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4 posts tagged with "Long term thinking"

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· 2 min read

I recently stumbled upon this interview from Andrew Ng, arguably one of the guys single handedly responsible for making Machine Learning popular and accessible.

In his interview, there is a beautiful excerpt which I want to highlight. When asked:

Do you have any helpful habits or routines?

He answers: Reading 6 research papers a week seems like a lot, but I think if one can read even one research paper per week, that will germinate lots of new ideas.

Especially for folks who operate in technical domains like I am (my startup is in a domain called observability, this practice would give them new ideas to think about, and possibly innovate on.

While entrepreneurs don't have the luxury to engage in deep research and compare results, they could learn a lot just by grokking through the research papers and at least understand what the basic concepts are. And then let the human mind do its magic 🦄. May be on some opportune day, when you are talking to a customer, hearing his issues and wondering how to solve it, one of these ideas will present itself before you. Boom! 💥

Adrian Colyer, who has been CTO at VMWare and currently is venture partner at Accel, has actually brought this idea to practice. He runs a blog - The Morning Paper where he discusses interesting computer science research paper every week.

There's also a meetup group which discusses research papers periodically and has chapters in many cities of the world. Fortunately they also have a chapter in Bangalore. I will try to attend one their meetups, once in-person meetups are back again, hopefully 🤞

So, which research paper are you picking today?

· 8 min read

Wow! What a story!

These are the words I am mumbling as I finish the last pages of Shoe Dog - A memoir by Nike's founder Phil Knight

Its a compelling story and a salute to the spirit of entrepreneurship. It never occurred to me that a brand which seems to be omni-present now, had such humble beginnings. It was just a "Crazy Idea" in the minds of a young guy in Oregon, USA.

I am sure I will not be able to capture all the beautiful moments in this book, there are too many to list. But here are a few thoughts which captivated me while reading the book.

1. What is "business"?

I thought of the phrase, "It's just business." It's never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.

Is business just about making money? That is one of the questions which Phil visits frequently. At each point he says that, although money is needed for keeping the business alive, it is not why they were doing this. It was a "mission". To create a place where people would "belong". Money is to business, as blood is to human life. Although blood is needed to keep feeding different parts of the body with nutrients, it is not why we live.

Nike went through many crises in terms money. There were times when their cheques bounced, when they couldn't pay off their debts. So money was absolutely crucial for their survival. But money was not why they were doing this.

2. Giving people chance

The way Phil hired people was unique. He didn't look for the degrees or the experience they have. It was always a gut feeling. If he liked the guy, he would hire him. Irrespective of what his degree was, what he was currently doing in life. The key thing which he looked for was a sense of "purpose". Mission. If he thought the guy has that, he will hire him. No questions asked.

3. The search for meaning

Oneness - in some way, shape or form, it's what every person I've ever met has been seeking.

It just amazes me, how Phil goes from mundane practicality to deep philosophy within a few moments.

At the heart of it, whatever we do, is just another step in finding an answer to this search. This perpetual quest. Isn't it?

4. The Why?

I told her that I flat-out didn't want to work for someone else. I wanted to buid something that was my own, something I could point to and say: I made that. It was the only way I saw to make life meaningful.

People often ask why someone becomes an entreprenuer. After all, the "risk-reward" calculation never makes sense. I think the above line captures the idea very elegantly.

5. To Young People

I'd tell them to hit pause, think long and hard about how they want to spend their time, and with whom they want to spend it for the next forty years. I'd tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don't know what that means, seek it. If you're following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be nothing you've ever felt.

Wow! Just wow!

If you don't take anything else away from this book, just internalise the above lines.

6. On giving up

And those who urge entrepreneurs to never give up? Charlatans. Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn't mean stopping. Don't ever stop.

In the startup world, we often hear this oft-quoted sutra of not giving up. And here, the founder of a 100bn dollar company says that it's OK to give up. In fact knowing when to give up is genius.

Those who urge entrepreneurs never to give up are charlatans. Yes, charlatans.

7. Giving back

Phil and Penny Knight donate 100 mn USD every year, and he says that he will continue doing so for the rest of his life.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet also have committed significant amount of money to charity. This makes me wonder - why do all rich people finally end up giving back their wealth to the society? I think this really proves the often quoted fact that they were not in it for the money.

May be after a point, the greater joy which you can buy from money is by giving it back to those who need it more.

8. Mental Whitespace

I spent a fair portion of each day lost in my own thoughts, tumbling down mental wormholes, trying to solve some problem or construct some plan.

To deliberate on big plans and detail out their execution you need mental whitespace to think about them, ponder about the details. Steve Jobs is known for keeping time for planning and thinking about things. Jeff Bezos keeps his schedule light so that he gets ample time to think and manoeuvre big plans.

However, I think keeping time for mental whitespace is becoming more and more difficult in this constantly connected world of ours. You always have an urge to check your mail or twitter notifications. All this constant flow of information decreases our ability to focus and plan for the long term.

How do we prevent this distractedness and focus on more important things?

9. Private person

Phil says that he is an intensely private person. But he managed to go to Japan, set up his company, fight with banks and take his company public. Many people think that entrepreneurship or leading is a thing for extroverts, those who are more comfortable in front of people than in solitude. Phil shows that as long as you believe in your mission, you can scale a company inspite of being intensely private.

This also reminds me of the book Quiet by Susan Cain which talks about the power of introverts.

10. Working part time

Phil started Blue Ribbon Sports (which later became Nike Inc) in 1964, but he started working full time on it only from 1969. Between 1964-68 he worked as a full time employee at PwC as an accountant as Blue Ribbon Sports wasn't earning enough to pay for his salary. He worked on his startup only after work and during weekends. In 1968 he joined Portland State University as an assistant professor as it allowed him more time to work on his startup.

The popular narrative of our times is that, if you want to do a startup, you have to commit full time into it. And here is a man who built a 100 bn dollar brand while having a full time job for the first 5 years of its inception.

11. Competition and being in the moment

People reflectively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that's only true of people who can forget the competition. The art of competing, I'd learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now remind myself of the fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pains, your past. You must forget that internal voice screaming, begging, "Not one more step!"

Anybody who has participated in any competition of significance would attest to the fact that the secret of success in a competition is forgetting that you are in a competition. You just have to be present in the moment and act as you would naturally act. If you constantly think about the importance of a competition, it would cloud your thought process and you won't be able to give your best.

This idea is also one of the key ideas in Miyamoto Musahi's The Book of Five Rings. If you have preconceived plans then you would not be able to react swiftly, just be in the moment and act.

12. You can sell it if you believe in it

Before starting Blue Ribbon Sports, Phil toured the world and spent considerable time in Hawaai. In Hawaai, he took a job of selling encyclopaedias and had a horrid time at it. He thought that "selling" is not suited for his private nature. But when he went out for selling shoes imported by his company, he enjoyed it and had great success.

The key thing is belief. If you believe what you are selling is genuinely good for the customer, you would have a great time doing it. Gary Vaynerchuk, who is a renowned entrepreneur and hustler, also tells the same thing. Unless you really, deeply believe that what you are selling is genuinely good for the customer, you won't be good at selling it.

I wonder how many folks in sales today really believe in what they are selling.

· 4 min read

I recently finished reading Anathem and what a great read it was! Though filled with occasional meanderings by Stephenson, it covered topics which I didn't think fell under the preview of science fiction. Below are some of the points which I found to be interesting.

Spoiler alert! If you intend to read Anathem someday, stop here. The next section is full of spoilers.

  1. Long Term Thinking

Anathem sets up a mathic world which is devoid of contact from external world for 1, 10, 100 and 1000 years. The 100 and 1000 year maths seemed to have wisdom and knowledge which is much deeper than 1 and 10 year maths.

One issue which I began thinking was - how do you build something for the long term? Religions last for a long time. Christianity is around 2000 years old. Hinduism or the set of beliefs which comprise Hinduism is around 4000 years old. Companies or corporations are fairly short lived - Google is only ~ 20 yrs old. Long lasting companies like GE are around 125 years and have already faded in glory IMO (though "company" as an idea is still very new - 1700s I think) While christianity and Hinduism are still very relevant. What are the properties of such orgs like religion which make them much longer lasting than businesses? Is it just that they solve much bigger problems (like meaning of life, purpose of existence) than companies which are primarily built on profit motive?

  1. Being an "Enthusiast" anathem-1

Came across this definition of Enthusiast. Made me wonder if this is what people mean when they write "Startup Enthusiast", "Blockchain Enthusiast" in their linked profile. Surprisingly I have never come across anyone claiming to be "Math Enthusiast"

  1. The need for a story


Here, Stephenson talks about how the industrialization/corporatization has taken away the story from the life of an individual and made him nothing more than a clog in the wheel. If we look into history, this is a fairly recent phenomenon. Before the conception of modern corporations and assembly, people used to earn their living as artisans, farmers or traders. An artisan has much more connection to their work than an industrial worker working in a modern corporation.

This is also the reason why relgion and sports become very important. They provide humans with a story to live by, rather than just being an insignificant speck in the grand universe.

  1. Quantum Mind

In the book, Neal Stephenson talks about a Thousander (one who remains secluded in his math for 1000 years) who has acquired the capability to participate in many Narratives simultaneously. This is similar to the idea of Many worlds interpretation in quantum mechanics.

He also points to the idea of Quantum Mind which suggests that the emergence of consciousness in brain cannot be explained by classical mechanical theories and there must be some quantum phenomena happening in brain which gives rise to consciousness.

  1. Emergence


This idea is broadly related to the idea of quantum mind but also points to how one can train one's mind through disciplined thinking. Though the benefit of this may not be apparent immediately, the training enables one to perform when the time arrives.

As Robert Pirsig points to in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.

Well, there are many more points which I want to talk about - but these are the top 5 big ones. May be I will do a second post talking about some more insights.

· 2 min read

I have been reading Neal Stephenson's Anathem the last few days. The story is set in an alternate world which has a mathic system where intellectuals (or people of mind) stay in maths secluded from the normal world. The mathic world (which has meaning very similar to hindi word मठ ) comprises of 4 sections. People are Unarian system interact with the outside world once every year. People who are Decenarian interact with the outside world and other sections only once a decade. Similarly people who are Centenarian and Millenarian interact with the outside world and other sections once every 100 and 1000 years respectively.

The research or insights obtained by Centernarian is thus available to other math sections only once in 100 years. For Millenarians, their research comes to light to others only once in 1000 years. Thus the design of the system is such that people in the more secluded maths (100 and 1000 years) focus on problems which are important enough to stand the test of time and stay relevant. So, Centernarians work on much more fundamental problems than Decenarian. Similarly, Millenarians take this to another level and work on ideas and problem which ideal should stay relevant for 1000 years, when they are brought forth for the rest of the world.

This is a very interesting way of thinking. More so when we are becoming mush shorter term thinkers. A good question to ask ourselves is, what we are working on today that would stay relevant for 100 years? For 1000 years? This question makes one think about aspects which we don't generally focus on when working on projects.

Jeff Bezos is one of the proponents of long term thinking. He has commissioned a project for building a clock which would give correct time for 10000 years. It is very interesting to go through the aspects they have to consider when thinking about designing such a clock. From rusting of parts to being able to withstand natural calamities. All such details are being considered at the design stage itself.

A key question to ask ourselves is: what are we working on today which will stand the test of time? Which will stay relevant for 100 years? For 10000 years?