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.

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