Leave A Document, Not Just Slides

October 31, 2011

This part of a recent post by Seth Godin got me thinking:

Third, create a written document. A leave-behind. Put in as many footnotes or details as you like. Then, when you start your presentation, tell the audience that you’re going to give them all the details of your presentation after it’s over, and they don’t have to write down everything you say. Remember, the presentation is to make an emotional sale. The document is the proof that helps the intellectuals in your audience accept the idea that you’ve sold them on emotionally.

So I decided to review the past few presentations I’ve attended to see how I reacted to them, especially their lasting rather than their immediate impact. Here you’ve just got your memory to go on plus any notes or slides you might have plus links to web sites/blogs (which you often don’t have the time or inclination to follow up).

Three options can crop up:

  • Listen and don’t take notes (rely on the slides given afterwards as a memory jerker)
  • Half-listen and take partial notes (helpful if the talk motivates additional ideas or insights)
  • Listen as-and-when and take good notes (relevant when the slides or speaker are poor)

Typically, after each presentation, I ended up with a general impression, a (large) set of bullet-point oriented slides and some incomplete scribbled notes (the middle option). That may be good enough for many purposes. However, especially as time goes by and the memory quickly fades, I realised I would really appreciate a well-thought-out overview (which is not the same as mindless advertising blurb).

I also came to this conclusion after doing a review of my own business. I certainly had lots of notes, lists and slides. Then, somewhat accidentally, I came across a summary document I’d written that put this all together (at one point in time) and which crystallised everything rather neatly. I know why I rarely do this – it takes time and effort – however I hadn’t appreciated the time it would later save which easily repaid the initial investment.

So, the next time you’re giving a key presentation, think about also producing a 2-3 page overview that will have meaning and potency in six months time, it could be invaluable to your customers as well as you!


Change Blindness

October 26, 2011

This is an example of the research carried out on the mechanisms of attention, perception, memory, and thinking by Professor Daniel Simons and colleagues (which includes the famous Invisible Gorilla experiment that tests selective attention).

It makes you wonder just how much we get out of all our daily interactions and communications and how much we miss completely!

A Brief Guide To Life

October 21, 2011

From Leo Babauta:

the brief guide

less TV, more reading
less shopping, more outdoors
less clutter, more space
less rush, more slowness
less consuming, more creating
less junk, more real food
less busywork, more impact
less driving, more walking
less noise, more solitude
less focus on the future, more on the present
less work, more play
less worry, more smiles

How easy it is to forget these things at times…

Crude And Approximate But Often Useful

October 12, 2011

Emanuel Derman, a well-known ‘quant’ (quantitative analyst) and ex-theoretical physicist, has written a couple of very interesting posts (Part 1, Part 2) on the skills and mindset required for a successful career in ‘financial engineering’. This multidisciplinary field has been defined as ‘the application of science-based mathematical models to decisions about saving, investing, borrowing, lending, and managing risk’.

Here are some excerpts from the posts:

On model building:

The methodology of quantitative finance is different from large parts of physics or chemistry or even biology. Financial models are crude, and are mostly analogies. They say something like “it may be useful to think that people value bonds by discounting them over the paths of all future short-term interest rates.” This isn’t true, but it’s just possibly useful. In contrast, in physics you can say that the quantum mechanical world behaves as though a particle really does take all future paths to its target, with interfering probabilities. This isn’t merely useful, it’s actually true.

So, if you work as a practitioner, you will have to live with the fact that you are going to have to make crude, false but hopefully useful approximations.

On knowledge sharing:

If you’re a scientist by training or nature, you will have to tolerate the anti-academic attitude of many people in the business world, though that is changing too. Are you comfortable with the idea that research should be kept secret, because that’s what many people on the Street believe, even if the secrets they think they know were sometimes borrowed from someone else, are not really that secret much of the time, and perhaps are rarely worth being kept secret?

And on values and purpose:

Personally, I like to think that to do quantitative finance you need to be committed to clarity – that there’s value in the world to seeing anything clearly and understanding it honestly, to seeing the world the way it really is. That’s enough of a vocation — to understand some part of the world. To be a good practitioner I like to think you need a dedication to unsentimental truth about whatever you deal with, wherever it may take you.

In a similar vein, he’s got an interesting-sounding book coming out this month: ‘Models.Behaving.Badly: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life’.

Steve Jobs On Ideas, Daring And Something To Lose

October 6, 2011

From a forum post (for the writer’s software Scrivener) on the sad announcement that Steve Jobs has died:

And finally, he (Steve Jobs) gave a talk that I attended: first a slide show, and then a Q & A with the crowd. He was looking to encourage students to apply for jobs at Apple. One remark he made stuck with me:

“I am looking for people who have not only ideas, but the ability to manufacture them. If you don’t have a passion for building your ideas, we will never get along.”

We may be mourning not only the loss of a colorful individual, but the spirit of daring and freedom that characterized his generation. He was the oddest combination of counter-culture hippy and shrewd entrepreneur; those two types rarely exist in the same person.

You can hear it in this line from his 2005 address at Stanford: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

Above, Steve and Laurene Jobs – picture credit here (nice to see him with a natural, warm smile).

Update: There are of course a flood of mainstream posts on Steve Jobs. A slightly different and very interesting one that tries to distinguish between the man and the myth is on the BBC News Magazine:

Jobs died at a time when people trust authority less than ever. The technology he created and the image he projected sold consumers a possible solution.

“People are desperately craving the idea that they can do things in a different way because they don’t trust the way it was done before,” says Mr Gabay. “This sense of non-conforming was exactly what Steve Jobs is about. It’s incredibly attractive, especially today.”

Above all, Jobs promised a lifestyle – you can be cool, you can go against the grain, and you can succeed with those ideas.

“Everyone who buys a Mac says, ‘I’m going to write my novel, I’m going to edit my movie, I’m going to cut that single’,” says Mr Kahney. “It speaks to that creative streak. In reality all they do is sit around and watch Netflix on it.”

When his legion of fans went online to mark his passing, they were saying, “I want to believe.” They were letting the world know that they too, are capable of thinking differently.

Even if they themselves sometimes forgot, Steve Jobs never did.

Is Learning From Mistakes Overrated?

October 6, 2011

I’m currently rereading Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (of 37 Signals) which challenges some of the conventional thinking about setting up and running a small business.

It contains the following interesting snippet:

Another common misconception: you need to learn from your mistakes. What do you really learn from mistakes? You might learn what not to do again, but how valuable is that? You still don’t know what you should do next.

Contrast that with learning from your successes. Success gives you real ammunition. When something succeeds, you know what worked – and you can do it again. And the next time, you’ll probably do it even better.


Success is the experience that actually counts.

That shouldn’t be a surprise: it’s exactly how nature works. Evolution doesn’t linger on past failures, it’s always building upon what worked. So should you.

In business there’s often a lot of hand-ringing about not repeating the same mistakes and regarding all projects as ‘learning and growing’ experiences (there’s also an enormous amount written about all this).

In my experience, failures are often overly gloomy and successes overly optimistic (which is perhaps just human nature at work). However successes rarely get the attention they need and deserve – it seems it’s just like the news where positive and uplifting items rarely feature!