v30 – Release notes

For this year’s release notes, I thought I’d do a version of 30 hard won lessons from the past 30 years. This post could just as easily been called a list of things I write about most often on this blog or an extensive list of my notes to self.

1. Success has an intrinsic component (success by our terms) and an extrinsic component (success by the world’s terms). Extrinsic success is a function of us giving the world what it wants. Build a product the world wants and you’ll make more money than can be imagined. Build a product for a niche and you’ll be successful. Do things your customers and managers want and you’ll rise up the ladder.

But, extrinsic success is a hygiene factor. Once you have a threshold amount, it begins to matter less. Intrinsic success, the kind where we believe that we have lived a life well lived, on the other hand, is incredibly hard. It might be possible to fool the world, but it turns out to be impossible to fool the person in the mirror.

2. Money and power amplify what already exists in people. We need less than we think and it doesn’t have the power to make us happy. Some of the most extrinsically successful people are also among the unhappiest. Don’t let the media oversell you on their lives.

Related – it is always worth remembering that the greatest pleasures in life come cheap – the rush of adrenaline after play, a hug, a peaceful shit in a clean bathroom, and a night of sleep in a comfortable and quiet bedroom.

3. We can’t ask people to be grateful or to be humble or to keep a sense of humor. All we can do is help them understand reality. When they (or we) do, gratitude, humility, and a sense of humor follows

4. Emotional intelligence is ignoring what people say and watching what they do.

5. Our networks are proportional to our net worth. There are two kinds of net worth – the first is the kind that is dependent on the presence of power and money. The second is based on the character and connection we accumulate over the course of a life time. One of them is deep and the other is shallow – it turns you can’t buy friends. Or love. The most powerful networks combine both.

6. Integrity comes from the word “integer” which means whole. When we make and keep commitments, we become whole. It is hard. It is is also why our schedule is the truest reflection of our priorities.

7. Happiness is a state. Joy is a feeling. It is possible to feel sad and be happy. Our default state simply reduces the amplitude of our ups and downs and enables us to pay attention to the things that matter most in spite of all the noise. That we use the term “pay” to describe our attention is no accident.

8. Our rate of learning is proportional to what we learn from the people we spend time with (“we are the average of the five people we spend time with”), from reflecting on our own experiences, and from reading/listening to synthesized information. It is not true that we learn more from failure or only from doing. The wisest people simply make it a point to learn from all experience with habitual reflection, analysis, and synthesis.

9. Read books that are just in time instead of just in case. Somewhere along the way, we’ll find a book that changes our life. And, while we’re at it, remember that there is no difference between someone who doesn’t read and someone who can’t.

10. Compound interest is an important principle. Wealth compounds. Learning compounds too. And, as you might imagine, understanding both of these early pays dividends later. :-)

11. Productivity is Focus x intensity x time. Focus = do the right things so you can be effective, intensity = pay attention when you are doing it so you can be efficient.

Similar to compound interest, this relationship between effectiveness and efficiency shows up in many part of our life – focus and intensity, leadership and management. Doing the right things >>> doing things right.

12. Macro patience – micro speed is another principles that shows up in different places. Strategic patience – tactical impatience is a variant too. The idea is simple in theory – set directional goals, focus on process, and be patient. Of course, it is bloody hard to execute. People who focus beyond the next 6 months are the exception, not the rule.

13. Since we’re talking about important principles, the scientific method is one that needs a lot more love because of its wide-ranging applicability. The life implication – treat life as a series of experiments that will each help us gain experience and improve our judgement. As the saying goes, success comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

14. Consciousness is the ability to be aware and then to choose. Becoming aware of the actual games being played around us, the real stakes, and the stories we are told go a long way in helping us be effective. To play chess well, we have to have a view of the 64 squares.. Not the 4 around us. It helps to take the time to get  both curious and smarter about what is actually going on. You can choose to not play the game – but, understand what the games are.

15. Our success, on average, is largely a function of privilege. The biggest drivers of whatever success we have is typically a result of where we were born and who we were born to (includes what we inherited as well as the love and care we received). Since we can’t change who we were born to, if we want to improve our standing in the world, moving zip codes is the most reliable way to move up the privilege ladder. And, education is the most driver reliable driver of such movement.

16. The effectiveness of a team is a function of two things – the individuals and the culture. Culture, or the collection of unsaid norms, is strategy in the long run. The best way to set culture is to do so intentionally. And, the best way to do so intentionally is to build the kind of trust that enables honest conversations about it.

Trust, contrary to belief, doesn’t need to take years to develop. It follows knowledge and understanding. Invest in getting to know your team well. That knowledge will lead to understanding why they tick and why they do what they do. Trust follows.

17. The best educators and education do two things – they give us new perspective with which to view the world and inspire us to continue learning for the rest of our life.

18. Adopting a focus on learning/growth mindset is the most important thing we can do – both for our success and happiness. The act of writing about the lessons we learn everyday is the most reliable way I know to cultivate that mindset.

19. Love is the will to extend ourselves for one’s own or another’s growth. Put differently, love means willingly stretching ourselves to grow and enabling those around us to grow. That’s why “be yourself” is bad advice. “Become yourself” is better. Becoming > Being.

20. Take the time to get to know yourself – understand your motives, what you care about, and what your nature is. There is massive benefit to working on things that feel like play to you. You actually give yourself a shot at being the best in the world at it. The best are the best because they’re doing things that feel like play.

21. That said, don’t follow your passion. Just don’t ignore it either. Unless you have a lot of financial runway (see above on privilege), study well in courses that lead you to jobs where you get paid well. Then, keep experimenting toward work that aligns with your nature/passion and purpose. Passion + purpose is a powerful combination.

22. We have two versions of us – our emotional self and our rational self – with the relationship between them being that of an elephant and rider. The rider knows the way but the elephant is way more powerful. So, attempting to persuade ourselves (and others) has to focus on the elephant. Logic drives conclusions, emotions drive action.

23. If we really zoom out, we realize that everything we’ve created is invented. We’ve invented notions like corporations and offices to keep ourselves busy, give ourselves a sense of purpose, find ways to distribute resources, and make it seem fair. These are games we play to get wealth and status. It helps to keep these games in perspective.

24. Our brand is a function of everything we do. The best way to build our brand in the long term is to show up well and do good things that impact others around us in positive ways.

25. Age and wisdom are not correlated. The truly wise have the perspective to rise above the noise of life and continuously focus on what matters. They are the equivalent of life’s athletes as they’ve figured out how to live it well. The best way to spot wisdom is to look at a person’s track record of decisions. And, the best shortcut to wisdom is to simply surround yourself by such folks.

26. From an evolutionary perspective, it is amazing how much of human behavior is driven by our urge to find better mates and have better sex.

27. The list of people who will put their life on hold for extended periods of time when you are in trouble typically begins and ends with our parents, spouse, and, depending on how we do, our kids.

That’s also why marriage, parenting, and the relationship with our parents are three of life’s most challenging learning journeys. They exist for two purposes – to teach us to become better version of ourselves and to remind us that all we have is each other.

28. Airlines tell us to use the oxygen mask for ourselves before doing so for others. For good reason. Take good care of yourself – it is impossible to take care of others otherwise. Consider starting with sleep. Quality sleep makes days look better.

29. Most long term studies on happiness point to one lesson – intrinsic happiness = relationships. We have relationships that stay for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Many incredibly special relationships last only for a reason or a season. A big part of growing up is seeing them for what they are and letting them go when it is time.

30. Much of our day to day happiness is reality over expectations. Work as hard on that denominator as you do on the numerator.

Birthday bonus 1. Worry and regret are both toxic and useless. You can’t do anything about the future. And, you did the best with what you knew and had. Now that you know better, do better.

Birthday bonus 2. Life is not a race. We share paths with people. But, we are mostly in it on our own. The only worthwhile comparison is us now versus us before now.

Birthday bonus 3. It is better to be thoughtful than smart.

And, a final birthday bonus. The days are long – but, the years are short. And, post kids, the days somehow get much longer and the years get correspondingly shorter. :-)

(Past birthday notes: 29, 282726252423)

Helicopter parenting

Quartz recently featured an interesting article on Helicopter Parenting recently that I’ve been mulling. Economists Matthias Doepke of Northwestern University and Fabrizio Zilibotti of Yale University point to economic inequality as the reason for helicopter parenting. Below are a few of the highlights –


The pair look at how inequality and parenting styles around the world have evolved over time. This allows them to unpack why parenting seems so different in some places—why, for example, the Danes let their kids play with axes, while Americans won’t even let kids walk to school until they are 11. Their most important finding? ”Across countries, the intensity of parenting lines up very closely with economic inequality,” said Doepke. Parents get more intense as a country gets more unequal over time, and grow more permissive if the country gets more equal.”

Contrary to popular stereotypes, those who succumb to the lure of helicopter parenting aren’t hysterical or illogical. Nor are Swedes, whose children have more freedom, better people; they simply live in more equal societies, which means parents can be more confident that their kids will have opportunities regardless of how much they push. It is easier to get into university in Sweden than it is in the US, for example. The differences between universities’ standings is not too big, and the consequences for not attending university are not as great as the US, where the gaps can be huge. 

The consequences of the economists’ conclusions are worrisome. Even though helicopter parents may be acting rationally, the collective impact of the wealthy frantically working to ensure their kids stay ahead only exacerbates inequality, further entrenching segregation of opportunity for children.

“Parenting has become very unequal,” said Doepke. “It’s one of the big social problems we have because we have high inequality now, and if kids don’t get the same starting conditions, it’s just going to get worse and worse in the future.”

Wisely, their prescription is not to fix the helicopter parents, but the institutions that are perpetuating inequality. They recommend that governments offer high-quality affordable or free child care to give less advantaged children better chances, and instate apprenticeships and vocational training programs that will give kids who don’t go to to college more professional opportunities. They also encourage governments to consider that parents and students respond to the organization of school systems, including high-stakes tests. If there is a high-stakes test, parents will help kids to prepare and kids will inevitably end up more stressed out because of this.


This was a fascinating piece. There are lots of interesting takeaways – I’ll share my top two. First, it is further illustration of the idea that the economics of a place shapes its culture (The Japanese, before the nation went through their economic boom, were described as lazy by an Australian consultant) .

And, second, the less the social mobility, the more the effect of privilege in a person’s success. After family and country of birth, education is arguably the largest bestower of privilege. As a result, helicopter parenting to ensure kids get into the best educational institutions possible is a perfectly logical outcome.

Sharenting

The Atlantic had a thought provoking article on “Sharenting” – the use of social media to share content on their kids – recently.

A data excerpt – “Almost a quarter of children begin their digital lives when parents upload their prenatal sonogram scans to the internet, according to a study conducted by the internet-security firm AVG. The study also found that 92 percent of toddlers under the age of 2 already have their own unique digital identity.”

The article features stories of kids – some of whom are excited about their existing digital identity and others who are mortified. As more kids grow up to a generation shaped by social media, I expect many more articles on the topic. It is an important one.

For our part, we’ve made the choice to not share any photos of our kids on social media – until they grow up and give us the permission to do so. I write about lessons I learn from experiences with them as they’re a big part of my learning journey. But, that’s as far as the sharing goes.

As is the case with such decisions, it isn’t for everyone and it matters that we’re thoughtful about what would work for us.

Mat leave reflection

I recently asked a friend for her top reflections following her maternity leave after the birth of her second child.

She responded with – “Be nice to your parents. You’ll need their help when you have kids.” 

Although she said it half in jest, I couldn’t agree more. We’ve been very fortunate recipients of support from our parents and are grateful for the relationship we share.

I hope you find the time to call or visit your parents this weekend..

Anger vs. tact

In my attempts to figure out the best strategy to motivate my now two year old to work with me, I’ve learnt that anger and tact have opposite effects.

The use of anger looks promising for a short while and then its effectiveness plummets.

Tact, on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving. The more you use it, the more you get comfortable with it, and the better you become at deploying it. Thanks to that in-built learning loop, its effectiveness grows over time.

I’ve written plenty about my growing awareness of my natural impulse to fight fire with fire. The turning point, for me, was reading “Non Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg ~6 weeks back. I’ve since noticed a much higher level of awareness of these impulses and been having a much greater appreciation of the importance of diffusing proverbial fire with water with tact.

I’m grateful I came across his work this year and I’m hopeful for a tactful 2019.

How many followers? How much money?

If someone asked you how many followers you have on your favorite social media site, would you know? How close would your guess be to reality?

What about if you were asked how much money you make after tax in a year?

Now, what if the question involved sharing how many hours you spent engaged (no phones, just paying attention) with the people you care about in the past week?

How accurate would the answer to that be relative to some of the other questions?

We monitor and optimize metrics we measure.

Perhaps the most important thing we can get done this weekend is to figure out what those metrics should be.

Familial

I recently had to take our two year old to the Emergency Room. She was having breathing difficulties due to a viral infection. I had many reflections from the experience and I’m guessing a few will trickle down as part of “Parenting Saturdays” (the unofficial name of this series :-)) in the coming weeks. But, one concept I was struck by was familial responsibility.

But, before I go there, a quick public service announcement. One of our biggest lessons from the incident was to waste no time when children have breathing difficulties. Children move from “normal” to unconscious with surprising speed. Our nurse explained that delays tend to have serious consequences. We were lucky we didn’t have to deal with that.

Now, back to notes on familial responsibility. As part of her breathing difficulties combined with the strong retching reflex that kids have, she projectile vomited her day’s food in 4 spurts. 3 of them were when I was carrying her.

But, as we didn’t have a change of clothes or time, I just went with it for the next 3 hours.

Somewhat disgusting details aside, this is no big deal of course. Most parents/people will go through a lot worse for their kids/family.

That precise thought gave me pause.

Isn’t it amazing how much we’re willing to compromise, sacrifice, and endure for someone we consider family?

Why doesn’t more of that extend to the many human beings we encounter over the course of our lives?

And, perhaps more importantly, what if it did?