Thursday, March 21, 2013

When things change

We spent half of our drive today on the speakerphone with Cindy adjusting our afternoon plans... There is a school event that I was scheduled to attend because Cindy had to take Nico to tennis at the same time. A few days ago the time of Nico's tennis practice changed but we didn't asses, until the last moment, the impact that that had on the rest of our plans. Not a big deal today, but this reminded of more important situations in which circumstances change and we don't adjust accordingly.

A typical situation is when we make a plan based on certain constraints, some of the constraints later change, but we forget to adjust the plan optimizing for the new constraints. For example, we plan a trip on a certain day because something prevents us from leaving earlier (even though earlier would be better and cheaper). The constraint goes away but we leave the trip as is.

Sometime we overreact. We come up with a well thought out plan initially but at the last moment something changes. We then improvise a new plan which can often be worst than the original - due to the hastiness of the planning. Maybe the new plan was no longer viable, thus we have no alternative but to change it. Yet sometimes the original plan remains valid and we mess things up trying to over-optimize.

Takeaway? Think of the implications when things change. Make sure everyone who is involved is aware of the changes. Discuss whether the changes require a change in the plan, or whether a change is optional. Either way, if you need to make a new plan, try to put as much planning & thinking into the new plan as you did into the original one.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Selling Yourself in a World of Hyperbole

Paco recently applied to a very competitive summer program. He was not accepted. I reached out to the director of the program to try to understand which aspect of the application had been the weakest. Was it the grades (straight As)? the tests (#1 in his school)? the work samples? Turned out it was the essay in which Paco didn't convince the admissions committee that he was well rounded enough and a social enough kid that would contribute to the program. Real bummer because Paco is as well rounded & social as they come (soccer team captain, class delegate, jazz band player, competitive chess player, kitsurfer, etc, etc, etc). Yet he didn't do a good enough job at conveying these things in his essay. I actually read Paco's essay before he submitted it and remember thinking that it could be a lot better, yet the application instructions clearly stated that the parents shouldn't help with it, so I assumed they would factor in his young age when reading the essay. I wonder how many other parents did the same, and how many helped their kids...

The first time I applied to Stanford I got turned down. A friend asked me to see my application and his immediate reaction was: "of course they turned you down! you need to sell yourself better". I rewrote the application making a concerted effort at showing my accomplishments and strengths in the  best possible light and got in. This was just a matter of selling yourself. But what about exaggerating beyond the facts? Another friend who was applying to Harvard Business School shared his application with me. My reaction: "a) this is not you, and b) some of this supposed accomplishments are so outrageous I think they will realize they are not true". I was wrong. He got into HBS. Furthermore, I later found out that a very large percentage of the applicants who get into top programs stretch their accomplishments way beyond the truth.

The fact that many people cheat doesn't justify cheating. That should be a VERY clear line.  We do need to make sure we present ourselves in the best possible light. And we need to work early toward goals such as attending a particularly competitive academic program, so that when the time comes, the application mostly writes itself.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Find your own directions

Last weekend Alejandro was meeting some friends for lunch. I asked him where and he said they had said that at the Bow & Arrow sculpture, so he had asked his friends for the exact address. I told him he could have found the address online in seconds and to try to avoid asking others for things he can easily get himself. A silly example of this is asking for the time. Nico doesn't wear a watch and frequently asks me what time it is. I almost always tell him to find out on his own. There are dozens of devices all around that show the time (phones, computers, microwaves, etc). By asking me to stop whatever it is that I am doing to look at my watch and tell him the time, instead of looking up the time himself, Nico is implying that my time is less valuable than his.

An entrepreneur once asked me to meet with me to get my advise. I agreed and suggested the lobby of a hotel. The entrepreneur responded by asking me for the address of the hotel. Either the entrepreneur didn't know that you can look up addresses online in a matter of seconds (hard to believe) or he felt that my time was less valuable than his (also hard to believe!). This was a particularly egregious example, sometimes the information you need is not as trivial to get as a street address. Still, before bothering someone else for it, you should give it a try on your own.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Evolutionary & Genetic Baggage

Paco was wondering where shyness came from (evolutionary wise). I said maybe shy people got into less trouble than extroverts... There are many traits that were valuable in the past but no longer are, e.g., eating as much as you can when food is available. It is useful to understand the origins of these thins so that we can do something about the ones we don't like.

At a different level it is also good to understand the genetic origin of our personality. What comes from mom? What about dad? It is sometimes easier to see traits in others than in ourselves... And yet at another level some of our traits might come from reacting to our parents. For example, we might be very quiet because we hated how loud our father was - and want to make sure we are not like him.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Broken Race Board

I recently traveled to a kiteracing competition in Mexico. Unpacking at the hotel I was devastated to discover that my raceboard had been badly damaged during the trip. We had traveled all the way to Mexico but without my raceboard I wouldn't be able to compete. Worst still, there is a year long wait to get a replacement board like mine. And, needless to say, the airline is not going to do anything for me.

Yet it turned out that things were not as bad as I thought... With the help of my fellow kiteracers (who fortunately include the best in the world) I was able to patch the board so that I could use it during the competition. I then remembered that my credit card had luggage insurance. I contacted them and they say that indeed they would cover my loss, but that I first had to file a claim with the airline. I filed the claim with the airline, not expecting anything but just so that my credit card could process the claim, but to my surprise the airline agreed to reimburse me the full cost of a new board (go Virgin America!). I do have to wait over a year for my new board, but in less than three weeks the board maker performed a pretty good repair to my damaged board, so that it is totally fine to use for now.

Couple of takeaways I shared with the boys: things are often not as bad as they originally seem. Give them a bit of time and be pro-active about making things better. I almost left my broken board in the hotel and gave up entirely on the competition, but the fact that I took it to my friends to see if there was something we could do made all the difference. And even if the odds of something might be long, i.e., getting a reimbursement from an airline for damaged luggage, you should always give it a try. Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Schools are Obsolete

This morning I watched with the boys one of my favorite talks from last week's TED conference: TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra talking about the future of education. I hope none of them end up in the principal's office today!