Sunday, May 29, 2022


 A story about Warren Buffett goes like- After Buffett opened his own fund, a writer called one day and asked to interview him. The writer posed a tough question to Buffett about a public company. Buffett told him the answer was in an annual report he'd just read. The writer studied the report, but then called Buffett to complain there wasn't an answer.

"You didn't read carefully," Buffett said. "Look at footnote four teen."

Sure enough, there it was. The writer was dumbfounded.

Like what Buffett did here, Non Obvious thinking is all about doing what it takes to see/notice what no one else sees. It is about seeing the world in a way other people don’t see it.

This is a term that is the central theme of the book that i recently read- "Non Obvious Mega Trends". This book is an yearly release that curates upcoming trends that are shaping up the world. Trends-spotting by it's very nature requires Non Obvious thinking principles but it's application is not limited to trend-spotting alone.

When everyone else was skimming a report, Buffett was obsessively scouring the fine print, going above and beyond, studying every word, looking for clues. Reading the footnotes isn't just a task on Buffett's to-do list-it's his outlook on life. (Buffet's story source: Book: The Third Door)

Non Obvious Thinking hence, is a mindset. The Book- "Non Obvious Mega Trends" unpeels various elements that makes this mindset viable. They are:
1. Be Observant- Train yourself to notice the details.
2. Be Curious- Approach unfamiliar situation with a sense of wonder.
3. Be Fickle- Save interesting ideas for later consumption.
4. Be Thoughtful- Take time to develop meaningful point of view.
5. Be Elegant- Describe ideas in simple, understandable ways.
(Catch more about these in my sketchnote)

Do share more examples of where you have seen Non Obvious thinking reap benefits.


 One of the stories that I have often cited and shared with my teams

is that of Brian Fitzpatrick (Google). This case appeared as an HBR article a few years ago. (link in comments). Gist of this story- Brian joined Google as a Senior Software Engineer. In his quest to better the end-user needs, he identified a strategic gap in the organization. Precisely that gap was- Google wasn't doing good enough job in giving users better control of their personal data. He discovered and teamed-up with individuals who showed similar inkling towards the problem, built alliances and led the project that eventually took shape as Google Takeout . Takeout allowed users to export the captured user data from various Google Services (like Gmail, Blogger, Calendar, Chrome, Photos etc.). So much was the impact of this project that the then CEO Eric Schmidt started highlighting Takeout to regulators and customers to build a strong case for Google's focus on user's privacy.

How many times do we perceive the organizational problems as "too big", "too political", "beyond my role" while working the organizations ? Brian had a choice to simply ignore the user privacy problem as "out of scope" and move on but he didn't. What explains this mindset ?

Ravi Venkatesan is his recently launched book- "What the Heck Do I Do with My Life ? How To Flourish In Our Turbulent Times
" explains the concept of Meta-Skills. Meta-Skills are the higher order, general skills that enable you to develop new skills. These skills are durable, timeless and will remain valuable for long.

The 3 skills Ravi categorizes as Meta-Skills that I feel have a strong parallels with Brian's story are:
1. Learning Agility: Simply put, it is a person's ability to quickly size up to new problems. If a person is thrown into a situation that they have never seen or experienced, how quickly can they figure out what it takes to succeed.

2. Entrepreneurial Mindset and Skills: Ability to identify gaps, make most of the opportunities. Overcome/learn from setbacks.

3. Soft skills: A combination of common sense, people/social skills and a positive attitude. 
(Have included the sketchnote summary of the chapter from this book)

"What the Heck Do I Do with My Life?" is an exciting, insightful and a thought-provoking book. It makes you think and challenge your assumptions about life broadly and your career specifically. I will be writing more about the learnings from this book in the upcoming posts. Would highly recommend not only reading it but revisiting the concepts periodically. Post reading it, I get the same sense of reflection as I did after reading Clayton Christensen's- "How Will You Measure Your Life?"

What other skills would you add to the list of Meta-Skills ?


 I recently came across an intriguing phrase- "The Cold Mountain Effect". Cold Mountain is the a novel that made history in 1997 with a 61-week run on the New York Times best-seller list, selling 3 million copies. It went on to become a hit film that earned seven Academy Award nominations. The effect didn't really come from it's success but as the story goes- Charles Frazier, the author of Cold Mountain, spent nearly a decade writing the novel. He just didn't stop writing or didn't just knew how to stop. One of his friends finally snuck an unfinished copy of the manuscript to a literary agent, who signed Frazier on the spot. Without this intervention, Frazier would’ve possibly kept revising it for far longer. The Cold Mountain Effect explains what we mistake as perfectionism. We know too much about our job that we continually polish and try and make it better without any end in sight.

The Cold Mountain Effect is arguably an extreme but most of us, sometime in our career, have likely embraced perfectionistic tendencies. Examples- Spending so much time getting organized that it interfere with getting tasks completed, Checking and/or seeking reassurance that a task has been done well enough or that all standards are met, equating small mistakes with failures, and the list goes on.

Rebecca M. Knight in an insightful HBR article says- Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can motivate you to perform at a high level and deliver top-quality work. On the other hand, it can cause you unnecessary anxiety and slow you down.

Perfection isn't necessarily a bad trait in itself but like with anything done in excess and if applied in wrong contexts, it can have negative consequences. In the article, Rebecca M. Knight shares valuable points to help manage our perfection. I loved sketching these ideas, sharing via the sketchnote below.

My top picks:
1. Managing your perfectionism also requires you to “calibrate your standards".

2. You can spend an extra three hours making a presentation perfect, but does that improve the impact for the client or your organization? Optimize your work for impact.

3. If you genuinely want to be a high achiever, you’re bound to do some things imperfectly.

In summary, embracing perfection is a must in some situations but in many other situations 'Done is better than Perfect'

What's your take on embracing perfection at work ? How much of it is enough ?