What’s Important?

December 16, 2014

I’m currently trying, albeit somewhat haphazardly, to simplify my life. I’ve tried this before with varying success. One aspect is dealing with information, of which there are mammoth amounts these days (in a way it’s effectively infinite).

However time isn’t so unconstrained. Consequently I’m once again trying to improve my handling of to-do items, capturing and storing information (so that I can actually find it when I need it) and using all this to make better and faster decisions to hopefully release more free time etc etc.

However some of this I actually like doing for it’s own sake as it gives me pleasure eg reading reviews of clever new software, getting to virtually ‘know’ the developers, trying out and using it and being (occasionally) delighted at what it can do.

Some of this activity is patently useful as it keeps me up-to-date with developments in an area where things are moving fast but some of it is just going round in circles which can then be a bit dispiriting eg did I really just spend 3 hours to eventually come back to what I was doing anyway? If I was bored or needed a break, why didn’t I just go out for a walk in the fresh air? I even live near a nature reserve!

This is a good example of focusing on tactics rather than strategy and of easy fun versus discipline.

This point, together with it’s concomitant emotional triggers, is perceptively discussed by Ed Batista in a recent blog post:

The first step is to reframe the issue. Viewing a full inbox, unfinished to-do lists, and a line of disappointed people at the door as a sign of our failure is profoundly unhelpful. This perspective may motivate us to work harder in the hopes of someday achieving victory, but this is futile. We will never win these battles, not in any meaningful sense, because at a certain point in our careers the potential demands facing us will always outstrip our capacity, no matter how much effort we dedicate to work.

So the inbox, the list, the line at the door are in fact signs of success, evidence that people want our time and attention. And ultimate victory lies not in winning tactical battles but in winning the war: Not an empty inbox, but an inbox emptied of all truly important messages. Not a completed to-do list, but a list with all truly important items scratched off. Not the absence of a line at our door, but a line with no truly important people remaining in it.

The next step is to stop using the wrong tools. We expend vast amounts of energy on “time management” and “personal productivity,” and while these efforts can yield results at the tactical level, they’re futile when it comes to the strategic task of triage. Remember: this is not about making a list but deciding where the cut-off point is and sticking to it.

Finally, we need to address the emotional aspect of triage, because it’s not merely a cognitive process.

So, it makes you think, what have you encountered or addressed today that is actually important? Important may of course be something intangible like getting an insight for something that has been germinating for a while, or having an inspiring conversation that changes your mood or viewpoint completely. It doesn’t just have to be a task.


Looking In The Wrong Place

December 12, 2014

Thought provoking snippet mentioned on the blog of Tim Harford:

“In 1943, the American statistician Abraham Wald was asked to advise the US air force on how to reinforce their planes. Only a limited weight of armour plating was feasible, and the proposal on the table was to reinforce the wings, the centre of the fuselage, and the tail. Why? Because bombers were returning from missions riddled with bullet holes in those areas.

Wald explained that this would be a mistake. What the air force had discovered was that when planes were hit in the wings, tail or central fuselage, they made it home. Where, asked Wald, were the planes that had been hit in other areas? They never returned. Wald suggested reinforcing the planes wherever the surviving planes had been unscathed instead.

It’s natural to look at life’s winners – often they become winners in the first place because they’re interesting to look at. That’s why Kickended (a site that details projects that receive zero crowdfunding on Kickstarter) gives us an important lesson. If we don’t look at life’s losers too, we may end up putting our time, money, attention or even armour plating in entirely the wrong place.”

See also Financial Innovation – Alternative Finance 2014.

 


Habits

December 9, 2014

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” – Warren Buffett

This applies to business habits as well of course!


What Are You Aiming For?

November 26, 2014

From Tim Ferriss (although I expect the story is timeless):

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

    “How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.

    “Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.

    “Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.

    “I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.

    “But … What do you do with the rest of your time?”

    The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”

    The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

    He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

    The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, señor, how long will all this take?”

    To which the American replied, “15–20 years. 25 tops.”

    “But what then, señor?”

    The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

    “Millions, señor? Then what?”

    “Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos …”

The caveats in the story are obvious but the point remains!


Financial Innovation – Alternative Finance 2014

November 12, 2014

alternative-finance-2014-spread-1500px

Facts about Alternative Finance in the UK (click to enlarge)

I’ve been looking at alternative finance schemes for a few months now. There’s a lot of them and it’s not always straightforward comparing and contrasting them. Consequently it’s helpful that Nesta, partnering with the University of Cambridge, have just produced a large scale survey of the sector (the report is a free download, see links below):

Say ‘financial innovation’ and what comes to mind for many is the investment banks and complex products that were at the centre of the financial crisis. Yet in recent years we’ve seen the term become associated with a new type of finance provider, those businesses and online platforms gathering under the banner of alternative finance.

Finance models such as crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending are at the heart of this as they harness internet technologies to bring those with money and those who need it closer together and aggregate numerous small investments or donations to meet large funding needs. Businesses, community groups and individuals are using this industry to either get funding they cannot access elsewhere or to get it quicker and on better terms.

Full details here (incl. the report) and there’s a handy summary-type blog post here.


Saying No Effectively

October 30, 2014

Parse_NOb

I’ve written a number of times (see below) on the importance of saying ’no’ to certain business situations even if they sound quite enticing. It’s obviously easier written about than actually done so it was interesting to read how some very successful people handle this.

On his blog, Dan Martell, a Canadian entrepreneur, gives some principles:

I do have some “non-negotiables” for my replies:

  • I never lie
  • I always respond (as long as it doesn’t look like mass spam)
  • I always give a yes or a no

together with some sample responses, including:

Take a meeting

Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, scheduling a meeting is tough, lets start with an email. How can I help?

Attend an event

Thanks for the opportunity, but I’m already committed that day. Appreciate the invite.

Read a long email

Thanks for reaching out, but unfortunately I won’t be able to process your full email. How can I help?

Involvement in a new project

Thanks for thinking of me, but unfortunately I’m over committed with Clarity (his company) + a growing family. I’m going to have to pass this time.

I keep a fairly detailed journal on what I do every day (initially I was curious where all my time was going…). However, in spite of blogging about it, I’ve realised that I don’t particularly write about things that I decide not to do or to follow up.

This is a bit more than having vague ideas and noting them down for further thought but rather definite decisions that are made (some will, with hindsight, be mistakes of course!).

In the examples above, it’s illuminating that whilst the answer is ‘no’ a hand is held out to do something smaller and more manageable (‘how can I help?’).

The skill then becomes to keep involvement at this practical level and for this not to be misinterpreted as the first step in agreeing something more time-consuming.

Related:

Saying No To New Ideas

The Power Of Yes And No Journals (I obviously didn’t decide to implement this on a regular basis!)

Never Say No Immediately


Potential For Greatness

September 23, 2014

In the light of the recent launch of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, a prior article on the importance of innovative design came to mind. It was a review of a new smartphone coming out of China (I’m looking for a new one so I’m considering options, including those that might possibly appear in the future):

This review was not supposed to go this way. When we decided to order the Mi4, we wanted to learn more about Android in China, but we also expected it to be kind of a laugh. It’s easy to look at the pictures and dismiss the Mi4 as a cheap iPhone knockoff, but it is so much better than that.

Everything here is top notch: The best specs, fantastic build quality, a beautiful screen, a dirt cheap price, and software that, while different, works both aesthetically and functionally. If only the company came up with its own hardware design. If Xiaomi ever does apply itself with some original designs, look out world, because this company will be going places.

The review ends with:

Watching a company with a potential for greatness hamstring itself because it just can’t get over its Apple envy. Xiaomi would do great in the West, except that the derivative design would possibly get it sued out of existence.

The challenge then is to out-design rather than out-manufacture Apple and not be too intimidated by their daunting reputation and achievements in this area, an interesting psychological position to be in.

By coincidence, there was an article in Fast Company yesterday complaining about a lack of innovation in Apple design! Here’s an extract:

I miss the chunky playful plastic designs of the past, especially the Pixar-lamp-like iMac G4. I miss the toy-like references to plastic Swatch watches (the clamshell iBook) and the Memphis Group of the 1980s (the original iMac). That was idiosyncratic, ballsy design; that was a design aesthetic that some would loathe. It was design that a shamelessly style-free megacorporation like Samsung could never really copy in the hopes of being considered “good design.” Samsung, or HTC, or LG, or Motorola, they can all copy modern Apple. It’s easy. Make it thin, use a single block of aluminum, use glass. Presto: now you have design. Bullshit. Innovative design isn’t just about adhering to rules set out by someone else.

There are companies who are actually trying. In addition to the aforementioned Lumia phones, the Jawbone Jambox managed to combine industrial materials (hard rubber, metal grilles) with repeated patterns and bold colors to give them a sense of play, and even Apple’s own Mac Pro is weird and thoughtful enough to grab my attention: never before has a computer shaped like a garbage can seemed like such a good idea.

So maybe there really is an opening in a very standardised marketplace for someone brave enough to take it?

More generally, and at a more mundane level, it’s interesting that when you’re setting up a venture, are you in reality trying to emulate an existing and successful business (with a slight variation) or aiming for something that goes beyond that, even if it’s in ways that you yourself don’t yet fully understand? See also previous post below.

 


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