All posts in Friday Focus

Everything You Thought You Knew About Competition is Wrong

Many economists view monopolies in a negative light and they do deserve their bad reputation, but only in a world that never changes.

This week, in another installment from our blog, we take a look at how being a monopoly can mean shifting paradigms and creating true innovation!

 

When we look at competition we look at our clients’ share of mind. All clients have limits in budgets and resources, and it is these resources we compete for. Our job is to create enough value so that our clients still feel justified to work with us. That being said, we are strong believers in innovation, and continuous paradigm shifts that not only tries to beat the competition, but also to go where no competition exists.

Peter Thiel recently called this habit an instance of being a monopoly. And we fully agree. Monopolies are traditionally cast in the mold of cronyist economic bullies, but Thiel’s definition adds a refreshing new perspective to the word; true monopolies are companies that keep transcending the reach of traditional markets through continuous innovation:

“Most of us are busy making horizontal progress. We are competing—trying to better or make incremental improvements to what already exists. Certainly there is a value in this, but it leads to the creation of commodity businesses. Thiel recommends: avoid competition as much as possible. Instead, be a monopoly. Monopolies occur when some is doing something no one else is doing. “Monopolies deserve their bad reputation—but only in a world where nothing changes….Creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world.”

To make a finer point, Thiel writes: “Every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot. Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.”

So why are economists obsessed with competition as an ideal state? It is a relic of history. Economists copied their mathematics from the work of 19th-century physicists: They see individuals and businesses as interchangeable atoms, not as unique creators. Their theories describe an equilibrium state of perfect competition because that is what’s easy to model, not because it represents the best of business.

Like Peter Thiel we like to ask ourselves the question; ‘what valuable products/services are not being offered?’. This is the strategic ethic that has driven us since our inception, and as the market changed around us, we have so far been able to keep expanding into new areas, and hope to keep doing so.

 

So, leave the competition to your competitors. Strive to be a creative monopoly and create vertical progress!

For more like this, visit our blog.

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Knaves and Divas: Google’s Secrets to Recruitment

This week, we return our own blog to look at one of the most important aspects of management – recruitment.

Recruitment is integral to any firm. A manager should strive to find the best employee for the job. But who exactly is “the best employee for the job”?

We can get a clue into what to look for by observing those who seem to constantly hire the best talent there is – in this case, Google.

 

Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg recently penned a book by the name “How Google works”, which gives us some insights into the search giant’s structure and processes. We’ll stick to the part that we’re most interested in – how Google recruits its talent.

In a Google+ post describing their book, Schmidt and Rosenberg state that “Great people are often unusual and difficult” and go on to classify them into two categories, namely Knaves and Divas. Knaves are ill-witted employees that, according to Rosenberg, are devoid of integrity, sloppy, selfish and arrogant. They are also often jealous and take credit for other peoples work. Divas, on the other hand, are employees who are extremely talented and see themselves as better than the rest of the team. However, they still work for the victory of the team and their achievements in the team either match or outweigh their egos.

Being a Diva isn’t the only thing that defines the best employees though. This article from Fortune magazine shares some more of Google’s secrets to recruitment, with the first being the “LAX test”.

The LAX test (named after the Los Angeles International Airport’s nickname “LAX”) tests a person’s passion for a subject, as well as how interesting he/she may be (known at Google as a person’s Googleyness). In the words of Schmidt and Rosenberg,

“Imagine being stuck at an airport for six hours with a colleague; Eric always chooses LAX for maximum discomfort (although Atlanta or London will do in a pinch). Would you be able to pass the time in a good conversation with him? Would it be time well spent, or would you quickly find yourself rummaging through your carry-on for your tablet so you can read your latest email or the news or anything to avoid having to talk to this dull person?”

The pair, however, stress that being interesting doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to like that person. You don’t even need to share the same viewpoints, in fact, it’s even better if you have different viewpoints altogether.

“Great talent often doesn’t look and act like you. When you go into that interview, check your biases at the door and focus on whether or not the person has the passion, intellect, and character to succeed and excel.”

At Frontier we follow a similar mindset. When hiring new talent, we run candidates through a series of rigorous tests and interviews in an attempt to judge whether they not only have the knowledge for the posts they are applying for, but also (and more importantly) to make sure they are able to integrate with our culture. Since most people leave their respective universities/institutions vying for a “traditional” firm with its processes, structures, corporate ladders etc. (which we don’t offer), this “culture-fit” is very important. Despite the strictness of our recruitment process, we have seen a steady influx of great talent into our company over the years  and we keep evolving in order to make sure that influx doesn’t abate.

 

So the next time your hiring talent, keep a look out for the divas and knaves – one of these things is not like the other!

For more like this, visit our blog.

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How to Beat Procrastination – Week 2

Last week, we checked out how we can make the benefits of action feel bigger in order to beat procrastination.

This week, we look at how we can make the costs of an action feel smaller:

 

Identify the first step. Sometimes we’re just daunted by the task we’re avoiding. The trick here is to break down big, amorphous tasks into baby steps that don’t feel as effortful.

Even better: identify the very smallest first step, something that’s so easy that even your present-biased brain can see that the benefits outweigh the costs of effort. So instead of “learn French” you might decide to “email Nicole to ask advice on learning French.”

Tie the first step to a treat. We can make the cost of effort feel even smaller if we link that small step to something we’re actually looking forward to doing.

For example, you might allow yourself to read lowbrow magazines or books when you’re at the gym, because the guilty pleasure helps dilute your brain’s perception of the short-term “cost” of exercising. Likewise, you might muster the self-discipline to complete a slippery task if you promise yourself you’ll do it in a nice café with a favorite drink in hand.

Remove the hidden blockage. Sometimes we find ourselves returning to a task repeatedly, still unwilling to take the first step. We hear a little voice in our head saying, “Yeah, good idea, but . . . no.” At this point, we need to ask that voice some questions, to figure out what’s really making it unappealing to take action.

Patiently ask yourself a few “why” questions—“why does it feel tough to do this?” and “why’s that?”—and the blockage can surface quite quickly. Often, the issue is that a perfectly noble competing commitment is undermining your motivation.

Try taking at least one step to make the benefits of action loom larger, and one to make the costs of action feel smaller. Your languishing to-do list will thank you.

 

For a recap of these steps, visit the Harvard Business Review.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

How to Beat Procrastination – Week 1

Procrastination is the bane of productivity. So, how can you become less myopic about your elusive tasks? It’s all about rebalancing the cost-benefit analysis: make the benefits of action feel bigger, and the costs of action feel smaller.

This week, we look at how we can make the benefits feel bigger and more real:

 

Visualize how great it will be to get it done. Researchers have discovered that people are more likely to save for their future retirement if they’re shown digitally aged photographs of themselves. Why? Because it makes their future self-feel more real—making the future benefits of saving also feel more weighty.

So if there’s a call you’re avoiding or an email you’re putting off, give your brain a helping hand by imagining the virtuous sense of satisfaction you’ll have once it’s done—and perhaps also the look of relief on someone’s face as they get from you what they needed.

Pre-commit, publicly. Telling people that we’re going to get something done can powerfully amplify the appeal of actually taking action, because our brain’s reward system is so highly responsive to our social standing.

So by daring to say “I’ll send you the report by the end of the day” we add social benefits to following through on our promise—which can be just enough to nudge us to bite the bullet.

Confront the downside of inaction. Research has found that we’re strangely averse to properly evaluating the status quo. While we might weigh the pros and cons of doing something new, we far less often consider the pros and cons of not doing that thing. Known as omission bias, this often leads us to ignore some obvious benefits of getting stuff done.

 

You can follow these 3 steps to make the benefits of doing a task more real and get stuff done!

Next week, we’ll look into how we can make the costs of an action seem smaller.

We got this from the Harvard Business Review, visit them for more like this.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

If You’re Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You Won’t Learn Anything

Public speaking, networking and speaking up at meetings. What do these 3 things have in common? They are all personally terrifying for many people, but professionally important.

This week we look at how important it is to walk outside our comfort zones when looking for personal growth:

 

You need to speak in public, but your knees buckle even before you reach the podium. You want to expand your network, but you’d rather swallow nails than make small talk with strangers. An easy response to these situations is avoidance. Who wants to feel anxious when you don’t have to?

But the problem, of course, is that these tasks aren’t just unpleasant; they’re also necessary. As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement. How can we as professionals stop building our lives around avoiding these unpleasant, but professionally beneficial, tasks?

First, be honest with yourself. Take an inventory of the excuses you tend to make about avoiding situations outside your comfort zone and ask yourself if they are truly legitimate. If someone else offered you those same excuses about their behavior, would you see these as excuses or legitimate reasons to decline? The answer isn’t always clear, but you’ll never be able to overcome inaction without being honest about your motives in the first place.

Then, make the behavior your own. Very few people struggle in every single version of a formidable work situation. You might have a hard time making small talk generally, but find it easier if the topic is something you know a lot about. We can often find a way to tweak what we have to do to make it palatable enough to perform by sculpting situations in a way that minimizes discomfort.

Finally, take the plunge. In order to step outside your comfort zone, you have to do it, even if it’s uncomfortable. Put mechanisms in place that will force you to dive in, and you might discover that what you initially feared isn’t as bad as you thought.

Start with small steps. Instead of jumping right into speaking at an industry event, sign up for a public speaking class. You may stumble, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s the only way you’ll learn, especially if you can appreciate that missteps are an inevitable — and in fact essential — part of the learning process. In the end, even though we might feel powerless in situations outside our comfort zone, we have more power than we think.

 

So, give it a go. Be honest with yourself, make the behavior your own, and take the plunge.

Visit the Harvard Business Review for more like this and beyond!

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

Want to Be More Productive? Sit Next to Someone Who Is

Employers and employees alike are constantly looking for ways to improve productivity. But the answer could be much simpler than one might think.

This week, we look at how better seating arrangements can help increase productivity:

 

To increase worker performance, employers often invest in a number of things, from rewards and incentives to education and training. These traditional approaches develop employees’ skills and enrich their work experience. But we discovered a surprisingly simple way to increase productivity, one that was low-cost and had immediate impact: better office seating arrangements.

For every performance measure, we looked at “spillover,” a measure of the impact that office neighbors had on an employee’s performance.

We saw that neighbors have a significant impact on an employee’s performance, and it can be either positive or negative. In terms of magnitude, we found that approximately 10% of a worker’s performance spills over to her neighbors.

We categorized workers into three types: productive workers, who completed tasks quickly but lacked quality; quality workers, who produced superior work but did so slowly; and generalists, who were average across both dimensions.

In our sample, where groups of workers were clustered together, we found that the best seating arrangements had productive and quality employees sitting beside each other, because each helped the other improve. There was a spillover effect on both workers’ areas of weakness: A quality worker tried to match the speed of a productive worker, while the productive worker tried to improve their work quality.

An interesting finding, for this particular technology firm, is that workers who were strong on one dimension (task quality or task speed) tended not to be sensitive to spillover on that dimension, while workers who were weak on that dimension were sensitive to spillover. This is why putting a fast worker next to a slow worker tends to speed up the slow worker instead of slowing down the fast worker.

We found that these effects occurred almost immediately but vanished within two months. This suggests that, instead of employees learning from one another, which would likely take some time, the effects were driven by a combination of inspiration and/or peer pressure from sitting near high-performing workers. Of course, we could not distinguish which factors truly drove the effect.

Our study leads us to believe that better spatial management of workers can enhance individual and team performance. But managers need to first look at employees’ performance and see where they would want spillover to occur.

 

Identifying what spillover effects you need and the right seating arrangements to make it happen could be the productivity “hack” you’ve been looking for!

For more like this, visit the Harvard Business Review.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

An economic theory developed in 1817 can help you cut your to-do list in half

We all use to-do lists. Most often we use them to remember what’s most important and do that first. But do we have to be the one to do every task on the list?

This week, we look at how we can trim our to-do lists using the economic theory of comparative advantage:

 

The problem with my lengthy to-do lists is that they are utterly unrealistic. And yet one really does need to call the boring old bank and respond to mountains of emails, etcetera. Or at least, I thought I had to do all those things—until Tiffany Dufu, author of the new book Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, taught me about the theory of comparative advantage.

To figure out how to prune your to-do list, Dufu recommends using the theory of comparative advantage, a principle developed by the classical economist David Ricardo in 1817 to explain the benefits of free trade. Ricardo’s theory holds that countries do not produce all the goods they require simply because they can produce them. Instead, they consider opportunity cost.

The principle can be applied to our personal productivity, too. Dufu first learned about comparative advantage at a management training session, where she was taught how bosses can use the concept to decide which tasks to delegate and which ones were the best use of their time and energy.

“For example,” she writes in Drop the Ball, “as a seasoned nonprofit fund-raiser, I might be better than my staff at drafting annual fund letters, but I brought the most value in face-to-face meetings pitching major donors. No one else on my team could do that.” So it made sense for her to let go of letter-writing—even if she was really good at it—and concentrate on forging connections with philanthropists.

Other tasks, like booking a dentist appointment for her child, really did need to get done. But Dufu didn’t necessarily have to be the one to do them.

“We live our lives by default, kind of like the ringtone on your iPhone that never changes because it’s working fine,” Dufu says. But if we each think of ourselves as a country, what are the things we really want to be known for?

As for me, I’m still figuring out what my top exports are. But I know that I want writing to be one of them—so it makes sense to devote energy and resources to finishing this article. A sparkling stovetop, by contrast, is nice to have. But in the big picture, I’m cool with some splatter. Consider that ball dropped.

 

So the next time you make your to-do list, spend some time deciding where your efforts are best utilized and delegate the rest.

We got this from the folks at Quartz, check them out for more!

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

How Unnecessarily Ambitious Deadlines Can Crush Progress

Deadlines are a modern tool of productivity. We often use them to create urgency and get stuff done. But can we make something “too urgent”?

This week, we look at how setting overly ambitious deadlines can actually harm your progress:

 

A false deadline is a hard stop you give yourself for some non-consequential reason. It could be to placate your ego, it could be you want to get a project off your plate, it could be you’re just sick of looking at it on the to-do list. The fact is that it actually doesn’t matter: You have no external pressure to perform. It is all internal.

Can you relate? Here’s how I calm myself down when I see myself setting up (and failing) a false deadline.

  1. Where did this deadline come from? If you pause for a second, then you may find the origin of your deadline isn’t even relevant anymore. I’ve worked on projects where the aggressive timeline was based on another department’s needs – yet when the other group pushed its timeline out, we didn’t change ours! The result was us rushing around for quite literally nothing.
  2. When did this deadline become a priority? I’m a big advocate for not waiting until tomorrow to create the life you want, but it is just as important to know today what moves are ideal and what moves are necessary. An ideal goal can sneak into the necessary goal category and, suddenly, the amount of pressure you give yourself to reach this ambitious end is significantly higher. I just wrote a book on productivity and I still struggle with this phenomenon.
  3. What will happen if you don’t meet this goal? This last point is critical, as you have to be able to identify what you fear will happen if you don’t meet this false deadline. You can’t process the anxiety around meeting the deadline if you don’t know what, exactly, you are feeling.

For me, I’m proud of what I’ve created, so missing today’s deadline means I have to wait longer to share it. Disappointing? Definitely. Career threatening? Far from it. And oftentimes, when I have missed a false deadline, opportunities to make the product greater have popped up after the fact – making the temporary pain all the more worthwhile. It’s just a matter of remember this while it is happening.

 

Remember your deadline is only as effective as the intrinsic urgency of the task it’s attached to.

Check out inc.com for more like this and beyond!

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

The Best Ways to Get Through Hundreds of Emails In One Day

Email. We’ve spoken about it before and here we are again. This week we’ll look at a few tips we can use to reach that elusive nirvana that is “inbox zero”:

 

If reading and responding to emails leaves you exhausted and oppressed, it’s time to get your inbox under control. As your inbox gets cluttered and jammed full, so does your mind. And all those untended emails nag the back of your mind like the Sword of Damocles. No wonder you can’t focus. No wonder messages fall through the cracks. No wonder you’re stressed out.

Change the Way You Think of Your Inbox. Two simple paradigm shifts can have a tectonic impact on your inbox:

  • Paradigm Shift #1: Email shouldn’t stay in your inbox.

Think of your inbox as your kitchen counter and an inbox full of new messages as a big bag of groceries. You wouldn’t leave those groceries on the counter, would you? No, you’d put the perishables in the fridge, canned goods in the cupboard, sugar and flour in the pantry. You get the idea. So why do you leave all those emails in your inbox? Put them away!

  • Paradigm Shift #2. It’s better to search than to sort.

Once upon a time, you had to sort each email into some kind of elaborate folder structure. But those days are long gone. The best way to “put away” email these days is, as soon as you’ve dealt with it, archive it. Now, don’t worry, the message isn’t gone. You can find it whenever you want by using the email app’s search function.

Now when you’re looking at a new email, immediately do one of the following:

Deal with it: If it will only take 1-3 minutes, then go ahead and respond to the email. Then archive it.

Delete it: If there’s no action for you take on the email, then get rid of it by archiving it. In effect, you “delete” the email from your inbox but you’ll still be able to find it later on if you need to.

Defer it: Now if you need to respond to an email, but you can’t do it at this exact moment, then you can defer it to a reminder.

And what about the backlog of emails in your inbox? Pick a threshold or period when emails of a certain age just aren’t important anymore. For example, take all the emails older than six weeks (or whatever threshold you choose), mark them as read, and archive them. For the remaining emails, put them away, once and for all. This may take a few hours, but before you know it, you’ve achieved Inbox Zero.

 

If you can’t see it, does it really exist? Archiving mail can make your inbox just that much more manageable. Now, go build your productive inbox!

For more about dealing with email, check out inc.com

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

How to Use Stress to Your Advantage

Stress, we have to get rid of it! Or do we?

This week we explore how stress is one of our natural responses to the world and how we could even use it to our advantage:

 

Many self-help models suggest that a satisfying life can only be found when you get rid of negative thoughts and feelings. But in my work on “emotional agility,” I’ve found that attempting to get rid of stress can actually make you more stressed. It’s better to acknowledge the power of emotion and ride the waves, so to speak, coming out stronger on the other side so you can make decisions that aren’t stress-based.

In the larger scheme of things, stress is incredibly useful. It’s an important evolutionary response to danger, an automatic tool that takes over in the event of an emergency. But the question, then, is how we can use stress for good. If we can’t get rid of it, what should we do with it? Here are some of my favorite strategies.

Pick a lens. So thinking of your stress as a built-in pump-up mechanism, one that prepares you for challenging situations, can help you move forward rather than get bogged down.

Unhook. Stress is not always reality. So try rephrasing your anxiety in your head: “I’m stressed” becomes “I’m in a situation that requires me to make a big presentation, so I am having the feeling that I am stressed and my body is responding accordingly.” Once you step back, even just a bit, you’ll gain the perspective needed to move forward.

Cultivate curiosity. Why are you stressed? To unhook, we have to understand where our stress comes from.

Rather than fighting our natural responses to the world, try wrapping your arms around the feeling and integrating it into your response to the world. Stress prepares you for battle, pumping you up, increasing levels of success, and keeping you alive.

 

Stress isn’t all bad and, with a little shift in perspective, it can be really good!

For more on stress and other topics, visit Harvard Business Review

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!