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Negative Feedback, Positive Lessons

In the battle against plastic bags, a five-cent tax was shown to be much more successful at deterring usage than a five-cent credit for bringing your own bags. Carrots satisfy but sticks sting, and they sting hard. So we default to the less painful choice of avoiding loss. Loss aversion impacts the way we process information. A 2019 study  invited participants to learn through a series of multiple choice questions. Each question only had two options to choose from. Whether guessing correctly or not, they would still learn the right answer.  Despite the identical learning opportunity, participants were much more successful at recalling the answers they guessed correctly than those they got wrong.  "You're right!" feels good. We savour the moment, analyzing every detail.  "You're wrong!" stings. We want to quickly forget, dismiss, and move on.  When we succumb to loss aversion, we miss opportunities to learn. Failure is part of the process. We'll experie

Step One is Knowing

In school, we listen to our teachers. At home, our parents. Throughout our childhood, following instructions is praised and rewarded. When we're young, there's value in this. We don't understand how the world works quite yet, so guidance can be lifesaving.  The bias to just accept obviously has drawbacks. Insert old jumping off a bridge adage .  This conditioning is especially strong for kids from lower income households. Their parents are more likely in working class jobs involving strict order-taking. Parents of middle-class households tend to be knowledge workers where influence is essential.  Studies have shown kids from middle-income households are more willing to negotiable with their teachers. They learn from their parents that things are not set in stone. This leads to better grades and learning outcomes when compared to their lower income counterparts who don't negotiable.  In business, if we simply accept things as they are, we would never innovate. In work, w

Starting Really Really Small

On your desk is one of the most intimidating sights known to man. A blank page. The prospect of filling it up with anything resembling decent seems insurmountable. Staring at the long road ahead fills you with anxiety and dread.  The first step is the most difficult. So we procrastinate. We " research ", we " prep ", we " plan ". We do everything except tackling the problem. We avoid the pain for as long as we can.  To make a blank page less intimidating. Tear it in half. There, half as scary, twice as easy. Still too much? Do it again. And again. Keep doing it until the task is so small that it's too easy not to do.  Getting starting is the hardest part. So make the hardest part as easy as possible. This doesn't guarantee amazing results, but it gets you in the game. You can't win if you don't play.  

Taking Your Time: Presenting & Pausing

Time flies when you're having fun...it also slows when you're not. Hours with friends zoom by in what feel like minutes. Minutes on a bad Zoom crawl by in what feel like hours. This is the relative nature of time.  When we're fearful (or dreading), our brain comes on full alert. Paying attention to every little detail to ensure our survival. We enter slow-motion mode. If you've ever slipped, you've enter this time warp.  Public speaking is notoriously fear-inducing. The judgement, the potential for failure, embarrassment. A five-minute presentation feels much longer. Everything slows down, including your perception of talking speed. This is why the best (and most common) piece of advice for new speakers is to slow down. We talk too fast. Appearing nervous and making it difficult for the audience to keep up.  The audience's experience is the opposite. There's no stress in watching. No nerves, no fear. Time moves faster for them. This creates an interesting de

Your First 30 Days in a New Role

If you're about to take on a new role, congrats! You've made it through. Outshining the rest to come out on top. Celebrate, you earned it.  As your start date approaches, the descent from cloud nine begins and you're back down on earth (and maybe a tad nervous). It's showtime but where to start? We love ambition. Your bias for action is why you got hired. We want to hit the ground running and show our worth right away. However, rushing in and imposing yourself is a sure-fire way to become alienated. Burning bridges before they're raised.  Your experience and skills are invaluable, but to leverage them you need a strong foundation. Your first 30 days should be focused on building relationships and a knowledge base (learning all you can).  Work with your manager and get a list of folks to have 1-on-1s with. Identify the key stakeholders. Understand their background, their challenges, working style, and your relationship with them.  Learn as much as you can. Understand

The Importance of Importance

The alarm is ringing. A deadline is coming up. Or worse, has already passed. Gasp. We're out of time. We must act quickly and get things done, right? Not necessarily. 

Breaking the Quiet Habit

I was painfully shy growing up. Unsure of my Myers Briggs, but will comfortably bet I live on the introvert end of the spectrum. In school, whenever a teacher would ask for volunteers, I would shrink, sit back and wait for others to jump in. "No big deal, someone else always answers the call." I was afraid to look bad. Getting an answer wrong, asking an obvious question. This was terrifying. I didn't want to be judged. Better to play it safe than risk the embarrassment, right? Funny thing is, I never thought less of anyone for being wrong. I always admired they had the courage to speak up. When done from a genuine place, folks will always welcome your voice. You're helping move the conversation forward. Playing a critical role. We stay quiet because we're afraid of maybe looking bad, but staying quiet pretty much guarantees you look bad. You appear uninterested, passive, afraid. The reverse is true when speaking up. It shows that you care and have the strength t

The Art of Giving Feedback

Constructive feedback is an awkward affair. You don't want hurt feelings, but recognize the importance of honesty. You've tried the classic "hoping things will get better on its own" and unfortunately it hasn't played out. When giving feedback, here are a few things that I try to keep it mind. Start with empathy. Step into their shoes and understand their story. If you don't know, ask. Be genuinely curious. Feedback is a dynamic affair. Shared communication with a shared goal towards progress. Take the emotion out of it. Focus on the situation, not the person. Focusing on the person adds unnecessary weight to an already emotionally-bloated event.  Be specific. Give clear examples. Vague feedback equals dismissed feedback.  Doing above won't de-awkward things fully, but it will dampen it and increase the chance of better outcomes. 

Bringing the Best Out of Best Practices

Apple does it this way. Google does it that way. Microsoft would never do this . A few ultra-successful companies serves as a model for every company. To dominate our arena is something we all strive for. It's natural to copy the best in an attempt to be the best.  Every company is unique. Different cultures, products, goals. There's no one-size-fits-all way of doing things. Thinking so only creates a false sense of structure and certainty.  If we do X, we'll achieve Y. Oversimplification causes oversight. No prescription works for every patient. No playbook works for every team. Best practices are sharpened through individual trial and error. Copying another's ignores our unique goals and challenges.  Studying the best is a great starting point, but it's not the destination. They must be adapted.  Start small. Experiment. Work and rework. Eventually you'll develop the best practices that work best for you. 

Quality Vs. Speed: Decision Making Framing

Data is endless. Perfect information is not feasible. The pursuit will only lead to analysis paralysis. At the same time, you don't want to mindlessly act without facts.  Taking too long to act and acting without sufficient preparation, both lead to wasted time and resources. To decide whether to optimize for decision quality or speed, it's helpful to frame the situation.  Decisions can be one-way doors or two-way doors.  One-way doors are rare. These are entrance-only decisions where reversing course is very difficult. Given the commitment, you'll want to gather enough information to maximize your decision quality (pre-action learning).  Two-way doors are more common. They allow for easy entrance and exit. These decisions can be quickly undone if they turn out wrong. Optimize for speed (and post-action learning). It's much better to go through the door and see what's there than waiting at the doorstep. Don't like what's on the other side? Take your learnin