Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Spy Lies

Great discussion led by Alejandro this morning! When playing a game such as I Spy, what is worst, to claim to see something you haven't seen or to see something and not say it. The boys felt it depended on how many people were playing. If many, then not saying that you saw something had minimal impact on the game. But if only two people are playing and you don't say that you saw something, the game becomes pretty pointless... Context matters.

We then discussed two additional aspects of this question: is a lie that benefits you worst than one that doesn't (or even hurts you)? And, is it worst to explicitly lie by saying something that is untrue or to lie by keeping quiet - thus implying a negative you know to be false? We didn't have much time to debate these (no traffic today). Alejandro felt it made no difference on either dimension: a lie is a lie, whether it helps you or hurts you, and whether you say it or imply it. Paco wasn't so sure. Not necessarily a slam-dunk, but I tend to agree with Alejandro. If nothing else, it can become a slippery slope to start justifying lies "I was helping someone else", "My silence could have been interpreted several ways". Better to keep it Black and White and avoid all lies: good, bad, explicit or implied.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lo Barato Sale Caro

We have a saying in Venezuela: "lo barato sale caro". The translation is: cheap stuff becomes expensive. The point is that sometimes by trying to save money we end up spending more than we would have with a "more expensive" choice. For example, buy a cheap used car and spend lots of money on repairs. Alejandro had a similar situation recently. He designed a t-shirt for his swim team and suggested that they order the shirts on Zazzle. But some of his teammates felt Zazzle was too expensive and suggested making the shirts themselves instead - by buying cheap shirts and iron-on paper that someone would print at home. At first glance the cost would be about half as much so they proceeded. What happened? The ink jet printer ink ran out and they had to buy new ink. Paper was more expensive than anticipated, and they didn't factor any cost for misprints. When all was said and done more money was spent, the shirts didn't come out as well, and a lot of time was wasted. How to avoid this? Before jumping to a cheap (do it yourself) option, think it through carefully. Are you factoring all the costs, including those of mistakes that otherwise would be absorbed by someone else? Are you comfortable with the lower quality of the end result? Did you consider your time?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Paco wanted to talk about allocating time appropriately: not spending too many hours on one project (or subject) at the expense of others, nor spending so little time it was not enough. I mentioned the 80:20 rule. Try to get to 80 percent of the project/knowledge then move on to something else. If you have extra time go back and try to get the remaining 20 percent. But better to get 80 on all subjects than 100 in some and zero in others. The challenge of course is recognizing when you are 80 percent of the way there. It takes practice... You must also we aware that getting the last 20 percent right is often the hardest, and can take longer than getting the initial 80 percent.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Can Second be First?

Nico's turn: he wanted to talk about the benefits of being 2nd. Fewer arrows aimed at you - since people go after the winner. This led to a discussion about when that was indeed a worthwhile thing versus situations when coming 2nd was no good, i.e., winner takes all situations such as running for president of the united states. We then applied the same concept to businesses: it might be OK to be the second largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world, but who wants to be 2nd to Ebay or Craigslist? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Bright Side of Ignorance

Paco spoke about impulse purchases and the need to think before buying something whether we will really use it and enjoy it. He had bought some magnets during one of our trips which he rarely uses. I agreed, but suggested that impulse decisions sometimes have unexpected positive consequences - so we shouldn't be too rigorous on this front. We should also consider the magnitude of the purchase: we wouldn't want to buy our next house on a whim and without knowing anything about its neighborhood, but we shouldn't spend too many hours investigating our next pair of running shoes.

Another important factor is the price of delay: if we are in a trip abroad and see a souvenir we really like in a shop in a small village, we are probably facing a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy this souvenir. Think too hard about it and you will miss the opportunity forever. But if you are considering the purchase of a video game on Amazon, you can probably take your time.

The conversation reminded me of something that happens with entrepreneurs who "don't know better": sometimes entrepreneurs start businesses because they don't know all the challenges they will face. If they did, they would go do something else. But we sometimes succeed against all odds, and sometimes ignorance is a good thing! Have you ever enjoyed a "bad movie" you wouldn't have seen if you had paid attention to its IMDB rating? I have.

It is also important to pay attention to our intuition. Our intuition helps us make decisions very quickly - and these are decisions that are often better than the ones we make after more "careful analysis".

Monday, May 14, 2012


One of the boys recently had a falling apart with his best friend. He had given his friend some of his online password and now he felt he had to change the passwords. The lesson - besides not giving your passwords to anyone - is to remember that relationships change. Employees can become ex-employees. Significant others can become exs. And while family will always be family, even family sometimes has falling aparts. So if you do something that makes you vulnerable to someone make sure you would be comfortable with that vulnerability even if situations change. I encounter this often in business: there are things that I sometimes would like to do for employees that I can't because of the liability they would create (down the road in the event things change).

This is not to say that we shouldn't trust anyone. Just that we should be conscious when we are making ourselves vulnerable that relationships sometimes change with time... Sometimes we'll take a risk with someone. That is OK. Sometimes we'll get burned. That is OK too. But hopefully not because we didn't even think about it...

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Ale recently entered a contest in his high school to design the cover for their 2013 student handbook. When they announced that his entry was one of the three finalists he was upset about the title they had given to his piece. He had not titled his entry and they needed each piece to have a title so that the students could vote for their favorite. So the organizers just made up a title.

There is an important lesson in this incident: if you care about something don't leave it to chance (or to others). You care about the titles of your pieces? Then give them one. You organizing a meeting and want it to end at a certain time? Specify it. Don't let the meeting end whenever others decide it should. You care about your nickname? Give yourself one you like - or others might give you one you don't.

A related premise has to do with negotiations: once something is established it takes effort to change it. So if you are negotiating and something is important to you, try to establish it the way you want it before others establish it some other way. You might still need to discuss it and change it, but you will be in a better position and might get something else in exchange for agreeing to change it.

PS: Ale won the contest and got the $50 prize :-). 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Some minutes are more equal than others

Imagine an airline pilot who shows up 15 minute late for his flight. There are 300 passengers in his plane each of whom wastes 15 minutes. The pilot just caused a 75 person-hour waste!

Compare the previous example with a friend who shows up to your home 15 minutes late for a dinner invitation. Did you friend waste 15 minutes of your time? Probably not as you were comfortable in your home.

What about the business person who shows up 15 minutes late for an 8am breakfast meeting at a restaurant? Pretty bad as you waiting at a restaurant is only a bit better than waiting on a plane. And a breakfast meeting might only last 45 minutes, so this person just wasted a third of the meeting's time!

What got us talking about this? Being late just a few of minutes in the morning... Not only are there three of us waiting in the car, but we are usually tight for time. Besides, there is no excuse for being late as I wake everyone up with plenty of time and give several notices...  So, just a few minutes of delay in the morning are pretty bad. Or, put differently: don't make your father wait for you!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Don't be Greedy - Unless you have to

Paco lead a discussion about not waiting too long for the optimal outcome. For example, wait so long for a videogame price to go down that they stop selling it. Or, try to get a parking spot so close to your destination that you can't get a spot at all. I described this as "getting greedy". We all spoke about the factors that determine the right time to buy (or park). How good of a deal are we already getting? What would the consequences be if we can't  get want we want? For example, if we find a parking spot two blocks from our destination and we can barely get there in time, we should probably take it and avoid the risk of not finding a spot and being late. But if we have time to spare we can probably drive around for a bit looking for a better spot.

Nico mentioned the example of a sailboat race and the need to get to the start-line just in time (he dreamed about a race last night!). In an olympic race you can't afford to be more than a fraction of a second late or your chances of doing well in the race would be seriously hurt. But in a less competitive race you are probably better off not trying to cut it so close and risk being over the line early.

Friday, May 4, 2012

In the Dark

I've worn contact lenses for years. I used to hate putting them on. Always seemed to be a struggle. Until a discovery I made last year: we went on a camping trip and I brought with me a portable mirror. It happened to be one with a lot of magnification. I used it to put my lenses on and all of a sudden I could see what I was doing! On a regular mirror I only saw enough to make sure I wasn't putting the lenses on my nose. But with the magnification I could actually see exactly where in my eye I had to put each lens. And now that I could see, putting the lenses on the right place became trivial. I had been in putting my lenses on "in the dark" for years!

We don't put enough value on having good light. It makes an incredible difference. For example, even though I need reading glasses, if I have supper good light, for example, being outdoor on a sunny day and wearing high quality sun glasses, I can read without reading glasses.

How many other things do we do in the dark? Try to improve our swimming, dribbling or tacking... How much easier does it get if we can see exactly what we are doing wrong? See it when we get it right?  I am a big fun of videos and mirrors... We are also often in the dark on non-physical issues: having problems in a relationship but don't really understand what the other person is thinking? What they see in us that might be an issue... Struggling to learn something or change a behavior but don't understand, because we can't see, what is holding us back...

We should often ask ourselves if we have enough light, enough visibility, into what we are doing. When we enter a dark house we instinctively know that we can't see where we are going and that we have to turn on the lights to avoid bumping into stuff. Yet somehow we don't easily recognize darkness in other aspects of our life - and end up bumping into "stuff" for years.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Broken Curtain

A few days ago one of Ale's curtains broke. This morning he mentioned that he was surprised the bit of extra light was waking him up half an hour early each morning. He didn't expect his body to be so sensitive to light. Paco and I chimed in saying we had both experienced this sensitivity (and the opposite one as well). Paco consciously leaves his curtain open to wake up early and we have both slept way late when a thick curtain has been completely shut (like sometimes in hotels).

I made the observation that serendipitous events can have significant impact in our life. A curtain breaks and all of a sudden you are awake for an extra 30 minutes every day. Maybe you do something new and different during that time which becomes part of your life going forward. All because of a broken curtain. Makes me think we should force serendipitous changes to experiment with new things. I bet some of those new things will pleasantly surprise us. From now on I'll break a different piece of furniture every month. See what comes of it :-).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stuck in the Middle

Paco lead us on a great conversation this morning about the importance of committing to a position - rather than remaining "stuck in the middle". He gave us the example of one of his teachers who was neither nice nor disciplined and as a result couldn't get the students to do what she wanted them to. He elaborated: "if she was truly disciplined, we would behave properly because we had to. If she was really nice, we would behave properly because we liked her. But as it stands, she neither forces us to behave nor is nice enough to motivate us to do it".

Paco gave us another example from soccer: as a defender, there are two ways you could cover an offensive player - I wont get into the details as I will probably get them wrong. The bottom line is that you should alternate between both approaches, but at any given time be committed to a single one. If you try combine both approaches and do a bit of one and a bit of the other at the same time, you do neither well.

Alejandro chimed in with another example: a group of friends wants to go see a movie. Half wants to see a horror film, the other half a comedy. The right approach would be to alternate: go see a horror film one day and a comedy another day. The "stuck in the middle" approach: go see a drama which nobody particularly wants to see but nobody opposes either. We encourage Ale, Paco & Nico to take the same approach: if they can't agree on what to do together simply take turns deciding.

I see this problem with some politicians: instead of being "balanced" by supporting some issues on the "Right" and some issues on the "Left" - based on their beliefs and principles - they try to be balanced by developing positions that are neither Right nor Left and are often meaningless.