Driving change like water

It is fascinating to think about driving change like water. When water faces a challenging obstacle, it just keeps chipping away – making a small dent every year.

Do it long enough and you get this.

Sometimes, our biggest lever is ordinary effort for an extraordinary period of time.

The most challenging issues

At an event with folks from various industries, we sat down to talk through the most challenging issues we were facing.

After the discussion, the facilitator said something telling that made us all chuckle. She said she’d been hosting these discussions for over 15 years. And not once was the most challenging issue a technical problem. People seemed to find their way through those.

Instead they were always human challenges. Dealing with insecurities, vested interests, conflicting incentives, and contrasting values was what made work challenging.

Soft skills are the hard skills.

No right decision

I was reminded again recently that there is no “right” decision.

There is just a right decision for us given the context at this point of time.

And, ultimately, if we’ve done the research to understand the context, sought varying input to give ourselves perspective, thoughtfully considered the timing, and done the work to understand ourselves, no one will know better than us as to what that decision should be.

They might know the right decision for them. But they’ll never know the right decision for us.

The debts always come due

Every time we take a shortcut, we rack up a debt.

This happens when we choose… –

  • to sleep less than we should
  • a short-term design solution
  • to write hacky code
  • rush through the process of building trust
  • to eat junk
  • to skip exercise – both mental and physical

There’s always good reasons to rack up debt. And it isn’t wrong to rack up debt either – they just signal periods of imbalance. And we need to experience periods of imbalance to earn and appreciate balance.

The only thing that we must take note of, however, is that the debts always come due. Always. And with interest.

Be aware of your outstanding debts and aim to pay them before they come due.

Generative AI as productivity technology

A question I’ve been asking myself over the past months is – how should I think about generative AI’s impact on what I do? A simple mental model I’ve been using is that generative AI’s best applications seem to be for productivity vs. matching.

So I don’t expect generative AI to change how Uber matches drivers and riders for example. But it is great for saving time by reducing grunt work (planning travel, creating checklists, parsing documents) or getting a jumpstart on creative tasks – e.g., creating a presentation.

This is an early mental model and I’m sure there are many holes/caveats. But it’s been helpful in thinking about the kinds of tasks generative AI can help automate.

I’m of course all ears if any of you have better ones. If you see this over email, please just hit reply. And if you’re reading this elsewhere, please just send me a note on rohan[at]rohanrajiv[dot]com.

Keeping the friction

There’s a hilarious moment in the show Queen Charlotte on Netflix. The Queen keeps going down to her garden and attempts to pick an orange. However, every time she reaches out to pluck it, a helper rushes to her side and plucks it for her. It is a symptom of a lifestyle she grows to detest because it is a lifestyle that attempts to isolate her from everything that she considers part of the human experience. She’s isolated from people, helped with her clothes, served great food, and even stopped from picking oranges.

Later in the series, Queen Charlotte finally expresses her frustration at this arrangement and decides to * gasp * pick her oranges herself. It is a fascinating moment because it represents the beginning of a series of events that results in her taking ownership of how she wants to live her life.

That moment got me thinking about modern life. We don’t need royalty levels of wealth to create the life Queen Charlotte had. Grocery and food delivery is more accessible than ever before. Hired help may not be cheap depending on where you live – but it is accessible. It is easier than ever to eliminate the friction.

And while it can seem desirable, I think we’ll all come to the same realization that Queen Charlotte did. It helps to keep some friction. It helps to do the work – to clean some vessels, to iron some clothes, to cook, to garden, to lift something heavy, to get our groceries and so on.

The friction keeps us connected to the world around us.

Your ruler

I’m loving Kevin Kelly’s book Excellent Advice for Living. I’m sure I’m going to be sharing many ideas from the book in the coming weeks. So thank you Kevin.

The idea I’ve been thinking about over the past two days is “Don’t measure your success with someone else’s ruler.”

It is wise, pithy, and profound.

Much like the rest of the book.

15 years

15 years ago, on this day, I committed to writing a learning a day. This commitment has changed my life. When I share this, I’m often asked for examples of how it has impacted me. So, here are 15 things I’ve learnt from the act of writing every day:

(1) Discipline is a muscle. I missed many days in the first 2 years as I struggled with getting to consistency. I had to find shortcuts (e.g., sharing a quotes every weekday) to ensure I didn’t miss days. Growing up, I was often in awe of people who were disciplined. I just didn’t seem to have what it takes. Writing here taught me that it was just a case of making an effort.

(2) Today’s post will be #6318. Showing up every day to write has given me confidence in my ability to be disciplined about other things. When I make a commitment now, I know I can see it through. In fact, if I don’t see it through, I think there’s something wrong with my motivations for it. Why else wouldn’t I be able to follow through?

Making and keeping commitments is integrity. The word integrity comes from the word “integer” which means whole. This integrity has increasingly made me feel more consistent and whole.

(3) Learning is hard. To learn and not to do is not to learn. This means learning only happens when we change how we operate. I learnt over time that this blog would more accurately be described as a “reminder a day” instead of a “learning a day.” It has taught me that learning something new every day is challenging. We have to give ideas time to simmer before they get synthesized and applied to our lives. But, since learning is the goal, I’m good with the name “a learning a day.” It is, no pun intended, a good reminder of the goal.

(4) The biggest challenge with learning, the kind that changes how we operate, is synthesis. It is easy to summarize and hard to synthesize. When we synthesize, we boil things down to their essence and either create a mental or augment an existing mental model. Most good writing is summary. Great writing, on the other hand, is synthesis.

(5) Learning is everywhere. We just have to be willing to see.

(6) One of my bigger motivations when I started writing was to become better at dealing with failure. I vividly remember a moment a few years in when I made an embarrassing mistake and experienced some glee. It took me a moment to ask myself – why am I feeling this sense of glee? And the response that emerged was “No need to think about tomorrow’s blog post.” A win.

(7) Pausing to reflect on what worked during the day has been a great reminder of just how much I take for granted. It is what accumulated privilege does to you. Over these years, I’ve been fortunate to be educated at great schools and work at wonderful companies for great people. I’ve become significantly more privileged over time and it is so easy to take that for granted and falsely attribute all the good things to “hard work” or “hustle.” Both have played a role – but the biggest factor is simple that privilege leads to more privilege.

(8) Being happy doesn’t make us more thankful. Writing everyday has often been a gratitude practice and I have observed a causal relationship between how grateful I am on any given day and how happy I am. Thankful people are happy.

(9) Our ability to write is a reflection of our ability to think. As I’ve shared many times over the years, the word “essay” comes from the French word “essayer” which means “to try.” When we write, we try to figure things out. This practice is the biggest investment I’ve made to improve my quality of thought. Writing often helps us write better – like most other skills in this life.

(10) There are a lot of pithy quotes about the importance and impact of making a small improvements every day. It’s true. I’m still a person with many flaws. But I’m exponentially better as an individual and a human than I was then. Little drops of water do make an ocean.

(11) The benefit of reflecting every day is that you see some fascinating patterns about your own behavior. The most consequential is realizing the impact of good sleep. Good sleep is the single biggest driver of productivity and optimism.

Related, some days we’re the pigeon and some days we’re the statue. On these statue days, the most important thing we can do is go to bed. No point trying to salvage such days. Best to focus on making tomorrow great after some rest.

(12) I’ve written a lot about relationships over the years. The single best lesson I’ve learnt is that good relationships can last for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Don’t try to over extend a natural lifecycle. Put differently, the cliche that you have to let go of those you love is very true. It doesn’t have to be someone’s fault (though sometimes it is). Often, it’s just about the chemistry – it takes two to tango.

On the flipside, if the chemistry, do everything you can to share your appreciation and keep it that way. Great relationships and trusted partnership are a very special thing. We appreciate them more as we age.

(13) The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from my reflections as a parent is that every choice has trade-offs. As every strategy has trade-offs, attempting to manage my time and energy as a parent has been the best strategy lesson of them all. We have to say no to things that don’t matter to be able to say yes that do.

(14) Confidence is saying “this might not work, and that’s okay.” Confidence was the #1 reason I started writing here. My hypothesis was that writing about what I struggle about will help me develop my confidence in my ability to deal with them. That hypothesis has panned out. I don’t remember the struggle of the moment at this time ten years ago. But I do know from all that daily writing that I managed – with plenty of help from people around me I’m sure – to find a way through. That realization definitely helps put things in perspective.

(15) Very little is in our control in the grand scheme of things. And, yet, if we focus on our circle of influence and responding constructively, so much more “feels” in our control. We have to hold both thoughts at once. These kinds of contradictions are surprising. That surprise is the essence of learning.

(one last thing) A wise friend used to end his emails to me with a note to “be kind to yourself.” That might just be the biggest gift writing every day has given me. It has made me realize that we must live from wholeness, not from our wounds. And that comes from being kinder – to ourselves and others. The universe is unfolding as it should. We never know if a good day is a good day. So there’s no point over analyzing things. Instead, it’s best we just keep plugging away and be kind to others along the way – the universe will roll on just fine without us.

The public endorsement

One of the truths about the markets is that when the Federal Reserve Bank has to come out and say “everything is okay,” it probably isn’t.

When a CEO has to make a statement during a difficult time saying something isn’t a problem, it often is.

And when a football manager comes out to say they’re fully behind a player or when a board member says they’re fully behind a manager, it is a sign of trouble in the background.

Beware public endorsements that attempt to showcase trust. When things are going good, they’re not necessary. By the time they show up, they’re often a desperate attempt at arresting the slide.