“Delete Slide 13”


So, this happened …

“Do not screw this up for me!” I said, staring into his eyes. I made it sound like a command, but deep down inside I was actually pleading. I hoped he didn’t notice.

An important client had reached out to me with the possibility of engaging us to work on a really big project.

The client had been working with another company whose claimed expertise was starting to show cracks, and we had a narrow window in which to prove to the client we were good enough to take over and complete within the client’s own tight deadlines.

My team and I had to understand the problem, invent a financial structure that could help them, and put it into a solid slide deck to get approval from their management team.

All by this evening.

I was speaking to that young member of my team, instructing him to use one of our existing slide decks, and to make some edits so that we could use it as the basis for our client proposal.

Most of the edits I requested of him were simple. The other more technical changes to this standard slide deck would be contributed by other members of my team.

This guy was sometimes a little cocky in his attitude, believing that he understood business at the level of someone with many more years of experience than him. But I didn’t think much could go wrong with what I’d explicitly asked him to do. At least, I hoped that was true.

A few hours later, and just before the 6pm deadline, we all stood around the meeting room table, nodding as we paged through the final version, with contributions from everyone in the team.

Just before I gave the instruction to send the deck through to the client by their 6pm strict cut-off deadline, my heart sank.

“Where is slide 13?” I asked in a panic. “The one that summarized how the deal actually complies with the relevant regulations? Where is it? It was slide #13 in the standard deck.”

“You mean the one with all those boring legal clauses? Yeah, don’t worry, I deleted it.”

“What? We need it! Why did you delete it?”

“Well last time I put together a slide deck, you asked me to delete that slide 13. So I deleted it this time too. And you didn’t even have to ask me to!” He looked so proud of himself.

I was shocked. “I didn’t ask you to delete it this time because I didn’t want you to delete it this time! Last time it was for a German client, so a copy of the UK regulations was completely irrelevant. That’s why I told you to delete it. This is a UK client, and we need those UK regulations to show that our structure will actually work for them!”

He was speechless. I was speechless. My team was speechless.

I looked at the clock up on the wall. We were two minutes away from disqualifying ourselves from quoting on this fantastic deal.

Just then, someone else from my team called out from behind his laptop, “It’s OK, it’s done. While you were talking I added that slide back in from the standard pack. I’ve made no other edits. Can I click send?”

“Yes!” we all shouted, looking up at the clock again, panic-stricken.

And he did click send. And the document did reach the client in the nick of time.

(By the way, we did get appointed to put the deal in place. It was a great outcome, because luckily we realized he deleted slide 13.)

Simple Definition

Delete Slide 13: This story represents the mistake of doing things this time, in the same way as worked last time. People forget that things change, so they just unthinkingly (and mistakenly) repeat the actions from before.

Summarizing what it means

I told him to “Delete Slide 13”, and I meant it.

At least, I meant it the last time. But this time, we actually needed that slide. He was wrong to “Delete Slide 13” the second time.

This chapter explores this important idea, for several reasons:

  • It gives us a chance to challenge our own actions, to make sure that we aren’t just doing things now because they made sense back then
  • It gives us a label that we can use with the people around us, to remind them to reconsider whether previous actions are still applicable this time.

As usual, the idea is really simple. That’s the point. But it’s only when you start to “try it on for size” that you appreciate this happens around you more often than you realized, in a variety of formats.

  • When you walk into a shoe shop and the sales assistant offers help, take a moment to ask yourself, “Am I deleting slide 13?” In other words, are you going to say you don’t need her help because that’s you were actually just browsing the last 50 times you walked into a shoe shop? Or perhaps this time you actually do need help?
  • Or when you allocate work to someone in your team (making sure you’ve previously mentioned the “Delete Slide 13” story to them) then you can challenge them by saying, “Remember not to delete slide 13!” They will take this simple reminder as a much deeper steer that they shouldn’t just do what they’ve done before. Instead, they should take the specifics of this time into account when doing the work.
  • Perhaps when you’re helping your 15 -year-old with a school project, you might remind them not to delete slide 13. (Like any good parent, you would already have told them the #hashtag-story, for exactly a moment like this!) Maybe the last time they did a project like this they were 12, and what would have been an acceptable effort at that age, would not be good enough for a 15-year-old’s submission. The Slide 13 reminder allows you to challenge their approach before they even begin.

Before getting into a more serious discussion about the successful things we should perhaps no longer do, here’s a joke, where the theme plays out beautifully.

Discussing what it means

The Lamb Roast

   A recently married couple is preparing their first Sunday roast in their new home, but the husband notices his wife cutting off the ends of the lamb roast before putting it in the oven. He hasn’t seen that done before, so asks about it. She shrugs, “I don’t know, that’s just what my mom always did.”

   That evening she calls her mom to ask about the practice of cutting off the ends of the lamb roast, and her mom gasps. She realizes that she also doesn’t know why she does that, except to say, “That’s just what my mom used to do.”

   So they bring the grandmother into a 3-way call and ask her why she did it. The grandmother bursts into laughter. “You’re still cutting off the ends of the lamb roast? That’s hilarious!” She then goes on to explain, “The only reason I cut the ends off the roast was because I had a really small oven.”

This is a great example of mistakenly doing things now, simply because they were the right things to do in the past.

Let’s keep going …

Banging your head

You know this expression, right?

If it hurts to bang your head on the wall, then stop banging your head on the wall.

That is not what this chapter is about, and I just wanted to highlight that early on, to make sure you get the right message from the beginning.

This chapter is not about stopping to do dumb things. Instead, it’s about reconsidering whether the right actions from before are still right now. (Because often they’re not.)

Context is Important

If you read #[Cheese or Chocolate], you’ll see me attempt to answer the silly question, “What’s your favorite food in the world?” during a disappointing evening of speed dating.

The point is, there is no right answer – neither food is my overall favorite. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something savory, so cheese will hit the spot perfectly. But sometimes I crave a sweet snack, and chocolate would then be preferable to cheese.

The answer, like so much in life, is “It depends”.

Similarly, I was not contradicting myself that day by previously having wanted the page deleted, but then this time insisting on keeping it in.

The error was his … he assumed that a previous action would always be the right action. Of course, it would also be wrong for him to assume that the previous instruction was only relevant that one time.

Either way, he should have actually thought about it.

One of the biggest changes-in-context that we face is … we get older! We are taught one set of rules when we are children (obedience, compliance, fitting in) but we forget that what was appropriate then is probably not appropriate for us now. There is an entire chapter dedicated to this point, called #[Luxury Bridges]. Be compliant and read it later.

Idiomatic Contradictions

Life is full of contradictions.

  • Opposites attract
  • Birds of a feather flock together
  • Too many hands spoil the broth.
  • Many hands make light work.
  • An eye for an eye.
  • Turn the other cheek.
  • Flogging a dead horse.
  • Don’t give up, you might be one step from the summit.

Oh good grief, make up your mind!

We are surrounded by contradictory advice. There is no universal best action. There is no universal preferred outcome.

Yet in spite of understanding this obvious point, we still do so much on automatic, behaving as if what was right then, must be right now.

Life-on-Automatic is so yesterday

Our brain is designed to find shortcuts – it’s fundamental to evolution.

Our cavemen ancestors learned the hard way that the rattle of a rattlesnake is a warning to stay away, and that brightly colored frogs are probably poisonous.

Those who learned to apply these generalizations survived. While those who missed the warnings died out.

And yet …

Although generalizations have allowed us to evolve to who we are now, the world we live in is so complicated that the opposite is now true! It’s the ability to make conscious decisions which is our core differentiator. The ability to over-ride your gut reaction can make the difference between success and failure, or even life or death.

Life-on-automatic is so today

Although the basic message of this chapter is that you shouldn’t just do things on automatic, it’s important that you should also not automatically not do things on automatic.

(Do you need to read that again?)

Humans have limited capacity for making decisions, something now known as decision fatigue. This is the idea that by making too many decisions in a day, it becomes harder and harder to make additional decisions, or even to exert willpower.

We therefore also have to make sure that we only think about things when they really require it. By spending too much time thinking about what to wear in the morning, what to have for breakfast, whether we should go for a short jog before beginning work, we are using up our limited capacity to decide. Please don’t.

This is because, later in the day at work, you will have to make decisions that matter.

Should I hire this person? Should I make this investment? Should I incorporate blockchain into my new system? Should I get into the white van with the friendly guy who says he has cute kittens in the back?

And it’s these impactful decisions (not the simple stuff which should indeed run on automatic) where the principle of (don’t) “Delete Slide 13” needs to be applied.

What does Slide 13 look like in Real Life(TM)?

Here are a few scenarios to help you appreciate how different the “Delete Slide 13” concept can look. Do you recognize them?

  • She’s in a relationship with some guy, and he betrays her trust. She decides to never trust guys again. But can you see that, while that would have been appropriate last time, it isn’t necessarily what she should do next time?
  • Perhaps years ago you stopped wasting those spare minutes that happen often during a day … waiting in line, walking through a shopping center, being on hold during a phone call, or while bathing. You started filling those empty moments by listening to audiobooks and podcasts, revising a few German flashcards, catching up on news headlines. But actually, sometimes your brain needs downtime, and just because you usually shouldn’t waste time doing nothing, doesn’t mean you should never just do nothing.
  • Your friend made a lot of money investing in property. Therefore you should invest lots of money in property too. Or maybe that’s also just Deleting Slide 13?
  • As a certified Advisory Board Chair, I spend a fair amount of time learning about businesses and startups. I see many companies that have become incredibly successful because the founders persisted through obstacles and overcame the challenges. But by the same token, there are also many companies where the founders persisted with their idea, kept hitting dead-ends, and ended up going bankrupt and losing everything.
  • For someone with boundary problems who is always sacrificing themselves to be of service to others, it is reasonable that – while they escape their unhealthy “Yes” habits – that they take the stance of saying “No” to everything. But at some point, they’re just Deleting Slide 13. At some point, they need to determine if “No” should remain best practice for them, or whether it’s time to start letting in some “Yes” decisions.
  • People get stuck in analysis-paralysis for different reasons. Sometimes it’s because they face two choices which are really similar (#[Chicken or Fish]), sometimes it’s because the two choices are fundamentally different (#[Cheese or Chocolate]). As you see, people can get stuck – but for very different reasons. But don’t then assume that because you solved the sticking point successfully last time, that that is the right way to solve the sticking point this time too.
  • A journalist once corrected Winston Churchill by pointing out that he should never end a sentence with a proposition. Churchill smartly replied, “That is an impertinence up with which I will not put.”

There is no one-size-fits-all best practice. And success then is no guarantee of success now.

What’s so special about Slide 13? Ask WHY!

This chapter reminds you not to simply do things because that’s what you were told last time, or because that’s what worked last time, or because that’s what you saw someone do to succeed last time.

We need to ask ourselves “Why?”

  • Why did I say “No” to the favor my friend asked last time? Are things different this time, so that I don’t need to say “No” again?
  • Why did I give my previous client a discount? Are circumstances different enough that I should refuse this client’s request for a discount?
  • Why did I sacrifice my Queen in the last game of chess? Should I always sacrifice my Queen whenever the opportunity exists?

Think. Then do the right thing, according to what the “right thing” is this time!

In a sense, this is the difference between an AI (artificial  intelligence) system and a deterministic system:

  • Tesla should not have a rule that says “Overtaking last time was dangerous, therefore never overtake again.”
  • A medical diagnostic AI system should not declare “That mole was non-cancerous last time, so assume all moles in future are non-cancerous.”

The whole point of an AI system is to develop a so-called “understanding” of the situation so that it doesn’t just do this time, what was right the last time.

Communicating this message to others

There will be people around you who do things over and over again, even though the appropriate actions this time are not the same as the appropriate actions from last time.

Sometimes, you’re responsible for those people.

  • In the #hashtag-story, I was the boss and had to make sure we delivered a proposal which would win us the deal. And there was someone in my team who was in the habit of deleting slide 13. I would have to deal with this moving forwards.
  • As a parent, your children are always learning and maturing. What is required now is probably more than what would have been acceptable a year ago. A suggestion to “warm it up in the microwave” should not be assumed to apply to anything that needs warming. You have to guide your children accordingly.

You now have a #hashtag that refers to the habit of doing this time, simply what worked last time. This is the concept behind “Delete Slide 13”.

The first rule of “Delete Slide 13” is think about deleting Slide 13

When you find yourself running on automatic, you can challenge yourself by flagging “Delete Slide 13” in your head. Having now read this chapter, that thought will trigger a whole series of additional considerations from the discussion above.

This in turn will allow you to challenge your assumptions and your actions this time.

For someone else who you’ve told about “Delete Slide 13”, simply mentioning “Delete Slide 13” to them as they are doing (or about to do) something, will similarly be enough to remind them of the core of this chapter. They in turn will instantaneously be able to understand what you’re communicating to them, and this in turn will give them the chance to reconsider their actions.

Just because it was right the last time, doesn’t mean it’s right this time.

Making it personal

The nature of the “Delete Slide 13” concept is so broad, that it’s hard for me to hold your hand too tightly, as you audit yourself and those around you.

So let’s keep it simple …

  • Do you think enough, when you do things that you’ve done before, whether you can (should?) use the same approach as before? Or, once something has succeeded for you, do you continue to just use the same approach thereafter?
  • In what areas of your life are you usually just deleting slide 13? And in what areas of your life are you good at not just deleting without thinking?
  • Who are the people around you who are most likely to simply Delete Slide 13, over and over again?
  • How can you share this chapter (or a similar story) with them, so as to start being able to communicate the message to them?
  • Who do you most respect (someone you know, or someone you know of) who you think is best at not simply deleting slide 13, over and over again?

Related stories

#[Luxury Bridges]
#[The Field that became a Black Hole]
#[Cheese or Chocolate]
#[Chicken or Fish]
#[My children can say E=MC2]

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