La valeur n’attend point le nombre des années

I recently witnessed some great leadership behavior from our 10 years old and thinking about that the next day this 400 years old quote from Pierre Corneille, “la valeur n’attend point le nombre des années » came to mind.

In a nutshell, it means that you don’t need be all grown-up to display your ability to impact the world around you, i.e. to display your ability to lead.

Let me rewind a bit to explain myself here.

A few months back our family started an informal “family game night” where we would spend an hour or so playing different fun games (cards, board…) together. Our youngest loved it the most and, as other day-to-day priorities took over in the new year, she started to remind us that we were late for our monthly game night.

What came after this, while not earth-shattering, was to me a display of leadership skills that our daughter intuitively demonstrated on a topic close to her heart:

  • First, she gave herself a clear goal: get these family game night back on track => goal setting
  • Then, she decided to come to us with a choice of possible dates for the game night on little cards for us to fill. => strategy definition (made us chose the date but not whether we’ll do it), hard work (made those hand-crafted voting cards), communicate (went around giving them and explain what was expected from us)
  • When several of us did not reply she came back, and went out of her way (such as picking the card I had left on my desk upstairs) to ensure we were filling them out => determination, focusing on getting what she needed even if it meant going the extra mile
  • She then tallied the results => Did the grunt work
  • Called-up a “family meeting” to discuss the results and offer 2 options for the night (once again, not doing it was not an option) => results and action oriented, communicate directly
  • When we pushed back on length, hour and day, she took all our inputs in without missing a beat and then adapted to offer a new option => listening to feedback and focused on a pragmatic solution to reach the goal not on her particular way to reaching it.
  • And finally got us to agree on the day and hour => drove to decision and action.

Thinking about this as I wanted to praise her on this great work she did leading this to resolution I realized she had been intuitively going through steps many leaders take years to recognize:

  1. Decide on your goal
  2. Select and build your strategy to get to this goal
  3. Communicate and get feedback
  4. Work hard
  5. Come with a clear action plan
  6. Get feedback and drive to decision
  7. Execute.

Interestingly enough, two days later I stumbled on this article and found several similarities with what she displayed: www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130822180103-15454-a-short-story-about-leadership

I quote the beginning of this article: “The Less Simple Formula for Assessing Leadership = Identify the Problem, Find a Solution, Develop a Workable Plan, Inspire Others, Deliver the Results”

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The secret of success in 3 min 30 seconds?

This great (and short!) 2005 TED talk from John St. John about what many successful people told him over 7 years of research and 500 interviews.

Nothing earth-shattering per-se but a great summary in less than 4 minutes.

In short here are his 8 points:

  1. Have passion for what you do: Do it for love of it not of money
  2. Work hard, but on something you like doing and have fun doing
  3. Good: become really good at things through practice, practice, practice.
  4. Focus on the one or few things that you can really move
  5. Push: push yourself. Physically and mentally.
  6. Serve something of value to others
  7. Ideas : be creative, listen, observe, be curious, ask questions, make connections…
  8. Persist: never give up, even through failure or naysayers.

Enjoy!

ps: Once you’re there, you might want to watch his 2009 follow-up TED talk on how to remain successful (tip: don’t fall asleep at the top!)

The promises of Brain science

In the last 15 years (or so), brain science has significantly improved our understanding of how the brain really works and is capable of from an adaptability standpoint.

One of the most interesting discovery, I think, was that what used to be thought as a fixed-capabilities organ, always getting worse after 18-20 years old, is actually an extremely plastic one. Recently again (December 2013) an Ideacast episode (the Harvard Business Review podcast) on reducing stress with mindfulness – i.e. mediation-, and how it can also help in business settings, was highlighting how mediation can physically changes how the brain is wired.

It would have been thought as heresy to think the brain could have such plasticity even 20-30 years ago. At least for the non-specialists.

For those interested in learning more, here are a few books I read on the topic the last 5 years that are definitely worth reading.

For instance, Brain Rules, talks extensively about how the brain works and how this could be used to change the way classrooms and office are designed. The key elements I got from this book were that:

  • The brain is wired to work better when exercising (think about our ancestors walking in the savanna for hours to find a prey to hunt), hence exercise is good for the brain… and we should be working at our computers while being on a treadmill! You can even buy these workstation treadmills on Amazon now
  • It takes up to a decade for short-term memories to become genuine long-term memory
  • Emotions and feelings heighten our learning and memory capabilities (do you remember where you were and what you were doing on 9/11? I certainly have a vivid recollection of this meeting room in Eindhoven I was in when I learned the news).
  • and many more interesting facts

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
ISBN: 0979777747
ISBN-13: 9780979777745

Another one, Management Rewired, although a bit long winded and going through many detours, uses what has been learned about how the brain works to come with interesting points about why feedback and praise don’t actually really work and then contributes some thought-provoking ideas. For instance, it advises to let someone do something we know is a wrong approach or idea, then cut the reward associated with it thereby indirectly demotivating the person to do this again.

Or, on the flip side, that the best way punishment works is by not giving it. That the positive impact of not giving it when the person expects it was much more important that the one coming from a praise or reward (unless the reward keeps on increasing, which is a tough one to achieve!).

Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science: Charles S. Jacobs: Books
ISBN: 159184262X
ISBN-13: 9781591842620

A third one, Buyology,  examine the human brain mechanics as it applies to the science of selling and advertising. Also based on the latest research on brain science and a little bit scary sometimes as advertising and manipulation can easily become close cousins in the wrong hands.

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy: Martin Lindstrom, Paco Underhill: Books
ISBN: 0385523882
ISBN-13: 9780385523882

Finally, moving from books to marketing consultancy, a company like Studio B, also leverages these developments in brain science to help company develop better white papers, leaflets or even PowerPoint presentations.

Interestingly enough many of the points they advocate on their website, match with the philosophy of presentations that Jerry Weissman has been teaching for 20 years. The difference being that his teaching are based on experience as a TV producer not brain science. Still the conclusions are very similar in many aspects.

I find this change from a “computer” modeling of the human brain I grew up with, to the re-discovery of its very special way of functioning fascinating. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years we teach us in that front. What I’m sure of is that Ray Kurzweil and his assumption (in his book “The singularity in near”) that within 20 to 30 years computers will be able to simulate a human brain, and even the whole humanity, in a computer the size of today’s laptops is totally unrealistic.

Should you empty your inbox?

With the advent of powerful search tools for emails, be them web ones (a-la Gmail or Outlook.com) or client based (MS Outlook), many people believe it’s OK to leave all incoming emails in their inbox and to stop filing them in folders. The thinking is that you always can search whatever you need to find it your 10,000 emails filled inbox.

There are “pilers” (people that pile-up and search) and there are filers (people that sort and file in structured ways). I get this. It’s more a question of personality than sheer right or wrong approach.

That being said…

I stumbled onto this WSJ 1’30” video from Ritz Carton’s Simon Cooper where he talks about email and how he uses it. There are a couple of nuggets that I believe make lots of sense from a personal productivity perspective:

  1. Don’t leave your office without emptying your inbox
  2. Being on top of your inbox is a key aspect of keeping in control of your business (or responsibilities)

Many time have I been waiting for people looking for an email they wanted to share with me or, worse, telling me they had not received my email or had forgotten about it because it’s somewhere within their 10,000 emails, including 1,500 unread ones.

With such a “system”, how can you know that:

  • Things you should be on top of, are being followed up as expected?
  • You are not letting people down by dropping the ball somewhere?
  • You are not wasting your and other people’s time by permanently looking for this email somewhere in your inbox? (“wait I’m sure it’s here – I recall seeing yesterday – of maybe if I sort by name, or by date- oh let me do a search….”)

By cleaning your inbox and leveraging a process a-la GTD (or a simplified version of it) you will be much more in control of your life and deliverables. By allowing your inbox to explode in size you won’t. At least not fully. This is a simple as that. At least for the vast majority of people.

The simplest and lowest hassle way is to have a “reference” folder where you would put ALL your emails (the ones you don’t want to delete from your inbox) and, in an “Action” folder all emails that require you to do something. This is not forcing a piler to become a filer. It’s about being sure that:

  • Nothing is left in your inbox that you have missed: The Inbox is always empty when you’re done.
  • You have one folder with all the emails that require action
  • You have one folder with your 10,000+ emails you did not want to delete for various reasons.

Image resizer tool for Windows

Windows XP had a useful photo resizer tool that would not work with Vista and later versions of Windows.

A new version of this tool is available on www.codeplex.com and works with all Windows versions from Vista onward. It has been in “Preview 3″for almost 2 years but still works great. It allows you to quickly right-click on one or more pictures in file explorer, click “resize picture” and select the size you want to get. Great for emailing for instance.

And of course it’s free.

http://imageresizer.codeplex.com

Quick device shutdown with Windows 8.1

With Windows 8.1 (for ARM or x86), there is rarely the need to shutdown a device anymore. Most of the time I just come in and out Standby and that’s about it.

However, when one want to shutdown (e.g. to preserve battery even more) the “default”  Windows 8 mechanism is neither obvious nor simple:

  • Swipe from the right/click bottom right/Windows key + C to show the charm bar
  • Click/tap on Settings
  • Click/tap on Power
  • Click/tap on “Shutdown”.

Of course there is always the old CTRL+ALT+DEL which bring up the screen that allows you to hit shutdown in the bottom right, but it’s not intuitive either.

CTRL_ALT_DEL

Here are 3 other options for quicker shutdown menu access.

1) Easy – no set-up – 3 clicks: From the Start Menu

Windows 8.1 adds a quicker (though not an obvious one for most user) way to do this by right-clicking on the start menu icon and selecting the “Shutdown or sign out” menu:

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2) Fairly easy – limited set-up – 2 clicks: Add a link to a little know old “Windows Phone like” feature

In the c:\Windows\System32 you will find an app called “SlidetoShutDown.exe”. Just add it to your taskbar and/or start menu (right-click in file explorer). When you click on it (start it), it will show a “slide down to shutdown” Window.

3) More complex – shortcut creation needed – 1 click: use a shortcut with the right parameters to call the shutdown app and pin it on the start/taskbar.

In the same Windows/system folder you will see an app called “shutdown.exe”. Easy enough Smile. To use it as a way to shutdown in  one click you need to

  • Create a shortcut to the app wherever you want (e.g in your My Documents folders).
  • Right click and select properties and add (without the “) the following after the “.exe”: ”/s /t ss” (ss = a number in seconds between 0 and 10 years before the shutdown is effective.
  • You can use the “change icon” option to select the icon you like, such as below with the “old” shutdown symbol.
  • Add a link to your Start Menu and/or Taskbar through the same process as 1) and 2)

You can use /r instead of /s to restart the computer versus just shutting it down. The /l parameter will log you out.

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The investment advice a financial adviser will probably never give you

This investment advice is a simple one that many people in many countries do naturally but that, for whatever reason, is very undeveloped here in the US: the early mortgage repayment.

Let’s imagine that you have a mortgage with a 5% interest rate and that your income puts you into the 25% tax bracket (marginal). Let’s assume you have $1,000 of extra cash you would like to invest: What is the risk free investment you can find that can guarantee me a 5% gross return over the remaining length of my mortgage?

None!

(note: if you know of one you should start a financial investment advisor business Smile)

When you reimburse your mortgage in advance, you are reducing how much you still owe and therefore you are reducing the number of years you will have to reimburse it by having less capital to reimburse. Less capital owed equals less interests which leads to more capital repaid each month with your mortgage payment which eventually leads to shorter mortgage. However, you will not reduce your immediate monthly payment.

In essence, you are making a risk free 5% investment (under the above assumptions). This is $1,000 from your mortgage you will never have to pay 5% interest on. You’re saving 5% yearly for the duration of the mortgage = you are having a 5% return on your money.

This return is a gross return though. For your mortgage, you would actually deduct these interest from your taxes, so instead of 5% saving you are actually saving 4%. However, if you were to find an investment that returned 5% yearly, you would also have to pay the same 25% taxes on these returns (e.g. interests on a saving accounts) so it washes out.

Before drilling into the nitty-gritty of the actual cash flow analysis one important point: how does inflation impact this? In short: it does not. The core assumption is that I am comparing Apples to Apples, i.e. risk-free vs. risk-free investments. What will count here is the return you can get. The final result remains unchanged, in absolute value, regardless of the inflation. In 10 years from now, regardless of whether the inflation is 2% or 15%, $100 will be the same $100. They will just buy you much less in a 15% inflation scenario than in a 2% one but the logic remains unchanged.

The only genuine key variable is cash availability. When you repay your mortgage in advance, its value is tied in the house until you’re done repaying it fully. So if you need the money in 5 years but your mortgage still has 10 years to go this is definitely not something you want to do.

Let’s now look at the numbers. I posted on my SkyDrive an Excel spreadsheet. Feel free to poke at it, play with it (all the blue cells are variables to play with).

I took the following assumptions:

  • You still have 10 years worth of mortgage payment (but the spreadsheet allows you to play with values form 1 to 10 years) 
  • Then all the other variables are here for you to play with: remaining principal, amount you can invest back in your mortgage (think: Bonus, stock…), marginal tax rate, savings account return and mortgage APR
  • I did not factor inflation simply because it does not matter in this calculation
  • I assume you don’t need the money before the end of the mortgage (hence don’t need to take an expensive home equity loan during this period)

With a 100k mortgage, 5% APR, 25% marginal tax rate, a savings account at 2.5% (which, currently does not exists! Current ones are more in the 0.5-1.5%), and $10k to invest, the calculation gives you that, after 10 years, you are about 12.5% better off with putting the $10k into your mortgage than in your saving account.

Total savings after 10 years:

  • Put the $10k in a bank saving account: $ 19,671
  • Invest in Mortgage: $ 22,967
  • Gain From early mortgage reimbursement: 12.6%

The second tab of the spreadsheet also shows that this gain benefit drops by +/1% per year. For instance if you only have 5 years left in your mortgage, the gain of reimbursing it early vs. putting your money in a savings account is down to 7%.

Finally, if you only have $1,000 to put in your mortgage of $100k, then, over 10 years, the gain will only be of 4%. Probably not worth it on its own unless you can repeat this multiple times as one of the advantages of this approach is that, unless you take a home line of credit, the money is “locked” in virtual savings, and can’t be used to by a new TV Smile

I know that most people would argue that this money can be put to better use through the stock market, etc. This is true. However, you must also remember that this is a risk-free investment at a guaranteed fairly high rate (vs. a savings account). You can’t compare this with regular portfolio investments. In this case it becomes then a personal portfolio allocation choice and this is a completely different story.

For the full calculation the spreadsheet can be found there on my SkyDrive.