Sunday, September 25, 2022

Pick Partners With Intelligence, Energy and Integrity

In terms of picking people to work with, pick ones that have high intelligence, high energy, and high integrity, I find that’s the three-part checklist that you cannot compromise on.

You need someone who is smart, or they’ll head in the wrong direction. And you’re not going to end up in the right place. You need someone high-energy because the world is full of smart, lazy people.

We all know people in our life who are really smart, but can’t get out of bed, or lift a finger. And we also know people who are very high energy, but not that smart. So, they work hard, but they’re sort of running in the wrong direction.

And smart is not a pejorative. It’s not meant to say someone is smart, someone else is stupid. But it’s more that everyone is smart at different things. So, depending on what you want to do well, you have to find someone who is smart at that thing.

And then energy, a lot of times people are unmotivated for a specific thing, but they’re motivated for other things. So, for example, someone might be really unmotivated to go to a job, and sit in an office. But they might be really motivated to go paint, right?

Well, in that case they should be a painter. They should be putting art up on the internet. Trying to figure out how to build a career out of that, rather than wearing a collar around their neck, and going to a dreary job.

And then high integrity is the most important because otherwise if you’ve got the other two, what you have is you have a smart and hard working crook, who’s eventually going to cheat you. So, you have to figure out if the person is high-integrity.

And as we talked about, the way you do that is through signals. And signals is what they do, not what they say. It’s all the non-verbal stuff that they do when they think nobody is looking.

Motivation has to come intrinsically

Nivi: With respect to the energy, there was this interesting thing from Sam Altman a while back, where he was talking about delegation, and he was saying, “One of the important things for delegation is, delegate to people who are actually good at the thing that you want them to do.”

It’s the most obvious thing, but it seems like…  you want to partner with people who are naturally going to do the things that you want them to do.

Naval: Yeah. I almost won’t start a company, or hire a person, or work with somebody if I just don’t think they’re into what I want them to do.

When I was younger, I used to try and talk people into things. I had this idea that you could sell someone into doing something. But you can’t. You can’t keep them motivated. You can get them inspired initially. It might work if you’re a king like Henry V, and you’re trying to get them to just charge into battle, and then they’ll figure it out.

But if you’re trying to keep someone motivated for the long-term, that motivation has to come intrinsically. You can’t just create it, nor can you be the crutch for them if they don’t have that intrinsic motivation. So, you have to make sure people actually are high-energy, and want to do what you want them to do, and what you want to work with them on.

Integrity is what someone does, despite what they say they do

Reading signals is very, very important. Signals are what people do despite what they say. So, it’s important to pay attention to subtle signals. We all know that socially if someone treats a waiter, or waitress in a restaurant really badly, then it’s only a matter of time until they treat you badly.

If somebody screws over an enemy, and is vindictive towards them, well it’s only a matter of time before they redefine you from friend to enemy, and you feel their wrath. So, angry, outraged, vindictive, short-term thinking people are essentially that way in many interactions in real life.

People are oddly consistent. That’s one of the things you learn about them. So, you want to find long-term people. You want to find people who seem irrationally ethical.

For example, I had a friend of mine whose company I invested in, and the company failed, and he could have wiped out all of the investors. But he kept putting more and more personal money in. Through three different pivots he put personal money in until the company finally succeeded. And in the process, he never wiped out the investors.

And I was always grateful to him for that. I said, “Wow, that’s amazing that you were so good to your investors. You didn’t wipe them out.” And he got offended by that. He said, “I didn’t do it for you. I didn’t do it for my investors. I did it for me. It’s my own self-esteem. It’s what I care about. That’s how I live my life.” That’s the kind of person you want to work with.

Another quote that I like, I have a tweet on this. I think I read this somewhere else, so I’m not taking credit for this. But I kind of modified it a little bit. Which is that “self-esteem is the reputation that you have with yourself.” You’ll always know.

So, good people, moral people, ethical people, easy to work with people, reliable people, tend to have very high self-esteem because they have very good reputations with themselves, and they understand that.

It’s not ego. Self-esteem and ego are different things. Because ego can be undeserved, but self-esteem at least you feel like you lived up to your own internal moral code of ethics.

And so it’s very hard to work with people who end up being low integrity. And it’s hard to figure out who is high integrity and low integrity. Generally, the more someone is saying that they’re moral, ethical, and high integrity, the less likely they are to be that way.

It’s very much like status signalling. If you overtly bid for status, if you overtly talk about being high status, that is a low status move. If you openly talk about how honest, reliable, and trustworthy you are, you’re probably not that honest and trustworthy. That is a characteristic of con men.

So, yeah, pick an industry in which you can play long-term games with long-term people.

 

Source –

https://nav.al/intelligence-energy-integrity

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Some Rules To Be Successful

I’ve observed thousands of founders and thought a lot about what it takes to make a huge amount of money or to create something important. Usually, people start off wanting the former and end up wanting the latter.

Here are 13 thoughts about how to achieve such outlier success. Everything here is easier to do once you’ve already reached a baseline degree of success (through privilege or effort) and want to put in the work to turn that into outlier success. [1] But much of it applies to anyone.

1. Compound yourself

Compounding is magic. Look for it everywhere. Exponential curves are the key to wealth generation.

A medium-sized business that grows 50% in value every year becomes huge in a very short amount of time. Few businesses in the world have true network effects and extreme scalability. But with technology, more and more will.  It’s worth a lot of effort to find them and create them.

You also want to be an exponential curve yourself—you should aim for your life to follow an ever-increasing up-and-to-the-right trajectory. It’s important to move towards a career that has a compounding effect—most careers progress fairly linearly.

You don't want to be in a career where people who have been doing it for two years can be as effective as people who have been doing it for twenty—your rate of learning should always be high. As your career progresses, each unit of work you do should generate more and more results. There are many ways to get this leverage, such as capital, technology, brand, network effects, and managing people.

It’s useful to focus on adding another zero to whatever you define as your success metric—money, status, impact on the world, or whatever. I am willing to take as much time as needed between projects to find my next thing. But I always want it to be a project that, if successful, will make the rest of my career look like a footnote.

Most people get bogged down in linear opportunities. Be willing to let small opportunities go to focus on potential step changes.

I think the biggest competitive advantage in business—either for a company or for an individual’s career—is long-term thinking with a broad view of how different systems in the world are going to come together. One of the notable aspects of compound growth is that the furthest out years are the most important. In a world where almost no one takes a truly long-term view, the market richly rewards those who do.

Trust the exponential, be patient, and be pleasantly surprised.

2. Have almost too much self-belief

Self-belief is immensely powerful. The most successful people I know believe in themselves almost to the point of delusion.

Cultivate this early. As you get more data points that your judgment is good and you can consistently deliver results, trust yourself more.

If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard to let yourself have contrarian ideas about the future. But this is where most value gets created.

I remember when Elon Musk took me on a tour of the SpaceX factory many years ago. He talked in detail about manufacturing every part of the rocket, but the thing that sticks in memory was the look of absolute certainty on his face when he talked about sending large rockets to Mars. I left thinking “huh, so that’s the benchmark for what conviction looks like.”

Managing your own morale—and your team’s morale—is one of the greatest challenges of most endeavors. It’s almost impossible without a lot of self-belief. And unfortunately, the more ambitious you are, the more the world will try to tear you down.  

Most highly successful people have been really right about the future at least once at a time when people thought they were wrong. If not, they would have faced much more competition.

Self-belief must be balanced with self-awareness. I used to hate criticism of any sort and actively avoided it. Now I try to always listen to it with the assumption that it’s true, and then decide if I want to act on it or not. Truth-seeking is hard and often painful, but it is what separates self-belief from self-delusion.

This balance also helps you avoid coming across as entitled and out of touch.

3. Learn to think independently

Entrepreneurship is very difficult to teach because original thinking is very difficult to teach. School is not set up to teach this—in fact, it generally rewards the opposite. So you have to cultivate it on your own.

Thinking from first principles and trying to generate new ideas is fun, and finding people to exchange them with is a great way to get better at this. The next step is to find easy, fast ways to test these ideas in the real world.

“I will fail many times, and I will be really right once” is the entrepreneurs’ way. You have to give yourself a lot of chances to get lucky.

One of the most powerful lessons to learn is that you can figure out what to do in situations that seem to have no solution. The more times you do this, the more you will believe it. Grit comes from learning you can get back up after you get knocked down.

4. Get good at “sales”

Self-belief alone is not sufficient—you also have to be able to convince other people of what you believe.

All great careers, to some degree, become sales jobs. You have to evangelize your plans to customers, prospective employees, the press, investors, etc. This requires an inspiring vision, strong communication skills, some degree of charisma, and evidence of execution ability.

Getting good at communication—particularly written communication—is an investment worth making. My best advice for communicating clearly is to first make sure your thinking is clear and then use plain, concise language.

The best way to be good at sales is to genuinely believe in what you’re selling. Selling what you truly believe in feels great, and trying to sell snake oil feels awful.

Getting good at sales is like improving at any other skill—anyone can get better at it with deliberate practice. But for some reason, perhaps because it feels distasteful, many people treat it as something unlearnable.

My other big sales tip is to show up in person whenever it’s important. When I was first starting out, I was always willing to get on a plane. It was frequently unnecessary, but three times it led to career-making turning points for me that otherwise would have gone the other way.

5. Make it easy to take risks

Most people overestimate risk and underestimate reward. Taking risks is important because it’s impossible to be right all the time—you have to try many things and adapt quickly as you learn more.

It’s often easier to take risks early in your career; you don’t have much to lose, and you potentially have a lot to gain. Once you’ve gotten yourself to a point where you have your basic obligations covered you should try to make it easy to take risks. Look for small bets you can make where you lose 1x if you’re wrong but make 100x if it works. Then make a bigger bet in that direction.

Don’t save up for too long, though. At YC, we’ve often noticed a problem with founders that have spent a lot of time working at Google or Facebook. When people get used to a comfortable life, a predictable job, and a reputation of succeeding at whatever they do, it gets very hard to leave that behind (and people have an incredible ability to always match their lifestyle to next year’s salary). Even if they do leave, the temptation to return is great. It’s easy—and human nature—to prioritize short-term gain and convenience over long-term fulfillment.  

But when you aren’t on the treadmill, you can follow your hunches and spend time on things that might turn out to be really interesting. Keeping your life cheap and flexible for as long as you can is a powerful way to do this, but obviously comes with tradeoffs.

6. Focus

Focus is a force multiplier on work.

Almost everyone I’ve ever met would be well-served by spending more time thinking about what to focus on. It is much more important to work on the right thing than it is to work many hours. Most people waste most of their time on stuff that doesn’t matter.

Once you have figured out what to do, be unstoppable about getting your small handful of priorities accomplished quickly. I have yet to meet a slow-moving person who is very successful.

7. Work hard

You can get to about the 90th percentile in your field by working either smart or hard, which is still a great accomplishment. But getting to the 99th percentile requires both—you will be competing with other very talented people who will have great ideas and be willing to work a lot.

Extreme people get extreme results. Working a lot comes with huge life trade-offs, and it’s perfectly rational to decide not to do it. But it has a lot of advantages. As in most cases, momentum compounds, and success begets success.

And it’s often really fun. One of the great joys in life is finding your purpose, excelling at it, and discovering that your impact matters to something larger than yourself. A YC founder recently expressed great surprise about how much happier and more fulfilled he was after leaving his job at a big company and working towards his maximum possible impact. Working hard at that should be celebrated.  

It’s not entirely clear to me why working hard has become a Bad Thing in certain parts of the US, but this is certainly not the case in other parts of the world—the amount of energy and drive exhibited by entrepreneurs outside of the US is quickly becoming the new benchmark.

You have to figure out how to work hard without burning out. People find their own strategies for this, but one that almost always works is to find work you like doing with people you enjoy spending a lot of time with.

I think people who pretend you can be super successful professionally without working most of the time (for some period of your life) are doing a disservice. In fact, work stamina seems to be one of the biggest predictors of long-term success.

One more thought about working hard: do it at the beginning of your career. Hard work compounds like interest, and the earlier you do it, the more time you have for the benefits to pay off. It’s also easier to work hard when you have fewer other responsibilities, which is frequently but not always the case when you’re young.

8. Be bold

I believe that it’s easier to do a hard startup than an easy startup. People want to be part of something exciting and feel that their work matters.

If you are making progress on an important problem, you will have a constant tailwind of people wanting to help you. Let yourself grow more ambitious, and don’t be afraid to work on what you really want to work on.

If everyone else is starting meme companies, and you want to start a gene-editing company, then do that and don’t second guess it.

Follow your curiosity. Things that seem exciting to you will often seem exciting to other people too.

9. Be willful

A big secret is that you can bend the world to your will a surprising percentage of the time—most people don’t even try, and just accept that things are the way that they are.

People have an enormous capacity to make things happen. A combination of self-doubt, giving up too early, and not pushing hard enough prevents most people from ever reaching anywhere near their potential.

Ask for what you want. You usually won’t get it, and often the rejection will be painful. But when this works, it works surprisingly well.

Almost always, the people who say “I am going to keep going until this works, and no matter what the challenges are I’m going to figure them out”, and mean it, go on to succeed. They are persistent long enough to give themselves a chance for luck to go their way.

Airbnb is my benchmark for this. There are so many stories they tell that I wouldn’t recommend trying to reproduce (keeping maxed-out credit cards in those nine-slot three-ring binder pages kids use for baseball cards, eating dollar store cereal for every meal, battle after battle with powerful entrenched interest, and on and on) but they managed to survive long enough for luck to go their way.

To be willful, you have to be optimistic—hopefully this is a personality trait that can be improved with practice. I have never met a very successful pessimistic person.

10. Be hard to compete with

Most people understand that companies are more valuable if they are difficult to compete with. This is important, and obviously true.

But this holds true for you as an individual as well. If what you do can be done by someone else, it eventually will be, and for less money.

The best way to become difficult to compete with is to build up leverage. For example, you can do it with personal relationships, by building a strong personal brand, or by getting good at the intersection of multiple different fields. There are many other strategies, but you have to figure out some way to do it.

Most people do whatever most people they hang out with do. This mimetic behavior is usually a mistake—if you’re doing the same thing everyone else is doing, you will not be hard to compete with.

11. Build a network

Great work requires teams. Developing a network of talented people to work with—sometimes closely, sometimes loosely—is an essential part of a great career. The size of the network of really talented people you know often becomes the limiter for what you can accomplish.

An effective way to build a network is to help people as much as you can. Doing this, over a long period of time, is what lead to most of my best career opportunities and three of my four best investments. I’m continually surprised how often something good happens to me because of something I did to help a founder ten years ago.

One of the best ways to build a network is to develop a reputation for really taking care of the people who work with you. Be overly generous with sharing the upside; it will come back to you 10x. Also, learn how to evaluate what people are great at, and put them in those roles. (This is the most important thing I have learned about management, and I haven’t read much about it.) You want to have a reputation for pushing people hard enough that they accomplish more than they thought they could, but not so hard they burn out.

Everyone is better at some things than others. Define yourself by your strengths, not your weaknesses. Acknowledge your weaknesses and figure out how to work around them, but don’t let them stop you from doing what you want to do. “I can’t do X because I’m not good at Y” is something I hear from entrepreneurs surprisingly often, and almost always reflects a lack of creativity. The best way to make up for your weaknesses is to hire complementary team members instead of just hiring people who are good at the same things you are.

A particularly valuable part of building a network is to get good at discovering undiscovered talent. Quickly spotting intelligence, drive, and creativity gets much easier with practice. The easiest way to learn is just to meet a lot of people, and keep track of who goes on to impress you and who doesn’t. Remember that you are mostly looking for rate of improvement, and don’t overvalue experience or current accomplishment.

I try to always ask myself when I meet someone new “is this person a force of nature?” It’s a pretty good heuristic for finding people who are likely to accomplish great things.

A special case of developing a network is finding someone eminent to take a bet on you, ideally early in your career. The best way to do this, no surprise, is to go out of your way to be helpful. (And remember that you have to pay this forward at some point later!)

Finally, remember to spend your time with positive people who support your ambitions.

12. You get rich by owning things

The biggest economic misunderstanding of my childhood was that people got rich from high salaries. Though there are some exceptions—entertainers for example —almost no one in the history of the Forbes list has gotten there with a salary.

You get truly rich by owning things that increase rapidly in value.

This can be a piece of a business, real estate, natural resource, intellectual property, or other similar things. But somehow or other, you need to own equity in something, instead of just selling your time. Time only scales linearly.

The best way to make things that increase rapidly in value is by making things people want at scale.

13. Be internally driven

Most people are primarily externally driven; they do what they do because they want to impress other people. This is bad for many reasons, but here are two important ones.

First, you will work on consensus ideas and on consensus career tracks.  You will care a lot—much more than you realize—if other people think you’re doing the right thing. This will probably prevent you from doing truly interesting work, and even if you do, someone else would have done it anyway.

Second, you will usually get risk calculations wrong. You’ll be very focused on keeping up with other people and not falling behind in competitive games, even in the short term.

Smart people seem to be especially at risk of such externally-driven behavior. Being aware of it helps, but only a little—you will likely have to work super-hard to not fall in the mimetic trap.

The most successful people I know are primarily internally driven; they do what they do to impress themselves and because they feel compelled to make something happen in the world. After you’ve made enough money to buy whatever you want and gotten enough social status that it stops being fun to get more, this is the only force I know of that will continue to drive you to higher levels of performance.

This is why the question of a person’s motivation is so important. It’s the first thing I try to understand about someone. The right motivations are hard to define a set of rules for, but you know it when you see it.

Jessica Livingston and Paul Graham are my benchmarks for this. YC was widely mocked for the first few years, and almost no one thought it would be a big success when they first started. But they thought it would be great for the world if it worked, and they love helping people, and they were convinced their new model was better than the existing model.

Eventually, you will define your success by performing excellent work in areas that are important to you. The sooner you can start off in that direction, the further you will be able to go. It is hard to be wildly successful at anything you aren’t obsessed with.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

India @ 75 - Looking Ahead

We have seen it all - from our glorious history of thousands of years to the invaders and occupiers who left us broken, divided and poor. To the current position of almost a 3 trillion dollar economy and the engine of global growth, we have indeed come a long way. I am really looking forward to our journey towards a 10 trillion dollar economy and the third largest economy in the world. Let’s look at how we can make this journey smoother and faster.

Embrace Make In India

Let us start demanding only make in India products. Don’t look at the cynics who will point out that imports have gone up after the “Make In India” campaign was launched. Other countries have a 30 year head start over us. We will catch up with them. It is simple demand and supply. If we demand “Made In India” the supply will come.

It will mean more investments, more jobs, saving of forex and hopefully more exports down the line. Our large size means we have a large domestic market and because of that, large corporates will come and make here for the local and global markets.

Make All Payments Digitally

The government needs to earn to be able to spend. No one likes to pay taxes, however its an obligation that we need to fulfill. We have a wonderful digital payment network. When all payments are made digitally, it is possible to track those and then tax the income. All payments, large and small, should be made digitally. Only when the overall tax collection up can the tax rate come down.   

Be Socially Aware

In our daily actions, keeping our localities clean, making sure all officials are doing their jobs, helping those who are less fortunate than us, offering help to those who need it, taking care of public property. Overall, taking our roles as citizens more seriously.

Exercising Our Franchise

Vote for the best candidate – not because of the freebies they have promised or because they are from our region/caste/community. Capability and experience of the person should precede all other considerations while voting.

Nurture The Indian Community

By helping each other and not being divided by the narrow regional identities which allowed outsiders to exploit us for hundreds of years.

Proud Of Our Past. Shaping Our Future

We are kind. We are great traders. We are simple people. Our country has assimilated the largest gold reserves in the world without having a gold mine or invading other countries. Just by trading our spices, garments and goods with other countries. We have an excellent past with our architecture, science, technology, medicine, arts and craft and religion. Our doctors, scientists, engineers, professionals are the best in the world. We are a young country. We work hard. We are smart. We save a lot. We have culture. We have yoga. The future is ours.

Also let us start demanding the below from our politicians, these hurdles need to be addressed -

Clean Up Of The Judicial System

Our judicial system has become a joke. There is no other way to describe the current state of affairs. The entire system needs an overhaul. The way we select our judges, the working hours and summer holidays of the courts, the manner in which cases can drag on for decades – everything needs to be changed.

In a working system the “fear of law” is the ultimate arbitrator of disputes. When two parties have a dispute, both believe they are right. However, in most cases, it is fair to assume that one of the parties realises it is wrong and hence, should be fearful of going to the court and paying a large penalty. In India, because the system does not work, the party at fault is not afraid of going to the court as they are relatively sure of decades passing before our system delivers “justice”.

Clean Up Political Funding

Till the time politicians see their election win as a way of “recouping their investment” we will not be able to achieve our destiny. There has to be a way for an honest person to fight elections and have a fair chance to win without being obligated to spend crores on getting a party's backing and then spending further crores for his campaign. Till the time this does not happen, the people sitting on a chair will exploit the system in every way they can.

A confident and young India is ready to take its rightful pace in the world, once again. We are indeed fortunate to witness this journey and play a part in fulfilling our destiny. Exciting times ahead.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Good And Bad Procrastination

The most impressive people I know are all terrible procrastinators. So could it be that procrastination isn't always bad?

Most people who write about procrastination write about how to cure it. But this is, strictly speaking, impossible. There are an infinite number of things you could be doing. No matter what you work on, you're not working on everything else. So the question is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to procrastinate well.

There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I'd argue, is good procrastination.

That's the "absent-minded professor," who forgets to shave, or eat, or even perhaps look where he's going while he's thinking about some interesting question. His mind is absent from the everyday world because it's hard at work in another.

That's the sense in which the most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. They're type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.

What's "small stuff?" Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary. It's hard to say at the time what will turn out to be your best work (will it be your magnum opus on Sumerian temple architecture, or the detective thriller you wrote under a pseudonym?), but there's a whole class of tasks you can safely rule out: shaving, doing your laundry, cleaning the house, writing thank-you notes—anything that might be called an errand.

Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.

Good in a sense, at least. The people who want you to do the errands won't think it's good. But you probably have to annoy them if you want to get anything done. The mildest seeming people, if they want to do real work, all have a certain degree of ruthlessness when it comes to avoiding errands.

Some errands, like replying to letters, go away if you ignore them (perhaps taking friends with them). Others, like mowing the lawn, or filing tax returns, only get worse if you put them off. In principle it shouldn't work to put off the second kind of errand. You're going to have to do whatever it is eventually. Why not (as past-due notices are always saying) do it now?

The reason it pays to put off even those errands is that real work needs two things errands don't: big chunks of time, and the right mood. If you get inspired by some project, it can be a net win to blow off everything you were supposed to do for the next few days to work on it. Yes, those errands may cost you more time when you finally get around to them. But if you get a lot done during those few days, you will be net more productive.

In fact, it may not be a difference in degree, but a difference in kind. There may be types of work that can only be done in long, uninterrupted stretches, when inspiration hits, rather than dutifully in scheduled little slices. Empirically it seems to be so. When I think of the people I know who've done great things, I don't imagine them dutifully crossing items off to-do lists. I imagine them sneaking off to work on some new idea.

Conversely, forcing someone to perform errands synchronously is bound to limit their productivity. The cost of an interruption is not just the time it takes, but that it breaks the time on either side in half. You probably only have to interrupt someone a couple times a day before they're unable to work on hard problems at all.

I've wondered a lot about why startups are most productive at the very beginning, when they're just a couple guys in an apartment. The main reason may be that there's no one to interrupt them yet. In theory it's good when the founders finally get enough money to hire people to do some of the work for them. But it may be better to be overworked than interrupted. Once you dilute a startup with ordinary office workers—with type-B procrastinators—the whole company starts to resonate at their frequency. They're interrupt-driven, and soon you are too.

Errands are so effective at killing great projects that a lot of people use them for that purpose. Someone who has decided to write a novel, for example, will suddenly find that the house needs cleaning. People who fail to write novels don't do it by sitting in front of a blank page for days without writing anything. They do it by feeding the cat, going out to buy something they need for their apartment, meeting a friend for coffee, checking email. "I don't have time to work," they say. And they don't; they've made sure of that.

(There's also a variant where one has no place to work. The cure is to visit the places where famous people worked, and see how unsuitable they were.)

I've used both these excuses at one time or another. I've learned a lot of tricks for making myself work over the last 20 years, but even now I don't win consistently. Some days I get real work done. Other days are eaten up by errands. And I know it's usually my fault: I let errands eat up the day, to avoid facing some hard problem.

The most dangerous form of procrastination is unacknowledged type-B procrastination, because it doesn't feel like procrastination. You're "getting things done." Just the wrong things.

Any advice about procrastination that concentrates on crossing things off your to-do list is not only incomplete, but positively misleading, if it doesn't consider the possibility that the to-do list is itself a form of type-B procrastination. In fact, possibility is too weak a word. Nearly everyone's is. Unless you're working on the biggest things you could be working on, you're type-B procrastinating, no matter how much you're getting done.

In his famous essay You and Your Research (which I recommend to anyone ambitious, no matter what they're working on), Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are the most important problems in your field?
  2. Are you working on one of them?
  3. Why not?

Hamming was at Bell Labs when he started asking such questions. In principle anyone there ought to have been able to work on the most important problems in their field. Perhaps not everyone can make an equally dramatic mark on the world; I don't know; but whatever your capacities, there are projects that stretch them. So Hamming's exercise can be generalized to:

What's the best thing you could be working on, and why aren't you?

Most people will shy away from this question. I shy away from it myself; I see it there on the page and quickly move on to the next sentence. Hamming used to go around actually asking people this, and it didn't make him popular. But it's a question anyone ambitious should face.

The trouble is, you may end up hooking a very big fish with this bait. To do good work, you need to do more than find good projects. Once you've found them, you have to get yourself to work on them, and that can be hard. The bigger the problem, the harder it is to get yourself to work on it.

Of course, the main reason people find it difficult to work on a particular problem is that they don't enjoy it. When you're young, especially, you often find yourself working on stuff you don't really like-- because it seems impressive, for example, or because you've been assigned to work on it. Most grad students are stuck working on big problems they don't really like, and grad school is thus synonymous with procrastination.

But even when you like what you're working on, it's easier to get yourself to work on small problems than big ones. Why? Why is it so hard to work on big problems? One reason is that you may not get any reward in the forseeable future. If you work on something you can finish in a day or two, you can expect to have a nice feeling of accomplishment fairly soon. If the reward is indefinitely far in the future, it seems less real.

Another reason people don't work on big projects is, ironically, fear of wasting time. What if they fail? Then all the time they spent on it will be wasted. (In fact it probably won't be, because work on hard projects almost always leads somewhere.)

But the trouble with big problems can't be just that they promise no immediate reward and might cause you to waste a lot of time. If that were all, they'd be no worse than going to visit your in-laws. There's more to it than that. Big problems are terrifying. There's an almost physical pain in facing them. It's like having a vacuum cleaner hooked up to your imagination. All your initial ideas get sucked out immediately, and you don't have any more, and yet the vacuum cleaner is still sucking.

You can't look a big problem too directly in the eye. You have to approach it somewhat obliquely. But you have to adjust the angle just right: you have to be facing the big problem directly enough that you catch some of the excitement radiating from it, but not so much that it paralyzes you. You can tighten the angle once you get going, just as a sailboat can sail closer to the wind once it gets underway.

If you want to work on big things, you seem to have to trick yourself into doing it. You have to work on small things that could grow into big things, or work on successively larger things, or split the moral load with collaborators. It's not a sign of weakness to depend on such tricks. The very best work has been done this way.

When I talk to people who've managed to make themselves work on big things, I find that all blow off errands, and all feel guilty about it. I don't think they should feel guilty. There's more to do than anyone could. So someone doing the best work they can is inevitably going to leave a lot of errands undone. It seems a mistake to feel bad about that.

I think the way to "solve" the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you'll leave the right things undone.

Source –

http://paulgraham.com/procrastination.html?utm_campaign=Investing%20Thoughts%20from%20Abhishek%20Basumallick&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter\

Sunday, July 17, 2022

You And Your Life

“The title of my talk is "You and Your Research." It is not about managing research, it is about how you individually do your research. I could give a talk on the other subject — but it's not, it's about you. I'm not talking about ordinary run-of-the-mill research; I'm talking about great research. And for the sake of describing great research I'll occasionally say Nobel-Prize type of work. It doesn't have to gain the Nobel Prize, but I mean those kinds of things which we perceive are significant things. Relativity, if you want, Shannon's information theory, any number of outstanding theories — that's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Now, how did I come to do this study? At Los Alamos I was brought in to run the computing machines which other people had got going, so those scientists and physicists could get back to business. I saw I was a stooge. I saw that although physically I was the same, they were different. And to put the thing bluntly, I was envious. I wanted to know why they were so different from me. I saw Feynman up close. I saw Fermi and Teller. I saw Oppenheimer. I saw Hans Bethe: he was my boss. I saw quite a few very capable people. I became very interested in the difference between those who do and those who might have done.

When I came to Bell Labs, I came into a very productive department. Bode was the department head at the time; Shannon was there, and there were other people. I continued examining the questions, "Why?" and "What is the difference?" I continued subsequently by reading biographies, autobiographies, asking people questions such as: "How did you come to do this?" I tried to find out what are the differences. And that's what this talk is about.

In order to get at you individually, I must talk in the first person. I have to get you to drop modesty and say to yourself, "Yes, I would like to do first-class work." Our society frowns on people who set out to do really good work. You're not supposed to; luck is supposed to descend on you and you do great things by chance. Well, that's a kind of dumb thing to say. I say, why shouldn't you set out to do something significant. You don't have to tell other people, but shouldn't you say to yourself, "Yes, I would like to do something significant."

Let me start not logically, but psychologically. I find that the major objection is that people think great science is done by luck. It's all a matter of luck. Well, consider Einstein. Note how many different things he did that were good. Was it all luck? Wasn't it a little too repetitive? Consider Shannon. He didn't do just information theory. Several years before, he did some other good things and some which are still locked up in the security of cryptography. He did many good things.

You see again and again that it is more than one thing from a good person. Once in a while a person does only one thing in his whole life, and we'll talk about that later, but a lot of times there is repetition. I claim that luck will not cover everything. And I will cite Pasteur who said, "Luck favors the prepared mind." And I think that says it the way I believe it. There is indeed an element of luck, and no, there isn't. The prepared mind sooner or later finds something important and does it. So yes, it is luck. The particular thing you do is luck, but that you do something is not.

For example, when I came to Bell Labs, I shared an office for a while with Shannon. At the same time he was doing information theory, I was doing coding theory. It is suspicious that the two of us did it at the same place and at the same time — it was in the atmosphere. And you can say, "Yes, it was luck." On the other hand you can say, "But why of all the people in Bell Labs then were those the two who did it?" Yes, it is partly luck, and partly it is the prepared mind; but "partly" is the other thing I'm going to talk about. So, although I'll come back several more times to luck, I want to dispose of this matter of luck as being the sole criterion whether you do great work or not. I claim you have some, but not total, control over it. And I will quote, finally, Newton on the matter. Newton said, "If others would think as hard as I did, then they would get similar results."

How about having lots of brains? It sounds good. Most of you in this room probably have more than enough brains to do first-class work. But great work is something else than mere brains.


One of the characteristics of successful scientists is having courage. Once you get your courage up and believe that you can do important problems, then you can. If you think you can't, almost surely you are not going to. Courage is one of the things that Shannon had supremely. You have only to think of his major theorem. He wants to create a method of coding, but he doesn't know what to do so he makes a random code. Then he is stuck. And then he asks the impossible question, "What would the average random code do?" He then proves that the average code is arbitrarily good, and that therefore there must be at least one good code. Who but a man of infinite courage could have dared to think those thoughts? That is the characteristic of great scientists; they have courage. They will go forward under incredible circumstances; they think and continue to think.

This brings up the subject, out of order perhaps, of working conditions. What most people think are the best working conditions, are not. Very clearly they are not because people are often most productive when working conditions are bad. One of the better times of the Cambridge Physical Laboratories was when they had practically shacks — they did some of the best physics ever.

I give you a story from my own private life. Early on it became evident to me that Bell Laboratories was not going to give me the conventional acre of programming people to program computing machines in absolute binary. It was clear they weren't going to. But that was the way everybody did it. I could go to the West Coast and get a job with the airplane companies without any trouble, but the exciting people were at Bell Labs and the fellows out there in the airplane companies were not. I thought for a long while about, "Did I want to go or not?" and I wondered how I could get the best of two possible worlds. I finally said to myself, "Hamming, you think the machines can do practically everything. Why can't you make them write programs?" What appeared at first to me as a defect forced me into automatic programming very early. What appears to be a fault, often, by a change of viewpoint, turns out to be one of the greatest assets you can have. But you are not likely to think that when you first look the thing and say, "Gee, I'm never going to get enough programmers, so how can I ever do any great programming?"

And there are many other stories of the same kind; Grace Hopper has similar ones. I think that if you look carefully you will see that often the great scientists, by turning the problem around a bit, changed a defect to an asset. For example, many scientists when they found they couldn't do a problem finally began to study why not. They then turned it around the other way and said, "But of course, this is what it is" and got an important result. So ideal working conditions are very strange. The ones you want aren't always the best ones for you.

Now for the matter of drive. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode's office and said, "How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?" He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, "You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years." I simply slunk out of the office!

What Bode was saying was this: Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity — it is very much like compound interest. I don't want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime. I took Bode's remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done. I don't like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes; I needed to study. You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There's no question about this.

On this matter of drive Edison says, "Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration." He may have been exaggerating, but the idea is that solid work, steadily applied, gets you surprisingly far. The steady application of effort with a little bit more work, intelligently applied is what does it. That's the trouble; drive, misapplied, doesn't get you anywhere. I've often wondered why so many of my good friends at Bell Labs who worked as hard or harder than I did, didn't have so much to show for it. The misapplication of effort is a very serious matter. Just hard work is not enough - it must be applied sensibly.

There's another trait on the side which I want to talk about; that trait is ambiguity. It took me a while to discover its importance. Most people like to believe something is or is not true. Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead; they doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the new replacement theory. If you believe too much you'll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won't get started. It requires a lovely balance. But most great scientists are well aware of why their theories are true and they are also well aware of some slight misfits which don't quite fit and they don't forget it. Darwin writes in his autobiography that he found it necessary to write down every piece of evidence which appeared to contradict his beliefs because otherwise they would disappear from his mind. When you find apparent flaws you've got to be sensitive and keep track of those things, and keep an eye out for how they can be explained or how the theory can be changed to fit them. Those are often the great contributions. Great contributions are rarely done by adding another decimal place. It comes down to an emotional commitment. Most great scientists are completely committed to their problem. Those who don't become committed seldom produce outstanding, first-class work.

Now again, emotional commitment is not enough. It is a necessary condition apparently. And I think I can tell you the reason why. Everybody who has studied creativity is driven finally to saying, "creativity comes out of your subconscious." Somehow, suddenly, there it is. It just appears. Well, we know very little about the subconscious; but one thing you are pretty well aware of is that your dreams also come out of your subconscious. And you're aware your dreams are, to a fair extent, a reworking of the experiences of the day. If you are deeply immersed and committed to a topic, day after day after day, your subconscious has nothing to do but work on your problem. And so you wake up one morning, or on some afternoon, and there's the answer. For those who don't get committed to their current problem, the subconscious goofs off on other things and doesn't produce the big result. So the way to manage yourself is that when you have a real important problem you don't let anything else get the center of your attention — you keep your thoughts on the problem. Keep your subconscious starved so it has to work on your problem, so you can sleep peacefully and get the answer in the morning, free.

If you do not work on an important problem, it's unlikely you'll do important work. It's perfectly obvious. Great scientists have thought through, in a careful way, a number of important problems in their field, and they keep an eye on wondering how to attack them. Let me warn you, "important problem" must be phrased carefully. The three outstanding problems in physics, in a certain sense, were never worked on while I was at Bell Labs. By important I mean guaranteed a Nobel Prize and any sum of money you want to mention. We didn't work on (1) time travel, (2) teleportation, and (3) antigravity. They are not important problems because we do not have an attack. It's not the consequence that makes a problem important, it is that you have a reasonable attack. That is what makes a problem important. When I say that most scientists don't work on important problems, I mean it in that sense. The average scientist, so far as I can make out, spends almost all his time working on problems which he believes will not be important and he also doesn't believe that they will lead to important problems.

I spoke earlier about planting acorns so that oaks will grow. You can't always know exactly where to be, but you can keep active in places where something might happen. And even if you believe that great science is a matter of luck, you can stand on a mountain top where lightning strikes; you don't have to hide in the valley where you're safe. But the average scientist does routine safe work almost all the time and so he (or she) doesn't produce much. It's that simple. If you want to do great work, you clearly must work on important problems, and you should have an idea.

Along those lines at some urging from John Tukey and others, I finally adopted what I called "Great Thoughts Time." When I went to lunch Friday noon, I would only discuss great thoughts after that. By great thoughts I mean ones like: "What will be the role of computers in all of AT&T?", "How will computers change science?" For example, I came up with the observation at that time that nine out of ten experiments were done in the lab and one in ten on the computer. I made a remark to the vice presidents one time, that it would be reversed, i.e. nine out of ten experiments would be done on the computer and one in ten in the lab. They knew I was a crazy mathematician and had no sense of reality. I knew they were wrong and they've been proved wrong while I have been proved right. They built laboratories when they didn't need them. I saw that computers were transforming science because I spent a lot of time asking "What will be the impact of computers on science and how can I change it?" I asked myself, "How is it going to change Bell Labs?" I remarked one time, in the same address, that more than one-half of the people at Bell Labs will be interacting closely with computing machines before I leave. Well, you all have terminals now. I thought hard about where was my field going, where were the opportunities, and what were the important things to do. Let me go there so there is a chance I can do important things.

The great scientists, when an opportunity opens up, get after it and they pursue it. They drop all other things. They get rid of other things and they get after an idea because they had already thought the thing through. Their minds are prepared; they see the opportunity and they go after it. Now of course lots of times it doesn't work out, but you don't have to hit many of them to do some great science. It's kind of easy. One of the chief tricks is to live a long time!

Another trait, it took me a while to notice. I noticed the following facts about people who work with the door open or the door closed. I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don't know quite know what problems are worth working on; all the hard work you do is sort of tangential in importance. He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say, "The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind." I don't know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing — not much, but enough that they miss fame.

I want to talk on another topic. It is based on the song which I think many of you know, "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it." I'll start with an example of my own. I was conned into doing on a digital computer, in the absolute binary days, a problem which the best analog computers couldn't do. And I was getting an answer. When I thought carefully and said to myself, "You know, Hamming, you're going to have to file a report on this military job; after you spend a lot of money you're going to have to account for it and every analog installation is going to want the report to see if they can't find flaws in it." I was doing the required integration by a rather crummy method, to say the least, but I was getting the answer. And I realized that in truth the problem was not just to get the answer; it was to demonstrate for the first time, and beyond question, that I could beat the analog computer on its own ground with a digital machine. I reworked the method of solution, created a theory which was nice and elegant, and changed the way we computed the answer; the results were no different. The published report had an elegant method which was later known for years as "Hamming's Method of Integrating Differential Equations." It is somewhat obsolete now, but for a while it was a very good method. By changing the problem slightly, I did important work rather than trivial work.

To end this part, I'll remind you, "It is a poor workman who blames his tools — the good man gets on with the job, given what he's got, and gets the best answer he can." And I suggest that by altering the problem, by looking at the thing differently, you can make a great deal of difference in your final productivity because you can either do it in such a fashion that people can indeed build on what you've done, or you can do it in such a fashion that the next person has to essentially duplicate again what you've done. It isn't just a matter of the job, it's the way you write the report, the way you write the paper, the whole attitude. It's just as easy to do a broad, general job as one very special case. And it's much more satisfying and rewarding!

I have now come down to a topic which is very distasteful; it is not sufficient to do a job, you have to sell it. "Selling" to a scientist is an awkward thing to do. It's very ugly; you shouldn't have to do it. The world is supposed to be waiting, and when you do something great, they should rush out and welcome it. But the fact is everyone is busy with their own work. You must present it so well that they will set aside what they are doing, look at what you've done, read it, and come back and say, "Yes, that was good." I suggest that when you open a journal, as you turn the pages, you ask why you read some articles and not others. You had better write your report so when it is published in the Physical Review, or wherever else you want it, as the readers are turning the pages they won't just turn your pages but they will stop and read yours. If they don't stop and read it, you won't get credit.

There are three things you have to do in selling. You have to learn to write clearly and well so that people will read it, you must learn to give reasonably formal talks, and you also must learn to give informal talks.


Let me summarize. You've got to work on important problems. I deny that it is all luck, but I admit there is a fair element of luck. I subscribe to Pasteur's "Luck favors the prepared mind." I favor heavily what I did. Friday afternoons for years — great thoughts only — means that I committed 10% of my time trying to understand the bigger problems in the field, i.e. what was and what was not important. I found in the early days I had believed `this' and yet had spent all week marching in `that' direction. It was kind of foolish. If I really believe the action is over there, why do I march in this direction? I either had to change my goal or change what I did. So I changed something I did and I marched in the direction I thought was important. It's that easy.

I've told you how to do it. It is so easy, so why do so many people, with all their talents, fail? For example, my opinion, to this day, is that there are in the mathematics department at Bell Labs quite a few people far more able and far better endowed than I, but they didn't produce as much. Some of them did produce more than I did; Shannon produced more than I did, and some others produced a lot, but I was highly productive against a lot of other fellows who were better equipped. Why is it so? What happened to them? Why do so many of the people who have great promise, fail?

Well, one of the reasons is drive and commitment. The people who do great work with less ability but who are committed to it, get more done that those who have great skill and dabble in it, who work during the day and go home and do other things and come back and work the next day. They don't have the deep commitment that is apparently necessary for really first-class work. They turn out lots of good work, but we were talking, remember, about first-class work. There is a difference. Good people, very talented people, almost always turn out good work. We're talking about the outstanding work, the type of work that gets the Nobel Prize and gets recognition.

You find this happening again and again; good scientists will fight the system rather than learn to work with the system and take advantage of all the system has to offer. It has a lot, if you learn how to use it. It takes patience, but you can learn how to use the system pretty well, and you can learn how to get around it. After all, if you want a decision `No', you just go to your boss and get a `No' easy. If you want to do something, don't ask, do it. Present him with an accomplished fact. Don't give him a chance to tell you `No'. But if you want a `No', it's easy to get a `No'.

Another personality defect is ego assertion and I'll speak in this case of my own experience. I came from Los Alamos and in the early days I was using a machine in New York at 590 Madison Avenue where we merely rented time. I was still dressing in western clothes, big slash pockets, a bolo and all those things. I vaguely noticed that I was not getting as good service as other people. So I set out to measure. You came in and you waited for your turn; I felt I was not getting a fair deal. I said to myself, "Why? No Vice President at IBM said, `Give Hamming a bad time'. It is the secretaries at the bottom who are doing this. When a slot appears, they'll rush to find someone to slip in, but they go out and find somebody else. Now, why? I haven't mistreated them." Answer: I wasn't dressing the way they felt somebody in that situation should. It came down to just that — I wasn't dressing properly. I had to make the decision — was I going to assert my ego and dress the way I wanted to and have it steadily drain my effort from my professional life, or was I going to appear to conform better? I decided I would make an effort to appear to conform properly. The moment I did, I got much better service. And now, as an old colorful character, I get better service than other people.

You should dress according to the expectations of the audience spoken to. If I am going to give an address at the MIT computer center, I dress with a bolo and an old corduroy jacket or something else. I know enough not to let my clothes, my appearance, my manners get in the way of what I care about. An enormous number of scientists feel they must assert their ego and do their thing their way. They have got to be able to do this, that, or the other thing, and they pay a steady price.

On the other hand, we can't always give in. There are times when a certain amount of rebellion is sensible. I have observed almost all scientists enjoy a certain amount of twitting the system for the sheer love of it. What it comes down to basically is that you cannot be original in one area without having originality in others. Originality is being different. You can't be an original scientist without having some other original characteristics. But many a scientist has let his quirks in other places make him pay a far higher price than is necessary for the ego satisfaction he or she gets. I'm not against all ego assertion; I'm against some.

Another fault is anger. Often a scientist becomes angry, and this is no way to handle things. Amusement, yes, anger, no. Anger is misdirected. You should follow and cooperate rather than struggle against the system all the time.

Another thing you should look for is the positive side of things instead of the negative. I have already given you several examples, and there are many, many more; how, given the situation, by changing the way I looked at it, I converted what was apparently a defect to an asset. I'll give you another example. I am an egotistical person; there is no doubt about it. I knew that most people who took a sabbatical to write a book, didn't finish it on time. So before I left, I told all my friends that when I come back, that book was going to be done! Yes, I would have it done — I'd have been ashamed to come back without it! I used my ego to make myself behave the way I wanted to. I bragged about something so I'd have to perform. I found out many times, like a cornered rat in a real trap, I was surprisingly capable. I have found that it paid to say, ``Oh yes, I'll get the answer for you Tuesday,'' not having any idea how to do it. By Sunday night I was really hard thinking on how I was going to deliver by Tuesday. I often put my pride on the line and sometimes I failed, but as I said, like a cornered rat I'm surprised how often I did a good job. I think you need to learn to use yourself. I think you need to know how to convert a situation from one view to another which would increase the chance of success.

Now self-delusion in humans is very, very common. There are innumerable ways of you changing a thing and kidding yourself and making it look some other way. When you ask, "Why didn't you do such and such," the person has a thousand alibis. If you look at the history of science, usually these days there are ten people right there ready, and we pay off for the person who is there first. The other nine fellows say, "Well, I had the idea but I didn't do it and so on and so on." There are so many alibis. Why weren't you first? Why didn't you do it right? Don't try an alibi. Don't try and kid yourself. You can tell other people all the alibis you want. I don't mind. But to yourself try to be honest.

If you really want to be a first-class scientist you need to know yourself, your weaknesses, your strengths, and your bad faults, like my egotism. How can you convert a fault to an asset? How can you convert a situation where you haven't got enough manpower to move into a direction when that's exactly what you need to do? I say again that I have seen, as I studied the history, the successful scientist changed the viewpoint and what was a defect became an asset.

In summary, I claim that some of the reasons why so many people who have greatness within their grasp don't succeed are: they don't work on important problems, they don't become emotionally involved, they don't try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and they keep giving themselves alibis why they don't. They keep saying that it is a matter of luck. I've told you how easy it is; furthermore I've told you how to reform. Therefore, go forth and become great scientists!”

I would change the last line to “go forth and lead a great life”. 

 

Sources –

http://paulgraham.com/hamming.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Hamming