Learn and teach

Learning and teaching is a powerful cycle. There are two types of people, one who want to always learn but not teach, others who want to learn and immediately teach what they learned. Of course, there is a third kind, of people who are not interested in learning, and we are not talking about them here.

What is the point of learning without teaching? If for nothing else, teaching allows you to talk about what you learned and it can serve as a great way to validate our learning and also create discussions that will allow us to learn more. 

Teaching does not necessarily have to be through one particular medium (blogs, videos, group settings etc). It can be any medium which brings people together with various perspectives and skillsets to synthesize on the core message you are presenting. It is very powerful.

Do you have such a medium where you talk about your work? Your learnings?

Combining product mindset and engineering mindset

A product mindset asks why. An engineering mindset asks how.

'Why' should always come first followed by 'How', followed by 'Why' again. How much time do we spend on each of these buckets determines how robust and relevant our product is going to be.

Too often, we focus on the why without too much understanding on how, and we come up with a  product that is hard to implement. On the other side, if we spend too much time on the how, we fail to implement something that can provide feedback on the why.

Personally as a rule of thumb, I love to spend a week on why, looking at data and putting together quickly testable user flows and designs, and then spend few weeks on how. The aim is not to build the best product, but to validate our hypothesis. Then, come back to the why.

Combining product and engineering mindset is the key to building something that is robust and reliable.

Do we want our employees to fit in?

Or do we want them to stand out?

Because fitting in is to fit in our way of thinking, our way of solving problems. Fitting in is to make our lives easier because we have designed the system and it is a pain to work with outliers.

If they stand out, we need to cater to their needs. We need to adjust our system to accommodate. And, sometimes we are not willing to do that. We need to tweak the rules of our carefully crafted assembly line of processes that industrialization has taught us. 

It is good to desire excellence and innovation. It is good to desire uniqueness and perspectives. It is. Desiring is one thing. Accepting and rolling with it is another.


What can you change today?

Do yourself a favor. Change one thing around you that has bothered you for sometime.

It can be a simple act. Clean your room or pick up the trash or water a plant or vacuum your car or write that letter or make that call or say your sorries. It can be anything. But can you do it?

We are not busy to do small things. We are only busy to do big things. They are daunting and we have more important things to do, more distractions to feed and more excuses to justify.

The beauty however is that, if we stay busy with small acts that change the world, the big things take care of themselves eventually.

So, what are you going to change today?

Poking the box...faster

Have you read Seth Godin's poke the box? If you have not, you should.

The premise is simple. Take initiative. Start shipping. And, poke the box. Because when poke it, the box will poke you back. What is a box? Everything that is in front of you. 

One thing that Seth implies but does not explore is how do you poke the box faster. You have a voice. You are an initiator. You start things. You ship them. You challenge status quo. You are a unicorn in a balloon factory.

You need tools. Seth argues that by poking enough times, you will know what works and what does not which has an underlying implication on the tools that you will build along the way that helps you poke the box faster.

The tools can be craft, community, processes, data, etc. You need to be aware of what your tools are? And, the initial set of tools can play to your strengths until you find the next set.

Poke the box, but pay attention to how efficiently you can poke it. Pay attention to the tools you are using to change the world. Because, some tools will work great for you, others won't.

Habit is opposite of fear

If you are afraid to speak publicly, speak a little everyday.

If you are afraid to sell, sell something everyday. 

If you are afraid of writing your thoughts, write a little, every day.

If you are afraid of saying the wrong thing, speak your mind, a little, every day.

A little goes a long way in making a habit. And, habit goes long way in replacing fear.

Doing less is the way to win

There is a plan. There is a plan B. There is a plan C.

Those are three things.

Now, your team does twenty things. For everything, there is a plan A, plan B, and plan C. Sixty things. Your company has ten teams. Six hundred things.

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but also not. Companies fail because they try to do more and not be good at anything. The secret to winning is in fact no secret at all, it is just to "do less and obsess."

Read the book Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More. It's worth your time.

Brick makers

Higher level abstractions are what makes technology mainstream. Commoditizing anything requires an out of box experience where users don't have to deal with complexity, and things just work.

Computer programming existed in some form or the other from 1842, when Ada Lovelace, worked on the first mechanical general purpose computer, writing the first algorithm. But it was not until one hundred years later, when IBM released Fortran, that computer programming picked up. It hid complexities and offered a simple interface to work with. And, the trend still continues.

Very few people want to tinker. And a subset of the few are able to commoditize what they tinker, creating simple interfaces fronting powerful building blocks that the world is excited to build on. These are the brick makers, who shape the foundation.

The world is built on these bricks. And, people who build things out of these bricks are the early adopters who make technology mainstream.

If you are a tinkerer, ask yourself, do you have a potential brick in your hand that could shape tomorrow in interesting way? 


Don't confuse truths with opinions

Don’t confuse opinions with correctness. You have a voice and a voice gives your thoughts wings. Don’t cage your thoughts because you are not sure if you are right.

You don’t have to be right all the time. But, your voice should be heard. Your voice will change as you grow, mature and learn new truths both about yourself and the world. A changing voice does not mean lack of conviction, it merely means personal growth, new truths, new ideas. Over time, you will find that your voice will settle down into few themes that you deeply care about. But until that time, there is no point in worrying about what that voice should be and what is the story you are telling.

The story you should tell is the story of yourself, your growth, your work, your community. Just be honest and your honesty will give uniqueness and strength to your voice.

Don’t keep quiet because you are not sure if you got it right.

Bad performers

Treat your bad performers with dignity.

It is far too easy to get caught up in the moment and treat someone like you don’t want be treated yourself. You think that employee is not working out and your goals are being impacted, and your bonuses are getting reduced. In a cut-throat culture that favors fire faster to preserve efficiency, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the other person is human, inherently flawed and not perfect. And, certainly at the wrong place at this point in time.

Treat them with dignity. Give them options and part ways gracefully. You never know the full picture. 

Shut the authority

The authority in your head tells you not to do something because someone will tell you off. It tells you not to take risks and follow the safe path because you will fit in. It tells you to always ask for permission. It tells you that your bosses are right and you should maintain status quo. It tells you not to speak up when something is wrong, because it is the way the world works.

There is an authority in your head, that is serving as a proxy to all the other authorities in the world around you. 

Shut that thing off. Ignore it. Make ruckus. Create art. Don’t give a damn to that voice. Because beneath that voice, there is another one, which is quieter. That is the voice tells you to hope, dream and change the world. Your goal should be to make that the primary voice in your head.

Earn my attention

Don’t threaten my attention, earn it.

When you want my attention, you cannot threaten to get it. You need to earn it. If you are a vendor selling your product or a company selling your services, you are going to find yourself in my spam folder by trying to shame me into responding to your emails. 

What efforts have you put to show that your service or product is indispensable to me? If you think I cannot live without your product, show me. Just don’t send me emails with the subject lines “3rd attempt to connect.”  Because honestly, I am neither obligated nor willing to respond to any attempts of emotional manipulation.


Rules for working in a team

Rules for working in a team

  • Be empathetic.
  • Don’t hide your work.
  • Seek and offer help.
  • Accept different viewpoints.
  • Invest in your teammate’s success.
  • Don’t keep your desk sloppy.
  • If you are sick, stay home.
  • Challenge but don’t criticize.
  • Smile.
  • Make that problem yours.
  • Share the credit.
  • Support.
  • Don’t compromise on quality.
  • Hold yourself to a high standard.
  • Tell the truth.

Take control

There is enough inspiration in this world to keep you inspired for the rest of your life. You can follow the footsteps of any artist, designer, writer, entrepreneur, monk,…you want. Yon can control the news you get, the content you read, the things you create, the thoughts you nurture.

The world will give you what you ask of it. Ironically, the internet will also give you what you ask of it. 

So ask wisely. Take control. Choose only the things that makes you who you want to be. 


Occasionally you have to make product decisions that offer intangible values. Creating customer joy, surprises and Easter eggs, offering pleasant experiences and memorable journeys, are few of those.

Your product has to break the script time to time. Every time you break the script, you have a chance to create a memorable experience. This takes a lot of work. Using data to identify opportunities to break the script, is not something a lot of companies want to spend time on, because it does not offer tangible value. When I can use data to figure out where to best place my ad, why would I randomly provide an experience of an ad-free page? 

Intangibles are the reason people fall in love with a product. The fact that the product not just does what they expect of it but also does something surprising and personal creates a great feeling, which can be sticky. 

We are all used to stereotyping things, and a product that cannot break stereotypes from time to time is hard to fall in love with. 

Dig your feet

Sometimes you just have to put your head down, dig your feet into the ground and focus. That’s all there is to it, nothing more, nothing less.

You think the world is unfair, but in all fairness, it is giving you a chance. A chance to dig deep, and focus on the story you are telling. 

Too often we focus on keeping our egos happy and asking questions about how important we are in the general scheme of things. But, the real question to ask is how important is our work and how can we maintain our focus on it.

Selling your hopeful curve

When you lead, you sell.

Leading is selling your vision. Leading is selling a possibility of a better future than today. Leading is selling a new way of thinking. 

Leading is drawing a hopeful curve to the future and make it look convincing. But you cannot make anything convincing if you are not convinced yourself. If you don’t believe in the vision you are selling, you cannot draw the curve authentically. 

As a leader, you are a salesman, even if you don’t like that term. But the hope is that you are authentic and believe in the vision you are selling.

We need women leaders who are free

We need more women leaders who are free.

I have a mentee, who thinks she is not good enough, when in fact she is really good at what she does. She has an opinion about things and perspectives that are nuanced. She tells me that she wants to be like me and I tell her that she should be like herself.

I have another mentee. Her manager is a woman who is stressed out, trying to prove herself. She transfers her stress to her team all the time. She makes life harder for the women in her team, telling them that they are aggressive if they are opinionated, and should speak up more, if they are silent. 

I recently had an hour long conversation with a woman CEO around organizational culture, team building, product management, etc. She was awesome. She was humble and to the point and I felt refreshed after the conversation. Unlike a lot of conversations with male leaders, where gloating or name throwing happens every five minutes, she hardly talked about her accomplishments but rather kept the focus on her company’s vision. 

I have heard conversations across the board from women leaders telling the women in their team that with every child they have, their career takes a two year hit. What a load of crap! Your career does not take a hit because of the child, it takes a hit because of lack of support. Let’s solve the problem of support by creating programs where we support life changes (See PayPal's Recharge program). And, by the way this cannot not be a general rule of the thumb. If it is, then we all should be embarrassed to have contributed to this rule.

We need leaders with perspectives, empathy and humility and in other words, women leaders. But we need these leaders to be free and not under stress to fit in and prove themselves at every step. The free women leaders at the top are key to balancing the playing field and making it level so that everyone is held to the similar standards. 

Leaders (both men and women), your team looks up to you. Your voice becomes their voice. What you tell them shapes their world. Tell them stories of hope, tell them stories of leadership and courage and tell them that it is OK to have an opinion, be original and stand out. And, support them while they do that.