Profitable disagreement

I have always found that one of the greatest opportunities to learn something new and valuable is through constructive disagreement.

I find that when there’s disagreement in the air, there is a chance to broaden your own horizon. If you have the ability to breathe deeply, listen in and resist the urge to just shoot back with your own opinions.

I can’t remember a time where I didn’t learn something or at least have a proper reflection, and on the opposite scale I have even had a couple of epiphany moments that made a huge difference to me in my decision making.

Yet, despite of this, I often hear how disagreement lead to people separating and to great team members leaving teams who IMHO really, really need the kind of disagreement, pushback and questions being asked that they are waving goodbye to.

Instead of working out the severance papers these teams and the people involved should be focusing on what they could each learn from each other, and how this new and broader perspective could be brought to bear on the profitable development of the company.

Because there often is a direct correlation between differences of opinion, a respectful learning environment and broadening of ones horizon and the bottom line.

Yes, disagreement can be painful. And of course also sometimes beyond repair. But it also has an immense potential for future profit that’s worth investing some serious peace keeping efforts in.

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The ‘know all’ fallacy

Some of the most charismatic and persuasive people I have ever met have also been the ones who have been the most convinced that they had it all figured out and knew everything.

Until they didn’t.

I am not suggesting that they all failed. But a good number of them did. Because they thought they ‘knew’, ventured ahead without taking stock of what was going on around them – and ultimately hit a concrete wall.

Besides the pain of that particular experience, the most painful thing was that it could most likely have been avoided by adopting a very different approach.

A learning approach, if you will.

When you adapt a learning approach you are more humble.

You’re able to take more signals in.

You are more aware that you’re not directing the world, the world is directing your opportunities, and you adapt.

Adaption is key here. The world changes and you need to do that too in order to be forward looking.

‘Knowing it all’ is inherently backward looking. And not very useful when things fundamentally change.

When you learn and adapt, you are able to seize new opportunities and with that the odds of success increases.

Which again makes it pretty stupid to insist on being the one ‘knowing it all’, don’t you think?

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Excellence in failure

It sounds stupid, right? That there can be anything of excellence in failing. Because failure is just that, right? Failure.

But look at it this way:

If you don’t fail in anything, you don’t try anything. You never follow your curiosity to explore new things and new ways of doing new things.

Having said that there are different kinds of failure.

The bad kind is the kind of failure, where you just make the same mistakes over and over either because you don’t learn anything from it or you simply just don’t care. Don’t ever follow that path.

The good part of failure is where you take on new things, challenges, projects, dive in from the deep end without having a clear idea about how things turn out. When you fail in some or all elements, you learn what NOT to do the next time. And you build both experience and confidence in taking the leap the next time.

And that is a good thing. Because it’s when you take the leap into something new that you have the greatest opportunity for actually effecting change and creating a positive impact. And if you’re driven by that kind of thing, it’s precisely these things that will give you the feeling that you and what you do matter.

Looking at it this way, failure in itself becomes a stepping stone to learn from to get better and to succeed in the end with whatever you’re looking to succeed with. It doesn’t become something to avoid at all costs, holding both you, your team and your company back.

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What chess taught me

When I was a kid, I enjoyed playing chess. I was part of my school chess club, part of the first team and at one time actually won the local county (amt) championship in my age group.

Chess was fun and interesting. And taught me a couple of important lessons about life;

Looking and planning ahead a few moves is cool. But if it comes at the expense of taking your eye of the ball of what’s happening right here and right now, you’re still going to loose.

So. Keep. Your. Eyes. On. The. Ball.

On the other hand; if you’re acting too quickly in the spur of the moment and not showing enough patience to completely your next move so it ends being a wise one, you’re also going to loose.

As in all other aspects a life, it is a question about balance.

Don’t overthink, don’t stress.

Be smart.

Contemplate the situation – state of play.

Think in options and alternatives.

Make the move that seems to bring you closer towards your objective while at the same time preserving your interests.

Repeat. And repeat. Etc.

More people should really take up chess.

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Yay, it’s (almost) Christmas!

The Christmas holidays are upon us. and with that 2020 is (finally) coming to an end. It may thus be a good time to reflect a little on what went by in the year that passed.

Forget Covid-19 for a second (I’ll get back to that a bit later); for me this was a year about learning and reaffirmation.

When it comes to learning there are a number of approaches you can choose to take; everything from ‘trial and error’ to consciously looking to broaden your horizon. And while I have been doing some of both, I think my main take away has been to just insist that everything, I have been working on, is essentially a learning experience too – and reflect as I go along.

My personal experience is that that approach has made a huge personal difference to me. For me the difference has been between trying to make sense of things in hindsight to actually have an efficient structure for capturing learnings as we move along – an open mindset so to say with a great dedication to ensure that no matter what happened, I would get wiser from it.

Seen from that perspective I have learned a ton and become even more ‘battle-hardened’. I have learned about other people, trains of thought and processes, and I have learned a lot about how I handle them myself, so I don’t loose myself in the process. It may sound rather flimsy, but I can’t overestimate the value it has for me.

Did I accomplish all the things I set out to do? No. But did I learn a lot about why many of those things were exactly as hard and ambitious, as I predicted – and thus had a good feel for – before I moved ahead with them? Hell, yes.

And this brings me to the reaffirmation part of what 2020 taught me;

I have long had a feeling that I have a tendency to involve myself deep into complex projects that are super hard to pull off. Sometimes for reasons of breaking with the norms, adversity from my surroundings or something like that. Otherwise just for the sheer complexity of it.

I know full well that it might not always be the best thing to pursue for me as an individual – that it challenges me deeply on personal levels, where it shouldn’t. But what 2020 has given me is the insight that not only is it what usually tends to happen. I am also completely at peace with it.

I know now that when I miss out on something it’s usually not because I did a poor job or didn’t try hard enough. It is because the things, I – and people around me – try to pull off are super hard. And things that are super hard to pull off has a tendency to award you several setbacks along the way.

The magic trick is to accept that things are hard, not give up and just keep pushing, pushing and pushing until you make it work.

So that’s what I have been trying to do (and probably also why this upcoming holiday is pretty welcome at this point :-))

Other than that Covid-19 (there it was) has also played in on my sense of 2020 as the year of reaffirmation.

While others have (understandably) been hugely struck by all the limitations and changes to their preferred way of life, I have gotten reaffirmation that those things many others crave, I can still function well without.

It’s not that I hate other people. I don’t. Absolutely don’t. I just have a deep sense of confidence in my own company that I have enjoyed getting reaffirmed, because I believe it makes me stronger and more robust in terms of dealing with challenges of all sorts.

Having been through all sorts of personal crisis over the years, I have a deep sense for how I deal and cope with them, and getting that reaffirmed this year has been a source of strength and optimism in a year that could so easily have been low on both.

It has reaffirmed my core belief that no matter the challenge, there is always an opportunity that things may turn out well – as long as you don’t give up.

And with that, let’s look forward to 2021.

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A question of empathy

When you are a parent, your biggest anxieties are always related to your kids. You want them to be healthy, do well, grow and be liked by their surroundings, and when something is off it is just a killing feeling that truly and utterly hurts.

The other day my eldest once again experienced a play date being cancelled on her. It was one with her friend, where the feedback from the friends parents were that they were currently exploring expanding their daughters circle of friends and had thus already made alternative arrangements with another girl.

While my rational side could understand and perhaps even sympathize with what they were trying to do, I felt hurt on behalf of my daughter. Not only because it was a deja vu feeling dating years back when I myself struggled to make friends and have play dates, but also because of something else;

When you are two parties or business partners, and one of them unilaterally makes a decision to do something else and explore other options, it may feel good and right for the one who makes the move.

But the other one gets left behind. Outside. Abandoned. Perhaps even due to no fault of their own.

You can make choices. And you absolutely should. It is only natural. But choices have consequences. And at the end of your choice, the consequences are being felt by real people.

If the relationship is strong, important and have been built over time, you should at the very least make the effort to empathize and see the situation from the other partys side, before you make your call.

Some times it will not make a dent, and you will stick by your original. For a number of whatever reasons.

But other times just turning the tables and looking at what the consequences are for those, your decision has a direct impact on, will help you get a new perspective, think about the relationship and what’s really at stake.

Maybe you could get inspired and learn something new. And perhaps even get to a different decision.

A decision that may be a small contribution to a more compassionate and caring world, which I would argue we could all benefit from.

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Qualify for WFH

There are a lot of fallouts from Covid-19, once we have the vaccine(s) and things start heading back towards some kind of normal (whatever degree of pre-pandemic behaviour that might turn out to be).

One of the ones I am most curious about is the Working-From-Home (WFH) phenomenon. How much of that will stick, and how will it pan out, once it’s not a 100% necessity anymore?

WFH policies after the pandemic will be made difficult by two things: A plethora of ways people have administered it during the pandemic, and employers inability to dictate what employees in reality do when they’re out of sight.

It is going to be a ton of ‘fun’, and I don’t think it will be possible to go back to the old ‘command-style’ model of employment in the past, where employers could just belch out orders and employees would comply – few questions asked (but unlimited eyes rolling behind the managers back).

Personally, I have never been a big fan of top-down orders. But on the other hand I don’t think we’re suited to too much independence, if we are to achieve great things as teams, companies and society as such. So what to do?

Deutsche Bank has circulated an idea to tax WFH due to the associated decrease in costs by not using commuting services, lunch on the go etc.

I think the idea is stupid and not the way forward. Frankly, it’s the kind of idea that a bank would come up with.

What we might be looking at instead is qualifying people for WFH privileges.

Instead of just sending people home and letting them decide for themselves, we might need to make sure they have the skills and the mindset to make it on their own, before we let them. Have them spend some time in the office, delivering on their tasks, cooperating with the team etc before moving to a more flexible schedule.

The concept is not new. It’s basically the cornerstone of bringing up children. As a parent, you don’t let your kid go to school on her own, before you’re absolutely sure she can handle herself in the bustling traffic.

It’s not only about trust. It is also about having routines and the experience to ensure that you can still perform, no matter where your team is located.

I fully realize that there are a lot of companies that already operate remotely, and are very good at doing that. My point is just that there is a difference between being born this way and having to learn and adapt to it.

Most fall into the latter category (no, your company is not Automattic), and it is those it will be interesting to follow, as Covid-19 transforms back into a ‘new’ normal.

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Attacking a problem

There are two types of problems, you can pursue solving, when you’re trying to build a startup:

You can go after a problem that is really obvious and outspoken. Or you can go after a problem that is non-obvious but nonetheless exists.

If you go after the first, chances are that you will be far from alone in pursuing it. Especially if the problem is big, painful, and the market opportunity is big enough. While competition is by no means bad per se, it adds another level of stress to your journey than those that are already inherently present.

If you go after the latter, you may be more alone in the space of your choice. On the other hand you might also need to spend more time and energy activating the market, as your target market will be so accustomed to nothing happening that expectations that anything will ever materially change are low.

Both choices of direction of the journey comes with opportunities and pitfalls for you. You can succeed in both – and you can fail in both. It is mainly a question about what ends up becoming the decisive factors.

What you however can always do is to make sure that you understand your market, your future customers and their pains related to the problem, before you just dive head in to create your solution.

No matter your approach it will de-risk the journey immensely for you.

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