This morning Miranda and I set out on a 10-mile run as part of our training for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. The sun was shining, the trees were in bloom, and the weather was warm. All around, the perfect day for a run.
For some reason, I always think of my best blog posts while exercising. There’s something about physical activity that gives me waves of creativity and a rare clarity of thinking. Today was no different. Around the bend at the bottom of Prospect Park, around mile four of our loop, I had a flash of inspiration. Three experiences coalesced in my mind and produced a common lesson. Amid breathlessness I immediately relayed this blog idea to Miranda so I wouldn’t forget it (her memory is far better than mine). Between the two of us, we preserved this post.
Three pieces to the puzzle:
I watched this video on a recent Steve Jobs kick (where I scraped through YouTube and watched all the Steve Jobs videos I could find). It’s really an incredible five-minute summary of why Steve Jobs was the best product manager. The video starts with a person asking Jobs an accusatory question about why Apple supported Java rather than OpenDoc. Jobs responds masterfully, calling out the importance of focusing on consumer experience rather than technology and recognizing there have been casualties along the way. The part of the video that really sticks out to me is around 1:30 when Jobs talks about the need to have a “cohesive larger vision.” To really succeed at the highest levels, you can’t simply build isolated products that customers ask for, you need to create a vision and craft your products in a way that supports that vision. Jobs message here is clear: working on too many things at once is a recipe for mediocrity. Focus is key, and sometimes you have to make hard sacrifices (and scrap good technology) for the sake of a larger vision.
2) Don’t simply do everything you’re asked to do.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had a lot of different roles: from analytics, to operations to product management. One common lesson I’ve learned from all of my experiences is that the path to success rarely involves just doing everything I’ve been asked to do.
This one is a bit tricky.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do what your boss tells you to do, but rather, I’ve found that simply doing everything that you’re asked (by bosses, peers, etc.) is not a winning formula. You usually end up running around trying to satisfy many different agendas and you’re unlikely to fully satisfy anyone. The key to success is absorbing all of the asks, digesting, and presenting your own path of action that meets the needs of others, but perhaps not in the same exact way they asked. Interestingly, usually the right path actually involves doing less work than the sum of everything you’re been asked to do by others. Clarity of focus saves time versus scrambling to satisfy many different requests.
3) Making time for meditation.
Since writing about meditation last year, I’ve found it very difficult to set time aside to actually practice meditate. There is always so much to do, emails to read, errands to run, meetings to attend. It’s been nearly impossible for me to just sit and breathe.
I realize now that “not having time” for meditation is actually probably the wrong way to think about it. Although there is an upfront time commitment to meditation, it helps you focus and perform far better after you’re done. Meditation is actually time well spent, and because it allows you to focus better, it may actually grow the total amount of things you’re able to do. It would probably be more accurate for me to think that I don’t have time not to meditate.
The lesson: Do less, accomplish more.
As these three experiences swirled in my head and combined in a flash of insight, they produced a clear lesson. In anything, whether it’s crafting a product vision for your company, managing your work, or balancing your personal time, the key to success is not in running around trying to satisfy all of the incoming requests. Rather, the key to success at the highest levels is to absorb all of the incoming data and requests and not to rush to start checking the items off on your to do list. Rather, digest the asks, really think about them and craft your path forward. Your actions should align with your vision, not the sum of all of the noise thrown your way.
Counter the chaos of the noise from others with the order of your ideas and clarity of your vision.
Do less, accomplish more.
PS. This week marked my 5th blogaversary and my 260th blog post. Many more to come.