“That Will Be A Good Problem To Have”

…is a terrible phrase.

I’ve noticed this phrase creep its head above ground when someone is rationalizing a strategy or tactic that is initially highly inefficient and will create headaches in the future, but at the delight of increased revenue/traffic/whatever.

It has now entered my cage of canaries. When I hear this excuse uttered, it is a signal that something has not been properly thought out to the fullest extent necessary to make a sound decision. It triggers a personal moment of reflection; it prompts me to take time to analyze all the variables at hand.

Let’s break down the phrase’s two key parts.

“Will Be” — Future tense prediction of some turning point. But when? Can you tell me when it will shift from an acceptable poor decision to an unacceptable one? You’re also assuming that at some point it will shift.

“Good Problem” — A subtle oxymoron. You’re qualifying a decision as a positive problem, one that’s ok to deal with, because of the net good its causing. While not a ridiculous idea on its own, it assumes that the future problem will inherently be good. And good, in this context, is obnoxiously generic. Good how? To what extent? Relatively compared to what?

Next time you hear this phrase, stop and think. Notice if it’s being used as a way to validate or rationalize a side of an argument. Or as a way to sidestep further questioning or discussion of a point. You’ll come to realize it’s a red flare for poor planning.

Book Review: Made To Stick

Image Credit: Amazon

Communicating ideas and, frankly, persuasion are becoming more vital in the work place. I’ve grown to realize this in the past few years. Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath is a wonderful book summarizing the best concepts around making your ideas stick in other people’s minds.

If I had to give a singular tweet for a review, it would be this:

Abstraction is the luxury of the expert. The Curse of Knowledge prohibits simple concreteness.

It really does come down to that. Remember that you had to gain a lot of expertise to come to “The Answer”, but then that time and expertise works against you when telling others about it. You can communicate effective strategy or make an idea stick by focusing on the “Telling Others” part, not finding “The Answer” precursor.

There were some really good nuggets in the book:

  • Good metaphors are generative
  • Metaphors are the Holy Grail of simplicity (pretty meta)
  • A way to keep people’s attention is to create a need for closure
  • Language is often abstract, but life is not
  • Concreteness is the root of making ideas stick. So what is concreteness? If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete.
  • Belief is one thing, but to persuade action, people have to care
  • The one reliable way of making people care is invoking self-interest
  • Features aren’t emotional, but benefits are
  • If you’re a great spotter, you’ll always trump a great creator
  • Strategy is a guide to behavior; thus a bad strategy is one which doesn’t drive action

Mostly, the book provided great anecdotes and analysis on: Keep it simple, keep it concrete, tell great stories, be unexpected, emotional, and credible.

I strongly recommend the book to everyone. It’s a quick, valuable read.

Managing By Week

I’ve found that a week is the right time frame to manage myself and others.

Every Sunday night I sit down and go over the week ahead. I got this idea from The Economist‘s website. The premise is straight forward.

  • Look at the previous week and comment on all previous items. Were they finished? How’d they go? Was there anything not accomplished?
  • Write out all the required tasks for the week. Things like follow ups, tasks asked of you by colleagues, etc.
  • Look at all the projects you are involved in, and write out the ones you plan to address during the week.
  • Break those projects down into subset tasks and comments. Explore what’s needed; write to help you fully understand the scope.

Evernote works really well as an organization tool. I have a notebook which houses every week’s composition. Each week is a new note.

So why by the week? A month is too long. I find that things change so much week-to-week that to tactically plan a month in advance is futile. (Note: This does not mean strategic planning can’t be scoped to a month or longer.) And a day is way too short. I found myself asking far too often “Is this exactly what I should be working on today?”

Instead, the week gives you the perfect encapsulation of time. It’s short enough to predict within reason how the week will go. It’s long enough to give you a full picture.

A fun analogy is the paragraph. The paragraph is the best tool to communicate a complete idea. A sentence is often too short. A full page is too long. Instead, a paragraph gives you the right amount of time and space to succinctly illustrate a thought.