Products and services I’m thankful for

Products and services I’m thankful for this year.

Blog
1. InMotion hostingAmazing hosting provider. Period. 
2. Readability for WordPress – part of the Yoast SEO plugin. Readability reminds me to use more active voice, connect my sentences better and keep them shorter. Thank you for being my English coach.
3. BulletProof Security plugin for WordPress. For keeping this blog safe from multiple spam attacks – thank you.
4. Feedburner: For delivering these notes to you, for free.
5. WordPress: Solid, again.

General tech
1. The Audible app. For making me smarter and better over our 8 year friendship.
2. My iPhone: For surviving being soaked in water, again.
3. Microsoft OneNote: I’m not sure what I’d do without you.
4. Dropbox Pro: Mr.Dependable.
5. Amazon Prime: A textbook example of how to keep adding value to customers. I’ve recently fallen in love with Prime video.
6. Sling TV: For making it possible to watch Manchester United without cable.
7. Lastpass on Chrome: A dream come true.
8. Google Drive: As above.
9. Windows: 18 years and going strong.
10. PowerLogic GLX-20 Mouse: They don’t seem to make these anymore. The two I bought have been reliable companions since 2013. I don’t go anywhere without them.
11. Gmail: Continues to be a game changer.

Information
1. The Quartz newsletter: For making me smarter.
2. The Economist: As above.
3. Feedly: Simple and reliable.
4. Stratechery: My favorite source of tech analysis

Baby
1. Earth Baby diaper services: Disposable diapers are the third largest contributor to landfills in the US. The Earth Baby team set out to fix it by composting bio degradable diapers. Inspiring environment friendly mission aside, they offer best-in-class customer service as an add on.
2. Lucie’s List: Awesome.
3. The Happiest Baby on the Block video: I was told this was a must watch for all parents-to-be. Rightly so.

Physical world 
1. Costco: Awesome.
2. World’s softest sock: Lives up to its name.
3. American Express: They keep raising the bar.
4. Ikea: Much love.
5. Oliver & Kline Ceramic Knives. Say goodbye to steel knives.

This list turned out to be much longer than I thought. But, I guess that’s a good sign. There’s a lot to be thankful for. :-)

Internal tension and conflict

Internal tension and conflict are to be welcomed, not avoided.

We have two selves within us – our primitive, amygdala driven, emotional self and our more modern, pre-front cortex driven, rational self. If that wasn’t enough, our brain also broadly splits into two parts – the more creative (right brain) and the more logical (left brain).

Given these differences, at any given point, we’re going to have different parts of us wanting different things. For example, on a vacation, our right brain may want no structure. But, our left brain may want us to plan and accomplish more. And, when we’re stuck on whether or not to spend money on fun, our rational self may disagree. Similarly, we might feel our rational self calculating the odds of a new project while our emotional self is pushing for it. Or, vice versa depending on our risk tolerance.

But, there’s unmistakable value in this conflict. Our vacations may be a whole lot fulfilling if we got a bit done. And, maybe there’s a cheaper and equally fun alternative to that expense. And, perhaps we could do more to mitigate a few of the risks of that new project before diving in anyway.

The parts of us that provide dissenting opinions are not to be ignored. Conquering fear is courage. Ignoring it is generally a sign of stupidity.

We need to learn to dance with our internal tension and conflict. It is in reconciling this tension and conflict that great things are done.

The mentor excuse

“Will you be my mentor?” – is a question most successful folk get. Sadly, it is the wrong question. And, unfortunately, it is more an excuse than a question.

First, it is the wrong question because mentorship doesn’t work like that. The two largest elements that contribute to successful mentorship are chemistry and proximity. And, if proximity isn’t hard enough, chemistry is an unknown and one that isn’t all that hard to divine. Put it differently, if someone wants to be your mentor, you will know. But, of course, you will need to find an excuse to interact or work with that person frequently first. This is not to say finding an uber successful super star mentor is impossible. But, the odds are low.

Next, it is an excuse if we identify mentorship as sequential to attaining mastery. It isn’t. The reliable approach is by using a tremendous amount of grit. A mentor is just a bonus on our path to mastery.

It is also a rather poor excuse because you can spend time with any hero/heroine you’d like to emulate. Warren Buffett? You can spend days reading his notes to investors. Or, Jessica Alba? There’s plenty written about “The Honest Company.” Elon Musk? Enough written about him and by him to keep you busy for a month.

There’s enough out there to help us get smarter, better and inspired. Waiting for mentorship is a poor excuse indeed.

PS: Your greatest first mentor is you. But, if you insist on finding others, just know that when you buckle down and do good stuff, consistently, you’ll find yourself attracting other potential mentors and heroes as well.

10 questions – Annual review

I’ve shared the 10 questions I used to do my annual review for the year below. A couple of quick notes before we dive in.

First, I used to share these in a PDF for folks who like to print it. But, I’m not sure how many of you print things anymore. So, I decided to simplify the process and just share the list. (Updated: Link to PDF on request :))

Second, I set out, every year, with plans to make wholesale changes to these 10 questions. And, while that happened once, the changes have largely been evolutionary, not revolutionary. So, it is nice to settle on these questions given my self-imposed 10 question constraint.

Finally, I’ve been keeping my annual reviews from past years on my OneNote. It is a real treat to be able to take a quick look at these notes from the past 6 years. It is a wonderful reminder that there is so much to be grateful for. So, if you decide to use these questions (or make your own), I hope you’ll consider keeping a record.


10 Questions – Annual Review

Part I – Look back

1. One word/line descriptions:
The Theme or peak moment
a) 2016 was the year of
b) 2017 will be the year of

Runners Up Theme or peak moment
a) 2016 was also the year of
b) 2017 will also be the year of

2. What were my 3 greatest successes/memories from 2016?

3. What were my 3 biggest learnings from 2016?

4. How did 2016 fit in to the big picture/contribute to the big dreams in my life? (i.e. did any dots connect?)

Part II – Look forward

5. What are the themes I am thinking about for 2017? Are there any “process goals” I want to commit to?

6. What skills I want to develop in 2017 (professional and personal)? What action am I going to take to develop them?

7. Who/what were my biggest sources of inspiration this year? Are they high on my priority list to engage with (if they are people) or to do (if they were actions) for 2017?

8. If I am the CEO of “Me Inc”, who were my board of directors/advisors/sponsors this year? How do I plan to engage with them in 2017?

9. What are other thoughts for 2017? (miscellaneous – dreams, thoughts, planned breaks I am looking forward to, etc.)

10. What are my 3 most important core beliefs or principles? And, are my goals aligned with these core beliefs?


Happy reflecting!

Building a Personal Mission Statement

I’ve been mentioning “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” a lot more than usual of late. I decided to re-read my favorite book after a fun conversation about books a few weeks back. And, I’m glad I did that. One of the exercises in Habit 2 is to draft a Personal Mission Statement. Interestingly, this is identical to the idea that Clay Christensen talks about in the “Finding your purpose” part of his great book. However, I didn’t make the connection. Instead, I spent a lot of time attempting to decode his notes. Now, I wish I’d thought of going back to Covey’s work as he lays it out quite beautifully.

I thought I’d share my Personal Mission Statement with you. It is now in its 5th iteration, I think. I’ll also share what I’ve learnt from the process in case you’d like to consider building one for yourself. The act of doing this has added an incredible amount of clarity in my life over the years. So, should you choose to do it, I trust you’ll find the exercise valuable as well. And, if you’re looking for more convincing, think about this – what would you think of an organization with no mission or vision statement? And, why should you be any different?

That said, over to the learning.

Learning 1 – Approach building a mission statement like a hypothesis test. Let me start with a quote from holocaust survivor and logotherapist extraordinaire, Viktor Frankl.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

Frankl wisely tells us that it is up to us to find meaning in our lives. A way to do that is to ask ourselves – what must our life be for it to be meaningful? Or, in other words, how will you measure your life?

There isn’t a single, easy answer. But, it isn’t an unsolvable riddle either. Once you decide to do it, approach it like a hypothesis test. For instance, the first version of my one line mission was – “To inspire and be inspired.” But, it didn’t feel right after a while. So, my next version had something about relationships and impact. Then, someone who knew me well said it should be about “active relationships” since I loved building things with people I cared about and engaging them. And, thus, the next iteration happened and so on.

Start with a hypothesis. And, keep revisiting till it feels right.

Learning 2 – If you are stuck, take a trip into your future and paint the picture of your ideal life. Thinking about what you’d like your life to be 20 years from now is often a nice place to start. Or, you can go straight to your funeral and imagine what people say about you. These are all ways to get ideas flowing.

Learning 3 – There isn’t a template. Your mission statement can be 1 line, 1 page or 10 pages. Whatever it is, make it your own.

Learning 4 – Simplicity helps a ton though. Over time, I’ve found myself consistently shortening my mission statement. This is partly because I’ve come to appreciate and strive for brevity over time (the irony about this post being very long is not lost on me :)). And, partly, it is because I’ve found my mission statement to be most useful when I can easily remember it.

For example, my one line mission gets shortened into three values in my mind – people, learning and impact. And, my principles are integrity, love/growth and consciousness/engagement (a new addition). This makes it so much easier when I am stuck on a decision.

Learning 5 – It helps, at first, to make these actionable and check in on these from time to time. I started with daily checks, then a long list of weekly checks combined with a log of how I spent my week. This, then, become a shorter list of checks that took 5-7 minutes every weekend. As of last month, it is a much shorter list (shared below) that takes a couple of minutes. I expect to have no such checks in a few years. But, for now, I find it helpful to check in with myself every weekend to build my instincts as they generally suck at first.

Okay, now to my current version.


My personal mission statement is the same as my “why” or my “purpose”
Build active relationships with framily (close friends and family), learn, and strive to have a positive impact on my world and, in time, “the world.”

These also form my 3 core valuesPeople, Learning, Impact.
(These align with my intrinsic motives – learning and impact are high and my values remind me to make sure I remember that people are all we have.)

3 principles that govern my life and that I need to commit and re-commit to:
1. Integrity: Integrity is making and keep commitments. I commit to walking what I talk and talking what I walk.
2. Love/Growth: Love is the will to extend oneself for one’s own or another’s spiritual/mental growth. So, I commit to doing small things with extraordinary love and to continuous growth.
3. Consciousness/Engagement: To focus on consciousness is to commit to the process of life, to experimentation and to the idea that “this might not work.. And that’s okay.” The important questions I need to ask are not about perfection or performance. Instead, they are – “Am I engaged? Am I being conscious about my decisions?”

I live and measure these in my 4 roles (in order of priority):
1. Leader of self
2. A caring member of my framily
3. A learning focused teammate
4. A responsible community contributor, i.e., the world


And, here’s a screen shot of my check in list.

Hope this helps. Happy reflecting!

Abuse

Abuse is a pattern of behavior used to gain and maintain power and control. And, it is more prevalent than we think. In fact, the likelihood that you have either been mildly abused or engaged in mild abuse is high.

If that sounds shocking to you, go back to when you were a kid or teenager. Is there a chance you engaged in a pattern of behavior to mess with another kid? That’s an example of mild abuse. And, the chances are high that you were that other kid at some point in your life.

Abuse is prevalent wherever there is plenty of insecurity (hence, the teenager example). The higher the insecurity, the greater the chance people display bully behavior. And, when they display bully behavior frequently, they become bullies for the long term. We’re naturally wired to think of physical or sexual abuse when we think of abuse. However, there are plenty of other means – digital, emotional, and mental. And, it isn’t easy to realize you are being abused in these forms. It is like the story of the frog in boiling water. You start with mild abuse and the pattern of behavior escalates.

It isn’t easy to spot this. And, it is hard to end it because you fear for your happiness and well being. The longer you’ve been in the pattern, the harder it is. It is also confusing because it always uses love or care as a front – “I know best.”

But, know this – if you are in a relationship where you walk out of most interactions feeling worse about yourself, it is time to walk away. And, if you find yourself feeling helpless because of another human being, again, time to walk away. Most abuse is disguised as love. But, remember, love means respect – in action, not just in words.

And, if you’ve identified yourself to be in such a situation, get help – either find a therapist or find places online that offer professional help.

5 books that might change your mind – 2016 edition

Here are 5 books I read this year that might change how you see the world –

1. The Accidental Superpower by Peter ZeihanIf you haven’t considered the world from a lens of geopolitics, The Accidental Superpower will likely blow your mind. I found the first half of the book particularly powerful. It included a view of the history of super powers from the eye of geopolitics. And, despite having read a similar view on history in another book, this was beautifully synthesized. Following that, Zheihan explains what’s going on by focusing on population demographics. Again, fascinating. The second half focuses on prediction. And, prediction is very hard. So, I took that bit with a helping of salt. After reading the book, I did wonder why we don’t teach geopolitics at school. I guess it flies against the face of our general narrative about what makes super powers. Geopolitics contends that it is all about geography.

(Note: There’s another geopolitics based book “The Next 100 Years” by George Friedman. Friedman was Peter Zheihan’s former manager.)

2. The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly: Kevin Kelly talks technology in a way only he can. He takes twelve verbs that technology has impacted (cognifying, sharing, updating, etc.) and takes them to their logical end. In that process, he gives us a view into what our future might be. It is powerful.

3. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight: One of the most beautiful books about entrepreneurship I’ve read. It isn’t a manual in the way “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” is. Instead, it is a story from the heart of Nike’s legendary founder. It feels authentic and real while also being It is not just about the fact that it is beautifully written (it is), it feels authentic and real. Phil Knight takes us on a journey where he impresses upon us the strength of his belief that the world is a better place when we run with great shoes.

He makes mistakes and a couple of very questionable ethical decisions. Yet, we find it in our heart to forgive him. Somehow, he makes us feel the desperation that drove him in that moment. And, he then goes onto teach us how mission driven businesses are built. He explains that a business is about money just as living is about pumping blood. You need both. But, life and business are about a lot more than that.

And, while you are at it, I’d recommend picking the Audible version. Norbert Leo Butz does a fantastic job.

4. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias. An oldie, but a goodie. At its heart, it is really simple. Andrew Tobias explains that a penny saved is actually a lot more valuable than a penny earned since Ben Franklin didn’t have to deal with taxes in his time. So, save a lot more than you earn. And, once you do that, develop a simple approach to investing. Of course, he patiently lays out all the ways we can do that. But, this book isn’t so much about investing as it is about a mindset.

5. Daring Greatly by Brene BrownBrene Brown brings her research on shame and vulnerability together in this beautiful book. It is fascinating to learn that women have about 10 shame triggers. And, appearance and body image top the list followed by parenting. Men, on the other hand, have one very powerful trigger – showing weakness, or in her research’s terms, “being a pussy.” She also inspired my theme for 2017 – engagement. She wisely pointed out that we spend too much time asking questions like – “Am I being good/perfect?” Instead, we should ask – “Am I being engaged? Am I paying attention?” No good comes from seeking perfection. ”
(Quick note: The audio book narration didn’t work for me in this case.)

Here’s the Amazon list.

Books that almost made this list:
The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck is a classic. The first half of the book was incredibly impactful. I especially loved his definition of love.
Peak by Anders Ericsson is the ultimate guide to deliberate practice research from the master himself.
Deep Work by Cal Newport rails against our distraction filled work environments and presses us to think deeper about depth in our work.
Persuadable by Al Pitampalli beautifully explains why it is important that we change our mind.
And, finally, Einstein by Walter Isaacson has a life lesson about not taking ourselves and our world seriously in addition to the expected lessons on curiosity and perseverance.

Other resources: Past lists of “5 books” – 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011. Book reviews here and book notes here.

Happy reading!

The world sucks – vote for me

“The world sucks – vote for me.” That’s the vote-getting narrative that has worked wonderfully well for our politicians. And, the media has complied as well. That’s not because they want to, but because their business model requires them to sell negativity and fear. As humans, we’re drawn to that stuff.

The folks at “The World in Data” from the University of Oxford have created a public good to help counter this. They are a team of 3 who’ve gathered evidence on data around indicators of progress such as extreme poverty, education, and child mortality. And, to make it easy to consume, they’ve helped us visualize this in “The World as 100 People.”

the world in data

Of course, the world doesn’t suck. In fact, things are better than they’ve ever been. Does this mean things are better for everyone? No, it doesn’t. There is and always will be plenty to do. But, it also means a lot of the current narrative around the state of the world is nonsense.

What is the probability of “The World in Data” actually making the difference they seek? Very low. They don’t have the megaphones that our politicians have. And, there aren’t that many folk who are interested in looking at empirical data if it doesn’t show up as a sensational article on their Facebook feed.

But, maybe we could help improve the odds? Perhaps we could share their findings, one person at a time? Maybe we could better educate ourselves, our families and our communities? And, maybe, just maybe, we could use all this data to make better decisions.

Thank you, “The World in Data” team, for giving us the opportunity to make a difference. Now, it is on us to spread the word.

PS: Their blog has only 58 followers on Feedly. That’s a travesty. Let’s fix that.

Wish you perspective

This is the season where we wish people “happy holidays” and “happy new year.” Typically, in addition to these wishes, we also add a wish for good things. These good things could be health, happiness, love, prosperity, etc., etc.

But, here’s the thing (and there’s always “the thing” :)), all these good things are useless without perspective.

If we’re unable to appreciate what we have, what we have is useless.

So, my wish for these holidays and the new year for you, and me, is perspective. Here’s to more of that.

Think day

The end of December is holiday season in most parts of the world. And, traditionally, there’s a lot to do during these days. There’s a good chance you’ve got some travel planned or are having a family get together at home. I’m sure there are more things you’d like to do with your time than there is time. Nevertheless, here’s one idea I’d love to throw in the mix – take a “think day.”

There are 3 broad ways to approach the think day –

1. A career focused think day. A career focused think day can be about thinking deeply about how things are going in your career. What are you doing well? What could you be doing better? Are there skills you’d like to focus on in 2017?

2. A craft/industry focused think day. When you are in the thick of things, it is hard to focus on what is going on with your craft or industry. So, how about taking a day to read and think about what is happening in your industry? Find an industry analyst or publication you trust and go through their summary of important changes in 2016 and predictions for 2017.

3. A life focused think day. Take time for an audit of how things have been going in 2016. Pick 2-3 things you’d like to focus on, see if you can roll it up into a theme and make a simple plan for daily/weekly practices to help execute these themes. The key here is simple. If you can’t remember it off the top of your head, it is probably too complicated.

Of course, there’s enough in here for three days (or more). But, starting with just one day dedicated to one of these would be a huge win. The beauty about a think day is that there isn’t a clear outcome expected. Instead, the only thing that matters is that you go through the process. The fact that most people around us are slowing down means we finally have the bandwidth to take stock.

So, here’s to giving it a shot.

PS: If you are feeling too busy for a think day, Bill Gates used to take a “think week” twice a year.