Monday, February 8, 2016

This blog is merged into

In an effort to streamline my workflow and blog more often, I've decided to consolidate my blogs. This one is discontinued. Please visit to continue reading. Thank you for reading!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Review of Decisive, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (4.2 stars)

I read “Decisive” by Dan Heath and Chip Heath recently and picked up a few techniques on making great decisions. It's definitely worth a quick read. The most common technique for decision making is the Pros and Cons table. But this technique is insufficient. It does not take into account the four villains of decision making, which are: 
1) Emotional Ties, 
2) Narrow Framing,
3) Confirmation Bias, 
4) Over Confidence. 

Emotional Ties:

Ever have a friend walk up to your problem and give you a clear perspective? That’s a sign of emotional ties acting to weigh down our perspective. Daily contact with our projects gives us depth, but also gives us attachment. To make an objective decision, we can attain distance before deciding by using these techniques:
  • Ask : What would I advise my best friend to do in this situation? 
  • Ask : What would my successor do? 
  • Try the 10-10-10 rule. How would I feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years for each of the decision options? 

Narrow Framing
We are often making binary decisions when there may be more options. We may ask ourselves: Should we implement solution A or solution B? Should we ship feature A or not? Framing the question this way can block us from seeing other alternatives. Maybe the decision should be: Should we ship feature A, A+, B, C or keep the money? It is most common to overlook the opportunity cost. Not doing something is often the choice overlooked. To avoid narrow framing, try:
  • Zooming in and out. By expanding and contracting the range of consideration, its often possible to capture the right range of options to consider. 
  • Asking other people. Other people have different perspectives of the same problem. So including others in our decision, especially those with a different world-view, can help avoid narrow framing. 

Confirmation Bias

The human brain is very good at justifying decisions made by our hearts. That’s why statistics can be construed to proof just about any point of view. It’s also easy to ask leading questions that force the person answering into confirming the point rather than truly answering. To avoid confirmation bias, ask discovering questions and reality test our assumptions:
  • Ask discovering questions. Ask open ended questions such as “How would you approach this issue?” rather than leading questions such as “Don’t you think solution X is a good idea?" 
  • Take our options for a reality spin. Establish a range of possible outcomes, then create A/B tests to test our assumptions. 

Over confidence

It turns out we are really bad at predictions. The author reviewed expert predictions by expert investors and showed that it performed no better than amateur predictions. There are techniques to minimize the risks, mainly by being prepared for a range of possible outcomes. Here’s how it works:

  • Use the “book ends” prediction method. Predict a range of outcomes, then optimize within the outcomes. For example, and this is an example only, don’t take this as investment advice. Instead of predicting the fair market value of a stock price, predict the lower and upper end a fair market value range. Then buy in during the low end of the established range. This method goes for the lowest risk and highest upside investment without knowing the outcome. 
  • Do a Pre-mortem. Imagine your project failed, what could have caused it to fail? 
  • Do a Pre-parade. Imagine your project was a wild success, what could have caused it to be so successful? 

Finally, good decisions are guided by Critical Priorities. That’s why companies have mission statements, and why something similar is useful for our personal lives too. To avoid decision paralysis, use critical priorities as guiding principles, exercise the techniques above, then make the decision. To avoid agonizing over the decision, add trip wires. These are conditions that would trigger a re-decision. Set up these trip wires so that you receive an alarm when the decision should be re-evaluated, and sleep well tonight knowing that you have made the best possible decision.

(This article was cross posted on my blog Five Lessons From)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Leveraging your Follower's Network

Whether you're an activist trying to change the world, or a Product Manager shipping new features, the biggest hurdle is engaging people to follow.  I read a great post on First Round Review about how to do that from a product perspective.  The technique I want to highlight is "leveraging your follower's network."  Here is an excerpt from the post:

After the Massdrop team decides that a submitted feature request makes sense, they ask the person who submitted it to rally interest from their community. “We tell them, ‘Okay, we’re going to start working on this. As a power user, your job is to gauge how much customers want this kind of feature.’” This isn’t so much about determining whether to forge ahead as it is about getting people excited. The more an upcoming feature is discussed by various groups of Massdrop buyers, the more anticipated it will become, and the more it will get used once it's built. “We want to start off with one person invested in a feature and eventually have whole communities invested in it as well. We assign them that piece.”

Notice how the Massdrop team leverages power users to become community leaders.  Having someone else preach your message is powerful in two ways.  One, it scales you, because you only have so much time in the day.  Two, the message arrives with more credibility to the listener, because it is coming from a respected community leader, rather than you.   The latter I learned from a story in Influencer about Chinese communist leader Mao, who disseminated health care to rural areas by leveraging his follower's network.  During his early rule, at a time before he stepped into the hall of villains in the annals of history, China had a serious public health issue in the rural areas.  Instead of sending doctors from the cities he asked each rural area to elect a community leader to attend basic health education classes.  Those leaders then taught their followers back home and improved health within their communities.  Many public health solutions involved discipline such as hand-washing or regular checkups, techniques that are easy to understand but hard to enforce. A city doctor with no relationship to rural locals would be less effective than a local, already respected leader for such influence-based work.

How do you leverage your follower's network to change the world?

Friday, August 1, 2014

3 Tips for Sustainable Blogging

If a tree fell in the forest and no one blogged about it, did it fall?  If the last entry on said blog was one year ago, is the blog considered abandoned? The answer is Yes and No.  In that order.  The tree is sadly rotting, but the blog can be saved yet.  In order to prevent a recurrence of unintended blog abandonment, I'm going to a give myself some tips that I will follow, and tell you in a year or so whether it worked or not.

Tip 1: Redefine my reason for blogging
I started blogging because I was doing my MBA in Sustainable Management. I wanted to share what I'm studying, and allow others to learn what I'm learning.  I graduated and my reason to blog put on a gown and walked out the door too.  Now I want to blog again because I am still learning even if I'm not going to formal classes everyday, and people have shown me recently that they are interested in how my life and my studies have helped me navigate my post MBA life.  What happened was I wrote a company-wide blog at work.  I work at Atlassian where anyone can write a company-wide blog, and I published an article about my life, and how minority status related to gender has shaped my career.  People told me it helped them.  I think I can help some more, so here we are.

Tip 2: Identify my reasons for not blogging
First of all, I need to identify why I have abandoned this blog so readily last time.
Reason 1: Writing is hard.   As a manager I'm already writing emails for a living.  So taking non-computer time to sit down and write some more is doubly hard.
Reason 2: I have another blog that is splitting my time.
Reason 3: I don't think people want to hear what I have to say.

Tip 3: Solve problems identified in Tip 2
Solution 1a: Figure out a way to take notes for my blog without having screen time.  I'm going to use a combo of Evernote and voice recording for this.
Solution 1b: Set aside time to compile these notes into a blog.   Maybe during my train commute.
Solution 2: Cross-publish those articles here.  I think the book summaries are relevant in this blog too.
Solution 3: Read The Confidence Code.

Operation blog resurrection, now activated. We'll find out how sustainable these tips are soon.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


“The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself; he who goes away pleased with himself and his own wit is also greatly pleased with you.”
- Jean de La Brùyere

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Our Food is Making us Sick

If you eat food in the US, you must watch this 18 min video of Robyn O’Brien at the 2011 TEDxAustin. Hailed as Food's Erin Brockovitch by the NYTimes, Robyn is on a quest to uncover the secrets of American food production and how it is making us sick.

She also authored “The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It.” A former Wall Street food industry analyst, Robyn founded after discovering her child developed an allergy to certain foods and started digging into the cause. She was named by Forbes as one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter.”