Three Things I learned this week

I recently finished reading “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking” by Starbird and Burger.  I also happened to just read the commencement address of Adm William H McRaven Commander of US Special Operations Command.  And funnily before writing this blog, I couldn’t sense the commonality in their messages.

When smart people who don’t know each other agree in each other’s absence- it must be a terrific idea in itself.

1.Failure is not an obscene word: We, as Indians hate failures. We hate failing and we look down upon those who fail. I have heard somewhere that Asian societies have to get over their failure apartheid. But more seriously, failure can be a very effective teacher.

Starbird quotes the example of two fellows who wanted to market their traffic  counter and they failed miserably;  the story of Mary who was not very good at Maths initially but learned it well by failing effectively; the story of 3M and PostIt notes. There are many failure around us.

Yet, Starbird says that effective failing is the key word here. Mindlessly failing is disaster. Mindfully failing is success. But failing is painful.

Perhaps no one else can vouch for it, more than myself. I have got bogged down by failures in the past, and I am in the process of putting it all together.

What lessons did I learn? Funnily, my learnings have got deeper as I think more about it. When my startup failed to take off- I learned my short term strategic mistakes and some tactical ones. I understood why I couldn’t scale up. About 3 years later, I have a much deeper understanding of other dimensions of my mistakes.

McRaven says this in his fanatastical inspiring style:

Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes”

McRaven sets the base of the thinking. Starbird and Burger set the base for praxis. But both agree, that you got to be antifragile against failures.

2.Ask, Ask, Question : We have all heard about Socrates and his method of teaching. He would teach by continuously asking questions to his opponents, supporters, students. With each answer he learned deeper about himself, learning deeper about the matter and learning deeper about the debator. However, we don’t have the luxury of a Socrates by our side. But having such a teacher can be enormously powerful tool. It can be the difference between good and great. It can be the difference between success and failure.

So how to become one’s own Socrates?

How do I become my own Socrates?

I need to keep asking challenging questions. Questioning the assumptions which I have taken for granted. Two things will happen in that process:

      1. I will be more aware of the assumptions
      2. I will be more aware of the “fragility” of those assumptions.

Quit hiding. Quit pretending. Quit believing. Start asking. As the two authors mention- asking questions need not be only when we don’t know the answers, it can also be when we do know it.Perhaps I need to get back to asking stupid questions to myself and others, to get a better understanding of my knowledge.

3.Do it once, Do it right : This is about discipline. This is also about perfection. This has become a personal manifesto for me. Do one thing once and Do it right. Munger swears by it. So does Navy Seals.

The ‘it’ can be as mundane a work as making your bed, starching your hat or fetching a newspaper. Do it once, do it right.

I have in my small bounty of experience whenever observed myself doing it once and doing it right it made me feel a tremendous amount of satisfaction and small amount of pride.  It also builds respect for animate and inanimate objects.  But somewhere in the demanding situations of life, between deadlines and mounting pile of stress, I sacrificed it.

I am getting back to building these three habits of mind. I suggest you do it as well.


I blogged about “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking” before here: Mastering the Basics: The Long Hard Way to Mastery



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