Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Sun, 08 Apr 2018 20:37:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.5 https://i2.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 Just Say No To Goals http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/04/08/just-say-no-goals/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/04/08/just-say-no-goals/#comments Sun, 08 Apr 2018 20:37:28 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7030 People are obsessed with goals. You could fill a large library with books describing how to create and accomplish goals. But they don’t seem to be effective: Only 1/3 of people who make New Year’s resolutions keep them for longer than a few days. More than 70% of the people who set goals for themselves...

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People are obsessed with goals. You could fill a large library with books describing how to create and accomplish goals. But they don’t seem to be effective:

Even the highly-touted SMART goals can be stupid.

So, what’s the problem with goals?

Goals have a specific ending time. Once you accomplish a goal, it’s no longer there to motivate you and you might fall back to your previous behavior. If you set a goal to run a marathon, you likely will train hard until the day of the race. If you finish the marathon, you may not keep training afterwards. After accomplishing one goal, you’re forced to create another.

Goals rely on uncontrollable factors. While goals may seem achievable when they are set, circumstances change over time and Murphy’s Law strikes without warning. An injury might interrupt your marathon training, or an unexpected expense might keep you from reaching a financial goal.

Goals focus on the future instead of the current. A goal can seem unattainable, especially when it is in the distant future. When you compare where you are against where you want to be, you might get demotivated. If you want to save $5000 in a year, you probably will be discouraged if you’ve only saved $500 after 3 months. One recommendation is to set multiple targets along the way.

In The Power of Habit, New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg argues that habits are more powerful and more reliable than goals. Habits make difficult tasks easier to accomplish by converting them from conscious decisions to background, almost automatic, processes. Here are two examples:

  • The challenge of saving $5000 forces you to exert self-discipline every time you want to purchase something. These daily challenges add up and can wear down your resolve over time. An alternative approach would be automatically deposit $200 into a savings account every pay period. Once set up, there is no effort and it becomes a habit – one that extends beyond the initial $5000.
  • Many years ago, I decided to read more books. One benefit would be more ideas for this blog. Rather than setting a goal of reading 25 books per year or even two books per month, I decided to make sure I always have books around me. I kept a pile on both my home and work desks, and always brought one with me on trips. Pretty soon it became a habit to read on planes.

Duhigg generalizes the benefits as follows:

  • Habits are easier to complete than goals since they are smaller and repetitive.
  • Habits allow us to overshoot our goals rather than focusing on a fixed objective.
  • Habits, once established, are perpetual and can last our whole lives.

According to Duhigg, we are truly creatures of habit; habits make up more than 40% of our lives. Some of these – those Duhigg calls keystone habits – have compounding effects on our lives. When people start exercising, they often end up eating better or drinking less alcohol. One good habit creates others. In a similar vein, breaking a bad habit often leads to a good one as a replacement.

So, the next time you want to accomplish something, don’t set yourself a goal. Instead, create a habit.

Even Dilbert agrees.

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How Bad Is Double-Dipping? http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/03/18/how-bad-is-double-dipping/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/03/18/how-bad-is-double-dipping/#comments Mon, 19 Mar 2018 04:39:35 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7024 With a little more couch time than normal this flu season, I binge-watched some new TV series and rewatched some classics. After seeing George Costanza double-dip a chip during a wake, I started to wonder – is it really “like putting your whole mouth right in the dip!” Here’s the scene from a 1993 episode...

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With a little more couch time than normal this flu season, I binge-watched some new TV series and rewatched some classics. After seeing George Costanza double-dip a chip during a wake, I started to wonder – is it really “like putting your whole mouth right in the dip!” Here’s the scene from a 1993 episode of Seinfeld for those who may not be familiar with it:

Turns out I’m not the only one who wondered whether bacteria in your mouth can make it onto the chip then into the dip. Clemson Professor Paul Dawson is a food scientist who researches how common food habits can increase the spread of bacteria and was inspired by watching that episode. His undergraduate research team designed a series of experiments to find out how bad double-dipping really is.

The first experiments compared how much bacteria were transferred from a cracker to a cup of water when it was either bitten or unbitten. Not surprisingly, the researchers found bitten crackers transferred “about 1,000 more bacteria per milliliter.” Then they varied the pH level of the water to be increasingly acidic, measuring the bacteria levels right after dipping and again two hours later. The more acidic water initially tested with high levels of bacteria but they dropped over time. Most bacteria can’t survive in acidic solutions.

But would the results stand up to real life? The second experiments replaced the water with three kinds of dip: chunky salsa, chocolate syrup, and cheese dips. These dips vary in pH and viscosity (thickness).

As expected, without double-dipping, the foods had no detectable levels of bacteria. After double-dipping, the salsa had five times more bacteria than the chocolate or cheese dips. However, about two hours later the bacterial levels in the salsa dropped to the same levels as the chocolate and cheese.

The researchers explained that salsa has lower viscosity than chocolate or cheese but is more acidic. Since salsa is less thick, more of the dip touching the bitten cracker fell back into the bowl increasing the bacteria level. And the higher acidity killed off most of the bacteria after the two hours.

So, what should we do about all of this? If you’re at a party, please don’t double-dip – especially if you’re sick. If you see someone else double-dipping, avoid their dip of choice. The researchers also provided a useful observation to party hosts: “cheese dip will run out faster than salsa since more of the cheese sticks to the cracker or chip on each dip.” You’ll have to refill the bowl more often but you’ll reduce the chance that people double-dip.

Isn’t science useful?

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Critical Thinking Via 5 Whys and First Principles http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/03/13/critical-thinking-via-5-whys-first-principles/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/03/13/critical-thinking-via-5-whys-first-principles/#respond Wed, 14 Mar 2018 03:19:58 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7017 Early in my career, my departmental VP hired a well-known management consulting firm to diagnose why an important project had failed. The management consultants used a technique called “5 Whys” to get past discussions of the failed outcomes and try to unearth the root causes. As the name implies, the technique is based on asking...

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Early in my career, my departmental VP hired a well-known management consulting firm to diagnose why an important project had failed. The management consultants used a technique called “5 Whys” to get past discussions of the failed outcomes and try to unearth the root causes. As the name implies, the technique is based on asking Why five times in a row – with the assumption that by the last Why you’ll reach the true cause of a problem.

This technique can work well (here’s a real-world example from a kitchen range manufacturer) but has its limitations. In a complex situation, you can suffer from tunnel vision which might lead to an incorrect conclusion. To counteract this, there are variants of the 5 Whys technique which intentionally create branches (alternative theories) and therefore explore new ground. In mathematics this is called avoiding a local maximum to search for a global maximum. For those interested in learning more, here’s a good article on variants of the 5 Whys technique.

The recent Elon Musk-fueled craze around first principle thinking reminded me that everything old is new again. First principle thinking, for those who haven’t seen the endless articles trumpeting this breakthrough, is a mode of thinking “designed to relentlessly pursue the foundations of any given problem from fundamental truths.” In science, theoretical work is considered to be from first principles if it starts directly with established science and doesn’t rely on assumptions. This approach isn’t really new: A case can be made it originated more than 2000 years ago with Aristotle.

Confused? Here’s a frequently-referenced video of Elon describing how first principles thinking challenged the traditional economics of making batteries:

5 Whys and First Principles are both examples of critical thinking but differ in how they approach the problem. 5 Whys is top down; starting with the observed result and trying to discover the underlying cause. On the other hand, the First Principles approach builds from basic truths to discover new solutions. Each has merit and is appropriate in different circumstances. When in doubt, try them both.

Regardless of which approach you use, the key to critical thinking is to be sensitive to your built-in biases and learn to challenge surface explanations. Be sure to ask more questions; just remember it’s hard to ask good questions.

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The 90-Minute Rule http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/02/11/90-minute-rule/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/02/11/90-minute-rule/#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 04:26:31 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=6984 “Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.” – Tony Schwartz (source) In the late 1950’s, researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman documented that humans sleep in 90-minute cycles – from light to deep sleep and back to light sleep again. Professor Kleitman later discovered...

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“Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.”
– Tony Schwartz (source)

In the late 1950’s, researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman documented that humans sleep in 90-minute cycles – from light to deep sleep and back to light sleep again. Professor Kleitman later discovered that a similar pattern happens when we are awake – from a state of alertness to physiological fatigue. After 90 minutes of work, we start to feel tired and less productive. Essentially, this is our bodies telling us that we need to slow down and take a break.

Unfortunately, we often ignore these biological signals and try to mask the impact with stimulants like caffeine and sugar. When we’re on a tight deadline or under lots of pressure, we might also summon up the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These stimulants work in the short term but they usually lead to an inevitable feeling of crashing.

Research by Professor K. Anders Ericsson on elite performers reinforced the 90-minute cycle. Professor Ericsson found the best violinists daily practice usually consisted of three sessions of 90 minutes each with breaks for recuperating between each session. These elite musicians rarely worked for more than 4.5 hours per day and they slept almost an hour more than average musicians. A similar pattern emerged in studies of athletes, actors, and chess players.

More from Professor Ericsson:

To maximize gains from long-term practice, individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.

I call this effect the 90-minute rule and recommend applying it to your daily routine, regardless of your profession. You should schedule your day in 90-minute periods of intense, uninterrupted work with 20-30 minutes of renewal breaks between them. You should also make sure business meeting don’t last longer than 90 minutes. When you plan an offsite or a conference agenda, no session or presentation should be longer than 90 minutes or else you risk losing the audience.

Adhering to the 90-minute rule takes discipline, especially since we live in an always-on society. But the science tells us we can be better performers if we give ourselves enough time to recuperate. Take a walk, eat a healthy snack, or even chit-chat with co-workers.

And the next time your boss asks if you’re goofing off at work, refer to the 90-minute rule and say you’re taking a science-mandated break.

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When Promoting People, Beware the False Record Effect http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/02/04/when-promoting-people-beware-the-false-record-effect/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/02/04/when-promoting-people-beware-the-false-record-effect/#respond Sun, 04 Feb 2018 21:13:56 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=6950 After writing about several examples of bias from insensitivity to sample size, a former colleague asked whether I thought performance in the workplace was subject to the same bias. She observed that people were sometimes rewarded or even promoted for high performance, even if that performance was sporadic rather than sustained. She asked: Shouldn’t the...

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After writing about several examples of bias from insensitivity to sample size, a former colleague asked whether I thought performance in the workplace was subject to the same bias. She observed that people were sometimes rewarded or even promoted for high performance, even if that performance was sporadic rather than sustained. She asked:

Shouldn’t the promotion of an employee be tied to a larger sample size (i.e. more time)?

The answer is heavily nuanced. In my own experience, performance at work is not solely based on your own skills. A variety of external factors come into play, including the difficulty of your tasks, the quality of your team, and even some luck. The more time you have to observe an employee, the more you can tell how much impact these external factors had.

James G. March, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, describes this as the False Record Effect:

A group of managers of identical (moderate) ability will show considerable variation in their performance records in the short run. Some will be found at one end of the distribution and will be viewed as outstanding; others will be at the other end and will be viewed as ineffective. The longer a manager stays in a job, the less the probable difference between the observed record of performance and actual ability.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that seniority is a better way to determine promotions. Organizations that favor “time in seat” over short-term success lose the benefit of fresh perspectives and can become stale.

We are more susceptible to the False Record Effect early on in an employee’s career when there is less performance data available to make decisions. As Professor March cautions:

Within a group of managers of varying abilities, the faster the rate of promotion, the less likely it is to be justified.

In other words, the fast start might be an anomaly and the employee could have a regression toward the mean.

So, what should an organization do? The key is balance. In business as in sports, recognize that we likely will be biased by the hot hand fallacy. When deciding on a promotion, don’t just consider an employee’s performance but take into account the difficulty of his/her assignments.

When in doubt, my recommendation is to promote those who have a history of making others better, not just themselves.

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4 out of 5 People Can Be Wrong http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/01/28/4-5-people-can-wrong/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/01/28/4-5-people-can-wrong/#comments Mon, 29 Jan 2018 00:27:45 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=6933 The law of small numbers (or hasty generalization) is the tendency to jump to a conclusion without enough evidence. In statistics, it’s called bias from insensitivity to sample size – generalizing from a limited number of events (a sample) selected from a much larger number of events (the population). For example, if a mutual fund...

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The law of small numbers (or hasty generalization) is the tendency to jump to a conclusion without enough evidence. In statistics, it’s called bias from insensitivity to sample size – generalizing from a limited number of events (a sample) selected from a much larger number of events (the population). For example, if a mutual fund manager has three above-average years in a row, you might conclude that the fund manager is better than average and will have a fourth above-average year. While it may be true, you cannot come to this conclusion from such a small amount of data.

This bias shows up frequently in the media. Imagine the headline summarizing a telephone survey of 500 rural inhabitants, in which 70% responded they didn’t have enough money for retirement. It would likely be something like this: People living in the country can’t comfortably retire. Most readers would ignore the details of the survey, including whether 500 people is sufficient to warrant the conclusion.

This is the challenge with small sample sizes. If the survey had only included 50 people, you’d be suspicious. And if it included 50,000 people, you probably wouldn’t be worried. But what about 500? Our intuition is good at the extremes but not in the middle. Without more information, it’s hard to know if the 500-person sample size is sufficient.

In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman elaborates:

The exaggerated faith in small samples is only one example of a more general illusion – we pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify. Jumping to conclusions is a safer sport in the world of our imagination than it is in reality.

Here’s a test of your sensitivity to sample size, courtesy of Max Bazerman in Judgment in Managerial Decision Making: A town has two hospitals; 45 babies are born each day in the larger one and 15 are born in the smaller one. Overall about 51% of babies are boys but of course the exact percentage varies day to day. During one year, both hospitals tracked the number of days in which more than 60% of the babies born were boys. Which hospital had more of these days?

A. The larger hospital
B. The smaller hospital
C. About the same (within 5% of each other)

Did you guess C? Most people incorrectly choose C when the right answer is B. Having 60% boys in one day is a rare event and statistics tell us that we’re more likely to observe a rare event in a small sample than in a large one.

You can also see this effect in sports. In a sport with a long season like basketball, hockey or baseball, the standings 20 games into the season may not be representative of the final standings. But at the end of the season, the best team usually has the best record. This effect is why sports fans are often optimistic; on any given day, anything can happen – especially in the playoffs. As Michael Lewis writes in Moneyball: “In a five-game series, the worst team in baseball will beat the best about 15% of the time.”

Which brings us to advertising. The classic commercial which claims “4 out of 5 dentists recommend…” has been mimicked many times over the years. The law of small numbers teaches us this claim is meaningless unless we know the sample size.

My guess is that there were only 5 dentists. Which means they could be wrong.

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The Myth of the Seven-Eleven Rule http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/01/07/myth-seven-eleven-rule/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/01/07/myth-seven-eleven-rule/#comments Mon, 08 Jan 2018 05:12:14 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=6926 Ever heard about the Seven-Eleven Rule? Neither had I. The seven-eleven rule is based on the belief that people make eleven decisions about a person in the first seven seconds after meeting them. Apparently, the eleven conclusions you make are the following: Education Level Economic Level Perceived Credibility, Believability, Competence and Honesty Trustworthiness Level of...

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Ever heard about the Seven-Eleven Rule?

Neither had I. The seven-eleven rule is based on the belief that people make eleven decisions about a person in the first seven seconds after meeting them. Apparently, the eleven conclusions you make are the following:

  • Education Level
  • Economic Level
  • Perceived Credibility, Believability, Competence and Honesty
  • Trustworthiness
  • Level of Sophistication
  • Sex-Role Identification
  • Level of Success
  • Political Background
  • Religious Background
  • Ethnic Background
  • Social/ Professional / Sexual Desirability

It’s why some claim that you only have seven seconds to make a good first impression.

The seven-eleven rule is an intriguing idea but it doesn’t appear to be backed by research. The only reference I could find claimed the source was a “University study from Michael Solomon, PhD, Psychologist, Chairman, Marketing Department Graduate School of Business, NYU.”

I contacted Professor Solomon, now at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, to get a copy of the research. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. He replied:

Jonathan, this is an “urban myth” that I am asked about frequently. There is no such study that supports this claim.

Of course, there is lots of evidence that suggests people quickly make judgements about others with only limited information. There’s just no research that specifically quantifies it to be these 11 decisions in only 7 seconds. Regardless of the exact timeline and the number of decisions, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about people when we first meet them.

Or, as we were taught when we were little, don’t judge a book by its cover.

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Do mobile phones cause you to trust less? http://jonathanbecher.com/2017/12/04/do-mobile-phones-cause-you-to-trust-less/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2017/12/04/do-mobile-phones-cause-you-to-trust-less/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 03:46:32 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=6891 If you use your smart phone frequently, you’re less likely to trust strangers. Kostadin Kushlev of the University of Virginia and Jason Proulx of the University of British Columbia came to this conclusion by analyzing data from the most recent World Values Survey. The World Values Survey is a U.S. nationally-representative poll in which participants...

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If you use your smart phone frequently, you’re less likely to trust strangers.

Kostadin Kushlev of the University of Virginia and Jason Proulx of the University of British Columbia came to this conclusion by analyzing data from the most recent World Values Survey. The World Values Survey is a U.S. nationally-representative poll in which participants report how frequently they get information from various sources, including TV, radio, the Internet, other people, and mobile phones. The researchers found that the more often people used their phones to obtain information, the less they trusted strangers, neighbors, and people from other religions and nationalities.

This finding is surprising; especially since the researchers confirmed that getting information from any source other than a mobile phone meant people trusted others more rather than less. This distrust also did not apply for people who got their information online through a laptop – only through a mobile device. It’s important to point out that using a mobile phone had no impact on how much people trusted those who were close to them, such as their family and friends.

The authors admit the statistical effect was small but point out that small effects can have large practical significance. Trust matters:

When trust between people in a country goes up, for example, so does economic growth. At the individual level, people who trust others more also tend to have better health and higher well-being.

Or, as Bill McDermott says, “Trust is the ultimate human currency.”

I was skeptical when I first read the research findings and suspected there must be some other non-observable variable. As it turns out, the researchers were also initially skeptical: “we did everything we could think of to identify other, non-phone reasons that might be causing the results we got.” Mobile phone usage is correlated with lower trust.

Of course, correlation isn’t the same as cause. Perhaps distrustful people are more likely to use their phone to get information. In addition, I use my mobile phone extensively for information – driving directions, restaurant recommendations, even researching this blog. I don’t think using my mobile to get information has impacted my trust of strangers.

Regardless of the root cause, one conclusion is warranted: let’s put down our phones from time to time and interact with each other. I can’t scientifically prove it but it’s likely to improve trust.

 

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Is it better to be a specialist or a generalist? http://jonathanbecher.com/2017/11/26/is-it-better-to-be-a-specialist-or-a-generalist/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2017/11/26/is-it-better-to-be-a-specialist-or-a-generalist/#comments Mon, 27 Nov 2017 02:57:07 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=6862 “Specialists are people who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing. Generalists are people who know less and less about more and more, until they know nothing about everything.” Likely source: Robert E. Swain Yes, those sentences are intended to be humorous but we can’t help but recognize...

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“Specialists are people who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing. Generalists are people who know less and less about more and more, until they know nothing about everything.”
Likely source: Robert E. Swain

Yes, those sentences are intended to be humorous but we can’t help but recognize an element of truth in them. But humor aside, it brings up an age-old question: is it better to be a specialist or a generalist?

Before we tackle that question, it’s worth making the point that the world needs both. Consider two health situations:

  1. You need surgery to correct a brain aneurysm.
  2. You have a collection of unusual symptoms of unknown origin.

In the first case, you clearly would like to see a medical specialist – a brain surgeon – and presumably one with lots of experience. You don’t really care if the brain surgeon has any other skills. In the second case, rather than seeing many different specialists until you find the right one, you would be better off with a diligent generalist who takes the time to narrow down the possibilities before treating you or sending you to a specialist. The more exposure the generalist has had to different illnesses, the better.

Yes, the world needs both but should you be a generalist or specialist?

You can’t conclusively decide based solely on pay. One study of top MBA students showed that generalists got more offers and higher signing bonuses than those students with specialized management degrees. On the other hand, the data suggest that most of the highest paying jobs require specialization. Your profession influences which choice will be more lucrative.

If you’re deciding based on which approach is most likely to get you a job, the right idea might be to have general skills but market yourself as a specialist. Most managers hire for a specific need but want people to help with other issues when they arise. If you have a broad range of skills, you should emphasize the one that is most likely to appeal to the hiring manager. In the discipline of marketing, this is called positioning.

Over the last decade or so, the conventional wisdom skirts the debate between specialists and generalists by suggesting that people should be T-shaped. T-shaped people are deep in at least one topic but with an exposure to a wide range of topics and the ability to cooperate/communicate across many disciplines. Research has shown that interdisciplinary teams produce better results.

I’ve been a big proponent of interdisciplinary teams and T-shaped talent but lately my thinking has evolved. When you’re early in your career, I think you should be a generalizing-specialist; someone who is specialized in a specific topic but with broad interests in other aspects of the business. As you advance in your career, you learn new areas of specialty such that you don’t remain T-shaped but rather have several vertical bars.

Since it is difficult to remain an expert in many topics (especially in fast evolving fields like science, medicine, and technology), over time you naturally become more of a generalist. To keep an advantage over other generalists, you should be a specializing-generalist; continually improving your knowledge in one specific area.

In other words, there’s no simple answer. You should be a generalist and a specialist.

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Forget Work-Life Balance; Pursue Work-Life Integration http://jonathanbecher.com/2017/11/20/forget-work-life-balance-pursue-work-life-integration/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2017/11/20/forget-work-life-balance-pursue-work-life-integration/#comments Mon, 20 Nov 2017 22:12:52 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=6849 “We should stop thinking in terms of work-life balance. Work-life balance is a concept that has us simply lashing ourselves on the back […] In the ensuing exhaustion we ultimately give up on one of them to gain an easier life.” A few years ago, I was visiting colleagues in Bangalore when the subject of...

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Balance“We should stop thinking in terms of work-life balance. Work-life balance is a concept that has us simply lashing ourselves on the back […] In the ensuing exhaustion we ultimately give up on one of them to gain an easier life.”

A few years ago, I was visiting colleagues in Bangalore when the subject of work-life balance in Silicon Valley came up. My colleagues asked how entrepreneurs maintain a healthy work-life balance when most startups require 12+ hours days. My overly simplistic answer was that they don’t.

In my experience, most entrepreneurs have given up on work-life balance and instead rely on work-life integration. It’s why romantic relationships with co-workers are so common at early-stage companies and many companies have on-site day care. If only one spouse works at a startup, it’s not uncommon for the other to show up at work periodically to have dinner on site with them. In an extreme example, a married couple I know are both working at the same startup and bring their child to work every day. That’s truly work-life integration.

A few weeks after the Bangalore visit, one of my colleagues sent me David Whyte’s book, ‘The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship’ with a note that read “work-life balance is a myth.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to reading the book until recently – which might be proof that my life was out of balance. In the book, Whyte argues that our current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic and that there are three forces in effect: Work, Self, and Relationship.

These three forces are referred to as marriages because they “involve vows made either consciously or unconsciously.” The vows in our relationships are usually obvious and those at work are explicitly tied to our compensation which means we tend to stick to them. However, vows to ourselves are easily broken; resolutions rarely last more than a few weeks.

True happiness does not involve neglecting one marriage in favor of another but rather finding a way to interweave the collective vows into an integrated whole. As Whyte writes:

Each of these marriages is, at its heart, nonnegotiable; that we should give up the attempt to balance one marriage against another, of, for instance, taking away from work to give more time to a partner, or vice versa, and start thinking of each marriage conversing with, questioning or emboldening the other two. […] we can start to realign our understanding and our efforts away from trading and bartering parts of ourselves as if they were salable commodities and more toward finding a central conversation that can hold all of these three marriages together.

This paragraph resonates with me and is consistent with other common advice about work-life integration:

  • All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
  • The person you marry should be your best friend.
  • Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

However you phrase it, the intention is the same. Pay attention to your work, self, and relationship vows. Don’t sacrifice one of them to get ahead on another.

True balance comes from integrating all aspects of your work/life.

The post Forget Work-Life Balance; Pursue Work-Life Integration appeared first on Manage By Walking Around.

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