Productive communication

We often think of productivity in terms of work we get done. But, our ability to communicate has a big impact on our own productivity as well as that of others around us.

And, as a friend pointed out the other day, we can get a lot more done if we can manage to communicate consistently in a way that manages to challenge people’s thinking without making them feel defensive.

PS: I’m not sure yet as to what the key to challenging without creating defensiveness is – since I’m not good at it myself. Would love your ideas. I’ll aim to share a synthesis after giving this more thought.

Life and segmentation

Our final “Intro to Marketing” class in graduate school aimed to condense some of the most important insights from the class and apply it to our lives. To that end, our Professor re-shared a simple definition of segmentation – “Your ideal segment is one that loves what is good about you and doesn’t mind what is bad about you.”

He went on to explain that the quality of the most important choices we make – finding a spouse, a job, friends, managers – comes down to our ability to understand this truth.

This remains one of the more powerful insights I took away from studying marketing. We’ve all been in environments where we can bring 100% of ourselves. In such places and around such people, we’re appreciated for who we are and not dinged for who we are not. Being in environments that do the opposite can grate on a day-to-day basis.

The natural response to such environments (or people) is a feeling of inadequacy and a desire to change who we are. Roughly half the time, that feeling of inadequacy is well placed. We do need to change, to evolve, and to become better versions of ourselves. What got us here won’t get us there.

However, on the flipside, when this happens, it is also worth exploring if the environment and the people in it are our segment. Sometimes, it just means we need to do a bit more research and exploration to find the right segment.

PS: Applies to building products too.

The 3 laws of effective breaks

The 3 laws of effective breaks –

1. The effectiveness of a break is directly proportional to the presence of natural objects (trees, natural food, even people we like) and inversely proportional to the presence of to man-made objects (laptops, phones, tall buildings).

2. The more effective the break, the more productive the rebound. Put differently, the more we disconnect today, the more productive we’ll be tomorrow.

3. The relationship between work and breaks/rest is best represented by a fractal – they need to work together at every level to be effective. (H/T Dustin Moskovitz)

Discipline equals freedom

Former Navy Seal Jocko Willink has a great note on Discipline = Freedom.


“Discipline equals freedom.” Everyone wants freedom. We want to be physically free and mentally free. We want to be financially free and we want more free time. But where does that freedom come from? How do we get it?

The answer is the opposite of freedom. The answer is discipline.

You want more free time? Follow a more disciplined time-management system.

You want financial freedom? Implement long-term financial discipline in your life.

Do you want to be physically free to move how you want, and to be free from many health issues caused by poor lifestyle choices? Then you have to have the discipline to eat healthy food and consistently work out.

We all want freedom. Discipline is the only way to get it.”


This is one of those powerful insights that often takes time for us to internalize. The idea that a great time management system is what we need to enjoy more free time is one that seems to not make sense until we experience it. And, all happy careers, lives, and relationships take years of disciplined work to make happen and survive.

There is a transitory kind of freedom that comes with shirking discipline and responsibilities. But, if we desire the kind of freedom that stays with us, discipline is our best friend.

(H/T Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss for the Jocko Willink note)

How to identify bad advice

You’re trying to make an important decision and you find that there’s a lot of advice flying around. Sadly, you soon realize that most of it isn’t good and very little of it is actually useful. How do you make it easier for yourself to identify bad advice?

There’s a lot in my sketch (below). So, here are the 3 key takeaways –

  1. Great advice has 2 characteristics – it is based on principles and it is intended for your benefit. Great advice is incredibly rare because it requires a lot of thought to get to the principles and in-person investment to understand your specific context.
  2. On the flip side, bad advice is what you hear 80%+ of the time. The most telling characteristic of bad advice is that the giver either speaks to himself/herself or to his/her interests. Combine this with a random jumble of thoughts and anecdotes and it is easy to spot. Most bad advice is a result of absence of “skin in the game” (H/T N N Taleb). When someone says something is ‘good for you’ when it is also good for them and when they don’t face the downside of the decision, it is likely not good for you. Think: Peter Thiel telling you to drop out of school.
  3. We are all asked for advice by folks around us. To become someone who gives generally useful advice, we need to combine 2 things – 1) Think in terms of principles – i.e. truths that are applicable across contexts (hard to do) and take the time to structure your advice, and 2) Stop giving advice to yourself (very hard to do). As a bonus – this scales as it doesn’t need to be personalized.

I hope you find this useful.

The Law of Minor Annoyances

The Law of Minor Annoyances: Minor annoyances expand to fill any and all available mental bandwidth you make available to them.

We encounter minor annoyances everyday in the form of small frustrations, little spats, doses of bad luck, and irksome exchanges. If left unchecked, they fester, become major annoyances, and cloud all perspective.

Much of our daily happiness at work and at home, then, depends on our ability to understand and apply the law of minor annoyances. The more we learn to let go, the more happier and more productive we will be.

“Be yourself” can be really bad advice

There’s a category of advice that sounds good in theory but is pretty bad in practice. “Follow your passion” is one example. “Be yourself” is another.

The issue with “be yourself” is that it reeks of the fixed mindset and gets in the way of self improvement. It does so by encouraging the “This is just who I am – take it or leave it” mindset.

That is not to say we can change everything about ourselves. If you are an impatient person (speaking to myself) by nature, you are not going to become the most patient. But, you don’t have to either. Our traits and temperaments are part of a spectrum and we can always put in the work to stretch ourselves to move along that spectrum and learn to be flexible with how we apply ourselves in situations.

Put differently, if who you are is getting in the way of what you’d like to get done, stop being yourself and get better.

Perhaps a better piece of advice would be to ask folks to “become yourself.” It doesn’t just add a necessary air of intrigue to what is a fascinating lifetime journey of discovering our ever expanding capacity for change, it also focuses the journey on growth.

Besides, as Carol Dweck might say, becoming is better than being anyway.