I recently took a sabbatical from ‘structured’ work to allow me to spend unregulated amount of time with my son. This was important to me and to him. Now that he’s started preschool and settled into another routine, I’ve returned to doing work that I love doing – consumer facing with a mandate to solve for growth.
While making this move, I thought about writing a few simple rules or guidelines that I should remember to ensure my work is meaningful and impacting. I wanted to avoid mistakes I’ve made in the past, and also wanted to ensure these principles are applicable across domains or across anything else I may end up doing. After some thought, I finally ended up with three words and coincidentally they all start with the letter B.
1. Bimodal: Defined as something having or exhibiting two contrasting modes or forms. This is key to creating impact at work. You need to pick two contrasting modes of working and split your time between them. You choose one attribute that takes different values in the two forms. For example – risk. Imagine you are growing a business. You spend half your day on stuff that’s essential (business hygiene) and very low risk. This stuff will make sure you don’t lose customers, or generate debt, or complaints, or just bad publicity. The other half of the day must involve work or ideas that are high risk (they will or will not work), but if they do work then you’re on to something big. This is your chance to push the line, debug customers, or build something innovative, first to market, or first to try. It’s important that you don’t get caught up in doing me-too stuff, or take short-cuts or small gains, or imitate competition blindly, or waste time in stuff that’s medium risk and medium ROI. Instead talk to people who exhibit bimodal actions at work, reduce clutter, reduce meetings, just pick one focus area and create disproportional outcomes. I wasted many months of my life not showing bimodal behavior and deeply regret that phase. This was one thing I wanted to fix going forward. I hope I can stay true to this principle, and build it into all areas of my life including parenting, investments, and writing.
2. Better: This is a simple and well-known rule. If you want to run a marathon, you need this rule. Each time you run, try to better one metric – increase time (run for longer) or increase distance (run more miles). Do this every time you run and you’ll be surprised how your body and mind scale up. This week must be a little better (even just 1%) than last week on at least one dimension that matters. On a daily basis, you can apply this rule by starting your day with a ritual – write down one important thing you must get done today, and get it done before you leave.
3. Balance: Nature lives by this rule, and fools ignore it only to regret it forever. I’ve been a fool too, and although I’ve established some balance over the last few years, I’m certain it will take a lot of discipline to sustain it. Balance is not just between work and family life; it’s also between colleagues, in conversations, in being human rather than academic. Respecting people and numbers, not just the latter. Respecting uncertainty as much as planning. Even balancing viewpoints is a part of the overall ‘balance’ of life. Often I find that people brag about the parts of their life that are imbalanced – how little they sleep, how much coffee they drink, how email-addicted they are, and how little time they get to be silent or exercise or meet family, or travel, or just read. Unfortunately Nature does not brag about the power of balance, and the immense strength and wisdom it enjoys. Some of us will be lucky and heed the warning signals. Others won’t. Nature doesn’t care either way. It will brutally find a new way to restore balance each time we destroy it.