Is this consistent with the person I want to be?

A question that often helps provide clarity – “Is this consistent with the person I want to be?”

I was momentarily wrestling with a small (at least in the big scheme of things) decision today. Asking this question/its parent variant – “Is this consistent with the father I want to be?” clarified the path forward immediately.

When we change our questions, we change our life.

Problems you want to obsess about

When you have the luxury to choose what you work on, work on problems you want to obsess about. Problems that you’ll want to stay up late or wake up early for. Problems that will make most of the trade-offs that come your way feel worth it.

Say no to things that don’t meet that bar.

This strategy won’t necessarily maximize money or fame. Instead, it’ll maximize excitement, engagement, and joy.

In the long run, these end up mattering more than the other stuff.

If you love someone, let them go

The old saying – “If you love someone, let them go” – is great personal relationship advice.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate how beautifully it applies to managing top talent in an organization as well.

Retaining talent is less about trying to hold onto them and more about giving them reasons to stay.

Two levels

Great Pixar/Disney movies operate at two levels. The story, characters, and visuals works for the kids. The humor in the dialogues works for the parents.

They need to do the job on both levels because young kids need their parents around to watch these movies and enthusiastically accompany them to the amusement parks.

Great products work the same way. They are simple enough for the newbie user but have layers of complexity that get the job done for the more advanced user.

It is easy for a product to work on one of the two levels. But, the challenge is to work on both levels while preserving the simplicity.

It is why building simple products is anything but simple.

The IEA Net Zero by 2050

The most important step we’ll take as human beings to reverse the climate crisis is to get to net zero emissions by 2050. A few years ago, it was hard to even visualize a path to doing this.

For the first time, thanks to the International Energy Agency, we have an excellent illustration of the possible roadmap to achieve this. Here’s the link. Thanks to the interactive design, it will take all of 5 minutes to get a high level overview.

Thank you, IEA team, for all the research, analysis, and thought.

There’s a lot of important work ahead for all of us.

Intermittent fasting – 18 months in

I’ve been intermittent fasting for ~18 months now. A few reflections:

(1) I follow a 16-8 routine. So, I fast for ~16 hours and eat in the remaining ~8. I use “~” because I’m not strict about the 16. Some days it is 17 and others it is 15. I don’t sweat it or put any pressure. That’s partly why it has worked well.

(2) After following this routine every day of the week, I had to bring it down to 5 days a week because I was losing weight I didn’t want to lose. It can be an effective weight loss strategy if you’re so inclined.

(3) When I started the practice in January last year, I was drawn to the potential health benefits. I went to the hospital for my annual round of blood tests recently and was amazed. Those numbers have never looked better. However, I can’t attribute it entirely to intermittent fasting because of the work-from-home routine. We’ll get a better sense in a year. That said, I suspect it had a significant role to play.

(4) I’ve experimented with 2 variants in the past 18 months – the skip-breakfast variant (eat between 12-8pm or 1-9pm) and the skip-dinner variant (eat between 9-5pm). I’m partial to the skip dinner variant as things stand.

(5) I appreciate not having to think about the extra meal. I love food and like the simplicity of planning for 2 meals vs. 3.

(6) I think the biggest reason I love intermittent fasting is that I am hungry when I break my fast. I don’t just eat because it is time for breakfast. Thanks to the ~16 hour wait, I’m looking forward to that meal.

I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve accumulated a lot of privilege over the years. That privilege brings a certain daily comfort that is all too easy to get used to. Feeling hungry before eating that meal every weekday is a daily reminder of the importance of hunger – in our diet and in life.

Write what you repeat

A maxim from a post by Deb Liu that I’ve thought about from time to time is – “Write what you repeat.”

So, don’t answer the same question more than twice. Take the time to write it down.

That act of writing clarifies our thinking on the topic while enabling us to help a lot more people along the way.

Write what you repeat.

It is fantastic advice.

How many iterations

A simple test for whether we should start on a project – how many iterations will we wholeheartedly embrace and endure to make that exciting vision come true?

The more the iterations/the longer the horizon of our commitment, the higher the chances the project will be worth doing.

The initial excitement will fade. In the long run, it is the iterations that will make the difference – both to the people we seek to serve and to us.

Collaborations and incentives

As organizations grow in size, collaborating with other teams can either be high leverage or a productivity killer. A simple way to understand which outcome is more likely is to take a moment to understand and clarify everyone’s incentives.

If incentives are all aligned – i.e., if everyone is aligned on the metrics that matter, it’ll come down to our ability to collaborate and build strong relationships.

But, if they’re not, it is best to stop the conversation right there. The worst possible move is to spend hours attempting to convince people of our point-of-view. Even if they are convinced, it won’t matter if that’s not what they’re paid to do.

The only way out at this point is to discuss/escalate so someone with decision making power over both teams can clarify incentives.

Investing in aligning on the incentives at the start saves a ton of wasted time later.

Kurt Vonnegut and drama

Derek Sivers once shared a powerful post on drama – his notes from a talk by the late Kurt Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut explained why people have such a need for drama in their life. He said, “People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is, they think life is supposed to be like the stories.”

For example, here’s the arc of Cinderella.

Or here’s a typical disaster story that might show up in the news.

There’s of course the hero journey – ascent, downfall, and the return to glory.

The trouble is that the arc of real life is something like this.

Vonnegut observed – “But because we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none.”

I remembered these graphs in a conversation about drama recently. Over the years, we’ve gravitated toward people and environments that also embrace a “no drama” ethos. It follows along the lines of “you never know if a good day is a good day.”

But, it is one thing to appreciate “no drama” and another to understand why we have so much of it around us. I’m grateful to Kurt Vonnegut for explaining it so beautifully.

And to Derek for passing it along.