Category Archives: Personal

Group vs self motivation

Even if you’re passionate about something, it’s challenging to sustain your individual motivation level across time. There are times when you feel very motivated, as well as troughs in motivation.

The benefit of being part of a group is that your group members can pick you up when you hit a trough in individual motivation. The combination of support and, depending on the environment, healthy competition that they provide are antidotes to a motivational trough.

The less you like doing something, the greater the positive motivational impact of doing that thing as part of a group.

Exercising is a clear example of this. You exercise harder when there are people around you than when there are not. This effect is particularly pronounced when you’re part of the same training class.

The effect also extends to your personal and professional life.

Language fluency

Ideally, we should judge our professional interactions based on the merits of the arguments one puts forth.

However, a person’s comfort in speaking or writing in a particular language impacts the merits of the argument they put forth in that language. Even if you’ve studied the language, if you’re not fluent, sometimes you just can’t come up with the words to clearly convey your message in that language.

And this negatively influences your counterpart’s perception of you. It’s difficult to distinguish between someone who doesn’t know and someone who has difficulty communicating what they know.

As a result, being fluent in a language is a big asset to achieving professional success in a country where business is done in that language. The more communication a particular role requires, the greater the value of this asset.

Selling and reality

In an earlier post entitled “The nuance of reality”, I wrote that “Our tendency is to draw conclusions and then look for evidence to support those conclusions. Reality, however, is much more nuanced. Most good things have bad characteristics and most bad things have good characteristics.”

The underlying assumption of that post was that you’re operating in a context where your goal is to understand reality to the greatest extent possible. This calls for evaluating evidence to draw conclusions rather than drawing a conclusion and then looking for evidence to support it.

However, in a different context, the opposite approach is necessary. Specifically, when you’re selling something, your goal is to highlight those pieces of evidence that support the product you’re trying to sell while overlooking or downplaying those pieces of evidence that could be barriers to the sale.

In other words, selling is the practice of constructing reality by carefully selecting and presenting pieces of evidence which, while short of being comprehensive, hopefully remain individually accurate.

Health and happiness

I spent a lot of time with our son over the last 2 days. He’s 5 months old.

As I was playing with him, I found myself hoping that he’d have a healthy and happy life.

I then realized what I didn’t hope for him. I didn’t hope for him to be powerful, wealthy, famous, handsome, or for him to have other externally visible measures of success.

If he also has one or more of these externally visible measures of success, that will be great. But they are only valuable if they’re built on top of a healthy and happy life.

What I know to be true for this person who I care so much about is true for each of us.

Building a network

There are two ways to build a network.

One is to set networking as a goal and to go out and meet people. The other is to do things that are interesting to you, in which case your network builds naturally as a result of the people who you reach out to in order to progress in what you’re doing, and the people who reach out to you because they find what you’re doing interesting.

The first approach results in a random network, while the second produces a network that is aligned with your perspective on and what you want to get out of life.

In addition, the probability of building strong connections is lower in the first approach because people recognize that your goal is to meet them rather than to learn from and contribute to them. This produces a less positive response.

As a result, doing things that are interesting to you produces a more valuable network of stronger connections than when networking is your end goal.

Succinct communication

Succinct communication is the practice of using as many words as necessary, and not more, to make your point.

Succinct communication, whether written or verbal, is a signal of understanding. The other ends of the spectrum, which are not communicating at all or communicating with too many words, often suggest a lack of understanding.

The ease with which written content can be created on the web, and the resulting content explosion, make succinct communication increasingly valuable. The desire to communicate succinctly is one of the reasons behind the length of my blog posts which are often shorter than most other written web content. However, I know that I still have room to improve.

Here’s a succinct piece on the benefits of succinct communication.

What stays the same

There are two types of information you can take as input to inform your decisions. These are information which stays the same and information which changes.

In a general context, the fundamental laws of physics are examples of the former while the 24 hour news cycle is an example of the latter.

In the specific context of investing in startups, the factors which make for a successful company are examples of the former while the tactics which a startup is using at any moment in time are examples of the latter.

Trying to keep up with that information which changes is like running on a never ending treadmill. You’ll eventually fall off.

On the other hand, identifying that information which stays the same, which we can also call the fundamental truths which govern the behavior of a particular system, is sustainable. They’re limited in number and you don’t need to worry about missing a few of their changes.

As long as you have a good grasp of what stays the same and use this to inform your decisions, the things that change will eventually change in a way that justifies your decision.

Making friends before shaking the tree

I recently asked a very successful executive whose thoughts I respect how one should approach new work environments. Although my question was in the context of new work environments, I believe that his answer is valid for all new environments.

Here’s the succinct answer:

“Make friends and get to know the organization before shaking the tree”

In other words, try to have an impact. But before you do so, recognize that having an impact comes through mobilizing people. And people don’t mobilize for someone they don’t know and respect. So getting to know people and building meaningful relationships is the first step to having an impact.

Eating while working

Sometimes you have a lot of work to do. So rather than set aside 30 minutes or an hour to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you decide to eat while working.

While this makes you feel more efficient, the reality is that you’re actually being less efficient.

The first reason for this is that your train of thought while working is repeatedly interrupted by the bites of food that you eat. Although you don’t notice it, the back and forth between thinking about your work and placing food in your mouth causes a decline in the depth of your thoughts and hence your work output.

The second reason is that we’re not programmed to be fully efficient throughout the day. Instead, we have times of peak focus, followed by times of lower focus, and cycle through these states. By accepting your times of lower focus and eating at these times, you’re able to set the stage for a time of peak focus while also enjoying your food, without sacrificing efficiency.

Finally, many of our best ideas come when our minds feel free to be inefficient and just roam. In other words, what feels like inefficiency often ends up being more efficient than what feels like efficiency. Just like spending time in the shower, taking the time to just eat can be one of those times with low perceived and high actual efficiency.

How to have better conversations

I recently listened to an excellent TED talk by Celeste Headlee on how to have better conversations.

Conversational ability has always been an important skill, and it is becoming even more important as technology further increases the frequency and pace with which we communicate both verbally and in writing.

Here are the 3 strategies which most resonated with me:

1. Listen to understand, not reply

2. Don’t equate your experiences with their’s

3. Stay out of the weeds

You can listen to the 12 minute talk below.