Monday, January 22, 2018

Great ideas from Amazon and Jeff Bezos

As you all know, Amazon has grown very rapidly and it seems to me the company that is shipping tremendous innovations.

Bezos has the led the company very well. Their leadership principles are really good and a guide to being a leader. Following them makes us an agile customer focused and fast executing leader.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
Ownership
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job".
Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here". As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
Learn and Be Curious
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
Frugality
Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.
Earn Trust
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
Another good gem I learnt from reading about amazon is the type 1 and type 2 decsions.
Type 1 are important strategic decisions that are difficult to change
Type 2 are decisions which are easily reversible.
Spend more time on type 1 decisions and on type 2 decisions either delegate them or make quick decisions, act on them and revisit them.

Another important thing is to things to minimize regrets. That is why Bezos started amazon - he didn't want to be regretting missing working on the internet at 80 years old.
I will keep updating this post with more gems from Amazon shareholder letters and interviews with Jeff Bezos.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Really Bright Lines

I was able to make a chain this week. And what helped me do that - really bright lines. Let me explain. It is easy to do something 100% of the time than 90%.  It shortcuts a decision loop - the brain doesn't have to work to decide whether to do something or not. The answer is always clear. This added clarity saves a lot of energy and time - and more than that, it makes it very easy to follow through. 

And this is how I was able to make the chain. Simple rule - No internet before 5 PM. No exclusions and no exceptions. Though I made this decision lot times, I always let some loop holes in - like watching news for five minutes was OK. It was OK if I'm not working etc. And this left a really simple path to get hijacked as the dopamine inducing articles would suck me in and leaving me totally emaciated to do any worthwhile work. This time I didn't leave any such loophole.

And so there I was - feeling the passing of time, feeling like a luxurious person - I had a lot of time in my day. Things were happening peacefully - nothing was feeling rushed. Things were taking as much time as they needed. And that helped me to finally make a chain. As I always have the energy to do the things I should do and any distracting thought has to wait till 5 PM to become real! 

So this is my advice to anyone who is struggling to follow through a decision they made - make whatever you decided really bright - no gray lines. Do something 100% of the time. Make the decision automatic. Decide when you're at your peak state and then resolve that what you have decided is done. Make starting the thing you want to do so easy that it should be easier to start it than to decide to not to do it and get away from it. The less energy you want to spend starting it the more successful  you will be. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mind your environment

Last week we have seen how we can make lasting progress by going slow and steady. I've tried to follow the rules I've laid out but still the progress was hit or miss. So I tried to diagnose what was the reason for that. I've made time for my work and made the work enjoyable, but still I couldn't really make a chain. The reason I realized was because of the environment.

Though I made time for doing the work, I didn't make sure the environment is conducive for that work. Especially just going on the internet was sure to make distract me from my work and take me to alternative places from where I couldn't return back to work.

So I decided to rework on creating an environment that supports the work I'm going to do. I created a bright line rule of no internet when doing work that doesn't need it - NOT EVEN ONCE. That is because it is easy to do something 100% of the time than 90% of the time. If I make an exception once, it will be easy to justify to myself to make another etc and soon I will be away from my work.

So for any thing you want to do, think through what is essential for that work and try to have them ready. Now decide what is not necessary for that work and make sure you put those things away completely. Next make sure you are in a place where there will be no interruptions to the work you're doing.

It seems that - make/mind your environment - is extra important among the rules for slow and steady progress. So have fun making/minding your environment and see how your progress becomes steadier

Monday, January 1, 2018

Slow and Steady

Everyone might have heard the story of the hare and tortoise. The story goes like this - A hare and a tortoise have a race. Hare starts fast initially and after going a certain distance, looks back and sees tortoise way behind. So it decides to take a break and rest. Meanwhile the tortoise starts slowly and steadily walks to the finish line. By the time the hare wakes up the tortoise is almost at the finish line and you can expect that tortoise wins the race while hare tries to catch up.

There is a profound truth here. It is not the fast one who wins but the person who is more steady who has the momentum. So what is your goal and how are you going to make sure you are making steady progress towards it ? These are some ways that I found helpful.

1. Make time: The best way to make steady progress is to schedule specific time for the work. Daily is better but if doesn't work any recurring time is best.
2. Make a chain: Make a big X mark on the date you've really done the work. And don't allow the chain to break.
3. Never miss twice: Inevitably in life, some time will come when you haven broken the chain. Don't despair and don't let that stop you. The trick is to start as soon as possible and at the next scheduled date. The rule should be that you never miss it twice. During my childhood, my guru told me this in telugu - ద్వితీయ విఘ్నము పనికిరాదు . i.e Second interruption is not good. I didn't realize the importance of that then - I was thinking what if we miss the second time, we could start it on the third day. But it has now been abundantly clear that the activation energy to start it on the third day is much higher and it is easier to just quit but restarting it on the second day is so much easier. So mind the second interruptions.
4. Make your environment. Design your environment to support the task you're working on. Minimize the interruptions to the work and make sure it is easier to do the task than doing something else. So turn off notifications and if possible break the internet and just focus on the task at hand.
5. Enjoy the work. This is something I've noticed recently. When there is a rush to complete a task, it can look like a chore instead of something that I enjoy. So instead of making a mad dash on every task, I try to go slow and really try to appreciate why I'm doing it and giving myself a chance to do a great job on it. This will also help in continuing the chain as I'm getting pleasure out of the job and the brain will get addicted to it.

Wish you a happy, productive and guilt free new year 2018. May you reach all your goals slowly and steadily. I've enjoyed writing this blog post and will continue my slow and steady progress by making a X every monday on this blog!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mindfulness

Many times I decide I will not do something for e.g. say browsing HN when I'm working on something. I will even do it with great success that day. Then the next day, I accidentally open the website. I just innocently click an link and start reading. That follows another and by the time I know it, I would have wasted a lot of time clicking and reading whatever I find interesting. And when look back how it happened, it always comes back to the point that I was doing it without thinking mindlessly.

Sometimes I catch myself about to do this, and I can stop myself thinking about why I didn't want to do it in the first place. And this gives me glimmer of hope that if I'm more mindful of what I'm doing, I will be able to really able to pull it off. 

What is mindfulness?  It is being fully aware of the present moment and knowing why and what you're doing. It is being fully present in what you're doing at that moment. If you are fully present, you are aware of your thoughts and it is easy to just acknowledge the distracting thought and leave it instead of reacting to that thought. Actually all life  is only in the now, but we forget it most of the time.  

How can you be mindful? You can do few simple things to live mindfully. Put all your senses in what your'e doing. It is not as easy and that because our minds are simply distracted. So how do you overcome those distractions and live in the present moment ? As everything else, it has to be practiced and developed. Sages and teachers have faced this problem eons ago and were able to design and perfect a method to practice mindfulness. That method is meditation. There are many different ways of meditation practice. One simple way is to put your attention on your breath. Any time your attention wanders off your breath, simply realize it and bring your attention back to the breath without judging. But how do you know if you have totally wandered off and don't even know that ? You can try counting your breaths and that will give you another anchor to return back your attention to your breath each time you count. The more you practice this, the better your power to stay focused will increase and you can start becoming more mindful. 

If you are new to meditation, you can download the headspace app. It will guide you through the meditation process. 

Being mindful not only increases your focus. It will help you overcome something you do mindlessly, whether it is getting angry quickly or being negative on yourself. If you give your mind some space to relax and be present lot of stuff that take your attention mindlessly can be freed to be put to use on stuff you want to put your attention on.

Any one person's reality is ultimately wherever they choose to focus their attention and time on. I stole this line from Ben Thomson. So if you can deliberately choose what you focus on, you can make that thing a reality.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Thoughts on Hinduism

In the role of organized religion, I argued that religion 

  • gives us hope about problems we cannot solve ourselves.
  • provides some social mores to stop society for degrading
  • Provides a set of common cultural values, rituals and expected conduct.

Initially I argued a reasonably intelligent man can form his own beliefs but I realized that it is not everyone's interest and not everyone has the patience to think through all the beliefs and understand them and religion provides some sensible defaults which people can follow. 

In Why I prefer to be an atheist, I argued against the beliefs that we are born with some karma and we need to work towards attaining moksha and stuff like that. 

In my evolving understanding of it, it seems that whatever is being said in Hindu philosophy has two layers to it. 

On the outer layer it just lays down some cultural values, rituals and expected conduct so that people can live their lives without much confrontation. Historically when these communication methods were not available, religion was one of the way in which law and order was maintained in the society. So some of the customs and rituals were created and used which were suited to that time. Even the karma philosophy was created to create the feeling that being good will bring outcomes and being bad (sins) will create negative outcomes and exaggerated it saying if you do something bad, it will haunt you for multiple incarnations. 

But for a discerning mind, there is an inner layer of the philosophy which was always available to the learned. I particularly like the 'Tat twam asi' principle which says 'You are that' where that refers to God or divine. It doesn't constrain us with the Karma philosophy or anything else. It says that you have divinity in you. You have all that is needed at this time. It is upto you to recognize this and live accordingly. This is the central tenet of the 'Advaita' philosophy expounded by Sri Shankaracharya.

So previously I was looking at the different philosophies literally and was only looking at the outer layer and now I also see the inner layer about the truth that was already known and evident but only available to the discerning mind. 

So a lot of customs and rituals we follow were mostly created for the times they were created for. It is for us to examine those rituals and decide what to keep and what to ignore. 

It would have been great to know why a custom was created and how it has morphed into. But unfortunately most of our history is not written as we didn't good means of writing and storing info. The writings on leaves didn't survive our tropical climate. Lacking good means of communication and writing all they could do was to create poems for people to remember and spread it orally and that is what is available today. Sure someone who created something might have known why he created it, but not everyone has the patience to understand why it was created and the creator might not have had the patience/time to explain it to everyone, so it might have been reduced finally to just a rule to follow. 

Now the customs we follow have become like puzzles for us to figure out the reason for that and thats really interesting to me.. 
Thanks to Balaji Viswanathan on Quora for sharing his excellent thoughts on Hinduism 
He writes more eloquently than me and trust me, you wont be disappointed.

Start with this

Monday, March 23, 2015

Focus

Drona was teaching archery to Pandavas and Kauravas. There was bird on top of which of which the eye was to be shot. He asked everyone what they were seeing and they
replied like they were seeing a the sky, the tree, the branches, moving leaves, the bird on which the branch was sitting etc. Only Arjuna replied that he was
seeing only the eye of the bird. It seemed like a impossible tale for me as I thought it was impossible to see only the eye of the bird without seeing the other things
surrounding it.

Only now I understood that it was a lesson about focus. It is not seeing but the ability  to look. The ability to ignore extraneous details and to just focus on
what is important. To be able to really see only what we want to see. To be able to say no to other interesting things vying for our attention. The narrower the focus
the easier it is to hit the target.