Lessons learnt from buying the Quartz book

The excellent Quartz newsletter turned 5 years old a few days ago. As part of their 5 year anniversary celebration, they announced they’re selling a book – “The Objects that Power the Global Economy.” They described it as a book that is “equal parts art and journalism.”

I bought it immediately. I didn’t bother reading the rest of the page with more details about the book.

I read the Quartz newsletter every Monday-Saturday and have been doing so for 2 years. It is my go to for news and it always delivers great content while also being easy to read. Buying the book was just a natural next step.

I took away two lessons from watching myself take action on this book.

First, our reputation often precedes us. Quartz has a stellar reputation in my world. And, I expect the book to be no different. This expectation comes without having read a single page.

Second, there are many ways to build a great reputation. But, one of the most reliable ways is to show up every day and do good work.

Calm

Calm, as a quality, is one I’ve been attracted to for the longest time. We tend to be attracted to qualities we don’t possess ourselves. And, calm is no exception in my case.

Looking back at the past 3 years, however, I’ve observed growth in my ability to be calm. Even if I have a long way to go before it shows up in every aspects of my life, I found myself reflecting on what drove this growth.

I think learning of any kind typically comes from 3 sources – from reflecting on your own experiences, from books / synthesized information that you read and from people you meet. And, I think this growth in my ability to summon calm has come from each of these three. But, I think there have been 2 important drivers that have reinforced each other.

The first is confidence. Confidence has been an important overarching theme over the years on this blog. I started writing here because I believed I was becoming too insecure for my own good. My hypothesis was that writing everyday and sharing my failures would help me put things in perspective. And, it undoubtedly did. Confidence, I’ve come to realize, is about consistently acting from wholeness and not from our wounds. Practicing it requires acceptance of your insecurities, self awareness and thoughtfulness. It doesn’t come easy. In my case, for example, I needed to disengage from a relationship that seemed to only serve one function – reminding me of my insecurities.

The second driver is perspective. If confidence is about consistently acting from wholeness, perspective makes it easier for us to get in touch with that wholeness. I’d attribute most of the perspective I’ve acquired in the past 3 years as a compound effect of writing every day for nearly a decade. I’ve written through challenging times and good times over the years. And, I’ve finally begun to understand that “you never know if a good day is a good day.” Things have a way of working out, or not. Trying to second guess how life will turn out is a waste of our time. We’re better off plugging away.

I’ve shared a note from Seth’s “The Icarus Deception” in the past.

“One of the things the professional artist gives up is the thrill of the manic high. I used to be manic, about twenty years ago, when there was a sliver of something working. Things were really brutal at work, with rejections and near-business-death experiences coming daily, and I grabbed hold of any positive feedback really tightly.

Now, I’m delighted to say. not so much. Which means the highs aren’t as high. The successes are about the privilege of doing more work, not about winning. When my Kickstarter project for this book met its funding goal in less than three hours. I didn’t do the line-kicking dance reserved for TV celebrations. Instead. I took out my laptop and got to work. That is the greatest privilege I can imagine.”

I vividly remember reading this note on a flight 5 years ago and wondering – “Wow, what must that feel like?”

I have a better idea now. I’ve not read too much stoic philosophy but have read enough to understand that this is what it is about. And, from my limited experience of this in the recent past, I can attest to the fact that it feels great.

We spend most of our lives in the process of doing stuff. Success is when we enjoy that process. Wins and losses just exist tell us if our process is right. They are signal – nothing more, nothing less. Confidence involves being our best self and acting from wholeness whether we’re on an up or a down. It comes from understanding that even this will pass. Perspective involves reminding ourselves that we never know if a good day is a good day. The combination of the two helps us keep a level head, roll up our sleeves and get back to work on building a life we consider worth living.

There is really no greater privilege than that.

Things we can count on to always be present

There are a few things we can count on to always be present in our workplace –

  • Obstacles – Unexpected obstacles that throw our well laid plans off
  • Feedback – Room for improvement in how we do things
  • Admin – Admin work we’d rather not do
  • Politics – People issues or politicking (as long as there are more than 2 people working on something)

Despite their ever present nature, we still regularly react to obstacles, feedback, admin and politics with annoyance. We often act surprised, astonished even and let these things get us down.

Perhaps we should save the surprise for things that are actually surprising. These are ever present in our lives and make things interesting (up to a point).

So, we might as well love them for what they teach us and get on with it.

Length of a feedback survey – 2 principles

When you create a feedback survey, you make an important decision on its length. The length decision is a trade off between survey completions and useful information. 

If the survey is too long, customers won’t complete it. If it is too short (e.g. 1 question), you may not get the information you need.

I’d suggest 2 principles as you think of the length of a survey –

  1. The length should be proportional to the time spent with the experience
  2. The length should always be a few questions shorter than what you think you need

A simple example to illustrate these points. I had an email exchange with the support team of the company that manages US embassy appointments to change the location of my appointment in their system. It took me a minute to write the email. They sent me a response and asked for feedback. However, the moment I clicked the survey, I decided to close it. That’s because I saw what felt like 30 radio buttons. If I spent 2 minutes (at most) on an exchange, I’d like the survey to be a simple “Happy” or “Not happy” with an optional text box. I’d be more inclined to spend 5 minutes on a survey if it was for a 1 day boot camp that I attended.

As a general rule, we tend to over complicate surveys. My sense is that most feedback surveys would be far better if they just stuck to 3 questions –

  1. How likely is it that you’d recommend our ___ to your friends?
  2. What did we do well?
  3. What could we do better?

All of this is subject to what you are trying to achieve of course. But, I would hazard a guess that some feedback is better than none. Uber, for example, does a great job with this trade off by leading with the rating. You can add comments if you want to but you don’t have to. They’ve taken these principles to heart.

And, their results (a thriving feedback community) follow what is an excellent process.

ALearningaDay email

On most days, I open up my inbox to see what I call “ALearningaDay email.” That’s typically a note from someone in this community about a recent post. It is either a note sharing their experiences, feedback or interpretation. There have been times when these notes have brought a tear to my eye.

I love these notes and they continue to be my favorite kind of emails. They’ve been a wonderful way to get to know many of you – some of whom I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting in person.

I’ve heard from a few of you over the last weeks about missing the comments section. I’m sorry I shut down a channel for conversation. Over time, having another channel to communicate (for just a comment or two on average per post) was causing overhead. And, when I lost the ability to use Disqus as I moved to WordPress managed hosting (which has been excellent so far), I thought it was a perfect time to close the channel.

That said, the point of the move was not to shut down the conversations. I am still reachable as ever via email – rohan at rohanrajiv dot com. So, for those of you who’d like to carry on the conversation and share your notes, I’d love to hear from you. For those who get the daily email, please feel free to just hit reply.

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Is it really a serious problem?

There are 3 kinds of problems that deserve to be called serious problems in my book –

  1. Matters of life and death
  2. Anything that causes tremendous pain or illness
  3. Anything that affects the ability to get access to food or find shelter

Given the quality of modern, urban life, many of us rarely encounter serious problems. So, we get lax about our definitions. Suddenly, a deadline that’s slipping, a tough conversation or a setback on a project can be labelled  a serious problem.

Every one of us faces challenges and obstacles. But, most of these aren’t serious (thank the force for that). The moment we label such challenges as “serious problems,” we give them far too much importance and reduce our ability to channel our limited bandwidth on tackling problems that actually make a difference in the long run.

Perspective is the biggest gift we can give ourselves.

Don’t wait for inspiration

This is my third attempt at writing a post today. The previous two didn’t work. After 9+ years of attempting to ship something every day, such days are not new. Some days are just slow days and I know when I feel stuck.

The good news is that I don’t waste time reveling in feeling stuck. If I’m unable to think of something to write for five minutes, I walk away and come back later.

My biggest learning from these days is to not use terms like “waiting for inspiration.” Inspiration is intrinsic and comes from a clarity of purpose. Waiting for something we control is not a great use of our time.

Instead, it is on us to seek it. If we look hard enough, we’re sure to find it.

At least that’s one of those things this 3,400 day journey has taught me.