Friday, January 14, 2005

Action, Speculation and Reflection

by Asim Jalis

THE IMPORTANCE OF REFLECTION There is a value that is pushed in XP and also in business school, which is that action trumps speculation. However, despite believing this for some time, I have not harvested any significant gains from this. Action is pointless unless there is reflection. We act all the time. It's only by reflecting that we can make progress. Consider, a principle such as LowerTheBar. This is a profound and deep principles that has alters how a person does work and his productivity. And yet this is a product of these conversations and reflections. If I had acted mindlessly my whole life, I would not be any closer to discovering this. The risk-reduction techniques we talk about are really useful for getting things done when work is necessary. Things like paying bills and running errands are much easier now than they were before. It is possible that executing less and reflecting more is the mode we can operate in most effectively. THE TURNAROUND AT K-MART Instead of pushing harder, one solution to achieving more is to stop pushing. I was reading in BusinessWeek about Eddie Lambert who bought out and has essentially turned K-Mart around. (Not related to our main point, but this is nevertheless interesting: he was kidnapped at gunpoint and was able to persuade the kidnappers to lower their demand from $4 million to $40,000.) The things that Lambert did to turn around K-Mart are standard business practices. The basic principle behind all this was that he spent more money. The previous management of K-Mart was so terrified of bankruptcy and so fixated on cost cutting that they had essentially stopped all spending. Lambert hired expensive companies to redesign the stores, create new advertising campaigns, and looked for other ways of increasing the value of the company. The main point of all this is that sometimes you have to get away from your goal, to get closer to it. I.e. you have to increase costs instead of reducing them. The more desperately one desires something the less attainable it becomes. Most stories of burnout have this pattern: one element is pushed really hard and other equally important things are not.