Small things with great love

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” | Mother Teresa

When I share this quote, I replace the word “great” with “extraordinary.”

It is an idea that has stayed with me over the years. It has shaped how I think about building product, leading teams, and, well, every attempt at being a better human.

Child mortality data and public health priorities

I came across this chart looking at mortality data for children and adolescents between ages 1-19. (Source: NEJM)

While the thought of losing a child is both morbid and heartbreaking, I’m not one to avoid the thought. I had 3 reflections as I looked at this data –

(1) The sudden spike in drug overdose and poisoning between 2018-2020 is noteworthy. It captures the effect COVID-19 had on adolescents – a ~80% increase in drug overdoses likely made possible by the easy availability of opioids.

(2) Similarly, the other effect of COVID-19 lockdowns was firearm related injuries – which took the #1 spot over motor vehicle crashes. I’m not sure what caused this – was it just the availability of firearms at home? Also, I’m not sure why they were trending up starting 2014 either.

(3) I think there’s the obvious question – will the above trends hold as the pandemic? We’ll know when we get newer data in a year or two. But if you’re working in public health or are parenting teenage children, the areas to focus on are very clear – drugs and guns.

While drugs might be a global problem, guns are a US-only circumstance that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

That this is the status quo is tragic.

Google Apps and user trust

I was an early Google Apps – now “G Suite” – adopter. I’ve hosted my domain email address on G Suite for well over a decade. The beauty of the Google Apps suite was that it was free if you were just hosting your own domain or had a small number of users.

Over the years, I used the free account for a couple of projects – e.g., a non-profit – before eventually just returning to using it for my personal email. I was a big fan of the service and always grateful to be an early adopter.

Until I noticed a recent policy change from Google which effectively said – “Pay up or lose your data.”

After an outcry – both external and internal – on this, Google made the terms more lenient – offering up a waitlist in the coming weeks.

I’m still waiting to see if I’d be able to avail the no-cost option as the G Suite plans are designed for small businesses vs. “small individuals.” :-)

Or I will look forward to the fun process of migrating a decade+ worth of emails and data elsewhere.

Google has unfortunately pulled this trick far too often in recent years. I was disappointed when they pulled support from Google Reader. I saw that end coming for Feedburner too and moved off before they pulled the plug. This track record made it clear that I should stay away from Google Photos. The early edition of Google Photos was completely free – they then pulled off that rug from under their users a couple years later.

For what it’s worth, I understand why they made this move as well. There’s a cost to providing a free service. Why not just get rid of those costs and make some money in the process?

The short-term revenue and cost reduction upside will always loom larger than the loss in user trust.

This experience got me thinking about the promises I’ve made in free products I’ve been responsible for. I haven’t yet been in a position where I’ve had to make such a move.

But it is definitely plausible… and one I’d like to make sure I avoid.

Holding two conflicting thoughts at once

Elon Musk is likely going to be remembered as the entrepreneur of this generation. SpaceX and Starlink have achieved incredible feats. And switching from a Chairman role to run Tesla Motors day-to-day while still being the CEO of SpaceX may go down as one of the most important moves ever made in the history of business.

When I look at the chart below – showing the growth in market share of electric vehicle in European countries – I see multiple countries reaching tipping points (Norway, is of course, the outlier). And I wonder if this might have been possible if not for Elon Musk.

I think we often overestimate the impact of individuals. But in this case, I’m not sure it is an overestimation.

In 2006, he shared his “secret masterplan” for Tesla.

​​Build sports car

Use that money to build an affordable car

Use that money to build an even more affordable car

While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options.

After looking at the chart below and seeing the dominance of the Model Y and the Model 3, it is hard not to marvel at that secret masterplan and the incredible execution that brought that plan to life.

Tesla has changed the game – forever. And it is unlikely that would have happened without Elon at its helm.

With all this said, I do think Elon has underestimated the challenges of running Twitter. Steven Johnson had a thoughtful post that resonated with what I’ve been mulling. A key excerpt –

Musk likes to talk about how he runs all his businesses from “first principles”—starting with what the laws of physics will let you do, and building out from there—which is apparently an excellent strategy if you are making rockets for a living, or electric batteries. But the things that make Twitter such a hard nut are not “first principles” problems. The rallying cry of free speech sounds like it should be a law straight out of Newton, something fixed and undeniable, but in practice—like so many of the variables at play in social media—it turns out to be more like quantum mechanics: murky and unpredictable, more probabilities and gray areas than absolute truths. Twitter is a political and sociological problem—a problem rooted in conflicts over values—not an engineering problem. It requires a different set of skills.

I don’t think he is in over his head – even if it is fair to ask – “when is it going to be too much?” But going after Twitter’s Chief Legal Officer in public while ignoring the fact that she reports to a CEO (Jack Dorsey) who must bear ultimate responsibility felt like the sort of rookie mistake he wouldn’t have made at a different time.

I think Elon will go down in history as one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time. I also think he’s made a big mistake acquiring Twitter.

It is an exercise in holding two conflicting thoughts at once.

I’m hoping to be proven wrong and I’m hopeful none of this impacts the work he’s doing moving Tesla’s incredible vision forward.

The returned bag

I lost a bag at a National Park a couple weeks ago. Some good Samaritan found it and returned it to lost and found.

It made its way back to us a few days ago. It had my spare glasses and a pair of binoculars – so it was a relief to get it back.

I have no idea who it is and thought I’d send a thank you to the ether with today’s post.

Good humans never fail to remind us that there is a lot to be grateful for.

Kevin Kelly’s 103 bits of advice

Author Kevin Kelly turned 70 and shared 103 bits of advice. I love reading his lists and thought I’d share a few that resonated.

• Don’t ever work for someone you don’t want to become.

• Cultivate 12 people who love you, because they are worth more than 12 million people who like you.

• When you forgive others, they may not notice, but you will heal. Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.

• When you lead, your real job is to create more leaders, not more followers.

• It is the duty of a student to get everything out of a teacher, and the duty of a teacher to get everything out of a student.

• Your growth as a conscious being is measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.

• Speak confidently as if you are right, but listen carefully as if you are wrong.

• The consistency of your endeavors (exercise, companionship, work) is more important than the quantity. Nothing beats small things done every day, which is way more important than what you do occasionally.

• You’ll get 10x better results by elevating good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior, especially in children and animals.

• Spend as much time crafting the subject line of an email as the message itself because the subject line is often the only thing people read.

• What you do on your bad days matters more than what you do on your good days.

• Take the stairs.

• Getting cheated occasionally is the small price for trusting the best of everyone, because when you trust the best in others, they generally treat you best.

• Actual great opportunities do not have “Great Opportunities” in the subject line.

• Your group can achieve great things way beyond your means simply by showing people that they are appreciated.

• When negotiating, don’t aim for a bigger piece of the pie; aim to create a bigger pie.

• Rather than steering your life to avoid surprises, aim directly for them.

• Don’t purchase extra insurance if you are renting a car with a credit card.

A reminder to change up the energy

Every couple of weeks, I experience a low energy day. There are many causes for such days – some within my control and some outside. But as I tend to be very aware of my energy and actively try to keep it buoyant, I can feel it when this happens.

On such days, I feel extra grateful for this habit of attempting to share a learning every day.

I don’t always have something insightful to share (let’s face it – some days just suck :-)). But the reminder helps me take stock, realize I’m just dealing with problems many would be blessed to have, and nudges me to get some rest and change up the energy the following day.

Such reminders can’t come often enough on low energy days. So it helps to count on this guaranteed reminder.

Humility and looking

“Watching the man, hard-of-hearing, hard-of-speech Patty learns that real joy consists of knowing that human wisdom counts less than the shimmer of beeches in a breeze. As certain as weather coming from the west, the things people know for sure will change. There is no knowing for a fact. The only dependable things are humility and looking.” | Richard Powers, The Overstory

“The only dependable things are humility and looking.”


When there is doubt, there is no doubt

Years ago, I used to hesitate and wait situations out, often trying to fix underperforming people or products instead of pulling the plug. Back then I was seen as a much more reasonable and thoughtful leader — but that didn’t mean I was right. As I got more experience, I realized that I was often just wasting everybody’s time. If we knew that something or someone wasn’t working, why wait? As the saying goes, when there is doubt, there is no doubt.” | Frank Slootman, Amp It Up

“When there is doubt, there is no doubt” resonated deeply.