Saturday, April 25, 2009

On My Study Abroad Experience at London Business School

From January to March 2009, I studied abroad at London Business School.  It was a phenomenal experience, which I was lucky to get; I was one of 10 students selected among a pool of 40 Kellogg applicants.  I've written an article about my experiences for the latest issue of our school paper, The Merger:


One cold afternoon in mid-January 2008, I found myself sitting in a quiet corner of the Jacobs Center, thinking of how to answer questions from the study abroad application due on the following day.  I won’t lie, I had no intention of studying abroad when I applied to b-school.  However, two fateful conversations changed my mind and led me to one of the defining experiences of my MBA career.

 The first of these conversations occurred when Pavan Singh encouraged me to attend the study abroad session and think about London Business School (LBS).  So I did.  The opportunity seemed intriguing enough, so I asked friends for their opinions.  In the second of these conversations, over beers at TG, Matteo Cortese told me, “London isn’t a British city.  It’s a European city!” and explained that it’s one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan places in the world where people from all over Europe mix.

 Matteo’s description of London swayed my decision to apply for LBS because I sorely lack international experience, having been born and raised entirely in the U.S.  Given the global economy, developing a more international mindset is critically important to me.  Thus, I saw studying abroad in London would allow me to gain a tremendous amount of exposure to not just British culture, but cultures across Europe and the world, in only one short quarter. 

 After being accepted to study at LBS, I began thinking about what I hoped to gain from the experience.  I broke it into 4 buckets: travel, cultural exposure, networking, academics.

 In terms of travel, I’ve traveled much less than I initially planned.  A friend at LBS, Valeria, told me, “The opportunity cost of traveling every weekend is extremely high.  You could make friends with people from all over the world at LBS!”  While I haven’t quite met people from everywhere, I’ve made a bunch of great friends.  Moreover, I’ve gotten to really explore London and develop a great love for the city.

 As for cultural exposure, this has been a process of my realizing that many things I took as cultural constants are actually variables in other societies.  Conversations on topics both profound and mundane have shed light on many things that I never would have considered.  On one occasion, a Japanese friend, Hiro, explained that the Japanese hate seeing brilliant people become wildly successful in a short time.  This stands in clear contrast to America’s brash Silicon Valley, Liar’s Poker business culture.   Throughout the months, I’ve slowly developed a more international mindset.

 In networking with both LBS and other exchange students, I’ve befriended mostly Americans and people from the former British Commonwealth.  Not quite as global of a group as Valeria suggested. However, I have to compliment the LBS administration and student body for doing a much better job of integrating exchange students than we do at Kellogg, because a third of their class studies abroad.  Interestingly, less networking is done around campus.  LBS classes are held in one 3-hour block, as opposed to two 1.5-hour blocks like at Kellogg, so they are not forced to be on campus as often.  Many students make up for this by constantly being at nearby pubs.

 Lastly, my academic expectations for LBS have been met.  The Kellogg students who studied at LBS previously set my expectations low.  I find the classroom experience at Kellogg to be more gratifying.  The workload here is also about half of what it is at Kellogg.

 One thing that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is that LBS has done a fantastic job in creating a global environment.  The administration limits the percentage of the students from any one country, so no dominant cultural faction exists to influence the school culture.  Of course, this means that they don’t obsess over the 1980s as we do.  But, it also means that students are more patient and understanding with each other.  In another conversation, Hiro explained that because of this, he feels more comfortable being himself in London than he did in Japan, where he’s expected to conform to a cultural mold.  As such, I believe that this helps to integrate students from all different cultures to a much extent than I see at Kellogg.

 That said, I’m glad to be back at Kellogg.  However, I now see my cultural assumptions in a different light and I promise to be much more patient with everyone.  Despite all of my great experiences at LBS, I’m more firmly convinced that I made the right choice in attending Kellogg.  Though, if asked, “Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to study abroad?” I would answer, “Absolutely!”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kellogg High Tech Conference Notes

Yesterday, I attended the Kellogg high tech conference.  It's consistently the best conference that I attend at b-school.  This year, some of the keynote speakers were lackluster.  Someone from SAP, clearly a salesman, came up to talk about leadership.  I zoned out after he threw a slide up with 10 buzzwords on it, the most egregious case of buzzword bingo I've ever seen.  However, the panel discussions were incredible.  Since I'm awful at keeping paper records, I've jotted some of my key take-aways from the conference on here.

Adobe keynote speaker:

3 major computing trends:
  1. Cloud Computing
  2. Social Computing
  3. Device + Desktop - users in future may never have a PC, may go straight to mobile computing devices (e.g. Blackberry, iPhone, etc.).  Companies are beginning to build applications for devices first, then scaling them up for use on a PC.
3 future business models:
  1. Ad-based
  2. Subscription
  3. Freemium - give away to 99% of people, charge the 1% who value it most
3 software models in the future:
  1. Microsoft - you must buy the client
  2. Google - (didnt get the notes for this one)
  3. Adobe - client tech is free, pay for software to create
Learnings:
  • People will tell you what they're willing to pay for if you ask
  • Business people want to pay for software, because that obligates you to give them support
Panel Discussion: The Future of Mobile
Featuring representatives from Palm, Motorola, Alcatel, Salesforce and Novarra

The future of wireless operators:
  • Wireless operators need to incorporate services/apps into their packages to prevent themselves from becoming dumb pipe.  These apps need to be unique things that the handset and content creators cannot do.
  • U.S. carriers used to have tight control over content on their network, until Apple broke their control in negotiations with AT&T over the iPhone.  Now handset makers expect to whittle away at the carriers' control.  Europe always has had looser controls.
  • Carriers need to view connectivity holistically - wireless + wireline.  In the future, everyone will have 2+ connected devices
  • Carriers opening up user access to buy mobile device apps from 3rd parties has increased their own app sales.
Lack of standards is costly:
  • 6 OSes in the wireless space, so developed have big decision about who to support
  • Will 1 OS become dominant in the future?
  • Salesforce has to create a different version of its mobile app for compatibility with every type of OS
  • On the bright side, cloud computing has lowered the variability between OSes
The future of smart mobile devices:
  • As their capabilities increase, smartphones will become the new center of gravity in personal computing, but the PC will still be around for the big screen experience and multitasking capabilities
  • In developed world, smartphones serve as entertainment devices for the most part
  • In developing world, mobile devices become lifestyle enablers.  They're used as wallets to pay bills wirelessly, to check grain prices, fish prices, make sales to markets prior to transporting grain/fish to the markets.
  • Huge ecosystems are necessary to enable the mobile phone as a wallet: mobile carrier, handset maker, banks/credit cards, etc.
  • Many in developing world will never see wireline connections.  Wireless connections are much cheaper to put up.
  • Machine-to-machine applications will begin appearing.  Putting wireless readers on power meters will allow utility companies to instantly get information on the power grid.  This will allow them to more efficiently direct electricity to areas of the grid during their times of heaviest usage.  Much energy is wasted if it's directed form plants to neighborhoods that don't use it.
  • Cheap "all you can eat" wireless data will only become available once some wireless carriers go bankrupt and their wireless assets are recapitalized.  e.g. when WorldCom went bust, its wireline assets were sold off cheaply, which enabled cheap broadband internet to come about.
Disney keynote speaker on digital content business models:
  • Consumer Experience: the consumer knows he's king now.  Internet allows dialogue between content consumers and creators.  Consumers have more choices than ever before, so you need to engage them when creating content.
  • Monetization: media start-ups are beginning with "monetization first" idea, because once you train consumers to expect to get content for free, they will never agree to pay.  State upfront your billing model and consumers will respect that.  
  • Media forms in the future: long, short, snack-size
  • Rich experiences will be important for future media properties: content + online experience + games (Blu-Ray DVD provides medium for much content and online stuff)
  • Cross-platform experiences will come about: TV/mobile/PC/console - will be able to seemlessly migrate across platforms soon
  • Always treat technology as an enabler for content, not as the point in itself
Digital Marketing Panel:
featuring McDonals Europe, FedEx, Google, Vibes Media

2 enablers to the internet revolution:
  • Broadband proliferation
  • Digital storage prices drop
3 fundamental changes to the internet:
  • Social
  • Mobile
  • Video
Content:
  • Content now migrating from local devices to the cloud.  No longer do you lose all of your photos, contacts, documents when you lose your laptop, because it will all move to the cloud in the future.
  • Everyone wants portability of content across all devices.
The physical internet:
  • Fed-Ex thinks of its business as: content + physical = global access
  • It describes a Celtic drum maker shipping client from Ireland.  His clients search for their family crest on the internet, orders a drum head with their family crest from a specialized family crest maker who ships them to the drum maker.  Drum maker makes the custom drum, ships it to the person who ordered it.  Before the internet and Fed-Ex, the drum maker would only have a small shop in a small town.
  • Fed-Ex did a social netowrking experiment.  After a few failures, they hit on a success by putting their small business clients who do international shipping across the Canadian-US border and those who do not ship internationally across the Canadian-US border.  It turned into a very successful, strong community of people sharing ideas and tips when pulled together.  Key learning - social communities with a common purpose will thrive
Digital marketing:
  • Digital advertising: conversions is the key metric.  How does your website build intent to purchase?
  • Traditional advertising: goal is share of voice and building awareness.  Fine if low brand awareness, but no good if 99% brand awareness (e.g. Fed-Ex)
  • Co-locate IT and Marketing to speed development of digital marketing campaigns.
  • Digital media spending is easier to justify in a downturn, because of clearer metrics
  • During downturn, Google has discovered that people have become pickier in what they choose.  If they can only go out to dinner 1 time a week, versus 3 times before, they want to have the exact experience that they want.  They won't compromise.  Digital marketing can help target consumers' spending, help them decide on your brand, etc.
  • It's still critical to understand traditional media - it consists of 70% of advertising budgets
Awareness --> Brand Trust --> Consumer Advocacy
  • Brand trust - knowing what to expect from a company.  It's built from all of the touch points in your company - everyone that the consumer interacts with, from the website to customer service to delivery man, etc.
  • If consumers trust the brand, you'll get consumer advocacy, people touting your brand for free.
  • Fed-Ex uses a consultancy to monitor all web postings about their business, so that its customer service operations can fix any problems with the customer immediately.  Negative publicity can spread quickly on the internet and hurt brand equity.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Atlas Shrugged

This book has just moved up on my reading list.  WSJ commentary on the book.

On the Wrong Side of Madoff

I just read an article called, "I was fleeced by Madoff" by a lady who lost her life savings to his fraudulent schemes.  Very sad and scary.  While I encourage you to read the whole article, I'd like to share some interesting points of view that the author had thought the author had.
Before the phone call I had 30 years of retirement savings in a "safe" fund with a brilliant financial guru. When I put down the phone, my savings were gone and my genius financial guru, Bernie Madoff, was in handcuffs. I felt as if I had died and, for some unknown reason, was still breathing.
I can't even imagine having such a phone call telling me that my world has been shattered.
It was always more important for me to find work that I loved than to be rich. I know this is a ridiculously privileged attitude since so much of the world must concern itself with getting food. But I was (and still am) one of the privileged: I've always had clean water, clothes to spare, enough to eat.
I've thought about this before, but I've never been able to crystalize it as well as she has in 2 sentences.  It puts the devastation of getting into McKinsey/Goldman/Microsoft/etc. into perspective.  My conclusion has been to not feel guilty about having such opportunities, but to appreciate them more by understanding how priveleged I am and to think about how I can contribute to the betterment of the world.
Then I realize that, for me, the real suffering is not living without money; it's living with this rage. The devastation is horrible, but if I don't allow myself to feel this, then I can't learn what there is to learn. I will not see, for instance, that I participated in the fraud by being willing to close my eyes about what Madoff was doing.

I often asked Richard, the head of our feeder fund, how Madoff made such consistently good returns. Although Richard tried to explain it to me, it was clear he didn't know, either, because I'd leave our meetings still unable to explain to anyone else how it worked. But that didn't deter me
I can't even imagine the range of emotions she must be feeling.  It's easy to point fingers at people who were defrauded, but the world is so complex that we can't have a deep knowledge about everything, so we have to trust experts by necessity.  I'm too trusting of experts and need to be more critical of them before I fully trust what they say.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kellogg Course Bidding System: Hyperinflation or Pricing Things Right?

For the January 2009 issue of the Merger, I wrote an article about Kellogg's course bidding system:

“Some classes are becoming astronomically expensive. People are bidding irrationally!” wrote one student in a Merger survey about Kellogg’s course bidding system. Following the 1st Year students’ first bidding experience, it is certainly a sentiment to which many students at Kellogg can relate. Given this experience, many may wonder why the Kellogg course bidding system has been set up the way that is and how to best deal with the course bid inflation?

THE KELLOGG SYSTEM AND ITS CRITIQUES

Since spots in the classes of well-regarded professors are scarce resources, Kellogg has created a course bidding system to distribute them in an economically efficient manner. The system is modeled after a Vickrey auction, or second price sealed-bid auction. In such auctions, bidders submit their bids in a sealed envelope to the auctioneer without knowledge of other bids. The bidder with the highest bid wins, but pays only the amount of the highest non-winning bid. In the Kellogg course bidding system, each section of each class is set up as an individual auction, with upwards of 80 seats for sale depending on the class’s capacity. Students can bid in up to 5 auctions for seats in various classes. All winning bidders pay an amount equal to the lowest winning bid, rather than the highest non-winning bid.

As a Vickrey auction, the Kellogg course bidding system is subject to the auction’s benefits and weaknesses. One prominent benefit of the Vickrey auction is that its “second price” stipulation minimizes the Winner’s Curse, thus giving bidders the incentive to bid their true valuation. Without it, bidders may be afraid of overpaying if they think other bidders have better information, causing them to bid lower than their true valuation. Paying the “second price” incorporates some of the other bidders’ information into the winning bid.

However, the Vickrey auction has several weaknesses. First, it does not allow for “price discovery” if bidders are unsure of what their true valuation are. This is a problem for items whose values are not easily determined, such as art and classroom seats. In contrast, an English auction, which is used in many art auctions, allows bidders to see how much others are bidding to calibrate their own values. This weakness is partially solved by making course bid history available. Second, it is susceptible to shill bids, where sellers can enter fake bids to increase their profits at the expense of buyers. In the Kellogg system, shill bids are made by students who submit artificially high bids for classes only to later drop the classes. While those students retrieve their bid points for the dropped class, all other students in the class are still charged the higher amount.

Ryan Goldman, a 2nd year student who based his final project in the Spreadsheet Modeling class on the bidding system, observed some of these weaknesses in his analysis. Critiquing the system, Mr. Goldman says, “You want something that doesn’t involve so much guesswork and so much period-after-period inflation. The Kellogg model [increases] those two things. People have very, very little certainty when they enter a bid and they’re not able to budget correctly because of inflation.” As a result, he says, students often overbid for classes that have historically closed for 1 point, preventing them from allocating those points to bid on more expensive classes.

Many of the 140 current students surveyed by the Merger agreed with these critiques. Although they consider the system to be fair and effective, many complain about bid inflation and that not enough sections of the most popular professors’ classes are offered. In spite of this, students mostly feel that they have effective bidding strategies, typically spending between 1 and 3 hours to formulate them.

However, the system incentivizes some interesting group behaviors. For popular classes, students routinely bid higher than what the classes have closed for in the past. Others bid all of their points every quarter in hopes of getting points back, which they were advised to do by 2nd year classmates. These strategies are one cause of bid inflation. Other students bid uncommon numbers (e.g. 511 instead of 500), which explains the strange closing bid amounts seen in bid histories. One student “aims for good professors and undesirable time slots,” which historical bid results suggest is fairly common; less desirable 8:30am sections of several popular classes sometimes close for more points than more desirable 10:30am sections.

To improve the system, students suggest penalizing students who drop classes more heavily, which could potentially solve the problem of students who inflate classes by bidding high and later dropping them. Additionally, some students suggest listing more classes as having 2nd year preference to restrict competition and allow 2nd years to take important classes before they graduate.

IS THE GRASS REALLY ALWAYS GREENER?

In weighing various trade-offs, many top MBA programs have settled on different approaches to distribute classes. MIT Sloan and Chicago Booth have chosen methods similar to Kellogg’s system. In contrast, HBS and Tuck use a lottery system where students rank the courses they want to take. At HBS, a computer program then uses a lottery to determine the order in which to grant students courses. This approach puts much emphasis on luck, to which some may object in favor of having more control over the outcome.

The most complex system is Wharton’s, which resembles a financial market. It consists of a 10-round Vickrey auction process, an aftermarket that allows students to re-sell their classes, and the injection of additional “currency” into the market after each semester. Course bidding takes place over a 10 day period, each round lasting 1 day. After buying classes in the first round, students can re-auction their classes in future rounds. At the start business school, students have 5,000 bid points and, at the end of each semester, receive 1,000 additional points for each class that they took in that semester. To illustrate, if a student with 5,000 points bids only 3,000 points on 5 classes in one quarter, he carries over 2,000 points and later receives an additional 5,000 points. Thus, he will have 7,000 total points to bid in the next quarter. As a result, students speculate on courses that they do not intend to take and some courses are sold for as much as 10,000 points.

While some Kellogg students surveyed suggested having an aftermarket, it could potentially lead to speculation on classes by many students. In turn, this may result in more drastic bid inflation for popular courses and accusations of opportunism.

IN SEARCH OF A HAPPY MEDIUM

The current scenario of bid inflation resembles a prisoner’s dilemma in which all students to continually bid higher than those in the past. To stop bid inflation, Mr. Goldman says that unless all students heed the advice to stop bidding so much for classes, those who do will be harmed while those who do not will benefit. Jokingly, Mr. Goldman advises the Class of 2011 to, “Stop bidding so much!” in an attempt to pre-empt the typical 2nd Year advice to always bid all of one’s points. While the problem may be partly solved by increasing penalties for dropping classes, a complete remedy would be difficult if not impossible.

Of his own bidding strategy, Mr. Goldman says that his risk aversion drives him to avoid the expensive classes altogether. In doing so, he says, “The downfall of my experience at Kellogg is that I didn’t take Negotiations, I didn’t take Fin D. I didn’t some of these more popular classes.” However, he has enjoyed his classes at Kellogg, stating that many of his favorite classes have cost him only 1 point.

Only by understanding the system’s flaws and quirks can students most effectively formulate their bid strategies. As Mr. Goldman’s experience may suggest, the herd mentality that causes a greater aggregation of points to be spent on a smaller number of courses means that many more courses are being auctioned off for fewer points. Fantastic courses taught by excellent professors may be undervalued by the Kellogg community and had for as little as 1 point. Although there is much to be said of the wisdom of crowds, students should also remember that they may benefit greatly from contrarian bidding strategies.

Despite its flaws and quirks, students feel that the system works. Perfectly articulating the system’s purpose, one surveyed student wrote: “Surely, it is not possible to give everything to everyone.” But, it allows all students to get the classes they value the most if they bid correctly.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble

The latest article in the NYTimes' series about the financial crisis, called "The Reckoning," is titled, "Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble."  It's quite an interesting read.  The opening quote, made by financial historian Niall Ferguson, is great: “Usually it’s the rich country lending to the poor. This time, it’s the poor country lending to the rich.”  The two main points that I took away were 1.) that we're addicted to borowing in America and 2.) that Chinese people are not going to start spending anytime soon.

Of the first point:
In the past decade, China has invested upward of $1 trillion, mostly earnings from manufacturing exports, into American government bonds and government-backed mortgage debt. That has lowered interest rates and helped fuel a historic consumption binge and housing bubble in the United States.

In hindsight, many economists say, the United States should have recognized that borrowing from abroad for consumption and deficit spending at home was not a formula for economic success. Even as that weakness is becoming more widely recognized, however, the United States is likely to be more addicted than ever to foreign creditors to finance record government spending to revive the broken economy.
It's pretty appalling to me that the pork barrel politics will not stop anytime soon.  As much as I subscribe to democracy as a political philosophy, perhaps the lack of discipline in spending is one of its failings.  When the federal government's purse strings are loosened, all of the hands begin dipping voraciously into the purse.  State representatives furiously write lines into important legislation that appropriate money for their own states' constituents, for either necessary or unnecessary projects, thus ballooning federal spending and, in turn, the national deficit.  Any representative who doesn't participate in the mad grab for money seemingly martyrs his/her constituents for the greater good of financial discipline, but I suspect will most likely have his/her piece of the pie appropriated by someone else.  But I have no idea how to fix this problem, which worries me.  It looks like a repeated prisoner's dilemma game, except where the payouts of the equilibrium of "cheat, cheat" is greater than "cooperate, cooperate" for the first few periods of the game, then suddenly all payouts become extremely negative following the 2 players' choice to play "cheat, cheat" for so long.

I stated my thoughts on how American consumers behave in an older post.

Of the second point:
Mr. Bernanke viewed such international investment flows through a different lens. He argued that Chinese invested savings abroad because consumers in China did not have enough confidence to spend. Changing that situation would take years, and did not amount to a pressing problem for the Americans.
...
Proponents of revaluation [of the Chinese currency] in China argued that the country’s currency policies denied the fruits of prosperity to Chinese consumers. Beijing was investing their savings in low-yielding American government securities. And with a weak currency, they said, Chinese could not afford many imported goods.

The central bank’s English-speaking governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, was among those who favored a sizable revaluation.

But when Beijing acted to amend its currency policy in 2005, under heavy pressure from Congress and the White House, it moved cautiously. The renminbi was allowed to climb only 2 percent. The Communist Party opted for only incremental adjustments to its economic model after a decade of fast growth. Little changed: China’s exports kept soaring and investment poured into steel mills and garment factories.

But American officials eased the pressure. They decided to put more emphasis on urging Chinese consumers to spend more of their savings, which they hoped would eventually bring the two economies into better balance. On a tour of China, John W. Snow, the Treasury secretary at the time, even urged the Chinese to start using credit cards.

China kicked off its own campaign to encourage domestic consumption, which it hoped would provide a new source. But Chinese save with the same zeal that, until recently, Americans spent. Shorn of the social safety net of the old Communist state, they squirrel away money to pay for hospital visits, housing or retirement. This accounts for the savings glut identified by Mr. Bernanke.
It's amazing to think of how drastically governmental programs that provide a social safety net can change people's behavior.  In the U.S., we have social security (which some people have recently called "the largest ponzi scheme of all" in reaction to the Madoff fraud), unemployment, medicare, alimony and child support, just to name a few.  As someone in the U.S., I've taken these protections for granted until I realized that in other parts of the world, these things don't exist.  Instead, people have only their families to rely on as safety nets.  These programs allow workers in the U.S. to spend time to figure out what the best fit job for them is, which helps to promote worker morale and workforce efficiency.  It alllows the U.S. to have looser laws on when a company can fire someone, which makes it easier for businesses to grow without fear of being overwhelmed by payroll expenses in a downturn.  Contrast this with India's labor laws, where it takes upwards of 10 years to lay-off a worker, which make businesses incredibly gun-shy to hire anyone.

But when do we become too comfortable?  When do we focus so much of our attention on consumption at all costs, rather than production and saving?  Granted, the Chinese are so uncertain of what their government's policies will be that they store away every penny in to the Chinese banking system, which the Chinese government taps as its personal piggy bank.  But I've seen McKinsey studies that state that around 70% of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending, whereas consumers drive only 30% of the Chinese economy.  This statistic is scary in light of the fact that the remainder can be attributed to government programs and investments in infrastructure and education.  These investments will allow China to rapidly catch up to our productivity if we don't keep investing to stay competitive in the world.

John Adams famously said, "The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain."  It's a great quote, and I strongly believe in the value of a liberal arts education, but I wonder if too many of our sons are exclusively studying painting, poetry, etc.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Commit and Execute

Presently, I'm on the annual Kellogg ski trip in Steamboat Springs, CO.  Today, I've forced myself to start committing and executing on the ski hills.  Whenever I have any uncertainty of my ability to do something or deliver something, I have reservations while I execute.  The results turn out not to be my best work, because I focus on not screwing up and tense up rather than on doing my best or winning.  When I have a tight deadline in the office, this translates into me having brain lock as a result of constantly being nervous about whether I can deliver on time.  I either deliver below my abilities or stay late at night to finish the work to my standards.  On the ski hills, this means that I doubt my own abilities and end up falling when I get nervous.

Prior to going on the ski trip, I had told everyone that I would not snowboard because I kept falling so much last year and was in great pain for most of the trip.  That quickly changed.  As the ski trip approached, I started thinking about taking 1 lesson to see whether I would improve.  Yesterday, I took the lesson and did incredibly well.  In 5 hours, I progressed from not being able to ski down a green trail without falling several times to being able to ski down blue slopes with no problems.  Today, I skied exclusively blues and went down a black diamond at the end (though I fell on the moguls the entire way down).

This afternoon, while I was snowboarding down a blue slope that required me to gain a lot of speed, I would tense up and constantly fall because I was scared to go fast.  When I thought about my reactions, I began forcing myself to commit to gaining speed instead of tensing up.   The results were great; I stopped falling as much and improved quickly after that point.  Rather than tensing up and reacting frantically when I gained speed, I started to accept what was happening and reacting appropriately.

In general, I feel like there's a point where I need to make high-level decisions and a point to simply execute and not question those decisions.  Of course, there needs to be room to change course and reflect.  But at some late point of the decision-making process, I think the only thing I should focus on is executing well.  My commonly used analogy is that I've gone over Niagra Falls in a barrel; the only thing I can do is brace for impact.  

Maybe this analogy is problematic because it focuses on not failing as opposed to succeeding with flying colors.  In one of my classes, I read a case about college basketball coach Bobby Knight who focuses on process, not outcome.  He trains his players to do all of the right things to win.  He'll yell at his players even when they win if it was a sloppy win.  Conversely, if his players do nothing wrong and execute perfectly but still lose, he'll compliment them all night long.  

Perhaps a better anology would revolve around binary results, to succeed brilliantly or to fail miserably.  Framing it in that way leaves only one choice: to execute with full confidence without knowing the outcome.  What happens when you don't commit and try to bail halfway?  Here's a clip from a rollerblading video I saw years ago.


My conclusion: be reflective and plan well early in the decision-making process, but once I commit to a decision, I must ALWAYS execute with full confidence.