Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Sun, 15 Nov 2020 20:44:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.6 https://i1.wp.com/jonathanbecher.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/cropped-jb-logo.jpg?fit=32%2C32 Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com 32 32 56894116 Top 5 Cult Classics http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/11/15/top-5-cult-classics/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/11/15/top-5-cult-classics/#comments Sun, 15 Nov 2020 20:44:22 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7925 What are your top 5 cult classics? For nearly 30 years, a good friend and I have had an on-going debate on the greatest movie line of all time. Spoiler alert: not surprisingly, mine is Sharks related. This year, we decided to start a new tradition and began debating the best cult classics of all...

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What are your top 5 cult classics?

For nearly 30 years, a good friend and I have had an on-going debate on the greatest movie line of all time. Spoiler alert: not surprisingly, mine is Sharks related. This year, we decided to start a new tradition and began debating the best cult classics of all time.

We started with the rules. A cult classic needs a devoted fanbase who watch the movie repeatedly, frequently quote lines, and even dress up as the characters. Extra points if the movie was originally a box office bomb or shunned by the mainstream media. Cult classics become cool despite themselves.

After a marathon discussion, we agreed on a preliminary list. After all, the plan is to debate this for many years to come. Here’s our current Top 5 with a bonus entry:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Official summary: A newly-engaged couple have a breakdown in an isolated area and must seek shelter at the bizarre residence of Dr. Frank-n-Furter.
Popular quote: “Dammit, Janet”

Possibly the prototypical example of a cult classic. Fans dress up and reenact the entire film at each showing; often at midnight. If it’s your first time, try to watch it in a theater for the full effect. As the trailer says, “You’ve seen all kinds of movies but you’ve never seen one like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. “

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Official summary: King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table embark on a surreal, low-budget search for the Holy Grail, encountering many, very silly obstacles.
Popular quote: “What… is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

If not for Rocky Horror, this would be the holy grail of cult films with an absurd number of memorable lines. You’ll laugh out loud watching it but, look closely, it’s a nuanced parody of history.

Blade Runner

Official summary: A blade runner must pursue and terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space, and have returned to Earth to find their creator.
Popular quote: “More human than human is our motto.”

Blade Runner was a flop when released in 1982 but wildly popular by 2019, the year of its plot. The science fiction movie to rule them all. The remake — not so much.

The Big Lebowski

Official summary: Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire of the same name, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.
Popular quote: “The Dude abides.”

Put on your bowling shirt, make yourself a White Russian, and watch a comedy of epic proportions. The Big Lebowski is the Coen brothers’ funniest and most outlandish movie — and that’s saying something.

Pulp Fiction

Official summary: The lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster and his wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
Popular quote: “I’m sorry. Did I break your concentration? Oh, you were finished. Well, allow me to retort.”

Three interwoven stories told out of order. The most violent film on this list but it’s really about the choices people make regarding life and death, honor and disgrace, and the vagaries of chance.

There you have it – our top 5 cult classics. I promised you a bonus film but the first rule of Fight Club is you can’t talk about it. It’s also the second rule.

Let me know your favorite cult movie in the comments.

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Worrying About Sleeping Can Cause Insomnia http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/11/08/worrying-about-sleeping/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/11/08/worrying-about-sleeping/#comments Sun, 08 Nov 2020 22:06:31 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7856 Compulsively worrying about sleeping is one of the primary causes of insomnia. People with sleep problems tend to worry about being able to go to sleep which in turn makes it harder for them to go to sleep. Harvard professor Daniel Wegner calls this “the ironic process of mental control.” People become increasingly anxious as...

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Compulsively worrying about sleeping is one of the primary causes of insomnia.

People with sleep problems tend to worry about being able to go to sleep which in turn makes it harder for them to go to sleep. Harvard professor Daniel Wegner calls this “the ironic process of mental control.” People become increasingly anxious as they constantly monitor progress toward a specific goal – in this case, going to sleep. They get caught up in the second-by-second process of self-assessment. As the need for sleep becomes more urgent, it becomes more elusive.

Worry and anxiety are evolutionary enemies of sleep. As Jennifer Martin, professor of medicine at UCLA has said, “It would have been an unfortunate mistake of evolution if we were sleepy when there was a tiger outside of our cave.” When humans are faced with a threat, the initial stress reaction is to not sleep so we can deal with the threat.

For many people, the global pandemic is an existential threat not unlike the tiger outside our cave. Worrying about health, finances, or friends & family impacts the ability to sleep. Pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts reported the number of prescriptions for sleep disorders increased 15% in the first month of the pandemic. In addition, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 36% of Americans have reported difficulty sleeping due to stress about the pandemic.

Multiple months of poor sleep is considered insomnia. Sleep problems are so widespread that UC Davis Health declared “the coronavirus may be causing a second pandemic of insomnia.” I guess I need to add coronasomnia to my list of new words spurred by the COVID lockdown.

There’s lots of advice on what to do if you are suffering from insomnia. According to Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, sleeping well boils down to two factors: comfort and release. For the former, when the body is comfortable enough, the brain is essentially tricked into forgetting the rest of the body is attached to it. For the latter, the person has to ignore their immediate surroundings and daily concerns. This release works best when it happens soon after the person puts their head on a pillow and tries to sleep.

In other words, if you stop worrying about things – including sleeping, you’re more likely to sleep.

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Beware of the Leopard Lessons http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/10/25/beware-of-leopard-lessons/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/10/25/beware-of-leopard-lessons/#comments Sun, 25 Oct 2020 22:39:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7829 In the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there’s a vignette called ‘Beware of the Leopard’ which explains why it’s critical to provide convenient access to important information. The vignette is a useful way to explain information asymmetry, in which one person has relevant information not known by or available to the other person. Here’s...

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Beware of the leopard

In the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there’s a vignette called ‘Beware of the Leopard’ which explains why it’s critical to provide convenient access to important information. The vignette is a useful way to explain information asymmetry, in which one person has relevant information not known by or available to the other person. Here’s the conversation between Arthur Dent and the Council Official, Mister Prosser, who wanted to demolish Arthur’s house to make way for a bypass:

Prosser: “But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”

Dent: “Oh yes, well, as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”

Prosser: “But the plans were on display…”

Dent: “Ah! And how many members of the public are in the habit of casually dropping around the local planning office on an evening?”

Prosser: “Er – ah.”

Dent: “It’s not exactly a noted social venue is it? And even if you had popped in on the off chance that some raving bureaucrat wanted to knock your house down, the plans weren’t immediately obvious to the eye, were they?”

Prosser: “That depends where you were looking.”

Dent: “I eventually had to go down to the cellar!”

Prosser: “That’s the display department.”

Dent: “With a flashlight”

Prosser: “Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

Dent: “So had the stairs.”

Prosser: “But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

Dent: Yes, yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.

As with the amusing Three Envelopes story, this vignette provides plenty of examples of how not to handle information. Here are my top three lessons:

1. Publicize in addition to publish

I’m a huge proponent of writing stuff down (WSD), especially in organizations steeped in traditions or with long-tenured employees. Relying on tribal knowledge limits an organization’s ability to grow.

It’s not enough to document something; you have to go out of your way to talk about it. Otherwise it’s the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Spend just as much time publicizing information as you do documenting it.

2. Make it easy for your customer, not for you

Planning documents aren’t for members of the planning department but rather for the public. Unfortunately, in many disciplines, documents are filled with jargon and acronyms which experts understand but casual readers do not.

Access to information is another situation in which end-to-end customer experience is critical. Design should be outside-in to make it easy for the customer; otherwise information is locked in the basement.

3. Think digital first

Hitchhiker was written in 1979 in a pre-internet world. Documentation was almost exclusively paper-based and stored in filing cabinets. Information was power so those who controlled information had the most power.

Democratization of information shifts the power from those who create information to those who consume it. Like all things digital, it also gets rid of the middleman.

In a digital-first world, the person who has the most power isn’t the one who controls the most information but rather the one who uses that information to help the most other people. People with real power never force anyone to beware of the leopard.

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Prepare Three Envelopes Is Bad Advice http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/10/04/prepare-three-envelopes/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/10/04/prepare-three-envelopes/#comments Sun, 04 Oct 2020 20:13:31 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7793 There’s a classic story called ‘prepare three envelopes’ which provides advice on leadership transitions. There are versions which apply to business, government, and sports teams but they essentially all have the same advice. Here’s a version: A new executive is hired to take over a struggling business unit. During the handover meeting, the previous executive...

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three envelopes

There’s a classic story called ‘prepare three envelopes’ which provides advice on leadership transitions. There are versions which apply to business, government, and sports teams but they essentially all have the same advice. Here’s a version:

A new executive is hired to take over a struggling business unit. During the handover meeting, the previous executive gives the newbie three numbered envelopes with the recommendation to open them when things go poorly.

After two quarters, profits don’t improve and the new executive starts to feel significant pressure from his boss. Remembering the three envelopes, he opens the first one and reads the message, “Blame your predecessor.” He dutifully explains to his boss the previous executive had left a bigger mess than expected and it will take a bit longer to fix things – but everything is under control. Satisfied with the explanation, the boss turns her attention elsewhere.

A few quarters later the business unit is still missing its financial projections. Having learned from the previous experience, the executive consults the second envelope which contains the message “Reorganize.” The executive makes a number of ‘critically-needed changes’ and ‘doubles efforts on core strengths.’ Financial results seemingly improve.

Less than two years after taking over the business unit, the executive finds himself in another crisis. Out of ideas, the executive goes to his office, closes the door, and opens the third envelope.

The message says “Prepare Three Envelopes.”

While the story is amusing, three envelopes has become the accepted formula for executives during leadership transitions – despite the fact it’s full of bad advice. Blaming prior management and relying on non-strategic reorganizations are like get out of jail free cards. They don’t fix underlying issues but they often buy the executive more time in their role.  

Here’s my assessment of each of the three envelopes:

1. Leadership starts with accountability

Part of my management philosophy is to be “hard on the issues, not on the people.” Failure is rarely the fault of a single individual or even a small group. It’s often the result of a red-rock manager or unexpected external events.

Executives should give credit to their employees when things go well and accept blame when things don’t. This is the ultimate accountability.

2. Transform rather than reorganize

Many reorganizations are not much more than a magic trick based on reshuffling a deck of cards. They consume time and resources, make for a good show, but don’t address the underlying systematic issues.

A successful restructure is based on a strategic transformation, updating processes, business models, and the customer experience. Sustainable improvement requires a fundamental change in behavior.

3. Cultivate an internal successor

If it’s time to leave your role (voluntarily or involuntarily), the change will invariably be difficult on your employees. They’ve invested in understanding the quirks of your management style and the next person will inevitably be different. You want to leave like a platypus.

A good executive will have developed a formal succession plan and has been cultivating an internal successor. This internal candidate is more likely to be successful than an external one. And, because you have a relationship with them, you can give your successor more useful advice than prepare three envelopes.

Leadership transitions are difficult on organizations. There’s no reason to compound the issues with a pithy story to prepare three envelopes.

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It Is What It Is http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/09/13/it-is-what-it-is/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/09/13/it-is-what-it-is/#comments Sun, 13 Sep 2020 20:07:42 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7738 The phrase ‘it is what it is’ has exploded in popularity. I might not have noticed except it’s a phrase my Mom has been using my whole life; I may be overly-sensitized to it. I first noticed a surge in popularity towards the beginning of the US pandemic-related shutdown when it became a popular meme....

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The phrase ‘it is what it is’ has exploded in popularity.

I might not have noticed except it’s a phrase my Mom has been using my whole life; I may be overly-sensitized to it. I first noticed a surge in popularity towards the beginning of the US pandemic-related shutdown when it became a popular meme. True to many memes, people were using the phrase in everyday life – without knowing it had gone viral on TikTok.

The phrase underwent its own exponential growth when the U.S. President controversially used it to describe the death toll from the COVID pandemic. Political allegiances aside, uncommon phrases often become more popular when a President says them. In fact, ‘it is what it is’ got a bump in popularity when Al Gore used it to describe his loss to George W. Bush.

A similar bump in usage came as a result of the 2001 film by Billy Frolick titled – you guessed it – It Is What It Is.

According to no less an authority as William Safire, the earliest known reference to the phrase happened in the Nebraska State Journal in 1949:

New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without an apology.

Although there’s no definition in most dictionaries, the essence of ‘it is what it is’ is a sense of frustration or resigned acceptance. In most cases, it’s used as an answer to a question that can’t adequately be answered. I always imagine the speaker is sighing or shrugging when they say it.

It’s this sense of helplessness which has always bothered me about the phrase. (That, and the fact I heard it hundreds of times growing up.) Saying ‘it is what it is’ is tantamount to giving up. In this sense, it’s surprising that the phrase is popular here in the US, as we tend to be optimistic about the future.

Since language influences culture, I would expect English would have a phrase closer to the Spanish “que será, será” which means ‘what will be, will be.’ While it’s similar, the Spanish phrase is written in the future tense and suggests a more hopeful outcome. I’m hopeful the English language will evolve to have a similar optimistic phrase but it probably won’t.

After all, it is what it is.

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Directionally Accurate But Not Precise http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/09/06/directionally-accurate-but-not-precise/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/09/06/directionally-accurate-but-not-precise/#respond Sun, 06 Sep 2020 19:37:04 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7714 Sometimes I’m directionally accurate but not precise. My lack of precision isn’t an attempt to mislead or misinform. After all, my motto is words matter so I usually choose my words carefully. Instead, this imprecision stems from the desire to tell a compelling story or when my memory is cloudy. Here’s a recent real-life example:...

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Sometimes I’m directionally accurate but not precise.

My lack of precision isn’t an attempt to mislead or misinform. After all, my motto is words matter so I usually choose my words carefully. Instead, this imprecision stems from the desire to tell a compelling story or when my memory is cloudy.

Here’s a recent real-life example:

I was invited to a meeting with a large number of people to discuss several critical and complicated topics. Early on, I was asked my opinion on one of the most complicated topics. Rather than wasting peoples’ time on a potentially unnecessary and lengthy discussion, I responded: “Before we spend time discussing this, I suggest we read the excellent 40-page report another team developed six months ago. We’ll benefit from their work.”

The next day I get a message from someone who was in the meeting complaining: “I read the report you mentioned. It was only 32 pages long.” I asked if the report had been useful. “Yes, but that’s not my point. You said it was 40 pages.”

I acknowledged I had been directionally accurate but not precise. And that had been my point: to get people to read the research before doing potentially unnecessary work. The exact number of pages seemed less important.

A little more background might be instructive. During the meeting, I didn’t remember exactly how long the report was. If you had pushed me to estimate on the spot, I likely would have confidently claimed the report was longer than 20 pages but less than 50.

By picking 40 pages, my hope was the attendees who were passionately interested in the critical topic would be more likely to read it. After all, 40 pages implies significant work went into producing it. On the other hand, less interested people might be put off by that length and might have been more motivated by “a little more than 20 pages.” Of course, all of this happened subconsciously in real time.

Being directionally accurate seems to have worked. When I asked the annoyed attendee if he would have read the report if I had described it as five pages long, he admitted he would not have.

Those of you who value precision might have preferred if my description of the report avoided numbers and used words like “long” or “detailed.” While that would be more accurate, I don’t think those words would have compelled people to read it. To me, they don’t tell a story.

Does it matter that I used the directionally accurate 40 pages rather the precise 32 pages? How would you have handled the situation? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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The Bring Me A Rock Phenomenon http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/08/30/the-bring-me-a-rock-phenomenon/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/08/30/the-bring-me-a-rock-phenomenon/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2020 21:33:27 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7691 Early in my career, I was subjected to the so-called “bring me a rock” phenomenon and the experience left me with a sense of frustration which has stuck with me ever since. This phenomenon happens when a manager cannot or will not communicate their goals clearly and succinctly. Subordinates repeatedly try to fulfill their manager’s...

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Early in my career, I was subjected to the so-called “bring me a rock” phenomenon and the experience left me with a sense of frustration which has stuck with me ever since.

This phenomenon happens when a manager cannot or will not communicate their goals clearly and succinctly. Subordinates repeatedly try to fulfill their manager’s expectations through multiple attempts of bringing them a rock (i.e., proposal, product, process, etc.). Each time, the rock isn’t quite right – with the manager producing another requirement. Eventually, the manager becomes satisfied or the subordinates wearily give up.

A bring-me-a-rock sequence might look like this:

Boss: I have an important and urgent project for you. Bring me a rock.

Subordinate: <To her/himself> If I ask too many questions, I will appear stupid and not essential. I’ll do some research on rocks to figure out what’s popular right now. After significant work, Tada! Here’s a really interesting rock.

Boss: What’s this? It isn’t the rock I wanted. It’s much too big.

Subordinate: Speculating to him/herself. Aha, this isn’t a rock to prop open a heavy door. More likely it’s for a paperweight. Let’s make sure I deliver a rock with some color in it so it looks good on the boss’ desk. Excitedly hands rock to boss…

Boss: Why is this rock yellowish? Red would have been a much better choice. Bring me a red rock.

Subordinate: I wonder what would happen if I just painted the rock red. That would be fast and economical but it might not fit with our sustainability push. I will get the team to help me find a non-heavy red rock. Two weeks later…

Boss: Hey, this rock is pretty nice. Thank you. But why isn’t it round?

You get the idea. Incomplete requirements from the manager makes the task much harder for the subordinate, leading to a sense of helplessness and frustration. Even if the subordinate eventually produces an approved result, the manager is likely to complain it took too long and was over budget.

In my experience there are three primary reasons for the bring me a rock phenomenon:

  1. The manager is also unsure about the expectations of the task because his/her own management hasn’t cascaded objectives. As such, the manager doesn’t want to risk failing on the task and is intentionally delaying, hoping for more information.
  2. The manager isn’t sure what they are looking for but is hoping to recognize it when they see it. The ill-defined task might be because they have not set up boundary conditions for how employees should operate.
  3. The manager isn’t decisive and, as time goes on, is influenced by new information or conflicting opinions. In this case, we might call it the shiny rock phenomenon.

As a manager, this simplest thing you can do to avoid the bring me a rock phenomenon is to be clear on your expectations. If you aren’t sure what you want, set up the task as an experiment with rapid iterations. That way, it’s clear that the correct outcome isn’t known in advance and no one feels like they failed. Most importantly, if the requirements change after you first request the task, update the people doing the work as soon as possible and explain why the requirements changed.

If you work for a bring-me-a-rock manager, ask as many questions as you can at the outset. Don’t be afraid it will make you look bad; it might actually help your manager better frame the request. It’s possible your questioning might frustrate this kind of manager but they are going to be frustrated by you not delivering what they asked for anyway.

To riff on the old saying, you’re stuck between a red rock and hard place.

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The Feynman Learning Technique http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/08/09/the-feynman-learning-technique/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/08/09/the-feynman-learning-technique/#comments Sun, 09 Aug 2020 20:29:05 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7597 Have you ever had a co-worker or a teacher try to explain something to you and use words that you didn’t really understand? If so, the confusion might be theirs, not yours. The Feynman Learning Technique suggests that, if you can’t adequately explain something to a twelve-year old, you probably don’t really understand it that...

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Have you ever had a co-worker or a teacher try to explain something to you and use words that you didn’t really understand? If so, the confusion might be theirs, not yours. The Feynman Learning Technique suggests that, if you can’t adequately explain something to a twelve-year old, you probably don’t really understand it that well yourself.

Dr. Richard Feynman was a Nobel prize-winning physicist, author of multiple books, and the subject of a movie, a Broadway play and a graphic novel. To those who are less scientific, Feynman’s name might be recognizable from being frequently referenced in the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory. In addition to his groundbreaking research, Feynman was well-regarded for his ability to synthesize and explain scientific information in simple-to understand terms. This earned him the nickname of “The Great Explainer.”

Richard Feyman’s Caltech lectures were legendary. Apparently, Albert Einstein attended Feynman’s first talk as a graduate student. In a video entitled ‘The Greatest Teacher I Never Had’, Bill Gates marveled at how Feynman could explain complex topics in simple and concise language.

Feynman believed the secret to explaining something well was to deeply understand it yourself. The Feynman Learning Technique was based on his own studying techniques while he was a student at Princeton. His four steps were:

  1. Catalog and review everything you know about a specific subject
  2. Try to explain the concept to someone who doesn’t know about it in language a twelve-year old would understand
  3. Identify the gaps in your explanation so you can focus your leaning
  4. Organize and simplify the information to tell a comprehensive story

Feynman argued that all four steps are necessary to ensure that both you understood the topic and could explain it well to someone else. The four step process works well regardless of whether the topic is science, business, or sports. I usually follow this process when writing articles for this blog, creating keynotes, or just trying to learn something new. In my experience:

  1. I write notes on everything I can remember about the topic and do research to fill in the big blanks. I find the process of writing things down helps me remember new information and starts creating connections to other topics.
  2. Regardless of whether I’m going to explain the topic verbally or in writing, I try to eliminate jargon, useless “filler” words, and typical corporate language. I follow my own advice on being simple and clear.
  3. Creating a story serves the dual purpose of forcing me to organize all of the information consistently and providing a hook for my audience to remember it. This step is where I truly learn about a topic because I’m forced to fill in holes in the story.
  4. When I explain the topic in person, I watch peoples’ faces to see which parts are confusing. Either way, I ask for quick feedback – if they have to think too long, my explanation isn’t intuitive. It may be frustrating but the issue is often in my explanation and sometimes in my own understanding.

It’s not uncommon to have to go through the steps of the Feynman Learning Technique multiple times. Each cycle improves my own understanding (aka learning), especially if I have a growth mindset. It also increases the odds the people I’m explaining it to will understand what I’m saying and learn about the topic.

Whenever you have to explain something, you should try the Feynman Learning Technique. Better yet, the next time someone babbles on about a complicated topic, ask them to explain it to you as if you were a twelve-year old. And give them this blog as a handy guide.

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Resiliency Is The Key To Success http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/07/19/resiliency-is-the-key-to-success/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/07/19/resiliency-is-the-key-to-success/#comments Sun, 19 Jul 2020 19:00:21 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7574 “We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff Earlier in my career, I preached the Silicon Valley mantra of “fail fast, fail often” as a way of encouraging incumbents to take more risk. I even catalogued motivational quotes about failure. Over time, I realized that failure was...

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“We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.”
Tobias Wolff

Earlier in my career, I preached the Silicon Valley mantra of “fail fast, fail often” as a way of encouraging incumbents to take more risk. I even catalogued motivational quotes about failure. Over time, I realized that failure was not the outcome I was hoping for and it could even be counterproductive to advocate failure.

Instead, I began encouraging people to experiment more often and to be more resilient when things didn’t work out as expected. Experimentation and resiliency are concepts that people are more likely to accept and are easier to incorporate in an existing culture that may have become stagnant. When reinforcing the importance of resiliency, I use examples of famous people who tried, failed, persisted, and later became successful.

Here are four stories where resiliency was the key to success:

Henry Ford’s first automobile company went out of business and he left the second company after only a few months, even though it was named after him. Ford Motor Company would later become one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies.

Marilyn Monroe’s contract with Twentieth Century-Fox was not renewed, as they believed she wasn’t talented enough to be an actress. 60 years after her death many people still regard her as the quintessential American sex symbol.

R.H. Macy had several failed retail businesses, including a NYC Macy’s in 1858. By 1924, Macy’s Herald Square had become the “World’s Largest Store” with more than 1M square feet.

Dr. Seuss’ first book was rejected by 27 publishers and he was about to burn the manuscript when the rights were bought by a classmate. He is now the most popular children’s book author ever.

As good as these are, my favorite story about resiliency comes from Paul Smith’s book ‘Lead with a Story‘. Here’s an abridged version:

At 22, the company he worked for went bankrupt and he lost his job.
At 23, he ran for state legislature in a field of 13 candidates. He came in eighth.
At 24, he borrowed money to start a business. By the end of the year, the business failed and the local sheriff seized his possessions to pay off his debt.
At 25, he ran for state legislature again. This time he won.
At 26, he was engaged to be married. But his fiancée died before the wedding.
At 29, he sought to become the speaker of the state legislature. He was defeated.
At 34, he campaigned for a U.S. congressional seat. He lost.
At 35, he ran for Congress again. This time he won.
At 39, when his term ended, he was out of a job again. There was a one-term limit rule in his party.
At 40, he tried to get a job as commissioner of the General Land Office. He was rejected.
At 45, he was one of the contenders for the VP nomination at his party’s national convention. He lost.
At 49, he ran for the same U.S. Senate seat a second time. And for the second time, he lost.
At 51, after a lifetime of failure and still relatively unknown outside of his home state of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln was elected the sixteenth president of the United States.

Be resilient. Be successful. Be Abraham Lincoln.

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Shining a light on the Spotlight Effect http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/06/28/the-spotlight-effect/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/06/28/the-spotlight-effect/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2020 22:54:19 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7535 Have you ever done something completely embarrassing and assumed that everyone is staring at you, only to later discover that no one really noticed? The reality is that other people pay much less attention to you than you think. This is called the Spotlight Effect. The spotlight effect is the tendency for people to overestimate...

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Have you ever done something completely embarrassing and assumed that everyone is staring at you, only to later discover that no one really noticed? The reality is that other people pay much less attention to you than you think. This is called the Spotlight Effect.

The spotlight effect is the tendency for people to overestimate both the degree to which they are observed by others and the degree to which others care about the things they do notice about them. This phenomenon was vividly demonstrated in a classic 1999 study in which student participants were asked to wear a bright yellow t-shirt with a large picture of Barry Manilow’s head to an introductory psychology class. The participants predicted that 50% of the other students in the lecture would notice their embarrassing t-shirt but, in fact, only 25% of their classmates actually remembered seeing it.

The researchers recreated the experiment using t-shirts with less embarrassing faces (i.e. Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Bob Marley) and found the same results.

Students wearing the shirt greatly overestimated the percentage of others who actually remembered it.

The spotlight effect is not limited to visual memory but equally applies to auditory memory. The same researchers divided student participants into groups to discuss “the problem of inner cities in the U.S.” and to draft a policy statement with their recommendation. Afterwards, the participants were asked to write down the five most remarkable comments made during the discussion – either good or bad. As expected by the spotlight effect, participants mentioned their own good and bad comments much more frequently than other people remembered them.

The spotlight effect is to be expected because we interpret every situation based on our own biases and experiences. If we notice something, we assume that everyone else would notice it as well. And, if we interpret it as bad or embarrassing, we assume that others will also. However, everyone else is a product of their own biases and experiences – they are much more likely paying attention to their world and not noticing yours!

So, the next time you think the world is shining a spotlight on a mistake you have made, relax. It is much more likely that no one noticed.

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