stupid judges, stupid rules

#43 – Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers

dear kafka,

you may have rules in your life. for example, a rule could be “i must get married”. who made these rules? is it you or someone else? do these rules make you happy?

you may have an invisible jury in your life who judges you – “you must do it this way”, “you must have this by the time you turn 40”.

murder these idiots.

please yourself.

things i learnt

“I’m a student, not a guru.” – a philosophy for life.

make your own path – “Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own. They spend decades in pursuit of something that someone convinced them they should want, without realizing that it won’t make them happy.”

am i pursuing little distractions? stupid question. i am.

when i was young, i daydreamed a lot, creating many perfect worlds. i stopped daydreaming and my world isn’t perfect. – “When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world.”

“Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.”

“The key point is that I wasn’t trying to make a big business. I was just daydreaming about how one little thing would look in a perfect world.”

“Five years after I started CD Baby, when it was a big success, the media said I had revolutionized the music business. But revolution is a term that people use only when you’re successful. Before that, you’re just a quirky person who does things differently.”

what are the little day-to-day things that fascinate me?

“We all have lots of ideas, creations, and projects. When you present one to the world and it’s not a hit, don’t keep pushing it as is. Instead, get back to improving and inventing.”

“If you’re not saying, “Hell yeah!” about something, say no. When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” then say no.”

“Steve Blank: “No business plan survives first contact with customers.”

“I’m so glad I didn’t have investors. I didn’t have to please anybody but my customers and myself. No effort was spent on anything but my customers.”

“Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision—even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone—according to what’s best for your customers. If you’re ever unsure what to prioritize, just ask your customers the open-ended question, “How can I best help you now?” Then focus on satisfying those requests.”

“You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people.”

“The Hotel Café, a folk- and rock-music venue in Los Angeles, is a no-talking club. Big signs read, NO TALKING DURING PERFORMANCES! Performers are encouraged to stop the show if someone is talking, and let the person know that he can go to any other club in town to talk over the music. This is the one place in L.A. where you can sit and really listen to the music, which, of course, makes it the most popular music venue in town.”

It’s a big world. Even targeting the 1% of this world is good enough and they will flock to you when they hear you exclude the other 99% just for their attention.

what is a true business owner? you can leave the business for a year and the business will be better than when you left.

“Never forget that you can make your role anything you want it to be. Anything you hate to do, someone else loves. So find that person and let her do it.”

“Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller were at a party at a billionaire’s extravagant estate. Kurt said, “Wow! Look at this place! This guy has everything!” Joseph said, “Yes, but I have something he’ll never have. . . . Enough.”

“The less I own, the happier I am. The lack of stuff gives me the priceless freedom to live anywhere anytime.”

“Business is as creative as the fine arts. You can be as unconventional, unique, and quirky as you want. A business is a reflection of the creator.”

am i trying to impress an invisible jury?


Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here: https://isaiahlim.wordpress.com/category/isaiahlim_newsletter/

Subscribe to my newsletter.

we are asked by life to do something

#42 – Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

dear kafka,

an important book.

i will make every word count.

what i learnt:

life is a quest for meaning.

meaning is the primary motivational force in man.

many, including me, find that life is boring and meaningless (existential vacuum).

the meaning of life is not found but determined by the individual.

we are asked by life to do something. it’s our responsibility (no one else!) to determine what this thing is and do it. this thing can change from day to day, time to time.

we can find meaning in 3 ways: goals, relationships or courage in suffering.

there is meaning in unavoidable suffering.

you are free to choose your response to suffering.

how to respond to unavoidable suffering: accept, be brave, find answers, grow your spirit, laugh when you can.

make spiritual accomplishment a goal when suffering.

be worthy of your suffering. don’t waste it.

no goal, no future, no meaning – concentration camp prisoners were most depressed about not knowing their release date.

what i am thinking:

what is the meaning of life now?

what is my spiritual (non-religious) accomplishment?

i must suffer to grow.


Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here: https://isaiahlim.wordpress.com/category/isaiahlim_newsletter/

Subscribe to my newsletter.

 

what is our immediate and exalted task?

dear kafka,

do you listen to podcasts?

if you do, i recommend on being with krista tippett.

i love her voice. just listening to her program makes me feel like a better human being.

when i am too busy, i read the transcripts of her program instead.

i like to share what i found today.

a thomas merton quote.

“It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we are first of all called to a more immediate and exalted task: that of creating our own lives.”

 

checklists can save lives

#41 – The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

Dear Kafka,

Another great book.

4.5 stars on Amazon. 1,017 reviews. No mean feat.

why should you read it?

You will learn about using checklists to avoid failing unnecessarily.

Do you need to read a whole book just to learn that? Checklists are not new but how many people use them? This book is very persuasive and it made me think a lot about my own challenges and struggles to reach goals.

Along the way, you will learn more about the fields of medical care, construction and aviation. These aren’t sexy fields but the writing is good and made me very interested.

I will share an example from the book on how effective checklists are and explain why they are so.

a doctor checklist

Line infections are a common problem in intensive care.

“Line infections occur in eighty thousand people a year in the United States and are fatal between 5 and 28 percent of the time, depending on how sick one is at the start.”

In 2001, Dr Peter Pronovost developed a doctor checklist aimed at reducing line infections.

“On a sheet of plain paper, he plotted out the steps to take in order to avoid infections when putting in a central line. Doctors are supposed to (1) wash their hands with soap, (2) clean the patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic, (3) put sterile drapes over the entire patient, (4) wear a mask, hat, sterile gown, and gloves, and (5) put a sterile dressing over the insertion site once the line is in. Check, check, check, check, check. These steps are no-brainers; they have been known and taught for years. So it seemed silly to make a checklist for something so obvious. Still, Pronovost asked the nurses in his ICU to observe the doctors for a month as they put lines into patients and record how often they carried out each step. In more than a third of patients, they skipped at least one.”

Even for a simple procedure, doctors miss important steps.

Dr Peter Pronovost persuaded his hospital to “authorize nurses to stop doctors if they saw them skipping a step on the checklist; nurses were also to ask the doctors each day whether any lines ought to be removed, so as not to leave them in longer than necessary. This was revolutionary.”

 

After the rule was implemented for a year, “the results were so dramatic that they weren’t sure whether to believe them: the ten-day line-infection rate went from 11 percent to zero. So they followed patients for fifteen more months. Only two line infections occurred during the entire period. They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths and saved two million dollars in costs.”

As the silly uncle in the stupid payWave ad likes to say, “so simple”.

why are checklists so effective?

The importance of Pause Points – because of checklists, surgeons have to pause before picking up the knife. Many of the mistakes I make are a result of not stopping before acting – hours ago, I was careless in my email and now have to write another email to explain what I wanted. I’ve been thinking a lot about introducing pause points in my life. For example, before eating, I should pause to be grateful and to remind myself to properly taste the food.

It facilitates communication – the checklists in the construction sector are very powerful tools to track progress and facilitate communication among the hundreds of companies working on a building.

Modern construction is very complex and involves multiple parties. The sector uses checklists to monitor daily construction tasks as well as make sure that the different parties are communicating with one another.

“There’s yet another program, called ProjectCenter, that allows anyone who has found a problem—even a frontline worker—to e-mail all the relevant parties, track progress, and make sure a check is added to the schedule to confirm that everyone has talked and resolved the matter… A worker had attached a digital photo of a twelve-foot steel I beam he was bolting in. It hadn’t lined up properly and only two of the four bolts could fit. Was that all right, the worker wanted to know? No, Rouillard wrote back. They worked out a solution together: to weld the beam into place. The e-mail was also automatically sent to the main contractor and anyone else who might potentially be required to sign off. Each party was given three days to confirm that the proposed solution was okay. And everyone needed to confirm they’d communicated, since the time taken for even this small fix could change the entire sequence in which other things needed to be done.”

According to an expert, “the major advance in the science of construction over the last few decades has been the perfection of tracking and communication.”

In surgery, research has shown that “team members are commonly not all aware of a given patient’s risks, or the problems they need to be ready for, or why the surgeon is doing the operation.”

Running the checklist ensures that everyone is on the same page and serious concerns are raised before an operation begins.

This has saved lives.

Checklists ensure that “killer steps” are not missed – these are the most critical steps not to be missed in any process. This made me think about the “killer steps” in the things I often do.

Checklists guard against human weaknesses – laziness, failure of memory, failure of attention, ego.

In fact, the biggest hurdle to using checklists is that people think it’s beneath them to use one.

Don’t be egoistic. Use checklists.


Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here: https://isaiahlim.wordpress.com/category/isaiahlim_newsletter/

Subscribe to my newsletter.

 

6 important words

dear kafka,

i hope you don’t mind short letters.

i like to share christine carter’s six words for her children:

Pretending will rob you of joy.

how to create a sustainable creative culture

#40 – Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

dear kafka,

welcome to my weekly newsletter.

this week’s book, by a co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, was on a number of “best books of the year” lists.

the honours are well-deserved.

why should you read it?

1. because one day, when you decide to get out of the library, you may lead a creative organisation. by the way, do you think all organisations should be creative?

2. you want to read a book that can be abstract but also specific on putting principles into practice. for example, there are many details on how Pixar ran their Notes Day to hear from employees their ideas on improving the company. it’s in the whole of chapter 13.

3. you want to read a book that is not self-congratulatory about the author’s success but is honest about his challenges. the tone is so good.

4. you want to know how creative people think. unfortunately, i don’t have time to cover it below but there are things like embracing change, challenging preconceptions and having a beginner’s mind.

5. you’re a fan of the Pixar movies and want to know the culture that is responsible for them. there are many behind the scenes details that would interest any fan.

i hope you find how i have organised these quotes useful.

How to create a sustainable creative culture

Never forget the Purpose – Pixar’s real purpose: “making a great film.”

Making a great film means telling a good story. “The first principle was “Story Is King,” by which we meant that we would let nothing—not the technology, not the merchandising possibilities—get in the way of our story. We took pride in the fact that reviewers talked mainly about the way Toy Story made them feel and not about the computer wizardry that enabled us to get it up on the screen. We believed that this was the direct result of our always keeping story as our guiding light.”

The goal of the founders: “build not just a successful company but a sustainable creative culture.”

Understand the importance of uncovering the many hidden problems in a company – “What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it.”

“Which brings us to one of my core management beliefs: If you don’t try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.”

“Whatever these forces are that make people do dumb things, they are powerful, they are often invisible, and they lurk even in the best of environments.”

Fix the unseen ways that are stifling our talent – “We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them.”

What must managers do? – “managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear.”

How do managers know they are managing well? – “As managers, we all start off with a certain amount of trepidation. When we are new to the position, we imagine what the job is in order to get our arms around it, then we compare ourselves against our made-up model. But the job is never what we think it is. The trick is to forget our models about what we “should” be. A better measure of our success is to look at the people on our team and see how they are working together. Can they rally to solve key problems? If the answer is yes, you are managing well.”

Managers must protect new ideas – Anton Ego, the food critic, said this in Ratatouille: “The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends”

“Part of our job is to protect the new from people who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness.”

“At Pixar, protection means populating story meetings with idea protectors, people who understand the difficult, ephemeral process of developing the new. It means supporting our people, because we know that the best ideas emerge when we’ve made it safe to work through problems.”

What is the fundamental Pixar belief? – “Unhindered communication was key, no matter what your position.”

“Going forward, anyone should be able to talk to anyone else, at any level, at any time, without fear of reprimand. Communication would no longer have to go through hierarchical channels. The exchange of information was key to our business…”

What is the hiring policy? – “I needed to attract the sharpest minds; to attract the sharpest minds, I needed to put my own insecurities away.” Exceptional people will make your company and you look good.

Who should fix the problems in your company? – “The responsibility for finding and fixing problems should be assigned to every employee, from the most senior manager to the lowliest person on the production line.” “You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.”

The Pixar leadership team were influenced by the Toyota Way.

How does the company improve? – “self-assessment and constructive criticism had to occur at all levels of a company.”

What kind of culture do you want to build? – “foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions. Questions like: If we had done some things right to achieve success, how could we ensure that we understood what those things were? Could we replicate them on our next projects? Perhaps as important, was replication of success even the right thing to do? How many serious, potentially disastrous problems were lurking just out of sight and threatening to undo us? What, if anything, could we do to bring them to light? How much of our success was luck? What would happen to our egos if we continued to succeed? Would they grow so large they could hurt us, and if so, what could we do to address that overconfidence? What dynamics would arise now that we were bringing new people into a successful enterprise as opposed to a struggling startup?”

“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms.”

“One of the most crucial responsibilities of leadership is creating a culture that rewards those who lift not just our stock prices but our aspirations as well.”

How does Pixar promote honesty and candor? – “The Braintrust, which meets every few months or so to assess each movie we’re making, is our primary delivery system for straight talk. Its premise is simple: Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with one another. People who would feel obligated to be honest somehow feel freer when asked for their candor; they have a choice about whether to give it, and thus, when they do give it, it tends to be genuine. The Braintrust is one of the most important traditions at Pixar. It’s not foolproof—sometimes its interactions only serve to highlight the difficulties of achieving candor—but when we get it right, the results are phenomenal. The Braintrust sets the tone for everything we do.”

“Each of the participants focused on the film at hand and not on some hidden personal agenda. They argued—sometimes heatedly—but always about the project. They were not motivated by the kinds of things—getting credit for an idea, pleasing their supervisors, winning a point just to say you did—that too often lurk beneath the surface of work-related interactions. The members saw each other as peers. The passion expressed in a Braintrust meeting was never taken personally because everyone knew it was directed at solving problems. And largely because of that trust and mutual respect, its problem-solving powers were immense.”

“The director does not have to follow any of the specific suggestions given. After a Braintrust meeting, it is up to him or her to figure out how to address the feedback. Braintrust meetings are not top-down, do-this-or-else affairs. By removing from the Braintrust the power to mandate solutions, we affect the dynamics of the group in ways I believe are essential.”

“To set up a healthy feedback system, you must remove power dynamics from the equation—you must enable yourself, in other words, to focus on the problem, not the person.”

Which is more important – the right idea or the right team? – “Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. It is easy to say you want talented people, and you do, but the way those people interact with one another is the real key. Even the smartest people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched. That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it. A good team is made up of people who complement each other. There is an important principle here that may seem obvious, yet—in my experience—is not obvious at all. Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”

How to fail properly? – “Left to their own devices, most people don’t want to fail. But Andrew Stanton isn’t most people. As I’ve mentioned, he’s known around Pixar for repeating the phrases “fail early and fail fast” and “be wrong as fast as you can.”

“There’s a quick way to determine if your company has embraced the negative definition of failure. Ask yourself what happens when an error is discovered. Do people shut down and turn inward, instead of coming together to untangle the causes of problems that might be avoided going forward? Is the question being asked: Whose fault was this? If so, your culture is one that vilifies failure. Failure is difficult enough without it being compounded by the search for a scapegoat.”

“To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail.”

Management should be open about their own failures – “If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we make it safe for others. You don’t run from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. That is why I make a point of being open about our meltdowns inside Pixar, because I believe they teach us something important: Being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them. My goal is not to drive fear out completely, because fear is inevitable in high-stakes situations. What I want to do is loosen its grip on us. While we don’t want too many failures, we must think of the cost of failure as an investment in the future.”

Don’t overplan – “The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud. It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction. Which, more often than not, is exactly what you must do.”

“In general, I have found that people who pour their energy into thinking about an approach and insisting that it is too early to act are wrong just as often as people who dive in and work quickly. The overplanners just take longer to be wrong (and, when things inevitably go awry, are more crushed by the feeling that they have failed).”

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is bull – “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is a maxim that is taught and believed by many in both the business and education sectors. But in fact, the phrase is ridiculous—something said by people who are unaware of how much is hidden.

“Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do. And at least every once in a while, make time to take a step back and think about what you are doing.”

Why is Pixar University (an internal employee education and training program) important ? – “It wasn’t that the class material directly enhanced our employees’ job performance. Instead, there was something about an apprentice lighting technician sitting alongside an experienced animator, who in turn was sitting next to someone who worked in legal or accounting or security—that proved immensely valuable. In the classroom setting, people interacted in a way they didn’t in the workplace. They felt free to be goofy, relaxed, open, vulnerable. Hierarchy did not apply, and as a result, communication thrived. Simply by providing an excuse for us all to toil side by side, humbled by the challenge of sketching a self-portrait or writing computer code or taming a lump of clay, P.U. changed the culture for the better. It taught everyone at Pixar, no matter their title, to respect the work that their colleagues did. And it made us all beginners again. Creativity involves missteps and imperfections. I wanted our people to get comfortable with that idea—that both the organization and its members should be willing, at times, to operate on the edge.”

“But the purpose of P.U. was never to turn programmers into artists or artists into belly dancers. Instead, it was to send a signal about how important it is for every one of us to keep learning new things. That, too, is a key part of remaining flexible: keeping our brains nimble by pushing ourselves to try things we haven’t tried before. That’s what P.U. lets our people do, and I believe it makes us stronger.”


Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here: https://isaiahlim.wordpress.com/category/isaiahlim_newsletter/

Subscribe to my newsletter.

dear kafka

today, i have renamed this blog from “this is premium writing, no?” to “dear kafka”.

the tagline has been changed from “some people have said i’m smart, this blog proves them wrong” to “writing to the toughest fifteen-year-old in the world”.