Be like a River

Be like a flowing river, not a stagnant pond. Rivers are steadfast, tireless in striving to reach their goal – the ocean. No obstacle can stop their determined pursuit. They reduce boulders to pebbles. Track round hills and valleys. Fall from precipices. But never stop until they merge with the ocean.


Let’s get started 

The end of One Young World 2015 is here. Many of us are making plans about the next steps – about finding the cause we care for and making a difference. Inspired by 3 books I read this year , I wanted to share  a couple of lessons that might help moving from thought to action. .

Take a first step ASAP

We have an idea. The next step is planning and flushing out the idea- white boards, getting feedback and market surveys. Right? No. The recommendation is to skip all the intellectual masturbation and get straight to action. Don’t think too far – just start! Maybe take 30 mins to do something about your idea. Try your product on someone you meet ( even if they are not the ideal user). As Prof Yunus said, find the first user (or customer) , whack together a very basic product(minimum viable product) and get cracking!

Keep gathering momentum – bite sized improvements 

If your MVP works, we tend to go back to the drawing board. You want to foresee the future of your product and plan towards it. But plans work only in a stable world – our world changes very quickly. Change your mindset from planning the entire product to creating iterations of a fully functioning product- keep adding features or making improvements. This gives great momentum and energy. This is particularly useful if you work on some ideas as a “side job” – lack of momentum kills many ideas. Remember your ideas won’t save lives – only the implementation will. So keep pushing out versions of your product. Keep learning and improving.

Fail fast, learn faster

To allow the iterative development process to work, you need a major change in mindset. You need to learn to fail and fail fast. Accept that you are going to screw up and just screw up quickly.  You can’t be an adult without being a baby. Treat each iteration of your product as a lesson and fix one thing at a time. Over time the failures will reduce and the successes increase. But please fail fast and learn quicker.

I am learning as we go, slowly moving from thought to action. Hopefully these tips will help you too. Do leave a comment about the small steps you  are taking – am certain it’ll inspire all of us.

Have a go, you never know what happens…

The reading list :  
Little bets by Peter Sims
Scrum by Jeff Sutherland 
Lean startup by Eric Ries


P.S.  This post was in response to a fellow delegate’s question. Conversation was turned into this post. If you have  questions or feedback, I’d love to hear and improve this post. 

The First Principles

When Elon Musk  and his team were trying to estimate how much the first SpaceX rockets would cost, they could have just looked at the products on the market. Instead, they figured out what the necessary parts of a rocket are and then found out how much the raw materials of those parts would cost. The result was startling – SpaceX could build a rocket for about 2% of the typical price.

Elon Musk’s approach to solving problems is to always start with the first principles. He says that often we go with analogies  – “They did it this way OR nobody has done it yet”. But with first principles, he boils it down to fundamentals – the first principles. What are the physics of it? How much time with it take? How much will it cost? Why will it not be possible?

Ashlee Vance mentions how Musk wanted to revamp the very idea of the automobile and build an energy network at the same time with a budget equivalent to what Ford and ExxonMobil spend on their annual holiday parties. Or how similarly SpaceX created avionics parts at the cost of the food at meetings about the cost of avionics parts at traditional firms. Similar stories were shared by Sergey Brin & Larry Page when they first started with Google and people said it was impossible, but they worked out the numbers and figured it could be done. As Larry Page quotes “Good Ideas are always crazy until they are not”. 

When you start with a large task or challenge – conventional wisdom usually answers that it is not possible to solve such a challenge. However, if you were to work out the basics and the numbers underlying the challenge – it is often doable. Next time you hear something like “Thats how it is” – try switching to first principles.

Training & Management

I am reading “The Hard thing about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. I love the importance he provides to people. He says “Take care of the people, the products, and the profits – in that order”. In the book he pays a lot of importance to one-to-one meetings as well. I’ve always believed that an easy way to measure the importance a manager gives his people is by looking at the number of hours he/she spends on one-to-one meetings & grooming talent. Personally, I’ve had a huge difference in performance when managers spend more one-to-one time with me. Ben Horowitz goes a step further and says that CEOs (and managers) should design training courses about the company, its product and other decisions taken by the company. He argues that while McDonalds has a training course for its staff, how come more complex jobs in our organisations don’t have job specific training schedules?

This is his case for why training (conducted by the manager – as other trainers don’t know much about your company) is a high priority:

Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manger can perform. Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let’s count on three hours preparation for each hour of course time—twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class. Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training efforts result in a 1 percent improvement in you subordinates’ performance, you company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as the result of the expenditure of your twelve hours.

Wonderful perspective to keep in mind.

My super-public habit tracker 

May: Exercise 1 Blogging 6 Meditation 2