Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From the Heath Brothers

Forwarded message:

Welcome to our erratically-published newsletter for fans of our books! Below you'll find a never-before-published "outtake" from our new book Decisive.
First up: Did you know we have uploaded a slew of resources related to Decisive? As always, they are free. Just go to our Resources page and log in using the email address that this newsletter came to. Let us highlight two of the new items:

·         Contemplating a job change? Check out the podcast Decisive for Job Decisision.
·         Are you an agonizer or a waffler when it comes to decisions? The How to be More Decisive podcast is for you.

For a future article, we are researching stories of people and organizations who bounced back from adversity. When you’ve experienced setbacks, how have you come back from that? If you’ve bounced back in your personal or professional life—or if you’ve been a witness to an impressive comeback—we’d love to hear the story. In particular, we’d love to hear HOW you did it—not just the beginning and end points (from a valley to a recovery) but especially the middle. The mechanics of the rebound. Were there moments of inspiration? Important points of day-to-day discipline? Tactics you found useful? If anything comes to mind, just reply to this email and we’ll get it.
[The following is a passage that we wrote for Decisive but ultimately had to leave out. This is the first time it has been published anywhere -- hope you enjoy it!]

The banana bread incident

To make a good decision, we need to assess our options, which means that we need to collect information about them. But there’s a problem: The information we’ll collect instinctively may not be trustworthy because of a few predictable biases.

Consider a story a friend told us about a place he used to work. (We will disguise names to avoid being gratuitously mean.) He had a colleague, Ed, whose wife, Melissa, sent baked goods to the office via Ed. She made pumpkin bread, blueberry muffins, banana bread, cranberry scones, and more. Naturally, people devoured them immediately.

“Unfortunately,” says our friend, “all the pastries were ‘low-fat.’ We used to complain about how dry they were. They were fine, I guess. Probably as good as ‘low-fat pastries’ can be. Which is not that good. But we ate them anyway … I mean, they were free.” Let’s face it: In most offices, even a free bowl of salted Styrofoam peanuts would disappear quickly.

At company parties, employees would meet Melissa, and their only point of connection with her was her pastries. So they’d immediately say something positive: “Keep sending that banana bread!” “You wouldn’t believe how quickly your goodies always disappear!” and so on. They were being nice.

The baked goods kept coming, week after week, with each batch disappearing quickly, until one day Ed announced that Melissa, elated by the reaction she was getting from the office, was thinking about starting her own catering business. “That’s when it hit us. Uh-oh,” said our friend. “What have we done? We’ve been so positive that we’ve convinced this woman to start a new career! But how could we undo the damage at that point? ‘Actually, your banana bread sucks.’ Who would say that?”

Our friend left the company right around this time, but he recalls that Ed had started to fish for catering opportunities among his colleagues, who tended to smile and squirm.

What information can you trust?

It’s a mistake to think that the information that’s most accessible to us will be the most accurate. When Melissa began to consider a catering business, she had a lot of positive feedback close at hand: I send food to the office, and people eat every morsel. And when they see me at parties, they rave about it. Their feedback confirmed her instinct that she should start a catering business.

But she never sought disconfirming information—information that challenged what she hoped would be true. Had she tried charging $5 per loaf of banana bread, for instance, she might have learned how shallow her pool of support was.

But Melissa also made another kind of mistake, one we all tend to commit: She got sucked in by the vivid particulars of her situation and failed to see the larger pattern it was a part of. For example, she took it as a huge compliment that people always finished every last morsel of her baked goods (the particulars); she didn’t realize that they finished every last morsel of anything brought to the office (the pattern).

Nor did she see herself as part of a larger class of people like her—good cooks who want to start catering businesses—and wonder what she could learn from the experience of others like her. (Is it a hard business to start? Can you trust that compliments will translate into orders?)
For another example of this tension between particulars and patterns, think of a manager who’s visited by three different employees during the same week, all disgruntled about their working hours. As a result of those visits, she concludes that the company’s scheduling process needs an overhaul. After all, the close-at-hand information was universally negative. (Meanwhile, the other 47 employees, a quieter bunch, were perfectly happy.)

We tend to confuse vivid information with representative information. Think, for instance, of the feeling we’ve all had that we always get stuck in the slow line. This is silly, of course—it can’t be statistically true that we’re all stuck in the slow lines (unless, perhaps, all the fast lines are in China). The problem is that we don’t hang onto memories of fast-moving lines, only the times when we were stuck.

Similarly, most people fear plane crashes more than car crashes, and most people believe that homicides are more lethal than diabetes. Both are false—on a mile for mile basis, you are 37 times more likely to die while driving than while flying, and diabetes kills four times as many people as homicides.

Many people fear shark attacks when they visit the beach, even though shark attacks have killed only 67 people worldwide since 1876. In fact, if you’ve ever rocked a vending machine in hopes of knocking loose your purchase, you were much closer to death; more people die from vending machine accidents than shark attacks. (Yet no one quakes with fear when they feed in coins for Fritos.)

Plane crashes and homicides and shark attacks are searingly vivid and emotional. Every time one happens, it makes the headlines. Meanwhile, car crashes and diabetes and vending machine accidents are every bit as terrible, but they’re less visible. They don’t make the papers.

[For more thoughts on gathering trustworthy information, see the "Zoom Out Zoom In" chapter of Decisive.]

Until next time,

Dan & Chip

P.S. If you pre-ordered Decisive to claim your freebies, you should have long since received them. If you haven’t, please email and we will sort it out pronto!

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The penultimate battle, after evil gets to the McGuffen first.

Argath Starshine sagged, his hammer heavy in his hand.  Somehow the three-fold seven company of the dark had reach the amulet first.  The power of the dark lord would rise again.

Five thousand years ago they had had godlings and planer beings to oppose him.  The world had shifted.  The secret hiding place of the amulet that was too powerful to destroy had been located and the race was on to either possess it for evil or deny it.

And they had failed.  There was nothing to do but watch.

The Seid had sacraficed two thirds of their number to build a wall of blood and magic, too powerful for the forces of the light to break through.  But Argath did watch.

Neriath, the leader of the forces of the darkness, the Seid, stood forth with the amulet.

"Now what will you do, we have triumphed!"

Argath started to laugh, he could not help himself.

"You know, five thousand years is a long time.  Maybe back then, when they still had flint axes and bronze swords that amulet was impressive.  Take a closer look.  Even your sophomore enchanting project was more impressive."

"There are still 21 of us, only 7 of you, and ... "

What he planned to say he forgot.  Neriath attacked.  The forces of light, well, not a single one of them had not progressed beyond sophomore enchanting.


Yes.  I saw Thor, the Dark World.  Not bad.  But seriously.  Thousands of years ago, Asgard puts an end to the Dark Elves.  They shatter scores of the Dark Elf air craft carrier equivalent.   Asgard has been at war since, increasing in might and dominion.  The Dark Elves have a single air craft carrier now, not fully staffed.  Ancient technology.

Do they snuff it out without thinking?  Imagine a Trireme.  The ultimate weapon in its day and age.  Now returned from a magical stasis for thousands of years to unleash destruction and mayhem on the modern world.

Even a Coast Guard cutter would put it down without a second thought -- if it recognized it as a target at all.

Keep that in mind sometimes in some settings.