Change Fatigue and Appreciating Local Restaurants in These Times

This morning, my sister and I dropped by one of our neighborhood favorites, Arsicault, to pick up some croissants. The line there was always long, even before COVID-19. Like many other businesses, Arsicault had markers drawn in chalk to make sure folks stayed socially distant while in line. Today, I noticed that the markers had gotten an upgrade:

Change is hard under normal circumstances, and these times are obviously far from normal. I’m moved and inspired by how quickly small businesses, especially food providers, have adapted to these challenging times. I’ve also watched with curiosity the journeys many restaurants have taken and the hard choices they’ve had to make, from adapting their menus to adopting online ordering software to building outdoor dining spaces to drawing socially distant line markers. How have they decided which changes to make, when to make them, and how far to take them? How have they dealt with change fatigue on top of struggling to survive?

I don’t know how Arsicault’s painted line markers came about, but as I pondered them, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my friends, Sarah and William, several years ago. I was explaining to them that much of my work boils down to helping groups navigate change fatigue. William listened quietly, nodding thoughtfully as I talked, then said, “I know how your clients feel. When we first moved into our house, I fixed everything I saw that was broken. After about a month, I stopped. It’s not that I thought I had fixed everything. I see the same broken things every day, and they bother me just as much as they did the first time I saw them. Real life just caught up to me — family, work. It’s just exhausting trying to keep up.”

His story resonated both personally and professionally. In my own life, I have a long list of things I know I need to do, but I can’t ever seem to muster the energy to do them. Similarly, many of the groups I work with know exactly what needs to change in their organization, but they’re so exhausted just keeping things up and running, even taking a small step seems daunting.

Maybe painting line markers will save the good folks at Arsicault time in the long run, since they won’t have to redraw their chalk markings regularly. Maybe they just wanted something that looked better. All I know is that simply painting those lines while trying to survive in these challenging times must have been exhausting. I appreciate them and all of the local businesses doing their best to stay alive while also trying to keep their customers safe.

Stripe Is Paying to Remove Carbon from the Sky, Hoping that Others Will Follow

Last year, Stripe shared on their blog their commitment “to pay, at any available price, for the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and its sequestration in secure, long-term storage.”

Their reasoning was straightforward. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions will not be enough to resolve our climate crisis. We almost certainly need to remove carbon dioxide that is already in our atmosphere. The technology to do so is in a classic early stage conundrum. Because it’s so new, it’s both not good enough and too expensive to be viable. However, those who buy early help fund improvements to the technology, which drives the price down, which leads to more customers and investments. Wash, rinse, repeat. All the while, carbon is being removed from the atmosphere.

This is the promise all early stage technology makes. The question is, who’s going to buy early? For carbon removal, Stripe raised its hand, committing to spending at least $1 million a year. Their hope was that other companies would follow suit.

I thought this was awesome, but I wasn’t blown away by the dollar amount. A million dollars isn’t nothing, but Stripe is worth $36 billion.

So I was disappointed to read in this week’s The Atlantic that a million dollars turned out to be a big deal. The article quotes Stripe’s Ryan Orbuch, who said, “We got a positive response from the carbon-removal community, because the field is so starved for capital that a million dollars will raise eyebrows.”

I find this infuriating… and sadly, not surprising. With an estimated $500 billion a year being invested in climate change by companies, governments, and philanthropic foundations, how is it that a million dollars shook up a market that is so clearly necessary right now? My guess is it boils down to two things: Lack of leadership and lack of strategic action. The need to wait for others to make an obvious idea okay before being willing to jump in themselves is very, very strong in most people.

While I find this very sad, Stripe deserves even stronger kudos for recognizing this and doing something about it.

Jeff Bezos on Process as Proxy

Jeff Bezos’s 2017 letter to shareholders should be required reading for all entrepreneurs. Seriously, go read it now. It’s short and well worth your time.

One point that seemed particularly relevant to my work is to resist process as a proxy:

Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?

One of my core principles is to be intentional, but hold it lightly. Over half of my work is helping people get clear and aligned around their intentions. People often fall back on process as proxy, because they’ve lost sight of what they’re actually trying to do.

The Mainstreaming of Analytics

John Hollinger, a long-time ESPN.com columnist and inventor of the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) for evaluating basketball players, is joining the Memphis Grizzlies front office as its Vice President of Basketball Operations.

This is wacky on a number of levels. First, it represents the ongoing rise of the numbers geek in sports, a movement pioneered by Bill James almost 40 years ago, given an identity a decade ago in Michael Lewis’s book, Moneyball, and gaining official acceptance in the NBA five years ago, when the Houston Rockets named Daryl Morey its General Manager. Want to run a professional sports team? These days, an MIT degree seems to give you a better chance than spending years in the business.

Second, Hollinger spent over a decade sharing his thinking and his tools for all to see. Now, all his competition needs to do to understand his thinking is to Google him. Tom Ziller writes:

The major difference between Hollinger and, say, Morey is that we all know Hollinger’s theories. We know his positions, and we’ve learned from his work…. Will his canon hurt his ability to make moves? We can lay out exactly which players he likes based on his public formulas and his writings. Other GMs will know which Memphis players he’ll sell low on. You can anticipate his draft choices if you’re picking behind him. If you’ve got a high-production, low-minutes undersized power forward, you know you can goose the price on him because history indicates that Hollinger values him quite seriously.

This is all a gross simplification: Hollinger’s oeuvre is filled with nuance. He doesn’t rank players solely by PER, and in fact he probably has some adjustments to his myriad metrics up his sleeve. He’s not going to be nearly as predictable as a decision-maker as anyone would be as a writer. The stakes are different, the realities of action are different. But no decision-maker in the NBA has had this much of their brain exposed to the world. Morey isn’t shy, but that big Michael Lewis spread on Shane Battier was as far as we ever got into the GM’s gears. Zarren is notoriously careful about what he says. He might be the only GM or assistant GM in the league more secretive than Petrie.

It’s interesting to consider the implications on the Big Data movement in business (on which Moneyball had a much greater influence than most would probably admit). Business is not a zero sum game like professional sports, so there’s more room for nuance and many positive examples of openness and transparency. Still, for all those who believe that openness and competition do not have to be at odds with each other, this will be fascinating to watch.

Ziller also makes a wonderful point about the importance of communicating meaning from analysis:

In the end, what Hollinger’s hire means is that the ability to do the hard analysis is important, but so is translating that to a language the people on the court can understand. That’s always been a wonderful Hollinger strength: making quant analysis accessible without dumbing it down. Even someone as brilliant as Morey, who has a team of quants, can’t always achieve that.

I’m reminded of a tale from Rick Adelman’s days in Houston. Morey’s team would deliver lengthy scouting reports to the team and coaching staff well before a game. It’d have player tendencies, shooting charts, instructions on match-up advantages — everything you could ask for to prep for a game. And out of all of the coaches and all of the players only two — Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes — would devour the reports. The rest (Adelman included) would leaf through, pretend to care and go play ball. That story might be an exaggeration on the part of the person who told it, but even if that’s the case, it shows how important accessibility is. You can build the world’s greatest performance model. And if you can’t explain what it means to the people using it, it’s worthless.

Three Tips on Life from Pete Rose

Last month, ESPN launched a film series, which includes a series of web shorts. The first short in the series was a piece on baseball’s Hit King, Pete Rose, entitled, “Here Now.” There’s a line from Rose in the film that I especially loved, where he outlines his philosophy on hitting, on business, on life:

  • Be aggressive
  • Be more aggressive
  • Never be satisfied

Rose obviously had its flaws (as do we all), but this much is indisputable: He was a great ballplayer, one of the most exciting and inspiring ballplayers ever to watch, and a good manager. We could all learn a lot from how he played the game.