8 Birthday Insights on Data, Decisions, and Strategy

I love birthdays. I think they offer a fantastic opportunity to reflect, think about the future, and indulge in sweets. My birthday is this week (July 8), and I’m busy reflecting and eating sweets. 

As it is tradition on this blog, I would like to share a few lessons from the last year on data, decisions, and strategy. If you want sweet recommendations, let me know on Twitter or by email. 

It’s been a wild year for many people, and I think it will be a crazier year ahead, though for good reasons. The economy is opening up in most of the developed world, businesses are trying to cope with the surge in demand, and we are all getting back into old routines. 

As you head into the rest of 2021 and 2022, keep these lessons in mind.

1. We Are the Referees of Our Own Game

Early summer means playoffs for many sports. The NBA, NHL, Euro Cup, and Copa America are going on right now worldwide. In every sport, fans hate the refs because of their ability to influence a game. The refs are responsible for enforcing rules and limitations within any sport.

In our lives and companies, we often play the role of referees. We tell ourselves and our teams that we can’t launch a new product in less than 6 months. We can’t increase profit by 10%, or we can’t just go into a new market until all the factors are in the right place.

The pandemic showed us that some of these limitations are arbitrary. They aren’t laws of nature, and we aren’t even sure who made them. Nonetheless, we are limited by our own imposed rules. If we can think beyond these rules, we could find ourselves playing a much more interesting game.

2. Invest in Success, Not Hype

Technology took center stage in the pandemic as everyone went remote. So companies naturally shifted spending into video conferencing software, live streaming, and other pandemic essentials. Companies forgot about people, though.

We are now seeing a significant amount of people who want to quit their jobs and avoid coming back to the office. So as you move forward, think about how you will invest in your fundamentals: people, culture, and strategy. 

3. Humans Are Incredible at Solving Global Challenges

Before the pandemic, climate change was seen as the primary natural disaster we needed to solve. I talked to people who were pessimistic about humanity’s ability to deal with climate change. We were on a rollercoaster to extinction, and there was no way to hop off this ride.

We then saw the world come together to deal with the pandemic. Things weren’t perfect, governments struggled to make decisions, and people protested against lockdowns. And yet, a vaccine was created within 12 months of seeing the virus. Unprecedented in our world of medicine. Better yet, the technology from these vaccines will continue to play a pivotal role in other diseases.

I’m incredibly bullish on humanity’s ability to solve tough problems. I think we are on a great rollercoaster ride, and I don’t want to get off.

4. It’s Not Change We Fear but Ambiguity

Change, change, change. That’s all we heard in the last year. But, as it turns out, we actually don’t fear change as much as we thought. Instead, we fear ambiguity. Freud once said that therapy was the process of converting ambiguity into crystal clear fear.

In work and life, we need to stomp out ambiguity systematically. There are frameworks and processes for doing this well and consistently. Don’t let fear stop you, instead get clear on what is the fear and challenge.

5. Strategy Needs to be Like Water, Not Steel

At the height of the pandemic, I worked with tourism agencies here in British Columbia. They were the hardest hit industry in the pandemic and were trying to survive. Many of them were in the middle of multi-year strategies which took weeks or months to create. The strategy needed updating, but they were like steel, not easily malleable.

Strategy needs to be like water. It flows around challenges and can be easily redirected. If you encounter a major disruptor like COVID-19, you can update your strategy and deal with it. Save the steel for buildings and weapons.

6. Don’t Forget Your Best Customers

I worked with a company that had “sales” issues. People weren’t converting as high as they should, and they weren’t sure why. In reality, they were overly focused on converting the wrong customers.

Focus on your best customers and ignore the bad ones. If Gucci ran a survey asking why people didn’t buy, I would bet that price would be one of the top reasons. Should Gucci lower its prices? No, their ideal customers aren’t thinking about price. What are your ideal customers thinking about?

7. It’s Not About Individual Decisions but The Gestalt

Decisions underpin everything we do. I love this concept so much that my second book will focus on decisions (out in early 2022). However, individual decisions get too much weight in our life.

Instead, think about the gestalt in how you make decisions. What’s your overall process for making and analyzing decisions? That’s where you want to spend your energy and time.

8. If Not Now, Then When?

For many people, the last year was a chance encounter with death. It wasn’t some obscure concept that you came across every once in a while. Wherever you are in your life, think: if not now, then when?

That’s all I have for this birthday. There’s at least one valuable lesson in here for you, and I hope you find it. I’m going to go back to my week of sweets and reflections.

One more thing before you go!

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