Urgent vs. Important

Consider what you would do if you received two life-changing phone calls. In the first call, you learn that you’ve inherited $20 million – no strings attached. In the second call, you are informed that you have a rare and incurable disease and have only 10 years left to live.

What would you do differently, and in particular, what would you stop doing?

That is the thought experiment posed to Jim Collins, author of the widely popular business book Good to Great, by one of his advisors. Since that time, Collins developed an annual “stop doing” list to help guide his priorities.

An insightful MIT study explored how well top managers within companies prioritized their key challenges. During the interviews, executives were asked to share the most important problems they were facing. And most of the managers listed five or so such major problems.

But when the study examined what the managers actually worked on during the previous few weeks, not a single one of them reported any activity directly associated with those problems. In other words, they did not do any work on those most important priorities.

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No One Is To Blame

As kids, whenever something would break in our house, my dad would shout at my brother and me: “Who did this?!”

We’d both look at one another, then back to my dad, and in unison say, “He did.”

There were only two siblings, so the only way one of us could be innocent when something “bad” happened was to ensure the other person was deemed guilty.

We had previously tried blaming the cat for incidents such as broken windows and holes in the wall, but surprisingly, my parents’ sense of believability only stretched so far.

As young boys, we truly believed the safest, and surest, path to freedom was to imprison the other one.

It’s not surprising that my brother and I were not the closest of friends growing up.

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The Secret – Revealed

After the release of the book / movie, The Secret, many people wondered, “Can I really achieve my dreams simply by changing my thoughts?”

It’s such an alluring concept – the idea that you can have anything you want if you simply focus the right thoughts, energy, and attention.

When I was six years old, I had one – and only one – professional goal for my life. It wasn’t to be a fireman, doctor, or even an engineer. Not a business person, public servant, or scientist.

Nope – none of those held any interest for me.

I wanted to be a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.

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The Fallacy of Turning Off Your Mind

One of the most common pieces of wisdom dispensed to people who are suffering from stress, sadness, sleeplessness, or any other such malady is this:

Just stop thinking about it.

As if a switch can be thrown and whatever is troubling us magically disappears.

Of course, the logic behind the wisdom is sound. If we could, indeed, just stop thinking about whatever is troubling us, then we would feel better.

That’s why distractions seem to work. For a moment, our mind is engaged in something other than our problems, and the pain is (temporarily) gone.

Until our mind comes right back to the problem – which it inevitably does.

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Insourcing Happiness

For several years I worked for a very large computer company. So big that it brought in over seven billion dollars each year. And for a while, a good chunk of that business was very profitable.

One of the things that made it profitable was the company’s ability to outsource certain parts of the business to outside people who could do it faster, better, and cheaper than we could.

And it isn’t just big companies that benefit.

For startups to be successful, they need to figure out which pieces they are going to do internally and outsource the rest. Otherwise, the startup would need so much up-front money that the company could never get off the ground.

But outsourcing can also lead to disaster.

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