Jun 292017

Delegating Decision-Making

My dad (one of my main CEO/entrepreneur role models) and I team-teach a business school class in entrepreneurial leadership every year at USD where a friend of his is the professor.  Sometimes I go in person, usually I just do it by video.  We did this a few weeks ago, and my dad talked through a decision-making framework that I’d never heard him mention before.

I sketched it out and really like it and am already using it internally, so I thought I would share it here as well:

To walk through it, delegating decision-making to someone on your team can be as simple as understanding where a decision falls along two different spectrums.  On the vertical axis is “How familiar is the person with this type of decision?” – meaning, has the person seen and made this kind of decision before?  This could be something like firing an employee, signing a contract, negotiating a vendor agreement.  On the horizontal axis is “What are the consequences of getting the decision wrong?” – which is really self explanatory…how big a deal is this?

The primary, upper right quadrant of “The person has made this decision before, and it’s not a huge deal” is an easy one – delegate the decision-making authority.  The two middle quadrants of “big deal, but familiar with the decision” and “never seen this before, but not a big deal” are ripe for the old adage of ask forgiveness later, not permission first, meaning it’s ok to delegate decision-making authority, but hold the person accountable for letting you know about decisions like that so you can be on the lookout for potential required clean-up.

But what I love most is the way my dad framed the final quadrant (lower left here), which is “high stakes decision, never seen this situation before.”  It can be tempting for a senior manager or CEO to just take this quadrant over and remove decision-making authority from a team member.  But it’s also a perfect teaching/coaching moment.  So the rule of thumb for this quadrant is “make the decision with me, but please come to me with a proposal on it.”

And that’s why my dad is such a great business mentor!

Jun 152017

Don’t Confuse Sucking Down with Servant Leadership

I love the concept of Servant Leadership.  From the source, the definition is:

While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

This is a very broad societal definition, but it’s fairly easy to apply to a more narrow corporate, or even startup environment.  Are you as a CEO oriented primarily towards your people, or towards other stakeholders like customers or shareholders?  By the way, trying to do right by all three stakeholders is NOT a problem in a world of being oriented towards one.  It’s just a philosophy around which comes first, and why.  Our People First philosophy at Return Path is fair clear that at the end of the day, all three stakeholders win IF you do right by employees, so they do the best possible work for customers, so you build a healthy and profitable and growing business.

CEOs who practice Servant Leadership aren’t necessarily focused on power dynamics, or on helping those least privileged in society (at least not as part of their job)…but they are focused on making sure that their employees most important needs are met — both in the moment, as in making sure employees are empowered and not blocked or bottlenecked, and over the long haul, as in making sure employees have opportunities to learn, grow, advance their careers, make an impact, and have the ability to live a well balanced life.

I was in a meeting a couple weeks back with another leader and a few people on his team.  He *seemed* to practice Servant Leadership the way he was speaking to his team members.  But he wasn’t, really.  He was doing something I refer to as Sucking Down.  He was telling them things they clearly wanted to hear.  He was lavishing praise on them for minor accomplishments.  He was smiling and saying yes, when what he really meant was no.  He was practicing the art of Sucking Up, only to people on his team, not to a boss.  I got a sense that something wasn’t right during the meeting, and then post meeting, he actually fessed up to me — even bragged about it — that he was being disingenuous to get what he wanted out of his people.

There’s a clear difference between Servant Leadership and Sucking Down in the long run.  The danger comes in the moment.  Just as managers need to build good detection skills to sniff out evidence of someone on their team Sucking Up, employees need to be able to understand that clear difference in their managers’ behavior as they think about how to manage their careers, and even where to work.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Jun 122017

Why You Won’t See Us Trash Talk Our Competition

We’ve been in business at Return Path for almost 18 years now.  We’ve seen a number of competitors come and go across a bunch of different related businesses that we’ve been in.  One of the things I’ve noticed and never quite understood is that many of our competitors expend a lot of time and energy publicly trash talking us in the market.  Sometimes this takes the form of calling us or our products out by name in a presentation at a conference; other times it takes the form of a blog post; other times it’s just in sales calls.  It’s weird.  You don’t see that all that often in other industries, even when people take aim at market leaders.

During the normal course of business, one of sales reps might engage in selling against specific competitors — often times, they have to when asked specific questions by specific prospects — but one thing you’ll never see us do is publicly trash talk a single competitor by name as a company.  I’m sure there are a couple people at Return Path who would like us to have “sharper elbows” when it comes to this, but it’s just not who we are.  Our culture is definitely one that values kindness and a softer approach.  But good business sense also tells me that it’s just not smart for four reasons:

  • We’re very focused and disciplined in our outbound communications — and there’s only so much air time you get as a company in your industry, even among your customers — on thought leadership, on showcasing the value of our data and our solutions, and on doing anything we can do to make our customers more successful.  Pieces like my colleague Dennis Dayman’s recent blog post on the evolution of the data-driven economy, or my colleague Guy Hanson’s amazingly accurate prediction of the UK’s “unpredictable” election results both represent the kind of writing that we think is productive to promote our company
  • We’re fiercely protective of our brand (both our employer brand and our market-facing brand), and we’ve built a brand based on trust, reputation, longevity, and being helpful, in a business that depends on reputation and trust as its lifeblood — as I think about all the data we handle for clients and strategic partners, and all the trust mailbox providers place in us around our Certification program.  Clients and partners will only place trust in — and will ultimately only associate themselves with — good people.  To quote my long time friend and Board member Fred Wilson (who himself is quoting a long time friend and former colleague Bliss McCrum), if you lie down with dogs, you come up with fleas.  If we suddenly turned into the kind of company that talked trash about competition, I bet we’d find that we had diminished our brand and our reputation among the people who matter most to us.  Our simple messaging and positioning showcases our people, our expertise, and our detailed knowledge of how email marketing works, with a collective 2,000 years of industry experience across our team
  • Trash talking your competition can unwittingly expose your own weaknesses.  Think about Donald Trump’s memorable line from one of the debates against Hillary Clinton – “I’m not the puppet, you’re the puppet” – when talking about Russia.  That hasn’t turned out so well for him.  It’s actually a routine tactic of Trump, beyond that one example.  Accuse someone else of something to focus attention away from your own issues or weaknesses.  Don’t like the fact that your inauguration crowd was demonstrably smaller than your predecessor’s?  Just lie about it, and accuse the media of creating Fake News while you’re at it.  Disappointed that you lost the popular vote?  Accuse the other side of harvesting millions of illegal votes, even though it doesn’t matter since you won the electoral college!  Think about all these examples, regardless of your politics.  All of them draw attention to Trump’s weaknesses, even as he’s lashing out at others (and even if you think he’s right).  We don’t need to lash out at others because we have so much confidence in our company, our products, and our services.  We are an innovative, happy, stable, profitable, and growing vendor in our space, and that’s where our attention goes
  • Publicly trash talking your competition just gives your competition extra air time.  As PT Barnum famously said, “You can say anything you want about me, just make sure you spell my name right!”

Don’t get me wrong.  Competition is healthy.  It makes businesses stronger and can serve as a good focal point for them to rally.  It can even be healthy sometimes to demonize a competitor *internally* to serve as that rallying cry.  But I am not a fan of doing that *externally.*  I think it makes you look weak and just gives your competitor free advertising.

Jun 012017

Company of Origin

Most psychologists, and lots of executive coaches, end up talking to their clients about their “Family of Origin” as a means of more deeply understanding the origins of their clients’ motivations, fears, hopes, and dreams.  Presumably they do this in service of helping their clients gain self-awareness around those things to be more effective in their personal or professional lives.

A smattering of highly-ranked search results on the term yields snippets like these for its definition:

  • One’s family of origin—the family one grew up in, as opposed to the people one currently lives with—is the place that people typically learn to become who they are
  • From the family of origin a person learns how to communicate, process emotions, and get needs met
  • People also learn many of their values and beliefs from their families

…and these for its impact:

  • As a worker, your experiences in your family of origin are likely to impact on the way you work
  • Families always involve negative and positive dynamics, which may lead to members gaining strengths and abilities or experiencing difficulties
  • Differentiation from family is a significant concept. Well-differentiated people function better
  • Greater awareness of the impact of your family of origin on you will benefit your work

I’m no shrink, nor am I an executive coach, but this makes sense to me, and I’ve seen it in action many times in both my personal and professional life.

The concept I want to introduce today is a related and in some ways parallel one, and one that I think may be equally if not more important to how someone behaves professionally.  That concept is the Company of Origin.  I’ll define one’s Company of Origin is the first place or places one has meaningful work experience.  For most working professionals, that is probably the first full-time job we held for at least a couple of years after college or graduate school.  For others, it may be a couple of long-held part-time jobs during school.  There are probably other cases, but hopefully you get the point.  A couple of my trusted colleagues in the HR/OD profession suggested that this could also be labeled Profession of Origin or Manager of Origin or “When I came into my own as a professional.”  I think the same concepts apply.

Going back to the definition above of Family of Origin and modifying it (only slightly) to define Company of Origin would look something like this:

  • One’s Company of Origin – the first place or places one has a meaningful work experience, as opposed to the place one currently works – is the place that people typically learn to become who they are professionally
  • From one’s Company of Origin, a person learns how to communicate at work, how to experience success and failure, what accountability means, what reward and recognition mean, what good and bad management and leadership look like, etc. etc.
  • People also learn many of their professionals values and beliefs from their Companies of Origin

I know this rings true for me in my own life.  My first job as a management consultant still has a profound influence over my work today.  My first few jobs before I started Return Path all had a profound influence over how I decided to set a culture and make decisions (and still do, though a bit less with each passing year).  Some of those influences were positive – “let’s do more of that!” – and some were negative – “if I ever become the boss, I’ll never…” – but you’d expect that from a Company of Origin, just as you would a Family of Origin.

It also rings true for countless other people I’ve worked with over the years.  Think about people you’ve worked with.  Have you ever said or thought anything like this before?

  • Bob used to work at GE.  That’s why he has such strong leadership skills
  • Why is Jane so concerned with expenses?  Her first job was at a family-run business where every dollar spent was a dollar out of the CEO’s pocket
  • Wow is Harry political at work.  I guess it’s because he used to work at XYZ Corp where people stab each other in the back to get promoted
  • Oh, Sally is ex-military.  That’s why she’s so hierarchical
  • Doesn’t Doug understand that part of being an employee here is doing XYZ?  That’s not how he was conditioned to think at work when he worked at PDQ Corp.  He’s just hard wired that way
  • Frank just loves standing up in front of a room and drawing things on a whiteboard.  I guess that’s because he started his career as a teacher

Of course, unlike a Family of Origin, you don’t have to live in some way with your Company of Origin forever, and unlike family configurations, where the average person will have a few in a lifetime, the average person will have many places of work.  All of those workplaces will shape one’s behaviors in the workplace.  But there’s something about the Company of Origin that sticks with professionals more than other workplaces.

Again, going back to those “impact” comments about Family of Origin and modifying them only slightly for Company of Origin, you get this:

  • As a worker, your experiences in your Company of Origin are likely to impact on the way you work
  • Companies always involve negative and positive dynamics, which may lead to employees gaining different strengths and abilities or experiencing difficulties or experiencing the workplace differently
  • Differentiation from Company of Origin is a significant concept. Well-differentiated people function better as they move from job to job
  • Greater awareness of the impact of your Company of Origin on you will benefit your work

As I wrote several years ago, People Should Come with an Instruction Manual.  Understanding your potential employees’ and actual employees’ Companies of Origin would go a LONG way towards fleshing out their strengths, weaknesses, likely behaviors, likely fits with your culture and organization, and on and on.  Whether during the interview process for candidates or the development planning/360 process for employees, I hope this concept is something useful to consider.

Filed under: Uncategorized

May 182017

Being a CEO is Like Playing a Game of Hearts

Hearts was one of my favorite card games in college.  I remember staying up deep into the night regularly with my roommates playing it.  I recently taught our kids how to play and have been playing with them more regularly of late…and I was reminded how much I enjoy the game.  No metaphor or simile is perfect, and this one isn’t either, but it occurred to me the other night that being a CEO is a little bit like playing a game of Hearts.

First and foremost, you have to play the hand that you’re dealt.  No matter how proactive you want to be about running your own agenda, things happen around you — with your people, your customers, your competitors, and you have to figure out how to react to situations.

Second, you usually get to pass 3 cards to another player, but sometimes you have a “hold” hand.  Even within a situation you have to react to, sometimes you can mute the edges of it before you actually react (but occasionally, you can’t change the situation at all).  Consider the difference between a customer telling you they are about to churn (maybe you can still save them on price, terms, feature sets) vs. sending you a termination notice after they have signed with a competitor.

Next, when playing the hand, there are times when you want to get the lead so you can control the flow of the game, and there are times when you want to avoid getting the lead so you just hand out point cards to others.

Also in the course of the play of a hand, you want to keep close track of what the other players have and don’t have in their hands, particularly so you can avoid the Queen of Spades and so you can try hard to capture the Jack of Diamonds.  Day in and day out at work, you need understand as deeply as possible what your competitors and partners are up to…and you always want to have an eye on the biggest opportunity in front of the company — a new prospect you’re trying to win over, for example — and the biggest risk point you’re trying to avoid.

Finally, you have to recognize that any given hand is one out of many in a game, just like every day, or week, or quarter, is just one piece of your overall stewardship of your company over the long haul.  And of course the simple act of being an entrepreneur is in and of itself analogous to Shooting the Moon.  It’s almost impossible to do, and you have to both have the right cards AND play the hand extremely well.  But when you do, the reward is spectacular!

(That wasn’t too much of a stretch, was it?)

May 042017

Why Our Executive Team Does Daily Standup Meetings

Another CEO with whom I trade notes on the craft of running a company asked me this question the other day, and I thought the answer would make a for a good blog post.  Any product team (or other kind of team) who has Agile practices, does some kind of a Daily Standup (DSU) meeting in which each team member reviews progress against goals for a given period and highlights issues where he or she is blocked and needs help.  I wrote about Return Path‘s journey to implement Agile across the whole company last year here.

My meeting routines have been shaped over the years but the current versions are largely influenced by Lencioni’s Death by Meeting, which is worth a read. My blog post isn’t all that helpful about this specific subject, but it’s here.  Anyway…here’s what I wrote to my friend:

I love our DSU. We do it at 11 eastern because we have people in Colorado and California on it. We just make the time. We block 15 minutes, but most people block the full :30 and sometimes a small sub group will need to stay late to cover something in more depth (we call that the after-party or the 16th minute). If I had everyone in the same time zone, I would do it at 8:30 or 9:00. 

We usually just “run the calendar” at the DSU. What’s everyone doing today, anything notable from yesterday, anything people need broader quick hit updates on, especially things that are cross-team. It’s great daily connectivity. We have tried to run the exec team like a true agile team in the past with cards and demos, etc., but that didn’t really work other than the occasional time when all of us were working on something together (e.g. Annual budgeting and planning), since a lot of our work as leaders is down, not across. 

We do the meeting Tuesday through Friday. We probably cancel 1 a week on average if too many people have to miss it. People know it’s a priority and not to schedule over it unless unavoidable, but sometimes travel, client conflicts, etc. invade. 

Mondays we still do our Weekly Tactical for an hour. I have a whole standing agenda format for that (as well as our Monthly Strategies for 2-3 hours and Quarterly Offsites for a couple days). I find that the Weekly Tactical actually goes much better with the four DSUs because we don’t have to spend time checking in on the basics…so we are much more effective in using that time on bigger items like sales forecast and recruiting review, progress against major initiatives and OKRs, having other people come in and present things to us, etc. 

Filed under: Uncategorized

Apr 172017

A Two Week Vacation is More Than Twice As Good As a One Week Vacation

I’ve said this for years, but as I sit on the train commuting into work after a week off relaxing with my family for my Dad’s 75th birthday (or as he prefers to call it, the 46th anniversary of his 29th birthday), I feel particularly inclined to write it up!

I love my job, so I almost never mind going to work. But I also love being on vacation and traveling with my family and try to do as much of it as I can. Years ago before we had kids and became tethered to school and sports schedules, we used to take at least one full two week vacation, completely unplugged, at least once a year. I miss that!

The problem with any vacation longer than a couple days off (which is NOT a vacation) is that it can take several days to unwind, decompress from work and the small stresses of every day life, and unplug, meaning not checking email, reading blogs or the newspaper every morning, and not fidgeting every time you’re more than 10 feet away from your smartphone. Then on the other end of the trip, trying to triage email the day before you go back to work and generally gearing up for reentry into the fast lane also consume a bunch of cycles — and for me, I’ve never been able to sleep well the night before the first day of anything, so it means starting back with diminished relaxation even before walking through the office door.

So all in, that means the true part of a week-long, meaning 9-day vacation (including two weekends), is about 4-5 days.

That’s not bad. But I think you have all that same overhead associated with a two week vacation as well…so a two week vacation of 16 days leaves you with 11-12 days. Mathematically, if not psychically, more than twice as good as the standard one-weeker.

I’m inclined to start doing that once a year again, schedules be damned!

As a side note, two things I also used to do on vacation, even a one-weeker, that I am regretting not doing this time are (a) actually turning my work email account off my phone and leaving it off until the Monday morning after vacation so there’s no cheating on a couple minutes of email here or there, and (b) making sure my schedule is almost completely open that first Monday back to catch up. Next time, those two features will return prominently…along with that full second week off.

Oh, and if anyone says a Startup CEO can’t take a long unplugged vacation…I call bullshit. You may not be able to do it any two weeks of the year with no notice, but plan ahead, leave things in good order, leave someone in charge (or don’t, but be deliberate about that), and let them know where to call you in case the building burns down. It will be fine when you get back, and healthy for tour team to have a break from you as well.

Apr 062017

What kind of team do you run? Of Generalists and Specialists…

A friend of mine just left his job as CEO of a growth stage company to become CFO of a Fortune 500 company.  That’s a big deal…and also a big change.  When I was talking to him about the move, he said the following to me:

Some executive teams are like baseball teams.  You play shortstop, and you bat 8th.  That’s just what you do.  The team needs one of those because the sport is structured that way.  The CEO of my new company likes to run his executive team as a basketball team.  Everyone has a position, but everyone also has to be capable of doing everything on the court well – shooting, blocking, rebounding, passing – and is expected to go after the ball any time it’s nearby.

It’s one thing to say that of a Fortune 200 company, because you have the luxury of doing anything you want in terms of staffing at those levels.  My friend, who is financially oriented for sure, can be CFO of a company of that size because they probably have a strong Chief Accounting Officer.  But how does that dialog apply to startups?  Should you run a baseball team?  A basketball team?  Does it matter?  Can you switch between the two?

My take is that early stage startups need to be more like basketball teams.  You just don’t have enough people to get everything done unless you all take things off each others’ plates.  And you certainly don’t want to be siloed early on in a company’s life as you’re trying to find product-market fit and get those first customers on board.  Your CTO needs to be in front of customers in sales pitches.  Your CFO needs to run customer service and other staff functions.  Everyone needs to pitch in on strategy.

As companies grow, I think they need to become more like baseball teams because larger organizations require levels of specialized knowledge that you don’t often find in startup leaders (though you certainly can, especially as the world becomes more startup-oriented) if they are to survive and scale.  You need a CFO capable of putting in place more complex systems and controls.  You need a head of Sales who knows how to manage a more disciplined pipeline and sales power-driven machine, not just someone who is a fantastic closer of big deals.

At the larger sizes (well below the Fortune 500 level), you can afford to have more of a basketball team again.  You want people with areas of specialization, but you also just want great athletes, and you can have some of the more technical expertise working at the next couple levels down.

There are two challenges this metaphor raises for scaling businesses.  The first one is making your baseball team AS MUCH LIKE A BASKETBALL TEAM AS POSSIBLE when you’re in that mode.  Why?  I love baseball more than most as a sport, but executive teams of companies at any size need strategic thinkers and interdisciplinary, cross-functional work as much as possible.

And that leads to my second challenge with the metaphor, which is that you don’t want to swap out your executive team multiple times in a rapidly scaling business if you don’t have to.  So this begs the question – can you turn a great specialist into a great generalist and vice versa?  We have gone through transitions this past few years at Return Path from a functional structure to a business unit structure and back (sort of).  My take in the end is that it’s easier to turn a specialist into a generalist than to turn a generalist into a specialist.  You can interview for this.  There are great specialists in every discipline who are capable of being generalist thinkers.  But it’s really tough to take someone without proper training and experience in some disciplines and make them a specialist.  Not impossible (although in some disciplines it actually is impossible – think about General Counsel), but difficult.

Filed under: Business, Leadership, Management

Mar 302017

Everything is Data, Part II – Get Those Expenses In

Everything is Data, Part II – Get Those Expenses In

My friend and former colleague Angela Baldonero (used to run our People Team at Return Path, now is COO of super cool startup Procurify), used to say about her job as head of HR, “Everything is Data.”  She guest blogged about that principle on OnlyOnce years ago here , and she particularly cited this theory when talking about the recruiting and hiring process.

I’ve thought about this principle a lot over the years, and I’ve occasionally come up with other examples where I think peripheral data can inform whether or not an employee will succeed, at least in my world.  I don’t know how many of these can be caught in an interview process, but that’s worth thinking about.  Here’s one for today’s post:  I’ve noticed a very high correlation over the years between poor performance and being late turning in expenses.

I know, it sounds silly.  But think about it.  Most of the work we do involves some level of being organized, being on time, prioritizing work and working efficiently, and caring about money (whether the company’s money or our own money).  Someone who can’t bother to fill out a quick expense report following a business trip is demonstrating an absence of all of those traits.  The most glaring example of it we ever had here involved a fairly senior sales executive years ago who was delinquent in his expenses to the tune of over $40,000.  That’s right, $40,000.  It was so bad that our auditors made us footnote it in our annual audit.  We begged him to turn in his expenses.  We even offered to have him send a pile of all the receipts to us and have someone in Accounting help him out.  But he was always too busy, made too many excuses for why he couldn’t get them done.  I think it ended up taking us firing him for him to actually clean them up and get paid back.  Why did we fire him?  He was ineffective in his role, unresponsive to colleagues, unable to prioritize his work, and sloppy in his deliverables.

By the way, the opposite is not true – someone who is incredibly punctual about getting expenses in is not guaranteed to be a high performer, although they are usually guaranteed to at least be organized (which for some roles may be a critical success factor).

I suppose ultimately this is just another example of Broken Windows, which I blogged about in two different places, here and here.


Mar 162017

Book Short – Blink part III – Undo?

Book Short – Blink part III – Undo?

I just finished reading Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, and honestly, I wish I could hit Life’s Undo button and reclaim those hours.  I love Michael Lewis, and he’s one of those authors where if he writes it, I will read it.  But this one wasn’t really worth it for me.

Having said that, I think if you haven’t already read both Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (review, buy) and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (review, buy), then it might be worth it.  But having read those two books, The Undoing Project had too much overlap and not enough “underlap” (to quote my friend Tom Bartel) – that is, not enough new stuff of substance for me.  The book mostly went into the personal relationship between two academic thinkers, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.  It also touched on some of the highlights of their work, which, while coming out of the field of psychology, won them a Nobel prize in Economics for illuminating some of the underlying mechanics of how we make decisions.

The two most interesting pieces of their work to me, which are related in the book, are:

First, that human decision-making is incredibly nuanced and complex, and that at least 25% of the time, the transitive property doesn’t apply.  For example, I may prefer coffee to tea, and I may prefer tea to hot chocolate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I prefer coffee to hot chocolate.

From the book, “When faced with complex multidimensional alternatives, such as job offers, gambles or [political] candidates, it is extremely difficult to utilize properly all the available information.” It wasn’t that people actually preferred A to B and B to C and then turned around and preferred C to A. It was that it was sometimes very hard to understand the differences. Amos didn’t think that the real world was as likely to fool people into contradicting themselves as were the experiments he had designed.  And the choice created its own context: Different features might assume greater prominence in the mind when the coffee was being compared to tea (caffeine) than when it was being compared to hot chocolate (sugar). And what was true of drinks might also be true of people, and ideas, and emotions. The idea was interesting: When people make decisions, they are also making judgments about similarity, between some object in the real world and what they ideally want. They make these judgments by, in effect, counting up the features they notice. And as the noticeability of features can be manipulated by the way they are highlighted, the sense of how similar two things are might also be manipulated.”

Second, what Kahneman and Tversky called Prospect Theory, which is basically that humans are more motivated by the fear of loss as opposed to the greed of gain.  I’ve written about the “Fear/Greed Continuum” of my former boss from many years ago before.  I’m not sure he knew about Kahneman and Tversky’s work when he came up with that construct, and I certainly didn’t know about it when I first blogged about it years ago.  Do this experiment – ask someone both of these questions:  Would you rather be handed $500 or have a 50% chance of winning $1,000 and a 50% of getting nothing?  Then, Would you rather hand me $500 or have a 50% chance of owing me $1,000 and a 50% chance of owing me nothing?  Most of the time, the answers are not the same.

For fun, I tried this out on my kids and re-proved Prospect Theory, just in case anyone was worried about it.

Anyway, bottom line on this book – read it if you haven’t ready those other two books, skip it if you have, maybe skim it if you’ve read one of them!