Sunday, December 26, 2021

Systems to achieve your goals

Prevailing wisdom claims that the best way to achieve what we want in life—getting into better shape, building a successful business, relaxing more and worrying less, spending more time with friends and family—is to set specific, actionable goals.

For many years, this was how I approached my habits too. Each one was a goal to be reached. I set goals for the grades I wanted to get in school, for the weights I wanted to lift in the gym, for the profits I wanted to earn in business. I succeeded at a few, but I failed at a lot of them. Eventually, I began to realize that my results had very little to do with the goals I set and nearly everything to do with the systems I followed.

If you’re a coach, your goal might be to win a championship. Your system is the way you recruit players, manage your assistant coaches, and conduct practice.


If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal might be to build a million-dollar business. Your system is how you test product ideas, hire employees, and run marketing campaigns.

If you’re a musician, your goal might be to play a new piece. Your system is how often you practice, how you break down and tackle difficult measures, and your method for receiving feedback from your instructor.


Now for the interesting question: if you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still succeed? For example, if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results?

I think you would.


The goal in any sport is to finish with the best score, but it would be ridiculous to spend the whole game staring at the scoreboard. The only way to actually win is to get better each day. In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, “The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.

What do I mean by this? Are goals completely useless? Of course not. Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.


Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals.

Goal setting suffers from a serious case of survivorship bias. We concentrate on the people who end up winning—the survivors—and mistakenly assume that ambitious goals led to their success while overlooking all of the people who had the same objective but didn’t succeed.

Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers. It wasn’t the goal of winning the Tour de France that propelled the British Cyclists to the top of the sport. Presumably, they had wanted to win the race every year before—just like every other professional team. The goal had always been there. It was only when they implemented a system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome

Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.

Imagine you have a messy room and you set a goal to clean it. If you summon the energy to tidy up, then you will have a clean room—for now. But if you maintain the same sloppy, pack-rat habits that led to a messy room in the first place, soon you’ll be looking at a new pile of clutter and hoping for another burst of motivation. You’re left chasing the same outcome because you never changed the system behind it. You treated a symptom without addressing the cause.

Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. That’s the counterintuitive thing about improvement. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results. When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.


Problem #3: Goals restrict your happiness.

The implicit assumption behind any goal is this: “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.” The problem with a goals-first mentality is that you’re continually putting happiness off until the next milestone. I’ve slipped into this trap so many times I’ve lost count. For years, happiness was always something for my future self to enjoy. I promised myself that once I gained twenty pounds of muscle or after my business was featured in the New York Times, then I could finally relax.

Furthermore, goals create an “either-or” conflict: either you achieve your goal and are successful or you fail and you are a disappointment. You mentally box yourself into a narrow version of happiness. This is misguided. It is unlikely that your actual path through life will match the exact journey you had in mind when you set out. It makes no sense to restrict your satisfaction to one scenario when there are many paths to success.

A systems-first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. And a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.


Problem #4: Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

Finally, a goal-oriented mind-set can create a “yo-yo” effect. Many runners work hard for months, but as soon as they cross the finish line, they stop training. The race is no longer there to motivate them. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it? This is why many people find themselves reverting to their old habits after accomplishing a goal.

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.


Fall In Love With Systems

None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, I've found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.

Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.


Source –

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Many Worlds Of Enough

Dear Friends – sharing an interesting article by Lawrence Yeo on our continuous struggle with how much is “enough” and the subtle difference between ambition and greed. The original article is full of graphics, I have removed them for ease of reading and made some modifications, the link of the original one is at the end. Enjoy!!

In 2009, I came across a story that shifted my perception of money.

It was about Adolf Merckle, a German billionaire who was among the 100 richest people in the world. He had an estimated fortune of $9.2 billion, and his businesses employed over 100,000 people. Despite a track record of proven successes, Merckle made a series of disastrous bets during the 2008 financial crisis, resulting in losses that amounted to over $500 million. As the future of his business empire lay in question, he decided that being alive to witness its reversal wasn’t worth the mental cost.

On a cold Monday evening, he wrote a final note for his family, and took his own life in the most dramatic of ways: By standing in front of an oncoming train.

When you hear a story like this, your initial reaction is to shake your head in bewilderment.

“Sure, he lost a lot of money, but he was still unfathomably rich. Why the hell would he do such a thing?”

“He still had his health and family, so he would’ve been just fine. Why couldn’t he see that?”

“Isn’t having billions of dollars enough?”

That final word is often viewed as the antidote to any strain of desire. That if you could stop moving the goalpost, you’ll be able to disregard the pull of greed, longing, or any variant of these feelings.

To a large extent, this is true. By defining what enough means, you’re giving yourself a concrete barometer to judge your desires by, and whether or not they are worth having. It’s the best way to tell your future self, “Hey, don’t forget where you come from.”

The problem, however, is that this future self is a projection of your present-day desires. When you’re defining what enough means, you’re effectively saying, “Given what I want today, I just need this much more of it to be satisfied in the future.” But how plausible is it that what you want today will remain unchanged as you march onward to your goal?

Oftentimes, we envision our progress toward Enough as a continuous journey between where we are now, and where we want to be.

And the purpose of Enough is to remind yourself that once you get there, you should be satisfied with your standing. You don’t need to upgrade your lifestyle or desire anything too substantive anymore.

While this is the ideal situation, it tends to be just that: an ideal.

We are woefully incapable of being satisfied with a prior desire, and many people argue that this is just a part of the human condition. That greed resets any goals you once had, and short of becoming a monk, you are destined to shift that goal by a few more commas.

Of course, there is some truth to this, but I think this view only scratches the surface. Greed is the easy culprit to point to, but what really needs to be explored is something far more interesting:

The way your progress toward a goal creates an entirely new identity.


This can sound a bit esoteric, so let’s make it concrete. To do this, we’re going to briefly venture into the realm of physics and explore a fascinating theory that began circulating in the mid-20th century.

Say hello to Hugh Everett: Everett was a quantum physicist, and one thing about quantum physics is that it’s super strange. One of these strange discoveries was how a single particle can exist in two places at once, yet when we observe it, it only occupies one position. Essentially, tiny particles like protons and electrons don’t behave according to our everyday expectations, but when we observe them, somehow they do.

In 1957, Everett published a paper that attempted to explain what was happening. He theorized that whenever we interact with a particle, it doesn’t magically decide on one position that we see. Instead, the timeline of history separates into two branches: one where the particle is in one position, and one where it’s in the other.


Controversially, Everett believed that both these timelines exist, but only one can be experienced at any moment. So there is a “you” out there seeing the particle in one place, and a “you” right here that sees the particle where it is now. And given that these kind of quantum events happen all the time, the branching of timelines doesn’t stop there. It just keeps going onward in perpetuity, with branches upon branches existing with every observation or interaction.

Everett later referred to this perpetual branching as the existence of many worlds, which is the basis for the theory’s name. When we hear about parallel universes, this is where the idea comes from. In science fiction, the many-worlds interpretation is often visualized as a big “what-if” scenario about how life could’ve been if you made the other decision vs. the one you actually did make.


This is where Everett will likely throw his hands up in despair. Because he clearly stated that the two worlds could never communicate with one another, nor could anyone ever travel between the two (this is really important to remember). Each timeline is literally a separate world, and once you inhabit one, you cannot identify with any other version of “you” that’s in another.

Let’s just say that for purposes of this example, your Enough means that you could make a six-figure salary doing something you love. You get to wake up and do precisely what you’d do even if you had all the money in the world. And as it turns out, $100K is a pretty accurate depiction of all the money you’d need.

When you’re starting out, the certainty of that goal is unquestionable. Since you’re starting from zero, the thought of being able to earn $100K from an enriching endeavor sounds like paradise.

In this initial phase, you’re surveying the landscape of possibility, and are seeing what others have already done. After all, the reason you have an Enough goalpost to begin with is because you’ve seen how others have actualized it for themselves.

So you apply this formula of combining others’ methods with your unique voice, and do it for some time. You struggle your way through it, but since this endeavor is so worthwhile, you’ll find that the challenges are what make it so great.

With this winning combination of mindset, work ethic, and time, something interesting happens: You start making tangible progress toward your goal.

You’re still in the early stages, but here’s what’s fascinating: The nature of your experiences and skills have already shifted dramatically.

In the beginning, you were trying to understand how the hell you might make your first dollar. But now that you’ve achieved that, the problem you’re trying to solve also changes. Perhaps now it’s about how you can make recurring revenue, or how you can build a sustainable product. And though these changes feel subtle, they’re actually quite profound.

The greater goal of enough is always comprised of smaller milestones. You won’t get to $100K without first getting to $25K, $50K, $75K, etc. This may sound obvious, but what’s not obvious is how dramatically your experiences and skills change as you hit each milestone.

For example, going from $0 to $50K teaches you so much about what it takes to make money doing something you enjoy. The skill sets you develop, the things you learn, and the people you interact with vastly broadens the landscape of possibilities for you. What you once thought was implausible will feel inevitable given what you know now.

Here’s how I visualize it. As you progress toward your goal of Enough, you gain so much in the form of skill and experience that a fundamentally different version of your identity branches out.


This “new version” of you can no longer identify with the one that started out at zero. Even though you haven’t hit that Enough goal yet, it won’t sound like the perfect ideal it once was. Given everything you’ve gained in ability and the achievements that have been actualized by your newfound peers, you’ll find that Enough should be higher than where you once pegged it.

And the more you move up this new spectrum, you gain even more confidence in your abilities, which causes another branch-out (and thus moving up Enough once again).

This is the Many Worlds of Enough. It’s the perpetual branching of identity that results from progress, as progress provides you with the confidence and ability to actualize greater things (resulting in further progress). The cyclical nature of this process is what makes it so difficult to stop, and is what prevents us from ever settling on what Enough means.


One thing I need to clarify here: this view is very different from the traditional idea of goalpost moving.

Goalpost moving implies that once you hit a certain goal, you’ll shift it higher because of whatever new desires emerge. So when we advise people to leave the goalpost as is, we do so by reminding them to think back to the past, and how happy they would have been to be where you’re at now.

The Many Worlds view, on the other hand, states that you end up branching out into an entirely new identity as you progress toward any definition of Enough. And once this separation happens, these worlds can no longer communicate with one another at all (similar to the quantum physics interpretation).

For example, it’s quite possible that at one point in your life, you wanted to be the manager of a fast food restaurant where you were once employed. But let’s say that you went on to attend college, learned how to code, and became the founder of a profitable tech company.

The thought of now applying for that managerial role at the burger joint would not only be incoherent, it would be inconceivable. It’s not because you consciously moved the goalpost to something greater; it’s because of the unconscious separations in identity that occurred on your path to becoming a successful founder.

Without realizing how exactly it happened, you now occupy an entirely separate world, with no connection between who you are now and that prior version of yourself.

Enough is elusive because when you reach it, you’re no longer the person that once desired it. Once you occupy an entirely new world, that prior version of yourself is largely inaccessible.

However, there is one crucial thing you do have access to, regardless of where you are: An awareness of the overall trend of these branches.

In the beginning, it’s important for these worlds to keep branching upward. It’s great that you didn’t settle for the fast food restaurant when you recognized that you had the potential to be a great software engineer. It’s awesome that you decided to expand the horizon of possibility instead of accepting a given predicament.

These branching of new worlds are driven by ambition, which is the key to actualizing whatever potential lives within you.


Despite what spiritual gurus might tell you, ambition is critical to the development of a healthy mind. Without it, you will never know what challenges you’re capable of facing, and how you can tap into the best of yourself to solve them accordingly. Ambition is important because it provides a sense of purpose, which is one of the keys to giving life its meaning.

Greed, on the other hand, is different.

The reason why ambition feels like a dirty word is because it’s often mistaken for greed. Both ambition and greed result in the Worlds of Enough branching upward, so they’re often treated as surrogates for one another.

But there’s a critical difference.

Ambition is largely driven by self-actualization, or the desire to become a more capable person. And when this happens, it’s only natural that good outcomes arise. You’ll witness bumps in your reputation, be offered higher salaries, and so on. But these things happen as a byproduct of your ambition, and not because these outcomes were your primary desires.

Greed, however, is when those outcomes become your primary desires. When prestige, praise, and power are the reasons why you are ambitious, that’s no longer driven by self-actualization. That’s when you lust for everything that is external to you.

There’s always a point in which one’s desire to self-actualize (ambition) morphs into the desire to externally control (greed). And the key is to be acutely aware of where this intersection point resides.

It’s rather difficult to know where this point is, as the boundary between ambition and greed can be blurry.

But for the most part, you’ve entered the domain of greed when you no longer pursue an endeavor because you’re curious about it. It’s when the coldness of utility replaces the warmth of curiosity. Ambition morphs into greed when you stop listening to your inner compass, and start paying attention to what your actions may do for external things like your reputation.

Enough is what remains when you remove these desires for approval or praise. It’s when you conduct an honest audit of your needs, and understand what has been conditioned into you, and what is true to who you are.

If you’re well aware that reading a great book will make you happy, do you really need to go out and get that expensive car? Do you really need to make more money to support your family, when what your family needs is your attention? What’s driving your desires: your authentic being or your conditioned mind?

Once you start asking these questions rigorously, self-awareness is cultivated. And with this tool, your identity is able to branch out into a different kind of world: One where Enough is lower than the position you currently occupy.

William Blake once said, “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” You have to have your Worlds of Enough extend upward before realizing that this trend needs to be corrected. After all, a minimalist is nothing more than a maximalist recovering from this epiphany.

This type of course correction is a different kind of identity change. One where you understand what is truly essential, and adopt a mindset that emphasizes a new barometer to live by.

The interesting thing here is that any progress toward this lower Enough will do the same thing as what happened when pursuing a higher Enough. It’ll branch your identity out into another world, and will keep doing so until you feel that you’ve reached some semblance of a sweet spot.

There’s a reason why someone pursuing a lower Enough may start out selling his car, and then end up in a position where he only owns 5 shirts. There’s a gradual progression of new worlds being created, where each subsequent one can no longer relate with a prior version. For example, if you watch interviews with minimalists, they’re often bewildered at how they were once the possession-seeking avatars that a stereotypical capitalist society produces.

But most likely, you’re not looking to be a minimalist (neither am I). All we want is a better model of determining what enough is, and how to balance this with the nature of ambition. If ambition is indeed a good thing, the problem is ensuring that the byproducts of that ambition don’t warp our perceptions of what it means to have enough.

This continuous interplay of ambition, greed, and self-awareness will find its way through your Many Worlds of Enough. Since these forces are always in motion, there will never be an absolute satisfactory goal. That is why there is no magic number or formula that you can rely upon. You can’t apply mathematics to what is really a matter of psychology, as the mind doesn’t follow a set of axioms that withstand circumstance.

With that said, wisdom is the ability to bring Enough within a narrow range. It’s to use the tool of self-awareness to make the upward and corrective trends less dramatic, and to have them converge toward equanimity whenever possible. That way you have some semblance of a ceiling that signifies when you’re desiring something unnecessary, and a floor that gives you a baseline for your needs.

By having this zone in mind, you won’t be perturbed by the allures of speculative investing and all the regret that accompanies it. You’ll recognize that a better path toward Enough will be through a healthy investment of ambition, and not through an anxious foray into an uncontrollable storm. You’ll value balance over surprise, and will cultivate a mindset where you get to direct the trend line of your Many Worlds, and not the whims of external events.

That last point is crucial.

Whenever possible, you want to be the one directing the way your worlds branch, instead of having it be a mere reaction to events. If success comes your way, you don’t want that success to automatically feed itself into expectations of more success. That is the natural course of things, so if this trend is left unchecked, you will occupy a world that is so far removed from who you once were. There will be no connection with your humble beginnings, and your definition of survival will be so out-of-touch with that of the everyday person’s.


If I were to guess what Adolf Merckle’s graph looked like shortly before his death, it would resemble the one above. One propelled upward in perpetuity without the self-awareness required to adequately correct it. One where reputation and acclaim defined his entire being, and the lack of it meant that his very survival was in jeopardy.

So when the consequences of those disastrous bets hit him, it didn’t matter that he would still be a billionaire after their resolution. It didn’t matter that he still had a family that cared for him.

He suddenly found himself in a world where he was forced to face a lower Enough, but it wasn’t through his own will. It was thrust upon him, and this lack of self-direction is what made it unbearable.


This is the most important thing to internalize. You must self-adjust your definition of enough, instead of having it forced upon you. Wisdom is in self-correction, while misery is in coerced correction. Identity change is best manifested through small, intentioned steps, and not through a massive, surprising event.

Keep this in mind as you progress through your Many Worlds of Enough. The world of Enough you occupy today is completely foreign to the one you occupied a decade ago, as it should be. But how did you arrive here? Was your trend primarily sculpted through external events like lifestyle shifts, pay changes, and new environments? How much course correction have you done after conducting an honest audit of your ambitions? Have you done this at all?

The conundrum of Enough isn’t about money, as it’s brought billionaires down to their knees. It’s a matter of identity, and what it means for you to feel accepted. Not by others, but by yourself.

Think about this now, in whatever world you occupy. Don’t wait for the whims of circumstance to give an answer you can’t accept.

Source –

Saturday, November 27, 2021

First Explore. Then Exploit.

Albert einstein in the early 1900s. Aretha Franklin in the 1960s. Steve Jobs in the 2000s. There are certain spans of time when scientists, artists, and inventors have phenomenal periods of productivity.

This is also true of most people—at least on a smaller scale. Aren’t there periods when you feel like you’re effortlessly flourishing at work, while other times you feel incompetent and uninspired? You might recognize these periods of concentrated success among your friends, peers, and competitors too.
The Northwestern University economist Dashun Wang calls these special bursts of creativity “hot streaks”—a term usually reserved for sports. “Ninety percent of people have a hot streak in their career,” Wang told me. “Most people have just one. Some people have two. It’d be nice to have more.”

In the past few years, Wang has peeled back the mystery of why these special creativity clusters happen and how individuals and companies can multiply and extend them. Three years ago, he co-wrote a paper with researchers at Northwestern, the University of Miami, Penn State, and Central European University, in Budapest, that used large data sets to trace the career outputs of more than 20,000 artists, film directors, and scientists. The researchers found that almost all of them had clusters of highly successful work, as determined by higher-than-average art-auction prices, IMDb film ratings, or scientific-journal citations. “Bursts of high-impact works [are] remarkably universal across diverse domains,” he and his co-authors wrote. Just about everybody has a period in their life when they produce at their best, even if, unlike Aretha, they aren’t pumping out some of the greatest work of the 20th century.

So where do hot streaks come from? And how can each of us plan for one, or two—or 100? Wang spent several years trying to answer that question. His search uncovered mostly dead ends. “The more we tried and the more failed attempts we had, the idea of hot streaks seemed very random,” he said.
The conventional wisdom is that hot streaks happen in our middle age. One famous analysis of scientists and inventors found that their ability to produce Nobel Prize–winning insights and landmark technological contributions peaks between the ages of 35 and 40. Another analysis of “age-genius curves” for jazz musicians found that musical productivity rises steadily until about the age of 40 and then declines sharply.

Wang’s analysis—which used a broader measure of productivity for a much larger group of people—didn’t find anything special about the productivity of middle-aged people. Instead, hot streaks were equally likely to happen among young, mid-career, and late-career artists and scientists. Other theories fell flat too. Maybe, he thought, getting hot is a numbers game, and hot streaks happen when you produce the most work. Or maybe extremely successful work periods are all about focusing on one specific type of art or scientific discipline—as the 10,000-hours-of-practice rule popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers suggests. Or maybe hot streaks are more about who else we’re working with, and we’re most successful when we cozy up to superstars in our domain. But no explanation fit the data set.

Until this year. This summer, Wang and his co-authors published their first grand theory of the origin of hot streaks. It’s a complicated idea that comes down to three words: Explore, then exploit.

In 1991, the Stanford Graduate School of Business professor James G. March published an influential paper, “Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning,” which broke down work into two big categories: exploring new ideas and exploiting old certainties. Say you’re a car manufacturer. Every year, you must decide between investing in future innovations, such as self-driving software, and finding ways to squeeze new revenue out of existing technologies and materials. Too much fanciful R&D spending, and this year’s profit plummets. Too much emphasis on tweaking existing product lines, and you get squashed by some fresh upstart in a decade.
Individuals face the same choice. Every week, I can write about pretty much whatever I want. I love exploring new ideas and emerging industries. But if I write an article about a totally new subject, it’s possible that I’ll do a bad job, or that nobody will want to read about it. Meanwhile, whenever I write articles about the future of work, a lot of people read them. Should I allow my curiosity to wander into new fields that might be dead ends for my career, or should I double down on becoming a full-time work futurist? It’s the same tension: explore or exploit?
In Wang’s most recent analysis, he found that artists and scientists tend to experiment with diverse styles or topics before their hot streak begins. This period of exploration is followed by a period of creatively productive focus. “Our data shows that people ought to explore a bunch of things at work, deliberate about the best fit for their skills, and then exploit what they’ve learned,” Wang said. This precise sequence—exploration, followed by exploitation—was the single best predictor of the onset of a hot streak.

Wang pointed to Jackson Pollock, the artist known for splashing and dribbling paint on a canvas. When Pollock started painting, in the early 1930s, he experimented with a variety of styles, including abstract art and surrealism reminiscent of Marc Chagall’s work. Suddenly, in the mid-’40s, he honed a mystically messy “drip style,” in which he painted almost exclusively for about four years. In 1949, Life magazine made him a household name and asked if he was “the greatest living painter in the United States.” The next year, at the height of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned his drip method—and started experimenting again, until his death.

At least for artists, film directors, and scientists, neither exploration nor exploitation does much good on its own. “When exploitation occurs by itself,” Wang and his co-authors wrote, “the chance that such episodes coincide with a hot streak is significantly lower than expected, not higher, across all three domains.” Only when periods of trial and error are followed right away by periods of deliberate focus does the probability of a hot streak increase significantly.

The research suggests something fundamentally hopeful: that periods of failure can be periods of growth, but only if we understand when to shift our work from exploration to exploitation. If you look around you at this very moment, you will see people in your field who seem wayward and unfocused, and you might assume they’ll always be that way. You will also see people in your field who seem extremely focused and highly successful, and you might make the same assumption. But Wang’s paper asks us to consider the possibility that many of today’s wanderers are also tomorrow’s superstars, just a few months or years away from their own personal hot streak. Periods of exploration can be like winter farming; nothing is visibly growing, but a subterranean process is at work and will in time yield a bounty.

Several years ago, the journalist David Epstein wrote the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, which argued that early specialization was a poor strategy for succeeding in a world of complex problems that defy easy answers. Instead, Epstein said, people are better off exploring a variety of fields and approaches and braiding their knowledge to produce new solutions. Wang’s research seems to back up that claim. The central paradox of the explore-exploit sequence is that hot streaks are examples of specialization, but specialization itself doesn’t lead to hot streaks. Today’s best exploiters were yesterday’s best explorers.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Internal Vs External Benchmarks

There are two ways to measure how you’re doing: Against yourself and against others. Internal vs. external benchmarks.

There’s a time and a place for both, but I’ve come to appreciate how much happier you can be if you appreciate when internal benchmarks should get the spotlight.

If Jeff Bezos started a new company that got to $100 million in revenue and sold for a billion dollars, it would mean … nothing to him, both financially and on his list of accomplishments.

But if I did it, it would be … unbelievable. Everything would change.

So accomplishments have a cost basis. What you gain or lose is always relative to where you began. And since we all begin at different spots, there’s a range in how people feel when experiencing the same thing.

In his book on the final days of World War II, Stephen Ambrose writes about a wounded American soldier who’s carried back to the medic tent. He knows he’s going home – his war is over. “Clean sheets boys!” he yells back to his comrades still fighting. “Clean sheets, can you believe it! Clean sheets!” Living in foxholes for weeks caused soldiers to daydream about normal life, and few things tickled their imaginations like the dignity of clean sheets. Not money or status or respect or glory. Just the absolute pleasure of clean sheets. It’s an extreme example of when the outside world ceases to exist and everything becomes relative to an internal benchmark.

A lighter version of this happens in business and finance, which are home to so many staggeringly successful people whose lives are broadcast over a staggeringly loud social media system.

If you measure your career solely relative to them – the external benchmark – you’re on the never ending path of feeling inadequate, incompetent, and poor. Nothing you do will ever feel that great because someone is always smarter than you, more popular than you, better looking than you, getting richer faster than you, and making sure you know about it.

It’s not until you focus on internal benchmarks and see how far you’ve come, relative to where you began – the gap between today and your own cost basis – that you have a good view of where you stand and what you’ve accomplished. Even if it’s the career equivalent of clean sheets.

External benchmarks can be great because so much innovation comes from the urge to chase whoever’s in front of you. They’re also just necessary to survive a competitive environment.

But great things backfire when taken to an extreme, and external benchmarks are no different:

External benchmarks are deceiving because accomplishments are advertised while the ugly, hard, and painful parts of life are often hidden from view. Almost everything looks better from the outside. When you’re keenly aware of your own struggles but blind to others’, it’s easy to assume you’re missing some skill or secret that others have. Few things are as awful as chasing something you eventually realize you never actually wanted.

People play different games, some of which might not be related to your own goals. Investors range from nineteen-year-olds learning how to day trade to endowments with century-long time horizons and everything in between. But so often there is just one external benchmark: How you have performed in the last 365 days relative to the S&P 500. Can we not imagine a world where different people have different goals stemming from the different games they play?

Another version: Working 100-hour weeks and squeezing every penny out of your career potential is the ultimate goal for some people, but a nightmare for others whose priority is, say, quality time with their kids. “To each their own” only works when benchmarks are internalized.

The key to a lot of investing success is to be motivated by opportunity while immune to FOMO. The difference is subtle, but mostly comes down to FOMO being a byproduct of anchoring on the external benchmark of how rich other people are getting.

It’s hard to know how much of some external benchmarks owe their performance luck, which you cannot replicate no matter how smart you are or how hard you try. This is especially true when you’re anchoring to a specific person or company’s success.

The most important point may be this: Internal benchmarks are only possible when you have some degree of independence.

The only way to consistently do what you want, when you want, with whom you want, for as long as you want, is to detach from other peoples’ benchmarks and judge everything simply by whether you’re happy and fulfilled, which varies person to person.

I recently had dinner with a financial advisor who has a client that gets angry when hearing about portfolio returns or benchmarks. None of that matters to the client; All he cares about is whether he has enough money to keep traveling with his wife. That’s his sole benchmark.

“Everyone else can stress out about outperforming each other,” he says. “I just like Europe.”

Maybe he’s got it all figured out.

Source –

Internal vs. External Benchmarks · Collaborative Fund

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Learnings from the fall of FC Barcelona

How the best soccer team in the world lost its luster

FC Barcelona produced the greatest homegrown talent of any club but failed to keep the production line rolling. Business leaders can heed its warnings.

If you had to date the peak of FC Barcelona’s reign in global soccer, it might be November 25, 2012. That night, Barça, which plays in the Spanish topflight La Liga, won 4–0 at little Levante. When Martín Montoya replaced the injured Brazilian Dani Alves after 14 minutes, all 11 of Barcelona’s players on the field had come through the club’s youth academy, La Masia. Even Barça’s coach that day, Tito Vilanova, was a Masia alumnus. Arguably, this homegrown 11 were the best on Earth. Soccer clubs pride themselves on having strong youth training programs, but this team was something special. Most of the players had won the World Cup with Spain in 2010. Another, the little Argentinian Lionel Messi, was widely recognized as the world’s best footballer. Barcelona at the time was all-dominant: in the decade from 2006 to 2015, it would win the European Champions League, the biggest prize in club soccer, four times.


How the mighty fall. For years now, Barça has regularly been thumped by better teams in European competition. This August, after running up debts of about US$1.5 billion, Barça was forced to let Messi join Paris Saint-Germain. The Catalan team couldn’t afford to offer him a new contract even after he had agreed to halve his pay. With the club in decline while I was researching my recent book, The Barcelona Complex, I sometimes felt as if I were writing about Rome in 400 AD with the barbarians already inside the gates or perhaps a chronicle of the humbling of GE, a once mighty industry giant whose management relied on past strategies for success with disappointing results. Barcelona’s fall from grace offers lessons for companies that lead or aspire to lead their sectors. The club fell into the trap set for every company that’s number one: it got lazy while its rivals copied its best ideas and built on them. It failed to create a sustainable succession plan for its aging players, and it was profligate with its finances. Barcelona failed to understand that greatness is always a moving target, not just on the pitch.


How the best soccer team in the world lost its luster? Talent unmanaged More than almost any other industry, professional sports revolve around the war for talent. The difficulty teams face in finding the people is something that most companies are starting to experience in the current tight jobs market. The cheapest way to find talent is to source it in-house, as Barcelona did brilliantly in the Messi era. But then the club fell victim to its own success. Once the team was packed with world-beating players, there was little scope for new talents to make their own developmental journey. When the playmaker Thiago Alcântara emerged from La Masia around 2010, he found his path to the first team blocked by the world’s best midfield in Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. Thiago ended up leaving for Bayern Munich. In 2020, he starred in Bayern’s 8–2 demolition of his old club. The Brazilian Neymar did find a place in the great Barcelona side, but he too eventually saw his development blocked. Neymar aspired to something greater than playing as Messi’s right hand, running onto the Argentinian’s passes. He wanted to be Messi: the fulcrum of every attack, winner of Ballon d’Or awards for European Footballer of the Year. In 2017, he left to become the main man at Paris Saint-Germain. Messi considered him modern Barcelona’s most significant loss. (Ironically, the pair are back together again at PSG this season.) More fundamentally, Barça fell into the trap that catches industry leaders across all sectors: complacency.


When an organization is number one, the temptation is to stop thinking. Why innovate when you are already the best? Paco Seirul·lo, a physical trainer who over the decades has turned into the guardian of Barça’s culture—he is known as El Druida (“the druid”)—told me that the club had never bothered to study the great Masia generation to understand how it had emerged. Meanwhile, every rival club was studying Barcelona. They followed the lead of the long-running advertising slogan of rental car firm Avis, which was number two in the market: “We try harder.” The German Hans-Dieter Flick was just one of countless European coaches who visited La Masia to discover its secrets. In 2020, Flick coached the Bayern Munich team that crushed Barça. During Barcelona’s glory years, as one La Masia coach admitted to me, he and his colleagues never made study visits abroad to see what other clubs were doing. They traveled only to explain their success to admiring foreign colleagues at conferences.


Over time, every big soccer club’s youth academy in Europe became La Masia: a university whose curriculum was devised by the legendary Dutch soccer player Johan Cruyff when he took over as manager at Barça in 1988 and explained that winning at soccer meant mastering the rapid passing game. For years, the on-field geometry of Barcelona’s interplay left opponents bewitched. But once everyone else has become La Masia, the original Masia loses its lead. “Football is evolution,” summed up Pep Guardiola, coach of Barcelona in its peak era, from 2008 to 2012. Especially in Europe, where the best teams play one another constantly, the sport improves almost by the month. After a team lost to Barcelona, it would go home and work out what it was doing wrong. Everyone kept getting better—except Barcelona. The one-time innovators were overtaken, in a process that the economist Joseph Schumpeter labeled “creative destruction”: new entrepreneurs come along with new ideas, and the pioneering systems of yesteryear are junked. If you play the soccer of 2012 in 2021, you will lose.


Messy money

When you’re number one, you also tend to get careless with your spending. While the money pours in, you stop counting every penny. In 2018, Barça became the first club in any sport ever to gross more than $1 billion in annual revenues. And so when Jorge Messi, Lionel’s father and agent, kept threatening that his son would leave unless he got another pay rise, the club kept giving in. From 2017 through 2021, Messi earned a total of more than €555 million ($674 million), according to highlights from his 30-page contract published in Spanish newspaper El Mundo, and not denied by player or club. Bayern Munich’s chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said he had “had to laugh” when he saw the contract: “I can only compliment him on managing to negotiate such an astronomical salary.”


A senior Barça official told me Messi’s salary had tripled between 2014 and 2020. He added, “Messi is not the problem. The problem is the contagion of the rest of the team.” Whenever Messi got a raise, his teammates demanded one as well. By 2019, average first-team pay at Barça was $12.2 million a year, the highest for any sports club on Earth, according to the Global Sports Salaries Survey by (Rival soccer clubs Real Madrid and Juventus were second and third in the rankings, with NBA basketball teams completing the top ten.)


In any talent industry, the talent has substantial power vis-à-vis the employer. But at Barça, the talent was so successful, experienced, and well-paid that its power became close to absolute. Quique Setién, head coach for seven unhappy months in 2020, said he was always aware that Messi could get him fired at any moment. By then, the survivors of the great Masia generation were effectively running the team and quite simply not working hard enough. Almost every day at Barcelona was take-your-children-to-work day. Kids would kick a ball in the changing room with their dads before a game. And whereas other Spanish teams would fly to road games the day before the game, to acclimatize, Barça usually flew on match day itself. The Barça players preferred it: they liked being at home longer.


As the dominant players aged, Barça’s training sessions slowed down. That was a shock for the Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, who had come from Atlético Madrid in 2019. There, he recalled, “Every training session was at the intensity level of a match.” Barça paid €120 million ($142 million) for Griezmann. In August 2021, it lent him to Atlético for free, his talent wasted for two years in what had become a dysfunctional team. Barcelona is now in freefall, and yet this is also a strangely creative moment at the club. The people on the inside understand that having lost their greatest talent, it’s time to start rethinking. Some of the spirit of innovation that once made this the world’s leading club may now be returning.


Source –

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Gaining Experience or Expertise?

In some circles, Ben Hogan is credited with “inventing practice.” Hogan was one of the greatest golfers of the 20th century, an accomplishment he achieved through tireless repetition. He simply loved to practice. Hogan said, “I couldn't wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I'd be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it.” For Hogan, every practice session had a purpose. He reportedly spent years breaking down each phase of the golf swing and testing new methods for each segment. The result was near perfection. He developed one of the most finely-tuned golf swings in the history of the game.

Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance. When Ben Hogan carefully reconstructed each step of his golf swing, he was engaging in deliberate practice. He wasn't just taking cuts. He was finely tuning his technique.

While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance. The greatest challenge of deliberate practice is to remain focused. In the beginning, showing up and putting in your reps is the most important thing. But after a while we begin to carelessly overlook small errors and miss daily opportunities for improvement.


This is because the natural tendency of the human brain is to transform repeated behaviors into automatic habits. For example, when you first learned to tie your shoes you had to think carefully about each step of the process. Today, after many repetitions, your brain can perform this sequence automatically. The more we repeat a task the more mindless it becomes. Mindless activity is the enemy of deliberate practice. The danger of practicing the same thing again and again is that progress becomes assumed. Too often, we assume we are getting better simply because we are gaining experience. In reality, we are merely reinforcing our current habits—not improving them. Claiming that improvement requires attention and effort sounds logical enough. But what does deliberate practice actually look like in the real world?


Deliberate practice always follows the same pattern: break the overall process down into parts, identify your weaknesses, test new strategies for each section, and then integrate your learning into the overall process.

Here are some more examples.


Cooking: Jiro Ono, the subject of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is a chef and owner of an award-winning sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Jiro has dedicated his life to perfecting the art of making sushi and he expects the same of his apprentices. Each apprentice must master one tiny part of the sushi-making process at a time—how to wring a towel, how to use a knife, how to cut the fish, and so on. One apprentice trained under Jiro for ten years before being allowed to cook the eggs. Each step of the process is taught with the utmost care.

Martial arts: Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning, is a martial artist who holds several US national medals and a 2004 world championship. In the finals of one competition, he noticed a weakness: When an opponent illegally head-butted him in the nose, Waitzkin flew into a rage. His emotion caused him to lose control and forget his strategy. Afterward, he specifically sought out training partners who would fight dirty so he could practice remaining calm and principled in the face of chaos. “They were giving me a valuable opportunity to expand my threshold for turbulence,” Waitzkin wrote. “Dirty players were my best teachers.”

Chess: Magnus Carlsen is a chess grandmaster and one of the highest-rated players in history. One distinguishing feature of great chess players is their ability to recognize “chunks,” which are specific arrangements of pieces on the board. Some experts estimate that grandmasters can identify around 300,000 different chunks. Interestingly, Carlsen learned the game by playing computer chess, which allowed him to play multiple games at once. Not only did this strategy allow him to learn chunks much faster than someone playing in-person games, but also gave him a chance to make more mistakes and correct his weaknesses at an accelerated pace.

Music: Many great musicians recommend repeating the most challenging sections of a song until you master them. Virtuoso violinist Nathan Milstein says, “Practice as much as you feel you can accomplish with concentration. Once when I became concerned because others around me practiced all day long, I asked [my professor] how many hours I should practice, and he said, ‘It really doesn’t matter how long. If you practice with your fingers, no amount is enough. If you practice with your head, two hours is plenty.’”

Basketball: Consider the following example from Aubrey Daniels, “Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50. The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt. The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice. To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?”


Perhaps the greatest difference between deliberate practice and simple repetition is this: feedback. Anyone who has mastered the art of deliberate practice—whether they are an athlete like Ben Hogan or a writer like Ben Franklin—has developed methods for receiving continual feedback on their performance.


There are many ways to receive feedback. Let's discuss two. The first effective feedback system is measurement. The things we measure are the things we improve. This holds true for the number of pages we readthe number of pushups we do and any other task that is important to us. It is only through measurement that we have any proof of whether we are getting better or worse.

The second effective feedback system is coaching. One consistent finding across disciplines is that coaches are often essential for sustaining deliberate practice. In many cases, it is nearly impossible to both perform a task and measure your progress at the same time. Good coaches can track your progress, find small ways to improve, and hold you accountable to delivering your best effort each day.


The Promise of Deliberate Practice

Humans have a remarkable capacity to improve their performance in nearly any area of life if they train in the correct way. This is easier said than done. Deliberate practice is not a comfortable activity. It requires sustained effort and concentration. The people who master the art of deliberate practice are committed to being lifelong learners—always exploring and experimenting and refining.


Deliberate practice is not a magic pill, but if you can manage to maintain your focus and commitment, then the promise of deliberate practice is quite alluring: to get the most out of what you've got.