Just Do It, But Start With a Small Step

If you’re reading this sentence, it means that I proved my point without even getting you through the rest of the

I’ve just got back from a run, which reminded me of a principle that is etched in my mind and serves as one of my mottoes in life.

I didn’t really want to go running today. I had an eventful weekend, which included many miles of walking. I was tired and hungry and had a presentation for a lecture I’m giving tomorrow to prepare. Many good reasons to call it a day and give up on this one run. After all I run 3-4 times a week; skipping one day won’t be the end of the world.

But then again, giving up on even one run is a slippery slope. You resonate it once, and soon you find even better explanations for why you shouldn’t run the next time, and the one after. Before you know it, you’re not running anymore. So no, I wasn’t willing to give up on this one.

To overcome my weariness I set myself with a humble goal – put running shoes on. I then pleaded myself to walk out the door and jog just for a little. Any distance, I promised myself, will do. Even a mile or two will be better than not running at all.

It worked. As soon as I took just a few steps the earlier fatigue evaporated, and I started to feel invigorated; a feeling that strengthen as I gulped more steps. After a mile or so I had no doubt I’ll run my regular 3 miles.

So far, nothing special. I’m used to that routine. Every time I have to do something that requires attention and focus, like replying to a long email, writing a new blog post, or do something that I’m not excited about, such as taking the dishes out of the dish washer, I have to deliberate and negotiate with that side of me that wants to rest and be left alone. The most effective weapon I use to avoid procrastination is taking the smallest possible step. Click the “reply” button, write the first line of the potential post, or open the dish washer door. Chances are this small step is enough to push me through the completion of the task.

But today’s run was special, in that it illustrated how powerful the “small step” principle is.

As I mentioned, few steps were enough to push me for to run my regular distance. But then, before reaching half way to that goal, I felt a surge of energy. I don’t know why it suddenly emerged, maybe a good idea that I came up with for my presentation, but it made me feel ambitious. I now wanted to hit the 5 miles’ mark. Remarkably, when I got to the 5 miles turning point, I wanted to go even further. I didn’t though, because I had to go back home, since dinner was on its way [1].

Nike’s slogan, “Just do it”, is inspiring. Yet it doesn’t solve for how you get yourself to “do it”. Taking a small, modest and non-committing step is the most effective way to get things done. But I’m not saying something new here. Much was already written about the power of a small step. Kaizen [2] is built around this concept. I’m just attesting that it really works.

Back to the first sentence of this post. I though about all of this during my run, and figured it might make an interesting post. But by the time I got home, had dinner and set to finish my presentation, I was too tired to start writing. I also wasn’t too encouraged to do it, given the finale of that run (more on it in a sec). I convinced myself, though, to write only one sentence, the one that opens this post.The power of small steps…

Now let me conclude with an anti-climax: this heroic run. I got to the 2.5 miles mark and turned back for the second half. But then, about a mile before the finish line, my legs failed me, and vetoed my aspirations. They forced me to stop at once, and did me a favor by carrying me that last mile, clumping and aching. This breakdown, which I never experienced before, left me confused: should I be happy for not giving up on this run, or disappointed for stopping before reaching my goal. I’m too tired though, so I’ll leave it for you to decide.

[1] By now I should have stakes in Seamless. Ordering every night for the last 2 years makes me an angle investors, at least…

[2] Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. Read more about it.

One Ineffective Review

Earlier today when I went to grab launch, I came across a lady who stood at the entrance to a fitness club trying to engage with passer byes. I think she was an ex-employee or a past customer of this club; either ways sensed she wasn’t very pleased with it. I probably got that impression because she kept chanting profanities, and urged people to avoid entering it.

Her scheme worked – no one seemed to enter the place.

Well, if you think about it, this scene took place on 14th street, which is swarmed with people, especially around lunch time. And so 99.99% of those people have no intention to get a workout. This lady was trying to convince the convinced. Or maybe she was hoping that her ferocious exhortation will keep them from even thinking about it in the future.

But for some reason this surreal sight of this poor lady, who I don’t think is crazy, but who was for some reason offended by something or someone in this place, so much that she took upon herself to review it physically and vocally to anyone she could have reached, got me thinking. It seemed to remind me of something else, but I’m not sure what.

When 2 Weeks Are Faster Than 2 Hours

Few weeks ago I bought my wife a set of lenses for her iPhone. Usually I buy everything on amazon, but this time I ordered from B&H, a brick and mortar retailer with an online store, because it sold what I wanted for 25% less.

When I received the item I found that I ordered the wrong model – one for the iPhone 4s instead of the 5s. I submitted a request for an exchange, which was approved. I wasn’t clear on how B&H’s exchange process works, so I called their customer care. The guy I spoke with, who was super nice, explained the process and said that it might take about two weeks to get a replacement. To avoid the long wait, he suggested I’ll swing by the store and make the exchange there. It will be faster, he said, and I agreed.

Today I went to the store. But when I got there I found that I’m not the only one thinking they can “game” the system. About 20 other customers had the same idea, creating an expected waiting time of about 2 hours. I loathe lines. Just the idea of waiting for an hour at the DMV gives me more agitations than that of going through a root canal procedure. So no way I’m going to wait 2 hours to replace merchandise.

And so I went back home with the wrong model. I plan to ship it back to B&H, and buy the correct one on Amazon. It will cost more, but at least I know I can’t go wrong.

This experience made me think about the concept of “speed” and about trust.

Is faster really faster?

The guy from B&H assumed I would prefer waiting 2 hours in store than couple of weeks for a delivery. He was thinking about speed in absolute terms – 2 hours vs. 2 weeks. I, on the other hand, think about speed differently. I take into account other variables, such as the actual – physical and mental – waiting time, and the total of the transaction.

Let’s think about actual waiting time first. At almost any given moment, I have Amazon packages en-route to me. I don’t really wait for or keep thinking about them. They create zero mental load on me. But when I’m standing in line, crammed between 20 other customers, lamenting the lose of a Friday, I feel the wait with every fiber in my body. For me, 2 hours of wait are like a pure torture. They feel worst, and hence longer, than a shipment that will land on my door eventually.

But even if you think about speed in absolute terms, in-store exchange isn’t much faster. I talked with the B&H representative more than a week ago. Since then I’ve tried to find time to visit the store (more mental effort). Turned out the only day I could made it was today, a vacation day. Overall then, I waited almost the same amount of time I would have, if I shipped the item.

And here’s where the second and more important insight. You might ask why did I go to the store and didn’t send the item back?

Trust is in the details

B&H has an amazing store. If you haven’t been there and you’re in NYC, you must pay it a visit. And if you have kids, take them with you. It’s like an amusement park for electronic devices, where gadgets take rides from the automated warehouse to the checkout. They’re doing it in electric plastic carts that run on rails across the entire ceiling of the store. The constant bustling and rattling sounds of the moving carts feels like there’s a roller coaster running over your head.

This design instills confidence. When I’m in this store, all I can think of is “boy, those guys know their craft and understand technology.” But then, when I tried to return an item online, this confidence vanished. I didn’t feel that I can send the item and forget about it, as is the case with Amazon.

Let me explain. When you decide to return an item to B&H, you have to fill-up a form online. You then submit it, and wait for a representative to reply. This simple flow creates immediate concerns. Waiting for a reply means that someone has to process my request. But will anyone pick it up? will they approve it? how long should I wait for a response?

Fortunately, my exchange was approved. I got an RMA form [1] the following day. It noted that I agreed to receive a replacement instead of a refund. This form, though, raised more concerns – how can I be sure someone will read this form, see that I asked for a replacement and ship back the correct item? I started to think about the workflow this form triggers, and became aware of all the possible points of failure in that process. In addition, the form indicates the address where the item should be returned to. That’s another point of failure, since I have to fill-out a return label, and hope the package will then ship to its destination.

Thinking about this process, I can see why the B&H representative suggested I will go to the store, and why I thought that’s the right thing to do. To make sure I return the product and get a replacement, I should go to the store in person.

Now, think about Amazon, where all of this complexity is hidden from the user. You want to return an item? no problem – here’s the label. Print and attach it to you’re item. Drop the item at the closest UPS store, and a refund will hit your account (minus delivery fee), or a replacement process will initiate as soon as you exist the door. The whole process is automated, done using printers, scanners and emails. No human intervention, hence no place for error. At least that’s how you feel. And just like a magic, few days later a new package delivery is waiting at your door.

And so, here are my take aways:

  1. As a customer – trust worth money.
  2. As someone who builds products – keep your users in Wonderland, and don’t ever let them see through your challenges, problems and complexities.

[1] They keep referring to this form as RMA, which I have no clue what it means. Using internal lingo with your customers is a horrible idea. Don’t ever do it!