This is the place where I document and share the lessons I learned from all sources. Not sure about turning this into a blog yet, because I prefer the more casual form – some are as simple as links or quotes; some are bullet points; some are long lessons with personal or others' stories. No big deal, just lessons. This page will continuously update. If you find any lesson useful, I'd be super happy!
Book notes from Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday, Part 1
- To whatever you aspire, ego is the enemy. We have a goal, a calling, a new beginning. Every great journey begins here – yet far too many of us never reach our intended destination. Ego more often than not is the culprit. We build ourselves up with fantastical stories, we pretend we have it all figured out, we let our star burn bright and hot only to fizzle out, and we have no idea why. These are symptoms of ego, for which humility and reality are the cure. Read more...
Make customers happy? Start small.
- At the core, the purpose of any business is to create products or services that increase the quality of life for all the customers they serve. Making customers happy, undoubtedly, is part of it. There are so many ways to make customers happy, of course, but I am deeply intrigued by a seemingly small thing CD Baby did – an order confirmation email that makes customers smile. Read more...
Thoughts on leading
- I have been thinking about leading recently. What are the qualities that make a leader? What are common to good leaders? While I have a long way to go as a leader, I've learned from my own experience of leading a startup, and reading, listening to and observing other leaders. I've met both good and bad leaders, and I'd like to share with you qualities I consider vital to good leaders. Read more...
An emotion is a call to action. So just do it!
- "The emotions you are feeling at this very moment are a gift, a guideline, a support system, a call to action" – Tony Robbins. Understanding what emotions really are, what messages they are telling us, and what actions they are calling us to act upon, is the first step to achieve mastery of emotions. Read more...
Disconnect and focus
- Derek Sivers have a piece about "disconnect". It's so good that I have to share with you. You will thank me. If you really read it and practice it, you will feel real difference.
- The lack of interruption is a great recipe for flow (i.e. fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity).
- Every business wants to get you addicted to their infinite updates, pings, chats, messages, and news – thank you, "Notification". But if what you want out of life is to create, then those things are the first to go.
- People often ask me what they can do to be more successful. I say disconnect. Unplug. Turn off your phone and wifi. Focus. Write. Practice. Create. That’s what’s rare and valuable these days. You get no competitive edge from consuming the same stuff everyone else is consuming.But it’s rare to focus. And it gives such better reward.
Design with four lenses
- I've been pondering over recently what building a startup has taught me about design, as a designer. One lesson strikes me most. I used to design with two lenses: user, and designer. But building my own startup has given me two additional lenses: business, and engineering. And I feel I came out to be a more all-around product guy.
- Design a product as the business owner. You are a 1-(wo)man startup. When you think this way, you will start to think deeper and you will be driven by more than design questions.
- What problems am I solving? How do I know there is a need for this product? What values does my product bring to users? What hypotheses am I making and how will I validate them? I don't have unlimited resources, then how do I validate them in a lean and frugal way?
- How does my product impact the business's budget and growth? What's the go-to-market strategy? How will I bring users along?
- Design a product from the engineering's perspective. If you don't code, it's difficult to understand the design from the engineer's perspective.
- Have I thought through edge cases? Is the design implementable? (Don't assume engineers are magicians.) Have I considered code reusability? What is the impact of my design on the performance of the application? What is the impact of my design on the release cycle?
Don't let "Career Goal" limit you
- You are asked "what's your career goal" in an interview – very common question, too common that even few interviewers have a clue why they ask. What do you say? Well, I used to say a goal or two that make me sound a "perfect fit". Not any more... Keep reading here.
The life of truth
- The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated that all truth goes through three steps.
- First, it is ridiculed.
- Second, it is violently opposed.
- Finally, it is accepted as self-evident.
- When one people died in a Tesla during autopilot, everyone outcried how unsafe autonomous cars are, while ignoring the fact that this is the only one casualty in over 130-million mileages of driving in autopilot. Check the average, dude.
Research is meant to make impact, not "career on papers"
- I was listening to Ed Catmull (Pixar co-founder, president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios) interview with Jason Calacanis on This Weeks in Startups. To many, it's less known that Ed is – more than a legendary entrepreneur – a computer scientist and researcher pioneering computer graphics and animation back in 70's and 80's. He was a very prolific author, having published about 25 papers on SIGGRAPH.
- I thought more about the meaning of "research", and why the computer science research today is concerning.
- Read more...
Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.
- I read a story in "Awaken the Giant Within" by Tony Robbins. In the Formula racing school, the instructor put students in a "skid car" – which has a computer built into it with hydraulic lifts that can pull any wheel off the ground on a moment's signal from the instructor. They teach the #1 fundamental with it: Focus on where you want to go, no on what you fear. When the driver skids out of control, the instinct is to look at the wall. But if you focus on the wall, you'll end up hitting it. The lesson is resist the fear, have faith, and focus on where you want to go. Then your actions will take you in that direction.
- Your decide where to focus. Change your mental state away from fear. Then you are more likely to go where you want to go.
Solve customers' problems first. "Design" next.
- AngelList has a strong design culture about "solving problems for customers".
- Pay attention to the product context: is the priority solving problems, or optimizing?
- Optimizing design like crazy to solve problems better. Better font family and size; larger or smaller paddings; another layout; muted color; depth; shades; catchy animation; whatever it is.
Truth is relative.
- When you find a "truth", be aware if it's "Your Truth" or "The Truth". We form "truths" using our own – hence limited – experience, knowledge and judgement. It may not be The Truth at all. 😢
- A truth may only seem true when we look backwards, not forwards – i.e. in hindsight. iPhone will change phones forever is a truth now. But it was not in 2007. Many people predict futures wrong, even visionaries like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
- Don't let your experience, knowledge and judgement limit your decision making, or you may completely miss it. Visionaries are visionaries because they learn and adapt their truths quickly. In hindsight, Steve Jobs got everything right. But don't look at the results. Look at the processes. Read his biography and you'll see how many times he was wrong – e.g. in 2008 Steve thought the App Store is a stupid idea. But he seemed get everything right eventually, because he knew his truth was not necessarily the truth. He adapted.
- On the contrary, Steve Ballmer laughed at iPhone because he held his truth, that the software + service model is the way to go, not the tightly controlled software + hardware model. But in the case of mobile, it was completely wrong. It was not "the truth". Unfortunately, Ballmer held his truth for a bit too long.
- On the other hand, Google has tremendous success with Android, proving that Apple's software + hardware model is not the only truth out there, either.
- The truth is always out there, but what's in your head, is just your truth.
Never fool yourself.
- Richard Feynman said: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. How many times we say "Yes" to parties we don't really like to go? How many times we say "Good" to things that are not really good? How many times we try to keep a relationship that we know not going to work out? When we find we're convincing ourselves, be cautious, because we may be fooling ourselves by convincing.
Stay foolish, assume nothing.
- The fewer we assume, the better we can form opinions.
- The fewer we assume, the better we can listen and assimilate opinions from others, hence make better decisions.
- The fewer we assume, the better we can look at the problem through others' lens, hence better understand the problem and come up with better solutions.
- We often make assumptions based on our limited experience and knowledge, therefore the assumptions tend to be biased, wrong, and unreliable.
Don't be a donkey.
- Learned from Derek Sivers. I directly quoted or paraphrased Derek's article below.
- Buridan’s donkey is standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. It keeps looking left and right, trying to decide between hay and water. Unable to decide, it eventually falls over and dies of hunger and thirsty.
- Make progress on one direction, rather than trying to pursue many different directions at once.
- Think and plan long-term. Do just one for a few years, then another for a few years, then another.
- If you have 5 big things to pursue, don't think about pursuing all in a year. Give each thing 10 years and you'll get them all done when you are 70 – assuming you're 20 now. Don't overestimate what you can do in a year, and don't underestimate what you can do in 10 years. You can get A LOT done in 10 years, as long as you focus!
Don't search for startup ideas.
- Learned from both Paul Graham's article "How to get startup ideas" and my own experience. You have to read it if you are thinking about starting a startup.
- You cannot find great startup ideas by deliberately searching for them. If you do, you may get bad ideas that sound dangerously plausible at the beginning.
- The best way is to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself. Why? Solving your own problems guarantees that 1) the problem really exists (unless you fool yourself big time), and 2) you will have a user from day one – yourself.
- Paul Graham: "The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they're something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way."
- Steve Jobs: "The older I get, the more I see how much motivations matter. The Zune was crappy because the people at Microsoft don’t really love music or art the way we do. We won because we personally love music. We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out. If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much."
- Pay attention to everything that's happening around you. What are you (or your spouse, children or friends) complaining about? Anything not as good as you hope it'd be? What are you buying every week but has lame quality? You may find ideas then!
- If you don't have butterflies in your stomach, you are not paying attention.
Pleasure and pain.
- Pleasure and pain are the pair that decides virtually everything we do and don't do. If you do a thing, it's because you associate more pleasure than pain with it. If you don't do a thing, it's because you associate more pain than pleasure with it.
- If you have a bad habit you want to get rid of but cannot (say, smoking), it's because the pain you associate with quitting smoking is larger than the pleasure you associate with the results of quitting smoking.
- Associating more pain with "not quitting smoking" and more pleasure with the results helps you get rid of the habit.
- Do you procrastinate? That's because you associate more pain with doing something. Even though you know once you finish it, you will be happy, but the pain associated with doing it now overweighs the pleasure associated with finishing it. Solution? Associate massive pain with not doing it now.