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.