Recently I’ve been fascinated by the idea of “adjustments” in professional sports. I’ve been trying to apply the same perspective and concept of “making adjustments” at work.

In basketball, each team is making adjustments in a rapid fire way…

Your main scorer gets injured…so you make adjustments.

Your opponent decides to deliberately foul you using Hack-a-shack…so you make adjustments.

Your bench player is having an incredible night, better than your stars…so you make an adjustment.

At work, I’ve started to look at change as an adjustment. It is extremely easy to argue that “wait but we just decided on x and now you want to switch to y?”. The answer often is “yes” as long as it is well-reasoned. Since I started seeing revising of decisions as an adjustment it’s become much easier to change my actions, perspectives and philosophy in light of new information.

That last part is critical: there needs to be a clear basis for an adjustment when possible. This is something that is much easier to obtain in competitive sports where you know you are getting your ass kicked by your opponent and must adjust or lose. At a new business though, you will rarely see a clear signal that an adjustment is needed. Still, keep a few things in mind:

1. You will still make incorrect adjustments, but hopefully fewer over time

2. Asking yourself these two questions before making an adjustment can be super helpful. (a) “Why do I think an adjustment may be needed?” (b) “How will I know if _____ change is having the intended impact?”

3. If you are making an adjustment without pondering and answering the question above, you are likely making an unneeded, incorrect or arbitrary decision. The good thing is, in my experience the above two questions become easier to answer after you have done it a few times. And ultimately, this becomes second nature and you begin seeing work as a set of rapid adjustments with a defined feedback loop.

My hypothesis is that if my feedback loop is relatively accurate in its reporting and we as a company make at least a majority of the required adjustments and do it extremely well, we’ll do just fine.

Preparing for luck

The Boston Globe has a remarkable story with behind-the-scenes details that shed light on Mitt Romney’s loss. Throughout the story, one clear theme emerges: the more prepared party in any situation consistently has more luck thrown their way. Here are a couple examples that illustrate this point from the story.

Example 1: The First Debate

The Preparation

We learn that Mitt Romney put a lot of thought into preparing for the first debate–enough to give his preparation a code name(The Manhattan Project). Romney scheduled 16 aggressive rehearsals. Obama, meanwhile, skipped on several of his rehearsals.

The Luck

Shortly before the first debate, Romney’s 47% video leaked that many predicted would doom his campaign. Fortunately for Romney, Obama did not mention the 47% figure even once during the debate. More importantly, Obama appeared tired and annoyed while Romney came across as someone who was “articulate, thoughtful, and had a plan.” The end result? Romney walked away with a 9 point bump in ratings.

Example 2: Election Day Technology

The Preparation

We learn that the Obama 2008 campaign experienced near-catatrophic lapses with their technology on election day. So the Obama 2012 campaign made it a point to have multiple dry runs to reduce the chances of last-minute technical troubles:

Narwahl and Gordon would be tested repeatedly in exercises that Obama’s team called “game day.” Every imaginable failure would be thrown at the systems — hacker attacks, database meltdowns, Internet failures — and the team would be challenged to write up a manual for how to deal with each ­disaster. It was, they said, more fun than the fantasy war game Dungeons & Dragons.

The Luck

Obama’s technology operation seemed to have run smooth by most accounts. On the other hand, Romney’s election day volunteer application called the Orca was a well-known disaster. What is more interesting is that it was a disaster that folks inside the campaign saw coming:

Moffatt played catch-up from the start. He had 14 people working for him in the primaries and then, around May 1, he submitted a general election plan that required at least 110 people and would eventually have 160. Obama was far ahead. Moffatt recalled his assign­ment in daunting terms: “Can we do 80 percent of what the Obama campaign is doing, in 20 percent of the time, at 10 percent of the cost?”

Once again, the prepared party(in this case, the Obama Campaign) also was the lucky party. You should read the entire article by Michael Kranish.

My Mental Calendar – Part 1

We are trained to spend so much time managing our calendar. But I really envy people who can jump from meeting to meeting, every half-hour and to be able to do it effectively. I cannot manage that, at least at this stage of building a company. Why, you ask? The thing is, I do have the 30 minutes that you need for the meeting on my Physical Calendar. However, any meeting leaves significant residue in my mind before and after it, particularly if I were to do it correctly. This is the part most folks do not account for.

What do I mean “if I were to do it correctly”? Well, if all you need is my presence for 30 minutes, I can physically make it. However, I may not necessarily be present with you in my mind. And that will really suck for everyone because my insights would likely be garbage. I would have made it to the meeting physically but in my mind I would still be working on the technical challenge I left behind at my desk.

Some may argue “but you had time to browse facebook but not attend our meeting.” Absolutely. Here’s why: facebook does not require much mental focus; facebook doesn’t get frustrated when I become absent-minded and doze off in la-la land working through some problem. Facebook isn’t a human, nor does it require much mental effort to engage with. However, answering a phone call or replying to a text requires mental effort even if physically it only takes seconds.

This gives rise to the idea of maintaining a Mental Calendar versus a Physical Calendar. Much of our society seems to revolve around the Physical calendar. When we ask “do you have a few minutes?,” we are usually talking about the physical availability. But we are not taking into account if we can make it to the meeting and think clearly, add value and not walk out having made dumb decisions. All of those things are much more likely if I purely schedule meetings based on my Physical Calendar and not the Mental Calendar.

I am curious how common this is. Are some people able to much quickly switch threads in their mind? Are some problem more easier to switch between than others? I have some thoughts on it I’d like to think through and write more about.

Instinctively, I think this is much more common than we think. That people undertaking tasks that require long-term, in-dept focus have a Mental Calendar that is filled up by default by the task at hand. I think people like Charlie Munger function more with a Mental Calendar than the Physical:

Charlie and I first met at a mutual friend’s house while I was working on investments in LA after graduating from college. The first impression he gave me was “distant” — he often appeared to be absent-minded to the presence of his conversation partners and was, instead, very focused on his own topics. But this old man spoke succinctly; his words full of wisdom for you to mull over. [Source] (emphasis mine)