Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Culture: Transparency with Empathy

Culture is a topic extremely close to my heart and something I've written about a couple of times. Today, I met Rand from Moz and resonated with him strongly. Needless to say, culture is a topic extremely close to his heart as well! What can I say... great minds think alike! :p

In this post, I'd like to revisit what culture means and specifically focus on developing transparent and empathetic culture. I'll also explore how both of these attributes collide head to head often and how to resolve issues at that point.

Culture isn't about the perks of the company or the parties they have weekly; it's about the values everyone (especially founders) hold even when times are tough. I value a society that trusts each other and I've come to believe that the only way to do so is to have a transparent yet empathetic attitude.

Transparency is about being honest about failures, weaknesses, tough times and etc. It builds a trustful community and has immeasurable effects on the company's stability and motivation for employees. 

Nevertheless, you don't want it to be rude. Be honest but tactful. Don't point out someone's mistakes to make yourself look good or make someone else look bad. Don't make it such that it's hurtful to the other guy. Understand his situation and make him understand that he made a mistake but he can EASILY correct it. The key is to make it look like correcting a mistake or recovering from a failure is straightforward and achievable. 

As such, being unempathetic destroys the value of transparency and makes for a bitter culture.

As such,

Be transparent, but empathetic. If anything has to be sacrificed, sacrifice the one that makes for a positive culture.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Motivations in life

Everyone has different motivations and it's absolutely important to understand what motivates a person to get them to change their behavior for the better!


Make a mistake once an that's experience. Make a mistake twice and that's dumb.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Trust erodes with time

When we are young, we naturally trust everyone. As we grow, I've come to realize that there are only a handful of people in life we can trust. Trustworthy people are really rare to come by.

Even your best friends can be out there to get you. No one is going to think for your benefit - they are only thinking of their own benefit. Always make a decision about what's good for yourself and don't be swayed by what others say if you feel there they are acting even a little selfishly and overlooking your progress.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013


What is forgiveness? Even before that, why do we even need to forgive?

If there is a need to forgive, it means there is a conflict between some external circumstance and internal expectation of it. Now, there is a conflict because of a failed expectation (something we set ourselves). Recognizing that situations did not turn out as expected is the first step in helping yourself forgive others.

From here, it gets easier to forgive others/situations.

1) recognize what you expected
2) question if it was a valid expectation
    2a) why did it fail to meet the expectation?
    2b) how can you change it?
3) can you change your expectation?
4) change your expectation
5) prepare to let go of your resentment
6) disconnect from the situation and let go of your dark side
7) you've forgiven!

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Entrepreneurship is a ton of trial and error. Last week, I met a serial entrepreneur and he summed it up really neatly - "A successful entrepreneur is by definition a summation of failures". It got me thinking of a couple of questions.

1) Are entrepreneurs those who've failed a lot?
2) How do you recover quickly from a failure?
3) What allows the entrepreneur to take such huge risks?
4) Do some entrepreneurs strike it lucky and succeed early because of the right timing?

These were just a couple of questions that raced through my mind. Some of which I knew how to answer. What got me thinking more is (2). How do you recover quickly from a failure? Entrepreneurs can have extremely good news and feels like they are on top of the world but only later that evening realize that the company is in deep trouble and might go bankrupt in the next month. It's not a game for everyone. It surfaces the full spectrum of human emotions.

And it got me thinking more. Just this afternoon, I watched a video about Usain Bolt and it struck me when the Usain's coach said, "Usain's unique quality is that he can recover from failure really quickly". He displayed his ability to recover quickly in the 2011 World Championships when he false started the 100m race and was disqualified but went on to emerge triumphant in the 200m race 6 days later.

(Do watch his video if you have the time. It's inspiring.)

His incredible ability led me to think if risk-takers/entrepreneurs are wired differently. And the classic problem of nature vs nurture emerged in my head again.

But I am dead sure it can't be nature. Your brain can be wired a certain way when you are born but with will, you can change it. The right attitude was the key.

Aha! Epiphany!

That was it!

Attitude was the answer. Having the right attitude to approach failure prepared you for it and allowed you to get over it quickly so that you can move on the success. Remember, success is sitting ahead and not behind the failure.

Take failures with a pinch of salt, understand and learn the mistakes you made, move on with stronger force (since now you are smarter after your failure).

And I decided to come up with my own definition of successful entrepreneurship. In fact, not just entrepreneurship, but success in life in general.

Navjyot Singh Sidhu tells a story about Sachin Tendulkar and illustrates Sachin's determination with an example:

So the name of the game is: Persistance. 

"Practice on days you want to. Practice on days you don't want to". This motto and and attitude is deadly because it is statement that you will never give up and will get what you want no matter what it takes. 

What are you thoughts about it?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Clash of culture and personal character

I've been thinking a lot about the relation between culture and personal character and I've noticed various similarities. When we are growing up, culture defines our personal character. Your personal character is the amalgamation of the culture at home, at school, at religious school and etc. And once we grow and our personal character has solidified, our personal character contributes back to the culture. It is a cycle; first we receive and then we contribute back.

How will you be able to contribute back to the culture though? You definitely need to be part of the culture to be able to contribute back to it. How do know you are truly part of a culture though? A lot of people form friend circles but is the culture within the group of friends the one that suits you? How can we find out? Culture by definition refers to the shared values, beliefs and norms of a specific group of people. Clearly, if you do not share and values, beliefs or norms, you don't belong to that culture. However, everyone has similarities. It is all about the degree of similarity then and everyone has their own personal cutoff where they identify themselves as part of a culture or not. If we have grown up with most people similar to us, we will instantly realize that we do not belong to a culture with whom we share less similarity. However if we have grown up with most people no similar to us, we feel part of both the original culture we grew up in and also part of any culture that seems equally or more similar to us. As such, the latter group fit into more groups.

However, a lot of people lie to themselves when they are exposed to a new group. The need to be socially normal forces the individual to believe that he is more similar to the group's culture than he actually is. This may lead to short term happiness but in fact leads to creating shallow relationships with everyone in the group (since they are always lying). It is like building a tower with sticks as opposed to bricks. It will fall off at the slightest perturbation once the tower is ready.

And this brings me to my point, the culture is an extension of your personal character. If the culture doesn't reflect who you are (once you have grown), then you are going to feel very uncomfortable and not in place. Do you have to feel bad about it? NOT AT ALL. Just keep looking for the right culture.

Hence, being in a positive culture is essential from young. It decides which cultures you will be part of when you grow up. (Ever figured out why elite schools are elite? It is the culture. You - or your parents in fact - are paying to be part of a "good" culture). 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Productivity requires focus

Many of us face this problem - how do we get more work done? I've been thinking about this for a while and tried to find ways to get things done. Three years ago, Paul Graham wrote an essay about a similar problem - manager vs maker schedule. Thinking back, I realize part of the answer lies in his essay. Recently, I also watched a TED talk by Jason Fried talking about exact same problem.

So how do we really get more work done?

Firstly, figure out which category you belong to. PG mentions the two categories explicitly - the manager and the maker. A maker is someone who is doing the real ground work; you could be a coder, a civil engineer, an artist, a dancer (you need to create performances), etc. A manager for the most part is the one managing the makers; you could be a product manager, a CEO, a stage manager. For me, the fundamental difference is specialization. A manager is less specialized in the ground work (although he most likely has a good idea of it) and is often the glue of the company. In other words, they need to communicate a lot  (like really A LOT) to keep everyone on the same page. They are the drivers of the work.

However, this fundamental difference clashes with the role of that of the maker. A maker is highly specialized and is absolutely focused on building out that application or laying out the railway tracks. He is dealing with problems on the micro-level. He is the smallest unit of the large problem the business is trying to solve (his work can't be broken down into smaller problems). If the business were problem that can be solved recursively (say matrix multiplication), then the makers are the leaf nodes of the recursive problem (they have no choice but to multiply the numbers out explicitly and return the values). 

The makers are the heavy-lifters of the company. For them to do the heavy-lifting, they need a ton of time to firstly, figure out how to do the heavy-lifting and secondly, actually execute the heavy-lifting and if they fail at the heavy-lifting, they have to restart and iterate using another execution plan. This process inherently takes up a lot of time. It requires a lot of thought to be given to the problem at hand. Without the long stretches and constant questioning for a better solution, the engineers are not going to make any huge breakthroughs in solving the problem. If they context-switch too often and try to "multitask" their productivity is going to drop. It has been proven scientifically that humans work better when focussing on just one work at a time ( Inserting meetings into the maker's schedule is a disaster for the maker because he is going to lose his focus. When he returns to work on the problem again, he has to more or less start from scratch.

Managers have to understand this. The best gift a manager can give to the maker is time - not a free lunch or iPad. That said, I'm not saying makers should spend more time alone. Makers should spend more time on the problem instead and this could be in a group setting where everyone else is a maker as well.

For a student (like me), I have to attend classes, work on projects/homeworks and revise for all sorts of tests. I often view classes as "meetings" which is why I try to clutter (around 2-3) classes together and have them in the morning. This way, I have the rest of the day free to work on projects/homeworks that require long stretches to complete. The only break I get in between is lunch/dinner and that's the only time I prefer to socialize and invite friends to hangout with (even then, I limit the time I spend so that I can get back to my work and crunch out another 4-5 hours). 

For me, being a student is often like being an entrepreneur. We are both the manager and maker. We have to go to classes and have to complete projects. An entrepreneur has to communicate with investors/their teams/marketting/business development/customer development and at the same time build the product out as well in the initial stages. I've heard tons of entrepreneurs out here in the valley who do similar things to what PG suggested in his essay - go to office on the manager schedule and come back home to work on the maker schedule.

So here's what I think about increasing productivity in the company. 

Firstly, everyone within the company should realize who they are (manager or maker?). They should also identify and categorize everyone in their immediate circle. This is pretty easy. Managers should meet with the makers less often (once a week is good enough! that too, make it a standing meeting). If the managers need to discuss personal problems to act like a good manager - DO IT ON THE WEEKENDS AND TREAT THEIR FAMILIES LUNCH. I'm sure the engineer won't mind and the manager's reluctance to do it on the weekend will make sure these meetings don't happen that often. 

Secondly, makers should hangout with other makers working on the same if not similar problem. This increases creativity within the group and doubles the productivity. Make sure the makers are extremely comfortable with each other if not they start becoming conscious of every move within the group and lose focus on the problem. Stuff like lunches and coffees should be used wisely to remove this friction between the makers. The same goes for managers - the managers main work should be figuring out the problem at hand and communicating it to the makers (don't try to solve the problem on behalf of the maker if you're not going to solve and execute the whole problem yourself and stick through with it till the end). Managers can do this with other managers. However, there are times where both managers and makers have to come together. At this point, both should level up/down to a medium ground. In projects, I have noticed that this often comes in waves. For example, in a 5 day work week, 1 day could be dedicated to all the meetings and communications stuff - both the manager and maker meet on this day.

Figure out what works best in your organization and stick with that - do keep not that makers are the solvers of the real problem at the end of the though and managers should be sensitive of their time and only disturb them when absolutely necessary. 

With this, I hope organizations and people can increase their productivity. I'll continue to add on to this as more ideas pop.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Facebook Timeline doesn't work for pages

So recently, Facebook has started to push the timeline UI to pages as well and I have to say that it just doesn't work. As much as I am a fan of the UI and the concept of the timeline itself, the same principle do not apply to product pages. In case you do not know what I am talking about, I am specifically referring to company pages set up on Facebook like this:

Facebook timeline page for Starbucks (searched through google to get this pic but is exactly the same as the real Facebook page they have so I decided not to take a screenshot)
When Timeline was initially launched, it was based on the claim that when I visit my friend's page, I want to know as much about them as possible. I want to know them as human, get to know their likes, interests, hobbies, what they did 10 years ago, how they developed over time and what not. This works well with people however, the moment you change the page for people to page for products or companies, there are drastically different viewpoint you have to take.

Let's look at what makes a company interesting (and for simplicity, let's look at Starbucks as a case scenario):

  1. The products they offer (coffee)
  2. The retail stores they have.
  3. Their CSR initiatives
  4. They financial statements
  5. The people who work there
  6. The quality of service they offer at their stores
  7. How the coffee is made
  8. Loyalty programs
and etc....!

Out of this list, easily 90% of it can be customized for every person visiting the page so when I visit a Starbucks page, this is what I really want to see:
  1. The products they offer (and if I like a certain type of coffe in my likes, they should try and use that information and customize the page to promote that particular coffee to me)
  2. The closest retail stores based on my current location.
  3. If I were an investor, maybe include a link to Bing Financials (since Facebook and Microsoft have a partnership) - however, Facebook may not be the right platform to promote financial materials released by the company so this can be excluded from the feature list.
  4. My friends who have worked there in the past and photos of them working there.
  5. Some general metrics about the quality of their coffee/service compared to competing products.
  6. Maybe some information videos on how coffee is made.
  7. The number of points I currently have in my loyalty card (and if I don't have any, how I could sign myself up for it)
As you can see, the second list is a lot more personal (exactly what Facebook is about). There is definitely much room for improvement in this iteration of Facebook's offerings!