Red flag law – The 200 word project

When locomotives with engines were introduced in the UK, the red flag law was passed in 1865. This required cars to drive at less than 2 miles per hour and to be preceded by pedestrians waving a red flag. This was the case despite the fact that existing human operated vehicles crashed with frightening regularity. So, the new technology needed to jump across higher safety hoops than the existing technology.

The takeaway from this for ex-Google executives, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, is that there’s a constant tension between regulation and innovation. If we get attached to something that works and refuse to accept anything new that comes with risks of failure, it is only a matter of time before we move backwards.

This has lots of applications in our lives, too. The best projects come with the “this might not work” tag. And, accepting the idea will require us to consistently remind ourselves that what got us here won’t get us there. If we keep raising the bar such that we accept nothing aside from “assured” success, it will only be a matter of time before we stop trying.

At some level, “this might not work” is at the heart of all important projects, of everything new and worth doing.” – Seth Godin

Source and thanks to: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

10 years ago

What were you doing on this day 10 years ago?

At this time 10 years ago, I was in my final year of High school. My main objective at that point was to get admitted into the National University of Singapore. And, my biggest worry back then was a mix of wondering if I would get the scholarship to attend and whether I’d be able to pull off the scores required to get in. Also, being a teenager, I’m sure there were a few social circle related worries.

I don’t think I had any conception of what I might be doing 10 years later. And, even if I did hazard a guess, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been close to what turned out. I didn’t know what YouTube was and definitely didn’t know anything about consulting (my first job) or business school.

A childhood friend and I were exchanging texts about this yesterday and marveling at how quickly time has gone by. Whenever I have such conversations, I am reminded of the Bill Gates idea that we tend to overestimate what we can do in a year but regularly underestimate what we can do in a decade. That is definitely true in my limited experience.

We regularly think about the next year or two and tend to have big hopes and dreams. We rarely think about the next decade. And, yet, in the really long term, directional movement matters a lot more than specific steps.

Coincidentally, I had some longer term thinking time scheduled this weekend. And, longer term really meant thinking about my 2nd year in graduate school. So, this exchange and post have come at a great time. I’ve decided to challenge myself to think about the next ten.

Looking forward.


Every societal disruption, by definition, changes the nature of the era. Thanks to social media and the internet, one of the defining characteristics of this age is the sheer amount of chatter.

Every little thing we do produces a lot of noise. A piece of news that used to be local is now global. That’s because publishing space is infinite and everything is connected. That, however, is just an amplification of what used to exist.

The biggest change is that we are all journalists and we are all news worthy. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like, our entire extended network knows of major life events and achievements. And, given the sudden increase in the number of newsworthy people (i.e. us), “news feeds” are thriving.

All of this is from the point of view of the consumer. As producers, however, what has changed is that little actions can create a lot of chatter. And, very little of this chatter really adds value.

Every once in a while, I find it helpful to stop and ask myself – what are you working to build? How much progress have you made?

It helps separate the signal from the noise.

My Facebook News Feed and me

A close friend and I were discussing distractions. The top distraction on her list was the Facebook feed. I thought I’d share my relationship with my Facebook News Feed.

Starting 1 April 2013, I just stopped looking at it.

There’s an increasing movement of people who debunk Facebook and say it adds no value. I am not one of them. Facebook has truly lived its mission to connect the world in my eyes. The engagement on the website is off the charts – 1 Billion people log in everyday. That is impressive. I think of the news feed as an addictive drug that people can’t seem to get enough of. Whether it is good or bad depends entirely on you.

When I asked myself how Facebook adds to my life, I found it to add value in 3 ways –
1. Serendipitous connections – There are SO many past neighbors and friends who I’m connected to via Facebook. I don’t know what’s happening in their lives. But, every once a while, I send or receive serendipitous messages. And, I find tremendous value in that.
2. The ALearningaDay page and shares – I share this blog’s post every day on the Facebook page and on my own profile. It is a simple action that has helped build engagement as that is where a lot of the interested audience sits.
3. Groups – this has been incredibly useful in graduate school.

My experience with the Facebook feed from 2 years ago was that it was only, at best, having a negative impact. This is probably less about the feed and more about me. In particular, there were 2 things that were going wrong –
1. If I ever liked a photo or update, I was inundated with notifications about others who did. I didn’t like that. I generally check notifications, respond to email and friend requests. So, the noise wasn’t helping.
2. I am given to competitiveness and envy. This is in my nature and I found that the news feed fed my demons. :-) I had worked very hard over the preceding years to stop focusing on others and just focus on competing against myself. At that point, I felt I was getting to that happy place and my Facebook feed seemed to derail that progress when I spent time on it. I used to get sucked into checking out what others were doing. All of this was wasted happiness and time.

So, I made a simple switch. I changed the bookmark on my browser to redirect to my own profile page as that is what I accessed to share this blog’s links.


The app makes it tougher because I need to go to my notifications as soon as I click on it. I occasionally see a feed item or two. I almost never engage. It does mean missing out on congratulating many a friend about some achievement or big life event. But, I figure that if I only learn about people that matter via Facebook, there is something wrong. So, it is a trade off I’m comfortable with.

The aspiring product person within admires the engagement and sheer magnetism of that feed.

But, I’ve learnt that its not for me.

Unsettled and out-of-sorts

Your behavior and performance on a good day is good to have. It tells us what you are capable of doing when the going is good.

However, it is your behavior and performance on a day when you feel unsettled and out-of-sorts that we really care about. Do what you do when the chips are down and you win respect.

That’s because consistency is the name-of-the-game. There has never yet been an inconsistent champion. And, it is your performance and grace on a day with extenuating circumstances that defines your character.

After all, life is just a series of extenuating circumstances.

A few notes from Djokovic vs. Federer

I watched a full tennis match after a really long time yesterday. And, it turned out to be a fantastic game to watch. Djokovic beat Federer to win his 10th grand slam. Here’s what I took away –

1. Adapt and reinvent. The first lesson I was reminded of was from a recent post titled “Adapt and Reinvent.” I wrote, then

“There are, however, a handful of legends who did manage to stay true to their status as the “next big thing,” And, every single time, they did so not just because of their incredible technical abilities but because they were willing to adapt and reinvent themselves. They understood their physical make up and changed their game to suit them as they grew older. Many changed positions and styles. And, what is telling is that they found new strengths as they grew older. If they were pacy in their youth, they impressed with their reading of the game a decade later.

Careers in sport at the highest level are rarely longer than 15 years and, yet, top players probably reinvent themselves 2-3 times in that period.”

That post was about soccer legends but could just as easily have been about Roger Federer. In the last couple of years, Federer has changed coaches, switched to a more forgiving racket and adapted his game. He has been surprising people by charging forward during his opponents’ second serve (nicknamed SABR or “sneak attack by Federer”). This isn’t a nice-to-have at Federer’s age. The Open Era has produced fitter tennis players than ever before. For a 35 year old to make it to the finals of two consecutive grand slams, it is a necessity.

2. Heightened self awareness. it is impossible to adapt and reinvent if you don’t understand your own strengths and limitations. Heightened self awareness is a pre-requisite to succeeding as you mature. I’m sure that applies beyond sport.

3. At the highest level, it is largely a mental game. At the risk of simplification, the biggest reason for Federer’s loss yesterday was that he only converted roughly 1 out of every 6 break points. Djokovic converted 1 in 2. Federer is usually a fantastic clutch player. However, Djokovic was better yesterday. These games are all decided by small margins. And, mental strength is an incredibly useful ally to have. Djokovic’s mind is more conditioned to winning these big games than Federer’s.

Learning aside – I thought I’d indulge in two interesting questions –

First – will Djokovic beat Federer’s tally of 17 grand slams? I think it will be tough. Federer had 15 grand slams at Djokovic’s age. However, Federer also had a 22 and 23 year old Djokovic and Nadal who were beginning to peak. Djokovic doesn’t seem to have that sort of competition. So, he might actually get very close.

Second, what of Federer? How can he be the greatest player of all time if Djokovic and Nadal consistently get the better of him? Just remember that Federer is 35. Between 22 and 28 (usually considered a tennis player’s peak), Roger Federer won 13 out of 24 possible grand slams. To do what he is doing at 35 is nothing short of incredible. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Great game. Hats off to you – Novak and Roger.

What would a new person do? – The 200 words project

In 1985, Intel was debating whether to stay in the memory business or to invest entirely in the microprocessor business. They were losing market share in the memory business very quickly to Japanese companies and Japanese technology was known to be superior.

When Intel’s Japanese executives confirmed that Japanese technology was far superior to their own, their worst fears were confirmed. However, the memory business was still contributing to revenues and there was a big internal debate of whether to keep memory or not.

One day, amidst all the debate, CEO Andy Grove asked his team – “If a new CEO walked in today, what would he do?” The answer was obvious to all – “Kill memory.” So, they decided to go to their customers with the announcements. The typical reaction? “Well it sure took you guys long.”

And thus, a huge debate around an important decision (that ended up being absolutely right) was answered by just looking for another perspective and asking – “What would a new person who walked into this situation do?”

Next time you’re fearful about a decision, get a dose of perspective. Ask, “What would my successor do?” Or for a personal decision, “What would I advise my best friend to do?” You’ll be astonished at how easily a quick dose of detachment can help you rise above short-term emotion. – Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Source and thanks to: Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Small and extraordinary

For many years, I feel like I consistently dreamt about the “big things.” The final event, the big presentation and the critical milestone. It was all about finishing with a flourish.

Now, I spend most of my time thinking about the small things  – the next meeting, the email update, the thank you note.

I’ve learnt that I care a lot more about doing the small things with extraordinary love.

And I find that, very often, they become the big things.

The perfect break

When I first began planning breaks/vacations, I used to attempt to control every part of the experience. It all needed to be perfect.

I realized pretty quickly that there is no such thing as a perfect break – at least not in the way I had defined it. Things inevitably went wrong and the conditions were never completely ideal. For example, I was informed of the failure of a then-important-project on vacation. Or, I was contemplating a worrying possibility on another.

But, the best part is that I don’t remember these things when I think of these breaks. They are a part of the narrative but hardly dominate. I didn’t have much control over these things, after all. And, you can only control what you can control. And, the best part? I do actually think of these breaks as “perfect.”

What, then, is perfection? Perfection, to me, is simply when we make the best of a situation given all the constraints.

So, before we attempt to make our next project “perfect,” lets ask ourselves what really matters and seek to control our input into those bits. Let the rest go and make the best of it.

Perfection is overrated because we view it as scarce. It isn’t. It is all around us. Every time we make the best of a situation or be the best version of ourselves, perfection appears. We just have to learn to see it and then appreciate it.