Average person and Skin in the game (quote)

From APPENDIX TO BOOK 3: A Few More Counterintuitive Things About the Collective

The average behavior of the market participant
will not allow us to understand
the general behavior of the market.

Skin in the Game, Taleb

Groups of individuals are not the same as individuals.

Your team is more (or less!) than the mere sum of the contribution of their members.

You can’t understand the behavior of the team just evaluating the average teammember.

Because the average teammember is not a teammember.

Two types of leadership: Mission Impossible vs The Magnificent Seven

First type. The Visionary. The Innovator.

He has a vision. A clear goal. And some clues on what needs to be done and when.

He knows what the future looks like, although he doesn’t need to know how to reach there.

So The Visionary arranges a team that can fulfill the vision. He transmits the vision to the team. And he puts on his best work so the team can fulfill the vision.

He is Ethan Hunt recruiting teammembers for his Mission Impossible force.

Ethan Hunt is a Visionary enrolling the right people in the right way for the success of the mission

Second type. The Frontiersman. The Expert.

He knows the landscape. He’s walk this same walk before. He has frequently travelled through roads similar to this one.

So a team that need guidance hires The Expert for guiding them through this road. The Expert doesn’t need to agree on The Vision, but knows how to get there. And he puts on his best work so the team can fulfill The Vision.

The Expert is Chris Adams recruiting seven magnificent mercenaries to fight against Caldera’s gang.

Chris Adams is the Expert, hired by the villagers to lead them to reach their goal

Both The Expert and The Visionary will put all their best effort and knowledge. to help the team.
In the long run, The Visionary will turn an expert, and The Expert could become a Visionary. But better not confusing them in the first place.

What tennis teach me about projects, business and resilience

Serving on a doubles match, in a losing effort. After a 0-6 first set, we almost came back on a 5-7 second set

You are going to fail: The only player not losing is the player not playing. Learn from failure.

Plan/Do/Check/Act: visualize the point before playing. Then play it. Then ask yourself what happened. Finally, adjust accordingly. Playing tennis you apply PDCA every minute so you end up being quite good at it.

Learn from failure but don’t let it be an anchor: best way to improve is asking, what can I improve? But once you have an answer, stick to it and forget about the failure.

Resilience: The one who gets the point is the one passing the ball over the net one more time. Be more patient than faster. Do more push than rush.

Long-term strategy. You don’t need to win every point. Trying to win the next point at all costs is usually not the best strategy. Do one step at a time, think mid-term.

Long-term strategy: A point is a point. But they don’t mean the same. Be aware of it. The most valuable point is the last one. And only until you start the next match.

Focusing on next steps: learn from the past, but think only about the next point. Slow down. Breath. Think positive. Focus.

You should play AND train: You improve by playing, you improve by trainning. But combining both will give your game a boost! You learn how to work by working. But if you refuse to train, to learn, to read, to experiment on your own time with your own resources and projects, your progress is going to be much slower than it should.

Enjoy the pressure: you can’t play if you are not willing to deal with pressure, uncertainty and exhaustion. You wont endure If you don’t learn how to enjoy while suffering.

Last but most important. First step to succeeding in a game is being aware that you are playing one. And in the end, it’s just a game.

Shape Up quote: decouple your product definition

Second, we shape the work before giving it to a team. A small senior group works in parallel to the cycle teams. They define the key elements of a solution before we consider a project ready to bet on.

Shape Up: Stop running in circles and ship work that matters (R. Singer)

People working on Product definition should define the product.

Development teams should be given work to develop.

There are plenty of decisions that must be taken BEFORE development starts.

There are plenty of decisions on how to develop the product that will be taken by the DevTeam.

Confuse both responsibilties to your own peril.

You don’t need to be busy to be working (II)

A modern productive worker is someone who does a great job in figuring out what to do next.

Seth (Redefining Productivity)

Whether you work on an orchestra or on a high-profile software development team, you don’t need to be busy to be working.

The lead times for their tasks had been shortened, and the throughput of their system was higher than ever before. So did it really matter whether people were fully utilized?

Stop Starting, Start Finishing, Arne Roock

If you need to be able to react to change, you should allow create slack time for your team.

“It’s better that people wait for work than the other way around”, he thought […] The team members used their slack time to help their colleagues and to think about general system improvements”.

Stop Starting, Start Finishing, Arne Roock

Focusing on finishing each task as soon as possible (and not sooner) is crucial.

Stop looking on how much busy you are.
Start focusing on how much work you get done.


  • Redefining productivity (Seth). The new high productivity calculation, though, is very different: Decide what you’re going to do next, and then do it. […] Innovation drives the connection economy, not low cost.
  • The Goal: to sum it up. Having inventory is bad. It’s not an asset, but a liability. Until the very moment you manage to turn it into money. Having lots of inventory makes it harder to uncover problems.
  • Great bosses will want you to work less. And all of this leave great bosses with the only strategy able to let them increase productivity. […] More work done in the same time.

A powerful combination to impulse best work

First. Applying the Prime Directive by default usually pays.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review (Thorough Anne Weise, Thoughtworks)

Not only for your retros but for every interaction. For every piece of work.

Second. As a manager, as a leader, as a boss or simply as someone accountable for something, applying Leffert’s Law is also handy.

The Lefferts law of management: It is your fault. As a person with more power than the people who work for you, there are probably a dozen excuses in any situation for why things are not going well: don’t use them.

Scott Berkun (Berkun’s blog)

Don’t use it as a way to avoid root-cause analysis. But as a first step to keep the team in motion and to start looking for continuous improvement and for a better outcome.

Third. Finally, assume goodwill. Because, yeah, you guessed it, it usually pays.

In just about every industry (except electronic money transfer, apparently), assuming goodwill is not only more productive, it’s also likely to be an accurate forecast. Trust pays.

Seth’s blog, Assuming goodwill

My new rule of thumb is to always assume goodwill and ignore any perceived sarcasm. Call it a Type II sarcasm-detection error. It’s hard to imagine a situation where sarcasm is the most effective way to make your point.

Seth’s blog, The problem with sarcasm
A powerful combination

What a powerful combination! Trust your team and your customers. Be as accountable as possible. Leave behind all feelings that prevent good communication from happening.
And then, take advantage of this lever to show up and keep doing your best work.

Defending waterfalls

Agile hype has turned “waterfall” into a synonim for “worst practice”

It’s not.

You should never be religious about methods of any kind. The only sane way to work is to let the project define the plan. Only a fool chooses tools before studying the job to be done.”

Berkun, A year without pants

Let me tell you a story.

Still there? Ok! Thanks. Let’s begin.

It was the end of the century. Like 1998 or something. I was trying to get my degree in Software Engineering. I was enrolled in Project Management 101. For the course you must form an ensemble with other four fellow students to create a windows (3.11!!) desktop application. But making a great application was not going to give you an “A”.

Things were so different at the End of The Century

What was important was how you managed the creation of the application. Your team should do it using a structured methodology.

Guess what was the methodology?

It was Iterative Waterfall. Requirements, analysis, design, coding, testing, release. And some feedback loops between each stage and the previous one.

Guess what? It was marvellous. And it worked.

The professor told us to take it as a real opportunity for learning by doing, since “perhaps it’s the last time you are going to work on a project with a requirements document or a testing strategy“.

You know what? He was somehow right.

Back in the Old Days, working with no clear requirements statement could be common practice in some markets and some companies. Start coding just having a vague set of wishes mentioned by some salespeople while having a coffee was not rare. Testing manually on an ad hoc basis by the same person doing the coding was quite normal in many environments too.

So what? You ask. Well, my point is that Waterfall gave you a structured approach to build software. And it works. Sometimes.

Does it work for all? Nope.
Should I use it for every project? Nope.
But it works. And, by the way, it’s very far to be a “worst practice“.

Waterfall, in its many flavours, is as every framework, ruleset, procedure and methodology a tool. Just a tool.

Know it, learn it, master it, and then you would be able to apply it when you need it. When it fits best.

Related: I would build a bridge with Agile: You need detailed planning for building a bridge, right? Right? RIIIIIGHT?No. Not right. I would build a bridge using Agile techniques. Sometimes.

Skin in the (cooperative) game

Games have traditionally been competitive. Ancient olympics were war in disguise. Throwing weapons. Jumping over fences. Wrestling.
New olympics get their original spirit from them. Modern pentathlon consisted of the five skills needed to be a good officer, that is, riding a horse, shooting a gun, fighting with a sword, swimming and running.

People can only be social friends if they don’t try to upstage or outsmart one another. Indeed, the classical art of conversation is to avoid any imbalance[…] You’d rather have dinner with your friends than with your professor, unless of course your professor understands “the art” of conversation

Skin in the Game (Nicholas Taleb)

Games have been traditionally competitive. Conversation has not.

Conversation is one hundred per cent cooperative. If the other person is not willing to do it, there is a zero per cent chance of a good conversation to happen.

What if next time you enter a negotiation meeting, you do it as if you were starting a conversation instead of doing it as if it is a competition?

Related: Cooperative Jenga: With Cooperative-Jenga you get longer games, cooperation and team building and a way of working based on sustainability and on helping others.

Related: Management lessons from Gears of War 2 (Scott Berkun): Like real life projects, where you can can only survive by working together, the HORDE mode is based on co-operation. You can’t get very far without working as a team.

Being under pressure

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for

Queen, “Under pressure”

Sometimes we are under pressure at work.

It usually happens as commitments or needs of us or other people, like customers, colleagues, suppliers, need to fit within time or budget constraints.

It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.
Watching some good friends screaming, “let me out”.

Queen, “Under pressure”

As a general rule, we’ve been educated to avoid pressure. At school, during peak times, you’ll only need to meet the deadline for the exam, and then the pressure fades away for weeks or months.
Besides you are rewarded for compliance, not for breaking the norm. When you are not forced to perform over your comfort zone, chances are you won’t feel much pressure.

But pressure in real projects can keep high for weeks or months.

Many major product launches in the world have their final schedules defined by the advertising campaign, not product development. Products can slip at low costs, but the high costs of rescheduling marketing often provide the final friction that forces shipping.

The year without pants – Scott Berkun
Steam locomotive (crooped) by Collywolly

Pressure can be a motivator. You could turn this pressure into fuel to meet a deadline, in the same way a steam-powered engine turns pressure into motion.

But no piece of machinery can overwork for a long time. Too much pressure and the engine will break.

Managing the pressure you put on yourself, recognizing whenever you’re putting on more than you can turn into motion, is a hard thing to do, specially in cultures where overwork is thought as a good work habit.

Sailboats on Cíes Islands

Control the pressure. Deciding when to take advantage of it, and when to release it. Think of a sailboat’s crew, striking sails or raising them depending on the winds.

Managing the pressure it’s hard but it’s useful.

Hint: you can always resort to Tewksbury’s four step mantra. Slow down. Breathe. Motivate. Focus.


Related: The gains in productivity and faster delivery created by time pressure are real. But they’re minor. And if too much schedule pressure is applied, quality could drop dramatically, as shown in the second chart above. – Mike Cohn (Time pressure improves productivity and quality…up to a point)

Related: You can’t make a good job if everyone is feeling too pressured, but you can’t make a good job if there’s no pressure at all. (Quotes on time pressure)

Related: I see that deadlines serve quality, rather than being an obstacle to it. […] Deadlines help you ship, and as Steve Jobs liked to say, “Real artists ship.” […] A fixed deadline and a flexible scope are the crucial combination. (Jason Fried, How to make deadlines actually work)

The Five Questions


Before you start working on something, You always need to know why. Is it for accomplishing something? Is it just for being busy? Are you a believer or do you think it’s not the right thing to do? Are you trying to do something new and so, you are more prone to fail.

If you don’t know why you are doing it, or if you don’t think it’s a good reason to do it, you should start thinking why you’re doing what you are doing.

Knowing the reason behind each task will allow you to make the right decissions, the best tarde-offs, to get the better results.


Are you the one doing the task. Do you have the right skills? Would you need anyone to lend you a hand? Who would do the task if you’d quit?


Are you competing in a zero-sum game? Or are you cooperating to create something new or to improve something already existing? Is there a way to turn competition into cooperation?

Did you need to pause or to get back to the drawing board?

Is the methodology you are using the best fit for the task at hand?

Are you really committed to get the thing done? Are you sure you are putting all requested effort? If not, you should review the Why section.


Are you building a connection (with your users, with partners, with supplier…) or are you building a firewall (protecting your business, your product, your customer base…)?


Is the right time to do it? Are you working under pressure? Are you just trying to put out a fire?

When are you going to know you are done? Hint: maybe you will never be done.