Choosing information

Not too long ago, your family would have received just one Sunday newspaper. In our home, we typically called dibs on the pieces of the paper we wanted to read. Someone wanted the “supplement” while someone else wanted the sports section. There wasn’t a whole lot of choice in the matter. Some households afforded two newspapers. But, most just worked with one. But, now, we don’t need to worry about information scarcity of any kind.

The fantastic Quartz newsletter had multiple powerful pieces yesterday. There was one about free trade – what populist leaders have gotten right and wrong about it. Then, there was an important piece on the evidence gathered so far about the effects of direct cash transfers (the basic income idea). They also had an informative piece about the problems caused by the boom in the sushi business – fish stocks are depleting quickly. And, did you realize that Giraffes have been placed in the extinction watch list?

The Economist shared that Latin America leads the world in renewable energy. This is driven by hydro power. However, they’re investing heavily in solar power. Costa Rica and Uruguay met their power needs from renewable sources for more than half the year this year. This stems from the fact that Latin Americans care deeply about clean energy. Wow. Wonder what we could do to improve the state of things where we are..

Of course, both of these can come straight to your email inbox. The Economist actually works out cheaper than an old school newspaper subscription – the kind we used to have 20 years ago. And, they deliver not just a weekly stream of articles but all sorts of specialized services. They earn that fee. The Quartz newsletter is free. At that quality, it is one of the deals of the decade.

But, just as easily as these can make their way to our inbox, others things can, too. We could be hearing about the likes to our latest photo of our coffee shop. Or, we could be clicking on some piece of fake news that showed up on a news feed. Or, we could spend our time looking at the latest collection of viral cat videos.

As kids growing up, we earned our freedom with evidence of responsibility. The more responsibility we showed, the more our parents trusted us. But, information in today’s age doesn’t work that way. We have unlimited freedom to choose what we consume despite no evidence of responsibility.

Here’s the impact of that – what we consume informs how and what we think about. Then, how and what we think about influences what we do. And, what we do influences our world and, in many cases, the world.

It is all up to us, then.

Let’s choose well.

Where does growth come from?

I received a YouTube video link via an email forwarded across multiple mailing lists praising its insight. It was Clay Christensen’s talk at Google titled “Where does growth come from?” I’ve read and seen many of Clay’s talks now and feel a certain familiarity with the material. However, I am a fan. In fact, I think it is a normal week on ALearningaDay when at least one post is directly or indirectly inspired by one of Stephen Covey, Clay Christensen, or Seth Godin. :-)

I thought I’d boil it down to the usual 3 things I took away. But, before doing that, let’s lay the groundwork. First, we must understand that companies invest in 4 kinds of innovations to drive growth –
1. Potential products: We don’t yet know what they are.
2. Sustaining innovations: These make the potential products better.
3. Disruptive innovations: These grow markets.
4. Efficiency innovations: These enable us to do existing things faster or better.

Getting terminology right is helpful in learning how to use them. I found this helpful as I found myself grasping this better despite having seen this a few times.

1. Disruptive innovations originate at the low end and are often business model innovations. For example, Uber disrupted the taxi industry with a business model built on variable costs. The iPhone disrupted the personal computer. And, so on. An interesting point he made was that disruptors often win with customers who were non consumers. Uber converted car owners into Uber users. And, his belief is that Android and Huawei are disrupting the iPhone on the low end. They are, in turn, bringing in non computer and non iPhone users into the smartphone market. Japan’s growth in the 1970s came from a series of disruptive innovations. They enabled non consumers to own cars, listen to music and consume electronics. However, they followed it up by focusing on increasing profits and efficiency/sustaining innovations. And, these only help with growth in the short run.

I thought of Amazon and Jeff Bezos as he insisted on the importance of the low end. Amazon Web Services or AWS struck me as a great example of this – a combination of low end and a fundamentally different business model of charging by usage has resulted in their stunning growth. So, the question that crossed my mind was – how do you ever disrupt an Amazon? Thanks to Jeff Bezos, they are so relentlessly focused on the low end that it is highly unlikely a competitor will ever catch them unawares.

2. The customer is the wrong unit of measurement. Forget the customer. Instead, focus on the job the customer hires you to do. This is such a simple and transformative idea. Yet, I haven’t completely internalized this and, thus, can’t say I have learned this yet. I need to keep working on applying this regularly and make it second nature.

3. Be careful what you measure. A Clay talk wouldn’t be complete without this message. The metrics we use can have many an unintended consequence – both at work and our lives. The metrics that are commonplace – stock prices, valuations, promotions and salaries – all tend to be short term. The most valuable things are the hardest to measure. So, take the time to understand how you will measure your business and your life.

A close friend watched this talk and pointed to Clay’s humility as one of the things that impacted him. Whenever someone asked a question, Clay always said – “Thank you for your question.” And, his presentation reeked of humility and thoughtfulness.

It doesn’t at all surprise me that Clay gets that right. After all, the small things are the big things. And, there are few who “get” that idea the way he does.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHdS_4GsKmg%5B/embedyt%5D

3 phases of the job search process

There are few things that I find as grueling as a job search process. For most of us, I find that it brings out the worst insecurities within us as it continuously seems to tease that one question – “Am I good enough?”

The truth, of course, is that any job search process is a crap shoot. Interviews are rarely great indicators of a candidate’s performance on the job. And, it can all seem and be arbitrary. However, in a world where there are few things you can control, I’ve learnt to focus on the one thing we do control – our process. And, that’s what this post is about – the 3 phases of the job search process. This is a long post but I figured it’d be easier to put this all in one place rather than break it up into multiple posts. Also, while the overall framework applies to all kinds of interviews, this has a lot more information about the business side versus the technical side.

There are 3 phases to finding a job –
I. Figuring out where you want to apply
II. Getting an interview
III. Doing well in the interview.

I. Figuring out where you want to apply

Phase I has 3 broad steps –
1. Get information. First, get as much information as you possibly can about the possible options you’d like to pursue. Speak to people you respect, connect with friends who are knowledgeable and get out of your comfort zone and have a few conversations with friends of friends in companies/industries/roles that interest you.

2. Reflect and decide what your priorities are. Once you gather all the information, it falls on you to decide which paths make sense. If it helps, there are just five career priorities that you normally struggle with. It helps to sit with these, struggle with them and prioritize.

3. Do a quick reality check on the final list. Finally, when you make your shortlist of companies and roles, it is helpful to do a quick aspirations vs. reality check. To take a somewhat outlandish example, NASA may be high on your list of employers. But, have they hired people with your background? The more you find people with your background and experiences, the more realistic it is (LinkedIn should be able to help you with this). Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have NASA on your list – you could definitely break ground. But, it is best to work with risk as a portfolio and mix some very aspirational places with places that you know would be interested in speaking to you.

II. Getting an interview

There tend to be 2 ways to do this –

1. Traditional or resume drop. This means following the standard process. This can work very well if your background is a perfect fit. But, I am not a fan of the odds in this process.

The only exception might be if you are part of a standard university recruiting process. Even then, you have plenty of competition from your classmates and from peers in other schools. In that case, it is worth asking yourself how you could visibly show interest (without being too eager). If available, company visits are generally a good way of doing this.

2. Get an internal referral. Most places have internal referral systems. There’s plenty of evidence to show that this is the best way to get your resume seen. If you can get one of these, you are almost certainly likely to be on the top of the pile. It is important to navigate this well – try to plant trees long before you need the fruit. For students, this means it is best to stay away from desperate calls to alumni when you need a job. It is okay every once a while (assuming you have enough positive karma going around) – just be thoughtful when you do it.. But, it works so much better if you ask people who’ve worked with you for help.

Important thing to remember – this is the phase when things are least in your control.

III. Doing well in the interview

Assuming you’ve got through phases I and II, this is the section where things get most in your control. So, this is a section where we’ll spend plenty of time.

Overall framework: Warmth vs. competence
Doing well in interviews comes down to this fundamental question – do you have the right mix of warmth and competence? I say the right mix because different company cultures prefer different levels of warmth. Hence, the term “fit.”

warmth-vs-competence

So, how do we break this down when it comes to preparation? I think it comes down to 4 key questions –

i. Why industry?

If you are switching within your industry, you can skip this and move on. This becomes more important depending on how radical a switch you are attempting to make. The goal of this section is to dig deeper than the usual “I am very passionate about X” to find if your passion has translated to any real action. For example, do you understand how things really work in your industry? Do you have a point of view on trends? Do you keep up with what is going on?

If I had just 3 days to prepare for an interview, I wouldn’t focus on this. This is typically what differentiates a very good candidate from a stand out candidate. But, assuming you have longer to prepare, I think there are a few tried-and-tested ways to get good. I am going to use technology as the example as I made that switch. And, here are the 4 steps I would suggest –

1. Configure your information diet. Subscribe to technology news, good blogs and analysis. In my case, I subscribe to Venture Beat for news, to Benedict Evans and Ben Thompson’s Stratechery (paid) for analysis, and to a collection of venture capitalist blogs. All of this means I have a good sense of what is going on.

2. Do a think week and write down your thesis. My single best tactic for getting smart on an industry is to take a few days (i.e. “think week”) where you aim to read a ton of material and synthesize what you are learning. In my case, I queued up a year of posts from Ben Evans and Ben Thompson. I then read, took notes, and read some more. A couple of days in, I had a lot of notes and a point of view on multiple topics would emerge. Then, I put together massive essay. I did this during winter break during both my years in school (2015, 2014). I think I took about 3 days to put this together. It is among the best investments I have made in understanding my industry.

3. Read good books. For those interested in technology for example, 2 books that I’d strongly recommend are The Innovators by Walter Isaacson (a nicely compiled history of technology) and “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly (a preview into the future). They’ll give you a solid ground of what has happened so far and what might happen.

4. Share this learning. In both my years of graduate school, I gave an hour’s presentation about Tech trends that involved compiling all this learning. It was a very useful experience. You can choose to create a learning group with folks who share similar interests. Either way, take the time to synthesize and share.

This is an investment that matters less for the interview but is worth a ton once you get on the job. Also, it is my belief that good interviewers will test this to make sure you have a point of view. But, then again, not everyone does.

ii. Why company?

This is critical. There are 2 things that are typically tested –

1. The “hard stuff” – business model, numbers, competitors, etc:

Must dos to help get on top of this are 
1. Investor filings. Read the latest 10k and 10Q documents and understand the basics about the company – key strategic priorities, revenue and profit numbers. Make sure you understand how the company makes money, what the big revenue and cost drivers are. Investor presentations and analyst call transcripts help a ton too.
2. News. Do a quick Google News search to make sure you know what is going on with the company.
3. Analyst report or internal view. If you have access to an analyst report on the company, reading that is highly recommended as you get a great view on the future growth prospects of the company. If you are unable to do that, it is worth looking for someone on the inside to understand the internal view on growth prospects, key competitors, etc.

Optional – Industry reports. Reports from places like Forrester, Gartner, etc., can be useful. But, they aren’t a “must do” in my book.

2. The “soft stuff” – vision, mission, culture, values:
1. Website and HR presentations. Read the website and any presentations or videos from HR. Understand the vision, mission, values, cultural tenets, etc.
2. Speak to people who either work there or have worked there. There is nothing like the insider’s view on this. You realize that some values or cultural tenets are more important than the others. You learn what the culture is really like. All this is very important information.

So, how do you put all this together? I think there is the heavy version and the light version.
a) The heavy version. I liked putting together a snapshot for the companies I was very serious about. Here is an example snapshot created in preparation for my interviews at LinkedIn from 2 years ago. On the back, I used to have notes about my interviewers and other insights I’d gleaned from speaking with people at LinkedIn.
2. The light version. Just keep a document or One Note file where you are consistently synthesizing what you learn. The most important thing is to feel comfortable about your own preparation.

If there’s ever a principle with prep, it is to not just take notes. Synthesis is key.

iii. Why role?

This is probably the most important of the 4 questions and is typically the area where interviews are won or lost. This assumes you are switching into a new function. If you know exactly what you are getting into, great. You can skip this.

There are 2 kinds of questions you should be prepared for –
a) The executive question – This involves demonstrating an understanding of the big picture in your role or function. These are typically discussion questions that are around the theme of – “What is the Global Head of your team worrying about?”

b) The role question – This involves demonstrating an understanding of what it takes to do the job well. This varies from role-to-role but the typical format is to go through a “case” question or a simulation of sorts. For sales role, this might involve a role play. For engineering roles, this might involve writing some code for a typical problem. And, for most other roles, it would involve working through a business case. For example, a case for a marketing role might be – “What is your favorite product and how would you analyze its marketing?” This type of question is guaranteed – and likely will be asked by multiple interviewers. And, a key step to preparing for these is to really understand what a day in your role at x company really means.

To understand how to tackle these questions, we need to go back to first principles. The 3 requisites to answering any question in an interview is –
1. Content. You should know what you are talking about
2. Structure. You should be able to frame it in a way that is easy to understand
3. Delivery. You will hopefully enjoy the process of solving these problems

The biggest challenge here is structure. So, let’s tackle that. There are 2 steps to developing an ability to structure problems –
i) Understand simple frameworks that help solve problems in your role. For example, most Marketing problems are contained if you understand how marketing plans are built – understand business objective, then marketing objective, then segment-> target -> position and then execute by focusing on product, price, place and promotion. Then, evaluate.

Strategy problems typically fall into 3 categories – decisions (cost/benefit analysis of both quantitative and qualitative criteria), profitability (break down into revenues, costs and their components) and market sizing (typically by triangulating using a “top down” approach, a “bottom up” approach and a quick gut check).

Product problems, similarly, involve analyzing products within the product management process which is some version of – Problem -> User -> Performance -> Prioritization -> Execution.

Depending on your function, there are plenty of great books that will help with the process.

2. Develop your own frameworks. As you work through problems, you will be able to improvize, simplify and develop your own frameworks. That’s a key part of the process. Telling an interviewer – “I am going to use the 4Ps” – is rather lame. :)

IV. Why You?

And, now, the final piece. This is tested by asking you all sorts of behavioral questions that ask you about how you behaved in various situations.

I have a detailed post about preparing for behavioral interviews – so I won’t spend as much time on this. Instead, I’ll focus on the overall strategy.

1. Use the “Tell me about yourself / Walk me through your resume” question to set the tone. This is an important question and one that is typically asked at the start of most behavioral interviews. Once you’ve taken the time to write down all your key stories and answered the “why’ questions, a clear pattern on your main themes should emerge.

I am a big fan of thinking about the one thing you’d want the interviewer to remember about you. Then, think about three things. Structure your “Tell me about yourself” around these 3 things rather than a simple chronological order. This question is important because you can already lead in to the why company/role questions if done well. Really take the time to get this right – the final product needs to be succinct and it definitely needs to reflect YOU. Practice and feedback goes a long way with this question.

A successful tell me about yourself question would tell me –
a) 3 things I must know about you or your themes
b) Why you made the career transitions you made
c)  why you think you’d be a fit for this company and role
d) the stories i should probe you more for..

2. Match your themes with what the role requires. Read the role description, understand what it is really about and ensuring you are highlighting how you fit. A bonus would be to make sure your stories emphasize the key values and cultural tenets of the company in question. The goal is to not necessarily have a story for every value.. but to at least have a few strong matches or things that resonate.

The Day

We all have our preferred “match day” routines. I tried to do 3 things –
1. Have a pre-interview routine. This involved lots of rest, good food and a couple of peppy songs before the interview.
2. Thank the interviewer and recruiter after the interview. 
3. Debrief with yourself. Take notes on what you thought about your performance and what you learnt. This is likely not the last interview you will do.

Whew, this was a #long-read. And, it definitely sounds like (and is) a lot of work.

But, it is fitting. The job search process is hard. There’s a ton of luck involved in the process and you can’t control for that. The only thing you can do is to make sure your process was solid and that you did everything possible to be the best you could be. In the long run, good results follow good processes.

Regardless of how things turn out, the final step would be to say thank you to everyone who helped you along the way.

And, of course, as someone once wisely told me, all it takes is for one to work out.

I hope this helps. And, may the force be with you!

Machine values with Joi Ito and Barack Obama

I read a fantastic conversation on Wired magazine between Joi Ito (Director of the MIT Media Lab) and Barack Obama yesterday. The conversation was about artificial intelligence, self driving cars and the future of technology. I would strongly recommend reading all of it. However, if you are out of time, here is an important excerpt from the discussion.


JOI ITO: This may upset some of my students at MIT, but one of my concerns is that it’s been a predominately male gang of kids, mostly white, who are building the core computer science around AI, and they’re more comfortable talking to computers than to human beings. A lot of them feel that if they could just make that science-fiction, generalized AI, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the messy stuff like politics and society. They think machines will just figure it all out for us.

OBAMA: Right.

ITO: But they underestimate the difficulties, and I feel like this is the year that artificial intelligence becomes more than just a computer science problem. Everybody needs to understand that how AI behaves is important. In the Media Lab we use the term extended intelligence (Extended intelligence is using machine learning to extend the abilities of human intelligence). Because the question is, how do we build societal values into AI?

OBAMA: When we had lunch a while back, Joi used the example of self-driving cars. The technology is essentially here. We have machines that can make a bunch of quick decisions that could drastically reduce traffic fatalities, drastically improve the efficiency of our transpor­tation grid, and help solve things like carbon emissions that are causing the warming of the planet. But Joi made a very elegant point, which is, what are the values that we’re going to embed in the cars? There are gonna be a bunch of choices that you have to make, the classic problem being: If the car is driving, you can swerve to avoid hitting a pedestrian, but then you might hit a wall and kill yourself. It’s a moral decision, and who’s setting up those rules?

ITO: When we did the car trolley problem (The car trolley problem is a 2016 MIT Media Lab study in which respondents weighed certain lose-lose situations facing a driverless car. E.g., is it better for five passengers to die so that five pedestrians can live, or is it better for the passengers to live while the pedestrians die?), we found that most people liked the idea that the driver and the passengers could be sacrificed to save many people. They also said they would never buy a self-driving car. [Laughs.]

DADICH: As we start to get into these ethical questions, what is the role of government?

OBAMA: The way I’ve been thinking about the regulatory structure as AI emerges is that, early in a technology, a thousand flowers should bloom. And the government should add a relatively light touch, investing heavily in research and making sure there’s a conversation between basic research and applied research. As technologies emerge and mature, then figuring out how they get incorporated into existing regulatory structures becomes a tougher problem, and the govern­ment needs to be involved a little bit more. Not always to force the new technology into the square peg that exists but to make sure the regulations reflect a broad base set of values. Otherwise, we may find that it’s disadvantaging certain people or certain groups.


I think this is a critical conversation – one that we must all have as we build toward the future.

Machines are not sources of disembodied truth. Anyone who has conducted any kind of analysis with huge data sets will tell you that. Machines take with them our assumptions and judgment. Similarly, artificial intelligence isn’t going to conjure up values. We will teach AI to make these decisions. The self driving car decision is just one such example. President Obama remarks later that there aren’t enough people thinking about “the singularity.”

That is true. Most of us are wrapped in day to day nonsense that isn’t really going to matter in the big scheme of things. As technology becomes a bigger of our lives, the onus is on us to make sure we have discussions on how we build this technology. Machine values are not going to save us.

Human values are.

PS: How many heads of state can you imagine having such a thoughtful conversation about the future?

Amazon experience

We went down to a physical retail store to buy stuff for the home the other day. Right then, I realized how much we missed the Amazon experience. We missed two aspects in particular.

1. Reviews. I felt lost as I looked at products in the aisle. Were these the ones that came highly recommended? On what basis were they on the aisle?

2. Unlimited selection. We were looking for a specific product we’d seen online. But, it was “out of stock.” Out of stock? What is that? :-)

Three reflections –

First, reviews and unlimited selection make the Amazon experience vastly much superior to most physical retail stores. I could immediately see a future application for augmented reality. I would imagine us wearing AR glasses to see reviews superposed on top off products in physical retail stores. We’d be able to instantly compare attributes and prices across retailers as well. Pushing this further, I’d imagine retailers would already know what I intend to buy by having their staff wear AR glasses of their own. After all, I was probably logged into their website when I was searching. They’d be able to help me as soon as they saw me walk in.

Second, hybrid approaches often tend to be powerful. Maybe retailers could do better with having computers onsite that would help us browse their online inventory. At least, they could convert our intent to a sale by helping us make a purchase and have it delivered to our homes rather than have us go back and order it on Amazon. On the other hand, Amazon retail stores would be very helpful. They could just have all their best selling merchandise in one place.

Finally, it is impossible to roll technology back. Such experiences repeatedly underline how naive discussions around bringing jobs back to “x country” are. The Amazon experience is better for customers with far lesser people employed per dollar of revenue. Even the folks who are employed in their warehouses are slowly being replaced by robots with a few human supervisors. Technology innovation is going to keep moving forward.

It is up to us to keep pace with it.

OMTM for German publishers

OMTM stands for “one metric that matters.” Understanding the OMTM for a business is incredibly helpful in analyzing the impact of an initiative.

A collection of German publishers came together recently to create a pooled data set to help improve their ad targeting capabilities to be able to better compete against Facebook and Google. The CEO of the new platform had this to say – “Nobody is suffering more than publishers and sales houses in Germany, because they don’t have enough data, and their data silos will never be able to aggregate enough to come even close to Google and Facebook,” said Daniel Neuhaus, CEO of Emetriq. “Even now we’re pooling it; we’re still nowhere near but we’re getting closer in quality and quantity of data.”

He definitely deserves points for honesty. While I think this initiative makes 100% sense, I doubt it’ll do much to move the needle. And, it is easy to understand why when you understand “OMTM.” The OMTM for advertising is audience attention. The more time the audience spends on a platform, the better the advertising potential. The amount of time users spend on Facebook and its properties is only increasing. Couple this engagement with the increase in the number of daily active users on these properties and you begin to see why Facebook is being touted the killer of journalist business models. Google, on the other hand, benefits from being the perfect spot for direct ads as these depend on intent. If a user is searching for car dealerships in their town, it is likely they’re shopping for a car. In both these cases, the key is audience attention. Data helps. But, it is just the by product of a good product.

So, what should publishers do to really compete? Get better. Provide better, sticky content that will drive German consumers to their websites and have them stay longer. They need the sort of content that will encourage their audience to by-pass Google and Facebook and show up directly. Do that and the pooled data set will pay dividends. Else, it will just be a case of too little, too late.

Image Source

Reflecting on my use of devices and media

Seth Godin got me thinking about my use of devices thanks to his post on “paying the smartphone tax.” As this is the perfect time of year for reflection, I began taking notes about my device use on a flight. I am glad I did it – I think this is the first time I reflected on my device use behavior as it is just something that has unconsciously evolved over time.

devices

In the short term, it led to an immediate reorganization of apps on my phone to maximize positive energy and minimize activities that reduce energy. The other effect is simply increased awareness. I’m not sure what changes this increased awareness and thought will drive. Only time will tell.

Rather than give you just the highlights, I thought I’d share my unedited version below. Sorry if it feels long and all over the place – it was a stream of thought. As always, I hope it helps.


Purpose of the mobile
1. Take care of myself – (Music, Headspace, Fitbit, Audible, Weathercaster, Envelopes)
2. People – Connect with and record memories with framily (FaceTime, photos, Whatsapp, iMessage, email)
3. Find/do stuff on the go (chrome, google maps, uber, Amex bill, AT&T, etc. )
4. Learn by healthy consumption of content (Economist Espresso, news over email)
5. Create content when possible
6. Enable occasional bouts of catching up on social (LinkedIn notifications, Facebook notifications)

Stuff that reduces my energy
1. A long feed reading list
2. Checking email when I can’t clear it
3. Checking social notifications to get to social inbox zero
4. Switching across various social apps
5. Meaningless messages on messaging apps

Guiding Principles
1. Use phone in accordance to values aside from on-the-go stuff – to take care of myself, to connect with framily, to learn and to have impact by prioritizing content creation over consumption
2. Engage when I want to and not because the option is available. If it isn’t a HELL YEAH, it’s a no
3. Set notifications based on priority – calls – keep phone on silent through work day, texts – keep vibrations and sound, whatsapp – no sounds or vibrations but allow badge icons (mute groups that annoy) and no notifications on all others – email, messenger, etc.
(Align home screen to priorities)

Other good phone habits
· Switch off background refresh
· Keep minimal number of apps open

Purpose of the iPad
1. Myself – Kindle, Music, Tabs
2. Framily – FaceTime
3. Media – Netflix, iTunes videos

iPad use – Overall, aligned and good. :)

Movies and tv shows
· Watch on Netflix
· Buy on iTunes

Purpose
· Relax! Especially when at home

General principles
· Avoid purchase unless you’re absolutely sure you will want to watch from time to time
· TV shows better value for money than movies
· Never ever feel pressurized to watch a movie/TV show. They’re great to pass time but don’t matter much in the big scheme of things. :-)
· Treat nature documentaries as educational :)

Music use
· Purchase and Listening: iTunes
· Discovery: Typically framily. Occasionally Shazam, iTunes Radio, Songza

General principle – have hardly ever regretted a music purchase. Great return for $0.99/$1.29

Books
· Audible – non fiction books only
· Kindle – fiction, fun, memory books :) and non fiction when unavailable on audible or when easier to read as a textbook
· Hardback – when note taking is necessary. Typically for dense topics / hard to follow books

General principle – never question a book buy. However, make sure you’re thinking about whether the format is right for that particular book.

Laptop –  organize, study/work, think, email

Stuff that reduces my energy
· Frequent checking of social media
· Using email to procrastinate

Productivity notes / choices
· Maintain inbox zero, social zero – use inbox/social as means to make serendipitous connections and help where possible
· Avoid phone/skype calls where possible (especially for random reach outs) – request email correspondence instead. Use email correspondences to create scalable content where possible.

Social rules of engagement
· Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – use is pretty healthy. Largely for blog sharing and connection with limited/no time on feeds. Buffer for sharing interesting content across networks
· Clean up LinkedIn contact list as necessary. General rule – only accept LinkedIn invites from people you know – unless there’s a clear message in the invite. Facebook invites can be more random as long as there are mutual friends. Revisit if there is trouble.

Rating people

Peeple, an app that allows you to rate other people (“Yelp for Humans”), received a lot of press attention yesterday. As the app hasn’t launched yet, it is unclear if the app will take off. If the attention it has received is anything to go by, it is sure to see some initial demand.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see an app of this nature. After all, nearly every organization or system we interact with is rated on the Tripadvisors and Yelps of the world. The risk is that this could end up being an app that facilitates a lot of abuse. So, I’m curious to see how the founders build this product.

That said, the more pertinent point is that apps like this will only further increase the “chatter.” Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, we’re all, every once a while, both media outlets and news-worthy personalities. Things we do can receive a lot of attention. So much so that we can spend more time surveying the attention we (and others) get than actually building something worthwhile.

The chatter is unquestionably distracting and counter productive. It is impossible to focus on creation if all we do is listen for feedback. So, repeatedly asking ourselves the questions – “what are you working to build?” and “what is the next step to make progress?” – has become more important than ever before.

Chatter

Every societal disruption, by definition, changes the nature of the era. Thanks to social media and the internet, one of the defining characteristics of this age is the sheer amount of chatter.

Every little thing we do produces a lot of noise. A piece of news that used to be local is now global. That’s because publishing space is infinite and everything is connected. That, however, is just an amplification of what used to exist.

The biggest change is that we are all journalists and we are all news worthy. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like, our entire extended network knows of major life events and achievements. And, given the sudden increase in the number of newsworthy people (i.e. us), “news feeds” are thriving.

All of this is from the point of view of the consumer. As producers, however, what has changed is that little actions can create a lot of chatter. And, very little of this chatter really adds value.

Every once in a while, I find it helpful to stop and ask myself – what are you working to build? How much progress have you made?

It helps separate the signal from the noise.

My Facebook News Feed and me

A close friend and I were discussing distractions. The top distraction on her list was the Facebook feed. I thought I’d share my relationship with my Facebook News Feed.

Starting 1 April 2013, I just stopped looking at it.

There’s an increasing movement of people who debunk Facebook and say it adds no value. I am not one of them. Facebook has truly lived its mission to connect the world in my eyes. The engagement on the website is off the charts – 1 Billion people log in everyday. That is impressive. I think of the news feed as an addictive drug that people can’t seem to get enough of. Whether it is good or bad depends entirely on you.

When I asked myself how Facebook adds to my life, I found it to add value in 3 ways –
1. Serendipitous connections – There are SO many past neighbors and friends who I’m connected to via Facebook. I don’t know what’s happening in their lives. But, every once a while, I send or receive serendipitous messages. And, I find tremendous value in that.
2. The ALearningaDay page and shares – I share this blog’s post every day on the Facebook page and on my own profile. It is a simple action that has helped build engagement as that is where a lot of the interested audience sits.
3. Groups – this has been incredibly useful in graduate school.

My experience with the Facebook feed from 2 years ago was that it was only, at best, having a negative impact. This is probably less about the feed and more about me. In particular, there were 2 things that were going wrong –
1. If I ever liked a photo or update, I was inundated with notifications about others who did. I didn’t like that. I generally check notifications, respond to email and friend requests. So, the noise wasn’t helping.
2. I am given to competitiveness and envy. This is in my nature and I found that the news feed fed my demons. :-) I had worked very hard over the preceding years to stop focusing on others and just focus on competing against myself. At that point, I felt I was getting to that happy place and my Facebook feed seemed to derail that progress when I spent time on it. I used to get sucked into checking out what others were doing. All of this was wasted happiness and time.

So, I made a simple switch. I changed the bookmark on my browser to redirect to my own profile page as that is what I accessed to share this blog’s links.

URL

The app makes it tougher because I need to go to my notifications as soon as I click on it. I occasionally see a feed item or two. I almost never engage. It does mean missing out on congratulating many a friend about some achievement or big life event. But, I figure that if I only learn about people that matter via Facebook, there is something wrong. So, it is a trade off I’m comfortable with.

The aspiring product person within admires the engagement and sheer magnetism of that feed.

But, I’ve learnt that its not for me.