May 10 2012

Learning Through Extremes, or Shifting Gears part II

OnlyOnce is 8 years old this week, which is hard to believe. So it is fitting that I got halfway through a new post this morning, then a little alarm bell went off in my head that I had written something similar before.  The topic is around moderation versus extremes.  I first wrote about this topic in 2005 in a post called Shifting Gears but I have thought about it more recently in a different way. 

Instead of phrasing this as a struggle between “Meden Agan,” which is Greek for “everything in moderation,” and “Gor oder gornischt,” which is Yiddish for “all or nothing,” I’d like to focus here on the value of occasionally going to an extreme. And that value is around learning. Let me give three examples:

-We were having a buy vs. build conversation at work a few months back as we were considering an acquisition. Some people in the room had an emotional bias towards buy; others toward build. So we framed the debate this way:  “Would you acquire the company for $1 instead of building the technology?” (Yes!) “Would you buy it for $10mm?” (No!) Taking the conversation to the extremes allowed us to focus on a rational answer as opposed to an emotional one — where is the price where buy and build are in equilibrium?

– With my colleague Andrea, I completed a 5-day juice fast a few weeks back. It was good and interesting on a bunch of levels. But I came away with two really interesting learnings that I only got from being extreme for a few days:  I like fruits and veggies (and veggie juices) a lot and don’t consume enough of them; and I sleep MUCH better at night on a relatively empty stomach

– Last year, I overhauled my “operating system” at work to stop interviewing all candidates for all jobs and stop doing 90-day 1:1 meetings with all new employees as well. I wrote about this in Retail, No Longer. What finally convinced me to do it was something one of my colleagues said to me, which was “Will you be able to keep these activities up when we have 500 employees?” (No) “So what is the difference if you stop now and save time vs. stopping in 6 months?” Thinking about the extreme got me to realize the full spectrum

It may not be great to live at the extremes, but I find extremes to be great places to learn and develop a good sense of what normal or moderate or real is.