Monday, January 25, 2010

Great Lessons from Great Men

From the Get Rich Slowly blog

This article is awesome - like Cliff notes for biographies. Or an executive summary of wisdom.

If I had to pick one to single out:
"No matter how great the talent or the effort, some things just take time: you can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant." - Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway Annual Report (1985)

In his new book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that the difference between those who succeed and those who don't is 10,000 hours. That is, those who achieve mastery have patiently practiced their craft for at least 10,000 hours — the equivalent of five years of full-time work.

Think Different article

The problem isn't usually - or at least isn't only - too little information, but too much, most of it ambiguous, contradictory, or misleading.

If there are flaws in the way that we think, then gathering more and more information isn't a solution. What our intelligence system really needs is ways to avoid becoming trapped by the natural tendency to leap to conclusions and stick with them.

  • They [Organizations] can systematically solicit the views of people with different perspectives, for example, or use devil's advocates who will challenge established views.
  • To compensate for the tendency to rely on implicit understandings, intelligence analysts can be pushed to fully explain their reasoning, allowing others if not themselves to probe the assumptions that often play a large and unacknowledged role in their conclusions.
  • To better recognize the significance of absences, analysts can learn to think explicitly about what evidence should be appearing if their beliefs are correct.
  • Analysts can also be trained to consider, explicitly, what evidence could lead them to change their minds - not only alerting themselves to the possibility that the necessary information might be missing, but also providing an avenue for others to find evidence that might overturn established views.

Striking a balance between communication and inefficiency

A Little Less Conversation

I think this is a fascinating article because while I firmly believe in Brook's Law, I also have a strong desire to "keep everybody on the same page". I think this article is an excellent reminder to myself - go easy on the CC's.

When you started your company, you probably did a great job of communicating. Everybody told one another everything. And your customers loved it, because when they called in to ask about their purchase order, everybody knew where it was. But as you get bigger, you can't keep telling everybody about every purchase order, so you have to invent specific communications systems so that exactly the right people find out and nobody else. Not because it's confidential. Because it's a waste of time.

I firmly believe in this as well, as a general rule. Every action item should be assigned to a single person. Emailed questions should be directed at a single person. Once you email two people asking for information, they each think the other is going to respond and no one responds. This is not to say that people can't work as teams, but every team should have a specific person who is ultimately responsible - this is the only way to ensure accountability.

And on every project, assign one person to make sure that communication happens -- but only the right communication. Otherwise the team will just start having long meetings with everyone there and, frankly, people will socialize, and bloviate, and speechify, and argue about things they don't really care about just to hear their own voices.

Show and Sell: The Secret to Apple's Magic

Article at

Yet when Jobs reveals the company's next product, there's a critical difference: It exists. When possible, it is available for retail purchase the same day. There are few maybes or eventuallys tempering the presentation: "Here is the tiny miracle we've created. We want to sell it to you today."

I'm not a huge fan of Apple products - prefer an open ecosystem rather than one that is locked down - but you can't deny that they've had a huge impact on consumers (or that others could use a bit of Apple's fanatical approach to design).

9 ways to live better, longer, happier

Blog post at Presentation Zen

Move Naturally
(1) You don't need a formal, rigorous exercise plan. We're talking here a change in lifestyle that is fundamentally active. We're designed to move. We've not meant to drive 100 meters in a car to pick up chips at the local store. Walk, do yard work, whatever. Do exercises/activities that you enjoy.

Have Right Outlook
(2) Slow down. When you're constantly in a hurry and stressed out, this has a negative impact on your health. Limiting negative stress is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.
(3) Have a clear purpose. The Japanese call it "ikigai" ???? (lit: life + value, be worth while). You must have a passion, a calling, a purpose. There's got to be a reason to get out of bed every day.

Eat Wisely
(4) Drink a little (wine) everyday.
(5) Eat mainly plant-based foods. Small amounts of meat and fish are OK.
(6) Hara Hachi Bu: Eat until 80% full. Do not eat eat until you're stuffed. (I've talked about this many time before in the context of presentation.)

Be Connected with others
(7) Put family, loved ones first.
(8) Belong to a community. Many in his study belonged to faith-based communities.
(9) Belong to the right tribe. That is, hang out with people with healthy habits, physical and emotional ones.

The "Michelangelo Effect"

Partners Sculpt Each Other to Achieve Their Ideal Selves: If Successful, Relationship Goes Well

The Michelangelo studies show that close partners sculpt one another's traits and skills and promote, versus inhibit, one another's goal achievement. "It's not just that you treat me positively," Finkel said. "You treat me in particular ways that dovetail with my ideal self."

Just as the sculptor chisels, carves and polishes away flaws in the stone to reveal the ideal form, so do skillful partners support their loved ones' dreams, aspirations and the traits they hope to develop, such as completing medical school or becoming more fluent in a second language or more sociable.

Supporting a partner's image of his ideal self, whether it is a vague yearning or a clearly articulated mental representation, helps the loved one reduce the discrepancy between the actual self and the ideal self.

This totally makes sense to me, since I am more of the school that people adjust and grow towards each other versus one person is perfect for another.

Management lessons from pirates

From this Freakonomic blog article,

Pirates also needed to limit the risk that their leaders would put individual interests ahead of the interests of the ship. Most economists today would call this problem "self-dealing"; Leeson uses the term "captain predation."

...most corporations since the mid-nineteenth century have behaved more like the Royal Navy, with C.E.O.s who have close to unlimited power and employees who have no say in who runs the organization or how it's administered. C.E.O.s have never been kings—they're chosen by a company's board of directors and can be fired at any time—but in practice they have often functioned more like monarchs than like democratic rulers.

Sociology of cooperative video games

Et tu, Mario?

I thought the Contra example was hilarious - I totally remember that feeling as well.

Most cooperative games lie in a vast middle ground, however, a no man's land between altruism and gaming Darwinism that offers up a host of ways to misbehave.

Part of the problem (and the joy) of playing games is that such behavior isn't explicitly condoned or condemned. Looting and friendly fire aren't forbidden by most games, which leaves us to figure out our own rules. This is the right decision: Good game designers allow players to be whoever they want and trust they'll come to their own consensus about what constitutes "fair play." That's why the New Super Mario Bros. Wii was more enjoyable when I played it as God intended—with a good friend and copious amounts of beer. There was no back-stabbing, and no one's feelings were hurt.

The Future of Manufacturing

"The ability to make stuff has been leached out of our society," he says. "It's sad. No, it's worse than sad -- it's almost a criminal act. Because when you think about what has happened -- the rendering down of a population to be consumers -- what you're really doing is rendering people unable to think critically." He decided his next company would address this deficit: It would make it easier to make stuff.

The Future of Manufacturing, from

A good lesson for entrepreneurs:
He saw one problem: Ponoko was not focused on profitability. "A lot of people come to Silicon Valley and they get confused about who they're selling to," says Durham, who invested about $50,000 in the company and now sits on the board. "Is it the press, the VCs, or the customers? And for Ponoko, the customer was third on the list." Durham told ten Have to cut costs and focus on making existing customers happy.

This is much like the waterfall method of software development versus the Agile method - the waterfall method is to create a big plan, then break it up into small manageable steps, and implement the little steps, perform testing, and ship the final product. The Agile method focuses on rapid iteration of code, never getting very far away from code that will actually run and perform some sort of function - no matter how small.

I see the "position the company towards VCs" as equivalent to the waterfall method - you start with your "requirements" based on market research, create a big "design" (business plan), and then try to get VCs to give you the resources you need to implement your plan. Durham's suggestion is to do more of an Agile approach - start trying to make money immediately by satisfying customers. Build up from there - organically growing your business.

Accumulation and Attachment: Finding Balance

From the Get Rich Slowly blog

Non-attachment is letting go of the belief that your happiness depends on holding onto things you think you own.

That's a lot of energy that goes into worrying, protecting, and spending. Your Stuff starts to own you. Attachment and possessiveness can extend beyond material possessions, too. Most of us know someone who tried to hold on so tightly to their partner that the relationship crumbled. We've all seen celebrities who cling to their youth through plastic surgery, the result being anything but youthful.

The idea is not to give up all of your possessions; rather, it is about letting go of the clinging and fear of loss. Because nothing in life is permanent, clinging and fear of loss only cause us to suffer. Focusing on Stuff that can be easily damaged or lost will ensure continual stress and worry until we let go of the attachment.

Good Graphs

Post at the Win-Vector blog

The important criterion for a graph is not simply how fast we can see a result; rather it is whether through the use of the graph we can see something that would have been harder to see otherwise or that could not have been seen at all.

Summary of advice:
  • Make important differences large enough to perceive
  • Make important shape changes large enough to perceive: Banking to 45 degrees.
  • Make sure all the data is equally well resolved.
  • If you want to analyze the difference between two processes, then graph the difference, not the processes (or graph both).
  • If you are interested in rate of change, then graph rate of change.

Mirror Neurons: Why Watching Others Succeed Won’t Help You Succeed

Blog post at The Simple Dollar

To put it simply, we often get the same feeling from watching someone else do something that we would get from doing things ourselves.

And, quite often, those emotional rushes are enough to fulfill us, reducing our drive to actually accomplish things.

Let me put it as simply as I can. If you want to succeed, do. If you want to follow, watch.

A TED talk by Vilayanur Ramachandran briefly explains the biology behind mirror neurons:

This one sentence almost completely sums up my approach to working

From The Leaper, on Rands in Repose

Life in a big or small company is an information game where you are judged by the amount and accuracy of your information.