Breakfast Notes #27 (Snakes, Non Profits, Moonshots, CEO Insomnia)

Breakfast Notes #27 (Snakes, Non Profits, Moonshots, CEO Insomnia)
Photo by Thula Na / Unsplash

Good morning friends. I am writing another op-ed for CNA on the fallacy of the work-life balance. It should go live in the coming week.

Here is a quote on patience by George Savile, the English statesman I have been contemplating about.

A man who is a master of patience is master of everything else.

Here is the 27th serving of the Breakfast Notes

Adding Legs To A Snake

Sometimes, we try to embellish our work to impress our peers and superiors. It could be adding a few fancy words from the thesaurus in a report or citing an obscure research paper to justify why drinking whey protein at 11:42 am every day maximizes muscle gain. However, more often than not, it backfires on us.

Here is a Chinese proverb story that perfectly captures the cost of flashiness.

During the Warring States, in the kingdom of Chu, there was a Lord who wanted to gift his precious wine to his servants after a sacrificial ceremony. However, there was only enough wine for one person. He devised a competition to determine who gets to taste this exquisite wine.

He declared that whoever could finish drawing a snake on the floor first could get the last cup of wine. One of the servants finished the snake before his peers, and just as he reached out for the wine, he paused and added legs to the snake. After all, legs were difficult to draw, and he wanted to show his impressive skill. His friend finished drawing and snatched the wine from him at that exact moment.

He exclaimed, ‘A snake has never had legs. The creature that you have drawn is not a snake!’ As he finished his sentence, he polished the last cup of wine.

We must resist the desire to give in to our vanity and avoid things that detract us from our mission. If not, we will never enjoy the sweetness of success.

The Dark Side of Non-Profits

A surprising number of friends I know working in the non-profit space tell me how politicized things are. It turns out that beneath the veneer of virtue is a grasp for power through showmanship.   Thus, a downside of non-profits is that some may end up becoming more focused on appearing virtuous than doing the actual work of service.


In his iconic book, Alchemy, Rory Sutherland calls firms and agencies to attempt “psychological moonshots” - non-financial based improvements.

Sutherland posits that improving our satisfaction from an experience can often come much more easily through better use of consumer psychology than improvements through physics.

Here are some examples:

  • Making a high-speed rail from Boston to DC 50% faster may cost hundreds of millions of dollars — but making a train journey 100% more enjoyable may cost only a fraction of the price. Wouldn’t it be better to have a free beverage, a reclining chair, an electrical socket, a seatback table and Wi-FI for three hours than to go on a 90-minute journey with none of the above?
  • When you check into any Hilton hotel, you will be greeted with a warm, freshly baked DoubleTree cookie. No economist nor rational consumer will suggest that a cookie will improve the guest experience. They would suggest the hotel build an expensive skyline pool and increase the room size or a plethora of expensive solutions. Yet, when you think of the Hilton hotel, you think of that delicious cookie.

We can better solve many of the problems we face today through a dose of creativity.

Visualization Of The Day

Before nose filters and nose jobs, there was a nose adjuster.

The Atlantic

We like to think that the social media age has fueled our collective desire for affirmation and an idealized version of ourselves. Little did we know, our streak of vanity has run through generations.

What Keeps CEOs Awake At Night

In a recent Harvard survey of over 100 CEOS globally, they shared with researchers what kept them awake at night.

A whopping 33% said recruitment and retention of talent was by far their biggest challenge. Economic uncertainty and inflation were only mentioned by 10% of CEOs.

Since I have not read the paper, I don’t know how true this is. If anything, this should be a reminder of three economic realities of the job market - 1) It pays to be an A-star player. 2) A-star players can help a company ride out (and even thrive) in tumultuous market conditions 3) You are probably more valued than you think you are.

May the sun shine upon your face,


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