VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

It’s January 2022, we are 2 years after the beginning of the Covid Pandemic, and the feeling is that we are living in a VUCA world: it is characterized by high-levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

  • V = Volatility: the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.”
  • U = Uncertainty: the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.”
  • C = Complexity: the multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organization.”
  • A = Ambiguity: the haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.”

We do not have much control over the events that are happening in the world. Besides the profound changes caused by the Pandemic itself, there are also the unintended consequences of the accelerated development of new technologies, the proliferation of military conflicts and more frequent natural disasters caused by Climate Change and Global Warming.

As an individual in January 2022 this probably means that you have dozens of friends and acquaintances who were recently sick with Covid, that you don’t really understand all the implications of NFTs and the Metaverse, that you are concerned about Russia invading Ukraine, and that you are experiencing some extreme weather during this winter (or summer).

In my opinion, in such situation each person should try to increase as much possible the stability of his own life. It’s true that we have no alternative other than being part of this VUCA world, but this does not mean that we should have a VUCA life.

What can we do to avoid having a VUCA life? I share some ideas below.


To reduce volatility, we may need to avoid unnecessary change in our lives. Perhaps this is not the best time to change jobs, take a loan to buy a new car, adopt a pet, commit to a new volunteer activity, or start a new side hustle. All of these ideas may be excellent at the right time, but probably not when a person is looking for more stability.

Another aspect of volatility is Information Overload. The different social networks we use may expose us to a huge number of posts in a very short period of time. To reduce volatility, instead of consuming these random pieces of content being shared by our contacts, we should select the subjects we want to learn about, and then search for the best sources about them.

“What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore – plays in defining the quality of our life.” – Cal Newport


To avoid uncertainty, we need to focus on activities that have a more predictable outcome. For some people this would mean looking for lower-risk investments. For others this would mean choosing a fixed-salary job instead of being a freelancer with variable income. If “profit is a reward for risk taken in business”, predictability means taking lower risks to reduce uncertainty.

A different way to reduce uncertainty is focusing on long-term projects. In general it may be difficult to produce visible results in a short period of time. But, thanks to the Compound Effect, the application of consistent effort through an extended period of time is guaranteed to generate results. Even very small steps accumulating over a long time can make a big change.

“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.” – Bill Gates


To reduce complexity, we need to avoid inter-dependencies among issues that should not be related to each other. For example, we should reduce the interference between our work and the rest of our lives, creating a clear separation between work time and family time. We should not have to choose between answering an email or helping our kids with their homework.

Another way to reduce complexity is to apply the logic principle called Occam’s Razor: “Among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” In other words, if we are looking for an explanation for something we can’t understand, we should check first the simplest explanation, because it will be easier to validate its correctness.

“Keep it simple, as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein


To avoid ambiguity in our lives, we need to define things. For example, regarding the tasks we need to do, we should define our goals, write a TODO list, and specify our priorities. As important, regarding our decisions, it is necessary to define the information that is required to make each decision. We should not try to make important decisions if we lack the details.

It is also extremely important to avoid ambiguity in our relationships with other people. In the office, if we are assigned several tasks, we must ask our manager to define their priorities. At home, if our spouse expresses dissatisfaction with our behavior, we need to clarify the reason. In the industry, this identification of the real issue is called Root-Cause Analysis.

“The mark of a mature, psychologically healthy mind is indeed the ability to live with uncertainty and ambiguity, but only as much as there really is. Uncertainty is no virtue when the facts are clear, and ambiguity is mere obfuscation when more precise terms are applicable.” – Julian Baggini

Opportunities in a VUCA world

I wrote this post thinking about people who are looking for more stability in their lives. But some people may claim that the VUCA world is actually fascinating, because it is creating so many new opportunities.

These are some of the ways we can benefit from a VUCA world:

  • Volatility: the fast changes create lots of new opportunities. In particular the development of new technologies enables the implementation of new business ideas that were impractical in the past, and renders previous business models obsolete.
  • Uncertainty: people who are willing to take the risks may obtain big profits from their investments. When someone leaves a stable corporate job to found a startup company, this person is embracing uncertainty by focusing on the potential of a huge reward.
  • Complexity: in a complex world we need more experts that are able to provide guidance and orientation to others. The more complex a subject is, the more scarce are the people who really understand it, and thus they become more valuable professionals.
  • Ambiguity: in order to face ambiguity we need more analysts, people who are able to interpret the reality and provide actionable insights. It is a very valuable skill to be able to foresee the consequences and implications of the decisions being made.

In general, companies will need qualified professionals to help them deal with all these new forms of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. These roles cannot be automated before these professionals define new processes.


It is a fact that we live in a VUCA world. In this article I have presented some ideas of how we may be able to reduce the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in our personal lives. But I’ve also presented some ways we can benefit from a VUCA world in our professional lives. Each person needs to make an individual choice of how much of these aspects are desirable in their lives, trying to control them when possible.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. It will be a pleasure to hear about your own experiences in the comments below. 

A personal note: this article was written while I was isolated at home, sick with Covid. Now I’m feeling better, thank G’d.

About focus (avoiding volatility):

About long-term projects (avoiding uncertainty):

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Talk on Adaptable Design Up Front in Spanish

This month I was invited by the FaMAF and Eclypsium to talk about “ADUF – Adaptable Design Up Front”. The FaMAF is the Faculty of Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics and Computing of the National University of Cordoba, in Argentina. Eclypsium is a company focused on Firmware and Hardware Security which has an R&D center in Cordoba.

Synopsis: This talk tries to answer the question: “How much Design Up Front should be done in an Agile project?” Hayim presents his approach of Adaptable Design Up Front (ADUF), describing its rationale, applications in practice and comparison to other approaches such as Emergent Design.

Bio: Hayim Makabee was born in Rio de Janeiro. He immigrated to Israel in 1992 and completed his M.Sc. studies on Computer Sciences at the Technion. Since then he worked for several hi-tech companies, including also some start-ups. Currently he is the CEO at KashKlik. He was also a co-founder of the International Association of Software Architects (IASA) in Israel. Hayim is the author of a book about Object-Oriented Programming and has published papers in the fields of Software Engineering, Distributed Systems, Machine Learning and Behavioral Economics.

These are the original slides of Hayim’s presentation:

ADUF – Adaptable Design Up Front from Hayim Makabee

Here is the video of the entire talk (in Spanish):

Special thanks to Daniel Gutson and Nicolás Wolovick who invited me to give this talk.

Feel free to share your comments below. Thanks!

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Looking for a job in Israel: Product-Oriented versus Service-Oriented companies

I’ve been working as a mentor at Gvahim since 2014, helping Olim (new immigrants) find jobs in the Israeli hi-tech industry. In this post I would like to write about one important aspect of the Startup Nation, and the reason it is difficult for some immigrants to find a job here, despite their experience.

There are service-oriented companies and there are product-oriented companies. Most Israeli companies are product-oriented. If your experience and background is service-oriented, it may be very difficult for you to find a job in Israel.

What is a service-oriented company? Such companies develop projects for customers that have requirements. Some people in the company need to write requirements specification documents before they start implementing the software. The customer will pay for the development of the project, and the customer may ask for changes and additions during the development. In the case of big companies such as banks, there may be an IT department developing projects for internal customers. Service-oriented companies may have the role of Systems Analyst.

What is a product-oriented company? Such companies create the concept of a new product and start developing it according to their own vision. There is no customer and there are no requirements. There is a Product team that maps the vision into features and plans the roadmap. Eventually this company will start selling its product. If it is a B2C company it will have users, and if it is a B2B company it will have customers. But the company decides how to evolve the system and what should be the new features. Product-oriented companies in general don’t have Systems Analysts.

As I said before, most Israeli companies are clearly product-oriented. Besides that, many of them are based on deep-tech: they are really creating new technologies. Besides that, many of them are data-driven and based on experimentation: this means that they decide about the new features after performing experiments with their current users and collecting data from these experiments. This is drastically different from a service-oriented company, and this is the kind of experience that companies are looking for here in Israel.

Sorry to say that, I don’t want to be rude, but: if you have worked abroad for service-oriented companies, perhaps you have developed new software systems, but this does not mean that these systems were really innovative. Service-oriented companies are not deep-tech, they are not data-driven and they are not based on experimentation. It is very important to understand that when looking for a job in Israel. Good luck!

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No resignation: Let’s celebrate when people are happy with their jobs

There is a trend on LinkedIn of people posting about their first day on a new job. In general they are very happy and excited, and share a picture of nice shiny objects, which are the gifts they got from the company.

Of course we can understand the enthusiasm of a person when he/she starts a new job. Probably this represents some progress in this person’s professional career, and also an increase in salary.

But I think that we should be really celebrating when a person is still happy after many years on the same job.

Below I’m sharing the picture of my employee tag at Perion, where I work as a part-time Machine Learning consultant. This tag is not a shiny object, actually it is 3-years old.

At Perion I started working for Undertone, developing models to predict the user journey, and now I’m at CodeFuel, working on models to understand user intent.

During these 3 years we developed several Machine Learning projects that were both interesting and challenging, and many of them are now running in production and generating revenue.

So I invite you to share your experience when you have been for several years on the same job and you are still having fun.

Instead of celebrating people who are happy because they left their previous job, let’s hear from people who have no intention of quitting their current job.

Some notes:

Besides working as a part-time Machine Learning consultant at Perion, I also have my own company KashKlik, and I’m in the Advisory Board of two other startup companies: TropX and Mecomi.

Please notice that I’m not criticizing people who are happy because they are starting a new job. This is perfectly normal. People should celebrate any important milestone in their professional careers. I’m just saying that we should have more posts in which people tell us how happy they are with their current jobs.

I wrote this post in the context of recent research that shows that most young people are unhappy in their current jobs. Many articles are being published about the Great Resignation happening now in the US, and people have been complaining a lot about the lack of work-life balance. There seems to be a great disconnect between employers and their employees regarding expectations and priorities.

Therefore, I think it is very important to show that it is possible to find happiness in our jobs. I believe that it is dangerous to motivate others to immediately leave their jobs if they are feeling unhappy. If someone is not satisfied, there should be other alternatives besides quitting.

Please feel free to share your opinion and/or experience in the comments below.

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Vacations: Trading Time for Energy

You can see below my calendar for the month of September 2021. Marked with circles, are the Jewish Holidays we had in this month: Rosh HaShana (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. The red circles are the days I did not work (including Shabbat), and the orange circles are the days I have worked only partially.

My Calendar for September 2021

As you can observe, this month had very few regular work days, and as such we could say that it was not very “productive”. But all these forced vacations helped me to boost my energy levels. I’m feeling now much better than I was a month ago. I can now resume my routine with a fresh mind and many good memories of celebrations with my family and friends.

Thus our definition of a “productive day” should be expanded to include also the days in which we were able to increase considerably our energy levels. You can have a productive day when you complete a task, or you can have a productive day when you achieve some goal, but you certainly can also have a productive day dedicated to rest and fun.

Happy New Year!

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Twelve Books to Read in the New Year

Next week we will start the Jewish New Year of 5782. This is the right time to make plans!

Below is a list of 12 books I’ve already purchased and I intend to read as soon as possible (not necessarily in this order).

Of course I cannot really recommend a book before I read it, but as I explain below I had a very good reason to buy each one of these books.

Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life

by Jordan Peterson

I really enjoyed reading Jordan Peterson’s previous book “12 Rules for Life”, so this new book is an obvious must read for me.

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment

by Daniel Kahneman

Also in the case of Daniel Kahneman I was fascinated by his previous bestseller “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know

by Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a person I admire so much that I’ve already decided I will read any book he writes.

The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life.

by Robin Sharma

I’m very interested in the subject of increased productivity.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers

by Timothy Ferriss

I really enjoyed reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss, so I have good expectations about this book.

High Output Management

by Andrew S. Grove

Andy Grove is an industry leader that I admire, and I really would like to learn more about his experience at Intel.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win

by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

I believe the authors have some very interesting experience to share in their book.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

by John Doerr

I want to learn more about the concept of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer

by Steven Kotler

I’m interested in learning more about how to improve my personal and professional performance.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

by David Allen

As I wrote above, I’m interested in increased productivity, but of course without the damaging stress.

How To Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be

by Katy Milkman

I saw many recommendations of this book, and I’m really interested in the subject of changing habits.

The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World

by Dorie Clark

I had the pleasure to read all the previous books by Dorie Clark. I’m her biggest fan!

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Avoid Boreout: Find Purpose Outside Your Job

Recently, many articles have been written about Boreout: the phenomenon of people who are so bored at their jobs that they start feeling sick. According to researchers, the symptoms of boreout syndrome may include: “depression, listlessness and insomnia, but also tinnitus, susceptibility to infection, stomach upset, headache and dizziness.”

In some ways the Boreout is similar to its cousin the Burnout, but it may even be worse. Because perhaps an employee who feels burned-out may recover after taking some vacations or reducing the workload. But in the case of Boreout the solution is probably to find a new job.

An employee who feels bored-out is not likely to be selected for promotion or to be transferred to a more interesting project. The managers can immediately identify a person who is disengaged and has poor performance. So at the moment the employee feels bored-out, it’s probably already too late to find him a new position in the company he is working for.

In this article I will discuss several aspects related to Boreout, including the need for realistic expectations, the main drivers of motivation and the Flow theory. This article is also inspired by several classes I had at ThePowerMBA that emphasize the importance of employee wellbeing.

On Realistic Expectations

I believe that Boreout is a concrete problem that should be addressed by employers. However I also think that nowadays lots of people have unrealistic expectations about the amount of pleasure they can derive from their jobs. In other words, I believe that too many employees expect that their jobs should be the main source of meaning in their lives, and even happiness.

I think that people should have realistic expectations. In general, I don’t think it is always possible to follow our passion when we choose our career. And I certainly don’t believe that people should have fun at their jobs, or that their co-workers should also be their best friends. As I wrote in a previous article, frustration is caused by the gap between our expectations and our reality, so that to avoid frustrations we should make sure that our expectations are realistic.

So what would be these realistic expectations? In my opinion most people should expect that, in any job, they will have to do hard work, and at least part of the time they will be forced to perform tasks that they don’t really like. After all, if someone is being paid to work, it’s because this work is difficult and demanding. In general people are not going to be paid to do things that are fun and enjoyable.

Sources of Motivation: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

The good news is that it is possible to be happy in our jobs even if they are difficult and demanding. The best-selling author Daniel Pink, in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, presents the three necessary ingredients to guarantee that employees are motivated to perform their jobs: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy means that people should have some level of control about how they perform their jobs. In other words, workplaces should avoid having strict rules and allow employees to have some freedom. This is reflected very well in a quote by Steve Jobs: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Mastery is the feeling that we are acquiring new skills, learning new subjects and developing our potential. In other words, employees should be able to grow while performing their jobs. At the same time that we are executing work-related tasks, we should feel that we are improving our capacity to perform these tasks.

Purpose is achieved when employees understand the importance of their work, and believe that they are contributing significantly to reach their project’s goals. In general a true feeling of purpose requires the employees to identify with the company’s vision and mission statements. We can only be really engaged and motivated when we feel part of something bigger.

It is important to notice that the Purpose factor is not necessarily related to a person individual’s passion. It’s possible for an employee to be fully engaged and find purpose in one’s job even if this job does not contribute to this particular person’s passion. For example a person may find purpose as a lawyer even if this person’s passion was to be a musician.

Flow: Skills and Challenge

The Theory of Flow was proposed by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, author of the best-selling book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”.

Flow “is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” When a person reaches a state of Flow, this person becomes completely absorbed in the activity that is being performed. This concentration is so intense that this person may lose the sense of time and become oblivious to the world.

According to the Flow theory, a person becomes fully engaged with a task if there is a match between this person’s abilities and the complexity of the task. As depicted in the graph on the right, when the person is skilled but the challenge is low the activity is considered boring. In contrast, when we are skilled and the challenge is high, this can bring us to a state of arousal.

In other words, the proper balance between our skills and the challenges we are facing enable us to reach an optimal performance. The consequences are self improvement, continuous learning and an increased sense of satisfaction and achievement. When we reach such a state we feel completely in control of our actions, and we are certainly not bored by our tasks.

Again, it is important to note that the state of Flow is not necessarily related to an individual’s passion. A person may be extremely skilled in performing his job, such as the case of a surgeon or a programmer, even if this person’s professional choice was mostly pragmatic, with the goal to be remunerated by the work being performed. The surgeon’s passion may be playing the saxophone while the programmer’s passion is gardening.

The Third Space Theory

As we discussed above, passion is not necessary for us to feel motivated to perform our job. We must have Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, but the job’s purpose does not need to be related to our individual’s passion. We also observed that passion is not required to reach a state of Flow, we only need the right balance between the Challenge and our Skills.

So the question is: Should we forget about our passion? Can we be fully satisfied as a person if we are successful in our jobs, and have fulfilling relationships with our family and friends? Should the professional achievements in our careers replace the need to follow our passion?

In my opinion, if our profession is not related to our passion, we should find a way to perform other activities that contribute to our sense of meaning. In other words, if we are not able to follow our passion in the workplace, we should find a different space to do that.

According to the Third Space Theory, “one space is the domestic sphere: the family and the home; a second space is the sphere of civic engagement including school, work and other forms of public participation; and set against these is a Third Space where individual, sometimes professional, and sometimes transgressive acts are played out: where people let their “real” selves show.”

Most people certainly have their First Space (their family) and also a Second Space (their workplace) but they do not have a Third Space to express themselves. Therefore these people make the mistake to believe that they should try to follow their passion in their Second Space, and become very frustrated when they fail.

I agree with the opinion that was recently expressed by Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He said: “Don’t follow your passion. Your passion is likely more dumb and useless than anything else. Your passion should be your hobby, not your work. Do it in your spare time.”

This may sound a bit rude, but it’s probably true for most people. We should turn our passions into our hobbies, practice them in a Third Space and in our free time. Then, when we are able to follow our passions outside the workplace, we will be much less likely to become victims of Boreout when performing our jobs. 

In the next articles I intend to continue to discuss interesting topics I’m learning at ThePowerMBA. Please use the comments below if you would like to suggest a subject.

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Self Management: The Balance Between Body, Mind and Soul

In my recent studies at ThePowerMBA, one of my favorite modules has been the one about Self Management, which focuses on the management of our limited personal resources.

In general, when people discuss this subject, they focus on Time Management, including topics like how to define our priorities, how to delegate tasks and how to have more effective meetings. Time Management has been studied for several decades now, with the goal of making workers more effective, efficient and productive, but it is clear that most people still have the feeling that they are not realizing their full potential at their jobs.

Thus it was a pleasant surprise to me when I discovered that ThePowerMBA module focused on Personal Energy Management, including topics such as Mindfulness, meditation and the importance of finding your purpose (Ikigai). In particular, I really enjoyed how they presented the importance of the balance between Body, Mind and Soul.


It should be obvious that we must take care of our bodies, but very frequently people neglect their bodies, either because they fail to understand their basic needs or because they intentionally make sacrifices in order to reach their goals.

There are some clear warning signs that our body is being abused: some people start getting frequently sick, others feel worned out or chronically tired, and others suffer from insomnia or lack of quality sleep. These signs may indicate that our body is not getting the proper level of exercise, neither the right nutrition and the required amount of rest.

Regarding exercise, we should ask ourselves how frequently we do physical activity. Our ancestors were farmers or had to do other kinds of hard work, but today we spend most of our time in air-conditioned offices, sitting on a comfortable chair and making some very small movements with our hands when typing on the keyboard or moving the mouse.

Our nutrition also is very different from the one of our ancestors.Today we eat more food with more calories, including all kinds of processed food with artificial ingredients that did not exist in the past. We should ask ourselves if we are eating to satisfy our physical needs or if we are just consuming food with the goal to have a pleasant experience, as sweet as possible.

Another great difference is the amount of rest we get. Very frequently people today work so much that the only way for them to have some leisure time is by sleeping less. But the problem is not only the amount of hours we sleep: the intensity of the activities we do at night are increasingly causing us to have a bad quality of sleep.


With the kind of intellectual work that most people do today, our mind is our most valuable asset. However, some people treat their minds as if it was an infinite repository of resources to be exploited, and do not understand the cause-consequence relationship between the materials we insert in our mind and the ideas that get out of it.

Our mind also produces warning signs that there is something wrong: when we can’t focus on the task to be done, when we have emotional outbursts (that cause conflicts with our family and coworkers), when we feel high levels of stress, when we have trouble managing our relationships or when we are simply burnt out.

There are several things we can do to improve our state of mind. One topic that became very popular recently is the one of Mindfulness, which emphasizes the importance of living the present moment instead of spending our energy with regrets about the past or worries about the future. Among other things, Mindfulness includes different meditation techniques.

It is also very important to develop our Emotional Flexibility, which means our ability to be aware of our own emotions. For example, if we want to control our anger, we first need to understand what is causing us to be angry. In general, we would like to know what is triggering our feelings, in order to eliminate any undesirable reaction (such as yelling at people when we are frustrated or blaming other people for our problems when something bad happens).

Finally, we must understand that our mind will only perform well if we have enough space for renewal. We must learn how to disconnect from work, from the disturbing news on TV and from the many types of digital distractions we have today. In the previous section we mentioned that we consume much more food than our ancestors, but we are also consuming much more information, and this certainly is not healthy.


Sometimes I have the impression that, in the modern world, people have become less aware that their souls also have needs. I think that a common phenomenon we observe today is that people try to satisfy the needs of their souls through the acquisition of material artifacts. 

There are several warning signs that our souls are not getting what they need: we may feel empty, we may get the impression that something is missing in our lives, sometimes we don’t feel connected to the world around us, we may feel apathetic or depressed.

Then some people will try to fill their emptiness with food, others will decide that they should spend as much time as possible having fun and others will waste the money they don’t have buying expensive cars, clothes or jewelry. But in order to satisfy the needs of our souls, we Humans need Meaning and Belonging.

Finding Meaning means defining what is the purpose in our lives. In the now famous Japanese Ikigai concept (depicted in the image below), our individual purpose is the unique combination of our personal interests, our greatest talents, the things we can be paid for and the things that the world needs.

But it is not enough to understand what our purpose is. We must regularly engage in meaningful activities, according to our very personal interests and talents, providing the needed satisfaction to our souls. We must realize our potential by performing activities that contribute to the world.

Besides Meaning, we also need a feeling of Belonging. We must fill our unique roles in our families, we must invest in having good relationships with our friends and coworkers, and we must also be part of a bigger community. We cannot satisfy our feeling of Belonging if we do not have healthy interactions with other Humans, and this became very clear during the recent Covid Pandemic in which people were forced to stay at home and keep social distance.

In Practice

This month I had the privilege to put several of these ideas in practice. I participated in a full-day seminar at the Galilee, in the North of Israel, under the guidance of my friend Ran Weber. In the past Ran was, like me, an entrepreneur who dedicated all of his time to the startup he founded. But today he is a best-selling book author, sharing with his many readers the beautiful insights he had in his journey for spirituality.

During the seminar we talked about “Hitbodedut”, a Jewish form of meditation. The Hebrew word “hitbodedut” could be translated as “being alone”, but the main goal in this meditation is to have your own private and secluded time and space to get closer to God through an intimate and informal conversation.

Then we went to a forest and each one of the seminar participants found a spot under the trees to perform his own “Hitbodedut”. We kept enough distance from each other so that we could not hear other people talking, and each person had the feeling that they were really alone in the forest. This enabled us to express our most profound feelings without any fear.

As someone who has spent the last 1.5 years working from home, including being under several lockdowns, this was a really transformative experience. I must thank Ran for being such a good mentor, sharing with us his experience, and I recommend the Hebrew speakers of my blog to read his many life-changing books.

I’m also very happy that ThePowerMBA included this module that made me much more aware about my Body, Mind and Soul needs. When I registered to follow this business course, I did not expect to learn so much about Mindfulness, Meaning and Belonging.

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Building a Successful Startup: Avoiding Typical Mistakes

In general, a startup founder needs to do many difficult things. It is even more difficult because the founder will probably be doing these difficult things for the first time.

One of the best books about this topic is “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers”, by Ben Horowitz, co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Below I bring some selected quotes from his book:

“Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.”

“Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.”

“People always ask me, “What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?” Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.”

As I said in a previous post, I believe that the most effective approach to succeed is to avoid the basic mistakes that are being made by most entrepreneurs. Below I present a list of such common mistakes in the “road to disaster”, which was the topic of a very interesting class I had at ThePowerMBA, based on the work of Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup”.

Typical Mistake 1: Excessive Planning

Most startup founders spend a considerable time working on a detailed Business Plan (BP). This BP includes, among other things, the conclusions of market research, competitive analysis and financial projections, both for the future expenses and the expected revenues.

The main problem is when founders spend too much time thinking and doing all kinds of analyses instead of validating their product. Indeed, by preparing the BP the entrepreneurs may be learning about the market and about the competition, but this is not useful to validate their product nor to validate their business model. In other words, this kind of planning does not help bring the company closer to product-market fit, which should be the main goal for any early-stage startup company.

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” ― Peter Drucker, author and management consultant

Typical Mistake 2: Excessive Confidence and Optimism

Entrepreneurs are natural optimists. It is their optimism and confidence that enables them to face the risk of creating a startup company. People who lack this level of positive thinking about their abilities will not leave the safety of their jobs to start a new business. However, this optimism may be very dangerous when founders assume that they know what’s going to happen.

Of course startup founders should be optimists and should also have confidence in their abilities, but at the same time they should assume that they are going to be wrong. Most founders don’t have much business experience before they create their startup, so they will be attempting many difficult things for the first time. Even if they do have previous experience, if the product is really innovative, they should not make too many assumptions about how the market will react to their product idea.

“Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct.” ― Daniel Handler, book author

Typical Mistake 3: Expert Advice instead of Customer Validation

Many startup founders, when trying to get feedback for their ideas, look for advice from “experts” or friends. This kind of feedback is easily accessible, and in general helps the entrepreneurs to reinforce their beliefs. The problem is that this advice may also be very misleading, because it is being provided by people who do not have “skin in the game”.

The business experts may be able to provide us with some valuable feedback when their experience is relevant. But when a product is very innovative, only validated learning with real customers matters. Real users, who are paying with their money to buy our product or access our service, have “skin in the game”. Only this kind of validation may bring the company closer to product-market fit.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” ― Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

Typical Mistake 4: Building the Perfect Product

Unfortunately, many startup founders are perfectionists. This is particularly the case of the technical founders, which may consider it unacceptable to deploy a software with some bugs or partial functionality. These founders will delay the launch date, and as a consequence postpone the contact with real customers, trying to build the perfect product.

In contrast, early-stage startup companies should get out of the building stage and start learning as soon as possible. While the software is being implemented there is no one using it to provide us any kind of feedback. At this stage the company has a high burn-rate but very low learning rate. Only validated learning enables the company to make progress towards product-market fit before all the company resources have been burned-out.

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” ― Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn

Typical Mistake 5: Keeping a Secret

It is common for startup founders to be afraid to share their ideas with others. They don’t tell anyone about their vision nor the product features because they think that someone will steal their startup idea. They want it to be a secret.

But this fear is prejudicial to the founders. They cannot benefit from keeping a secret. In contrast, the entrepreneurs’ goal should be to validate their ideas as soon as possible. We cannot learn anything from an idea that is not being exposed to the market.

“Ideas are commodity. Execution of them is not.” ― Michael Dell, CEO of Dell

Typical Mistake 6: Premature Focus on Profitability

Some startup founders focus too early on gaining traction. This means that they try as early as possible to make their startup profitable and to start growing without additional investments. In other words, they try to bootstrap their company.

However, for an early-stage startup, the only goal is learning, and everything else is waste. It is extremely risky to try to become profitable when the company has not yet made a real effort to get closer to product-market fit. An early-stage startup could easily consume all its resources trying to sell a product that is not ready to be sold.

“In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later.” ― Harold S. Geneen, ex-president of ITT Corporation

Typical Mistake 7: Focus on Vanity Metrics

Very frequently we observe that early-stage startup companies focus on Vanity Metrics. This kind of metrics includes the number of user logins, number of app downloads and number of likes on social networks. They are not indicative of product-market fit because we can increase each one of these metrics by simply increasing our marketing spend.  

In contrast, startup founders should focus on Actionable Metrics. Examples of these metrics are the Conversion Rate, the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and the Customer Life-Time Value (CLTV). If we are able to improve the Conversion Rate, reduce the CAC or increase the CLTV, we are getting closer to product-market fit.

“Vanity metrics wreak havoc because they prey on a weakness of the human mind. In my experience, when the numbers go up, people think the improvement was caused by their actions, by whatever they were working on at the time. That is why it’s so common to have a meeting in which marketing thinks the numbers went up because of a new PR or marketing effort and engineering thinks the better numbers are the result of the new features it added. … Actionable metrics are the antidote to this problem. When cause and effect is clearly understood, people are better able to learn from their actions. Human beings are innately talented learners when given a clear and objective assessment.” ― Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup

In Summary

The table below summarizes the typical mistakes and the correct approaches.

In my future articles I intend to continue sharing what I’ve been learning at ThePowerMBA. Please use the comments below to let me know what would be your main topics of interest.

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Personality Types: Understanding Human Behavior

There are several different types of challenges in a work environment. In order to succeed, we must be able to identify these challenges and develop the appropriate skills to face them.

One obvious kind of challenge is the inherent difficulty to perform the tasks required by our professional role in the organization. Thus the sales person has the challenge of closing deals, the marketing person has the challenge of creating leads and the software developer has the challenge of implementing algorithms. When we choose a particular profession and go to college, our goal is to acquire the tools that will enable us to handle this kind of challenge.

However, there is also a very different type of challenge: interacting with our colleagues in the workplace. This includes the conversations we have with our boss, the collaboration with co-workers in our department and managing subordinates in the case we are in a leadership position. In general all these different types of relationships may become a dangerous source of conflicts and misunderstandings, but very few people actively invest their time in developing tools to handle these situations.

The first time I was exposed to the importance of managing relationships in the workplace was when I was still a Computer Sciences student and read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography. He was an American automobile executive who worked for Ford developing several successful new car models, and later became the CEO of Chrysler, saving it from bankruptcy at that time.

Iacocca studied Mechanical Engineering, but he also took several psychology courses. In his autobiography he writes about the relevance of studying psychology: “I’m not being facetious when I say that these were probably the most valuable courses of my college career.” He adds: “It makes for a bad pun, but it’s true: I’ve applied more of those courses in dealing with the nuts I’ve met in the corporate world than all the engineering courses in dealing with the nuts (and bolts) of automobiles.”

Personality Types

One of the topics I recently studied at ThePowerMBA was the diverse Personality Types. In particular, we covered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) framework, which has 16 personality types, that are the possible combinations of 4 dimensions:

  • The first dimension is the Introvert/Extrovert scale. Introverts need more time by themselves, being alone and focusing on their inner world. Extroverts need to spend their time socializing with others, focusing on the outer world.
  • The second dimension is the Sensing/iNtuitive scale. When processing information, individuals on the Sensing side focus on evidence and experience in arriving at a decision they are comfortable with. In contrast, people who are more Intuitive tend to interpret things and give them a personal meaning.
  • The third dimension is the Thinking/Feeling scale. When making decisions, people on the Thinking side prefer to employ logic and a rational analysis. On the Feeling side, people are more driven by emotions and their personal feelings.
  • The fourth dimension is the Perceiving/Judging scale. When dealing with the outside world, people on the Perceiving side prefer to stay open to new information and alternatives. In contrast, people on the Judging side want to arrive quickly at a decision.

The image below, from the ToolChest website, summarizes the 4 MBTI dimensions:

I recently read an excellent book about the importance of Personality Types. It’s called “Surrounded by Idiots”, by the Swedish behavioral expert Thomas Erikson. This book is based on the DISC method, which classifies Human Behavior into four types: Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C). In his book, Erikson describes the many differences among the four types, in a way that is both practical and entertaining. Based on his own experience as a consultant for big companies, Erikson focuses on the situations created by these four types in the workplace. He gives concrete advice on how to overcome conflicts and develop productive relationships with our colleagues.

In the opening of the first chapter, Erikson explains why it is so difficult to communicate effectively: “Everything you say to a person is filtered through his frames of reference, biases, and preconceived ideas. What remains is ultimately the message that he understands. For many different reasons, he can interpret what you want to convey in a totally different way than you intended. What is actually understood will, naturally, vary depending on who you are speaking to, but it is very rare that the entire message gets through exactly as you conceived it in your mind.”

Understanding Human Behavior

One of the aspects that was covered in my ThePowerMBA class was the importance of understanding Human Behavior in order to improve relationships in the workplace. There are several benefits we can obtain from an increased awareness about the particular needs and expectations of the different types of people collaborating with us in our jobs.

Everyday communication: understanding how others perceive the world enables us to adjust our communication to them. For example, a person who is detail oriented may want to analyze all the values in a report. For such a person, focusing on the big picture may be seen as something abstract and not actionable. We need to know if the person we are working with is someone who expects to learn all the details or if this person feels comfortable by knowing only the bottom-line.

Coordinating a team: assigning tasks to the different team members according to their personality types ensures higher productivity. Some people will prefer to work on problem solving tasks that require mostly analytical skills, while others will feel better brainstorming new ideas, using their creativity and imagination. While some people feel comfortable speaking in public, others will prefer to contribute by preparing written documents.

Dealing with emotions and stress: being aware of what causes us and others stress will help us avoid it. Most professionals prefer to work on a few well-defined tasks with clear deadlines, even if some people actually enjoy developing multiple projects in parallel. The pressure to multi-task and the constant interruptions in the workplace may have a strong negative impact on the employees’ emotional wellbeing.

In general, a better understanding of Human Behavior will be beneficial for all professional activities that require interactions with co-workers. This includes our personal relationship with our boss, the effective cooperation with colleagues in a project or leading and coordinating the tasks of the members of our team.

Talking to Strangers

Another very interesting book about this subject is “Talking to Strangers”, by the best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. This book presents several real-world stories that illustrate the difficulties we have when interacting with other humans. In his book, Gladwell brings fascinating examples of misunderstandings and misjudgments. Unfortunately some of these stories had a tragic end, with the cost of innocent human lives.

One phenomenon described by Gladwell in his book is the “default to truth“: we tend to believe in the things people tell us. Therefore, it is very difficult for us, as human beings, to accurately detect that someone is lying to us. In his words: “You believe someone not because you have no doubts about them. Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts about them.”

In Summary

It is essential for our personal and professional success to be able to understand human behavior. In order to acquire tools to improve our relationships, we should invest in learning about psychology and the different personality types. These skills can have a direct positive impact in the workplace and influence the development of our careers.

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