Looking ahead into the 2020s

When I think of the biggest problems we face as humans, I break the population into two groups.

The first group focuses most of its energy on finding ways to provide for the basic necessities. Nearly 5 Billion people out of the 7.95 Billion people on this planet fall into this bucket. They live on less than ten dollars per day. Of this group, around billion started this decade living on less than two dollars per day and are classified as people living in “extreme poverty.”

It is important to start with a broad strokes understanding of the realities that the global population faces. Most people on the planet (~60%-70%) live in poverty. And, yet, it is likely very few, if any, of the people you are related to are likely to fall in this bucket. So, underestimating the grip of poverty on the global population is completely understandable. We just aren’t exposed to it often enough to comprehend it.

The second group is the group we – and most folks we call relatives or friends – fall into. We, as a group, are blessed with the privilege that accompanies either being born in a wealthy (by global standards) zip code or to parents with healthy genes. In most cases, our privilege is likely a combination of both.

As a result, we have the luxury to spend our time worrying about problems that don’t involve finding ways to provide shelter or food for those we love.

Again, it matters that we internalize the impact of this privilege simply because we spend very little time talking or reading about it. To a girl born in the slums of Mumbai, the odds of having the kind of life you or I have are near zero. No amount of mental fortitude or ingenuity will compensate for the lack of privilege.

Of course, I exaggerate when I say “no amount.” But, not by much. The odds of making it out of poverty (never mind “extreme poverty”) are near zero.

By the end of 2030, current estimates are that we’ll end up with around 500 million people in “extreme poverty.” While significantly lower than three decades prior, we’ll still be ways off eradicating extreme poverty. While I’d love for us as a race to be focused on eradicating extreme poverty, I think the odds of that happening are, again, near zero.

That’s because the second group is going to be drawn into the many problems created by two realities.

The first is that the climate – different from the weather – on planet Earth is moving toward a state of emergency. In the next decade, we’re going to see this discussion continue to pick up momentum. Along the way, we’re going to hear inaccurate facts, conspiracies, and resistance. It won’t matter if we’re on the right, left, center or whichever other political leaning I haven’t captured. As long as we’re affected by the earth’s gravitational field, we’ll be impacted by the consequences.

Today, even though 97% of scientists working on the climate agree on the problem, we’re not close to mainstream adoption. But, it will follow. It took between twenty and thirty years for scientific consensus around nicotine to become common knowledge. But, that was before the internet. Even accounting for the easy spread of falsehood, I expect consensus on the climate emergency to take shape toward the end of the next decade.

The next fight we’ll be wrestling with will be the complicated relationship between us, our work, and money. The industrial economy was built on drawing a clear connection between labor and money. That happy relationship led to a growing middle class and prosperous times for large portions of the developed world.

However, that relationship has broken. As we saw over and over again in the past decade, a few lines of code can generate more economic value than millions of hours of labor. And, as machine learning became mainstream, we learnt that these lines of code can help reduce the amount of human labor required to produce everything we need for our consumption.

As this relationship between us, our labor, and the money we earn has broken, we’ve seen unhappiness and dissatisfaction soar in the richest places on the planet. When human beings are unhappy, we behave in predictable ways. We turn on people who are different from us, resist change, and elect people who promise to deal with the “others” and promise to make things like they were in the good old days.

But, there’s no reversing the tide.

Add an inevitable economic downturn into the mix and we’re heading into a fascinating decade.

What does this mean for us?

As is the case with humanity, there are reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic. I choose the former as optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the face of all this, my recommended approach tends to be rooted in simplicity and focused on change from the inside out. That means being the change we wish to see. That starts with committing to thinking better, working hard on meaningful problems with optimists who’re focused on learning and challenging our assumptions.

That also means living as sustainably as possible, voting when we can, and not falling into the trap of thinking the problems we see around us are a result of “them.”

In the end, all we have and will have is each other.

The 10 question annual review – 2019 edition

The 10 question annual review is an end-of-year ALearningaDay tradition. Here’s how it works in 3 steps –

1. We carve an hour out over the next few days to “look back and look forward.” If we have past versions of the annual review, a recommended approach is to start the hour with a quick skim of past versions.

2. We work with 10 questions – with a suggested split of 4-6 between looking back and looking forward. 10 questions helps ensure we get to the depth required for insight while ensuring it doesn’t feel daunting. In case it helps, I have shared the 10 questions I use below and have a Google doc version if you’d like to download, edit, or print.

3. We archive our notes for next year – if we write out answers to the 10 questions, then we keep the sheets in a place we will be able to access next year. If we type it, we just need to make sure it is stored on Dropbox/G Drive or some place it will never get lost.

This annual review hour is one of my favorite parts of the year. I have annual reviews with responses to a version of these 10 questions from 2010 and looking back is an exercise that inspires humility, gratitude, and many a broad grin.

And, of course, doing this can be even more fun if you decide to share some of your notes with folks you care about/those who featured in your review.

I hope you’re able to try it this year and I look forward to hearing how it goes.

2019 Edition Release notes:

    1. Minor changes – a focus on 2: One of the subtle changes this year is a focus on asking for a maximum of 2 examples/priorities vs. 3 in most questions. This is part of an ongoing shift in focusing deeper and better on fewer things. It added more clarity in my review.
    2. Major changes – replacing 2 questions: I’ve rarely made changes to questions in the past decade. So, replacing 2 questions relative to the 2018 edition counted among major changes. Again, the impetus was to create more focus.

Part I – Look back
1. The Theme or peak moment – one word/line descriptions:
a) 2019 was the year of
b) 2020 will be the year of

Runners Up Theme or peak moment
a) 2019 was also the year of
b) 2020 will also be the year of

2. What were my 2 greatest successes/memories from 2019?

3. What were my 2 biggest lessons learnt from 2019?

4. Looking back, what were the top 2 factors I optimized for in my life and career in 2019? Did I optimize for the same things I will measure my life with? (Examples of what I optimized for could be money, learning, family, title, impact on company, fame, etc.)

Part II – Look forward
5. What are 1-2 themes I am thinking about for 2020? Are there any “process goals” (again, 1 or 2) I want to commit to?

6. What 1-2 skills do I want to develop in 2020 (professional and personal)? What actions am I going to take to develop them?

7. Who/what were my top 2 sources of inspiration and learning in 2019? How do I plan to engage with them in 2020?

8. Who are 2 people I’d like to stay in better touch with in 2020?

9. What have I got planned in 2020 to prioritize rest and renewal (e.g. holiday plans, weekend activities, hobbies)?

10. What are the 1-3 most important core values or principles that form my personal culture? Will these change in 2020?

Deleting Tumblr – by mistake

For 7 or 8 years, I maintained a Tumblr account on alearningaday.tumblr.com where I shared notes I took from books I read. I accidentally deleted that account today.

It turns out Tumblr’s “Delete Account” user experience is/was really poor. I had multiple old blogs under that account and was hoping to delete them. But, before I knew it, my entire account was gone.

Doing the same on Bitly, for example, resulted in a mini tutorial.

Another service gave me 7 days before they deleted my data.

Tumblr, on the other hand, just deleted 7 years of content.


Just like that.

Interestingly and separately, I was wondering just this morning if this practice of sharing book notes on my Tumblr blog was adding much value. Simplification was one of my themes for 2019 and I’ve been gradually simplifying both my physical and digital life over the course of the year.

After my initial “oh crap” reaction, I realized that this is another step, even if involuntary, in that direction and I’m looking forward to continuing on this journey in 2020.

PS: This exercise was part of an annual account and security audit. I abandoned the effort an hour into it as I realized that the effort would take many more hours. So, after deleting a few accounts identified on the Lastpass “high risk” list, I focused on identifying my highest frequency/risk accounts and ensured I enabled 2 factor authentication wherever I didn’t have it on and changed passwords.

I hope you’re able to get to doing that for your important accounts as well.

3 books that might change your mind – 2019 edition

Here are 3 books I read this year that changed how I view the world –

1. Alchemy by Rory Sutherland (my review, Amazon): This was the book of the year. It’s impact on me was as follows – every time I hear someone say “that makes sense and should work” or something similar, I stop in my tracks and remind myself that things that the idea that things that make sense should work is a falsehood.

Rory Sutherland’s work has pushed me to be more curious and more accepting of ideas that aren’t logical. After all, logical solutions work better for logical problems vs. psycho-logical problems. Thus, Alchemy has put in a reminder as strong as any that things that work don’t need to make sense and that a dash of alchemy is often what we need to solve problems.

In that sense, its impact on me was profound.

2. The Diet Myth by Tim Spector (my review, Amazon): Tim Spector’s work drilled in a simple lesson – there is no such thing as the perfect diet because it is an interaction between the person’s gut microbes and the food. Everyone reacts to different things differently.

His advice as a result was simple – focus on natural, plant based, foods, Milk and food with living bacteria (yoghurt, cheeses), etc., are recommended. You won’t go wrong with diet that worked for your grandmother. Everything works great in moderation.

There were many other notes in the book that were eye-opening – e.g. his notes on junk food and the research on antibiotics.

Nutrition research is hard to do and books on nutrition are generally riddled with flawed science and incredibly loose correlations (I browsed a book the other day that estimated that eating xg of Beef increased life span by y years based on 2 bar charts). Tim Spector’s book does a great job rising above the pseudoscience with a thoughtful take on the research. It is a great buy and a must read.

3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (my review, Amazon): Ready Player One was fascinating because it took me from being a virtual reality non-believer to plausibly consider a future where we might just live in a virtual reality simulation.

It also had a different sort of impact. As of this writing, I’ve reviewed 252 books on my book review blog. The number of science fiction books I read until I read Ready Player One in the beginning of 2019 was 0. And, despite the fact that this was a quiet year in terms of books for me (hence the 3 books recommended versus the usual 5), I read 4 works of science fiction and enjoyed reading all of them.

Thank you, Ernest Cline.

More resources:

Past editions of “5 books that might change your mind” – 2018, 201720162015201420122011

Categorized book recommendations of all 230+ books (mostly non-fiction) I’ve read in the past decade – RohanRajiv.blog

Games and prizes

A few examples of games we could choose to play –

Increasing the number of gym work outs in any given week. 

Doubling the number of likes we get for our tweets. 

Goofing around with our kids for the longer stretches of time. 

Messaging and staying in touch with a growing number of acquaintances and friends via Whatsapp. 

Reading more books every week. 

Surprising our partner with one romantic outing every week. 

Working harder than our peers to deliver superior outcomes.

Being more content with what we have. 

It is easy to nod at a few of these and look at some of the others with contempt and a smirk.

But, the truth is that there are no “right” games in this list. If you want to be a social media influencer or build up the social following for your side hustle, measuring likes for your tweets may be a meaningful game to play this year. And, maybe staying in touch with folks over instant messages works as a great starting point if you are socially awkward.

On the flip side, maybe being content with what you have isn’t the best way to inspire yourself to do better work. Or, maybe your partner would appreciate if you helped out around the house and the kids more than any romantic outing.

There are always attempts to label games people play. There’s a heated ongoing debate among a few popular entrepreneurs and executives on Twitter about whether long hours are a necessity for success for example. Some assume long hours is a bad game to play. Others assume it is a good game.

If you’re reading these threads, I’d suggest taking away the fact that there is no objective answer and that it is on us to decide if the game is stupid or meaningful. When we do that, we quickly realize that one person’s stupid could be another’s meaningful. And, interestingly, a game that was meaningful to us at one point at our life may be stupid at another.

So, at this point (or any other), we must simply remind ourselves that the more games we choose to play that are meaningful to us, the more meaningful rewards we’ll get.

And vice versa.

Choose wisely.

But, most of all, choose.

The TV decision

We had an interesting discussion about whether or not to buy a television recently.

I’ll admit to being the person who suggested it – the thought of watching a Manchester United game (primary) or a nice show (secondary) on a large screen vs. an iPad was rather appealing. So, the idea took hold and I began researching TV models, best times to buy (thanksgiving), etc.

Luckily, I’m one half of a partnership and my wife pointed out that we barely have the time to watch anything these days. This sounds like a simple observation. But, despite not having watched a single game end-to-end for over a year at home, I fantasized about watching said Man United game once the TV appeared. How our mind plays tricks..

And, second, she reasoned that we’d be adding unnecessary pain to our parenting journey as we’d have to try to set boundaries for kids at an age where they don’t still understand them.

I don’t think I appreciated this at the time we discussed this. But, after 2 weeks away from home in AirBnBs with a TV, I am a convert. At home, we run on a ~5 videos/week-watched-on-weekends diet. But, the difference between enforcing such boundaries when there are no screens easily available and when there is a giant TV in the room is night and day. Even with a much more relaxed vacation TV diet, we still needed some creative negotiation and patience to deal with a few tantrums.

It is fascinating to see the hold a television has on little kids. They just sit transfixed at the colors – even if they don’t understand what is going on.

I think of most big expenses/investments with the lens of values. I realize now that the gap with the TV was that it wasn’t meant to be entertainment for the family – not just yet. In that sense, it conflicted with values I hold dear.

There will come a time when we’ll invest in a television for our home. That investment will come at a time when we’re all able to understand boundaries and enjoy the entertainment the box provides… together.

You are what makes us great

I received a wonderful new year’s gift from a thoughtful friend – a box of Anson Belts and Buckles. Anson’s innovation is a tribute to every person who has struggled with belts – annoying belt holes and  difficulties adjusting the belt to fit our waists and the loops in our jeans.

I had the opportunity today to pay the gifts forward to a couple folks in the family. And, a few minutes in, I received this email.

Subject: You are what makes us great

All was quiet today until the…………..warehouse intercom crackled to life:

“Listen up, people! We’ve got an order for our new friend from Santa Clara …….”

….but no one could hear the rest of the announcement over the thunderous roar of applause.

Sparkling Water bottles were popped. Tears of joy were shed. “Don’t Stop Believing” rang from every speaker. Even Alan our lead packer smiled—and Alan never smiles.

Simply put, your order caused pandemonium and everyone is thrilled you’re now a customer. Thank you!

Once we clean up our celebration mess, we’ll be working to get your order packaged, shipped and on it’s way to you ASAP.

If you have any questions or problems, you can reply to this email. We’ll follow up with tracking information as soon as your package ships so you’ll know exactly when to expect delivery.

Talk Soon,

David Ferree
Anson Belt & Buckle

P.S.- While you’re waiting for your shipment, check out these videos on our website to get familiar with our belts and how to use them.


A wonderful example of a small touch that helps create a great customer experience.

Pandemic Legacy

One of our favorite activities on a trip with friends is to spend hours on an engaging board game. While these nights have become fewer (and, thus, more precious) as our locations have become distributed over the years, we’ve been fortunate to have access to a wonderful array of board games when we meet.

Over the past year, we’ve been on the lookout for cooperative games. As we’re all rather competitive, it is nice to channel the energy to battle the game. We tried “Forbidden Island” last year and found it a touch too simple.  We then tried Hanabi – but found it a touch too stressful because a single mistake can undo an hour of game play.

This month, however, we found a keeper and the game has a story.

Matt Leacock, the creator of the Forbidden Island game, had created another great coop game called Pandemic. In Pandemic, where you work together to solve virulent diseases around the world.

Separately, over the past decade, Rob Daviou, another talented game designer, had created a new kind of board game – “Legacy.” A Legacy game is designed through various mechanics to change permanently over a series of 10-12 sessions. Imagine a 12 part mission where the objectives and challenges keep evolving.

And, in a blessing to all board game fans around the world, Matt Leacock and Rob Daviou teamed up to create Season 1 of  “Pandemic Legacy.” To nobody’s surprise, this combination board game has been rated among the best board games of all time.

We’ve been having a blast giving Pandemic Legacy a shot and hope to complete it in our next reunion in a few months.  If you enjoy playing board games, this game comes highly recommended.

PS: If you’ve never tried board games and are interested, I’d suggest starting with Settlers of Catan and then trying Puerto Rico.

Yelp and Tripadvisor

We wrapped up our holiday traveling over the weekend. And, throughout these travels, Yelp and Tripadvisor were constant companions.

We looked to both these services to tell us what we should do and where we should eat. Both services are amazing in their ability to help us add memorable experiences to our lives.

Thank you to folks who work on Yelp and Tripadvisor for all the good work. And, a big thank you to everyone who takes the time to contribute reviews that, in turn, helps everyone else.

It makes a difference.

Cost over value

A reminder for every time we choose cost over value –

1. If our use case is important/high frequency, we’ll inevitably need to undo it and tip the scales back.

2. We’ll end up spending a lot more than we might have if had just chosen value in the first place.