Some Nonintuitive Lessons That Are Hard To Learn

I spent today in an all-day meeting

With some very smart people, we worked on planning for the second half of the year, and did a lot of work to identify themes, areas of effort, strategies for prioritization, and more.

And while we met, while we discussed things, it was clear to me that the seasoned professionals I was meeting with had already learned some hard-to-learn lessons.

These are the nonintuitive lessons that you can only learn the hard way – by making mistakes. I can't speak for all of them, but I can tell you that at least for me, some of these lessons have requires multiple learnings, if you know what I mean.

So as I wrapped up the evening, I thought – maybe I can share these non-intuitive lessons and maybe you can learn them without having to go thru the mistake process.

Normally I write leadership posts on my other blog, though I do have several posts on this site that may help. Either way, I thought this would be worth it for all my friends running product and service companies.

Four nonintuitive lessons your team needs to learn right away

Nonintuitive Lesson 1: If you want to get more done, you have to do less.

You know this. I know this. But we often forget it. We have grand plans. But to get a lot of stuff done, you can't make big lists. You have to make tiny lists. The real trick to getting something done is to have focus, passion and capacity. You can't have that for 150 things. You can barely have it for 5 or 6.

When things get challenging, the items that you don't have passion for will quickly get tossed aside. And since they don't get done, the initial time you spent on them was wasted.

That's why focus and passion are so critical. And as you'll see in lesson 3, we never have enough capacity for everything. No one does.

Nonintuitive Lesson 2: If you want to go fast, you have to move slow.

The folks in the Navy Seals have a saying that by now you've likely heard on television or in movies. “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.”

When you move slow, you move deliberately. And when you move deliberately, you make less mistakes. And that leads to moving faster than if you move fast, make mistakes, and have to circle back to fix things.

Whether you're building a product or delivering services, moving fast is rarely going to do what you thought it would. That's why this is a nonintuitive lesson, because no one thinks moving slow is useful. Until it is.

Nonintuitive Lesson 3: You can do more with less, if you think right.

Trust me that today, all we wanted was more staff. More resources. That happens in every conversation in every company. But early in my professional career I read about the companies that would purposely shrink the resources that a team had (not in a bad way). They did it with intention.


Because they wanted constraints to drive creativity. I often have to ask myself, how would I do it if I had less, not more, resources. It's clearly a nonintuitive lesson that has stuck, as I thought about it often in our meeting today.

[Tweet “Constraints can be a blessing when they force you to think differently.”]

Nonintuitive Lesson 4: You'll say more when you speak less.

If you know me, you know this is the one I was mentioning above when I said I have had to learn this lesson a million times. And I'll likely die never mastering this. I'm a talker. I'm an external processor. I like to spar with ideas (not people).

But often it's the person who has been quiet for 3 hours that is heard, because when they speak, everyone stops to pay attention.

You'll persuade more when you argue less. So choose your words (and timing) wisely.

One Last Extra Lesson

I had no trouble writing this post. But just as I was about to publish it, I stopped and started doing some Google-ing. Was it nonintuitive, unintuitive or counterintuitive?

I'm still not sure. But I decided that my desire to press publish was stronger than my desire to burn several hours trying to answer the question.

But it sparked a thought. A fifth nonintuitive lesson. So here it is – for free.

Nonintuitive Lesson 5:
You win no prizes for solving problems you create yourself.

As we sat down for dinner at the end of a long day, there were something like 16 of us sitting at this long table. Then we ordered food. And then, post-ordering, some folks swapped seats (to talk to other folks).

The waiters had it all on lock. No issues at all. But what if we'd gotten the wrong orders to the wrong people? It would have been a problem we would have had to solve. A problem we created ourselves. And like I said, there are no prizes for solving problems you create.

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