No. 497 — November 6th, 2022
Brain Food is a weekly newsletter with the insights you need.
Seeing the world through the eyes of others:
Most organizations create an ineffective system of rules and policies that attempt to prepare for every possible contingency.
The thing about rules and policies is they become very hard to fix once they are put in place. Both the people who put them in place and those whose job it is to exercise them become highly motivated advocates of the policies. Even if the policies originally made sense, they become very hard to change as the environment changes. When you try to change something but can’t, you start becoming a tenant and stop being an owner. And ownership dramatically increases the odds of success.
Alan Mulally offers a masterclass on leadership in this episode, which I think is one of our best conversations ever.
“Who you are as a person is going to have more to do with your success in whatever you’re choosing to do than anything else.”
Winston Churchill, on seizing the moment:
“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
Everyone looks for the miracle moment – the moment when success happens.
We are drawn to these moments because we want to know the secret. We want to know the ingredient that we are missing. The ingredient that makes the recipe.
The problem is … there is no miracle moment. If you want to understand success, you can’t focus on what’s visible.
Results are simply one more step in a long chain of steps that led to that moment.
Nature offers a great example with bamboo, which takes up to 5 years to develop its roots. For years, to the outside observer, no visible progress has been made. Meanwhile, the bamboo grows below the surface, developing its roots and storing energy. Then, all at once, it starts to grow. Years of stored energy result in exponential growth, sometimes reaching over 50 feet in a matter of weeks.
That’s how results happen. Slowly and then all at once.
Everyone wants the results. No one wants the process that leads to them. That’s boring.
There are two main lessons to take away:
Not all progress is visible. Don’t beat yourself up when things aren’t visible. One workout won’t make you fit, but it is better than no workout. A small deposit in your bank account today won’t get you to your goal, but it moves you closer. The daily grind is part of the process.
Consistently doing boring things well leads to extreme outperformance. Most of the time, we know what we need to do. The problem is because we don’t immediately see the results, we stop. It’s as if we tell ourselves, “I ate healthily and went to the gym all week, and I’m still not as fit as I want, so what’s the point?”
You have to be smart enough to know you’re making progress without any obvious signs of progress.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built one brick at a time.
Clear writing means clear thinking:
“Rewriting is the key to improved thinking. It demands a real openmindedness and objectivity. It demands a willingness to cull verbiage so that ideas stand out clearly. And it demands a willingness to meet logical contradictions head on and trace them to the premises that have created them. In short, it forces a writer to get up his courage and expose his thinking process to his own intelligence.”
Good intentions, bad outcome
“A finite game is played to win; there are clear victors and losers. An infinite game is played to keep playing; the goal is to maximize winning across all participants. Debate is a finite game. Marriage is an infinite game. The midterm elections are finite games. American democracy is an infinite game. A great deal of unnecessary suffering in the world comes from not knowing the difference. A bad fight can destroy a marriage. A challenged election can destabilize a democracy. In baseball, winning the World Series is a finite game, while growing the popularity of Major League Baseball is an infinite game. What happened, I think, is that baseball’s finite game was solved so completely in such a way that the infinite game was lost. When universal smarts lead to universal strategies, it can lead to a more homogenous product.”