Link: How Writing Regularly Can Improve Creativity and Clarity

This article by Paul Jun helped me realize why I crave for writing, and why it helps me so much. Worth reading.

Link: YCombinator’s Sam Altman sits down with Mark Zuckerberg to talk about how to build the future

YCombinator is one of the world’s top startup school. Stripe, Dropbox, AirBnB, Reddit, Weebly are some of the companies that have emerged from YCombinator. They provide seed funding for startups, and work with them on their ideas.

Sam Altam, President of YCombinator, interviews Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Among other interesting passages in the interview, Mark explains why they don’t believe at Facebook that experience is that important when hiring:

SamAltman: Another thing that I think Facebook has done exceptionally well is hiring, and I always tell founders that this is the thing you have to get good at. So how have you hired your team and what do you look for when you bring people on?

MarkZuckerberg: If you think about it, I started the company when I was 19, so I can’t institutionally believe that experience is that important, right, or else I would have a hard time reckoning selling myself and the company. So we invest in people who we think are just really talented, even if they haven’t done that thing before. And that applies to people who are fresh out of university as well as people like the CFO, who took the company public, had not taken a company public before, and a lot of his background was in production development at Genentech before. So just focusing on really talented people.

SamAltman: So if you don’t have the experience to look for, how do you assess someone’s raw talent?

MarkZuckerberg: Well, often you can tell from different things that they’ve done. So it’s not that… Obviously, everyone’s done something. Even if you’re 19, you’ve done side projects and interesting stuff, and I think what’s important is not to believe that someone has to have specifically done the job that they’re going to do in order to be able to do it well. One of the things that I think we’ve done well is just giving the people at the company a lot of opportunity, so it’s not just me who started when I was 19 and now I’m running this big company. There were a number of people who joined who were people I did problem sets with at Harvard or dropped out of Stanford or different programs who’ve grown with the company over this long period of time. And one of the things that I’m most proud of is we have about 12 different product groups at the company, and all of the people who are running them, with the exception of one, did not join the company running a product group or reporting to me.

Should Governments Regulate Peer-to-Peer Markets?

Dinner at home

Enrique Dans writes about the phenomenon of apps to eat out at private houses1. These apps aim to do for eating out what Airbnb did for travel accommodation and Uber for taxis. Or, if you want a less used example, what companies like LendingClub are doing for lending.

Not everyone is happy with these apps. For example, an article in BBC News says that “restaurant owners in Paris are furious with chefs who have started catering for diners in their own homes —traditional eateries say they could be put out of business as websites put customers directly in touch with cooks”:

In Paris, the restaurateurs’ union Synhorcat has appealed to the French government to crack down on “underground restaurants”, arguing that bistros and brasseries operating on very thin margins risk being put out of business.

Synhorcat estimates there are 3,000 home-chefs in France. It has two arguments against them: first, that home-restaurants are part of the black economy; and second, that hygiene and safety rules are being flouted.

“In the space of three years Airbnb has tripled its presence in Paris —to the point that there are now 50,000 flats advertised on its website,” —says Synhorcat’s president Didier Chenet— He says small and medium-sized hotels have been hit hard [by AirBnB] and over the summer they had to drop their prices. “If the government doesn’t do something to stop the underground restaurants, it will be the same disaster.”

The thing is, private chefs for hire or chefs that offer dinners at their places have always existed. And the internet is specially good at lowering barriers of entrance, and in making dormant supply surface and matching it with demand. It was just a matter of time for this to happen. For example, should gyms ask the government to do something if someone launches an app to match personal trainers with potential customers?

Just as the media industry tried to ban digital content and failed miserably, or phone companies tried to block Voice-IP calls in its beginnings instead of embracing change, I think the trend of peer-to-peer marketplaces emerging is here to stay, and will force the incumbents to rethink their businesses.

As of regulations per se, as some researchers suggest2 that it would be wise to take a relatively lenient early-stage approach to regulation. Peer-to-peer markets have a dynamic nature, specially if they grow very fast. Regulations, on the other hand, cannot be easily changed or withdrawn, so rules that look sensible at the time they are imposed may appear outdated or misguided.


  1. Some apps mentioned include EatAbout (“Enjoy private meals in the home of a chef”), Deliveroo (“Get amazing food from an incredible selection of local restaurants delivered in an average of just 32 minutes”), EatWith (“Join us at a communal table”, “Bringing chefs and foodies together one meal at a time”), ChefExchange (“Find private chefs to cook for you, at home”), and VizEat (“The world invites you to dinner”). 

  2. cfr Lira EINAV, Chiara FARRONATO, Jonathan LEVIN. Peer-to-Peer Markets. Working Paper 21496

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Tags: peer-to-peer, regulation, uber, airbnb

7 Steps for Achieving Extraordinary Results

The One Thing by Gary Keller is one of my favorite books because it offers a down-to-earth framework for achieving extraordinary results in work and in life in general. The author’s premise is that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus, or more precisely, by your ability to focus on what he calls the One Thing.

I strongly agree with most of what the author proposes. You can use the framework "as-is" or adapt it to suit your needs. While this post summarizes Keller's main points, I suggest you read the whole book. (You can also read the previous review I wrote about The One Thing.)

1. Develop an eye for the essential.

Achievers have an eye for the essential. They pause just long enough to decide what matters and then allow what matters to drive their day. Achievers do sooner what others plan to do later and defer, perhaps indefinitely, what others do sooner. The difference isn’t in intent, but in right of way. Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.

2. Getting things done is not a matter of discipline but of developing habits that will help you focus on the task at hand. Discipline is needed to acquire the habit, but we cannot run on discipline in the long term.

3. Achieving extraordinary results requires extraordinary efforts. In that sense, Keller does not believe in a balanced life as a goal to be achieved or a state of balance, but in counterbalancing your life as an every day reality, an act of balancing.

If you think of balance as the middle, then out of balance is when you’re away from it. Get too far away from the middle and you’re living at the extremes. The problem with living in the middle is that it prevents you from making extraordinary time commitments to anything. In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged and nothing gets its due.

Sometimes this can be okay and sometimes not. Knowing when to pursue the middle and when to pursue the extremes is in essence the true beginning of wisdom. Extraordinary results are achieved by this negotiation with your time.

One day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.

4. Keller’s framework is constructed on applying what he calls the Focusing Question to the different areas of your life: What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil…. It’s more about priorities, planning, and fiercely protecting your time.

To stay on track for the best possible day, month, year, or career, you must keep asking the Focusing Question. Ask it again and again, and it forces you to line up tasks in their levered order of importance. (…) you can drive yourself nuts analyzing every little aspect of everything you might do. I don’t do that, and you shouldn’t either. Start with the big stuff and see where it takes you. Over time, you’ll develop your own sense of when to use the big-picture question and when to use the small-focus question.

5. Answers to the Focusing Question come in three categories:

  • doable, something that is already within your reach
  • stretch, at the farthest end of your range
  • possibility, an answer that exists beyond what is already known and being done

Highly successful people”, explains Keller, “choose to live at the outer limits of achievement. They not only dream of but deeply crave what is beyond their natural grasp.”

6. The Focusing Question, however, is not enough. Adopting the mindset of someone seeking mastery is needed (the commitment to becoming your best, and embrace the effort it represents).

More than anything else, expertise tracks with hours invested. Michelangelo once said, “If the people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.”

You will also need to deal with the natural ceiling of achievement with a purposeful mindset (not accepting the limitations of our natural approach as the last word), and learn to be accountable for the outcome of your lives (in contrast with being a victim of the situation). This is essential —according to Keller— to achieve extraordinary results.

If you have to beg, then beg. If you have to barter, then barter. If you have to be creative, then be creative. Just don’t be a victim of your circumstances.

7. Be warned against the four thieves that can stand in our way to extraordinary results. The inability to say “No” , the fear of chaos —“pursuing your One Thing moves other things to the back burner (…) chaos is unavoidable. Make peace with it. Learn to deal with it”—, poor health habits, and an environment that doesn’t support your goals.

Link: How to Choose a Role Model

Paul Jun writes about the importance of having a Role Model. His remark is right on point: consciously or unconsciously, we all have role models and aspirations:

More than ever, we own the responsibility to be conscious of what we let in because it shapes who we become. Without being conscious of our role models and aspirations, we will latch onto anything shiny and popular, failing to question the ethics or virtues that lie behind what only appears to be good or successful.

This article is also available in other languages:
Tags: role models, aspirations

What is talent?

Paul Jun reflecting about Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code:

The fundamental truth is this: when we look at talented people and feel battered by the fact that we may never live a life like that, we fail to see the whole story —parenting, environments that were either rich in stimulation or deprived with poverty, the right teachers, predisposition and the actualization of talent early in life, the opportunities to nurture these predispositions, and some luck.

When we zoom out and look at all these dots that debunk the mystery around talent, it’s actually empowering. What opportunities we have to cultivate our hidden talents and to bring them to life—to potentially change the trajectory of our lives. The veil is lifted. Nowadays, the opportunities to find out what’s inside of you abound, and this quest of whether you’re drawn to music, numbers, or words is exactly the kind of journey that shapes our character and our lives. The big red stop sign at the beginning of this journey is the hopeless, false belief that talent is a gift rather than the “obstinate, continuous cultivation of a disposition, leading to skill in performance.”

The question is, what are we obsessively practicing and continuously cultivating that will lead us to skill in performance?

This article is also available in other languages:

Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

I won’t try to write a review of this great book by Austin Kleon because there are a lot of good ones available. (For example, this one in Spanish, or this one in English.)

Steal Like an Artist takes out part of the mystique around creativity, and will teach you some very concrete ideas about creative work and how to approach it, in a direct, colloquial, and easy to read style. The basic idea is that no work is really original. We are all a mashup of ideas.

In Brainpicking’s Maria Popova words, Steal Like an Artist is “an intelligent and articulate manifesto for the era of combinatorial creativity and remix culture that’s part 344 Questions, part Everything is a Remix, part The Gift, at once borrowed and entirely original.”

A quote from T.S. Eliot, stolen from Kleon’s book:

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.

For my self future-reference, here are the 10 points the author proposes:

  1. Steal like an Artist.
  2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
  3. Write the book you want to read.
  4. Use your hands.
  5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
  6. The Secret: Do good work and share it with people.
  7. Geography is no longer our master.
  8. Be nice. (The World is a small town.)
  9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
  10. Creativity is substraction.

Feedback and Being Vulnerable

Feedback

Feedback is important. Most people will agree on this. But how often do we ask for feedback? My guess is that not very often.

More frequently, we ask for advice. But asking for advice is a whole different story. It’s not the same to ask someone what she thinks about an investment option we are considering, than to ask her what she thinks about our work evaluating the same investment option.

Asking for feedback exposes us, it makes us vulnerable. It requires overcoming the fear of failure, and being open to the possibility of hearing that our work is not as great as we think.

But alas, we could reframe the story from a different angle. Not asking for feedback is risky because we could be missing the opportunity to bring our work from good to great. Or to become better ourselves. Anybody really thinks she or he has nothing to improve?

Feedback is essential for anything that matters. Linus Torvalds is best known as the creator of Linux, the operating system that runs a large portion of the servers on the internet. In an interview by TED’s curator Chris Anderson, Torvalds explains that since very early in the development of Linux, he asked the developer community for feedback. Although a brilliant person and a proficient engineer and programmer, Torvalds felt the need to hear other people’s opinion about his ideas and his work:

Look, I’ve been working on this for half a year, I’d love to have comments.” It didn’t even start by people contributing code, it was more that people started contributing ideas. And just the fact that somebody else takes a look at your project — and I’m sure it’s true of other things, too, but it’s definitely true in code — is that somebody else takes an interest in your code, looks at it enough to actually give you feedback and give you ideas… that was a huge thing for me. (4:42 min)

Of course, not every comment on your work is good feedback. Seth Godin writes that “Empty criticism and snark does no one any good. But genuine, useful, insightful feedback is a priceless gift.”

So, when was the last time you asked for feedback?

This article is also available in other languages:
Tags: feedback

About Podcasts

A few weeks ago some friends and I were having a nice conversation, and the topic drifted toward our favorite iPhone apps and other similar geeky stuff. But to my surprise, when I mentioned some of the podcasts I listen to, no one knew what I was talking about.

Podcasting is a form of audio broadcasting on the internet. The podcasters records a show, to which you can subscribe to using an app. Usually, the show airs with a fixed frequency (weekly, or even daily), but while this may be important for growing an audience, it is not a requisite nor essential to podcasting. Once published, you can listen to the show’s episode whenever it suits you best.

My favorite time for listening to podcasts is while driving over commutes. I’ve found that podcasts —and audio books— allow me to make good use of this otherwise idle time.

The easiest way to subscribe to a podcast is to find it through your podcast player. Most shows —and there are thousand available— are listed in one or more podcast directories. Podcast players like Overcast, Apple’s Podcasts App, or Shifty Jelly’s Pocket Casts let you browse those directories to discover and subscribe to shows. They take care of downloading the latest episodes each time one is available.

Some Podcasts you may find interesting

This is a list of some of the podcasts I am currently subscribed or have been subscribed to in the past. I don’t feel obliged to listen to every episode of them, and I purge my list frequently.

Dan Carlins Hardcore History

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Dan Carlin takes his outside-the-box way of thinking and applies it to the past. iTunes | RSS

The Moment Podcast

The Moment with Brian Koppleman. Interviews about the pivotal moments that fueled fascinating creative careers. iTunes | RSS

The Tim Ferriss Show

The Tim Ferris Show, where Tim Ferris deconstruct world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics and tools you can use. iTunes | RSS

The Knowledge Project

The Knowledge Project. Shane Parrish, author of The Farnam Street blog, interviews key luminaries from across the globe to gain insights into how they think, live, and connect ideas. The core themes will seem familiar to readers: Decision Making, Leadership, Innovation. iTunes | RSS

Cortex

Cortex. CGP Grey and Myke Hurley are both independent content creators. Each episode, they discuss the methods and tools they employ to be productive and creative. iTunes | RSS

Seth Godin's Startup School

Seth Godin’s Startup School Series by Earwolf. Seth Godin is a thought leader in the marketing and business world. In this rare live recording, hear Seth as he guides thirty entrepreneurs through a workshop exploring how they can build and run their dream business. iTunes | RSS

Writing and Storytelling

Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Daniel Wells discuss writing techniques in a fast-paced, 15-minute format. “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” iTunes | RSS

The Story Grid Podcast

The Story Grid Podcast. Join Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid and a top editor for 25+ years, and Tim Grahl, struggling writer, as they discuss the ins and outs of what makes a story great. iTunes | RSS

Tech/Geek oriented Podcasts

Under the Radar

Under the Radar. David Smith and Marco Arment. From development and design to marketing and support, Under the Radar is all about independent app development. It’s never longer than 30 minutes. iTunes | RSS

ATP

Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP). Featuring Marco Arment, Casey Liss, and John Siracusa. “A tech podcast we accidentally created while trying to do a car show.” This show is always longer than 1 hour… iTunes | RSS


Tags: podcasts

Link: Richard Branson on Punctuality and Productivity

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, explains why punctuality is so important for him:

If you want to be more productive, then start at the start: get there on time. Whether it is a meeting, a flight, an appointment or a date, ensure you are there when you say you will be there.

Being on time is respectful to your hosts and also means you can effectively manage your day. Once you get behind, it is hard to catch back up again. Being punctual doesn’t mean rushing around the whole time. I always find the time to exercise - kitesurfing, tennis or cycling – and to spend time with my loved ones. It simply means organising your time effectively.

Being on time doesn’t mean working to a strict, rigid schedule. It means being an effective delegator, organiser and communicator. If it isn’t going to be possible for me to make an appointment, make that clear and apologise. If possible, find one of the team who will find it useful to attend on your behalf, and then ask them to feed back to you. If it really isn’t possible to be on time, call ahead.

Tags: productivity, respect, habits

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