Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Creator

You’re just another average guy. Working hard. Trying to enjoy your weekends. All the while wondering what all of this is for. Feeling that what you’re doing seems to make no difference. That at a cosmic level, your life is a joke.

On one such sleepy afternoon, you drift off into a semi-conscious sleep where you’re suddenly aware of a powerful presence. You don’t need to ask him who he is. You already know.

You jump straight to the question that’s been bothering you for so long. Expecting a grand revelation, you ask
“What is the purpose of my life?”

“My amusement.” Says God matter-of-factly.

That is so anti-climatic that you are stupefied. Your whole life was a joke, after all.

“Bet you didn’t expect that, eh? You see, I wanted to have fun. And one of the biggest joys in life is that of creation. I should know, since I’ve been creating dust, light and matter for quite a while. I’d create a ball of dirt and have it explode into fireworks. To tell light and heat how to behave, I had to create Electromagnetic laws and Thermodynamics.

“You created light, dust and laws of physics for fun?” you ask incredulously.

“Yeah, but pretty soon, I got tired of that. There isn’t much fun in creating something simple. Things become interesting when they are complicated. So I created a few balls of light and left them alone to see what they’d do. But they didn’t do anything because there weren’t any forces to move them. To make them do something I had to invent Gravity and the laws of motion.

“For variety, I created a few billion variations of stars and clumped them into galaxies to look pretty. Gravity would keep pulling everything together into a single larger star. So I had to put them in motion. I had to make the stars massive otherwise they’d fizzle out too soon.

“But that got too monotonous so I threw in a few mud balls. I made each planets run around its star so that they wouldn’t get pulled in. I couldn’t make any planet too large because its own gravity would make it collapse into itself and turn it into a star. I could have prevented that with exceptions to gravity, but I didn’t want to break my own laws. Besides, this was getting interesting.

“I threw in a few rocks to the party. I made sure these Asteroids had different shapes to add a little variety.  I sprinkled this celestial painting with a few ice fragments that created varying length tails when they neared stars. To make the system stable, I created the law of conservation of Mass-Energy. And just for the heck of it, I made a few stars so massive that even light couldn’t escape them.

You asked, “And then you created life?”

“Patience, dude. I’ve barely begun.

“To add in a bit of unpredictability, I made sub-atomic particles a bit random. That randomness trickled upwards. That also made sure that any organism I created couldn’t take control of the world. That would kill the spontaneity of it.

“Now I thought I’d add some details. I did some landscaping and created a few robots to inhabit the planets. But they’d just do what I programmed them to. That got drab pretty soon. So I thought, instead of me designing everything, why don’t I let life evolve on its own?

“To make life evolve on its own, I threw a few bolts of lightning at the chemicals present in a few planets to create structures that would replicate themselves to a high degree of fidelity in the most case, but once in a while do it with errors that would introduce variation in the population of structures.

“It turns out, that that was all that I needed to do to kick start life. These replicators took care of the rest. Those that were better at replicating and surviving became more numerous and those that weren’t, perished. Thus began natural selection.

“As time went on, their processes became more complicated. To make sure the intermediate products of the long chemical chain reactions didn’t float away, a sheath began to form. That was how the cell developed.

“Then cells started to group together and specialize. That led to multi cellular organisms. The cells started to form simple, then complex organs housed within a single body. They competed with other bodies of their own kind and preyed on or were preyed upon by other bodies. This competition resulted directly from the conservation of Mass-Energy. Since resources were limited, the organisms had to fight for them.

“The mechanisms that they developed to do this were quite varied. Some used locomotion, some protective covering, some toxic chemicals. Some just turned around and fought.

Over millions of years these organisms evolved into complicated animals and plants .”
In animals, co-operation started to appear among the same species. Like in deer. Co-operation even started to appear between plants and animals. Like in the case of bees and flowers. Animals came up with their own hierarchies and social rules for living together and reproducing.

“What were you doing all this while?”, you asked.

“Me? I was sitting on my sofa and munching popcorn watching all of this. It was fascinating.

“There was one species of monkey that started to develop a higher order of consciousness. It could  imagine. That led to the creation of tools. To use the tools it started to move on two legs instead of four. It developed speech and then writing. That led to a different kind of evolution. That of ideas and concepts.

“Some of those concepts helped the species progress. Farming, Architecture, Textile and later on Medicine, Economics and Science. But there were some ideas that held them back. The concept of desire as sin and the upholding of blind faith were quite detrimental to well-being.

Religion started off as an awe of creation. Then it took on the responsibility of ensuring people are nice to each other. A carrot named heaven and a stick named hell were created to enforce this behavior. What started off as an attempt to establish peace and harmony, degenerated into dogmatism. The rationality in the sciences that led to progress was thrown out of the window.

Humans even developed silly ideas about me and used my name to control and kill each other.  That a species evolved to the point where they could conceive of me was incredible. That they could come this far and end up being absolutely wrong about me is even more incredible. It’s amusing to think that scientists are closer to understanding me than the religious folks are.

 “Why are you telling me all this?” you said.

“I want to test my hypothesis: That even if humans were told the Truth, they’d not accept it. The Truth that God isn’t a punisher of sins or granter of wishes. God’s just an engineer. But humans are so blinded by faith that even if someone comes along speaking sense, they ironically, will call him delusional”

That wakes you up from your reverie. So much happened in the past few minutes. But your life, is still, a joke.

-         -  Inspired by “The Selfish Gene” and “The Egg”

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The dangers of Altruism

Howard Roark's courtroom speech in "The Fountainhead" is one of the best and most important speeches I've ever heard. Why weren't we exposed to this in schools?



 I strongly recommend listening to the audio book.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

How to write a good Product Requirements Document

This is really explains what a Product Spec is and why it is needed.

I wish this was taught to me when I started off as a PM. But then, maybe I wouldn't have understood as much of it as I do now.

Monday, March 14, 2016

How To Beat Procrastination

3 key takeaways:

1. Eat that frog.
2. Break up fearsome work into smaller pieces: Possible approaches, plan and parts.
3. Crossing a few easy things off of a list is all it takes to build up the mental strength to tackle something big


Procrastination strikes everyone, and once it gets ahold of you, it can be very difficult to shake it off. When you imagine a highly productive person, you likely think of someone who focuses effortlessly on the job and never succumbs to procrastination. You know, the type who can sit on the ground in a subway station with their laptop and still manage to get more done in an hour than you would in a day at the library.
The truth is, ridiculously productive people face the same procrastination challenges as the rest of us. The difference is, they beat procrastination by using a calculated approach. First, they understand why they procrastinate, and then they apply strategies that beat procrastination before it takes hold. Anyone can follow this two-step, research-driven process to overcome procrastination.

The Procrastination Doom Loop

You can’t hope to stop procrastinating until you first have a firm understanding of why you procrastinate. New research from Joseph Ferrari at DePaul University shows that procrastination is more complicated than most people think. People tend to think of procrastination as coming from poor time management or laziness, but Ferrari’s research shows that procrastination stems from negative emotions that hijack your mood. Once you’re under the influence of these emotions, you can’t bring yourself to work.
Instead of being lazy or disorganized, people usually put things off because they aren’t in the right mood to complete the task. Doing so places you firmly inside the procrastination doom loop. Since you’ve decided that you aren’t in the right mood to work, you distract yourself with other tasks—checking email, checking the news, cleaning your desk, talking to a coworker, etc.—and by the time you come up for air, you feel guilty for having wasted so much time. This only worsens your mood, and as the deadline draws closer, you feel worse than you did when you first put off the task.

Overcoming Procrastination

Beating procrastination is a simple matter of exiting the doom loop by taking control of your mood. With the right strategies in place, you can take the reins and get yourself in the mood to get things done. The strategies that follow will help you to make this happen.
Figure out why. When you aren’t in the mood to work, procrastination is telling you something important. It could be something simple, such as you need to take a break or get something to eat. It could also be something complex, such as you’re carrying the team on your back or you’re dissatisfied with your job. Whatever it is, instead of punishing yourself for procrastinating, take a moment to reflect and figure out why you’re procrastinating. This could end up being the most productive step you take in conquering your task.
Remove your obstacles. Prior to getting started on a task, take a moment to carefully consider the obstacles that might get in your way. Then, develop a plan to ensure that they don’t. For example, you might have instructions for a task in your e-mail inbox, and if you don’t do anything about it, you’ll repeatedly go back to your inbox to look at them, only to get distracted by other incoming e-mails. In this case, your management plan should be to get the instructions out of your inbox prior to starting your work. By planning ahead, you can maintain your focus and avoid procrastination. After all, it’s much harder to regain focus than it is to maintain it.
Jump right in, no matter what. Sometimes it’s really hard to get started on something, even when it’s something that you love to do. I might be staring at a blank Word document or standing on the beach on a cold winter morning. That first step is difficult, but once you get going—typing that first paragraph or taking off on that first wave—your mood improves dramatically. When you focus your attention on how difficult and cruddy it is to get started, you discourage yourself from doing so. When you dive right in no matter what, your mood quickly improves, which helps you to stay on task.
Cut holes in your project. We often procrastinate because we feel intimidated by the size of a project. To minimize intimidation, try cutting holes in it. Find smaller pieces of the task that you can quickly and easily accomplish. For example, writing a proposal might require 10 hours of intense concentration, but you can spit out an intro in 15 minutes and develop a list of deliverables in 10. Before you know it, these smaller tasks have cut serious holes in the project and it’s no longer intimidating.
Work in the right environment. Even if you do everything else right, working in the wrong environment can make you succumb to procrastination. This means keeping yourself away from television, electronics, friends, and loud places. This isn’t what works for everyone, but you need to exercise discipline by working in the environment that’s right for you.
Enjoy small victories. There’s nothing quite like checking something off of your to-do list. To keep yourself from procrastinating, you need to experience this sense of accomplishment by tracking your progress carefully. Small victories build new androgen receptors in the areas of the brain responsible for reward and motivation. The increase in androgen receptors increases the influence of testosterone, which further increases confidence and eagerness to tackle challenges. This keeps you fired up and moving forward. Sometimes crossing a few easy things off of a list is all it takes to build up the mental strength to tackle something big. Remember, it’s not about doing small tasks to avoid big tasks; it’s about including small tasks in your daily checklist to build your confidence and momentum.
Get real. Setting unrealistic goals for your day is a great way to become discouraged and to succumb to the negative moods that fuel procrastination. Setting realistic goals keeps things positive, which keeps you in the right mood to work.
Take control of your self-talk. Saying to yourself, “I’m not going to procrastinate. I will not procrastinate,” virtually ensures that you will procrastinate. There’s a classic study where participants were told to not think about a white bear. It turns out it’s nearly impossible to avoid thinking about something that you tell yourself not to, as your mind gravitates towards the thing you’re trying to avoid. The trick is to shift your attention to something completely different (and positive). Instead of telling yourself not to procrastinate, think about what you will do and how great it’s going to feel to have it done. This way, your mind fixates on the action you want to take instead of the behavior you’re trying to avoid.
Don’t be a perfectionist. Most writers spend countless hours brainstorming characters and plot, and they even write page after page that they know they’ll never include in the book. They do this because they know that ideas need time to develop. We tend to freeze up when it’s time to get started because we know that our ideas aren’t perfect and what we produce might not be any good. But how can you ever produce something great if you don’t get started and give your ideas time to evolve? Author Jodi Picoult summarizes the importance of avoiding perfectionism perfectly: “You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.”
Focus on results. Chances are, you don’t enjoy going to the dentist. Not many people do. So why do you go? It gets results. Your dentist is quite good at making your teeth and gums healthier and more appealing. You also go because the pain of having someone pick at your teeth for an hour is nowhere near the pain of getting a cavity filled, a tooth pulled, or a root canal. You go to the dentist because you know the process is worth it. The same mentality applies to a challenging task. While it may make you anxious to get started, don’t focus on that. Just think of how great it’s going to feel to get things done and how much worse you’ll feel if you wait until the last minute and don’t give it your best effort.
Forgive yourself. There’s no point in beating yourself up when you slip up and procrastinate. You might think that punishing yourself will help you to avoid procrastination in the future, but it actually has the opposite effect—beating yourself up sends you right back into the procrastination doom loop.

Bringing It All Together

The key to beating procrastination is to understand that procrastination is rooted in emotions. The strategies above will help you to turn the procrastination doom loop on its head and to achieve greater productivity than ever before.

- Excellent advice by Travis Bradberry

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why happiness is hard to find

In "The best place to work", Ron Friedman has explained why its so difficult to find happiness.
We think of happiness as something that is missing and we go out in search of it. Sometimes we find it. But we're unable to hold on to it as it slips through our fingers.
One of the most distressing facts about human nature is that we are not particularly good at staying happy. Positive emotions wear off. Whether we've earned a promotion, landed an new client, or moved to the corner office, with time we tend to return to our happiness baseline.
And the process doesn't take very long either. Lottery winners and accident victims who lose their legs feel just as happy 1 year later after the incident.
Ron says we're thinking about happiness the wrong way.
Our brains are programmed to adapt to our circumstances, and for good reason. Too happy and we'd lack any ambition ; too sad and we'd never leave our beds.
To some, learning about the existence of a happiness baseline can feel incredibly liberating. It means that no matter how badly your screw up your next project, inevitably your disappointment will wear off and you'll return to your happiness set point. So why not take some risks? After all, you're working with an emotional safety net.
To others, it can seem downright depressing. If happiness is fleeting, what's the point of even trying? It's the reason some researchers have equated the human condition to a "happiness treadmill". We struggle as hard as we can, only to remain stuck in the same emotional place.
But you can delay the adaptation to your happiness baseline. Here's how:

Frequency is more important than Size

Every positive experience takes some getting used to. And the more positive events we have, the longer it takes us to return to baseline. Which leads us to our first happiness insight: Small, frequent pleasures can keep us happy longer than large, infrequent ones. So going out to a regular restaurant every Friday is a wiser happiness promoting strategy than dining at a 5 star every month.

Variety prevents Adaptation

Because our brains are programmed to habituate quickly to our circumstances, we tend to tune out events that happen repeatedly, no matter how positive. Our minds slip into autopilot when our environment is predictable, conserving mental energy for when changes occur. So the more we do the same enjoyable things, the less attention we pay them. Sometimes in order to continue enjoying something we love, we need for it to temporarily disappear.
We need new experiences to keep us emotionally engaged. That is one reason travelling can feel so rewarding. When we go away, we break the routine of everyday life. Not having access to your home, your bed, your favourite sofa corner might hardly be noticeable when you're travelling. But when you return, you suddenly have a new found appreciation for the little things that contribute to your comfort. 

 Unexpected pleasures deliver a Bigger thrill

When something surprising happens, our brains automatically pay closer attention, lending unexpected events greater emotional weight. We're motivated to make sense of events we haven't predicted and devote more mental energy to thinking about them after they occur. In this way, surprises provide an emotional exclamation point, enhancing the impact of any event - good or bad. 
One reason the start of a romantic relationship is so alluring is that every encounter reveals something new about your partner. The constant flow of surprises keeps us engaged. But with time you get to know your partner. That's why you need to keep trying out new activities together.

Experiences are more rewarding than Objects 

A whole week trek through the mountains tends to provide a greater happiness boost than spending a comparable amount on a new TV. Why is this the case? For one thing, it's because experiences tend to involve other people, and being in the company of others elevates our happiness. Experiences also expose us to new ideas and surroundings, growing our intellectual curiosity and expanding our horizons. Materials objects, on the other hand, are often used in private, when we're away from friends and family, and rarely entail novel adventures.
Unlike material objects, experiences tend to improve with age. Think back to a vacation you've taken in the bast. Did you have a good time? Research shows we remember events more positively the further they are in our rear view mirror. But that overpriced watch buried in your dresser? It suffered a few scratches and no longer seems quite as chic as the day you bought it.

We don't always know Why we're happy

Our environment often has a powerful impact on our behaviour. Our minds absorb an enormous amount of information about our surroundings. And much of this happens outside of our conscious awareness.
One feature of our environment that we rarely pay attention to is scent. Research shows that when we're exposed to positive scents - as we are standing outside a cafe or bakery, we tend to become happier and we don't know why. Interestingly , the change in mood often affects our behaviour. We become more helpful, less competitive, and show greater generosity.
Music can also life our mood unconsciously. Our heart rates tend to sync to the sounds we hear, which is why fast beats can send our pulses racing while slow songs can help us relax.  

A Grateful mind is a happy one 

 Training ourselves to be grateful is a lot harder than it sounds. In many ways, we're implicitly encouraged to tune out the positive when we're working. Much of our day is consumed with thinking about future deadlines and tasks we have yet to accomplish. This process can take a toll. Over time a continuous focus on what's missing trains our minds to center on the negative.
It's rare that we pause to savour what we've achieved. The moment one grueling project ends, the next one begins. By taking a moment to direct our attention to the things that are going right, we enhance our enjoyment and stave off the process of adaptation. Gratitude helps us appreciate positive events when they happen, making them last longer. We restore a balance to our thinking that elevates our moods and prevents negative emotions like resentment, envy, and regret from creeping in.
Psychologists  have found that simply asking people to identify specific aspects of their lives for which they are thankful alters their perspectives in powerful ways. When we build appreciation for our current circumstances, we feel happier about the present and more optimistic about the future, which improves the quality of our work. Grateful people also recover from stress more quickly and behave more generously toward those around them.

The Dark side of happiness 

 When we're completely consumed with trying to be happy all the time, we overlook the value of unhappy emotions, such as anger, embarrassment, and shame. Theose experiences may not feel very pleasant when they're happening, but they exist for a reason. Negative emotions help direct our attention to the elements of our environment that require a response. Artificially blunting negative emotions prevents us from acknowledging errors and adaption our behaviours. Feeling sad is a social signal to those around us that we need help. Feeling guilty motivates us to repair something damaging that we've done to hurt a relationship. Feeling embarrassment tells us we've committed a social infraction and pushes us to make amends.  
Another downside to excessive happiness is an increased tendency for making mistakes. When we're happy, we grow confident, which at times can lead us to overestimate our abilities and ignore potential dangers. We can become more trusting, less critical, and occasionally unrealistic.
A research on "The Optimal Level of Well-being" found out that extremely happy people reported better relationships and more community involvement, but surprisingly, they also lagged in income and education. Who collected the biggest paychecks and earned the highest academic degrees? That distinction belonged to those who were slightly disssatisfied. 

Because these rules are correlational, we can't say for sure whether dissatisfaction causes higher levels of achievement per se. One hypothesis is that if you're too content, then you don't strive too hard to improve your situation.

So try to be happy, but try to not be too content.