Friday, November 21, 2014

Do One Thing Better Than Anyone Else You Know

An excellent essay from Cal Newport's book - How To Win At College

If you want to succeed at college, you have to develop a healthy sense of self-confidence. This doesn't mean you should be arrogant-such people are often secretly insecure. Instead, you want to be self-assured, proud, and modest all at the time. These are the traits of a well-liked, successful student.

Easier said than done? Not really. One good technique for bolstering your confidence is mastering a skill. Everyone is good at something. All you need to do is to find out what this something is for you, and then practice until you are better at it than any of your friends at school. Be it playing a guitar, writing a fiction, shooting hoops, or cooking, develop a skill you can be known for. Again, this is not about bragging rights. People can know you are good at something without you having to constantly remind them. This is about reinforcing your identity and sense of self-confidence.

Why this is so important? Because college is an overwhelming social environment. You are thrown into a small space with thousands of other students who know nothing about you. Many students fail to maintain a strong sense of identity in this situation., and instead begin to peg their self-worth on receiving the respect and admiration of others. If you're invited to a hot party, do well on a test, or catch the eye of that cute girl (or boy) ahead of you in the lunch line, you feel good about yourself. But if you end up with no plans for Friday night, bomb a test, or realize that the cute girl was actually smiling at her bodybuilder boyfriend standing right behind you, well, then you feel pretty lousy. The state of your self-esteem is like a roller-coaster ride, differing from day to to day depending on events beyond your control. You cannot win at college with this mindset.

When you are dependent on good things happening to make you feel good, your life becomes centered on preserving a good mood. This will constrain you, because if you are constantly worried about avoiding anything negative, you will never do anything out of the ordinary. Standout students, on the other hand, do very little that is ordinary. This is what makes them so phenomenal. They find better ways, uncover new approaches, and question everything. The only way to develop such an aggressive mind-set is to have a strong sense of self-confidence to back you up.

Developing these trait is not easy. But doing one thing better than anyone else you know is an excellent start toward accomplishing this goal. By mastering one activity in your life, you are putting a stake into the ground, giving yourself one thing to feel sure of, and making a declaration about who you are. Don't let others dictate how you should feel about yourself, strengthen your identity-then conquer your world.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Road To Excellence

A few notes collected from 'The Road To Excellence' - An interesting book edited by K. Anders Ericsson.

A more direct claim about the necessity for intense preparation was made by Simon and Chase (1973). They found that about 10 years of preparation was necessary to attain an international level of chess skill and they suggested similar prerequisites in other domains.
. . .
Even when individuals have access to a similar training environment, large individual differences in performance are still often observed. Furthermore, amount of experience in a domain is often a weak predictor of performance. Rather than accepting these facts as evidence for innate differences in ability (i.e, talent), Ericcson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) tried to identify those training activities that would be mist closely related to improvements in performance. Based on a review of a century of laboratory studies of learning and skill acquisition, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) concluded that the most effective learning requires a well-defined task with an appropriate difficulty level for the particular individual, informative feedback, and opportunities for repetition and corrections for error. When all these elements are present they used the term deliberate practice to characterize training activities.
. . .
They found that concentration is the most essential aspect of deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice in music is consistent with the critical role of concentration. Master teachers (Auer, 1921; Galamian, 1962) argue that full concentration is essential and that when it wanes the musician to rest, because practice without full concentration may actually impair rather improve performance (Seashore, 1938/1967).
    An analysis of practice sessions (extracted from the diaries of the expert musicians) is consistent with the requirement of concentration. After about an hour of practice in the morning when the ability to perform most complex cognitive activities has been found to be the highest (Folkard & Monk, 1985). There is also indirect evidence for the effortfulness of concentration through the additional need for rest among expert performers. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) found that the higher levels of practice were associated with longer duration of sleep, typically in the form of afternoon naps. This pattern of napping and resting has also been found in other domains expertise, such as sports.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Notes taken on "Smartcuts" - a brilliant book by Shane Snow.

Hacking the ladder
Bigger or better is a scavenger hunt, a sort of trick-or-treating (young) adults. Players divide into teams and begin with a small object, like a toothpick, then disperse and knock on neighborhood doors, one house after another.
      At each answered door, the players introduce themselves with something on the order of, "We're playing a game called Bigger or Better. Do you have something in your house that's slightly bigger or better than this..." (display object) " ...that you want to trade with us?"
      The first few houses are the toughest. People relaxing at night in their homes aren't often searching of toothpicks. Even in the friendly Rocky Mountains a homeowner can be put off by such a request. But before long, a stranger will good-naturedly offer a piece of gum or that toothpick, and the game is on.
      At the next house, the gum becomes a ballpoint pen. At the next: a pack of Post-it notes. Then: a copy of last month's Nylon magazine. The magazine becomes a bouquet of flowers left by an unwanted admirer. The flowers get swapped for an old hat, and the hat is exchanged for novelty T-shirt. In this phase of the game, the players benefit from a bit of curiosity, a little charity, and the fact that people were planning on getting rid of most of these objects anyway.
      But after enough trades, the players hold objects of significant value in their hands. Now the boy who opens the door sincerely wants the T-shirt. He trades his lava lamp for it. The girls next door like the lava lamp and decide to part with a vintage mirror. The old woman down the street collects antiques; she accepts the mirror exchange for an old BMX bike in the garage.
      When time is up, the players return home to compare results. After a dozen or so trades, teams have turned toothpicks into a stereo system, a set of golf clubs, and a television set. One group even drags in a full-size canoe.
      Not bad for a sober night out.

Training with Masters
Rapid Feedback

Effort for the sake of effort is foolish as a tradition as paying dues. How much better is hard work when it's amplified by a lever? Platforms teach us skills and allow us to focus on being great, rather than reinventing wheels or repeating ourselves.
      "You can build on top of a lot of things that exist in this world," David Heinemeier Hannson told me. "Somebody goes in and does that hard, ground level science based work.
      "And then top of that, " he smiles, "you build the art."

Another academic duo, Peter Golder and Gerard Tellis of the University of Southern California, published a study in 1993 to see if historical evidence backed the claim that market pioneers were more likely to succeed. They researched that market pioneers were more likely to succeed. They researched what happened to 500 brands in 50 product categories, from toothpaste to video recorders to fax machines to chewing gum.
      Startlingly, the research showed that 47 percent of first movers failed. Only about half the companies that started selling a product first remained the market five years later, and only 11 percent of first movers remained market leaders over long term.
      By contrast, early leaders-companies that took control of a product's market share after the first movers pioneered them-had only an 8 percent failure rate. Fifty-three percent of the time in the Golder and Tellis study, an early leader became the market leader in a category.
      Like early pioneers crossing the American plains, first movers have to create their own wagon trails, but later movers can follow the ruts. First movers take on burden of educating customers, setting up infrastructure, getting regulatory approvals, and making mistakes-getting feedback and adjusting.
      Fast followers, on the other hand, benefit from free-rider effects. The pioneers clear the way in terms of market education and infrastructure and learn the hard lessons, so the next guys can steal that works, learn objectively from the first movers' failures, and spend more effort elsewhere. The first wave clears the way for a more powerful ride.
. . . .
Conventional thinking leads talented and driven people to believe that if they simply work hard, luck will eventually strike. That's like saying if a surfer treads water in the same spot for long enough, a wave will come; it certainly happens to some people, once in a while, but it's not the most effective strategy for success. Paradoxically, it's actually a lazier move.
      There's a reason some people practice things for twenty years and never become experts; a golfer can put 30,000 hours of practice and not improve his game if he's gripping his clubs wrong the whole time. A business can work five times harder and longer that its neighbors and still lose to rivals that read the market better. Just like a pro surfer never wins by staying in one spot.
      "I think that being able to pick and read good waves is almost more important than surfing well,' Moore tells me. "If you don't have a good or better platform to perform on than your opponent, you are going to lose."
      Her secret, and Sonny's (and Google's and 3M's and General Motor's), isn't practice-though that certainly helps. It's going to the beach to watch the waves and getting into the water to experiment.
      And if you're in the sweet spot when that superwave does come, Sonny says, "It's pure energy."


10 x Thinking
The secret sounds a bit crazy. Says Teller, "It's often easier to make something  10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better."
. . .
"The way of doing about trying to make something new or better often tends to polarize into one of two styles, " Teller says. "One is the low-variance, no surprises version of improvement. The production model, if you will. You tend to get '10 percent,' in order of magnitude, kind of improvements."
      "In order to get really big improvements, you usually have to start over in one or more ways. You have to break some of the basic assumptions and, of course, you can't know ahead of time. It's by definition counter intuitive."
      Incremental progress, he says depends on working harder. More resources, more effort. 10x progress is built on bravery and creativity instead. Working smarter.

The brilliant "Smartcuts" by Shane Snow.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Personal notes taken on "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" - an incredible book by Greg McKeown.

If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will.
. . . 
The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away - it can only be forgotten.
. . . 
Non-essentialist: "I have to." - Forfeits the right to choose.
Essentialist: "I choose to." - Exercises the power of choice.
. . . 
The unimportance of practically everything. - Haha, nicely said (reader).
. . . 
A Non-essentialist thinks almost everything is essential. Views opportunities as basically equal.
A Essentialist thinks almost everything is nonessential. Distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many.
. . . 
Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs. It's about deliberately choosing to be different. ~Michael Porter
. . . 
Without great solitude no serious work is possible. ~Pablo Picasso
. . . 
In order to have focus we need to escape to focus.
. . . 
  • Pays attention to the loudest voice.
  • Hears everything being said.
  • Is overwhelmed by all the information.
  • Pays attention to the signal in the noise.
  • Hears what is not being said.
  • Scans to find the essence of the information.
. . . 
A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest man. ~Roald Dahl
. . . 
Nonessentialist thinks:
  • One hour less of sleep equals one more hour of productivity.
  • Sleep is for failures.
  • Sleep is a luxury.
  • Sleep breeds laziness.
  • Sleep gets in the way of "doing it all".
Essentialist thinks:
  • One hour more of sleep equals several more hours of much higher productivity.
  • Sleep is for high performers.
  • Sleep is a priority.
  • Sleep breeds creativity.
  • Sleep enables the highest level of mental contribution.
. . . 
  • Says yes to almost every request or opportunity.
  • Uses broad implicit criteria like "If someone I know is doing it, I should do it."
  • Says yes to only the top 10 percent of opportunities.
  • Use narrow, explicit criteria like "Is this exactly what I am looking for?"
. . . 
If it isn't a clear yes, then it's a clear no.
. . . 
Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to says Yes too quickly and not saying No soon enough. ~Josh Billings
. . . 
  • Asks, "Why stop now when I've already invested so much in this project?"
  • Thinks, "If I keep trying, I can make this work."
  • Hates admitting to mistake.
  • Asks, "If I weren't already invested in this project, how much would I invest in it now?"
  • Thinks, "What else could I do with this time or money if I pulled the plug now?"
  • Comfortable with cutting losses.
. . . 
The Latin root of the word decision-cis or cid-literally means "to cut" or "to kill".
. . . 
  • Thinks if you have limits you will be limited.
  • Sees boundaries as constraining.
  • Exerts effort attempting the direct "no".
  • Knows that if you have limits you will become limitless.
  • Sees boundaries as liberating.
  • Sets rules in advance that eliminate the need for the direct "no".
. . . 
  • Assumes the best-case scenario will happen.
  • Forces execution at the last minute.
  • Builds in a buffer for unexpected events.
  • Practices extreme and early preparation.
. . . 

Thursday, August 14, 2014