Advice from Yellowstone

We had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park recently. The trip inspired many a lesson – I expect them to trickle in in the coming days.

My experiences aside, this fridge magnet did a wonderful job humorously distilling some powerful lessons from the park.

Be natural.

Tread lightly.

Take time to reflect.

Go with the flow.

Let off a little steam.


It resonated.

Advice from strangers

The single best feature of the internet in my book is the ability to get advice from strangers.

A few times every week, I type a random question into the search bar. Sometimes it is a “how to do x”, sometimes it is asking for an itinerary when visiting a place, and on other occasions, it is figuring out where to eat.

I’m never disappointed.

Instead, I’m often amazed at the painstaking detail and thought put into all this guidance.

Knowledge is power. And I’m grateful to all these strangers who take the time to pass it on.

Summoning the warrior

Prof Scott Galloway shared some graduation advice to new grads recently – “Be warriors, not wokesters.” Here are a couple of excerpts.

Be mentally and physically … warriors. Lift heavy weights and run long distances, in the gym and in your mind. Many tasks you’ll be asked to perform early in your career will be tedious. Don’t do what you are asked to do, but what you are capable of doing. Think of it as boot camp before being sent to battle, as there are millions of other warriors fighting to win the same regions of prosperity. Get strong, really strong. You should be able to walk into a room and believe you could overpower, outrun, or outlast every person in the room.

My first job was at Morgan Stanley. I wasn’t as well educated as the other junior analysts. (My fault: UCLA is a sink-or-swim place; I decided to do neither and smoke pot and tread water.) Anyway, at Morgan, every other week I’d go to work Tuesday morning and not leave until Wednesday night. Nobody was at home waiting for me, I had no real hobbies, and in your twenties, if you don’t tell yourself otherwise, you can work 30+ hours straight … easily.

Balance is a myth. There are only trade-offs. Having balance at my age is a function of lacking it at your age. Your call.

There is a lot of discussion re what it means to be “woke,” some of it well-founded, some of it hyperbole. Yes, be awake to the privileges and prejudices that surround you and rigorously honest about the world you’re inheriting. But the word has lost that original meaning. Beyond the media noise, an insidious pattern is emerging in academic and professional settings. The insistence on filtering everything through the lens of personal identity and experience. The prioritization of victimhood. The belief that to be offended is to be right.

Structural racism is real, and our economic system is tilted, if not rigged. The most accurate predictor of your opportunities isn’t your intelligence or work ethic but where you’re born. But playing the victim decreases your capacity to be a warrior against these injustices. Pursuing the politics of personal identity ensures you will remain an individual, alienated and alone. Warriors sacrifice for the tribe, but they recognize they are part of a tribe. Separate people from ideology, or you give up access to 50% of potential relationships and allies.

Reacting to every slight and demanding satisfaction from every insult is what the system wants you to do. Joining a Twitter mob seizing on a hapless middle manager or an out-of-touch English professor may feel like justice, but it’s just a cheap drip of dopamine lost in an ocean of social media profits.

Be a warrior. Before you resort to violence, make a thoughtful assessment. Register the intention behind people’s gestures, ideas, and words. Don’t make a caricature of people’s actions and speech so you can draw your sword and feel righteous. Be a highly skilled, devastatingly strong warrior who exerts their power by example and leaves their weapon in its sheath. Forgiveness is strength. Demonstrate it, every day. Be a warrior, not a wokester.


There’s a lot about this that resonated with me. I’ve been an immigrant since I left home when I was 17 and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve reminded myself that I may not be smarter than the people in the room, but I sure as hell won’t be wanting for my work ethic. I expect myself to show up every day and make the trade-offs necessary to get an opportunity to do more impactful work.

I haven’t seen it done any other way. The smartest kids I knew in school were also incredibly hard working.

The part about not being a wokester resonates too. There is no doubt the world isn’t fair. I still feel like an outsider in so many rooms and places. But playing the victim isn’t the solution. It has never been and it never will be. Focus on what you control, learn to get along, then change the system for the better.

This isn’t just a recipe for work. It is a recipe for life. That work ethic works just as well as a spouse and as a parent. Both of those suffer when we’re not willing to put in the work. Everyday.

It even works on vacation for what it’s worth. Sometimes, you just have to wake up at absurd hours to experience something spectacular.

It helps to know you can always summon that inner warrior when the need arises.

Decision making principles rooted in dated assumptions

In my past life – during a time without kids – I used to spend a fair bit of time on flights for work.

Given the amount of time spent traveling, it made sense to optimize the experience. This meant minimizing/removing check in baggage, and getting to the airport with just enough time for security and boarding.

This approach often meant cutting it fine on time at the airport. While it never came down to a missed flight, the thought process was that the cost of doing so wouldn’t be crazy. There’s always the next one in case there’s a mishap.

I was thinking about this the other day. For many years since, I’ve maintained a similar approach. Sure, we added a touch more buffer post kids. But, the old principle of minimizing time at the airport remained.

Until a couple months ago. As I made my way to the flight (it was close), I found myself asking myself if the principle still made sense.

It made sense when I was traveling solo frequently for work on popular routes. The cost of a miss – in case of a mishap – was not crazy.

The assumptions now couldn’t be more different. I travel primarily for personal reasons and our frequency is very low (at best 3-4 trips per year). When we do fly, our entire family typically goes together. The cost of screwing up a well planned family trip is much higher.

A lightbulb moment.

I’ve since shifted my mindset. When we traveled recently, we got in well in advance – with plenty of buffer time. We ended up using a chunk of the buffer time for this and that. We then got some time to hang out at the gate – a novel experience. :-) But, perhaps, most of all, it was a relatively stress free experience.

All thanks to revisiting a decision making principle rooted in dated assumptions.

Mishaps and memories

I had a mishap recently. It got me thinking about mishaps over the past decade. And as I thought about said mishaps, I began thinking about some of the best memories in the past decade.

I found myself wondering – where were the mishaps then? Were these great memories because they were mishap free?

It turns out that was far from the truth. Every time I thought about the memory a bit longer, I remembered an associated mishap.

One great memory came right after getting rejected for graduate school in my first attempt. Another involved getting the dreaded recruiter rejection call during our trip. And so on.

As time passed, the mishaps got blurred out while the good times and the emotions associated with them remained vivid.

This trip down memory lane was a helpful reminder to not sweat my current set of mishaps too much. Stuff goes wrong/we fail despite our best efforts from time to time.

Focus on doing the right things. Savor time with those you love. Learn. Find the joy. Make good memories.

The rest is gravy.

Replying to the order confirmed email

A simple test of how much an e-commerce website actually cares about the buyer experience – does replying to the order confirmed/update emails go to a “no reply” email or to a “customer service” email that will answer your question?

Amazon can’t choose the customer service option at their scale. So, it is a great way to differentiate yourself if you are an up-and-coming/niche e-commerce site.

It isn’t easy. But what is?

More than anything, it shows a desire to create a great customer experience. And that is as good an indicator as any of the quality of the strategy of an e-commerce/retail operation.

The Leaded gasoline trail

I thought leaded gasoline was a thing of the past. It was banned in automobiles after clear causal impact to brain development in children.

However, it turns out that lead wasn’t banned in small airports. The consequence, as a Quartz investigation revealed, is that it is still used for refueling in every small airport in the United States- every two small airports that finally banned leaded fuel.

When I first dug in here, it blew my mind. Airplane owners in Santa Clara county fought the county rule when this was implemented in January. Would they have done so if their kids were exposed to the lead next to the airport?

It got me thinking about the power of economic incentives in driving behavior. It is why our track record of doing the right thing is poor. We only make that choice if it is cheap or convenient.

It is why we’ll likely not see enough written about the causes of the tremendous flooding at the iconic Yellowstone national park – one among many environmental crises facing many US national parks who are dealing with extreme weather and melting glaciers. This is the case the world over – melting glaciers have even caused Nepali authorities to begin moving base camp on Mt. Everest.

It is pretty dire.

But I don’t think it is too late either. Or at least I’ve come to realize that such optimism is important.

On the bright side, the Indian Government announced plans to conduct its first offshore wind auction with 10-12 Gigawatts capacity. For context, the largest wind auction in the US sold rights for ~6 GW. It is great news for decarbonization. Similarly, the University of Chicago released data that China has reduced air pollution by 40% in the last 7 years (it took the US thirty years to achieve a reduction at this scale).

And there was good news closer to home too. Grid-scale energy storage in the US quadrupled in the past year.

All these installations will make clean energy cheaper. Until it becomes the only choice.

Here’s to less lead, less pollution, and more free energy from the wind and the sun.

Something in the middle

I experienced two types of shopping experiences recently. On the one hand, there was an experience that involved clothing that felt like it might take weeks to resolve online.

So, we ended up at a brick-and-mortar store and had it all wrapped up in 30 minutes.

On the flip side, we were looking for something for the home at a store nearby. We tried guessing the size we needed, got it wrong, and had to go back and return it. We decided that Amazon would be the way to go for this one.

With clear item descriptions, reviews, and easy returns, Amazon has nailed the customer experience in so many types of shopping experiences. But it hasn’t replaced our weekly grocery run. It will struggle to replace certain kinds of clothing experiences as well.

The answer appears to be “hybrid” or “something in the middle.”

It is a word I’ve developed appreciation for of late. For those of us who don’t build physical goods, I think the days of requiring 5 days in the office are over. But it is still nice to be back in the office once a week. There are certain meetings that are best done in person.

Again, the answer isn’t this or that. It is something in the middle.

As with so many knotty questions in this life.