1. This is going to be my first non-UX post in a while. Back to some personal stuff with this one.

    This week there’s a lot of talk about “Living with Less”, perhaps kicked off by the NYT piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/opinion/sunday/living-with-less-a-lot-less.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&.


    http://www.paulgraham.com/stuff.html (resurfaced; originally published in 2007).

    So, I did a thought exercise. Looked around my apartment. Thought about things I could cut out…

    1) Couches (use the chairs from the dining table when needed)

    2) Don’t have a TV, but that would be next

    3) Miscellanea: Flower pots, candles, photo frames, random art, nerf guns, etc. To be far, this stuff is largely personal and helps my place feel more like home. But, it is stuff.

    4) Fitness: Dumbbells, bench, chin up bar. I suppose if I went to the gym, I wouldn’t need to have this at home.

    5) Wine racks / wine / other alcohol - I could just get what I need when I need it. 

    6) Bedding for when people visit

    7) Other stuff

    Fortunately, living in San Francisco virtually dictates that I live in a small apartment. So there’s not a lot of space to begin with. I moved a desk into storage along with some other stuff.

    So, where did this thinking lead me? I have a decent amount of ‘stuff’. But a lot of this stuff is also what makes me feel at home.

    The next logical question, “Is that habit or the way things have to be?” In other words, am I just used to having a lot of stuff? Maybe I’d feel at home in a place with less stuff once I gave it time.

    Curious if anyone else who’s not writing some major article about this topic has some experience with experimenting with the space and stuff around them.

  2. Many of my friends claim that they will do meaningful work later in life. Right now, they want to work at investment banks and management consulting firms. And these careers will net them so much wealth and privilege that they can “have more impact” later.


    While I didn’t believe it, it did not seem entirely irrational. So…fine.

    But the more I thought about it, these friends will not make good on these words. 

    They will get tired.

    These are some of the most intelligent 20-somethings in the world. And they don’t have the fortitude to earn less in the prime of their lives to not only *not* make a direct positive impact, but perhaps also create what I subjectively believe is negative impact.

    So, what happens 20 years from now? They will have spouses. They will have kids. They will have debts - be they financial, social, or moral. They will almost certainly believe they need more from the world than the world needs from them.

    When someone says they will do something in the future, we can’t ignore what they do today. It is convenient or pleasant in the moment to be ignorant. It is not optimistic to believe, because often you’re ignoring facts. Optimism embraces and vows to change facts, but it doesn’t ignore them.

    So, do what you want to do. But, please, just wait until you help the world to talk about how you’re helping the world.

  3. This post is about the challenge of deciding whether to trust your gut, or go with what trusted friends and family suggest. A rather trivial case can illustrate the struggle:

    Months ago, I bought Apple stock when it was well below $400. I told some family members of mine. “Stupid!” they cried. It had been going up and up. Buy low, sell high - everyone knows that.

    But my gut told me that I liked Apple. I thought they had plenty more up to go.


    So, trust your gut, or rely on trusted friends/family/advisers? I don’t really have an answer for it. Go with the former, and you’re subject to being called stubborn/arrogant, and you have no scapegoat if things go south. Go with the latter, and you can take solace in the fact that you trusted family; you can go so far as to blame them if you’re that insecure and/or regretful. It’s easier to deal with the downside in the second case.

    Sadly, perhaps, I followed my family’s advice. The stock is up almost 25% since I sold it (at a near-loss, which at the time, I was grateful to get). Everyone has stories about regretting not buying, or selling early, any number of stocks. It is the name of the game.

    However, the takeaway, I feel, is far more important, and escapes us far more often.

    The point is that you should always ask yourself WHY you’re doing something, and what the cost is. In my case, the stock could have gone down. I would have perpetuated my family’s belief that I am stubborn. That felt more expensive than the benefit of making some extra cash on a stock. I don’t regret that calculation. However, I had control over the formula. I could have managed the situation and made my case; maybe I could have gotten them to buy some stock, too, so we could all be fanboys together. Then they wouldn’t have thought I was stubborn, I could have followed my guy, and we would all make some upside.

    It’s not black and white. He who follows his gut always is blind and stubborn. He who follows advisers all the time is a coward and lacks critical, independent thought. Some times one strategy or the other works better. Clarity of mind and self-awareness will help you figure out which path you should go down for any decision.

  4. The WSJ recently published “No more resumes, say some firms” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203750404577173031991814896.html).

    This is absurd. I get how resumes are misinforming. I get how social media profiles indicate some people’s voices, some people’s interests, and how people respond to an individual.

    But the fact is that people approach social media differently. I, for example, am a very private person (ironic for someone blogging, no?). I do not have all of my jobs or skills on my Linkedin profile. I only really tweet and retweet about tech and some random sociology. My Facebook wall is just a stream of links from my Twitter account.

    These profiles do not represent who I am. Not as a person. And certainly not as a professional.

    I get that for some jobs these should be one. Our social media profiles perhaps NEED to represent who we are to be good VCs, or good entrepreneurs. But I don’t actually believe that. I highly doubt the best investors are the most likable or accurately represented people on social media sites.

    Yes, investors, entrepreneurs, and good ‘product people’ should probably USE these products. Understand them. Explore them. But I think a decision to drop resumes in favor of social media presences is highly misguided.

    Even as someone who has painfully sifted through a pile of resumes before. 

  5. People always wish they had more time. Especially this time of year when resolutions are in full gear, and people are trying to accomplish more than they do the rest of the year.

    We complain about more time. We try to wake up earlier. We loathe ourselves when wasting time.

    But the way to really maximize your time is to treat it like a balance sheet. If you’re anything like me, maybe you think to yourself ‘Oh, I’m awake for 17, 18 hours a day. I probably (really) work 10-12, the rest is relaxation or other stuff that’s OK. This sounds fine. I don’t really have time to do other stuff’.

    Somehow this always falls short of the true audit. The rigor to say, I spend 40 minutes eating breakfast and reading the news. We can cut that to 10. To say, I can condense my cooking time if I just cook once on the weekend and eat that fresh food all week. To say, I let myself ‘relax’ after 7pm, when really you then have 5 hours in your day more to get stuff done.

    Taking a line-by-line look at how time is spent will always free up more time to do the things you love. A post on how I would do this in real life, or a successful case study, seems like a good idea for a follow up post. Feel free to share something like that in the comments!

  6. I spent 6 years building an education company that got a lot of press and reached a lot of people. It wasn’t a huge success but it was good. In that time, I enjoyed a growing ego - people asking how I did it, random people complimenting me, seeing others try but not get as far (not proud of that one). But as a result, it became harder to admit what I didn’t know and more tempting to say ‘Sure’, ‘Of course’, and ‘Right, right.’ in conversations even when I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

    As a result, I was limiting my learning. Of course I was. I was saying I understood things that I didn’t. When there was the most direct way of learning something new, I rejected it in favor of seeming all-knowing. 

    A lot of people do this. Entrepreneurs. Investors (oh, definitely). ‘Regular’ people (!)

    But it’s harmful. Ego doesn’t really get us anything sustainable. It makes us feel good in the moment, or maybe just shields us from feeling not so great. But why does not knowing something, or admitting not knowing something make people feel less than great in the first place? I guess if we are with a peer, it’s a competitive thing. Not wanting to seem inferior. With people more senior than us, maybe we want them to feel like we are worth their time. Ironically, admitting you don’t know something would probably make you seem even more worth their time, because they could have a bigger impact with you than someone who already knows it all. And with people who look up to us, asking questions about things we don’t know, to the ego-loving, may lower our sense of superiority and may seem to change how that person sees us, and seem to risk the respect or admiration they have. Yet in reality, asking questions to people who look up to us just probably expresses sincere interest and makes them feel more excited to share what they know.

    So, how do you start trading your ego in -

    1) be conscious of it.

    2) stop cutting people off in conversation to finish their sentences. it’s rude. people do it to show they know where the person is going. but a lot of times you’re wrong or miss the nuance of what someone is saying.

    3) ask more questions

    4) compliment other people on their insights (when it’s deserved)

    5) teach yourself to not derive pleasure from seeming better or more knowledgeable than others; rather derive pleasure (more pleasure) from learning something new

    any other ideas on actionable ways to deflate egos and be better learners?

  7. This post is about startups, idea generation, and why thinking more like an ‘Average Joe’, or a mainstream consumer, would be awesome for entrepreneurs. By referring to the 99%, I am not implying entrepreneurs are elite “one percenters” nor am I making other socioeconomic claims. Honestly, it just sounded like a good title. OK - end prologue.

    Make Something A LOT of People Want

    Having a big market is important. Duh. Having a lot of people who will actually use your application or service is important. So the problems we solve as entrepreneurs should be a paint point felt by enough people, or even a desire sought after by enough people, that the market will be large enough. Large enough to fail in one’s grand vision but still have a comfy business to land on. People always say if you fail in a small market, you’re much worse of than failing in a large market - duh.

    Need to Think Like Those People

    So thinking like your customer, at least temporarily, is important. Duh. To know their needs, to feel their pain; it’s great if you are one of them. Sure, you can talk to users, do studies, run surveys — but it seems that building something you yourself need that ALSO is something a lot of others need, is a holy grail of sorts.

    But entrepreneurs don’t think the same way a lot of people think

    Almost by definition, entrepreneurs think different. You have to. Otherwise you won’t leave that corporate desk job. You won’t harass people by the Caltrain with paper prototypes. You won’t sneak your way into private events to meet people you really want to meet. Entrepreneurs who succeed are different.

    At my previous company, while I was in high school, I had to forego screwing around at lunchtime with my friends to talk to the development team on MSN Messenger (oh, 2006). What 16 year old would deliberately choose messaging with project manager Rikta in India about server connection errors over flirting with some girls or hanging out at the local sandwich place. To pursue my current company, I had to walk away from prestigious consulting offers, ‘great learning opportunity’ jobs at big tech companies, a super unique role with a top Valley VC firm that would massage my massive ego, and appealing stock options at some really hot startups. For what? To choose to hack away in my apartment, alone, for the foreseeable future with no existing revenue for this new company, and a hardly validated idea that I’ve since scrapped.

    Normal people don’t do these things. (To be clear, I don’t mean to imply by ‘not normal’, I am somehow extraordinary. It’s not a judgment. But everyone knows, and loves to talk about, how eccentric, and unique, entrepreneurs are — and I mean real entrepreneurs. not the ones itching to put CEO on their business cards.)

    So our ideas don’t appeal to enough people. Problem!

    As a result, we come up with super niche idea. We rationalize these ideas either by overshooting financial projections (more than the normal pie in the sky), or saying this is just a ‘foothold’, and then holding up exceptions as our rules. And when people say no or tell us it’s a bad idea, our entrepreneur DNA says ‘Screw them. I have to have thick skin. People will say no.’

    Or maybe we come up with a big, big idea. But how many people are willing to adopt it? Many, I hope — but few, I fear. I’m not suggesting we think smaller so people adopt more easily. I think there are big ideas a lot of people are willing to jump onboard with; a lot of the collaborative consumption companies like Airbnb and GetAround are proving this true.

    That’s why we need to think more like the 99% (of people, period).

    But there’s something to chasing big ideas that a lot of people WANT, that matters — at least for increasing the chances of success. As for the advance of society, there I do believe that sometimes you need to be a crazy person in an echo chamber some times and build something even when no one thinks they want or need it. But it’s a disadvantage when trying to build a successful business from scratch.

    So I think we need to learn to some times think more like the 99%. Even if you’re already a a part of it, learn to think more like it.

  8. Another productivity post. I’ve noticed that just knowing what time it is makes me more efficient. It’s typically because I feel like I’m behind, so then I pick up the pace and cut the distractions.

    But the problem is, I don’t have a habit of looking at the clock.

    So, look at the clock more often.

    I wonder if someone made a desktop app, that just flashed you with alerts every say, 15 minutes, and a motivational quote, if that’d be useful. I’m sure this exists in some form already.

  9. I find this is often the excuse I use for checking the latest TC/Hacker News posts, or filing through my inbox.

    Oh, “you need a break”. You deserve one. You need to recharge to work well.

    I agree that we need breaks. We need sleep. We need to get away. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    But these BS breaks. C’mon. Surfing the web. Clearing your inbox. Dragging and dropping items from your desktop view into the Mac trash bin. BS. That’s not a break.

    Oddly enough, beyond the obvious reasons for why these are not breaks, I actually have something insightful to say.

    Part of what appeals about these breaks is immediate gratification. “Yes, I am up to date on my tech news!”. “Yes, my inbox is empty!” “Yes, maybe my code doesn’t work but my desktop looks PRETTY!”

    We were born and bred to chase A+’s and high fives. These are digital high fives. And these achievements during breaks won’t make you feel any better or perform more effectively.

    So, when you’re working, work. And when you’re not, go for a damn walk, or read something you have to hold in your hands — that doesn’t have an on/off switch.

Jason Shah

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