Archive for November, 2015

Steve Jobs used to ask Jony Ive the same question almost every day

A few weeks ago we showed you the value of saying ‘No’. This week we’re going to show you how Steve Jobs used it to advise his second-in-command, Jony Ive, on how to be more focused!


Steve Jobs once called Apple design chief Jony Ive his “spiritual partner,” and the two execs had an incredibly close professional and personal relationship. When Ive remembers his friend and coworker four years after Jobs’ death, what stands out is the Apple cofounder’s ability to stay fully focused on whatever he was working on.

Ive says he never managed to achieve the same level of focus as Jobs had but a daily exercise helped him realize how satisfying it could be to say no. Nearly every day, Jobs would ask Ive the same question.

“He would try to help me improve my focus by asking me, ‘How many times did you say no today?'” Ive said on stage at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.

In Jobs’ opinion, the more “no’s” the better. To have extreme, laser-like focus, Jobs was always willing to reject a lot of opportunities, even if they sounded great.

“The discipline to turn your back on something you believe in passionately so you can apply yourself to what’s at hand is really remarkable,” Ive said. “It’s a deeply uncomfortable but really effective thing to do. It’s more than a practice, it’s more than a habit … it’s a really wonderful ability.”



To know about Steve jobs’ secret to great focus, read the full article here:

How do you improve your products (or your life)? Figure out the job that needs doing.

Products and Services. The World is full of them. But why is it that some find success and grow to be indispensable to our lives, while others sink into ambiguity and disappear? Well, according to Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, successful products are those that are built knowing what ‘job’ they were ‘hired’ for. Confused? Let me explain.

Generally, in the marketing sphere, Christensen argues that people play a game of categorization. They segment their target market based on either the ‘attributes of the customers’ or the ‘characteristics of the products’. However, this is a broken system – just because a customer is from a certain demographic segment does not cause him/her to buy a product. So what causes us to buy products? It’s simple – we all want to get something (i.e. a job) done at any given time and we ‘hire’ a product/service to do that ‘job’ for us. Christensen illustrated this concept with the example of a fast-food restaurant that was trying to boost its sales of milkshakes:

It segmented the market by product category and had extraordinary data on the demographics and even the psychographics of customers who bought milkshakes. […] The company got very good feedback from these customers about how to improve its milkshakes. It did improve them, and surprisingly, the improvements had no impact whatsoever on sales or profits. Peter Drucker once said that rarely does the customer buy what the company thinks it’s selling.

Therefore, one of my colleagues went into a restaurant one day and observed for 18 hours to see if he could answer the question, “What job do people hire a milkshake to do for them?” […] It turned out that nearly half the customers bought milkshakes in the very early morning. […] So the next day my colleague returned and confronted these people as they left the restaurant, milkshakes in hand, asking them, “Excuse me, please, but could you tell me what job you are trying to get done for yourself when you hired that milkshake?” […]

It turned out that they all had the same job to do: They had a long and boring commute to work. One hand had to be on the steering wheel, but God had given them this other hand in which they needed something to hold while they traveled. They weren’t hungry yet, but they knew they’d be hungry by 10:00 a.m. Therefore, they needed something that would land in their stomachs and stay a while.

It turns out that the milkshake does the job better than any of the competition. Surprise! The competition is not Burger King’s milkshakes. The competition is bananas, doughnuts, bagels, Snickers bars, and in many cases, boredom. Why boredom? It was so inconvenient to get these milkshakes that people quite often just drove to work bored.

So that answers that one. Figure out the job that customers hire our product/service for and then serve the product to do that job. Easy right? Not so fast. A product will not always have just one job to do. Let’s go back to that milkshake for a minute:

My observant colleague also learned that in the afternoon and evening, the milkshake tended to be hired for a very different job. In the evening, the milkshake was bought by fathers with their children and eaten with a meal inside the restaurant. Dad feels bad because he has been saying no to his kids all day, and he just wants to say yes to something. He says, “Sure, Spence, you can have a milkshake.” Dad finishes his meal. Spence finishes his meal, and then he picks up that thick, viscous milkshake and it takes him forever to suck it up that thin straw.

Dad waits patiently.

Then Dad waits impatiently.

Finally, Dad says, “We’ve got to go,” and he throws the shake away half consumed.

Suddenly, the milkshake is not a one-size-fits-all product.

Now that we know what job (or jobs, as it may be) that our product is hired for it becomes surprisingly easy to make the right improvements to it to get that job done better:

For the morning job, for example, you would actually want to make the milkshake more viscous so it would take even longer to suck up the straw. You would stir in tiny chunks of fruit, not to make it healthy, because customers don’t hire it to be healthy, but to add variety. Think about it. Every once in a while, you would suck up a piece of fruit, and it would add an air of unpredictability to the morning routine. You would also move the milkshake dispensing machine from behind the counter to the front and give people a prepaid swipe card so they could just dash in and go.


OK, so that’s how I can improve my products. But how does this help me improve my life?

I’m glad you asked. You see, Christensen’s outlook on what actually sells a product is one that is broader than it appears. In the context of life, looking at the various aspects of your life through the job-to-be-done lens can lead to a happier life overall. In his book, How will you measure your life, Christensen takes the example of a marriage, where he observes that a number of unhappy marriages are actually based on selflessness. This is because a spouse will do what they think will make their partner happy, without knowing what they needed most: [Emphasis ours]

He [Christensen] cites the example of a husband who comes home to a tired wife attending to young kids, and gets to work immediately with the dishes and household chores without her knowledge, only to realize that what she needed the most was some adult to talk to after a day spent around restless infants. The chores are the least of her problems and him doing them only adds to her guilt.

‘If you study marriages from the job-to-be-done lens, we would find that the spouses who are most loyal to each other are those that have figured out the job that their partner needs to be done – and then they do the job reliably and well. […] The path to happiness is finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to. It is natural to want the people you love to be happy. What can often be difficult is understanding what your role is in that.’

You can read a summary of what he talks about in his book here.


So the next time you think about how to improve your products (or your life), concentrate on the value that product (or action) will create for your customers (or family/friends etc.) – and remember, this value can be different for different people based on the job they want done. You can’t customize a product (or your actions) to suit everyone’s needs, but (just as in the Milkshake example) many people will have the same job to be done. You just need to figure out what that is.

Up on the Roof

In a time of vertical living and vertical cities, the only way forward for real estate is up. The proposed 1996 Iconic Tower – which will become the country’s tallest tower – is just another sign of skyscrapers dominating the Colombo skyline. As horizontal space becomes scarce, these high-rise buildings offer the perfect solution for the rising real estate needs of a city.

On top of these high-rises lie what’s often known as “underutilized urban space”; the rooftops. Mostly popular for bars with spectacular views of the city and sea in Sri Lanka, rooftops are not only known for their pretty views in the global real estate landscape.

Rooftop dining and drinking; not so new to Sri Lanka

Restaurants and bars have been established uses of rooftop spaces in Sri Lanka. More recently, OZO Colombo, Sky Lounge, and Cinnamon Red brought new appeal for such developments with their bars and lounges which offer picturesque city views and breathtaking sunsets. It would not be surprising to see rooftop dining promising of dazzling views emerge as a common feature in upcoming real estate developments in the hospitality sector.

To live among the clouds

Living in rooftop apartments, on the other hand, is not a concept embraced much by the Sri Lankans. May it be low cost apartments in affordable residential units or luxury residential roof decks; Sri Lanka’s real estate landscape is yet to foray fully into this territory.

Rooftop apartments offer affordable residential spaces in the West as well as in some Asian countries. These are particularly small units with only 2-3 rooms and a small kitchen attached to a dining area, with a roof deck overlooking the city (may or may not be as glamorous as what’s offered in luxury developments). In Hong Kong, one of most densely populated cities in the world, the rooftop residential usage has extended so much that some buildings have become home to [illegal] “rooftop slums”, also known as “penthouse slums”. This is a result of thousands of dwellers who can’t afford living spaces elsewhere finding rooftops to be their only housing option.

On the other end of the continuum lie the luxury rooftop penthouses. Rooftops offer the allure of living in the urban areas yet away from busy streets and the noise, with a perfect view of the surroundings. As such, rooftop penthouses carry their own unique charms compared to other penthouses in general. If not a penthouse, rooftop terraces or roof decks are a common amenity to luxury residential units. These are also known as “communal rooftops” which offer an “outdoor experience” to the tenants of luxury condo buildings. The Sky Garden in the proposed Altair residential and commercial project promises a similar experience. Hence, could be an added feature in upcoming luxury developments in Sri Lanka.

Chicago Roof Deck is a US company specializing in developing residential apartments and commercial projects in unused roof spaces (check out their website here). Existence of such specialized real estate developers is further proof of the allure of rooftop spaces for living.

Take your work to the rooftop

Particularly in the West, a new trend in office buildings is to use the rooftop as an “outdoor space” to provide employees with a place to “get away”, and take a break from work. As such, the rooftop is referred to as an “extension of the office”. These spaces are landscaped as relaxing outdoor areas and often include a small play area (foosball, ping pong games etc.) and/or a garden.

A tourist charm

Observatories placed in the rooftops of skyscrapers are great tourist attractions. Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Sky Park is one of the best and well known examples. Colombo, with its scenic sunsets and city views has great potential in tapping this market.

An interesting development around rooftops of high-rise buildings is the photographic movement called “Rooftopping”; works of urban explorers or adventure seekers climbing to the top of skyscrapers to capture the spectacular view beneath them. (Ontheroofs is a similar project carried out by two photographers from Ukraine and Russia. Check out the pictures and videos on their website here). This works as one of the charms of urban rooftops.

A Green Skyline

As horizontal space is increasingly taken up by varied real estate developments, the other problem the world is faced with is the fate of the greenery. Rooftops have provided the perfect solution. As part of the “Green” concept, some developers use rooftops for urban farming or gardening. This practice is quite popular in Asia as well as in the West.

A 10,000-square-meter farm sits on top of a factory manufacturing doors in Chongqing, Southwest China. In New York, Brooklyn Grange operates the world’s largest rooftop soil farms located on two roofs in New York City (check out their website here). Even more famous is London’s Sky Garden. The Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street offers a delightfully unique experience of an “exquisitely landscaped” garden housing exotic foliage and 3 restaurants which provide dining experience among the greenery (link to website here).

The use of rooftop spaces in real estate is an evolving concept, with new and exotic benefits emerging from time to time. It won’t be too long till we see some of the developments seen globally here in Sri Lanka as well!

The Four Keys to Getting Out of Unnecessary Meetings

Meetings have long been maligned as the bane of productivity in the work space. But how do you get out of them, when you know you’re not needed?

We’re glad you asked! Here are the four keys to getting out of those unnecessary meetings:


Nobody likes to sit through unnecessary meetings. With the right tactics you can escape their soul-sucking grasp, but there are some important things to consider before you try to back out. Here are the four keys to getting out of those pesky meetings:

  • Make it known that the company would be better served if you weren’t there.
  • Be candid, honest, and authentic while you explain. Lying might work, but it will come back to bite you.
  • Provide more information than the person needs to know.
  • Talk to whoever is in charge and get their blessing to bail.

Remember, you’re not asking for permission, you’re getting them to “okay” your absence so they can’t use it against you later. There’s no guarantee that you’ll always be able to slip away, but it’s worth a shot when you know it’s going to be a rough one.


If you’d like to see more like this, including a video on how to get out of more than just meetings, visit

The Global Economy in October

Global markets settled down in October, after months of volatility. Emerging markets saw their first monthly inflows since June, as stocks around the world recorded gains over the month. However, the rally was short-lived, as investors pulled money out of (ETFs) towards the end of October. Mexico, Malaysia and Indonesia saw some of the sharpest falls in their foreign exchange reserves as policymakers sought to defend their currencies. Indian bonds were the exclusion, with investors ‘lapping up’ most of its government bonds on offer in just two days.

In the East, China’s sputtering economy recorded economic growth below 7% for the first time since 2009, prompting policymakers in Beijing to cut rates in an effort to boost growth – although, some believe that such monetary stimulus may not be able to achieve everything that the markets are hoping for. China’s woes are far from over, as new calculations from the US treasury indicate that capital outflows from China topped $500 billion in the first eight months of the year.

European Central Bank (ECB) President, Mario Draghi, joined Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, by leaving monetary policy unchanged in October, citing confidence in the effects of the policy already in place. The ECB President’s comments against further monetary policy action saw the Euro climb for the third day, though analysts still expect further monetary stimulus to be announced by the end of the year. With the US Fed also widely speculated to raise rates in December, analysts see the Euro reaching parity with the Dollar if the ECB and the US Fed were to both choose December to implement their divergent policy actions.

Oil prices remained depressed over the month as OPEC supplies remained high, offsetting declines in supplies from non-OPEC nations, even as the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted a decline in oil demand growth next year. However, the hunt for market share has even OPEC members attempting to undercut each other with lower pricing to Asian nations. The fallen oil prices are taking their toll on these nations, with Saudi Arabia – the largest of the OPEC – at risk of running out of foreign reserves within five years, at their current rate of spending. The ‘negative swing’ in the nation’s fiscal balances saw ratings agency, S&P, downgrading Saudi Arabia’s debt rating.

How Your To-Do List is Killing Your Productivity

We all have a to-do list, but it doesn’t always get done.

This week we’re going to show you some of the ways that you can prevent your to-do list from killing your productivity:


There’s a strong consensus among researchers and experts that the more specific and actionable an item on your to-do list is, the more likely you are to, well, do it. A lot of this comes down to cognitive load: If you are scanning a to-do list and see a vague item, you still have to make a decision about exactly how to tackle it. That can be enough mental work for your brain to simply shove the item into its “later” drawer.

“99 percent of every to-do list i’ve seen—and I’ve seen countless numbers of them—are nothing but incomplete lists of unclear stuff,” says David Allen, a productivity consultant best known for his bestselling book, Getting Things Done. “You’ll see things like‘Mom’ or ‘Bank’ or ‘Doctor.’ Well, good; but what’s the next action? There’s still decisions and thinking that are required.”

Instead of simply “Mom”, write “Call mom to discuss tax issues.” Instead of “Doctor,” specify “Go to doctor’s office to pick up prescription.”

Break down items into smaller tasks

According to John Williamson, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Florida, it could help to break your items into smaller, more attainable chunks. Tackling these bits (remember: you’ll want to make them actionable tasks!) can make it easier to feel like you’re making real progress, and reward you with little wins and positive reinforcement that makes it easier to stick with your to-do list.


Visit for more ways to make sure your to do list gets done.

Amal Sanderatne – The Contrarian

Here’s our CEO, Amal Sanderatne, “contrarian thoughts ” not only on the Economy but also on what comes first at Frontier and why Frontier “success” is secondary in his life.

Interview by LMD:

Could you provide a brief overview of how economic research works here, in Sri Lanka?

In Sri Lanka, the economic research we see is policy research. This is done for the purpose of understanding, evaluating and advising on the country’s economic policy. The economic research that Frontier does is quite different, as we don’t focus on offering advice on what policy should be.
Our main focus is to help the private sector understand the economy – and, in particular, provide forecasts or our expectations of key variables such as interest rates and the [value of the] rupee.

In terms of economic research and forecasts, what factors are unique to our nation?

Unlike in more developed markets, the availability of comprehensive economic data is less in Sri Lanka – and the credibility of the available data is, at times, questionable. The models or statistics-orientated ways of forecasting (i.e. econometrics) are far less useful in Sri Lanka. Data is also not available on user-friendly platforms, making it difficult to work with them directly.

Understanding the dynamics of politics, and the impact that this has on interest rates and currency policy, is critical in this country, compared to more developed markets, where there is a greater degree of separation between what the central bank does and what politicians want.

On the other hand, understanding politics and the policy impact on financial variables is easier in Sri Lanka, as the same mistakes are sometimes made in a regular cycle. This tends to make it easier to make predictions.

As a researcher, what are the main challenges you have faced?

The reality is that even when we have a strong view, it is never going to be a single, 100 percent on-point forecast. Although a single-point forecast is preferable, we convey multiple possibilities, providing scenarios with indicative probabilities. This is so that those concerned understand the most likely scenario and the existence of alternative scenarios. This should help them acquire a broader sense of the risks involved.

We are also known for having contrarian views. But at times, particularly when expectations are very positive, conveying a more negative view is not popular – it’s sort of like being the party pooper, when the party gets going!

What should be done to make Sri Lanka an attractive investment destination?

Policy economists often articulate the key concerns, and how to address them. We wouldn’t generally disagree with their views, except when we’re relatively pessimistic about whether the good advice will be implemented. However, one view we do have is this: we don’t believe in economic planning – at least, in the sense that most people seem to believe it should be done.

For example, many – including most policy economists – believe that the answer to the question on economic priorities is that government should promote particular sectors of the economy. On the contrary, we believe in a level playing field for all sectors, rather than a top-down planning approach, where bureaucrats or economists offer ‘theories’ about the sectors in which they should invest.

We believe it is best for the economy when entrepreneurs find their own opportunities, based on business realities and risks, and that the collective wisdom of entrepreneurs is better than a policy which is imposed top-down.

Where do you see the Sri Lankan economy heading, 10-20 years from now?

We see Sri Lanka on a volatile but upward path, similar to the past.

People, profit and performance – which comes first for a company?

Our purpose is very people-centred, which is basically about enabling our team to do really great things at work, while redefining what work-life balance is.

How do you minimise inaccuracy in your forecasts?

Accuracy in forecasts is providing a decimal-point-based forecast value, and then seeing how close to it you can get. We focus more on getting the thinking right, rather than on specific numbers. In particular, getting the direction right and identifying turning points in the economy, we feel, are more important. Trying to arrive at a decimal-point level of accuracy often results in missing the big picture.

What is your mantra for success?

I don’t measure success in the conventional way. Success – in terms of the size and growth of my company, my career, financial success, etc. – are secondary to me. To me, success is my ability to use my time the way I think is best, as I believe that time is our most precious resource.

I like to spend a great deal of time with my family and close friends, and also have the time to remain healthy. This involves having enough free time in life, so that stress is minimal. To achieve success on these terms, you need to set clear priorities – in terms of what comes first in your life – reflect that in your schedule and also accept the trade-off of what this would mean in the conventional definition of success.

How long have you been associated with this field?

Since 1993, if you take my initial step as a financial journalist; and since 1998, if you consider my first role as an economist.

In one word, how would you describe yourself?