E-Notes: “Time is Life,” Overcoming Today and the SOY, and True Community

I bet I spend a lot of the year chewing on today’s three ideas. I hope your summer is off to a good start! We did a little camping and kayaking at the Apostle Islands last weekend and have a quick trip to see friends in Michigan coming up. But there’s still a blog to post in the middle!

“Time is Life”

First up, is from Dr. Albert Bourla’s book Moonshot: Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible. The audiobook was a bit dry due to the tone of voice. However, the book itself was fairly exciting. It was a mix of business, science, innovation, and leadership. At certain parts, it even reminded me of Andy Weir’s books The Martian and Project Hail Mary with its similar ambitious hope to accomplish crazy goals.

As Pfizer was developing their COVID vaccine, Dr. Bourla started using the phrase “Time is Life” rather than “time is money.” The following is one of my favorite parts of the book. (I transcribed from the audiobook so any typos, spacing issues, or grammatical issues are my own.)

“Looking back, I think this attitude, “Time is Life,” was the most important success factor for this project. Setting goals that are very aspirational, goals that someone has never achieved before, can unleash human creativity in phenomenal ways.

When you ask people to do in eight years something that normally takes ten, they will find it challenging but they will think of solutions within the current process. If you ask them to make 300 million doses instead of 200 million (that was our current annual capacity at that time), they will find it hard but will investigate solutions that improve the current way of doing things. They may achieve something better by doing so, but usually these processes have been optimized over years and there’s only so much you can do to deliver more. However, in this case, I didn’t ask people to do it in eight years. I asked them to do it in eight MONTHS. I didn’t ask them to make 300 million doses. I asked them to make 3 BILLION doses and I insisted that these targets were not negotiable.

It was clear from the beginning that incremental improvements would not make the cut. They needed to completely rethink their processes. They had to redesign them from scratch and be creative at every single new step of a new process. And they did it!”

excerpt from Dr. Albert Bourla in Moonshot: Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible
A large clock is resting on a wooden surface. The face of the clock has large numbers. The background is white and then the countries of the world are laid out in various colors.
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

In Spring 2020, leaders in every sector and at every level were attempting to lead and support their teams through monumental shifts occurring almost overnight. I was working with a team of directors to help over 200 faculty and adjunct instructors and thousands of students flip to fully remote instruction. We did our best in a very chaotic, uncertain time. Similar to Dr. Bourla, I was asking them to do things in hours, days, and weeks that would normally been given months or years, if it was even required at all. Even so, everyone including the most technology resistant faculty and students, came together to make things work, to give others the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that we were all trying to get through something none of us had ever experienced.

On March 5, 2020, I drafted an email to my boss. The subject line was “Big Rocks” and it started like this:

Just sharing so you know where the storm clouds are on the horizon…

“Big rocks” that I am concerned about because I will need to figure out how to fit them on top of the Comprehensive Assessment Plan relaunch, Canvas launch, and HLC Monitoring Report that are all due/happening between April 1st and April 30th….

I went on to list five major projects that needed to get done in addition to the three major projects mentioned above. There was also one more bullet point:

6) #Coronavirus – This is a moving target on a daily basis right now but it would be an all hands on deck effort to move things entirely online. Because it would be an emergency situation, we’d have to drop everything else listed above. At the same time, many of the things listed above might give us forgiveness if we have to close for COVID-19 so there is that.

I never sent the email. By mid-March, we closed all locations for two months, flipped all classes remote with only a week’s notice, and pivoted everything we were doing. Working together, in addition to surviving the chaos of the early days of the pandemic, we also accomplished all eight of the major projects I outlined in that email. I found the draft again on November 20, 2020, right after the last “Big Rock” in the email had been accomplished. It felt surreal!

Overcoming Today and the SOY

Today, I caught an M&M Show episode on LinkedIn Live. It was titled “Why We Fail Thinking About The Future” hosted by Martin Lindstrom and Marshall Goldsmith and posted by MURAL. One of the guests on the show was author Peter Hinssen. He has a new book out but today he was talking about an idea from his book The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve added the book to my “Need to Read” list and wanted to share the gist of his ideas from today.

Peter Hinssen asks us all to think about your time as leader. Divide your into three buckets: Today, Tomorrow, and Day After Tomorrow. Today is almost entirely consumed with emails, meetings, and urgent deadlines. Tomorrow is not much than today. While it represents the future, everything tomorrow is focused on survival and the type of things that keep us up at night. The Day After Tomorrow is where the magic happens. That’s where new ideas, new innovation, new models, and inspiration takes place. Where shifts are made to an entire business or industry and the rules of the game are rewritten.

When Peter asked executives to estimate how much time they spent on these three buckets, they said: 70% Today, 20% Tomorrow, and 10% Day After Tomorrow. What Peter actually found was they were spending: 93% on Today, 7% on Tomorrow, and 0% on the Day After Tomorrow. This certainly rings true to my own experiences. How often have you felt like you can’t get past emails and meetings long enough to get started on projects that you have to get done? And there goes any hope of focused time. Do you spend all day putting out fires for other people and never get to your own tasks?

In the episode, Peter tells a story about the first time he shared his Day After Tomorrow model at a workshop. An executive came up to the drawing of his model on the white board and added a big red box to the left of Today. He said Peter’s model was missing a crucial element…the “Shit of Yesterday.” The SOY is the negativity and reeking piles we’re constantly cleaning up every day in some organizations. Wow is that an accurate addition to the model!

Picture of a planner, a pen, and a plant. The cover of the planner has an emoji drawing of poop centered above the words To Do.
Photo by Surja Sen Das Raj on Pexels.com

What are some ways that you can minimize the SOY and spend more time on Day After Tomorrow thinking? Have you tried something that you’re willing to share with the rest of us? If so, drop it in the comments!

True Community

Gary Vaynerchuk’s life and time is spent hyper-focused on removing the negative SOY and the minutiae of Today. He lives in the Day After Tomorrow more than anyone else I follow. He recently held his first VeeCon in Minneapolis. The content he shared in his daily vlogs was overwhelmingly positive and full of infectious energy. Even I had FOMO. I’m impressed with all he is doing to bring hope, optimism, love, and support into the world.

Here’s his thought I wanted to pass along to wrap up today’s post. When asked in a media interview what was missing in terms of creating a solid community, Gary answered,

“The reason most people struggle with building community is almost everybody who says they’re trying to build “community,” is actually trying to build customers. They’re not trying to build a community. They want them to buy…”This is my community – by the way buy this home from me”…”This is my community – buy this coffee from me.” People are trying to create customers.

Building community only looks one way: YOU are giving more to them than you want from them. And most people can’t do that. Most people aren’t trying to build communities. They’re trying to use the word, but if you erase behind the word, it actually says “Customers”.

Gary Vaynerchuk, in The Only Way To Build A Community – DailyVee 605 | VeeCon Day 3

As you go about your week think about what you are doing to build true community? How can you give more to the coworkers, children, parents, students, teachers, coaches, counselors, clergy, farmers, and business owners in your life than you want from them? What are the areas of your industry where incremental changes will no longer work? Where must you rethink entire processes and redesign every step from the ground up? And how can you build more time in your work schedule to focus on those Day After Tomorrow ideas and concepts?

Until next week, Keep Showing Up!

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