How Jeff Bezos Decides When to Give Up on an Idea

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, who usually doesn’t give a lot of interviews, gave one at this year’s CodeConference. The whole interview can be found here, and if you can find 80 minutes to see it, I highly recommend it.

The part of Bezos’ interview that stood out for me the most was when he talked about how he decides when to give up on idea. You can view that specific part of the interview by clicking on this link. Paraphrasing loosely, he said:
The most important things we’ve ever done have always seemed dumb to industry experts at the beginning. You can’t listen to people in the beginning when they say it won’t work, but you have to be stubborn on the vision, and flexible on the details. Now at some point, you may have to give up on the vision. How do you know when that is? I think it is when the last high judgement champion folds his or her cards.

I learned two things from Bezos’ insight which I believe I can apply in my personal and professional life:

  1. I need to intentionally schedule time to evaluate my goals. Just like in the world of business, a time may come when I may need to give up on some of my existing goals in order to move on to new things. The only way to arrive at that decision is by stepping back and evaluating things. Now it’s important to mention that one doesn’t evaluate too frequently, as that may become a distraction in and off itself. Instead, evaluations should be adequately spaced to enable the proper exploration of goals and opportunities.
  2. I need to have high judgement champions in my life; people interested in my growth and development whom I respect and admire, and whose judgement I trust. When things because unclear to me, or when I’m trying to decide if I should persevere or give up on a significant life goal, I can lean on these people for insight and advice. Some people also refer to this as having a personal board of directors.

Any other thoughts or ideas on how to decide when to persevere and when to quit?

 

How Organizations Fail to Think

I recently came across a TED video by Margaret Heffernan, an international business leader and writer. In her speech, Margaret shared an insight which I felt was pretty radical: most organizations don’t think.

If like me, you work at an organization that requires you to do a decent amount of thinking on a daily basis, you might be wondering what this woman is talking about. According to Margaret, a critical component of organizational thinking is constructive conflict, and most of us do our very best to avoid conflict at work. The reasons for conflict avoidance are many, but some of the top reasons include:

  1. Conflicts can be messy and personal.
  2.  Conflicts are highly unpredictable, and it may be impossible to effectively manage the conflict once it has begun.
  3. People who start conflicts at work are usually labelled as not being a team player, or a whistle blower, and no one likes these kinds of people.

Despite the risks associated with engaging in conflict at work, the fact that the great tragedies of organizations and humanity happened in the open, and succeeded because people failed to speak up against the status quo, challenges us all to go beyond our comfort zones, and engage in the constructive conflict needed to develop creative solutions to our world’s problems.

So how do we do this? Margaret’s talk provided me with three good tips:

  1. Resist the neuro-biological urge to only associate with people who are like you. Instead, develop the patience and trust needed to engage with people with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests.
  2. Realize that speaking up in disagreement is not an end in itself, but is only the beginning of the path to a creative solution.
  3. When you have a question or concern about your organization’s product, service, or business process, it is very likely that others secretly share the same concern. The only way to find out is to speak up.

Any other ideas on how to effectively manage organizational conflict?

 

On Work-Life Balance, and Setting Down Glass Balls…

glass balls 2
A few days ago, I heard a work-life balance tip from Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of business development, that resonated strongly with me. My loosely paraphrased version of the tip goes like this:

When we think about the tension between performing well on the job, and catering to the relationships and commitments we have outside of work, it can sometimes feel like we’re juggling a bunch of glass balls. From maintaining a healthy lifestyle to taking care of a sick parent, there’s all these things that we feel we really need to take care of as screwing them up could have potentially devastating consequences.

While it is important to identify the glass balls in our lives, it is also important to realize that we are not slaves to our priorities. Life always happens, and when it does, it’s totally fine to set down some of these glass balls so we can pick them up later. Failure to do so will keep us in a perpetual state of stress, which may lead to us dropping – and shattering – a few glass balls.

What does this idea look like in real life? When I put in long hours on a high profile project, and am invisible to friends and family for a few weeks, that’s okay! When I take off during crunch time at work in order to attend a friend’s wedding on the other side of the globe, that’s okay too! Our work-life balance will constantly change as we move through different phases of life. The challenge is to ensure that our balance goals are created not by our friends, family members, colleagues or the media. Rather, what work-life balance means to us at every phase of our lives, should be decided by us.

Peggy suggested that we set a glass ball on our work desk as a way to keep this idea fresh. I’m yet to get mine… 🙂

Nurturing BSchool Connections

Joining Kellogg grew my network exponentially, and enabled me to build relationships with and learn a lot from really smart and admirable people. Fast forward to life after school though, and then comes the challenge of maintaining and nurturing these really valuable business school relationships.

The typical post-MBA job is pretty challenging, and forces MBA grads to spend their weekdays struggling to stay on top of things, and weekends recovering from the struggles of the previous week, while planning for new struggles ahead. With this tightly packed and mostly overflowing schedule, how can we find the time to nurture our existing relationships, not to mention build new ones?

I’m currently struggling through this challenge, and have been chatting with a lot of friends about it. While I still haven’t found a silver bullet, I’ve stumbled on some pretty good ideas:

1. Intentionally Plan Your Connections: This tip comes from Keith Ferrazzi, the networking guru who wrote the bestseller titled Never Eat Alone. Keith talks about creating a relationship action plan, as a way to stay on top of your relationships. His approach is pretty structured (which is not surprising as he’s an ex-consultant), and involves categorizing your network into 3 segments, and committing to an interaction frequency for each segment. Keith’s approach didn’t work very well for me, as categorizing my hundreds of friends was too cumbersome. Instead, I decided to identify the top 10 – 15 people that I really wanted to stay in touch with, and then tried to make plans for that small set of people. These plans included activities such as coffee or brunch meetups, and phone calls over the weekend, or during lunch time at work. The most important part of this tip is the PLANNING. Schedule a specific time and put it on your calendar like you would a business meeting because this stuff is actually more important in the long run.

2. Turn Facebook Time into Connecting Time: No one plans Facebook time into their day, but somehow most of us get to check Facebook an average of 14 times in a day. How does this happen? More importantly, what if we could turn that time into networking time? We all have ‘gifts of time’ during the day; examples include commute time, waiting in line for coffee, or waiting for people to show up for a meeting. In times like these, as I find myself reaching for the Facebook icon on my phone, I stop and ask myself: who can I ping right now to let them know I’m thinking about them? I try to hit at least 3 messages a week which is a super small goal, but I think this is beneficial in two ways. First, social media is already a widely accepted additive (although not a substitute) to our face to face interactions. Second, these low cost drops of pings on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites easily become an ocean of thoughtfulness and connection.

3. Just Do It!: This last tip seems to be in contrast with the first, but they actually work very well together. After making a networking plan, it’s really important to not stay welded to it. Don’t worry if certain people are slipping through the cracks and not being reached out to by you. Just keep reaching out and staying as connected as you can with those that are top of mind for you. The interesting part of this approach is that it helps you power through your inertia, and get started really quickly.

Any other good ideas on how to nurture business and personal connections?

Cool Videos of 2015

I thought it’ll be a good idea to end the year by sharing some pretty impactful videos regarding leadership and personal development that I’d come across this year. I’ve always preferred videos to books because they’re easier to consume. Also, there’s something to be said about a speaker’s charisma which may not be captured in a book. These videos had at least one message that resonated strongly with me and I hope they do the same for you too:

1. Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability: This is a very popular TED video which most people might have already seen. Interestingly enough, I had to see it a few times before I really really got the gist of it.

Big Idea: This video has so many good ideas that revolve around how we need to be vulnerable if we want to live a full and meaningful life. One key message that stood out for me is that if we want to connect with those around us (spouses, siblings and colleagues), we need to let ourselves be really seen. This means that we need to be authentic. Another idea that I really liked was that we need to move away from thinking that we’re not smart, rich or interesting enough in certain situations to believing that we ARE enough.

2. Jim Collins – Drucker Day Keynote: I stumbled upon this one on YouTube and really loved it. If you don’t know Jim Collins, he’s a Stanford Business School grad and professor who wrote two business classics: Good to Great and Built to Last. This was his keynote address at a celebration of another management guru: Peter Drucker. If the management stuff bores you, I’ll skip right to the 47th minute to get the personal leadership ideas that he shared for consideration by younger folks.

Big Idea: The ten ideas that he shared towards the end of the talk are pretty awesome. The one that resonated with me the most was this: the fact that an opportunity before you is a once in a lifetime opportunity is a fact, but not a reason for you dive in. Carefully unplug from the opportunities that distract you.

3. Clayton Christensen – How Will You Measure Your Life: I saw this video for the first time in 2012, and blogged about it then. I decided to add it to this list because it is that profound.

Big Idea: Most of us don’t plan to be broke, ill or have poor relationships with the people we care most about. Instead we unknowingly prioritize our lives using a short term focus that sets us on this self destructive path.

As always, I’d love to thank you all for visiting my blog and checking out what’s going on in my head. Here’s to a fulfilling and growth-oriented 2016!

Business School Electives: Go Hard or Soft?

Hard or soft

Last week I chose the classes that I’ll be taking for my last quarter at Kellogg. Business school is really coming to an end!

Something that I’ve struggled with over the past two years is how to choose my business school electives. There usually is a vast array of classes to choose from – in areas ranging from finance to supply chain management. However, I usually have insufficient time (and bid points) to take all the classes that I’m interested in, so I have to make choices, and therein lies my dilemma. Should I focus more on taking ‘hard’ classes that teach functional skills like marketing, finance or operations, or should i take ‘soft’ classes that teach behavioral and leadership skills like negotiations, personal leadership and power in organizations?

From conversations with classmates and alums, I’ve come to understand that there are two main schools of thought regarding how to choose business school electives. The first group strongly advocates for ‘soft’ classes that focus on leadership and organizational behavior, and their argument is that when you talk to alums that are now in senior leadership positions, they usually tell you that they wish they had paid more attention to their leadership classes. The second group argues for choosing ‘hard’ classes, and state that they’d rather spend their time in business school learning functional skills like marketing and finance which they won’t be willing or able to learn in-depth after they graduate. Who is right and who is wrong?

I think both arguments definitely have their merits. However, I think the argument for choosing soft courses based on the recommendation of alums might be a bit misleading. The fact that an alum who graduated 10 years ago now wishes that she had taken more leadership classes doesn’t necessarily mean that if she could do it all over again, she would take more leadership classes at the expense of developing functional skills. In my opinion, the mix of functional and leadership skills that are needed on the job varies throughout one’s career. In most post-MBA roles, a greater emphasis is placed on functional skills. By middle management, it becomes more of a balance between functional and leadership skills, and at senior leadership levels, leadership skills become more dominant as one would expect.

What does this mean for me and my choice of electives? In the end, I decided to choose a mix of leadership and functional classes, but to focus more on gaining the functional skills that I need to succeed in my next job. My thinking is that performing excellently in my next job is what will give me the opportunity to move towards the senior roles that will require more leadership skills. Furthermore, I’ve always been a student of leadership, so I know for a fact that my leadership education will continue for as long as I am alive. Unfortunately, I don’t share the same enthusiasm for learning finance and statistics, so I better get up to speed while I still can! 🙂

Image by scottyhdavis.com

Living an Extraordinary Life: Hakeem Bello-Osagie

For those of you who know Hakeem Bello-Osagie, nothing more needs to be said about him. For those of you who don’t, words don’t really suffice. Let’s just say that he is the kind of guy that makes your average ‘high-flyer’ uncomfortable. With degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard Business School, and a distinguished career spanning across the energy, financial services and telecommunications industries, Keem (as he is called by friends) is a very very impressive guy.

This is Keem’s second speech on my blog. The first one (also worth watching) addressed the dilemma of citizens of developing countries studying in developed countries like the US. After graduating, should they stay back or go home?

This speech is awesome for a number of reasons. The first is that Keem shares his career story in a very candid way, which I think is quite inspiring. Another reason why I really enjoyed this speech is that I found Keem’s thoughts on living an extraordinary life to be quite profound. What he said is that if you want to live an extraordinary life, you have to be willing to try a lot of things that seem impossible. By definition, if you are trying a lot of things that seem impossible, you will probably fail a lot. However, once in a while, you’d surprise even yourself. Let me stop typing. Enjoy the video. 🙂