Success and what the world wants

We succeed when we create or offer something that the world wants or values. It is this value that generally translates into wealth.

We communicate well when the others in the room understand what we say.

Our clients and managers don’t appreciate us for the work we do. Instead, they appreciate us for the problems we solve for them.

This was the magic behind Steve Jobs’ work. He had a deep understanding for the problems we wanted solved and for the stories we wanted to hear.

Many of us often orient our narratives around what we did – “I worked so hard” or “I did so much” or “I said so many times.” Unfortunately, such effort counts for little.

Our external success, instead, is a function of how well we understand the exact nature of the problem others around us would like solved. As we get better at solving these problems for our world, we earn the right to do the same for “the world.”

To be present

To be present, we have to learn to let go and to approach upcoming moments with curiosity.

Letting go requires us to focus intensely on what we actually control – our response to the present moment. And, approaching upcoming moments with curiosity means letting our instincts to judge what is happening simply waft by. It is only when we let go of our instinct to label do we see how things really are.

Thus, when we learn to commit to the current moment by acknowledging how little we control and how much we have to learn, the monkey mind’s chatter recedes to the background. We, then, find the wisdom to discern what actually matters.

And, in that process, we learn to be present.


Stuffed giraffes and remarkable stories

Like all books by the Heath brothers, there are a collection of remarkable stories in “The Power of Moments” (that you are all going to hear about over the coming weeks). One of my favorites was about Joshie – the stuffed giraffe.

Chris Hurn and family visited the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island in 2012. Once they got home, they realized that they’d left their son’s beloved stuffed giraffe, Joshie, behind. Seeing his distraught son, Chris said – “Joshie is fine. He’s just taking an extra long vacation at the resort.”

That very night, the Ritz Carlton confirmed they’d found Joshie and would mail him back. Chris told them the story he’d told their son and wondered if they would mind taking a photo of Joshie relaxing by the pool.

In a story that has become part of stuffed giraffe folklore, the Ritz Carlton team sent multiple photos with Joshie having a great time at the resort – by the pool, having a massage, driving a golf cart by the beach and so on.



This story is obviously held a great example of customer service done right.

But, to me, it is a powerful reminder of how unplanned or uncomfortable situations can be transformed with a touch of empathy, creativity and thought.

All it takes is for us to realize that we can own the space between stimulus and response.

A formula for mentorship

I’ve been coming across formulas for mentorship and “wise” parenting in books I’ve been reading over the past few months (Grit, Mindset, The Power of Moments).

My go to is the one from “The Power of Moments.” Great mentorship = Trust + High expectations + Direction + Support.

Trust is the first step because it is the foundation of any relationship. You can’t shortcut trust. Knowing and understanding a person are pre-requisites for trust.

High expectations is the easy part. However, it doesn’t work as often or as well if you are thrown into the deep sea without any direction.

Support is what is assured when things don’t work. Support feeds right back into trust.

The powerful part about understanding these elements is that great mentorship need not come from conventional mentor-mentee or parent-child relationships. Once you know what you want to learn from each other, friendships and teammate relationships can be (and often are) mentorship relationships.

Single player games and timescales

The Farnam Street Blog shared the transcript from a wonderfully insightful interview with Naval Ravikant. I read it a few days back and have been thinking about certain insights since. Today, I’d like to share 2 pieces that resonated. The first is about single player games and multi-player games.

Socially, we’re told, “Go work out. Go look good.” That’s a multi-player competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not. We’re told, “Go make money. Go buy a big house.” Again, external monkey-player
competitive game. When it comes to learn to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internal, no external progress, no external validation, 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game. We are such social creatures, we’re more like bees or ants, that we’re externally programmed and driven, that we just don’t know how to play and win at these single-player games anymore. We compete purely on multi-player games. The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player.

And the second is about timescales.

One thing I figured out kind of late is that generally, at least in the tech business in Silicon Valley, great people have great outcomes. You just have to be patient. Every person that I met at the beginning of my career 20 years
ago, where I looked at them and said, “Wow, that guy or that gal is super capable. They’re so smart and dedicated and blah, blah, blah. Now we’ll just be friends or hang out or whatever”, and then I kind of forgot about them, all of them, almost without exception, became extremely successful. You just had to give them a long enough timescale. It never happens in the timescale you want or they want, but it does happen.

I’ve written about similar themes a few times over the past few years. I wrote about the concept of path sharers alluding to the concept of a single-player game. I’ve also written time and time again about the focus on processes and the long run versus short run timescales. Things work out… in time.

But, it was refreshing to hear these framed in a different and compelling manner. I love the idea of single player games and of outcomes never happening in the timescale you want or they want.

I’ve learnt time and time again that it is easy to find ourselves caught in the rat race.

It is easy to forget that we aren’t rats.

And that it isn’t a race.


I’ve been thinking about the word “character” a fair bit over the past weeks. So, I decided to dig in to begin to understand what the word really means.

Character is defined as a set of mental and moral qualities that are distinctive to an individual. Stephen Covey said that our character is a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly express our character.

My synthesis is that our character is how we solve problems and face adversity. How we solve problems and face adversity, in turn, is the truest demonstration of our motives and values and how we reconcile the inevitable conflicts between them.

To understand Covey’s observation on how we express our character, we must understand Anton Chekov. Chekov wisely observed – Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out, i.e., there are few harder problems out there than living an intentional life day-to-day.

That’s why our approach to living out our days (i.e. our daily habits) is a great reflection of our character.

Our character is how we think because how we think demonstrates our mental and moral qualities. And, how we think manifests itself in what we do.

Made me wonder – if I looked at my daily habits, what would I learn about my character? (i.e. my character as it is versus what I think it to be)

Real desperation and faked calm

I’ve been speaking to a few folks who are in the process of interviewing for jobs. Interviewing is one of the purest forms of selling – instead of selling a product, we sell our own skills and capabilities. It can be high pressure and typically has long ranging consequences. Desperation and worry are natural accompaniments in this process.

My learning – so much of successful interviewing and selling is substituting real desperation and worry with (often) faked calm.

Of course, this isn’t just limited to interviewing. It applies to every juncture at which we try to make an important sale – when we get started on a new job, when we make an important presentation, etc.

So, if you are at one of these junctures and are finding yourself worried, do know it is expected.

Every bit of practice and mental preparation we invest in is really all about making this replacement of desperation with calm seem more natural.


Evidence of wisdom

The best evidence of wisdom is the ability to discern what will matter in the long run from all the noise in the current moment.

Like all other abilities, this one takes conscious effort.

And, like most abilities that are hard to acquire, the juice is well worth the squeeze.

Better for me or better for her?

I took my 1 year old for a walk early in the morning recently. It had just rained the previous night and the pavement we were walking on was strewn with wet, fallen leaves.

While I was hoping for a straightforward walk amidst trees, she had different ideas. She wanted to surgically examine the leaves and the dirt on the ground. The trees and the fresh air were of lesser interest at that point.

So, when she bent down, lost balance and fell on the pavement, I found myself saying – “No no no.” She’s begun to understand the meaning of the word no and looked at me wondering what the problem was. Hoping to distract her, I picked her up, moved her to a different part of the pavement and said –  “This is better for you.”

That’s when it occurred to me to ask myself – “Better for her or better for me?”

I realized soon enough that the better experience for her was to explore everything she wanted to explore. But, that wasn’t “better” in the sense I envisioned as it meant a lot more vigilance (in case she popped something into her mouth) and cleaning once we got back home.

Of course, she was oblivious to all this internal dialog and went right back to exploring stuff on the ground. This time, I squatted next to her and joined her in her exploration.

The themes of learning from my journey as a parent so far have been engagement, flexibility and self awareness. I realize how often I’m present but not engaged. I’ve found myself needing to become more and more flexible. And, I’ve found myself staring at my inadequacies around engagement and flexibility very often.

This experience also reminded me of the importance of conflict of interest. Better for them is often better for us.

Going back to the story for a moment -after this bit of exploration, we went back to walking and exploring. As we did it, I realized that there’s a person with a tiny hand holding tight onto my index finger as she takes in the wonders of this beautiful world. It won’t be very long before holding my hand will be considered “uncool.”

And, here I was getting all wound up in my desire for control over the experience.

It is easy to lose sight of what actually matters.

Rules and guidelines

A few years ago, I was quick to talk about self discipline in the form of rules. There rules might be –

“No checking phone after dinner.”

“No email on Saturdays.”

“No donuts.”

“Always wake up by 5am.”

In time, I’ve moved entirely away from rules to guidelines. Now, I might say “Avoid checking the phone after dinner” or “Aim to wake up at 5am everyday.” This means I’ll do it most of the time. But, there will be times when exceptions will need to be made.

And, that’s totally okay. I trust myself to make a conscious choice.

Trust turns out to be the key difference between a rule based approach to discipline versus a guideline based approach. The rule based approach assumes we are prone to make bad choices and these should be avoided by getting guardrails up. A guideline based approach, instead, assumes we’re completely trustworthy. And, as long as we’re intentional and engaged, we’ll make good decisions in the long run.

Does that mean the trust never gets broken? Absolutely not. We will err. But, the response to these errors isn’t admonishment. Instead, it is a creative, corrective and constructive response.

The beauty about trust is that it inspires positive behavior for the right reasons. It creates a cycle built on positive reinforcement and learning. This approach changes how much we trust those we have close relationships with too.

When we change how we treat ourselves, we also change how we treat others.