There is no such thing as good advice

There is no such thing as “good advice.”

There is just perspective that resonates at a certain point of time. After all, what sounded like good advice to us five years ago may be terrible advice in our current circumstances… and vice versa.

Internalizing this makes it easier on both advice givers* and receivers.

Advice givers share better perspective when they’re freed from attempting to tell someone what they think they should do. This freedom enables them to share their stories and the lessons they took away from them while helping them realize that these journey was shaped by their unique experiences, privilege, and lucky breaks.

And, advice receivers make better decisions when they realize that it is on them to collect multiple perspectives and choose a course of action that best suits their current context.

*This is especially the case when advice givers are “successful.”

68 bits of unsolicited advice

Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired, turned 68 and shared 68 bits of unsolicited advice. The list was lovely. Many of them resonated. Below are a few of his notes that resonated deeply.

Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points.

Pros are just amateurs who know how to gracefully recover from their mistakes.

Don’t be the best. Be the only.

Promptness is a sign of respect.

Trust me: There is no “them”.

If you are not falling down occasionally, you are just coasting.

Before you are old, attend as many funerals as you can bear, and listen. Nobody talks about the departed’s achievements. The only thing people will remember is what kind of person you were while you were achieving.

For every dollar you spend purchasing something substantial, expect to pay a dollar in repairs, maintenance, or disposal by the end of its life.

When someone is nasty, rude, hateful, or mean with you, pretend they have a disease. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them which can soften the conflict.

You really don’t want to be famous. Read the biography of any famous person.

Experience is overrated. When hiring, hire for aptitude, train for skills. Most really amazing or great things are done by people doing them for the first time.

Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.

The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.

Night guy, Morning guy, Day guy

Jerry Seinfeld has a hilarious 1 min 20 sec bit on his three selves – night guy, morning guy, and day guy (YouTube link).

In the bit, he explains that the night guy doesn’t really care about the morning guy when he’s up late. The morning guy, on the other hand, can’t do much to get back at the night guy. The only thing he could do is sleep in late so day guy might lose his job and thus prevent night guy from having enough money to go out.

In sharing this bit, he beautifully captures the challenge of making investments in our future self.

And, yet, the more empathy we can create for our future self in our here and now, the better our decisions will be.


Money, Credit, and Debt

Ray Dalio, one of the most successful money managers alive, is both a phenomenal investor and a rigorous thinker. Over the past decade, he’s spent a growing amount of time sharing how he operates and makes sense of the world.

A recent example of this is a newsletter series he’s been writing on LinkedIn called “Principled Perspectives.” He’s been sharing a post every 2 weeks or so on his notes on the changing world order.

This week’s post on “Money, Credit, and Debt” was an education in how to think about money, credit, and debt. It is dense, long, and would fit in well into a thesis written for a graduate school finance class. He takes the time to explain how our financial system works, what long and short term debt cycles are, how currencies rise and fall, and why reserve currencies matter to the strength of nations.

I am grateful to him for taking the time to educate us. It is an amazing way to spend 20-30 minutes.

PS: My synthesis of his post –

    • We are approaching the end of the long term debt cycle that started at Bretton Woods in 1944
    • While there have been many short term recessions and expansions, the long term debt cycle will likely be a reset that will involve a deflation of major reserve currencies (in this case, the dollar
    • While the US still benefits from being the dominant reserve currency, the end of a long term debt cycle typically brings major domestic and international changes


One of the biggest rule changes in our household post-pandemic has been adding weekday screen time to weekends-only screen time. Our screen time routine typically involves 6 x ~3 minute videos (3 per kid) during lunch.

As parents, this has meant getting to know the lyrics of – a) various Disney songs and b) songs from Cocomelon.

Learning Disney songs by heart is a right of passage of sorts. That hasn’t stopped me from admiring the quality and stickiness of the content. Speaking of, what’s the deal with Frozen? It is undoubtedly a good movie. But, it is amazing how much of a following that movie has inspired.

But, while Disney spends millions of dollars manufacturing hits for kids, I’ve been amazed at its only competitor in our household – Cocomelon. Cocomelon videos revolve around a family with 3 kids who sing various rhymes and songs over the course of their day.

As Cocomelon began eating into Disney’s share of screen time, I became more intrigued about these videos and this channel and soon discovered that our household isn’t an exception. It is the rule.

Cocomelon is among the most popular YouTube channels of all time and, for the longest time, very few even knew who ran this channel. Thanks to a story in February by Bloomberg Businessweek, we now know that this is a small LA based company with 20 employees. It is 100% owned by a couple who ran it by themselves for a decade before expanding in the last 4 years.

The kicker? The channel is estimated to make upwards of $10M every month from its 2.5B+ views every month. And, I’m sure those revenue numbers have risen significantly since the start of COVID-19.

A true David vs. Goliath story enabled by the magic of the internet.

Corona Corps

A weekly newsletter I look forward to reading is “No Mercy/No Malice” by Prof Scott Galloway of NYU. I’ve shared his notes a few times over the years. His newsletters falls in the category of – I don’t always agree with what he writes but his notes and strong point-of-view i) make me think and, every once a while, resonate deeply. Today’s note on the Corona Corps was one in the “made me think” category.

The Peace Corps

In 1951, Representative John F. Kennedy said, “young college graduates would find a full life in bringing technical advice and assistance to the underprivileged” around the world. In that calling, they would “follow the constructive work done by the religious missionaries in these countries over the past 100 years.”

Almost a quarter of a million people, including pro wrestler Chyna and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, have served in 142 countries for the Peace Corps. With the outbreak of corona, all volunteers were evacuated from their posts.

I believe missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers, members of our armed services, and other public service people share an experience that’s key to the repair of our country: service to others that results in empathy and cooperation.

Some of the most important legislation of the 25 years post WWII was shaped by leaders who shared a common bond, larger than their politics or party — they had served their country in uniform. The saying goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Maybe, but I’m certain there are no progressives or conservatives in foxholes, just survival via the guy/gal next to you. The US is desperate for more leaders who’ve served in foxholes.

Specifically, we need a United States Corona Corps: volunteers 18-22 who will serve in a variety of roles to cauterize the spread of Covid-19.

Our nation’s response to corona has been a deadly mix of arrogance and incompetence. Distinct of the touching moments Americans reflexively manufacture, the hard truth is we have more deaths than China and Italy combined and more infections than much of Western Europe combined. This misery and economic destruction has been levied on our nation despite having more time to prepare for the virus, spending more on healthcare than any nation in the world, and supposedly having the most innovative private sector on the planet.

Stalin said one death is a tragedy, millions of deaths is a statistic. If several hundred Americans had perished due to incompetence and hoarding ventilators, it would be involuntary manslaughter. But 49,000 deaths and counting is a statistic. Shameful.

The 2020 pandemic will be a stain on our nation’s history. The firewall between the pandemic and a profound change in the American experience is (now) a simple metric: the apex of the relapse. We know, without a vaccine or therapy that can be administered to tens of millions within months (unlikely), the virus will have another wave in late fall. If it comes back bigger and badder, FDR’s fear will be realized: fear itself will gain purchase, and we’ll lose our superpower as a nation … optimism.

The equation for flattening the curve is simple: Testing x Tracing x Isolation = Flattening. On the whole, unless you are a Floridian, Americans have answered the call to take up arms (distancing) against the enemy. Testing is still a sh*tshow, but private-sector leaders (Bezos, Bloomberg) are trying to fill the void of federal incompetence. The missing link may be tracing. We currently have approximately 2,500 tracers who focus mostly on STDs and food-borne illnesses. The amount of time, hours really, between someone coming into contact with the virus and being isolated is paramount. We need 100,000 to 300,000 tracers.

An Army Stands Ready

This fall, 4 million kids are supposed to show up on campuses around the nation. I have 170 kids registered for my fall Brand Strategy class. I don’t believe it’s going to happen. The thought of 170 kids sitting elbow to elbow in a classroom presents our trustees with a challenging scenario.

Covid-19 is pulling back the curtain (via Zoom) revealing a mediocre, yet expensive, jagged pill of learning that had been washed down by a four-year campus experience and certification. Tuition has progressed from extraordinary to risible. Prices need to come down, and a hybrid model of online and offline learning must improve dramatically. A recent survey reports 74% of college students are dissatisfied with online courses, and 1 in 6 incoming freshmen are considering deferment.

Families already halfway toward a degree or farther may tolerate the disruption. But there will be an explosion in the number of parents/kids who consider a gap year between high school and college. Google searches for “gap year” are up 69% since March, and traffic to the Gap Year Association is up 25% year to date.

Gap years should be the norm, not the exception. An increasingly ugly secret of campus life is that a mix of helicopter parenting and social media has rendered many 18-year-olds unfit for college. Parents drop them off at school, where university administrators have become mental health counselors. The structure of the Corona Corps would give kids (and let’s be honest, they are still kids) a chance to marinate and mature. The data supports this. 90% of kids who defer and take a gap year return to college and are more likely to graduate, with better grades. The Corps should be an option for non-college-bound youth as well.

The Corps would be trained in modern handheld technologies that provide facile, crisp communication and organization skills that arrest geometric spread. In addition, Corps members could become apprentices for jobs in key parts of the supply chain we now deem essential (delivery, warehouse workers, etc.). We send young people to the front lines of wars not because they are immune from bullets, but because they are willing, see enlisting as an opportunity, and want to serve something bigger than themselves.

With an ageist Covid-19, the Corps would be a fighting force with powers of defense no other cohort has. The mortality rate among people under 25 infected with corona is low. If they contract the virus, they would then qualify for an immunity badge that would likely, should virus recurrences become a static part of life for the next several years, enhance their utility and earnings power.

After 12-24 months in the Corona Corps, volunteers would receive a financial remission equivalent to 25-100% of tuition, based on household income, at their chosen university, putting higher education within the grasp of more households and reducing what has become an immoral burden on our youth — student debt. The cost, including $30,000/year salary while in the Corps, would be approximately $50 billion. That amounts to 2% of the funds allocated toward Covid-19 stimulus thus far. Put another way, for an additional 2% we can purchase a warranty that significantly reduces the need for another multi-trillion stimulus.

Our current efforts to combat the virus have been a cocktail of incompetence and borrowing trillions from future generations to flatten the curve of wealth erosion among Americans who are already rich. The PPP will go down as one of the most wasteful, even damaging bailouts in American history. We should be protecting people, not jobs. American small businesses were the wolves of the global economy. We’ve turned many of them into bitch poodles waiting at the door for government to come home and feed them.

Capitalism on the way up, and socialism on the way down is cronyism.

Small business owners and their investors are some of the wealthiest people in the country who have grown lethargic on a historic event — an unprecedented 11-year bull market. These firms need to get into fighting shape for what will be a new normal, not the consensual hallucination of a “V” recovery the administration and CNBC have entered into. The bailouts of Lockheed/Chrysler, LTCM, and banks all point to one learning (or lack thereof): the only financial CPR that saves the economy long-term is protecting people, not jobs or companies.

The reason American firms hire faster than any firms in the world is they can fire faster. By tying giveaways to unnatural retention of jobs, we just push unemployment back several months and waste funds that could provide what small business really needs: demand. For the cost of PPP we could provide 55 million US households with $12,000 of stimulus. Instead, we are putting millions in the hands of Shake Shack management, Axios investors, and … Harvard, the richest university in the world.

Greatness is in the agency of others.

Let’s fund a Corona Corps of young people who achieve true greatness for our country, while developing skills, empathy, and grit. 2.7 million people served in Vietnam. 21% of those killed were 21 or younger. Let’s assemble a fighting force of 500,000 18-25-year-olds, best suited to fight this foe, to defeat an enemy that’s taken more lives in 30 days than fell in a decade in Vietnam. We have an army of super-soldiers standing ready. Let’s arm them.

Opposing ideas and mental progress

“This sucks”… and… “there’s so much to be grateful for.”

“I can be productive working from home”… and… “I really miss the office.”

“I am grateful for all this time with my kids”… and… “boy, is this exhausting?!”

A significant chunk of the mental/emotional progress I’ve made during the lock down has come from making peace with diametrically opposing ideas.

Suspending Immigration

A few friends texted us checking in on how we’re doing after news broke out of a late night tweet from the President of the United States in which he said he would “suspend immigration” for 60 days.

The reactions to the tweet were predictable in that it did two things at scale. It shed further light on the polarization of political discourse in the US. And, it also made sure various government agencies and officials, who were surprised by the tweet, scrambled to provide more guidance and clarity.

We finally learnt that they were suspending green card processing for 60 days in consulates abroad. Many suspect 60 days is just the start of a longer hiatus. And, many others still wonder on what other changes are coming down the pipe.

A friend shared an article on The New York Times about the panic and anger this sparked within the Indian diaspora. It touches on a lot of the daily immigration challenges we face.

For example, I am on a 20+ year queue for the green card (that’s an optimistic estimate – some estimate it to be closer to 40-50 years). This is different from folks who are born in other nations because there’s a yearly limit to the number of green card issues allocated per country of birth. This means that you can get a green card in 1-2 years if you’re neither Indian or Chinese, 5 years if you are Chinese, and god-knows-how-long if you’re Indian.

My employment, thus, is tied to a visa sponsored by my employer. If I lose my job, I have 60 days to find another one or I’m out of the country. If my visa is due for extension in the coming months (which it is), the renewal better come through before my work status expires. If it doesn’t, I’ll need to be off the payroll.

And, of course, all his becomes 2x more complex if you are married.

Also, lest I forget, we are at a far better stage in the process than the many who are either hoping for the visa lottery to give them a lucky break or waiting for a benevolent employer to sponsor their green card.

I haven’t written about this stuff in the past for two reasons. First, these are first world problems – I am fortunate to have skills that enable back up plans if none of this works out.

Second, it admittedly took us a year or two to learn how to deal with it and talk about it without provoking anxiety. We had multiple sleepless nights in 2017 when a random tweet or piece of news about the administration’s plans would result in long conversations about what our options might be, etc.

Luckily, we’ve learnt to take the uncertainty within our stride since and focus hard on what we control. Extra hard when such tweets pop up.

We’re all dealing with a lot of complexity at the moment. Such events exponentially add to the level of complexity. But, it comes with the territory when you are low on the list of electoral priorities.

So, again, all we can do is focus on what we control.

Here’s to that.

When a team seems unable to make progress on a problem

Observation: When a team seems unable to make progress on a problem, the 3 most likely causes tend to be (in order of likelihood) –

1. Unclear problem statement

2. Misaligned incentives

3. Absence of structure (clear requirements, roles and responsibilities, meeting cadence, processes to hold people accountable)

While it is natural to jump to conclusions about competence and/or intentions, it is amazing how clear problem statements, aligned incentives, and well defined structure miraculously transform the productivity of a team.