The Key to Good Luck Is an Open Mind

By the 1990s, [Richard Wiseman] had taken on an unconventional project—running experiments on self-proclaimed lucky and unlucky people and attempting to quantify their differences. “His research is hilarious,” says Carter. “He takes people who self-define as lucky and people who don’t say they’re lucky, and then he puts a $20 bill in the street and the lucky people notice them and pick them up. And unlucky people don’t.”

It's so simple, that it's hard to believe. But it certainly seems to fit: people who are observant and open to change are more likely to benefit in life.

Listen

One of the most important things you can do when you're with another person is to listen to what they are saying. This requires you to give them 100% of your attention while they are talking.

Likely, you have fallen into the habit of formulating what you are going to say next while the other person is talking to you. Possibly, you believe that you've mastered the art of "thinking through what you'll say while pretending to fully listen to them". If so, you're wrong.

Ask yourself this: Can you tell when someone else is thinking about what they'll say, rather than fully and actively listening to what you're saying? Of course you can. Humans have spent millions of years evolving the ability to read body language of other humans. You're not fooling anyone.

A key to breaking this habit is allowing for small pauses after the other person has finished their thoughts. Often, we think this pause is awkward. Or we may fear that we won't appear smart if we're not rushing to fill the void. But neither of these are true. If you're fully and actively listening to the other person, then you'll need a second or three to gather your own thoughts. And that's okay. In fact, the other person will both realize and appreciate this for what it is - the gift of truly listening to them.

Friday Note

I send our product and services leadership team a note (almost) every Friday. I first heard about this practice from Scott Burns, of Structural, about a year ago. Since then, I've been getting progressively more deliberate and diligent in preparing for and sending a weekly note.

There are at least three important reasons to do so: you build a stronger relationship with your team; you inform and guide your team to desired actions and outcomes; and you clarify your thinking on important topics (presumably you're writing something which you feel is important).

If you're a leader of a team, especially if you have one or more managers between you and your directs, then I encourage you to write a weekly note to your team(s) - whether it's a Monday Note or a Friday Note.

1) Ten Years of Monday Notes by Jean-Louis Gassée

Learning Fast

Malcom Gladwell had it wrong. It doesn’t take 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. (Practicing something the same way over and over doesn’t make perfect.) Great At Work by Morten Hansen asserts that a key component of learning fast is deliberately creating learning loops. 

To do so, you need to:

  • Meticulously assess outcomes,
  • Solicit feedback,
  • And correct any flaws, no matter how small, that the feedback has uncovered.

That is a terrific outline for a learning loop.

Hansen uses the example of being a better public speaker; his job was to deliver keynote speeches. To improve, he spent 15 minutes a day deliberately improving this skill. Of course, he couldn’t give a keynote every day. Instead, he recorded his presentation, and then watched short 10 or 15 minute segments daily. He would then ask someone else to also watch those segments and provide him specific feedback on a behavior that he was trying to improve.

This example not only demonstrates exercising a learning loop, but doing so to learn fast.

Quantified Nutrition

Over the past four months, I've increasingly spent time putting a system in place to monitor my nutritional intake - and by extension my health. Simplistically, my goal has been to gain strength while losing fat - with a focus on improving overall health.

I've worked out a nice system using three tools: Cronometer, Apple Watch, and Fitbit Aria.

  • Cronometer is used as a food diary to log consumption. Beyond tracking caloric intake, it also helpfully breaks out food into both macro- and micronutrients. For example, you can see your protein intake, but also see the percentage of Isoleucin, Leucine, and Valine consumed (important for muscle gain).

  • Since my focus is on strength gains, I have macronutrient targets set to Protein @ 35%, Carbohydrates @ 45%, and Fat @ 20%. That's working well for me, but you should choose for your own goals and body. 

  • Since my secondary focus is on losing fat, I have Cronometer set to lose 1 pound per week as my Weight Goal.

  • Another critical component of this setup is my Apple Watch - which logs Active Caloric burn. I use it throughout the day, and log every workout using it. Then, at least once a day - at the end of the day - I open Cronometer on my iPhone which syncs with HealthKit.

  • Cronometer takes the Active Caloric burn from Health and adds that to the Base Metabolic Rate calculated based on my current weight. Active + BMR = Total Caloric Burn.

  • Lastly, I use the Fitbit Area smart scale which uploads my weight and (rough) body fat % to the cloud which syncs with Cronometer. As a consequence, Cronometer updates my BMR daily (and thus caloric intake goal).

In summary, I use a food log for daily food intake and to calculate a target daily caloric intake. I use a smart scale to automatically update my weight which correspondingly updates my caloric intake target. And I use a fitness watch to capture additional calories burned throughout the day which are additive (burn more, eat more).

It's working great for me. Now, the real trick: can I turn 4 months into 4 years of sustained progress.

Conversations vs Presentations

Why the focus on meetings?

In the prior post, I shared thoughts on guidelines to more effectively run meetings. But in further conversation, it became clear that there are other styles of meetings.

Importantly, these discussions helped crystalize why deliberate thinking about meeting management is so important.

Spoiler: Meetings mirror your culture.

Meetings as a Measure of Culture

Meetings, by their nature of people getting together for a common purpose, are microcosms of an organization’s culture. Is there one person who makes the final decision? Does everyone have to agree on the idea? Do you say you agree, but silently undermine the agreement after the meeting? And so on…

In this context then, you can examine your culture by characterizing how meetings are run. For discussion, there are at least three types of meetings: Presentations, Ad-Hoc, and Conversations.

Presentations are often designed to gain agreement of a direction or idea. And the best way to gain agreement is to generate an emotional reaction. Thus, we often use these as opportunities to tell a story. This is a great approach where we want the audience to agree with us. It's Less great when you want to engender conversation and new ideas.

Ad-hoc meetings include stand-ups, or quick opportunities to get together to share camaraderie and status. These are chosen when we prefer the higher-bandwidth format of communicating in-person (or via video); and when we’re hoping for serendipitous ideas, thoughts, and decisions to occur.

Conversations are meetings where the express purpose is to have all perspectives shared, potentially to air and hear disagreements, to brainstorm new alternatives, and to gain consensus on approach. These are harder to engineer because you need to bring everyone up-to-speed prior to the conversation, and you often need a strong moderator or process to ensure the meeting doesn’t devolve into an Ad-Hoc format.

(It’s this last one where the Meeting Guidelines I shared earlier are to be used for most efficient use of the time together.)

Each meeting format has its purpose. However, in a learning culture, I would expect to find more Conversations and fewer Presentations.

On Meetings

Often, we create a powerpoint, and then, slide-by-slide, we spoon-feed the meeting participants bite-sized information - encouraging them to ask questions as we go, but usually hoping they wait until the end (since what they’re asking might be on the next slide). The grim truth is that only the presenters know what’s going to come next.

It’s inefficient, and doesn’t get at what we really need - informed discussion with decisions

I’d like to explore changing this with a few guidelines:

  • Information should be shared ahead of the meeting. For most topics, 1 or 2 pages will suffice. No more than 7 pages of information total.
  • Expectation is that people will have read ahead of time. Ask at the start of the meeting if everyone read. If not, we hold back a few minutes for them to get caught up.
  • Purpose of the meeting is clearly stated in the agenda with both a desired outcome along with the decisions that need to be made.
  • Meeting is then discussion-oriented. Questions are encouraged.
  • If the meeting is informational, consider whether we need a meeting at all.

Any additional considerations or thoughts I should incorporate?

Learning Loops

This past week, I had the opportunity to participate in a half day workshop with Tom Chi - co-founder of Google X - who shared terrific thinking around Rapid Prototyping (more on that later). There was one idea in particular that caught my interest: what if you could improve 10% every week? The concept sounds deceptively simple - the obvious question is, how?

One answer is to treat these initiatives as short, thoughtful learning loops. This idea is consistent with what's evolving to be common wisdom:

  • I’ve long studied and practiced Lean Startup (along with many of you) and in particular, considered how best to deploy the Learning Loop espoused there: Build -> Measure -> Learn (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_startup). Note: Not as easy as it looks.
  • Perhaps, not coincidentally, I’m reading Great at Work which shares a similar loop: Do/Redo -> Measure -> Feedback -> Modify. Great start to the book, I'm halfway through and fast closing on the finish.
  • Tom Chi endorses a method of Rapid Prototyping to get feedback and learning from an idea - and to do so in minutes, not days or weeks (or months). You can see this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkyMCCnNI3Q

These sound great in theory, but actually doing is really quite difficult. Here are a few things that I’ve learned can help:

  • You need a goal. Learning for the sake of learning can be fun, but if you want to improve through a learning loop, then you need a clear objective to focus your energies into.
  • You need to measure. This has always tripped me up. In sports, the rules are well-understood by all participants and the objective is clear. Life isn’t as clear. Great at Work shares some examples on how to do this.
  • You need external feedback. Tom Chi said, “Thinking is a terrible way to think. Doing is the best kind of thinking.” The concept is to spend a little time creating an experiment that gives you feedback from people other than you (and possibly other than your company) to guide you in the evolution of your idea.

Lots of stuff to unpack here, but I’m excited to try.