Breakthrough Business Negotiation

Breakthrough Business Negotiation is a simple to read book by Michael Watkins, professor at Harvard Business School. Simple book means simple summary. Here are some worthy highlights:

  1. Build character in your employees, not just skill. This is particularly important when you start outsourcing your work. 
  2. Professional buyers can lie, be wary. 
  3. Hire attitude, train aptitude. 
  4. Give folks a fair deal. 
  5. Build company character instead of culture. 
  6. Bonus tip: Differentiate between value adding cost vs non value adding cost. 

Some useful proverbs to provoke your thoughts:
  • It's useful to walk a mile in another shoes but you must first remove your own shoes. 
  • Every failure teaches you a lesson that could be the seed of the next great idea. 
  • Humor is an important factor for building an environment of trust and openness. 

Climbing Mt.Nut to Close a Sale

I listened to this quick YouTube video by Victor Antonio about how to close a sale. I found it useful in understanding the resistance that I need to overcome in order to close a sale. You have to conquer Mt. Nut to close. That acronym refers to
  1. Money 
  2. Time 
  3. Need 
  4. Urgency 
  5. Trust
Whenever unable to close the sale, it is useful to valuate what has failed against Mt.Nut.

Review of Leaders Eat Last

This book exalts servant leadership, leaders who lead by serving followers, rather than by bossing people around. This concept is highly relevant to leadership in today's high trained workforce. I work in white-collar tech, so I find the lessons particularly useful. Here are my take-aways:
  1. In the marines leaders eat last. Followers give their trust and loyalty in return for protection. Leadership privilege comes at the expense of self interest. 
  2. Leaders create a circle of safety. Leaders are in charge of who gets to join this circle of safety. New employees to a company are like new children to a family as they share resources of existing members. So choose carefully.
  3. Our biology allows us to do our best work when we are in a circle of safety. Think about human tribes, and how we solve problems better as a tribe than as individuals. Social hormones or 'love' hormones such as seratonin and oxytocin surges when we are in a circle of safety. These hormones help us establish trust with our fellow tribe members, reduces stress and boosts creativity.
  4. Leaders inspire others to learn more do more and become more.

5. Leaders not only affect employees, but their children as well. When it comes to parents jobs and children, a parent's available spare time to spend with a child is less important than the parent's attitude about his/her job. Children are more negatively affected by parents who hate their jobs, rather than by parents who love their jobs but spend little time with them. What matters is the parents' attitude and stress level when they arrive home after work.

This is a short sneak peak. The book has many entertaining stories to discover and is worth a read.

Review of The Secrets of Happy Families

Want to know how to keep sex alive in your married life?  How about talking to your kids about sex, religion and doing chores?  And have you had to tell grandma she's going to a retirement home yet?  This book is an amalgamation of all resources you need to have a happy family life.  It references many great books in pop psychology, many of which I have already read.  But it takes it to the family context brilliantly.  I guarantee that no matter how many other books you've read, you will learn something new in this book.  And it will be relevant to you whether you're raising kids, caring for an aging parent, or want to stay happily married.  No, the author is not paying me to say this.  I simply know a good book when I listen to one.  Yes, it comes in audio form as well.

There were many worthy lessons in this book.  But here are 5 highlights. 

  1. Family Logistics can take a lesson from Agile methods used in making software.  I work at Atlassian where we make software for agile software teams, so I found this an interesting opening chapter.  Agile methodology centers on three main behaviors: stand-up meetings, work-tracking checklists, and retrospective meetings.   Adapted to the family context, that means making chore checklists for your kids' morning routines.  Train them to use it everyday.   Keep it visible and let the kids check things off, taking ownership for the quality of the work completed.  People tend to have a higher quality bar for themselves than you would set for them.  This checklist method takes the crazy out of family mornings, and give kids a sense of control and pride over their routine.  Then set up family meetings every week to go over 3 questions: 1) What has gone well for the family?  2) What didn't go well for the family?  3) What will each person commit to do the coming week [to fix something mentioned in 2]?  Focus on talking about what went well or not for the family and not for individuals.  The goal is to work as a team and troubleshoot together.  You may be surprised by what others state as problems, then be surprised again by the proposed solutions. More heads are better than one.  You have those heads in your family, use them.  
  2. Have a family mission statement.  In order to work as a team it is important for every member to know what the goal is.  The author's family mission statement was "May your first word be adventure and your last word be love."  It is important to keep the statement short, and to work together to come up with it.
  3. Kids need to learn about money early.  Create a Mom and Dad bank account for them, experiment and have fun.  Try techniques like a 70% interest rate to incentivize kids to save, and/or assess a 15% tax to the family since the kid is a citizen of the household.  People are more averse to losing what they have, than to gaining something they don't already have.  This means if you want to pay a kid to do something, it is more effective to pay up front and say, "if you don't do the work you have to give the money back."  The goal of money training is to teach the concept of constraints. Constraints forces creativity.  By constraining what the kid can afford by having his/her own account, he/she learns to prioritize what's important, and more importantly, be creative in satisfying needs that are outside the budget.  One kid in the book learned to buy clothes that look expensive but are not actually expensive.  In all this, it is important to fund passions.  The goal with funding passions is to be fair, not equal.  If one kid gets a sports scholarship to a state school and another gets accepted to an ivy league college, you don't compensate the first kid with cash because that kid is lighter on your wallet.  Both are getting what they choose.  It's not about giving the same dollar amount to each kid.  It's about what's fair and supporting passions.
  4. The intro to this blog promised some sex talk, so I'm saving two bullet points to satisfy your desires.  For long-married couples, keeping it fun in the bedroom is difficult.  Skip the bed, and forget stoking "intimacy" as a path towards sex.  Intimacy is important for other parts of the relationship, but hinders sex.  Sex thrives on mystery and adventure, so distances does make the heart grow fonder.  Have a lunch rendezvous, book a hotel for a night, try the bathroom.   Finally, individuals report that they find their spouse attractive when they see them in the work context or working on something that he/she is passionate about.  There are more opportunities for this during early phases of the relationship, when couples are learning about each other's life.  Keeping this discovery alive is key.  
  5. Talk to your kids early about sex.  The birds and the bees are less "ewww" when your kid is 5.  Answer questions directly when asked, but no need to elaborate and tell the whole story if the kid is only 5.  Save some for later.  Use real names for body parts.   A study found that the majority of children know the words penis and testicles but not vulva, labia and vagina.  Using substitute words for female body parts send the signal to daughters that female body parts are shameful. That's wrong. Learn those words and use them.  
That's my five.  And I didn't even get to the topics of family negotiation, religion, travel, and sports.  Read this book, you won't regret it.

5 Life Tips from Bounce

This book by Matthew Syed, a table tennis champion, is part biography and part observations about excellence. It is a deep dive on a premise that was presented in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which is that anyone can be excellent by practicing a skill for 10,000 hours. Excellence is based on practice, not talent. If you haven’t read Outliers, then I suggest reading that one first, since Bounce is an in-depth view of this one premise only, while Gladwell’s book explores many interesting concepts and is a more generally educational read. Lessons learned:
  1. Excellence is predicated on purposeful practice, which means stepping outside the comfort zone. If you’re not falling, you’re not learning. The training must always be pushing the limit of the trainee’s ability. Practice hours do not count towards the 10,000 requirement unless it is boundary-pushing practice.  This is why excellent feedback during practice is essential and good coaches are so expensive. A good coach who is able to assess the trainee’s level and apply more difficult challenges, while providing useful feedback for course correction, literally changes he game.  Studies have found that the reaction speed of top athletes are not better than the regular person. In fact, their natural reaction speed is often worse. The difference is that a trained athlete is better able to anticipate the location of the ball or puck, making the return swing or hit seem magic. This anticipation is learned via the 10,000 hours of watching the body language of opponents, and being able to anticipate where the ball lands based on the patterns of the body.  Athletic hall of fames prove time and time again that purposeful practice, not talent, is what matters.
  2. Because good coaches who guides purposeful practice is so critical to excellence, environment and access is the difference between a world class athlete and a regular one. Consider this: 
    1. Brazil churns out so many great soccer players because they have Futsal, which is football played in tight quarters. This training gives Brazilian soccer players a unique edge. 
    2. At least 3 or 4 top table tennis players live on Syed, the author's, street in the UK.  They had access to a school with an excellent table tennis coach, and could play with each other for practice.
  3. Biology changes to adapt to purposeful practice.  Long distance runners develop larger hearts, fingers of concert pianists are longer. Regions of the brain that govern spatial navigation is larger for taxi drivers. 
  4. The biggest difference between an average school and a great school is the mindset instilled in the students.  There are two mindsets, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.  People with a fixed mindset buy into the talent myth, and when faced with below average outcomes will blame their intelligence.  Growth mindset people faced with below average outcomes do not blame anything, but instead take that opportunity to learn and improve.  In a math challenge given to pre-sorted fixed and growth mindset groups, the growth mindset group improved their abilities on their second try.  The study then forced the mindset by complimenting people for their "intelligence" or their "effort."  The results show that, when praised for "effort," aka growth mindset, 90% chose the harder test on round two.  In comparison, when praised for "intelligence," most avoided the round two test, not wanting to do worse and therefore disprove their "intelligent" standing.  This has huge implication on education.  If you have children, praising them for effort rather than intelligence is a subtle but important difference that sets them on a path towards excellence or stagnation. 
  5. Faith is foundational to performance.  The sincerity of faith is important but the exact deity or target of faith is not relevant. Doubt is your enemy when it comes to performance, and faith is a counterforce. Examples abound. Mohammed Ali believes that his faith in God meant God was on his side and the match is in God's hands.  He did not have doubt that he would win, and this opened up his peak performance.  This athlete + faith story is not unique to Ali.  For a non sport reference, placebo effects were observed on soldiers who sustained painful surgeries with no anesthesia.  The soldiers were led to believe that anesthesia was administered when in reality it was only a salt drip on their arm.  It was truly mind over matter. 

Leveraging your Follower's Network

Whether you're an activist trying to change the world, or a Product Manager shipping new features, the biggest hurdle is engaging people to follow.  I read a great post on First Round Review about how to do that from a product perspective.  The technique I want to highlight is "leveraging your follower's network."  Here is an excerpt from the post:

After the Massdrop team decides that a submitted feature request makes sense, they ask the person who submitted it to rally interest from their community. “We tell them, ‘Okay, we’re going to start working on this. As a power user, your job is to gauge how much customers want this kind of feature.’” This isn’t so much about determining whether to forge ahead as it is about getting people excited. The more an upcoming feature is discussed by various groups of Massdrop buyers, the more anticipated it will become, and the more it will get used once it's built. “We want to start off with one person invested in a feature and eventually have whole communities invested in it as well. We assign them that piece.”

Notice how the Massdrop team leverages power users to become community leaders.  Having someone else preach your message is powerful in two ways.  One, it scales you, because you only have so much time in the day.  Two, the message arrives with more credibility to the listener, because it is coming from a respected community leader, rather than you.   The latter I learned from a story in Influencer about Chinese communist leader Mao, who disseminated health care to rural areas by leveraging his follower's network.  During his early rule, at a time before he stepped into the hall of villains in the annals of history, China had a serious public health issue in the rural areas.  Instead of sending doctors from the cities he asked each rural area to elect a community leader to attend basic health education classes.  Those leaders then taught their followers back home and improved health within their communities.  Many public health solutions involved discipline such as hand-washing or regular checkups, techniques that are easy to understand but hard to enforce. A city doctor with no relationship to rural locals would be less effective than a local, already respected leader for such influence-based work.

How do you leverage your follower's network to change the world?

3 Tips for Sustainable Blogging

If a tree fell in the forest and no one blogged about it, did it fall?  If the last entry on said blog was one year ago, is the blog considered abandoned? The answer is Yes and No.  In that order.  The tree is sadly rotting, but the blog can be saved yet.  In order to prevent a recurrence of unintended blog abandonment, I'm going to a give myself some tips that I will follow, and tell you in a year or so whether it worked or not.

Tip 1: Redefine my reason for blogging
I started blogging because I was doing my MBA in Sustainable Management. I wanted to share what I'm studying, and allow others to learn what I'm learning.  I graduated and my reason to blog put on a gown and walked out the door too.  Now I want to blog again because I am still learning even if I'm not going to formal classes everyday, and people have shown me recently that they are interested in how my life and my studies have helped me navigate my post MBA life.  What happened was I wrote a company-wide blog at work.  I work at Atlassian where anyone can write a company-wide blog, and I published an article about my life, and how minority status related to gender has shaped my career.  People told me it helped them.  I think I can help some more, so here we are.

Tip 2: Identify my reasons for not blogging
First of all, I need to identify why I have abandoned this blog so readily last time.
Reason 1: Writing is hard.   As a manager I'm already writing emails for a living.  So taking non-computer time to sit down and write some more is doubly hard.
Reason 2: I have another blog that is splitting my time.
Reason 3: I don't think people want to hear what I have to say.

Tip 3: Solve problems identified in Tip 2
Solution 1a: Figure out a way to take notes for my blog without having screen time.  I'm going to use a combo of Evernote and voice recording for this.
Solution 1b: Set aside time to compile these notes into a blog.   Maybe during my train commute.
Solution 2: Cross-publish those articles here.  I think the book summaries are relevant in this blog too.
Solution 3: Read The Confidence Code.

Operation blog resurrection, now activated. We'll find out how sustainable these tips are soon.

Review of Decisive

I read “Decisive” by Dan Heath and Chip Heath recently and picked up a few techniques on making great decisions. It's definitely worth a quick read. The most common technique for decision making is the Pros and Cons table. But this technique is insufficient. It does not take into account the four villains of decision making, which are: 
1) Emotional Ties, 
2) Narrow Framing,
3) Confirmation Bias, 
4) Over Confidence. 

Emotional Ties:

Ever have a friend walk up to your problem and give you a clear perspective? That’s a sign of emotional ties acting to weigh down our perspective. Daily contact with our projects gives us depth, but also gives us attachment. To make an objective decision, we can attain distance before deciding by using these techniques:
  • Ask : What would I advise my best friend to do in this situation? 
  • Ask : What would my successor do? 
  • Try the 10-10-10 rule. How would I feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years for each of the decision options? 

Narrow Framing
We are often making binary decisions when there may be more options. We may ask ourselves: Should we implement solution A or solution B? Should we ship feature A or not? Framing the question this way can block us from seeing other alternatives. Maybe the decision should be: Should we ship feature A, A+, B, C or keep the money? It is most common to overlook the opportunity cost. Not doing something is often the choice overlooked. To avoid narrow framing, try:
  • Zooming in and out. By expanding and contracting the range of consideration, its often possible to capture the right range of options to consider. 
  • Asking other people. Other people have different perspectives of the same problem. So including others in our decision, especially those with a different world-view, can help avoid narrow framing. 

Confirmation Bias

The human brain is very good at justifying decisions made by our hearts. That’s why statistics can be construed to proof just about any point of view. It’s also easy to ask leading questions that force the person answering into confirming the point rather than truly answering. To avoid confirmation bias, ask discovering questions and reality test our assumptions:
  • Ask discovering questions. Ask open ended questions such as “How would you approach this issue?” rather than leading questions such as “Don’t you think solution X is a good idea?" 
  • Take our options for a reality spin. Establish a range of possible outcomes, then create A/B tests to test our assumptions. 

Over confidence

It turns out we are really bad at predictions. The author reviewed expert predictions by expert investors and showed that it performed no better than amateur predictions. There are techniques to minimize the risks, mainly by being prepared for a range of possible outcomes. Here’s how it works:

  • Use the “book ends” prediction method. Predict a range of outcomes, then optimize within the outcomes. For example, and this is an example only, don’t take this as investment advice. Instead of predicting the fair market value of a stock price, predict the lower and upper end a fair market value range. Then buy in during the low end of the established range. This method goes for the lowest risk and highest upside investment without knowing the outcome. 
  • Do a Pre-mortem. Imagine your project failed, what could have caused it to fail? 
  • Do a Pre-parade. Imagine your project was a wild success, what could have caused it to be so successful? 

Finally, good decisions are guided by Critical Priorities. That’s why companies have mission statements, and why something similar is useful for our personal lives too. To avoid decision paralysis, use critical priorities as guiding principles, exercise the techniques above, then make the decision. To avoid agonizing over the decision, add trip wires. These are conditions that would trigger a re-decision. Set up these trip wires so that you receive an alarm when the decision should be re-evaluated, and sleep well tonight knowing that you have made the best possible decision.  Learn more by reading the book.