Thinking in analogies is dangerous

From your high school classes, do you recall the image of an atom where electrons revolve around the nucleus (just like planets go around the Sun)? I’m talking about images of this sort:

A completely misleading diagram (via here)

This analogy of electrons as tiny planets is so common that most people imagine electrons to be like tiny spheres. This bothers me because it’s utterly wrong. Electrons are not tiny spheres. Instead, they’re like a cloud spread around the nucleus. In fact, even the cloud analogy is wrong. Human intuition never evolved to understand things at that scale, so the most accurate picture of an atom is given by the Schrödinger equation. Note that the quantum mechanical equation is not just a mathematical description, it is what an electron really is. By the way, here’s a photo of an atom that was taken recently. ...  Read the entire post →

Building mental immunity against depression and anxiety

Mental health issues were the primary cause of the recent deaths of famous celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Avicii and Chester Bennington. I wish peace to their families and friends.

I hope that these deaths don’t go in vain but serve as a wake-up call for the rest of us. Across one’s lifetime, there’s a very high likelihood of going through a mental health issue. Studies suggest that about 25% of all people suffer a mental disorder in any 12 month window. This means that it’s likely that one in four people you know have recently gone through a depression or an anxiety episode.  ...  Read the entire post →

How to become a leader in 10 hard steps

Wingify, a company that I founded, turns 8 today. Over these years, I’ve seen myself evolve from a silly little punk doing a side project to the Chairman position where I’m responsible for creating future leaders within Wingify.

Wingify’s office in 2011. We had one long table where everyone sat back to back 🙂

In my career, I’ve observed a few people rapidly rise in their careers within while most others simply drift along. What distinguishes leaders from non-leaders?

Our eighth anniversary is as good as any other day to reflect on the subject of leaders. So here goes my advice and observations, listicle style. ...  Read the entire post →

How to critically dissect a success story

We thrive on stories. We want to know who did what to whom and what happened after that. People watch the news for hours and binge on Netflix because we’re evolutionarily wired to seek stories. Our ancestors who told and listened to stories had a higher survival rate because stories bound them together. Stories helped form groups that killed Mammoths and take over the world.

Stories bind people together because they provide a natural boundary between us-and-them.  Those who share similar stories are ultimately similar people – Christians bound together by Biblical stories, USA bound together by stories of freedom and independence. When friends gossip, what they’re really saying to each other is: we belong together. ...  Read the entire post →

The metathinking approach to making big decisions

Big decisions in life are gut-wrenching. Who to marry, where to work, who to hire, how to fire, which subject to major in, how to make a career change, which car to buy, where to invest, et cetra. We stall and brood over those because all such decisions represent major forks in our life. Usually (but not always) these are one-way roads. After all, you don’t buy a house or choose a company to work for every other day.

Given the importance of big decisions in our lives, it’s a surprise that nobody teaches us how to handle them. We’re taught solving for lever and pulley problems (something we’d never encounter in real life) but we’re not taught how to choose a career. ...  Read the entire post →

Notes from The Elephant in the Brain

1/ Reading @robinhanson and @kevinsimler new book ‘Elephant in the brain’. Here are my notes on big ideas from the book.

via official book website

2/ Human intelligence evolved as a result of arms race of getting ahead in social situations where two contrasting incentives always existed: to co-operate or to compete.

3/ Unlike chimps where hierarchy is strictly from alpha male to least powerful individuals, language allowed humans to form coalitions and keep most aggressive individuals in check. These coalitions are where laws and norms come from ...  Read the entire post →

Cognitive biases that lead to poorly designed products

I have previously written about cognitive biases and how to avoid them. In this post, I want to focus specifically on biases that impact product designers, product managers and startup founders. This post is based on a talk that I gave in Bengaluru at a product conference. So this post will contain slides interspersed with my commentary.

What’s a cognitive bias?

There are multiple definitions floating around the Internet, but I like the following one the most.

Cognitive bias is a systematic error in perception due to the environment that one is embedded into. ...  Read the entire post →

Notes from Founders mentor Founders [SaaS edition] – April 2018

On 13th April 2018, I hosted a panel discussion with Varun Shoor, founder of Kayako and Pallav Nadhani, founder of FusionCharts. It was an experiment to see whether a many-to-many discussion between SaaS founders turns out to be useful for early stage startups.

To ask questions to the SaaS founders panel, I had received 19 applications, out of which 5 were selected. The call was not recorded so that the founders could talk frankly. Here are some generic notes and insights from the one hour call. (We all realized that one hour for five founders isn’t really sufficient.) ...  Read the entire post →

Philosophy is politics

I used to wonder why questions in philosophy never get resolved. For example, take the question of whether we have free will or not. From Socrates to Kant and to modern day philosophers (such as Daniel Dennett), everyone seems to have an opinion on free will. Free will is also a favorite topic of many twenty something bloggers, including myself. Thousands of years have passed by since the first time this question was asked and people are still debating on it.

Why is that so? Why, unlike science, where all scientists agree that energy can neither be created, nor be destroyed, every philosopher has his/her personal answer to philosophical questions...  Read the entire post →

Copying ideas is highly underrated

No man’s an island and, as a corollary, no startup is truly unique. Media oversells us the virtue of breakthrough ideas. Journalists are paid to highlighting what’s new and noteworthy. Imagine the number of clicks an article would get if it was titled: ‘Here’s the nth example of a Chinese firm copying what’s working in the west’.

To catch our attention, publications run stories that celebrate innovations.

Wright brothers got the fame, but someone else made all the money

The invention of the airplane was definitely a breakthrough moment for humanity and the Wright brothers deserve all the fame they got. But economically they didn’t do as well as Boeings and Airbuses of the world. Wright brothers knew it themselves that they’re never going to make money from what they were doing. In a conversation with their biographer, Orville Wright said: ...  Read the entire post →