not for the “decide issues quickly” but for “figure out what typically slows down your decision making and find ways to work around it”. I took some time to reflect…
What slows down my own (business) decision making?
…this is a brain dump of thoughts that come to me now…
Fear of being wrong
Fear of a better idea coming up tomorrow when we have already committed to this course
Feeling like I have to figure out all the implementation details now rather than allow them to be decided when they become necessary.
Feeling like I need to have a really good explanation of my decision that will impress others and have them see me as a “decisive visionary leader”
Feeling like I have to be 100% sure
Feeling like I should speak to a few more people and get their inputs first
Worrying that I have messed up similar decisions in the past (particularly people decisions)
Not seeing the costs of delaying the decision (both financial, and that it then hangs on my mind while I wait to actually commit to a decision)
Not being systematic about the approach to taking decisions
Not distinguishing between small decisions and big decisions and having a clearly different process for each
Not trusting myself to figure out how to make it work down the road
Not stopping to clarify exactly why the decision is important and how it relates to my vision and purpose
Here’s the four lessons from the article that I found most valuable and important to me right now. Numbers are from the Inc Article, Bold text is my own addition…
9. Maximize your time.
“The fastest way to maximize your time is to decide issues quickly. If you need to speed up your decision making, figure out what typically slows down your decision making and find ways to work around it. Pass responsibilities down as far as your people are comfortable. This is another way of speeding up your decision making, by giving others power to decide. You’ll often find that this motivates your employees, building their confidence and enthusiasm, and over time they will gradually accept more responsibility. Clarify your company’s vision, so everyone on the team intuitively understands when projects should be prioritized.”
—Jesse Robbins, founder and CEO of Orion Labs, an enterprise voice platform which secured $18.25 million last fall to expand its next-generation of services to the broader speech and voice recognition market, on track to be worth $18.3 billion by 2023
“It’s OK to be vulnerable. In high school and college, I spent a lot of time learning to be mentally strong, which can be a good thing, since resilience will wear down mountains given time. However, you don’t have to be strong all the time. Tell people when you don’t know, and when you’re worried. You’d be amazing how much help you’ll get, and how much of a connection that creates.”
—Mike Tuchen, CEO of Talend, a provider of cloud and big data integration solutions which saw its stock rise nearly 60 percent over the past year
“CEOs need people around them who are going to question their fundamental beliefs. These people should test and push, so CEOs are forced to question the decisions that they’re making and plan for the inevitable ups and downs that building a company will bring. If you surround yourself with coaches, prodders, and different thinkers, you will create a feedback loop that will fundamentally change your view of the world and make you a better leader.”
—Gordon Ritter, founder and general partner of Emergence Capital, an enterprise cloud venture firm which was recently named Venture Capital Firm of the Year by the National Venture Capital Association
“The one thing I wish my younger self knew was how to find a balance between acting smart and expressing achievements without hesitation. Stereotypes of women’s behavior can dominate perceptions, and as a woman in a male-dominated, STEM-related field, I’ve learned how to take a seat at the table and deliver my message so that it’s heard and respected.”
—Chris Mackey, CEO of MackeyRMS, a research management platform for investment professionals that has taken no outside capital/funding, with clients on its platform managing over $1 trillion in assets
Wisdom is to accept that we do what we do and that is enough. Even if I don’t do my best, it is the best that I could deliver at that time and that moment. We can learn from poor decisions, but we get nothing from the emotion of regretting past decisions and we get nothing from the emotion of anxiety over current decisions.
My father takes decisions very quickly. He has the attitude that he will change direction tomorrow if he is wrong, but he will not wait to take a decision.
Maybe I only see the outside of my father – maybe inside he does face anxiety and frustration at himself for not doing better to get prepared for something. He does a good job of hiding it.
I feel like I spent far too long in agonising worry over decisions. I should take a direction more quickly, but also be open to reversing the decision tomorrow. (As some that know me well will attest: I am poor at accepting that I am wrong).
To be wrong is to have learnt something new. If I take a decision now, and tomorrow I realise it was wrong for me – this new wisdom could only come because I had taken the decision.
What about you?
Are you good at taking decisions? Are you good at dealing with anxiety? I’d love to hear how you approach decisions and deal with yourself.
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