Bloom Recklessly

I wish this for all of us in the new year.

Embrace your serendipities. And your zemblanities. 

It takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow.

Make great choices. Help others make great choices.

Read amazing stories. Tell amazing stories.

Listen to great music. Make great music. 

Be a great choice. Be an amazing story. Be the music; for yourself and for others.

Be free. Love ferociously. 

Dance, sing, play, and laugh every chance you get.

Make chances, take chances.

Surrender. Completely. To God. And to the Universe.

Be a God. Make the Universe conspire for you.   

Be kind. Always.

Life’s moral imperative is to become the best possible versions of ourselves. Physically, mentally, spiritually.

Nothing else matters.

Go ahead, Bloom Recklessly. 

On Communication

Communication isn’t about the communicator, it is about the recipient.

What one says or writes or depicts, is irrelevant; what matters is what the recipient hears, understands, and feels. Their perception is one’s reality.

At least 90% of what one communicates is misunderstood. Not because the communicator is wrong, but because both communicator & recipient come from different places, both have different priorities, both are focused on different agendas.

The key to good communication is to understand the recipients’ priorities and address those.

Communication isn’t about transferring knowledge.

It is about persuading the recipient to do/feel something or about pre-empting the recipient from doing/feeling something.

Frequency of communication should be inversely proportional to its significance & certainty.

Repeat Relentlessly when you want mundane behaviors to stick.

Be Singular when communicating the momentous.

Uncertainty demands quick, iterative, and frequent communicating. 

The Definite requires measured, meticulous, one-time messaging.

People need certainty during the uncertain and will question the Definite ad-nauseam.

Content is the most important thing while communicating.

Thorough analyses, simplicity & elegance of vocabulary and delivery, well timed pauses, self deprecating jokes, rousing emotions, being human; All of these things matter while creating effective communication.

Communication is a two player game.

It is effective only when the communicator seeks and / or the recipient communicates feedback. Be immediate, objective, dispassionate, and actionable while communicating feedback.

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Communication is about the communicator, it isn’t about the recipient.

The most important communication are the stories one wants to tell, whether there is an audience for it or not. The caged bird sings for itself, not for its masters.

Communication is about seeding your proprietary ideas.

It is about transferring and propagating knowledge that only one possesses. If one is not clear, aligned, and enrolled to a cause, one won’t be able to pull in the same direction consistently and effectively.

Mindset is the most important thing while communicating.

Both Optimism and Pessimism are self-fulfilling prophecies.

Even in the worst of situations, it is always possible to be positive. Truth in the best light.

Even in the best of situations, it is always possible to find fault. Fear of the unknown dark.

The output of communication is directly proportional to the intensity of the thought and feeling within the communicator.

Eurekas, Euphorias, Profundities, and their counterparts Stagnations, Pathoses, Falsisms open creative floodgates much faster.

Vague ideas, concepts, and feelings still being assimilated, debated, and grappled with take time, patience, and mundane evolution before crystallization.

Communication is a one player game.

The most important communication one has is with themself; One will become the product of all the stories one keeps telling themself, the ideas one spends time with, the possibilities one can imagine for themself.

There are few ways better than one’s own example to communicate something.

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Final thoughts – Listen.

For all this talk about whether the locus of communication should be internally or externally focussed, the most important, most difficult, and most ignored aspect of communication is

Listening, shutting up, and resisting the urge to react.

Codex Vitae 2019

2019 has been one of the most complicated and frustrating years of my life. I’ve found the complications and frustrations highly rewarding, albeit emotionally draining. 2019 has forced me to question some of my most fundamental beliefs and values, things I’ve taken for granted as true or good throughout my life.

This is my 3rd annual Codex Vitae and this year I will write about:

  1. Superpowers acquired
  2. Other things learned/noticed
  3. Things I did well
  4. Things I failed at
  5. Things I developed a different perspective about
  6. People, Books, and Resources that enriched my life for the better
  7. Things I will not do in the next decade
  8. A short review of the 2010s

1. Superpowers acquired

1. Taming the Trolls:

No one’s ever really ready for a troll — Eoin Colfer

Stay cool is the netiquette rule if flamed. Responding is for a fool — David Chiles

I’ve had to deal with trolls & bullies on multiple fronts this year. As someone who is naturally pugnacious and welcomes conflict as a healthy human need, I don’t take too kindly to being threatened. I usually clinically cut the cord and walk away or respond in kind. But this year I found myself in uncharted territory.

Professional, personal, and karmic debts have to be settled. Oversights in communication & record-keeping, misalignment of expectations, unconscious incompetence, all come home to roost. I was in some way responsible for the situations I found myself in.

2019 gave me the opportunity as well as the need to channel my inner Chris VossMarshall Rosenberg, and Mohandas Gandhi in their full glory. Through extremely uncomfortable conversations, sometimes by repeating what was said, sometimes by asking ‘How do I do that?’, sometimes by acknowledging and expressing unmet needs, and sometimes by simply not reacting, I steadfastly managed to blunt most of the damage the bullies sought to inflict.

Engaging with trolls is the real-life equivalent of bearing the burden of the One Ring on the journey to Mordor. It leaves you wounded and pushes you one step closer to the darkness of cynicism with every encounter; even though you may thrive and keep getting better at taming them. It helps if you have a fellowship to guide you through the journey. I’m grateful for mine.

2. Tactical Empathy:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. — Atticus Finch

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.” — Charlie Munger

While disagreeing vehemently and pursuing the exact opposite viewpoint, the ability to see clearly why the viewpoint makes rational sense to another person is a superpower.

We must pursue this line of thought and action is not just to get to what seems fair and true north. This approach helps shape the understanding of fair and true north. It created the opportunity to frame an outcome as win-win that otherwise may have felt like lose-lose.

This is a superpower because it needs one to put aside one’s ego for a bit; be victorious over oneself; then come back from the out of body experience and do what needs to be done.

The only other thing that comes close to this in the physical world, is Discipline. Discipline is the victory of your mind over your body; Tactical Empathy is the victory of your mind over your mind.

3. Finding treasures in everything:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

My 4-year-old daughter re-initiated me into the wondrous world of viewing things invisible to the eye earlier in the year when we went treasure hunting in the rains — Looking at snails and earthworms through the cardboard tube of a toilet paper roll.

We even mistook a slightly far away placed pile of dog poo for a nugget of gold.

It reminded me of the poem — Uses of Sorrow.

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. — Mary Oliver

While I’ve generally been a proponent of ‘Whatever happens, happens for the best’, 2019 was the year when I genuinely felt wired differently; when I went chasing for opportunity in disaster; when I internalized The Obstacle is the Way doctrine.

My Twitter bio used to read — Embrace your serendipities. This year I changed it to Embrace your serendipities and zemblanities.

Both are gifts.

2. Other things learned/noticed

1. Agency & Ownership:

I’ve been exposed to the concepts of Agency and Ownership for the better part of this decade. Separately.

Agency is one’s power to affect reality to one’s will. When one is told that something is impossible, is it the end of the conversation, or is the trigger to a new conversation in one’s mind about what one can do to make it possible?

Ownership is doing everything necessary to exercise and translate one’s agency in reality.

In isolation, Agency helps one see and create possibilities, and Ownership helps one get things done. When combined, these traits create effective leadership (Figuring out what needs to be done and then getting it done).

Once you start grasping Agency and Ownership, the world changes around you; in a way or more it starts bending to your will.

This articulation of Agency and Ownership is important also for those who grasp and practice them intuitively. It helps immensely in spreading these competencies; especially when seeking to level up our teams.

Whenever someone on one’s team is struggling at something or stagnating, it is usually because of a lack of one or both of these traits. Helping them build their Agency and Ownership in the universe can help them, you, your organization, and mankind at large tremendously.

2. Make the Ask:

Early on in my career, I was bad at making asks clearly and directly. Maybe it was conditioning (always be a giver, not a taker), fear (of rejection), worry (will the other person get offended), or other things. When one is bad at making asks directly and clearly, one experiences it as — ‘The other person / the world doesn’t get me.’ ‘I do so much and there isn’t any appreciation for it.’ ‘The other person or the world is not fair to me.’

The reality is that the other person or the world has no idea what one is going through or what one wants, and hence cannot help one without a clear ask.

This is as much applicable to investor relations as it is to domestic partnerships.

The ability to make a clear, concise, direct ask is a superpower

3. The inverse of Hanlon’s Razor:

Hanlon’s Razor states that — One should never attribute to malice, that which can be sufficiently explained by stupidity, ignorance, or incompetence. I’ve found myself and others increasingly weaponize Hanlon’s Razor to justify or hide some of our shortcomings. For example — It is very easy to deflect and attribute any criticism to the other person not knowing (being ignorant of) my realities. So while one is not attributing it to malice, one is not doing anything to genuinely address the underlying issue either. And also taking the moral high ground. This behavior is even more insidious than not practicing Hanlon’s Razor.

So I’m going to add an addendum to Hanlon’s Razor.

One should never attribute to malice, that which can be sufficiently explained by stupidity, ignorance, or incompetence.

One should never attribute to Hanlon’s Razor that which can be sufficiently explained by one’s own shortcomings.

4. Span of Collaboration:

Span of Collaboration must exist as a concept; the way Span of Control exists as a management concept. Essentially principles for collaboration — Factors that affect it, is there a Dunbar number equivalent, does it change based on the nature of the collaboration at hand, optimal levels of Communication, Consensus, and Conflict for collaboration to be effective? If anyone knows of a good treatise or any literature on the subject, I would love to see that. I want to research and write about this time and bandwidth permitting. (See how I completely gave up my Agency and Ownership in the last sentence there?)

5. Successive Iterations:

We studied Numerical Analysis methods in Engineering. There were Direct (Gaussian Elimination, QR decomposition, et al) as well as Iterative methods (Newton Raphson, Bisection, Jacobian iteration, et al) to find roots of continuous functions. While direct methods gave precise answers in a finite number of steps, the iterative methods made successive approximations to reach an acceptable solution with a small error function.

As engineers who build complex software, we have to build precise, zero-defect systems. As people who work with other people, and have to deal with messy, gooey emotions, we have to iterate and approximate to an ideal state which may be unique for every individual who we work with. But very often, we treat people as precise, zero-defect systems and interact in binary states. Either she/he gets it or doesn’t, whereas we should be looking at it as a spectrum.

The best way of getting there is through successive iterations. eg: Encourage (and appreciate) any movement in the desired direction, don’t be tough till / wait for the end state.

This approach has helped me achieve things that have frustrated me in the past (like being disciplined about exercising), appreciate better those who work with me, and develop a mindset that given time, patience, and movement in the right direction it will be possible to achieve any goal.

6. Ukulele:

I learned to play the ukulele this year. Can play a basic octave and the 4 chords, but that is enough to be able to sing lots of songs to.

3. Things I did well this year

1. Fatherhood:

This was probably the only 2019 goal that I succeeded at. I was a much more present and hands-on father this year. More importantly, my 4YO has become a young precocious lady who I am very proud of. I chronicle my journey as a father at https://levelupsam.blogspot.com in case anyone is more interested in this.

2. Work:

2019 was all about tough negotiations and triaging. Yours truly did pretty decently well. Our platform team delivered an incredible 100+ releases while launching new products, the India team quintupled in size, the Autonomous team started testing our driverless vehicles on public roads among other things. We will end 2019 at least 2X or more vs. 2018 on almost every business metric that matters. Despite a few setbacks, it has been satisfying to see Ridecell grow the way it has in 2019 and I’m extremely grateful to the teams who make it happen day in and day out.

3. Driving :

I finally got a left-hand drive driving license this year after 3 failed driving tests. And trust me, it took a village to get me past the finish line. I also drove the family everywhere including Yosemite. This was one of my seemingly insignificant but big wins of the year.

4. Open Mic:

I performed (sang) at my first open mic night thanks to Atman pulling a ‘Are you Chicken?’ on me. It was fun. I rocked.

5. Deadlifts & Exercising:

I discovered deadlifts this year and can safely say that despite still being on the heavier side of things, 2019 is the strongest and healthiest I’ve been this past decade. I’ve also been more on the right side of exercising this year than on the wrong. Deadlifts have helped me tremendously with my backache and I intend to do more than 2,500 with my 52.5 lbs dumbbell in 2020. Similarly, I intend to do more than 10,000 pushups in 2020.

6. Other things:

I got published in CIO magazine this year, was one of the 18 global finalists at the FIA Smart Cities Global Startup Contest, and recorded my first couple of podcasts (yet to be published) this year.

4. Things I failed at

1. Being a good nephew and cousin:

My aunt passed away this year. I didn’t realize how bad her health was until the end. I didn’t make it to her final rites or meet my cousin (her only son) either for about 6 months after her passing. My aunt was one of the many amazing women who had raised me, and my cousin is the only brother I had for the first 10 years of my life.

That I wasn’t there for my aunt or my cousin when they needed me the most, gnaws at me, and will probably gnaw at me for the rest of my life. I feel like a terrible nephew and cousin.

2. Every 2019 goal other than fatherhood:

I didn’t write, create, or manage my health enough. On writing and creating I’ve fared much worse than my most pessimistic expectations. I’ve been good with exercising in the second half of the year but my eating and sleeping habits need significant improvement.

5. Things I have developed a new perspective about

1. Articulation of Planning and Goal Setting:

If you are reading this, you’ve likely heard of Simon Sinek and Start with Why. The problem is that while we know this, we seldom implement it.

Much of what is called strategic planning and goal setting articulates the What (Have) and the How (Do). Once the Vision is set, the Why (Be) is not often thought of. Unless there is a shake-up of a fortunate or unfortunate kind, reviews, planning, and goal setting tend to be an iterative process that is a continuation of what we’ve done in the past without much consideration for the Why.

We do this because we are creatures of habit. Our habits have helped us get to where we are in life. The reptilian survival-focused part of our brain likes the routine and feeling of certainty and security that continuity brings.

This Codex Vitae is an example of that approach of thinking.

But, as human beings or as corporate organizations, we are not built for stasis. Stasis leads to death. Our body of knowledge, our abilities — both physical and mental, our environments, and our motivations change at regular intervals. Our Why changes more often than we think it does. To ignore or disabuse it is a waste of potential energy and a precursor to stasis.

We must hence articulate and weave into planning the Why (Be) just as much as the What and the How if not more.

A meaningful part of life or organization must change fundamentally every period; that change must be articulated well; the articulation must stem from the Why (Be) before delving in the What (Have) and the How (Do).

2. Safe Spaces:

We’re running out of safe spaces.

With every additional responsibility, with every increment in your sphere of influence, your safe-space surface area keeps reducing; you have to be more careful about what you say, what you do, how it will be perceived, how it will be weaponized against you and whatever it is you represent.

I also used to be tacitly okay with the idea that this is the collateral damage one has to suffer for all the other good things that life gives.

I’ve changed my mind about this. Everyone must have the right to express themselves without the fear of it being weaponized against themselves or whoever they represent. Any attempt to stifle this right must be resisted and fought back against. The more accommodating one is about this, the more freedom of expression will be curbed by trolls who cannot digest political incorrectness. And such trolls exist in all spheres of life across political spectrums.

So now, the antifragile lashing out of President Trump or the stoic silence of Prime Minister Modi makes so much more sense. Both are managing trolls in the manner they know best.

We’re running out of Safe Spaces. And we must bring them back. We must be able to speak our minds; without having to be standup comedians or being labeled for speaking our minds.

3. Being right about anything:

We all grow up with a moral compass. About what is right, what is wrong. Everyone has a unique compass. And as we go through life, the compass evolves with us. There are some things on it that are absolutely black or white and some things that are on the greyscale. True North and Magnetic North to stay with the metaphor.

Honesty good, Dishonesty bad; Happiness good, Grief bad; Growth good, Stagnation bad; Peace good, War bad. These are simplistic and have multiple exceptions or edge cases where they may not be true.

But there are things where it is well nigh inconceivable to think of an alternative course of action as being correct. Even for those, we should think of alternative possibilities.

For example, my parents will always have my best interest at heart / I will have my child’s best interest at heart and hence have the right advice/know the right course of action.

We must consider the opposite viewpoint, understand the context, figure out motives before we take it for granted as true.

6. People, Books, and Resources that enriched my life for the better

1. People:

I have a debt of gratitude to settle with Neil Gaiman. Neil has been an invisible hand in my life for over 10 years now. A Neil Gaiman quote, book, tweet, or course has unfailingly presented itself to me without my asking, whenever I’ve needed one; be it a painful heartbreak or be it a light moment of inspiration or be it a wretched writer’s block. For me, Neil is the Djinn of his October tale from A Calendar of Tales.

One of the big perks of my work is random collisions with incredibly cool people.

This year I had the dumb fortune of telling President Felipe Calderon of Mexico that I cannot share the financials of my company with him. He was gracious to pose for a photo with me even after that.

I also had the opportunity to show Jean Todt how our shared mobility software and electric scooters work. As someone who cheered for him and Michael Schumacher during every F1 race in the early 2000s, this was a big fanboy moment for me.

I also had the good fortune of meeting some amazing founders. A couple of things I’ve found common among them is how calm they are and how willing they are to help.

Tammy Sanders — Ridecell’s Director of Learning & Development is a joy to work with. I wish everyone the good fortune of working with professionals like Tammy.

2. Books:

I’ve drastically cut down on the number of books I read over the past two years.

Skin in the Game and Antifragile were two books that heavily influenced how I inspect life.

I’ve also noticed that my share of books related to biology and medicine is going up over the past two years. Stiff: The curious life of human cadaversLifespan, and Deep Medicine were the best human body related books I read in 2019.

I also enjoyed management books like What you do is who you areRange, and Loonshots.

Last, Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Result was the best work of fiction that I read this year.

3. Resources:

  1. Mirra Chair: This is a great ergonomic chair that has helped me immensely with my backache. Pretty darn expensive, so bought a used one; pretty darn expensive, even after that, but considering how much time one spends sitting, it seems worth the expense.
  2. Height adjustable desk: Same reason for purchase. This desk is awesome because it is almost half the price of similar height-adjustable desks and gets the job done amazingly well.
  3. Aerophone Go: I stopped playing the Saxophone around 15 years ago because I was terrible and the instrument was way too loud for the liking of my apartment complex. Being able to play the Sax again with the output being sent to earphones and anyone else not being bothered with the noise has been the most exhilarating experience of the year for me. I can now play the Sax at 2 in the night, something I had never dreamed of.
  4. Thera Gun / Muscle massager Gun: When one starts lifting weights and does deadlifts, stretching and keeping the muscles limber is very important. These things pack a mean punch and pulverize a muscle deep and nice to keep it from getting stiff. There are different makes and models of this device. You should figure what works best for you. The noisy ones are cheaper than the silent ones.
  5. Masterclass: This is one company I wish I had started. The lessons, although not very hands-on or technical in nature, have an amazing production value and the folks teaching the classes are the best at what they do. Masterclass was running a BOGO offer, perfect for learning couples.

7. Things I will not do in the next decade

This year, I thought that an inversion based approach is a better way of articulating what is important to me. Not sure if it will work the way I want it to.

But before I talk about these things, I want to be clear that these are things I’ve been working on for some time now, in some cases months, in some cases years. This is about making these things part of the lifestyle.

Anyone planning to adopt any resolutions or disown any behaviors on December 31st or Jan 1st is likely to fail, but with 365 days of practice, experimentation, some wins, and some setbacks, one may be able to succeed the year after.

As I said, successive iterations, small approximations.

1. Eat Sugar:

I have an incredibly sweet tooth and am bad at controlling my sugar intake. But sugar is definitely in the same league as tobacco and we should all minimize our intake of sugar. There are many other alternatives — Stevia, Splenda, Erythritol to name a few for those like me who must indulge their sweet tooth.

The key things that work when I’ve successfully avoided sugar are 1. managing my environment to avoid access to sugar & sugar-rich products and 2. making sure I sleep enough and balance work. The desperation to eat something sweet is highest when the brain is functioning in a depleted state.

2. Let my exercise routine falter:

Small steps, one pushup, one deadlift at a time help stay on the wagon wheel. The plan is to do over 10,000 pushups and 2,500 deadlifts in 2020.

3. Neglect my creative pursuits:

I plan to write anywhere between 12 to 52 short stories in 2020. 12 is the base case for 1 every month. 52 is for 1 every week if something magical happens. I will keep you posted on the progress. The more important goal is to stretch the mind and develop the writing muscle once again.

4. Read any Non-Fiction (2020 only):

The 2010s gave me lots of worldly wisdom, knowledge, and skill. In return, they took away my creativity. I’m going to change that in 2020. I plan to read only fiction and live in the worlds of the likes of P.G. Wodehouse and Neil Gaiman this coming year.

8. Review of my 2010s

Other than losing two members of my immediate family (90-year-old grandfather in 2010, and 59-year-old aunt in 2019), and a painful heartbreak at the beginning of the decade, the 2010s have been really kind to me and my family.

Got married to a beautiful girl, became a father to an incredibly precocious 4 year old, started businesses and companies, traveled the world, moved across countries, earned some money and hopefully a lot more goodwill, learned more than I ever imagined I could, kept many friendships made prior to the 2010s intact — some in fact much deeper and stronger now, discovered some of my power to affect the universe, and cultivated a very healthy optimism and ambition for myself and the world at large.

On the flip side, I have a chronic backache (fortunately it keeps me motivated to exercise regularly and stay in good shape), weigh 20 pounds more than I would like, and have lost 10 years of creative pursuit — didn’t focus on writing or making music at all.

I would rate my 2010s a solid 7.5/10.

I look forward to what lies ahead for humankind and me in the coming year and decade; with the same awe, wonder, and optimism that has helped me through the 2000s and 2010s.

Codex Vitae 2018

This year, I’ll focus on

  1. Things I learned about
  2. Things I did
  3. Things I failed at
  4. Things I changed my mind about or am ambivalent about
  5. Beliefs and learning that strengthened
  6. People, Books, and resources that had an impact
  7. Goals for 2019

I’ll try and dig deeper into underlying principles in addition to instances and events. I’ve provided links, references, and acknowledgments wherever appropriate and look forward to hearing back from you.

1. Things I learned about

1.Truth in the best light — In our pursuit of being truthful, we usually forget to address the emotions and mental states of our audience during our interactions. But, as Naval Ravikant says It is almost always possible to be honest and positive. And putting truth in the best light can have a tremendous impact on the outcome.

I always knew this but learned it firsthand from aarjav during fundraising. Putting truth in the best light also impacts almost everything else in life — Relationships, parenting, motivating others and ourselves.

I also believe that putting truth in the best light is a learned behavior that counterbalances our reptilian, survival-focused brain, and social conditioning that default to worst-case scenarios and prevent us from seeing the possibilities and achieving our potential.

The graphic below by Joey Roth sums up succinctly what I’m trying to explain

Be a Hustler, not the other two

2. Clarity and Alignment — Elon Musk has famously mentioned that an organization is a sum total of all the vectors.

The magnitude of these vectors is the skill that each individual brings, learns, and delivers; whereas the direction in which the vector is pulling is the Alignment/misalignment that I’m talking about.

In an organization (individual, company, family, nation) if all the vectors are pulling in the same direction, progress is much faster. For an individual it means Health, Wealth, Skill, and Will moving in the same direction; for a company it is the product and engineering building the products that there is a demand for, Sales selling to and Customer Success servicing the same demand, and the support functions doing everything to crank or keep the wheel moving. Sales selling features that Product and Engineering are not planning to build is disastrous. A parent forcing his/her child to get coached in an area that the child hates is a terrible waste of resources and human potential. Alignment is necessary.

Clarity, on the other hand, is the plane on which these vectors operate. Without a proper plane, both the magnitude as well as the direction of the vectors are irrelevant.

Both Clarity and Alignment are notoriously difficult to get, especially in a VUCA world. Things change, people change, there are vested interests, emotions, timelines, and money involved. And a thousand nuances to get right.

But individuals who can create clarity and alignment for themselves as well as their teams are the gold standard of leadership — personal as well as professional.

3. Non-violent communication — This is one thing I’ve been struggling to get good at. If one reads Marshall Rosenberg’s gem of a book, one will realize that almost all of us are guilty of violent communication in our daily lives.

There is a language of needs and requests that if one adopts, instead of the language of demands and judgments, leads to a much more contented and joyous life experience. The kicker is that it starts with the communication that one has with one’s own self.

On the other hand, Anger, Depression, Guilt, and Shame are distorted expressions of unmet needs. When we replace blame — a form of judgment, with mourning for an unmet need, we become more alive and start moving to a place where we can do the same for others.

However, just like Clarity and Alignment, Non-violent communication is notoriously difficult to be aware of, and then to practice.

4. Aging and Nutrition: Insulin and everything that goes with it — I’ve been thinking about my mortality for the past few years. A chronic backache, that I suspected was something worse, was the immediate trigger. Then the birth of my daughter and my desire to be around until she becomes an adult, my mother suffering an almost fatal heart attack, and my approaching the age at which my father died has kept this topic front and center of my mind space.

This year I spent some time reading up on and learning about aging, nutrition, autophagy, Blue zones of longevity et al. And what I read indicated that much of good health is just our body’s ability to manage insulin — sensitivity and ability to absorb and process it.

In general, it seemed to imply that more protein, fewer carbs, fasting, physical activity including exercise, adequate sleep, and a good social circle promote good health and longevity. This is too simplistic an abstraction and is by no means a recommendation I’m making for others. But I’ve experienced it first hand during periods when I’ve given up sugar and reduced carb intake.

I would recommend following P. D. Mangan, if you are interested in further exploring this line of thought.

5. The power of Distraction and Bullshit — I’ve learned this from none other than the President of the United States, Elon Musk, and the entire political establishment of India. Distraction is a very powerful tool to influence the gullible, which unfortunately we all are at some points of time. And as Ayn Rand said, ‘Reason can be fought with reason; how do you fight the unreasonable?’

6. Not Feeding the Trolls — I’ve become relatively good at avoiding or shutting out the trolls in my life. But there are few that one cannot avoid. These are the ones who try to change you or keep telling you how wrong you are without addressing your basic concerns or issues.

The best way to handle these is to treat them as Furniture or as any other inanimate object. We usually don’t judge inanimate objects, nor do we get into arguments with them, nor do we complain that those objects don’t get us. We just let them be.

This, I’ve found, is one of the most effective ways to address the trolls in our lives.

7. Information asymmetry, mindset, perception, and reality: Perception and reality can be diametrically opposite. And the same reality can be perceived very differently by two different people.

I’ve learned this as part of all the selling, convincing, and hiring I’ve done over the past year.

I believe that the two reasons for this are information asymmetry and how one frames the situation in one’s mind.

Information asymmetry is both good and bad depending on the situation one is in. If one is trying to convince someone on the vision, depending on the situation, one needs to work hard on either creating information asymmetry or on eliminating it. Most of the times it is just good to be able to show the other person the possibilities that one can see in one’s own mind.

On the mindset, I’ve had the dubious pleasure of working with people at both ends of the spectrum — The hustler who sees a mere first conversation as a sealed deal and a rabble-rouser who sees even a slightly negative comment as someone being out to get them.

One will see the situation based on how one frames it, how one chooses to view it. Sometimes a 10% possibility of failure can be a bigger block than the incentive of 90% possibility of success.

8. SundryDifferent perspectives on things we take for granted

2. Things I did in 2018

1.Fatherhood — My three year old now has a full-time father. This was probably the only 2018 goal that I’ve managed to achieve but it was also the most important one. We spend over 90% of the time we have with our children in the first 20 years of their lives. I’d already lost a good year and a half of her first three years and am delighted to change this.

2. Raised Series B for my company — This has been a great chapter of my professional life so far. I won’t get into the details, but the learnings were tremendous, and the experience fulfilling. Must thank aarjav for taking me on this ride.

I learned about relentlessness, optionality, optimism, putting truth in the best ligh, during this period.

You can find the press release of our fundraising here.

3. Became a level 3 Improvisor — I’ve been learning Improv for the past 2 years with the Bay Area Theatre Sports company. This year I discovered my own voice as a clueless, wonderous, gullible, hapless comic.

The journey took me across The Great Raccoon migration of San Meandro, to Lord of the Redneck Rings, to portraying an emotional jock of African and Russian descent with ocean blue eyes and disproportionate endowment, among other things.

As I had mentioned last year, Improv has helped me discover how addicted my mind had become to structure and process, and how much fun it is to let the rascal race and ravel through the rapturous ravines of roaring, rib-tickling ruminations.

4. Random encounters with really famous people — The greatest perk of working with a fast-moving startup in the heart of Silicon Valley is the people you get access to, ideas you get exposed to, and the possibilities that it engenders in your mind.

I’ve had the good fortune this year, and completely because of my workplace, of meeting, gatecrashing events of, and learning from some of the most amazing people in the world.

People who’ve lived in the White House, People who make spaceships and deliver packages, and People who built the front page of the internet. Almost ticked off a couple of meetings from my bucket list.

5. Saw Bryan Adams live in concert — I know more songs of Bryan Adams by heart than of any other artist. I’ve ardently been in love with his music and with Bryan Adams as a musician and role model for the past 22 years. You should Please Forgive Me if I Can’t Stop This Thing We Started because when I listen to his music, I’m in Heaven.

I had missed his last 4 concerts in Mumbai; the 1st one I didn’t know who Bryan Adams was, the 2nd I didn’t have money, the third and the fourth, I didn’t have the bandwidth. This time though, all the stars aligned and Atman was kind enough to book tickets for me.

The concert was everything I had hoped it would be. Bryan Adams was funny, sensitive, talked about his parents and early life, Instagrammed live, and belted out number after number for three hours at a stretch.

It is a tremendous leap of faith and reciprocation when he plays the riff of Summer of 69 and then lets the audience take over the singing. And the audience reciprocates by singing their hearts out.

The whole concert was a goosebump fest for me. This is a man who at 59, has more energy and grace than most people ever have in their entire lifetime.

How blessed is he who brings such joy to people’s lives, keeps doing it for close to 40 years, and is still going strong!

3. Things I failed at

1.Almost all the goals I set for 2018 — Health, Learning, Personal growth, and helping others. I failed at all of those. The only thing I managed and am immensely grateful for is that I’m back to being an ‘in person’ father.

2.Equal time with my daughter— My amazing wife still does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to my daughter. I think it is unfair to all three of us and it is one of my goals for 2019 to be an equal parent

3.Health Goals — Getting rid of my backache, Giving up Sugar, Getting 8 hours of sleep. I’ve been disciplined in short bursts, but haven’t internalized these as habits and am currently not in my best physical shape. The thing that I’ve learned though, is that the best way to cultivate will power is to not have to use it at all. So far 2019 has been promising.

4. Non-Violent Communication — Failed badly at it in 2018. Especially with my near and dear ones. But at least have become mindful of it. And am becoming better at it.

5. Completing Y-Combinator’s Startup School Audit — Atman and I signed up for Y-Combinator’s startup school last year, primarily because I want him to out of his terrible investment banking job. We started off strong but then both got pulled into our respective full-time jobs and had to put this on the back burner. Maybe we’ll give it another try this year. We are slightly wiser, but not wise enough to not try again.

4. Things I changed my mind about or am ambivalent about

1. Success through exhaustion — I saw this in action in 2018, but I’ve usually operated very differently in life. Focus on the few important things and do enough to succeed but not so much to burn yourself out.

I’m not so sure if I’m right or if I’ve wasted much of my potential by not trying hard enough.

2. Optionality — This is another thing that I’m not so sure about. Most of my best and most important decisions have been about eliminating optionality, about burning bridges so that there is no path to backtrack, about focus.

However, working at a startup, recruiting, and fundraising has taught me how important optionality is.

Maybe this is a false dichotomy I’m chasing — maybe there are some areas where optionality is needed and some, where one needs to ruthlessly eliminate it.

I haven’t thought about it in depth.

3. Alcohol and Psychotropics — I’ve always viewed Alcohol, Tobacco, and Psychotropics (Drugs) as a bad thing. Blame it on conditioning, witnessing secondhand and suffering their pernicious consequences, and plain dumb fear of not knowing if I had enough self-control.

Reading Stealing Fire and doing my research about nutrition in 2018 has changed my viewpoint.

The desire to get high it seems is a widely prevalent phenomenon in nature. All kinds of animals, from Dolphins to Elephants, find ways to get high.

I’m still don’t drink (though I will taste once and take a sip of any new kind of alcohol I’m introduced to out of sheer curiosity) and I’m still a non-smoker, but I’ve stopped judging those substances.

4. That I can do it all — I’ve thrived most of my life by being good at many things. I’m now realizing that the best way to do it is to be patient and pick one thing every year and move towards mastery instead of just being good at it.

2016 was all about taking leaps of faith, 2017 was all about reading and adopting the Mungerian way of living, 2018 was about convincing, selling, and becoming self-aware about communication and how powerful a tool it is.

I think 2019 is going to be a year of Deep Learning and Deep Work.

5. Beliefs and learning that strengthened

1. Being direct and earnest — This is especially true while providing feedback or expressing one’s own needs. Being circuitous or avoiding it just prolongs the agony of the inevitable. It is better to make a clean break and take it on the chin than deal with constant nagging pain and anxiety.

Many a time, our fears are misplaced and being direct and earnest leads to a more fruitful outcome and trusting relationship.

2. It is always a bad idea to negotiate with people who hold you ransom (Not the physical kidnapping type ransom)— Being held ransom is a sign of bad faith. For whatever reason, justified or not, the person holding you ransom wants to hurt you in one way or another. That person will hurt you irrespective of what the outcome of the negotiation is. The best outcome is to cut the cord and take the hit as early as possible than to prolong the agony.

Being direct and honest is the best way to avoid getting into a situation where someone holds you ransom.

Not negotiating and taking the hit as early as possible is the best way to respond when you find yourself in that situation.

3. Things work out for the best at the end (Amor Fati) — This may just be me living in fools’ paradise, but almost all of my greatest struggles have left me with profound memories and learning. Many have ended in successful triumphs, some in disasters and lifelong loss. But in the end, those triumphs and disasters —none of those matters. Because what remains is only the irrevocable poignant change those struggles have left me with. I love the fact that I can celebrate my wins and mourn my losses with all my heart.

I live in a world where ShahRukh Khan says ‘Humhari filmon ki tarah humari zindagi mein bhi end mein sab theek ho jaata hai. Happys endings. Aur agar theek na ho to woh the end nahin hai dosto, picture abhi baaki hai.’ (If things are not okay, then there is another act yet to come, the movie is not over yet).

Living this way also endows me with a certain level of anti-fragility because this belief system invariably pushes me to seek either the opportunity or the satisfaction out of any outcome. This in itself is a win irrespective of what the outcome is.

4. The most important things cannot be learned without experiencing or witnessing them firsthand — I remember experiencing the ‘bulb lighting in my head’ moment when I saw at my first managerial job how setting goals and following through on the planned actions and alternatives leads to achieving of those goals. It was a similar feeling when I gave up sugar for a month and lost 8 pounds. I began truly appreciating the truth in ‘Fortune favors the prepared mind’ only when Amitabh and I were crowned National champions of Mahindra Auto Quotient of 2011. Till the time I experienced each of these things, I didn’t truly appreciate the concept of Goals, Discipline, and Luck.

Accelerators like Y-Combinator spend most of their time and resources advising founders on mistakes that they should avoid — like hiring too fast, spending too much money, being operationally indisciplined, not letting folks go soon enough. Yet most founders go and make those very same mistakes.

This is because the most important things cannot be learned without experiencing or witnessing them firsthand.

6. People, Books, and Resources that had an impact

1.People

Richard Hagberg — Rich, as an executive coach, helped me navigate an especially important time and circumstance at work. The best thing about Rich, is his candid, open-minded, conversation style of coaching that helps cut through the clutter and drives home the point straight away. Not to mention he has a tome of immensely useful original research having coached the who’s who of the corporate world for over 35 years now.

Aaron Crum — His cool and calm, unassuming yet very knowledgable, Iceman demeanor, the experience of having done corporate deals for some of the biggest companies in the world, and his dropping of midwestern colloquialisms at very regular intervals was a wonderful addition to my professional life in 2018

Atman Pandya — Atman is my brother. He is also one of the most disciplined, enlightened, and hardworking people I know. He is a productivity machine, and I am in awe of how much he learns by doing and just putting himself out there. I’ve raised him and now he is teaching me a few things. I couldn’t be more proud. You can follow his youtube channel here.

P. D. Mangan — Mangan’s course on Anti-aging is very useful. What I also like about him is that there isn’t any pretense or air about what he preaches. You may want to follow him, if for nothing else, just to get acquainted with a contrarian world view of Carnivorism and its benefits.

My teams — I work with and lead some really diverse teams at work. They have taught me so much about human emotions, relationships, communication, freedom, mastery, purpose, and life in general. I am grateful to all the individuals that I have the privilege of working with.

aarjav — Aarjav is the CEO at Ridecell. But if I were to describe him in one word, he is relentless. Last year, I thanked him for showing me the ways of how startups work. 2018 is the year I thank him for showing me relentlessness in action.

2. Books —I read much fewer books in 2018 than in 2017. Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, The Most Important Thing by Howard Marks, Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Atomic Habits by James Clear, Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler, and 12 Rules for life by Jordan Peterson shaped some of my thinking, made me change my mind about a few things, and strengthened some of my beliefs. The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis was the best biographical account, and Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman was the best fiction that I read in 2018.

3. Resources —

1.Audible — If you are in India and/or can afford it, getting an Audible subscription and using it is the best investment you can make for yourself and your family. Listening is a much more comfortable and unintrusive way of consuming books, and Audible’s unlimited return for a year policy can help you read as many as one book a week if you are diligent with your workouts, have a long commute, or have some routine that is compatible with listening to music.

2.Adjustable Dumbbells — I used to have a set of weights at home, but never fully used them. Somehow the whole thing was extremely cumbersome to manage. Enter, these adjustable dumbbells from Popsport (or Bowflex if you prefer to pay more). I’ve gone from being able to lift 10 pounds to lifting 30 pounds with each hand because of these beauties. I started lifting weights this year because of what I learned about nutrition and aging and how to avoid it. That it makes me look ripped is a good add-on. In 2018, I’ve had the most muscle mass I’ve ever had in my life because I started lifting weights. Hope to keep getting better at this.

3.Jogger Stroller — Jogger strollers are perfect for multi-purpose uses of jogging with your young one as well as for short-distance commutes in the city.

4.Smart scale — Smart scales are wonderful for self-quantifiers, who want to keep track of their body compositions without the hassle of having to manually record the information. I highly recommend them.

5.The a16z youtube channel — Andreessen Horowitz is one of the world’s topmost VC firms. What sets them apart from other VCs is how much they care about and focus on creating and disseminating knowledge. Every time I feel that I’ve missed the bus on certain things, their videos and podcasts remind me of how much of the future is yet to be built and in which direction the puck is headed. For anyone who intends to be in the business of building the future, this is an invaluable resource.

6.Public Libraries — I discovered the San Francisco public libraries this year, and to say that my mind was blown into another dimension is an understatement. This is by far the best use I’ve seen of my tax money and I encourage everyone who has access to the libraries to make good use of them. They are completely free, you can access both physical and digital resources — up to 50 at any given time, and the libraries also organize wonderful events on career, culture, and communities regularly.

8. Goals for 2019

My Goals for 2019 are relatively simple.

1.Getting back to pristine health — This includes getting rid of a decade long chronic back and knee ache, sleeping daily of 8 hours, and achieving calm in thought, action, and communication.

2.Becoming a better Father — I believe I have 3 primary responsibilities as a father. I must provide Resources, Frameworks, and Values to my child in the same order of short term tactical significance and the reverse order of long term strategic significance.

In 2019, in addition to devoting more time, I’m going to learn how to create life frameworks (and in turn experience values) for a four-year-old in a way that she can understand and imbibe. Examples of this would be how to deal with an obnoxious classmate or with a bully at the playground, how to embrace and fall in love with the discomfort of learning something new et al.

3.Depth in learning — I’ve decided to do much fewer things in 2019 but get into much more depth and do enough work in those topics to be able to have an opinion on them.

The 3 picks for 2019 are Deep Learning, Autonomous Vehicles, and Startup Operations. It helps that these are also things that I do full time for a living currently.

4.Discipline in writing — I’ve been pretty irregular with my writing. The 2018 Codex Vitae is coming out one month later than planned. I plan to write 12 deeply thought through, rigorously researched, and well-articulated pieces of writing in 2019.

Here’s wishing everyone a fulfilling 2019.

Competitive Advantages

I’ve been thinking about counterintuitive traits that are not so obvious competitive advantages and why. This is an attempt to list some of them, make sense of it, and reach out to others to find and compile a MECE list such traits.

  1. Willingness to be taken advantage of – This is spectrum ranging from working for free or unfair terms, to stepping down one or many levels to enter a new field / domain altogether.
  2. Things that don’t scale – This includes personally installing apps on users phones 1 at a time, regularly writing blog posts that seem to go nowhere, diligently recording videos on youtube when your channel has just 7 followers.
  3. Embracing failure / rejection

These 3 are the philosophical opposites of

  1. Focus
  2. Discipline
  3. Relentlessness

While the latter three are related to eliminating distractions and non-value adds (Eliminators), the former three are related to creating possibilities (Creators).

The Eliminators help one get better at something, the Creators help one create or discover something new. While Eliminators are obvious, the Creators are counter intuitive. Their significance is the break through / experience and not the success. Success is not assured and hence it is difficult to consider them competitive advantages. However, the payoffs for breakthroughs are exponentially higher when they work. So, 99 failures with 1 breakthrough success will very likely have a higher payoff than 100 assured improvements.

The third set of traits sits at the interstice of the Creators and the Eliminators. It includes

  1. Skeptical Optimism
    • fullsizeoutput_3c5
  2. Anti-Fragility – Get better irrespective of whether the stimulus is positive or negative
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  3. Multipotentiality / Polymathism
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For the lack of a better word I call these traits the Nurturers. These traits help pull the strings together, maintain balance, keep things sentient. They are the good sense to decide well, which traits will serve well in the present.

The fourth and perhaps the final set of traits exist on another dimension – Spiritual (and sometimes irrational).

These include among others

  1. God Complexes – Examples include the Reality Distortion Fields (Willing things into reality), Beliefs in Karma or own cause
  2. Unflappability
  3. Felicity of language and expression, and timing

These appear to be rare and gifted skills which an exceedingly rare set of individuals possess. I’ve tried to find good research on these topics without much success.

The traits mentioned in this post are competitive advantages when used well. They can be a liability when misguided.

This not a complete list. But a good structure to build on. The ability to fire up the appropriate traits for the appropriate context is key.

On Operations – Business and Life

Operations

Operations management is the set of actions that enable designing and controlling the process of production of an output – usually a good or service that has value for others.

If one’s enterprise is a business, the output is the product – durable, consumable, or service the business produces. The price the customer pays is the proxy for the value she derives from the output.

If one’s enterprise is her own life, how she uses one’s time – usually work, family, and leisure, is the product. Whatever the individual gets in return – joy / grief, contentment / discontent, health / disease, wealth / debt is the value the customer – self, family, or society derives from the product.

Everything that the enterprise does to complete and repeat the cycle of production to value is Operations.

Everything the individual does to complete and repeat the cycle of production to value is Life.

The long winded explanation and comparison was to drive home how important Operations is to the enterprise of business and life. And conversely how damaging to business and life it is not to have an operations based world view.

The Golden Circles

The Why – How – What (by Simon Sinek) and the Be – Do – Have (by Robert Collier) paradigms are a good approach to start looking at an enterprise or life from the operational lens.

fullsizeoutput_17a

Misconceptions

A common misconception is that

How is operational, wheareas

Why and What are strategic, and by exclusion, non operational.

And that they are compartmentalized.

This is a misconception because discovering the Why and What itself is operational in nature.

One has to go through a series of experiences, trying different things, consciously or sub consciously gathering data, and validating or ruling out assumptions to find the Why and What.

Any Why and What that is not a product of thoughtful deliberation will not survive the first lack of contact with How.

The other misconception is that as one moves through life and time, her focus must shift from the operational to the strategic.

What changes as one goes through life is what operations or tactics to focus on, NOT whether to focus on operations.

Impact

The How is the bridge between the Why and What. It breathes life into the What and keeps the Why relevant.

Conversely not knowing the How is the chasm between the Why and What, between the Goal and the Result.

Embracing the power of operations – the How, profoundly changes the way an enterprise functions and the way an individual lives her life.

Process take precedence over Goals, Consistency takes precedence over Innovation, Hard nosed diligence take precedence over Brilliance.

Well defined, well communicated, and diligently executed processes create bandwidth for new Goals, Innovation, and Brilliance to emerge at the right places, for the right reasons, at the right time.

Conversely, not exploiting the power of operations condemns an enterprise and individual to a rut of frustration and failure.

Business

In the context of business, a great Sales leader must ask (and help articulate answers to) some of the following in addition to Sales specific questions:

  1. How is the organization structured to deliver a sale (from pitch to delivery)?
  2. How do the current and desirable unit economics work?
  3. How is the work force coached to make the sale?
  4. How does the organization deal with constraints it is faced with currently?
  5. How does the current ROI / ROA tree break up for time, money, and people?

A Finance leader must ask questions related to Sales, product, and engineering cycles in addition to budgets, funding, and book keeping; a Human Resources leader must ask questions related to profitability, process, and business success metrics in addition to culture and compensation.

These questions indicate a genuine curiosity to understand how business works. Only when one understands how things work, can she understand key levers, and then attempt to affect or change them.

A failure to care about these questions results in Type 2 errors – saying yes to a bad fit, staying with a bad employee much longer than tolerable, signing a horrible contract, making a terrible acquisition.

For two main reasons.

  1. The focus is mainly on the What and not on the How. So while the goal is clear, the  How isn’t, and the result is seldom achieved.
  2. The process is unidirectional, doesn’t incorporate feedback, and so the How is not clear. eg – a job interview where the organization and the interviewee focus on the interviewee’s what and how, but not on the organization’s or manager’s; or a contract where the customer feels they got a bad deal mid way through the contract.

She who consistently succeeds in business obsesses over the How. She asks the same question over and over to get to the root cause. She breaks down the problem, the opportunity, and the solution in smaller manageable chunks. She constantly plans, acts, checks, and re-calibrates. She continuously improves process and flow.

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ROA tree of hospitality business (Source: Operations Forensics – Richard Lai)

Life

Now juxtapose this with one’s life.

A great liver of life must ask the following questions in addition to Why and What she wants:

  1. How is her current environment (stakeholders and expectations) structured to enable her to reach her goals.
  2. How do the current and desirable unit economics work
  3. How will she train to reach the current goal and level up to the next
  4. How does she deal with constraints she is currently faced with (time, energy and attention or material, emotional and spiritual)
  5. How does the current ROI / ROA tree break up for any endeavor she undertakes

These questions indicate genuine curiosity to understand how life is lived. Only when we understand how to live, can we understand key levers, and then attempt to affect or change life.

A failure to care about these questions causes Type 2 errors – keeping bad company, undertaking terrible work assignments, buying unnecessary things, and acquiring undesirable liabilities.

For two main reasons.

  1. The focus is mainly on the What and not on the How. So while the goal is clear, the  How isn’t and the result is seldom achieved.
  2. The process is unidirectional, doesn’t incorporate feedback, and so the How is not clear. Focusing on the goal without accepting or learning from feedback that life is providing.

She who has a fulfilling life, is clear about the How. She continuously improves self and surrounding in a manner congruent to her How.

This is why one finds highly fulfilled individuals across all strata, geographies, and races. Fulfillment is a function of how one lives life, not of what one has in it.

Concluding

Operations – the How, is the bridge between the Goal and Result.

Focusing on operations is not a prescription to a rigid, fully structured, start – only – when – you – are -fully -ready approach to business or to life.

Rather, it is an acknowledgement that both at work and in life, we have to constantly keep jumping off cliffs. Building a bridge, packing a parachute, and learning how to grow wings increases the odds of a successful landing, and makes the flight smoother and more enjoyable.

Codex Vitae 2017

2017 has been a challenging and rewarding year. This Codex Vitae is my attempt to articulate, catalog, and educe what I’ve learnt. As part of the Codex Vitae, I will list

  1. Important things I learnt
  2. Beliefs and learning that strengthened
  3. Things that I changed my mind about
  4. Books, resources, and people who had an impact
  5. Habits I collected and dropped
  6. Tools I found useful
  7. What lies ahead in 2018

I’ve tried to focus more on underlying principles instead of instances. I’ve tried to provide links, references, and acknowledgements wherever appropriate. However, please point out any additions necessary. I’d love to hear back from you.

1. Things I learnt

1. Compounding – Financial compounding is common knowledge, but the big eureka  was that compounding is a universal phenomenon. Applies to everything.

Business and technology (Virality – social networks, platform businesses, Moore’s law, Swanson’s law et al), Health and disease (elimination of almost all deadly diseases, how cancer spreads), and Art and entertainment among others.

The best form of compounding is interdisciplinary learning – principles of physics used to understand and solve problems of biology or business or the discipline of daily exercise impacting discipline of thought and efficiency at work. The universality of compounding as a principle is simply amazing. And as with financial compounding, the sooner one starts, the better.

2. Discipline – Focus on my own health in 2017 led to this learning. I’ve been moderately disciplined with circumstance based on and off in many aspects of life. But this year I started viewing discipline as a tool of freedom. I’d like to bifurcate this into two.

First – discipline of action (physical rituals –  exercise, sleep, food, hygiene et al; personal rituals – family time, reading, writing, running errands et al; and professional rituals – planning, doing, documenting, reporting, following up, escalating et al). This is more or less like having a checklist and checking it off diligently. This is a habit forming mechanism.

Second – discipline of thought. And it is manifested in more than one form – Focus, CompressionSimplicity among others.

Both types of discipline require one to resolutely and consistently do things irrespective of whether one wants to or not, irrespective of what the obstacle is, and therein lies its compounding power. The results are staggering but most people don’t stay the course and in turn don’t get to see the results.

3. Environment – A big part of success is having the self-awareness & discipline to change your environment to one that will allow you to succeed. (I learnt this as part of my effort to get healthier and read more this year. Living alone in a foreign city, having fewer distractions and personal responsibilities, more control over the type of food I ate, living close enough to walk to and from work had a lot to do with it.) However, this is very difficult to learn till one experiences it. The fish is the last to discover water. But once you discover it, it feels like having a whole new super power, like X Ray vision. The earlier invisible obstacles show themselves and one can now do something about it.

Managing environment pro-actively is possibly the biggest enabler or disabler of any change that one wants to foster within one’s own life or organization.

4. Inversion – It is important to invert everything. From Jeff Bezos’s focus on what will not change in the next 10 years, to Munger’s All I want to know is where I’ll die so I’ll never go there, to the Allied Forces’ world war two B-17s are examples of how re-framing the problem shifts the thought process and solution.

Asking inverted questions like What will one NOT develop / sell / buy / produce / consume / do, What are one’s fears (as opposed to goals), What de-motivates people (as opposed to what motivates them) is a powerful tool that is seldom used.

5. Wandering – I started training in theatre sports with BATS Improv and after more than a decade of developing software, studying business management, and running businesses, Improv made me realize how much my mind is addicted to structure and how wonderful (and equally important) it is to regularly cavort with carefree cavalier cues.

2. Beliefs and learning that were strengthened in 2017

1. Discomfort and Gratitude – A good life is one that is simultaneously uncomfortable and grateful. Discomfort is where growth happens, gratitude is where happiness and possibilities are born.

2. Tough love (with kindness) – Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. One must be hard on oneself as well as on others. Expectations should be set high and below par performance should be called out and remedied.

The way to do this is to separate the issue and the individual. Be tough on the issue, kind to the individual. Don’t tolerate mediocrity.

Most people cannot separate the person and the issue.  So they can neither give nor accept tough love.

Being able to give and accept tough love is a competitive advantage.

3. Contrarian thinking – From investing, to running businesses, it is important to understand contrarian view points and then make decisions. Else we’re very likely going to be victims of our own biases.

4. Simplicity – Complexity is a tax. Simplicity is a rebate. Applies everywhere.

3. Things I’ve changed my mind about

1. Being objective and rational – I’m an Objectivist. The truth is the truth and nothing else matters. But the older I get, the more I interact with people, the more I realize that Ayn Rand’s villains are real but her heroes cannot function in isolation, and that addressing emotions before rationality is important.

While negotiating a fund raise, job offer, customer contract, or managing the tantrum of a 2 year old, emotions have to be addressed first. In the heat of the moment, people don’t want to know what is right or wrong. They want to be heard, taken care of, and validated.

Context, confidence, and compassion, as and when needed, must precede the rational dialogue for it to be successful.

2. Language of tough love – I used to think that anger was a necessary emotion to communicate tough love. I’ve realized that disappointment is a much more effective emotion and silence a much more effective tool.

Anger can alienate if the intent is not clear to or understood by the receiver. It prevents from arriving at a solution.

3. Time management – Time may be the most precious and non renewable resource available to us. However, energy is the tool we’ve been given to use the resource and attention determines the purpose the resource is used for.

Attention, Energy, and Time must be managed as well; in that order.

Earlier my focus was solely on time management. This has significantly changed how I approach multi tasking, delegation, and physical functions like sleep, exercise, and nutrition.

4. Definition of Great – I’ve gone from being a votary of Scale to a proponent of  Awesome.

Scale comes later as a by product, scale must be a choice not forced.

Work should vitalize self, team, customers, and owners in that order, not the other way round.

5. Not engaging with trolls – Some trolls are harmless and some are dangerous. The harmless trolls must be ignored zealously, the dangerous ones must be taken down just as actively.

Not taking down trolls and rabble rousers permits and encourages other trolls. It promotes bad behaviour, be it an organization or a country.

I still don’t have a playbook for how to do that. I don’t think anyone in the world knows how to do that. But too much irreparable damage happens when they aren’t.

4. People, Books, and resources who had an impact

1. The Farnam Street Blog and its curator Shane Parrish top this list by a mile. I will go out on a limb that everything that you read in this post has already been covered by Shane on the Farnam Street blog. The work that he does is encyclopedic and exhaustive. Cannot thank him enough.

2. @aarjav for being a coach on how startups work, fundraising, sales, and how optimism engenders possibilities.

3. Ashok Sharma for giving me some real sane advice during a particularly difficult and complicated period earlier in the year.

4. @naval for the knowledge he shared on the many podcasts he was interviewed on. His podcast with Shane Parrish on the Knowledge Project was what got me started. And @tferriss for interviewing amazing folks like Naval and encapsulating the knowledge in his books and podcasts.

5. @adammgrant Almost everything I read or encountered in 2017 in some way represented his work. His books The Originals, Give and Take, and Option B are best sellers and widely quoted in many books I read this year.

6. Vala Afshar (primer on privilege), Shalane Flanagan (leadership and individuality), and Ta-Nehisi Coates (privilege, racism, equality) for the wonderful slices of life they presented.

7. @imVkohli for his philosophy of “If I work 120% every day of my life, I’m answerable to no one”.

8. Last, but possibly the most important, my cousin Tejas Bhai who taught me the value of family and how it is more important than everything else in life.

9. Books –  Between Parent and Child, Zero to One, Mastery (by Robert Greene), Switch, The Heart of Haiku, and Small Giants were the best Non fiction I read (or re-read) this year. Seveneves was the best Fiction. 13 Reasons Why and A Thousand Splendid Suns (stopped mid way and kept it aside because I couldn’t handle that shit) were the most disturbing books that I read this year.

5. Habits I picked and dropped (or tried dropping)

1. Reading – I was a moderate reader before 2017. In 2017, I read 55 very interesting and rewarding books. I started reading another 11 but did not follow them through to completion. I’m almost always reading or listening to an audio book or podcast when I’m not focusing on something else that is more important.

2. Exercise – A heart attack in the family, the realization that health is intricately linked with time and my ability to use it well, and a resolve to end a 6 year old chronic backache has resulted in a very disciplined effort here. Swimming works best for me. When it gets too cold, I hit the gym.

3. Sugar – Not over it yet. However, I can now avoid sugar successfully for periods of up to four weeks. Stressful, long work days, days of inadequate sleep coupled with easy access to sugar can still interfere with the will power. Also, diet colas and sugar free sweeteners like erythritol help when craving strikes.

4. Anger – Reading Between Parent and Child changed my view on anger and taught me how to express anger in a more civil and objective way. I still lose it at times when I think someone is being really stupid or insensitive. But I do try to express anger differently.

6. Tools I found useful

1. Notes – I take copious short sentence notes whenever I’m reading or going through something interesting (I even document my fights). Google Keep works best for me for that purpose.

2. Wireless Noise cancelling head phones. Great for listening to audio books or podcasts while commuting or exercising. Lose the wires, get noise canceling; you’ll notice the difference only when you experience it.

3. Calorie and physical activity tracking. Myfitnesspal and the Apple watch are fantastic tools for self quantifiers. Cannot recommend them highly enough. The caveat though is that both require tremendous discipline of regularly data recording and actual physical activity respectively to be effective.

4. Personal Audits – Having a simple personal goal sheet, auditing it regularly, and pivoting depending on results, circumstances, and changes in aspirations helps. Always decide Next Steps for any action / goal that is important and not yet complete.

  7. What lies ahead in 2018

1. Fatherhood – My daughter and wife have spent the better part of 2017 away from me. I will endeavor to be a more present (preferably omnipresent) father and a more supportive (equal partner in the heavy lifting) husband.

2. Writing and Teaching – As rewarding as it has been, reading is still a view of another man’s game from the stadium, not one’s own game. Taking time to ruminate, structure, reshape, and write, is more advanced, satisfying, and intimate way of internalizing life’s offering and pursuits. Teaching is the next level in that direction. I’m going to focus more on writing and teaching in 2018. Hope to post more frequently on this blog instead of what currently is an annual ritual.

3. Predicting – This is an attempt, improve second order thinking, and build mental, emotional, and financial moats. If done well and successful at any level, this will be the result of having done the work required to have an opinion. Will include Investing, making life decisions, and nudging folks in certain directions among other things.

4. Technology – 2017, while teaching me the fundamental models of life, has also made me cognizant that technology is advancing at a blistering pace. Getting left behind or keeping pace is a choice we all will make. I intend to technically master one technology that I believe will be instrumental in shaping our future. Obvious choices look like Blockchain, Machine Learning, Autonomous driving. Will consider the not so obvious as well.

5. Network – As an introvert, I think that active networking is useless. To me the best way to build a network is to be of value to others and actively distribute that value, like putting out ripples in the Universe. Currently I’m doing a terrible job of it outside work. Would really like to do better here.

Wishing everyone a fulfilling 2018.

The Marginal Cost Mistake

The Marginal Cost Mistake is a concept articulated in How will you measure your life by Dr. Clayton Christensen. A very simple yet powerful construct, it states that it is easier to adhere to / live up to something 100% of the time than it is to do it say 96% of the time or 90% of the time.

Let me give you an example. It is easier to tell the truth 100% of the time than it is to selectively be truthful. It is easier to exercise or write everyday than it is to give yourself a 3 day break and then come back. This is because our mind uses the allowance and legitimacy of the smaller folly to justify its occurrence the next time and the time after that and the time after that. It just builds up and is a slippery slope from there on.

Sometimes the coming back takes till the end of the year instead of 3 days when someone accidentally follows your blog or you decide to do a year end review because there’s no one around at the work place.

So here we are, after 10 months of paying for the marginal cost mistake, trying to rev up the virtuous cycle once again.

Its not as if the last 10 months were a complete waste.

Spent some of my best days with my daughter (with a disproportionately large amount of help from my wife, mother, and in laws) as she started getting acquainted with the slightly higher abstractions of life (like walking, talking, exploring, playing, and understanding The Force).

Helped create something really awesome with my erstwhile employer. Then did something really adventurous by changing jobs, moving city and country.

Am currently at 16 amazing books read during the year (18 including the ones I’m currently reading, and 22 including the ones I started but abandoned mid way and will probably start again in 2017). And although this blog stuttered a bit, my fatherhood blog is still going strong.

I’m grateful to everyone I’ve met this year and to life in general, but I’m particularly thankful to Prasad for following this blog. I wouldn’t have gotten back to it had it not been for the ‘Your blog has a new follower’ notification that came my way.

As we move towards the end of another calendar year, my resolve is to avoid the marginal cost mistake like the plague in 2017. And in my relentless quest for simplification and getting better at life, I’ve been asking a question to those who matter the most to me ‘If you would want me to pick one goal for 2017, what would it be?

The replies have been fascinating. Not only from the point of view of their utility, but also the motivations and thought processes and decision algorithms they come from. And while most are in line with what I have on my list, it is more important for me decide my one goal for the year and concentrate on it.

What is yours?

The Power of Humdrum

I’ve been making Cottage Cheese (Paneer) at home everyday the last few days. Started doing it after I discovered on the net that it is one of the best sources of protein. The thing about making Paneer is that it can be made using various methods, by adding different things to milk, at different temperatures, and doing different things post that.

But the humdrum act of making Paneer daily has a very calming and soothing effect on me. Prima facie, it looks like a waste of time. However, there is tremendous creative satisfaction I derive from this act.

And now my head is bubbling with ideas. Can I make Chocolate Paneer or Pineapple Paneer? Can I make normal cheese at home? Can I make cream cheese and then make the ultimate item ever made – Blueberry Cheese cake at home? Can I create an entirely different coagulated gooey food altogether?

While I’m nowhere near to mastering the art or science of cheese making, making Paneer did have its Aha moment.

Doing the same thing again and again, gives you a certain level of expertise or skill. When it becomes something that does not require any mind space or mental bandwidth, that is when the wild ideas start flowing.

Reminds me of ShuHaRi – “first learn, then detach, and finally transcend.”

Sometimes to be creative, one must connect dots sitting on a plane. Sometimes, one needs to know the plane intimately enough before one can know where it ends and where another begins so that one can transcend to connect dots from two different planes.

Things to write about (and read)

I’d like to develop theories or find some real good, solid, concrete research on the following aspects of human behaviour (in no particular order) :

  1. Balancing concern for people with concern for performance
  2. Overcoming mental barriers and biases of past experiences
  3. Knowing when to Quit
  4. Extreme Focus: How to achieve it and whether it is a good thing
  5. Figuring how how much is too much or too little (doing, getting, keeping)
  6. Decision making principles to learn and to teach children
  7. Dealing with physical pain and impact of chronic ailments on life and performance

Will keep adding more to this list. Any reading advice is welcome.