Little Bits of Knowledge

I am changing the name of this blog to Little Bits of Knowledge.

This blog will be accessible from Little Bits of Knowledge or lbok. There are three reasons for this change.

  1. The new name reflects what I want to focus on, going forward.
  2. By removing my name, I can have more guests posting in this blog in future.
  3. I want to curate more posts and occasionally write new ones. I feel I can share and contribute better that way. This inspiration comes from Four Short Links.

So you will see shorter more frequent posts here.

A Few of my Favorite Quotes from Peter Thiel’s Zero to One

We are going to discuss the book at Chennai Open Coffee Club today. So I decided to take all the fragments I marked up from the the book and share it in this post. Hopefully, we will get to most of them in our book club discussion. I apologize that these quotes do not have much of a context or selected based on some criteria. I resonate with most of them and puzzled by a few. Here it goes:

This book is about the questions you must ask and answer to succeed in the business of doing new things: what follows is not a manual or a record of knowledge but an exercise in thinking. Because that is what a startup has to do: question received ideas and rethink business from scratch.

  • E VERY MOMENT IN BUSINESS happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.
  • Unless they invest in the difficult task of creating new things, American companies will fail in the future no matter how big their profits remain today.
  • The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative.
  • In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.
  •  it’s hard to develop new things in big organizations,
  • Positively defined, a startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.
  • If you lose sight of competitive reality and focus on trivial differentiating factors— maybe you think your naan is superior because of your great-grandmother’s recipe—your business is unlikely to survive.
  • In the real world outside economic theory, every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot.
  • a great business is defined by its ability to generate cash flows in the future.
  • Simply stated, the value of a business today is the sum of all the money it will make in the future .
  • Most of a tech company’s value will come at least 10 to 15 years in the future.
  • As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage.
  • network effects businesses must start with especially small markets.
  • successful network businesses rarely get started by MBA types: the initial markets are so small that they often don’t even appear to be business opportunities at all.
  • Beginning with brand rather than substance is dangerous.
  • Every startup is small at the start. Every monopoly dominates a large share of its market. Therefore, every startup should start with a very small market. Always err on the side of starting too small. The reason is simple: it’s easier to dominate a small market than a large one . If you think your initial market might be too big, it almost certainly is.
  • The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors.
  • future: is it a matter of chance or design?
  • Instead of pursuing many-sided mediocrity and calling it “well-roundedness,” a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it.
  • Boom produced a generation of indefinite optimists so used to effortless progress that they feel entitled to it.
  • fascination with statistical predictions – statistical predictions of what the country will be thinking in a few weeks ’ time than by visionary predictions of what the country will look like 10 or 20 years from now.
  • A startup is the largest endeavor over which you can have definite mastery. You can have agency not just over your own life, but over a small and important part of the world. It begins by rejecting the unjust tyranny of Chance. You are not a lottery ticket.
  • never underestimate exponential growth.
  • After all, less than 1% of new businesses started each year in the U.S. receive venture funding, and total VC investment accounts for less than 0.2% of GDP. But the results of those investments disproportionately propel the entire economy. Venture-backed companies create 11% of all private sector jobs. They generate annual revenues equivalent to an astounding 21% of GDP. Indeed, the dozen largest tech companies were all venture-backed. Together those 12 companies are worth more than $ 2 trillion, more than all other tech companies combined.
  • EVERY ONE OF TODAY ’S most famous and familiar ideas was once unknown and unsuspected.
  • Companies are like countries in this way. Bad decisions made early on— if you choose the wrong partners or hire the wrong people , for example— are very hard to correct after they are made. It may take a crisis on the order of bankruptcy before anybody will even try to correct them.
  • advertising doesn’t exist to make you buy a product right away; it exists to embed subtle impressions that will drive sales later.
  • It’s better to think of distribution as something essential to the design of your product. If you’ve invented something new but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business— no matter how good the product.
  • Superior sales and distribution by itself can create a monopoly, even with no product differentiation.
  • The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.
  • But the most valuable companies in the future won’t ask what problems can be solved with computers alone. Instead, they’ll ask: how can computers help humans solve hard problems?
  • The Engineering Question Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements? 2. The Timing Question Is now the right time to start your particular business? 3. The Monopoly Question Are you starting with a big share of a small market? 4. The People Question Do you have the right team? 5. The Distribution Question Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product? 6. The Durability Question Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future? 7. The Secret Question Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?
  • Customers won’t care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way.
  • cleantech executives were running around wearing suits and ties. This was a huge red flag, because real technologists wear T-shirts and jeans.
  • never invest in a tech CEO that wears a suit
  • An entrepreneur can’t benefit from macro-scale insight unless his own plans begin at the micro-scale.
  • No sector will ever be so important that merely participating in it will be enough to build a great company.
  • But a valuable business must start by finding a niche and dominating a small market.
  • O F THE SIX PEOPLE who started PayPal, four had built bombs in high school. Five were just 23 years old— or younger. Four of us had been born outside the United States.
  • IF EVEN THE MOST FARSIGHTED founders cannot plan beyond the next 20 to 30 years, is there anything to say about the very distant future?

And then, as it usually happens, I discovered this one

Nice Read – A Push Down Goal Stack

The c2 wiki never ceases to amaze me.  It carries the evolution of ideas and thinking about software development. A lot of those ideas are good Life Hacks too.  Every time I go there to read, I find it difficult to leave. There are lots of good ideas there to reflect on. Here is one of them.

Situation: You have a push-down stack for all your goals. When you hit an obstacle, you push “remove the obstacle” onto the stack. Then, when the obstacle is cleared, you pop the stack, and you are back at your original problem.Problem: For some reason, the problems you push onto the stack keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger, dwarfing the original problem, each one dwarfing the one before it.Forces that seem to make this problem necessary or inevitable:

  • A stack is easier to understand and use than some more complicated goal structure. And, goals seem to be hierarchical. Stacks are good for traversing hierarchies.
  • The bigger problems, if solved, will make a number of other problems easier, not necessarily just the one you originally wanted to solve. They may have value in their own right. They are worth solving thoroughly.
  • The goal inflation is not infinite; it seems that the goals shrink down again to something reasonable after the stack gets to a depth of about seven or so.
  • If you’re just having fun, you might have fun exploring all these different things.
  • But you’ve only got so much time, and you don’t want to give up your original goal, nor do you want to delay it for years and years. You feel like you are working on the irrelevant.

My own push down stack of hierarchy of needs for Build Skills (just to make it easier to read, I have reversed the stack).

  • What skills will have most impact?
  • Job Skills for students – because it helps them to leverage learning to find (better) jobs. But it also gets them an early start to focus on things that matter in real life.
  • What are Job Skills (I focus on tech jobs because that is what I know best)? Software Skills and Communication Skills.
  • Software skills gives them knowledge and confidence. Both are needed to get good jobs from cool companies (BTW, my concept of good jobs is certainly not working for one of the Big Companies). In the beginning every one should work for small/medium startups where their work has some impact.
  • How do they acquire software skills? They can start with a simple yet powerful language like Python (or Ruby, PHP).  They need to build something useful and usable.
  • Why communication skills? For a developer, communication with the team is very important.
  • What are specific ways of practicing communication skills in software? The  Programmer’s Food Pyramid has a nice model to start with.
  • They have to learn to explore, experiment. They also need to learn to learn.

 

Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

Liz Wiseman talks about The Power of Not Knowing . She talks about multipliers and how they work.

Multipliers are different. Some of the common attributes you can find in multipliers are that:

  • They are supportive
  • They trust people
  • They listen a lot
  • They make you feel important
  • They seek help
  • They give appreciation
  • They get out of the way
  • They are demanding and have high expectations of you
  • They challenge you and let you suffer a bit
  • They operate from a place of inquiry
  • They push you out of your comfort zone into  spaces unknown
  • They ask questions that focus the energy and intelligence of the group

Diminishers hire great talent, but do not allow them to operate at their full potential. Here is how to identify them.

  • They micro manage people
  • They adopt a subtle attitude of  “my way or high way”
  • They typically operate in “tell” mode
  • They constantly emphasize their superiority
  • They remind you that you don’t know enough
  • They constantly interrupt
  • They operate from a place of knowledge (their knowledge)
  • They create stress in the teams that work for them

Listening to this talk, made me think, how we have a mixture of the qualities of both multipliers and diminishers. I have noticed that good multipliers are comfortable in their own skin and make great mentors and coaches.

After listening to Liz, I am putting her books on my reading list. I highly recommend listening to this podcast. 

Your Brain and The Concept of Desirable Difficulty

The struggle and frustration you feel at the edges of your abilities— that uncomfortable burn of “almost, almost”— is the sensation of constructing new neural connections, a phenomenon that the UCLA psychologist Robert Bjork calls “desirable difficulty.” Your brain works just like your muscles: no pain, no gain.

The concept is not new. In several articles about “being in the zone” and “being in the flow” you are at the edges of your capacity – not too hard, not too easy, just  stretched a bit. There is no need for intensity. A regular daily practice snacks  help.

With deep practice, small daily practice “snacks” are more effective than once-a-week practice binges. The reason has to do with the way our brains grow—incrementally, a little each day, even as we sleep. Daily practice, even for five minutes, nourishes this process, while more occasional practice forces your brain to play catch-up.
As a teacher, I am experimenting with these right chunks for each student. They are different for each student. The biggest challenge is to motivate them to make it a daily habit.

The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle  is an amazing read.  You can view the 52 tips from the book in this Slideshare presentation. I would urge you to get the book and read it. It is a keeper and will teach you a lot about developing talent whether you are a parent or a teacher.

Three Posts Worth Reading – On Shifts

These three posts are certainly worth reading. Why these three? One is a great report on industry shifts from one of the most influential thinkers in the industry. The second is another kind of shift – about the personal experience in shifting from one startup community to another. The third is an interesting shift – from emphasis on content to stimulating conversations.

Reflecting on Generational Changes

If you move beyond the insights from any single speaker or the announcements at the event (all were widely reported by re/code and others and new this year by re/code partner CNBC), one theme just keeps coming back to me—the vast difference in tone and content between the incumbents and the challengers, between legacy and disruptors, between the old guard and the new, or whatever labels you want to use. We talk all the time about the transition of our industry from one era to another (and don’t forget the term “post-PC” was first used in this very forum) and the conference provides a microcosm expressed through leaders of these transitions taking place.

My journey into the Berlin startup scene

I believe in the Silicon Valley / startup approach to problem-solving. I think there are a vast many ways that the human condition can be improved by applying this approach, and that we’ve only just scratched the surface with the startups that exist today.

Content is not king, conversations are:

if you want to be in business, you need to have business conversations. Conversations with your customers, with your prospects, with your leaders and your followers. So I’m of the belief that content isn’t “King” at all: Conversations are King!

I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did.

Adaptive Ignorance

From this amazing post by Maria The 13 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2013 quoting from On Looking

This adaptive ignorance, she argues, is there for a reason — we celebrate it as “concentration” and welcome its way of easing our cognitive overload by allowing us to conserve our precious mental resources only for the stimuli of immediate and vital importance, and to dismiss or entirely miss all else.

Thoughts:

Are we missing life by too much of this “Adaptive Ignorance”? What does it mean to live a little – more aware of people, places, events and feelings all around us?

Meta:

Maria’s reviews are so compelling sometimes, I keep buying these books. I am already enjoying it.

Once in a while, we let ourselves drift  – aided by an old song or a fond memory. There is some comfort in this drift, if you allow yourself the luxury.  Maria’s writing does that to me a lot.

Planning The Unplanned

I found this really fascinating:

All decisions involving uncertainty fall within two dis­tinct categories-those with contingencies, and those with­out. The latter are distinctly more difficult to deal with.

Most decisions, and nearly all human interaction, can be incorporated into a contingencies model. For example, a President may start a war, a man may sell his business, or divorce his wife. Such an action will produce a reaction; the number of reactions is infinite but the number of probable reactions is manageably small. Before making a decision, an individual can predict various reactions, and he can assess his original, or primary-mode, decision more effectively.

But there is also a category which cannot be analyzed by contingencies. This category involves events and situations which are absolutely unpredictable, not merely disasters of all sorts, but those also including rare moments of discovery and insight, such as those which produced the laser, or peni­cillin. Because these moments are unpredictable, they cannot be planned for in any logical manner. The mathe­matics are wholly unsatisfactory

from the book Andromeda Strain (when I searched for it, found this link too)

Skills For A New Age

As technology becomes ubiquitous, it also replaces the need for certain skills. Is that good or bad?

technology makes us both dumber and smarter.  In our technological age, we use machines to do many things we used to do for ourselves, so it shouldn’t be surprising that we’re getting worse at performing certain tasks.  We have been engineered by evolution to conserve our limited capacities by adapting to our environment.

A very thought provoking article.

  • What are the skills of the new age?
  • What is the Math of Learning?
  • How much higher order can we get in thinking?
  • What can we do that machines can’t do?
  • What skills do we need to cope with change?