Recently I concluded another meeting with a loosely affiliated group of friends; Friends are in every respect brilliant, ambitious and so much accomplished than I. While what I bring is advice from a codec of social science research and recall of several hundred books and studies, like a Mike Ross that was fascinated by psychology instead of law. Also not posing an associate clinical psychologist to assist a hotshot. Is that too meta? I’ve been consuming a lot of caffeine in between meetings and understanding why I have chosen the life of a Salary-man while moonlighting as a performance coach; instead of continuing with my masters… I don’t have a good answer, and it continually feels more contrived with each book on the subject that I read regarding imposter syndrome and Dunning-Kruger effect. Alas, a rant for another catchy title. Mostly because today’s writing exercise is to connect the importance of strategy and why most people even high performer only understand half of it.
While en route for this meeting over coffee, a former student of mine called with a crisis (met girl, no want to go med school, no away from the girl.) Marshaling my thoughts to address his plight with the empathy he needed and to avoid doubling down on an emotional decision; my infallible advice was instead of a pro/con list asking can you walk me through a timeline of what this change looks like? Okay not so infallible advice, essentially it’s “what do you want? please explain why” Only that’s what people no matter the age need to hear when they feel strongly about anything. My next trick of that afternoon was making another mental shift for the conversation I was walking into; so, with a chuckle and apology for wrapping up a call in my car that crept into my group’s coffee meeting with me, “I forgot how true it was, all cost must be paid.”
We shared a laugh over this mostly because it was said in a joking tone and everything that comes out of my mouth is often a reference to something else. So, an explain came referring to a game we all played a lot, Magic: the Gathering… where a phase in the game is dedicated to accounting for and resolving any ongoing effects. We shared laughs as we nostalgically remembered games narrowly won or lost because opponents or ourselves overlooked some detail during a turn. The real-world equivalent to the upkeep is checking your budget at the beginning of the month: get paid, pay recurring expenses i.e. housing, food, etc, do what you planned with the rest.
More examples were also made comparing the magic system used in books The KingKiller Chronicles, Stormlight Archives, and alluded to my yet to be written Tao Te Pokemon to highlight no matter how intelligent, ambitious, or connected people can make plans but success and failure often come down to how well the resources were managed. Since it is hard to win the day or save the kingdom when you run out of your competitive advantage at the wrong time. The meaning was clear. Our meeting was all about tracking progress on the monthly and quarterly projects we stated we wanted to accomplish.
Truthfully that day’s mastermind topic came from an epiphany when putting myself in my student’s shoes, and what an instructor explained to me one day. Unexpected costs will inevitably add up and often cause the death of long-term plans. It felt especially true while guiding the conversation with two professionals attempting to change the culture; and, being aware the two share the same habit I have: take on too many projects at once, with whatever is finished get listed as a win, what’s left to be punted until the muses strike again. I would like to say there’s nothing is innately wrong with this hyperactive approach, heck the most prolific thinkers in history admit to a voluminous approach. There is a caveat we discovered while reverse-engineering the process. Without a greater goal, you’re working towards the common thread can be a haphazard grabbing of low hanging fruit gets completed first. Why our alliance of high achievers came together, to keep us accountable and produce more meaningful work.
After years of taking meetings, the lesson clients have taught me is the struggle to have to abandon an approach that brought in results in the past. Thankfully it also uncovered a more important question: how good are you at strategy? Not just planning, but setting objectives, what to prioritize (and not to prioritize), what resources are available, and how viable or long term is this.
A lot of smart people believe is a Harvard Business Review article their support team reads, not them though, so often I don’t get a call until disaster is looming, too many projects are being juggled, and not enough manpower to get through the unfinished backlog. Why? Because the crucial part of a strategy that was missed is rarely plain so the costs aren’t tangible. No matter your ambition, moxie or skill when taking on an assignment/project these costs add up and eventually will be paid. An important lesson for anyone to learn for students and seasoned managers alike. So I leave you all with a way of thinking comes from spending my work and play thinking of it like a game: Time, money, emotional/mental energy, and often enough physical things from a car or some piece of equipment. These are not worth zero dollars; no matter how reliable your car is or limitless your energy is when you’re young.