This morning Miranda and I set out on a 10-mile run as part of our training for the Brooklyn Half Marathon.  The sun was shining, the trees were in bloom, and the weather was warm.  All around, the perfect day for a run. 

For some reason, I always think of my best blog posts while exercising.  There’s something about physical activity that gives me waves of creativity and a rare clarity of thinking.  Today was no different.  Around the bend at the bottom of Prospect Park, around mile four of our loop, I had a flash of inspiration.  Three experiences coalesced in my mind and produced a common lesson.  Amid breathlessness I immediately relayed this blog idea to Miranda so I wouldn’t forget it (her memory is far better than mine).  Between the two of us, we preserved this post.

Three pieces to the puzzle:

1)   Steve Jobs’ response to insult.

I watched this video on a recent Steve Jobs kick (where I scraped through YouTube and watched all the Steve Jobs videos I could find).  It’s really an incredible five-minute summary of why Steve Jobs was the best product manager.  The video starts with a person asking Jobs an accusatory question about why Apple supported Java rather than OpenDoc.  Jobs responds masterfully, calling out the importance of focusing on consumer experience rather than technology and recognizing there have been casualties along the way.  The part of the video that really sticks out to me is around 1:30 when Jobs talks about the need to have a “cohesive larger vision.”  To really succeed at the highest levels, you can’t simply build isolated products that customers ask for, you need to create a vision and craft your products in a way that supports that vision.  Jobs message here is clear: working on too many things at once is a recipe for mediocrity.  Focus is key, and sometimes you have to make hard sacrifices (and scrap good technology) for the sake of a larger vision.

2)   Don’t simply do everything you’re asked to do.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had a lot of different roles: from analytics, to operations to product management.  One common lesson I’ve learned from all of my experiences is that the path to success rarely involves just doing everything I’ve been asked to do.

This one is a bit tricky.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do what your boss tells you to do, but rather, I’ve found that simply doing everything that you’re asked (by bosses, peers, etc.) is not a winning formula.  You usually end up running around trying to satisfy many different agendas and you’re unlikely to fully satisfy anyone.  The key to success is absorbing all of the asks, digesting, and presenting your own path of action that meets the needs of others, but perhaps not in the same exact way they asked.  Interestingly, usually the right path actually involves doing less work than the sum of everything you’re been asked to do by others.  Clarity of focus saves time versus scrambling to satisfy many different requests.

3)   Making time for meditation.

Since writing about meditation last year, I’ve found it very difficult to set time aside to actually practice meditate.  There is always so much to do, emails to read, errands to run, meetings to attend.  It’s been nearly impossible for me to just sit and breathe.

I realize now that “not having time” for meditation is actually probably the wrong way to think about it.  Although there is an upfront time commitment to meditation, it helps you focus and perform far better after you’re done.  Meditation is actually time well spent, and because it allows you to focus better, it may actually grow the total amount of things you’re able to do.  It would probably be more accurate for me to think that I don’t have time not to meditate.

The lesson: Do less, accomplish more.

As these three experiences swirled in my head and combined in a flash of insight, they produced a clear lesson.  In anything, whether it’s crafting a product vision for your company, managing your work, or balancing your personal time, the key to success is not in running around trying to satisfy all of the incoming requests.  Rather, the key to success at the highest levels is to absorb all of the incoming data and requests and not to rush to start checking the items off on your to do list.  Rather, digest the asks, really think about them and craft your path forward.  Your actions should align with your vision, not the sum of all of the noise thrown your way.

Counter the chaos of the noise from others with the order of your ideas and clarity of your vision.

Do less, accomplish more.

 

PS. This week marked my 5th blogaversary and my 260th blog post.  Many more to come.

Do Less, Accomplish More
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  • Congrats on 5 years!

    ____

    I agree with your points – clarity of vision makes a big difference.

    I think you need to perform your baseline work, but execution is frequently about pushing through something that’s achievable quickly, and iterating on that, as opposed to satisfying stakeholders before action. That requires a lot of judgement calls that only you can make: trying to having someone else make the decision (when they are less informed than you) just leads to a rabbit warren.

    Work is about execution, not about doing what people tell you to do. Colleagues and superiors can certainly give feedback, but if it breaks the critical path to delivery, it’s not always a good idea to take it (sometimes it is – your course could be wrong, or you may have missed something).

    I was reading through the Netflix culture deck again today (http://www.slideshare.net/reed2001/culture-1798664) and a number of the points resonate – specifically, companies that aren’t in mission-critical situations can be a little more lax about making mistakes, since recovery is comparatively cheap.

    The more I’m in the labor market, the more I seem to think that there’s a lot of “noise” out there. That is, talk that detracts from executing or delivering something. If the risk of a failure are low, then spending so much time talking about “possibilities” is silly. The worse that could happen (which is pretty bad) is that you look like an idiot. The best is that your accurately engage with reality, and make a material impact.

    One point about the Netflix deck: Netflix seems to adopt vision as a substitute for command-and-control management. If everyone knows the vision, everyone can align themselves. That’s a huge reduction in management burden.

    One Final Thing: I’ve been on an “opportunity cost” kick recently. A lot of people don’t seem to understand opportunity cost. Speaking of the Jobs response, consider this: the opportunity cost of supporting a technology is what those resources (time + talent) could have spent doing something else. If that “something else” has a larger material impact on user experience, supporting the technology is the wrong decision.

    I mean, I used to think that opportunity cost was Super Simple Stuff (TM). But it’s apparently non-obvious. Not to mention people misunderstanding the relationship between continuous functions (e.g. time saved) and discrete functions (e.g. revenue from new business). There’s a tendency to take a discrete function, and then to treat continuous things discretely, i.e. time spent is irrelevant as long as it is allowed under the discrete distribution.

  • Michael – thanks for the note. You are due as much congratulations as I for your long record of readership and participation. It’s much appreciated.

    Re: your point about inefficiency above – I think you make a great point. When companies are small there is very little inefficiency because you simply can’t afford it. Everyone in an organization has to pull their weight and spending too much time on any one piece of work just doesn’t happen. As companies get more swollen, the amount of time it takes to produce a single deliverable increases just due to the fact that more people have to look at it and give their approval. As you state – most of the time the cost of failure is low, but as start ups grow into young companies and build out layers of management, we tend to naturally over analyze our work just because we have more bosses to run things by.

  • Josh Grob

    I like the vain of your post Andrew, and was a nice addition to a podcast from Jim and Michele McCarthy on the subject that being too busy is a diagnosis (http://www.mccarthyshow.com/2014/126-too-busy/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+mccarthyshow+%28The+McCarthy+Show%29&utm_content=FeedBurner).

    I especially like your ending summary on not falling into the trap of simply responding to requests since I have seem many (including myself) do the same. One thing I would caution on is that I do not feel that is the key to success, but rather of trait of someone who has “their shit together”. I know several people who are successful simply on focusing and maintaining vigilance on what they most care. That sentiment is more aligned in your last two sentences and should be driving the point of the post.

    Thank you for the post!