Building culture in an organization.

corporate-culture-comics-improve-culture

 

What is the most important thing in a company? What is the hardest thing to build in an organization? Culture.

Why is it so hard? Because unlike cash flow statements or product metrics that are measured, defined and monitored by numbers, culture is measured by people. When there’s a lot of people, it gets messy.

It’s easy to not care about it and hope the task of building culture is blurred by dangling high compensation salary and benefits to new joinees. What a lot of CEO’s don’t get or they get and don’t actively spend time on is people don’t join just for the money. There are a lot that do and once your work is done with them you should part ways but for those that you want to be troopers to the end and the true pillars of your movement, you need to spend time on grooming the culture and attracting them.

A famous talk about what makes great companies great by Simon Sinek illustrates this point. People don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they buy the why you do it. I recommend that you put aside 18 minutes to view the talk. It is quite profound.

What you do is make great products. How you do it is by hiring great people. Why do you do it is where the culture is embedded. Why should people join you? Why should people notice you ? Why should people stay at your company? All of this is answered by that one word, Culture.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast – Peter Drucker

A lot of Indian organizations struggle with culture. The Indian media talks a ton about achievements, role models (and some terrible ones) and profits. Very few talk about culture. Because building culture is a long hard road and the results are seen many years later. In a world of listicles and quick wins, culture doesn’t stand out as sexy.

I have worked with many startups in India and almost all of them struggle with building great culture. Given the unnecessary media attention on quarter results, it is easy to believe the let’s just work far more, keep hustling and results will speak for themselves. There are 2 problems with this. The people that get burnt away and aren’t cared for are sometimes your best people and focusing on results alone is akin to placing all your eggs in one basket. You focus on the eggs laid, not the hen itself.

I listened to this talk by Laszlo Bock, head of VP operations at Google. I recommend the listen. He talks about how Google, widely considered one of the best organizations in terms of culture, goes about this whole process.

Here are my notes

  • Google drew inspiration from Bell Labs, the US military and others on how they spent time thinking about how people interacted and how spaces were built. There is a direct line in how Google runs at it’s cafes so that people can bump into each other and strangers become friends. This is the idea of engineering moments of serendipity.
  • How do you take someone on paper that has a high school education and then turn them into raw leaders? Take raw material and turn them as exceptional?
  • People are fundamentally good and they’ll do better stuff if they feel like it’s theirs
    • Everyone gets stock irrespective of where you join in the world
    • Being transparent in the company and why. Weekly meet up with the founders and CEO. Tremendous
    • Everyone’s goals are visible to everyone. If it’s your thing you should know how it’s being affected
    • Give a lot of channels to give their voice. Where you sit on the hierarchy doesn’t matter since it’s all our thing
  • Managers are usually made redundant and everyone is given the freedom away from titles
    • The upside is that you do better work and don’t feel pressurized into being afraid of making mistakes. They are looking for guidance not control and this makes people stay longer and enjoy it more
    • The downside is that if you want to make a big change, it can take a while. It can be really slow
  • Google follows a power law distribution on bonuses, stocks and salaries where there is a wide variation on the pay
    • Usually people think that the 80/20 rule works where 80 percent of the revenue is generated by 20 percent of the people. That is human performance is “normally” distributed
    • In a lot of fields, very best people contribute way way more than that. They generate far more value. The very best people 95/98% type of value. So it means that you are underpaying the best people if you pay them equal to those that aren’t performing
    • This means you need a system that is just and fair and this system rewards the top performers so that they don’t leave
  • Google spends an enormous amount of time in finding the best people
    • The biggest constraint when you are growing rapidly is how can you find great people fast? Google started off with the brute force method where you hire many recruiters and look at the smartest schools and just pick them up in droves
      • But this didn’t turn out to be too productive, the interviews weren’t that great, the hiring wasn’t fast enough and the people weren’t great
    • So they dived into data and started looking at numbers.
      • How many interviews do you need before you can decide the candidate is a fit?
      • Undergraduate experience and test scores doesn’t matter that much
      • They followed their gut and the gut can usually be wrong
    • Rather than doing brain teasers and stuff they looked at for pure IQ so instead looked at people they liked at Google and were the top performers and started quantifying requirements of great people
    • They found 4 basic attributes in the end
      • General cognitive ability – smarts, learning ability and general problem solving ability (not just your SAT scores)
      • Emergent leadership – not where you were promoted or were captain. If you see a problem do you step in and help and do you relinquish power
      • Googly-ness – conscientiousness will people think like owners when they are here, and intellectual humility which is the type that if you get new facts will you revise your opinion based on the facts?
      • Can you do the job? Because if you have the other 3 covered this usually takes care of it
    • Women tend to be more self aware and exhibit higher EQ than most men do.
    • A great question asked was Michaelangelo never wanted to paint but was pushed into it, Martin Luther King didnt want to be the leader of the civil rights movement? How do you find talent that isn’t looking to be found?
      • This touches on the topic of emergent leadership. People who want to step up and improve the surroundings.
      • Project Aristotle was inspired by an article talking about Shane Battier written by Michael Lewis where it observed that Shane wasn’t an all star candidate on the field but whenever he was around everyone just played better.
        • The project was what makes teams better? And where does innovation come from? The underlying one is pyschological safety where members of the teams that have the safety tend to step up and innovate more

What companies have you found to exhibit great culture?

 

 

j j j

Shaking off the rust.

Life is in locomotion.  Man has to keep making. He has to keep moving or he will die a death that would have haunted his living years.

For years, I kept stalling from writing. Many reasons contributed to that. The biggest was fear. The fear of not having something to say, something unique that people would want. That fear kept me in a comfort zone I refused to move out of for the longest time. Sharing links on Twitter and Facebook became modus operandi. Fuelled by the likes or retweets I sat in the comfort of having producing the least amount of work because it would draw the least amount of criticism.

Well, fuck that.  What happens when you keep eating and not producing? You become fat.  Target achieved mate. I did it for so many years and I think psychologically I influenced my physicality. Alright Jabbah, it’s time to move off this island.

But why did I stall so much? I was afraid. Fear is a powerful inhibitor of actions. But when you embrace the fact that irrespective of what you do your work is the only thing that outlives you and the only thing you can call your own besides your body, you realize if you want to make a difference, you have to produce. And when you produce is when you start to live. The state of flow you induce is when you effect harmony between your physical being and your spiritual one.

All you can do to have a meaningful life is to move. Is to make.

But you can’t just will work out of thin air because willpower is a resource that needs replenishment through action. The more you make the more your will is to make. What I know might work is to put yourself in an environment that forces creativity. It might not guarantee that you might start creating, but not doing it is certainly a sure shot way of not being able to create.

That environment happened last week when I placed myself, circumstantially, in the midst of people constantly producing. I have this urge I can’t contain any more. Perhaps it was seeing some of the older blog posts I wrote as part of different companies or perhaps it was that my head was abuzz with a bunch of thoughts. Perhaps it was going through Paul Graham’s essays and wondering what if I could write like that? I don’t know what the reason was nor do I think it is particularly important because it was unique to me this feeling and all I can do is I wish you have your own.

You can force it by placing yourself in the midst of constant productivity around you and breathe into it.

Produce daily. Embrace failure for what it is. Set up a schedule and constantly work towards bettering your craft. I’ll leave you with a video I go to often when the fear creeps up.

j j j

Begin it now.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back— Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
– Goethe

Came across this when I was reading this post. Flexes fingers now to get back to these ideas in my head.

j j j

Work Ethic

A question I have always asked myself is what separates the top from the very top? A popular Gladwellian theory is that putting in 10,000 hours of hardwork with focused feedback should result in immense success and mastery of the chosen field/endeavour. But as I read more about it and the people behind it there are a few things I am starting to see.

The first is that the difference between average and above average is not the same as the difference between the top and the absolute best. Luck plays a factor too but a large part of is reproducible. I am still trying to understand the science behind performance and will dedicate a large part of articles to it with the tag #hardwork.

Here’s something to start with though.

mjThe thing about Michael is, he takes nothing about his game for granted. When he first came to the NBA back in 1984, he was primarily a penetrator. His outside shooting wasn’t up to pro standards. So he put in his gym time during the off-season, shooting hundreds of shots each day. Eventually, he became a deadly three-point shooter.

Playing outstanding defense didn’t come automatically to him, either. He had to study his opponents, learn their favorite moves and then dedicate himself to learning the techniques necessary to stop them. He’s worked extremely hard to perfect his footwork and his balance. – Phil Jackson on Michael Jordan.

How about a real world example because we all know Michael Jordan is legend. Indira Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi, sleeps around midnight and is up by 4 am.

She has been up since 4 a.m., having gone to bed at midnight after watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which she loves. “They say sleep is a gift that God gives you,” she observes. “That’s one gift I was never given.”

When I was young, I used to indulge in WWE. I didn’t have the maturity then to realize that this was an entertainment business and a wildly successful one at that. The guy behind it is Vince McMahon. Here’s a colleague on him

This is an absolute shoot. In the five years that I worked at the WWE, I always arrived at work before the bell, and left way after its final ding-dong. I took great pride in working for one of the greatest companies in the world, let’s face it—it was my childhood dream. However, regardless of my aggressive work ethic, no matter how early I arrived, or how late I left—Vince’s car was there. This is no joke. If I got in at 7am—his car was already there. If I left at 10pm—his car was STILL there!!! In other words—the guy just never left the office!!!

A lot of the top performers spend a lot of time in really hard deep work. I am learning why and I’ll be sharing that soon here.

Also hello, I’m back to writing again.

j j j

Words to live by.

“I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at ninety.

And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

You died when you refused to stand up for right.

You died when you refused to stand up for truth.

You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From the sermon “But, If Not” delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church on November 5, 1967.

The other thing I highly recommend is one of my favourite poems, If by Rudyard Kipling.

j j j

Another Birthday.

Kungfu panda

 

I turned a year older. I collect quotes, advice, learnings and jot down notes frequently. Every birthday I pull them out of my book to see what I have collected.

Here are 33 things this year.

  1. Purpose is what you make of it. It isn’t easy. It won’t be scripted. It can be influenced.  No one can tell you what you need to do. That is liberating, because it means you can do anything you choose to.
  2. There will always be negative people around you. They will try to embed themselves deep into disturbing your rhythm. Listen to them but don’t absorb them into your psyche. They need to feel important and they will feel that importance with your attention.
  3. Everything in this world has a person behind it that influences it. To get what you want, you need to know what drives that person. Everything can be negotiated. Learn psychology.
  4. Don’t seek attention. It will come when you do something of worth. It will come in droves of negativity and optimism. I have tried hard to not court it. It isn’t easy but I’m trying.
  5. Be so good that they can’t ignore you. Choose what you want to be good at. Become the best at it. You know something only when your life is consumed by it.
  6. Don’t let Facebook and Twitter consume your life. Meet the people behind the screens.
  7. Failures are necessary to keep you humble. Failures are necessary to show you that the way you thought you’d achieve something isn’t the best way to make it work. Try another. Try again.
  8. The masks are off when you anger someone or betray someone. You’ll see who they really are and how you really appear to them. It is the best time for all the seeped up cant-hurt-you-with-the-truth to flow out. Some exit at that stage. The ones that remain are your true friends. Treasure them.
  9. Work on your health. Do 1 % better than what you did yesterday. It’s hard to measure. It’s hard to keep up with it on a sustained basis. But it’s worth it. The feeling you get when you can do 10 pushups in a row where you couldn’t even complete 1 is indescribable.
  10. Work on your diet too. I sucked at it. I am a little better at understanding what is better and what works for my body. Everyone is different but portion control is universal.
  11. Reconnect with your friends. Pick any 3 that come to mind, then another 3, then another 3 more and so on till you have a number that’s your age. Talk to them. Call them up. Tell them one nice thing they have done you fondly remember. Some will respond and some won’t. That’s okay, you are doing this for you.
  12. Be Punctual. Respecting someones time is respecting that person. There will be times when you are delayed. Anticipate them and explain it to the other person. Don’t be late.
  13. Don’t work with someone you can’t see yourself working with for life. I learned this from Naval in this excellent episode.
  14. Better yourself. Pick something or some area you aren’t the best in and learn everything you can. Ryan holiday has the swarm strategy that I highly recommend.
  15. Help others seeking no return. Lend some money. Lend books, don’t expect them back. The secret is that returns come in droves from them or someone else because of what you did for someone else. In droves. It’s just not returned in cash.
  16. Your home can be comfier if you do a few things. Add lights, candles and get good furniture. I learned that setting up a home as comfortably as my close friend does is an art. It is worth investing in learning and appreciating that art.
  17. Everyone you know has some tragedy in their life. You don’t know their stories. You’ll never decipher their complexity. But you’ll be comfortable in who they are and what they mean to you. That’s all that matters. Be kind.
  18. Listen to podcasts. They help you learn. They teach you a lot and they are a great time filler that doesn’t make you put on weight.
  19. Listen to good music. Not heavy on either treble or bass. Listen to compositions. Play a song you like on loop throughout the day. Absorb the sound waves.
  20. Meet people from all walks of life. Everyone has done at least one thing you haven’t. It might not always be progressive but it’s always a teaching.
  21. Move out of the place you have been in if you have been there more than 3 years. Life’s too short to be in a cage. Explore, fail, discover, visit, love, lie, hurt, bleed and be liberated.
  22. Don’t let compliments get to your head. They seep in very quickly to your psyche. You are all those good things or exhibit those good things  that people say you do but you aren’t limited to those things. Don’t become a slave to an image of you.
  23. All advice is subject to experimentation. You decide how to take meaning. Be guided not ruled. All of these things I have learned might strike a chord with you or might be very wrong. That’s okay, pick what works.
  24. Don’t give in to Dogma. Don’t allow yourself to be brain washed by millions of years of regimented thinking (I’m looking at you religion) without thinking for yourself first.
  25. I’m a big fan of going to the movies. It shows creativity in the most engaging medium we know today. Virtual reality will come but for now I’ll take the theatre screens. Watch good movies. Read good stories.
  26. Read more. Few systems are fool proof as reading is. Enough can’t be said about the pleasures of diving into a book. If you have never read before, don’t be intimidated. Start with fiction in the night. Then expand your horizons.
  27. The lesser the chains that bind the further you can go. You should move only if you want to learn or feel uncomfortable. If you are happy where you are, that’s a good thing.
  28. Pick things to be passionate about. If you are attacked for that passion, it’s okay to get hurt, ridiculed and ignored.  Build a better story of selling your passion. Become better at it and you’ll keep the passion alive. It doesn’t always replace purpose, but it’s a darned good thing to have.
  29. Love and be loved. Love deeply. Hurt even deeper. Love again. Few things in this world can affect you as much love does. Embrace it. It is one of those most inexplicable things.
  30. People will move on. The best ones stay. The good ones reconnect. The trolls are on Facebook. Be amused by them.
  31. Take time off. Be comfortable with yourself. Quit your job if you don’t find meaning in it. But mostly quit if the people at work aren’t great. It’s probably the only thing that’s not subjective in my learning. Great people make great work. It’s okay if you don’t earn for a while. It’s okay if you don’t get societys approval. It’s okay if you leave a company where others are so invested they can’t leave.
  32. When people were asked what they regret the most before dying,  they said they wished they worked less, loved more and spent more time doing things they took to intuitively. Cancer isn’t beaten by the bank balance, it is by the love of people around you. Sound advice that.
  33. There are no guarantees in life. The only guarantee is that doing nothing will get you nowhere. Do something that scares you every year.

As a bonus tip. I watch this motivational video from Rocky almost every year. I can’t wait for Creed to be released.

What have you learned so far?

j j j

How to build a better version of you by reading more.

Theodore Roosvelt's Library

Theodore Roosvelt’s Library

I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself Nobody’s that smart. – Charles Munger.

At the start of this year, I took a big decision. To explore, examine and enhance myself physically and mentally (or if you’d prefer spiritually).

Physically to enhance just means a good diet, not eating trash and working out daily. It’s not easy but it’s simple.

But how do you develop mentally? That was the question I couldn’t get any clear cut answers to.

So I went to the internet to see what people had to say. A starting point and one at the very foundation of being better as attested by a lot of smart successful people is reading more.

That seemed like a good starting point.

So I asked myself a few questions.

  • How does one read more?
  • What does one read more of?
  • How does one use all that is read?

Why should one read?

I don’t think I need to justify why one must read more. Thousands of people have been quoted on it.

But here is my favourite reason.

Human beings have been recording their knowledge in book form for more than 5,000 years. That means that whatever you’re working on right now, whatever problem you’re struggling with, is probably addressed in some book somewhere by someone a lot smarter than you. Save yourself the trouble of learning from trial and error–find that point. Benefit from that perspective – Ryan Holiday

Reading is learning and if you’re not learning, you’re not improving in your craft. Whatever craft that might be. I quoted that you need to read 5 books on a subject to know more than most people. If you can manage to dedicate a year of reading on a particular subject, you are pretty much the 0.01% on it.
This is probably not the case for programming though. That knowledge, like a physical sport requires regular practice to get better at and understand more.

Not everyone HAS to read to be successful but I don’t see the pitfalls of reading more. I know that Deepinder Goyal from Zomato doesn’t read much.

He’s an intuitive guy that reads people and takes decisions. Few of us can function like him. Fewer more can depend on waiting for that skill. All of us can read more though.

How does one read more? What does one read more of?

Tip 1 : Pick a subject.

The simple answer is you choose a subject and read everything you can on it. Start with the first book then look through the appendix. Look at the author’s recommendations and look at the top 10 books in that field.

It is important to note that you must have a strategy to reading more. For non fiction reading you must know why you are reading this and what are you going to use this knowledge for.

I tested a theory that Ryan Holiday had proposed, when you read more about a particular subject you start to notice patterns. The first book is the hardest. By the 3rd book you can start skipping sections and by the 10th book you can complete what the author is saying. This happened to me when I started to learn the basics of Hearthstone and swarmed by about 25 articles I sort of knew what to expect already.

So you go through more books on the specific topic by everyone that’s reputed.  That’s step 1 to read more. Just accessing and reading more on a particular subject.

Tip 2: Reading to Lead.

There’s this blog post I want you to read about this tip. It’s really that good. Go on I’ll wait. It opens up in a new window. So you can come back here once you are done with that.

Once you have read that, you’ll see there are some vital points I took from that post. Place. Names. Dates. These are unimportant. The lessons matter.

1) What does it mean?
2) Do you agree with it?

You shouldn’t be wasting your time figuring out what the author is trying to say with the book. Instead, your energy needs to be spent on figuring out if he’s right and how you can benefit from it.

If you’re reading to lead, you’re going to come across concepts or words you’re not familiar with. Don’t pretend like you understand, look it up.

After you finish a book go back through it.

Mark passages you want to read again and pieces of book that you want to return to.

Tip 3: Speed reading (but not really).

wpm

There’s Tim Ferris on reading 300 % faster. There’s the definitive speed reading course by Wade Cutler. Quit sub vocalization. Read 10 words together. There are 1000’s of tips on how to read faster.

A lot of it is gimmicky. Lifehacker agrees too.

Take the Staples test for fun and see how you do. I scored 751 wpm and got 2 out of 3 right in the question.

It sounds cool to be called a speed reader. But it’s better to be a sound reader. To do that there’s no gimmick. Just reading more on the same subject will make you a faster reader. A friendly tip is to skip the exorbitant descriptions authors use. Some of the authors need to write for number of words and some need to feel good about number of pages. Kinda like the size of your penis. It’s not the size, it’s how you use it.

Taking in 500 word per minute (measure of speed reading) and remembering 100 is not better than taking in 200 and remembering 180. When I began I thought this tactic was amazing and something I needed to absolutely learn to become a better reader. That was 6 years back in the height of my 52 books a year phase.

I read more now than I did when I was learning speed reading. Mainly by skipping useless details and reading more on a particular subject using the swarm strategy.

Tip 4 : Find high quality sources of content

Quality is measured by a few things. Is the author providing insight? Does the author write well? Does he reference well enough? Does the material that he provides have an expiry time limit?

There are a 1000 blogs for each article. A lot of them just don’t provide any insight. A lot of them are gossipy. Some of them are just the terribly named Listicles. The type of books matter a lot too. For example a category I immersed myself in that turned out to be largely useless (3 books out of 80 helped really) are Self Help books. The strategy for self help books is to fill pages noting one thing that worked for them in their specific given environmental conditions with their specific genetic makeup but place it like a tablet of commandments while hiding the fact that what they did is never a formula for reproduction. In other words, what worked for the author is not guaranteed to work for you. Avoid them. Read biographies instead.

The idea being that if I really, really want to learn about something, casually pursuing one book to another. No, you must set upon it consequentially, concurrently and comprehensibly. Nothing works in learning quite like total immersion. Immersion allows you to make connections. It allows you to challenge the authors you’re reading.
– Ryan Holiday.

To pick quality sources, go through the bibliography of your favourite author. Look at his twitter feed who does he follow? Look at sources cited. Look at comments linking to other great (or similar articles). Look at who the author is inspired by. Look at the top 10 best sellers in that particular field of interest. Look at subreddits. Look at Quora. Read reviews about what people are saying. Test the different things by seeing if you learn something intelligent in the first 50-100 pages (or the first 3 paragraphs in an article, if not discard instantly).Lastly, google the shit out of that subject.

All those things worked for me.

Tip 5: Kindle reading vs Paperback

This is a debate that has been going on internally within me for the last 5 months. I bought a kindle paper white to read books in the night. It’s really annoying reading on the phone because of the size and well a countless number of people have talked about why you shouldn’t read 1-2 hours on a screen before bed. I don’t know if that theory works too well but I can tell you I sleep much later because of it and that’s something I wanted to avoid.

I find books read on paper to be more pleasurable. The smell of paper and the weight of a book while watching a page turn is something that brings back a lot of good memories but more important, comfort.

But I can’t carry 8 books with me on the flight or in my luggage wherever I go. Thus the kindle. A big advantage of the kindle too is the dictionary and immediate tap and reference option available which isn’t there in a hard cover book. Given these advantages, I think the kindle’s better. But the convenience and technology comes at a cost. It’s not cheap. I highly recommend the Kindle reading for now though you can download the Amazon Kindle app on iTunes, Android and Windows PC.

Tip 6: Note Taking

I saved the best tip for the last because this is crucial. And also if you plough through the rest of the tips, this is the cookie you get. When you take notes you commit them to your memory space. They don’t appear immediately but they are transferred to your subconscious. I have tried taking notes on the phone but I realize I’m much faster on the computer but far more efficient when it’s on paper. When I write something down on paper, I pretty much seem to have it in my head. The time to refresh that concept is lesser. When I take notes on a digital device (especially the phone), I don’t seem to have the same level of recall capacity. This is something you’d need to try first though and see which works better. But once you take notes, categorize them according to title/book/quotes. Some people use index cards to write them on. I use alternote on the mac when I’m reading to jot down stuff. It syncs to my evernote ( which I don’t like but I haven’t found another solution yet) and is thus available “in the cloud” for my reference.

Thomas Jeffersons notes.

Thomas Jeffersons notes.

We fail to remember a lot of the stuff we read because it’s not building on any existing knowledge. We’re often trying to learn complex things (that change rapidly) without understanding the basic things (which change slowly or not at all).  Or, worse still, we’re uncritically letting other people do the thinking for us. This is the adult equivalent of regurgitating the definition of a bolded word in our high school textbook.

Farnam Street has a great post on remembering what you read with great tips on choosing a system.

Tip 7: Start small

I lied. One more extra tip. Pretty awesome right? That tip is to get you started. If you have read so far into this post, then I know that you are genuinely interested in wanting to be your Iron man version of you. Or the Elon Musk version of you. You get the point.

That tip is to start small. Read 20-30 pages a day. It doesn’t take much time and it won’t seem intimidating. If there’s a 200 page book. That’s 10 days of about 15-20 mins daily. Not that hard at all right? Try it and tell me how it goes.

But what if you have kids. You have a 9-5 job? What if you want to read more but you can’t because you are busy?

I’ll not be sarcastic here and say this is the only investment that’s guaranteed to return far more than anything else in your life. Also Warren Buffett has all that and FAR more, so what’s your real excuse?

For the betterment of you, you owe yourself this much. Sure kids are great to have you see little mini yous. But you shouldn’t stop learning about yourself. The only other greater investment is in real estate.

 

More links to read if you want to know more.

How to keep a library – I have a fair amount of books at my home to build a library. Once I get my own place I think that’s something I’m going to build towards.

How to read more by James Clear. I got the 20 pages tip from here.

The 4 stages of reading and learning. Another great post at Farnamstreet Blog.

Long exhaustive breakdown on speed reading and how to retain it through impression, association and repetition. Some of these tips are good if you have no idea about what speed reading techniques exist and what are some of the methods people use to read.

Pretty good read on how to read better and some key techniques included.

ZenHabits. As it seems with most articles there this is very basic. Not really insightful into tactics or strategies but if you want something to read as a total starter this one could be it.

Zenhabits has some more about reading more. This is a little bit better.

Austin Kleon is an artist + writer. He read over 70 books in a year. This is how he did it.

More Austin Kleon in a commandment sort of form on reading more.

The why, not necessarily the how of reading more books.

Julien Smith actually inspired me to read a book a week for a year. Here he gives tips about reading 52 books a year. I almost did.

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It Depends.

Which is a better vacation? A trip to Egypt or New Zealand? Which is better the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 plus? Which is the better Android phone the One plus, the HTC M8? or the LG G3? Which is the better nexus device the Nexus 6 or the nexus 5?

The answer is, it depends.

When there’s a clear cut winner, the decision is easy. What is the best search engine to use? Google. There’s no competition, thus the focus is not on the decision but what succeeds that, the action. The difference is in what action you’ll take once you have made the decision.

Decisions are harder when the lines are blurred or the advantages aren’t immediate between competing choices.

It becomes harder but more interesting. Because now the focus is you. Your unique DNA, your unique thinking, your influences, your needs and your ultimate goal.

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Here’s what most people don’t get. When two people start off at the same exact path but reach two totally different conclusions or decisions, it is alright to be unique and comfortable in the different end result. A case in point is my brother and I. Both born out of the same womb, both influenced culturally, both have reached very very different decisions in terms of career and life. It would also seem different sides of the brain have been exercised more between us.

And that is okay.

When people ask me what phone to buy or when I have to decide which phone I want to buy. The frustratingly comforting words return, It Depends.

Do you want a better camera?
Do you want a better battery?
Do you want better mobility?
Which ecosystem of applications do you want to use?
How much are you willing to spend?
What do you use your phone primarily for?
Where do you carry it around with you the most?
What are the other peripherals you use?
Do you prefer complete control over the ecosystem and phone? or do you trust in design for someone else?

This problem surfaced last night when I was deciding on which iPhone to get. I spent about 3 hours on research and talking and testing each phone according to my criteria before settling on the one I ended up buying.

The decision to go back to Apple in itself after a fair amount of using the android system thoroughly was on choice. I prefer the interaction and UI more. This might be my last iPhone but it was something I forked good money over and I am happy with the decision.

What worked for me might not work for you so the choices I end up deciding on might not be the same as yours. But if you want me to give you a way of deciding start with those questions above. Most people need to know 2 things in deciding a phone.

Know what features are the most important ones to you first. Based on your usage.
For me it’s the camera and battery. I take tons of pics and do a lot of web surfing so screen size was important to me. Follow me on instagram here. That’s right a shameless plug. I ALSO wanted great mobility but alas I couldn’t get that. Specs wise there are many things that individually beat in each category but there’s no phone that does both just as well (The sony Z3 might be the closest in that category and no the windows phone doesn’t compare don’t even..). Prioritize the things you absolutely won’t compromise on. Because we aren’t there yet but it’ll be a while before the perfect phone comes out. You are often faced with a decision on choosing.

Investing in apps and the peripherals.
Using an Android phone with a windows operating system while surfing on the iPad and getting chrome cast up and running can be a frustrating endeavor. If you have the mac set up you are better off with the iPhone family. First reason is because of the cohesive experience. And here’s where I disagree with the spec monsters. The iPhone certainly doesn’t have the best single thing in the department (although the camera/processor are pretty top notch) but the collective experience is why it’s better than most phones out there. Google can bring about with the Android (the nexus devices bite at the heart of it) very soon and if they take it into their hands but till then there’s only one king of complete user experience.

So after much debate last night, my friend ended up taking the iPhone 6 for his hands and his requirement that he needed it absolutely for running around marathons. Me? I’m typing this on my phone that’s a little plus.

Posted from my iPhone.

 

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Tim Ferris interviews Peter Thiel. My notes.

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I have started listening to a lot of podcasts. There are a few that are really good and there are a few that have great ones in between. One of the former is Tim Ferris’ podcast called, unsurprisingly, The Tim Ferris Show. He’s the guy who wrote the Four Hour Work Week and since then has been a branding monster online.

Here’s the interview Tim did with Peter Thiel. Largely considered one of the smartest minds in investing. I took some notes. The questions are bolded (Tim) and the answers are all Peters. If you have the time  you should give the whole thing a listen. This is not a transcript, it is just what I was listening to and writing together in a way that helps me come back and re-think about some of the ideas posted by Peter.

His central theme is about contrarian thinking and not following trends. He talks about a way of thinking that is brutally honest. Tim’s questions are very good and the answers are filled with nuggets of wisdom. My advice is scan through the questions see what he has to say and then think about it in your own way some more.

Here are my notes from the interview. If you are listening to it then the voice of the interviewee is not Tim Ferris but Blake Masters. He is the guy that attended Peter’s class and took notes from it and then co-wrote the book.

What is one thing you believe in that few others do?
This question is much harder to answer than it sounds. I think technology  is far more important than globalization even though people are far more focused on globalization which is copying things that work and much less on technology and doing new things. You should look at technology as the main driver for the 21st century. A second answer I believe in business. Capitalism and Competition are antonyms not synonyms. A capitalist is someone who is in the business of acquiring capital. In a world of perfect competition all the capital is competed away. For example the Restaurant scene in SFO has a lot of competition but isn’t capitalistic because no one is really making any money. Whereas Google is incredibly capitalistic because they have made tons of profits but has never had any real competition since 2002.

What do you wish you know about business 20 years back?
There’s no need to wait. I went to law school and stanford but it wasn’t till I started to Paypal that I realized that you don’t have to wait to start something. If you have a 10 year plan and know how to get there, you have to ask why can’t you do this in 6 months? Sometimes it’s necessary to go through the 10 year tenure but you should always ask the question to know whether it is a story you are telling yourself or is that your reality.

What do you think about failure? How important is it in business?
It’s massively overrated. Most businesses fail for more than one reason. You often don’t learn anything when a business fails. Because the failure was overdetermined. You’d think it was because of reason 1 that it failed but it could actually be because of reasons 1 through 5. The next business you start would fail for reason no 2 and 3 and so on. So I think people don’t learn much from failure. It ends up demoralizing and damaging in the long run to morale. My sense is the death of a business is tragic not some beautiful educational imperative that is the way of evolution or progress.

When do you think of the word successful, who comes to your mind first and why?
Mark Zuckerberg. I think the why is silly. Someone like Elon Musk. Serial entrepreneur that’s created multi billion dollars businesses. What they have in common is they are relentless and don’t stop. Every day they are starting and learning something new. People wonder if Facebook was a fluke. But the more you spend time with Mark and people like him you realize the less plausible that theory is.

What are the biggest tech trends you see for the 21st century?
I don’t like trends because once it becomes a trend you have many people copying it and competing in it and it’s harder to distinguish yourself from it. When you generally have a popular trend you don’t want to be the fourth online pet food company in the late 90s. Being part of a trend is detrimental. Instead think of it in terms of vision. What is a unique problem that people aren’t solving anywhere? When Elon started SpaceX he wanted to move people to Mars. Whether or not you agree with that mission statement it uniquely motivates a lot of people to work with him. It is because every moment in technology only happens once. It is a unique constellation of events, people and stuff that come together to create something unique.

Why do investors spray and pray and focus on a few companies. Do you have any rules you have or tips for vcs?
People would say that they say spray and pray thing with their portfolio theory or some theory of diversification but that’s not true. Real reason is they lack conviction and too lazy to find companies that actually work. I don’t like that because you shouldn’t treat companies as lottery tickets or people who start it as such guys. The Anti lottery ticket approach is to be concentrated. That forces you to have high levels of conviction. You shouldn’t think in losing money and try to be concentrated and have high levels of conviction to make good investments.

What problem do you face that no one has solved?
Real and continued progress against aging and death which is not just my problem. We have 100,000 people who die daily. Diseases linked to old age and we are doing so little to attack this problem. People are in denial or acceptance, which are opposite extremes, but both stop you from doing anything. Passive modes are what these are it would be better to spend time fighting death. We should spend more time fighting death. People say that death is natural there is nothing more natural than to fight it.

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What do you say to the 9.7 million unemployed people in America?
The Micro answer is there’s no one size fits all approach there are different facts and circumstances people find themselves in, we need to look at it specifically. look at the factors that led to it. What type of people are they? Students with debt or someone with lots of experience but not enough capital? Granularity is important here.

Macro answer. We need to find ways to have more growth in the economy. 4 % a year growth in the usa would solve a lot of these problems. The challenges is that we have had 1 or 2 % growth rate for the last few years. That sort of growth rate is not enough to drive this. Technology is the key driver for USA growth and anything we can do to accelerate that technological revolution is something that we should focus on.

Your position on college and higher education is hypocritical since you are a stanford and law school graduate.
I think people will always find objections in something or the other.  I think they are likely to complain in any event. My view is not hypocritical because its not one size fits all. I never said no one should go to college. Not everybody should do the same thing. There is something very odd about a society when all the smartest people get tracked into one path where same courses same careers and it is very limiting for our society. It shows a lack of diversity in our thinking and in our society. I was guilty of this myself its possible I might have done it again, I would think much harder and ask why am I doing this and what is the reason because I did well in test courses and got grades? Or is it because it is prestigious? Or am I extremely passionate about practicing law? There are good answers and bad answers and retrospectively in my early 20’s I was focused on the wrong answers.

You studied philosophy what does that have to do with business?
I’m not sure how much the formal study of philosophy helped, the fundamental question of philosophy is important. What do people agree by convention and what is the truth? There is a consensus of things for people to be true maybe its right and maybe its not. Convention cannot be a shortcut for truth. Silicon valley is filled with conventional thinking and one of the reasons and it may flipped them even more than others is that there are so few markers since we are focused on the future. The future is what they are focused on and people are not sure about it with just a few markers. They will find shortcuts listening to someone else without knowing or figuring it out. The question of thinking for yourself and breaking convention is very important in silicon valley and other places.

What do you think the future of education is?
I don’t like that word education. It is an extra-ordinary abstraction. I prefer learning as a word. There are all these granular questions. what does it mean you are learning? what is it you are learning? why are you learning? Is it an investment decision? Is it a competitive one? is to be in a partying mode? Is it a consumption decision? Is it a tournament where you are just beating other people? If we move beyond that education bubble the future will be one that people can speak more clearly about these things and is it a tournament or trade or party you have to have a specific skill.

Engineering is opposite of education, it is actually a skill and you are taught about how to learn. It’s the anti education in that sense it is a paradigm for some of the things we will have in the future. You aren’t learning for learning or not learning anything. We will have a much less size of a one size fits all approach. The big track institutions are charging more and more and giving less and less. We are at the point where it will look very different on the brink of change. Like the old catholic church institution, corrupt and spreading messages like you are going to hell till the reformers came along. You have to figure out your salvation on your own.

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What are your daily habits and routines
I feel terrible when I’m answering that question is because many things are unstructured. Daily thing I try to do is to have conversations with the smartest people and try to learn new things daily. I know and develop my thinking and i talk to the same people over a lot of time and its mostly group of friends or people I work with so it’s not like the MTV format of talking to a new person all the time. A group of friends who you have worked with a long time.

What one thing would you like to change about yourself?
It’s hard to answer because it asks why haven’t I improved on it already. Looking back I was insanely tracked and insanely competitive and when you are very competitive you get good at the things you are competing on but it comes at the expense of losing out on many other things. So if you are a very competitive chess player you might become a great chess player but you might be missing out on a lot of things. I have become more self aware over the years over all the competition we have spent time on and daily I think about being less competitive and more successful.

What did you want to achieve by writing zero to one the book?
When you write a book like this you want to reach as broad as an audience as possible. There are many things I have learned as an entrepreneur and investor in the tech industry and I wanted to share that with the wider world. I think this question of technology is critical in the future. There’s a hopeful and alarmist point of view in the book. The alarmist side is if we don’t get our act together and don’t innovate we will have a very bleak future. The positive side or the hopeful side is that its not all the low hanging fruit has been picked and there are many secrets that can be unlocked for a better future. Most books take a 30 page essay and make it a 300 page book. I tried to do the opposite. I took everything I learned in the last 15 years and distill it into 200 pages so that you can read this in one afternoon. Writing this has helped me discipline my thinking and I hope it does the same for everyone who reads it.

 

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My year of 2014 and it’s goals.

I made resolutions all the time. I never kept them for more than a few months at most. Except growing my hair. How do you keep them?I have a few thoughts.

If you just want to know what to do, skip to the end.

The year of 2014.
2014 was one of the best years I have had. Not for my blog. It was probably the worst for my blog because I didn’t write anything at all. I promised myself a few things for 2014.

1. Travel to a new country
2. Write on my blog tri weekly
3. Learn a new language
4. Lose tons of weight
5. Grow my hair out
6. Work in gaming for another year
7. Learn that one field I’d want to be a specialist in

I’m well aware that talking about your goals means you won’t accomplish them in most cases. But those were my goals in 2014.

How did I fare with my goals?

1. Travel to a new country
I started with this to make myself feel good. I moved to Singapore. Although I’m moving back soon.

2. Write on my blog tri weekly.
I wrote 7 posts after my welcome 2014 post. That means I wrote 0.13 posts a week. An average post contains about 500-600 words. So I wrote about 74 words in the whole of 2014. On average. Total shit progress. To give you some more clarity (and show you how numbers can be interesting, I have already written over 220 words till this line).

3. Learn a new language
I set out to learn Arabic, German and Spanish. I learnt Singlish. Shit progress here too walao.

4. Lose tons of weight
This I actually did to some extent but then had a fracture and went back to my pizza eating ways. But now that my fractures gone, I’m tackling this again.

5. Grow my hair out
Grew it since February. Recently cut it after reaching shoulder length. Here’s a pic with the amazing Razer team where it’s almost shoulder length.

team razer dreamhack

6. Work in gaming for another year.
Post Disney, as the above pic depicts. I worked with Razer for the better part of 2014. I met some amazing people here. Great exposure into the company that makes the best gaming products in the world. These are actual products by the way; Mice/keyboards/An amazing mic/Speakers and of course fantastic software that I worked on.

7. Choose a field to specialize in.
For years I struggled in this one. YEARS. I couldn’t decide on what I wanted to do. Sometimes I was too pussy to do what I should have but it all serendipity and a bunch of circumstances hit and I chanced up on what I would like to do. I now know what I should build my expertise in.


How do you keep goals?
I didn’t keep my goals because I was thinking in terms of numbers and sign posts I had to cross and not the path. The goal in itself while noble is a hard thing to achieve when you start out. Therefore you build systems of practice in which the focus is to do one better than the previous day which eventually leads you to surpassing your goals.

A system of practice is inspired by Kaizen which is getting better daily.  Take one thing one day at a time and do it better than the previous day. Eventually you’ll hit the goal without thinking about it daily.

Do you know why this is easy? Because 10 pushups over 9 pushups the previous day is totally achievable. 100 pushups by the end of the month already defeats you in thinking about the massive number. You’ll achieve the same later or earlier, doesn’t matter, when your idea is just progressing daily and doing one better than the previous day, you are well on your way.

So how would/should have my goals been structured.

The learning of the language for example. I should have chosen one language and immersed myself in it. The culture, the interactions, learning one word a day. Or learning 10 words a day, then learning 11 words the next day instead of saying learn the language. Learning a language is not measurable by any means. How do you know when you “know” the language? When you can give a speech? When you can read a whole book? It’s hard to measure or tick off. But learning newer words daily? That’s easy? Learning a new sentence daily? That’s easy too.

Here’s to a fantastic new year 2015 to all of you. How did your 2014 go?

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