Saturday Cup of Joe: a lending and tech(ish) newsletter from Detroit

Friends & Colleagues,

SCOJ #100. 100 weeks in Detroit. So much has changed in 100 weeks. What started as a postcard from Detroit has grown into a network of people who want to be reading (and applying) valuable lessons and leadership lessons in our industry, or any industry. I’ve met so many interesting people and I’m excited to be coming up on 2 years of Saturday Cup of Joe. The answer well island is ever-expanding.

Answer well (to every question asked). My version of answer well has transformed over the last 100 days. I had another fun conversation about it with some colleagues at work this week. To me, answer well remains my way of giving my highest and best response to everything I face throughout the day. Whether it’s an elevator conversation, an email from an intern, or a deliverable for the CEO, my goal is to respond to everything I do with my best.

***

Image for post
Image for post
Detroit from Belle Isle

***

Could you own and operate a general store in Vermont? If so, here’s one for sale. Seems like a rare thing these days.

***

Valuable lessons are everywhere. I try to pick them up wherever I can. One that I found this week was something called “the briefcase technique.” I’m not sure the name still applies, but the concept is sound. Given the opportunity, we should all be ready to present our plan. Prepare for the job you want. Be in the mindset of your next role. When the moment is right, capitalize with articulated vision and confidence. A good reminder whether you are looking for a new opportunity, leading a large project, or mentoring someone who wants to be more effective.

***

Here are a few ideas on how to maximize your time or make the most of your productivity.

***

Image for post
Image for post
Rise up and slay

***

Speaking of productivity: What does the future look like? An interesting piece in the Smithsonian Magazine contemplated an entire artificially intelligent life. If AI can simplify or mitigate all calculations and risks, it isn’t just work that looks different but our entire way of life. This article goes well beyond what’s on the horizon but it is interesting how our expectations of technology are far outpacing actual enhancements. One question this leaves me with in the world of AI is how will we measure success? What will we consider accurate enough if performed by a machine? Human error rates are likely to be higher than machines but it’s almost as if our standards for machines are that much higher too. We won’t accept even one error when it’s a machine. Something will have to give before we shift more life and death risk decisions over to AI. But for everything else. It’s happening.

***

Can technology go too far? In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Timothy Wu calls convenience a tyrant. According to the theory, convenience has grown beyond a benefit to “an idea, [as] a value, [as] a way of life.” Wu asks what is our “fixation” doing to us and to the country.

What’s interesting to me is that much of what we value — education, physical fitness, spiritual practice, specialization — is difficult and inconvenient. It takes work, discipline and time. Not always the most efficient path, we value those things that require sustained performance over a long period of time. We value experience and are willing to pay more for it. We value commitment and tend to show it more deference and respect.

So, what say you? Convenience in some areas to open up the possibilities for commitment and discipline in others? Do you value convenience above all else?

Interestingly, Wu notes that “today’s technologies of individualization are technologies of mass individualization.” Whether it’s the picture of artificial intelligence as personal assistant — doing all our work, healthcare and finances (as described in the Smithsonian article) — or a tyrant — creating too much convenience and leaving us with no sense of fulfillment or accomplishment, we each must find our own balance and explanation for how we engaged or don’t. In the end, there’s no one to blame but ourselves if we fail to create individual boundaries for technology. And that’s something we cannot outsource.

***

Bonus content: Speaking of tyrants, here’s Ryan Holiday’s op-ed on how the Stoics dealt with political tyrants. Check it out here.

***

Image for post
Image for post

Valuable Lessons: Firewalking. Firewalking is a concept I picked up from Josh Waitzkin (the chess prodigy who was the basis of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer). It means learning a lesson by observation instead of personally experiencing the failure. We all fail and will continue to fail. Many people point to those failures as critical to their success. But to make big leaps is to learn lessons by watching others. Instead of having to get punched in the face to learn where not to put your hands in a boxing match, watch two fighters and learn from them. Then when you get in the ring, exercise the lesson and avoid the pain. Another way to look at it is leveraging the experience of those in the arena just before you step in the arena.

I noticed on Instagram that LeBron James has been writing “Man In The Arena” on his shoes. It describes him literally and figuratively. Part of firewalking is looking to those you can learn lessons from instead of those “playing a different game.” Too often I feel like we’re told to look to Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and Sheryl Sandberg to learn valuable lessons. These men and women no doubt have a lot of interesting things to share about their experience that we should be attentive too. But the real firewalking is from the person who’s a few years or steps ahead doing exactly what you want to be doing. That’s where we should learn our lessons and avoid common mistakes and failures. If you are an Associate looking to become a Partner, look to the most recent Partner to see how to succeed. Don’t look to Barack Obama for advice. If you are a manager looking to become an executive, find a young executive and mine that experience to avoid your own mistakes or delays. Firewalking is a cross between mentor-mentee mentality (say that 5 x fast) and crowdsourcing valuable lessons. Learning lessons from each other, in our own arenas, is a better recipe for actionable value in your career than reading another business book by Mark Cuban or Jack Welch.

***

Challenge question: “Optimism is a force multiplier.” — Colin Powell. What do you do or what can you do next week to infuse your team or your organization with optimism? It can be hard to measure the value of optimism so it requires a belief in the something extra being important to your business. Look for ways to incorporate it this week.

***

Perception vs. reality: One of my favorite themes in writing the last 100 weeks has been perception versus reality. This week is no different. Harvard Business Review published a recent post looking at the way experience (or lack thereof) affects an individual’s accuracy or, more importantly, perceived accuracy. Turns out that most people have a realistic view of their ability when they are totally inexperienced. Also, individuals with deep experience in something tend to measure accuracy or ability properly. Oddly, though, individuals with minimal experience tend to be overly confident.

Here’s what the authors wrote: “Absolute beginners can be perfectly conscious and cautious about what they don’t know; the unconscious incompetence is instead something they grow into. A little experience replaces their caution with a false sense of competence.”

Perceived accuracy begins below true accuracy then quickly exceeds actual accuracy. We get overconfident quickly…and stay that way.

The question is now that we have this research — what do we do about it?

My take: align controls and accountability to specifically address overconfidence. Don’t deny human nature.

***

Quirky Content: It can be hard to feel sorry for lawyers. Trust me, I’m not looking for sympathy. Kinda interesting, though, that lawyers recently ranked highest on loneliness. Higher than engineers and research scientists, lawyers are alone at the top of the lonely professions. We’re always such fun, I don’t get it.

***

Pick your lane.

Today’s Thought: Answer more than the question that is asked. There’s a lot of conversation about value add or how to measure value. Just this week I ended up in 3 separate conversations about how to think about value in the workplace. I’ve always considered context important and one thing I like to believe is a strength is answering the actual question being asked and not necessarily the question on the page. If you know what I mean.

We often receive emails or questions during the day and we suspect there’s probably more to the story, but some people choose just to answer the exact question being asked. Others choose to return every question with a question. (Not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it can be really valuable, just not my style). I choose to answer the question that was asked and then provide deeper context including variables that, if true, would change my answer. That way it allows the other person to decide whether more is needed.

This coming week, take every question you are asked and answer more than the question being asked. See what happens and let me know if it changes anything and/or you determine it to be a waste of time. I’m curious about the outcomes.

***

Quote: “The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.” — Voltaire

***

Little hinges swing big doors.

Continued success and continue to answer well,

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store