Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Don't Lecture Your Girlfriend

Ale spoke to us today about lecturing people. More specifically, about not lecturing peers, as that can often be inappropriate. I said lecturing is usually a bad idea for a variety of reasons, including the fact that, more often than not, the person you are "lecturing" already knows what you are telling them. That morning, for example, we lectured Nico about not wrinkling his homework. But he already knew he should take care of his homework. It would have probably been more effective to simply get him a folder and make sure he puts his work inside it so that it doesn't wrinkle in his bag.

As to whether one must be more careful with peers, I agreed that having no authority can make it harder to be critical, yet the best leaders don't rely on their authority to provide constructive criticism and get people on 'their side". Furthermore, peers recognize that some people are better than others at different things. For example, a schoolmate might defer to his classmate in matters of mathematics while his friend defers to him on matters of soccer.

I asked Ale what got him thinking about this topic and he said his girlfriend had told him the day before that he was lecturing her. Now, girlfriends and boyfriends are a TOTALLY different mater. A very sensitive matter... But one for another day ;-).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Spreading Your Bets

Nico asked us to think about the following hypothetical: five poor people need help. Each needs $5 to get cloth and have a chance of getting a job. You only have $5. Do you give it all to one person or do you give $1 to each? After a bit of debate we concluded the following: If giving $1 to each increase the likelihood that some could get the remaining $4, in other words, you contributed more than just 20% to their likelihood of success, then that was a better way to go. If you only contribute 20% to their chances of success, then both options were equivalent, and if your dollar increase their odds of success less than 20%, then better to give $5 to one person. How could giving them 20% of their needs increase their odds more than 20%? Maybe the first dollars motivates them to be more proactive about looking for the remaining $4. Or maybe the fact they already have $1 will make it more likely that others help them.

I spoke a bit about investing: $1 investments in five companies vs. a $5 investment in one company. The first approach is more diversified. You are less likely to loose all your money. You are also less likely to hit a home-run. And there are other factors to consider: if successful investments improve your reputation (like they do for venture capitalists and angel investors) then the diversified approach has an advantage: you have a higher likelihood of having a successful outcome that you can "advertise", while people wont find out about your bad investments. Furthermore, people won't know whether you invested $1 or $5 in your successes. Of course, if your priority is to increase the likelihood of a home-run you are better of making bigger bets on fewer companies...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It is a serendipitous world

Serendipity is a huge factor in our life. You bump into an old acquaintance at a party. Turns out he just got involved in a very interesting project. Next thing you know you get involved with the project and your professional life changes drastically. Had you skipped the party or not bumped into him your life would evolve very differently. Or, even more significant: your old acquaintance introduces you to his cousin. You hit it off with her and end up marrying her and having children together! So what? Three things:

1) Pro-actively increase the likelihood of positive "random" events. If you go to the right events, spend time with the right people, and so on, there is a higher likelihood that these "opportunities" will knock on your door. Don't stay home watching TV...

2) When an opportunity comes up, jump on it. It is hard to know in advance which opportunity will be that special one in a lifetime one. If something looks special and promising, take it to the next level. Say you meet someone new that feels special. You might not know right away if she is your "soulmate". But if it seems that might be the case, look into it. Explore it. And, do it quickly. You never know when some other random event might take this person to Australia...

3) Eliminate the need for serendipity to achieve your goals. Take the example above, in which you bumped into an acquaintance involved in an interesting project, and that encounter changed your career. You could have pro-actively monitored what your personal network was doing, and reached out to anyone involved in something interesting that might be a fit for you. No need to bump into them on the street.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Too Drunk to Realize it

I recently read some research about the negative impact that multi-tasking has on our performance. It has been proven that multi-tasking deteriorates our performance, yet most of us think that it doesn't. This particular research looked into why we don't realize our lower performance. The bottom line is that one of the things that multi-tasking deteriorates is our ability to gage our own performance! Something similar happens to people when they are drunk: they underestimate the impact of the alcohol on, for example, their driving ability, because the alcohol impairs their ability to measure their own abilities.

Who knows Ruben Blades' song Decisiones?

El borracho está convencido que a él 
el alcohol no le afecta los sentidos, 
por el contrario, 
que sus reflejos son mucho más claros 
y tiene más control. 

Por eso hunde el pie en el acelerador 
y sube el volumen de la radio 
para sentirse mejor (bien chevere). 
Y cuando la luz cambiando a amarilla, 
las ruedas del carro chillan 
y el tipo se cree un James Bond, 
decide la luz del semáforo comerse 
y no ve el truck aparecerse en la oscuridad. 

Pito, choque y la pregunta 
"¿Qué pasho?" 
Pa’ la eternidad 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Influenced by Books, Movies & Conversations

Paco is reading Atlas Shrugged (required teen read ;-). He told us how he notices the influence the book is having on his day to day life, as different events and conversations make him think about the book. Last year he had a similar experience while reading Enders' Game.

We spoke about other things that influence us. Movies - although, with few exemptions, they tend to have shorter and less meaningful impact. And conversations. What probably makes books different is that we might spend weeks reading a book, and be influenced by that book during that entire period.

I mentioned to the boys the importance of being sensitive to how we might be influencing others. Particularly when we are in a position of authority. For example, when I am at a company meeting in which I am the most senior person, I often try to speak last, so that the rest of the people are not influenced by my opinion before expressing their opinions. Cindy and I do something similar with the boys, with who we like to think we have influence :-). For things that we believe there is a right and wrong, we'll tell the boys what we think very explicitly. But for more ambiguous things we try to be careful and let them come to their own opinions, e.g., religion, politics, art, etc.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pat me in the back and make me feel good about my decision

A relative called me the other day for advice. She was facing an important decision and asked for my opinion. I started to share my thoughts with her but soon realized that she had already made her mind. She wasn't looking for my advice to help her decide what to do. She was looking for my approval to feel better about her decision.

What to do? Should I call her on it and try to have a proper analysis about her decision, or should I give her the approval that she was looking for? It probably depends on how strongly I feel about her choice. If I think either choice is fine and have no serious issues with her decision, probably best to simply make her feel better about her decision. But if I feel she is making a serious mistake then I should push back and try to change her mind-set into decision making instead of validation. But it is important to do this before getting into the specifics of the decision. I would be wasting my time if I start addressing the issues while in her mind the decision has already been made.

We should also be careful about doing this ourselves (often subconsciously). Are we really looking for advice or have we made our minds and just want approval or something else? Nothing wrong with seeking approval, but probably best to be explicit about it, i.e., I just decided to do X, do you think I made the right choice? As opposed to help me decide whether to do X or Y, when in reality you already decided to do X.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Optimizing Your Effort vs. Personal Fulfillment & Standing Out

An acquaintance suggested the opposite approach to what I suggested yesterday: spend little time on the subjects that you like and are good at, and focus on the more challenging ones. The premise of this approach is that it optimizes your grades. You'll probably get good grades on the subjects you like anyway but unless you work hard, you won't get good grades on those you don't. We discussed this today. 

The boys agreed the approach probably optimizes grades, and Paco mentioned that this is indeed what he does: spend a lot more time in French than in Math. But we found two problems with the approach.

1) It might optimize for "results", but it doesn't for personal "fulfillment". Ideally we should spend as much time as possible on the things that we enjoy the most. So I guess this is something to balance: results vs. fulfillment. Sometimes the two are aligned, other times they aren't.

2) GPA is important, but doing something extraordinary can be even more important. Say you like science and struggle with French. You do little work on science and still get an A. You work hard on French and get a B+. But what if you work a ton on science, do an amazing science fair project that wins the state championship, still get an A, work less on French and get a C. Winning the state science fair competition might more than make up for that C you got in French. It is probably a personal thing: some people tend to be more "well-rounded" while others tend to stand-out in one thing...