Making peace with the ambiguity of progress

Is there an arrow of progress in our universe? Or do things change without any particular direction as a goal, like a dust particle engaged in a Brownian motion, bumping and tumbling along randomly?

I don’t think there’s an answer to those two questions. Our thinking is designed to box phenomena into neatly packed categories that capture only a slice of reality. In fact, that’s where the problem with philosophy starts. Even if we both use the same word – say “love”, “free will” or “democracy” – we usually mean slightly different things and these slight differences provide all the fodder for the philosophical debate...  Read the entire post →

Big ideas that I suspect to be true

In the last year or so, I have been reading on various topics indiscriminately. As I’m discovering connections while reading and thinking, my conviction towards some ideas has grown stronger. I wanted to mention some of such ideas that I suspect are true. I’ll also mention why I feel that way, but you derive your own conclusions.

1/ All matter and collections of matter have subjective experiences

I’m starting to believe that everything has an internal world to it. My belief in (a flavor of) Panpsychism grew stronger because we have evidence of one collection of atoms that has subjective experiences: our brain. Just like we take the evidence of gravity on Earth and project that it holds true everywhere else in the universe, why can’t we take the evidence of our own subjective experience and project it to be true for other collections of matter as well? We, by definition, cannot peek inside an atom to feel what it feels. So proving it or disproving it is hard. In such a case, I feel that the responsibility of providing evidence that an atom doesn’t have feelings (while we know that brain obviously has feelings) falls on strict materialists.  ...  Read the entire post →

The meaning of life is unthinkable

What’s the meaning of life?

This question has haunted me for as far as my memory goes. Fourteen years ago – in 2005, when I was 18 – I wrote on my blog:

Purpose/Aim of life

First things first. Everybody says one should have some definite aim in life. But I consider living life to live, nothing else. Consider this, nobody lives after their death. So why waste ur whole life chasing an aim? Even if you get there. I mean even if you achieve so called aim, what next? Enjoyment or yet another aim? Enjoyment is OK. But there are many other ways in which u can enjoy ur life without wasting ur life in chasing an aim. No matter what, U are going to live. I don’t know if I am making any sense. But it is what I want to convey. ...  Read the entire post →

Modes of living

One of the many wonderful things about life is that like a good game, it allows players to develop their own playing styles. This essay is an attempt to document the two most salient dimensions of playing the game of life. Note that there’s no objectively right way of playing and the lack of “best practices” is what makes living interesting.

Think of the following classifications as an example of meta-mental models. Hopefully, a good understanding of the modes of living will help you reflect how you play right now and how you want to play in future. ...  Read the entire post →

What is truth?

A tweet-thread like micro-blog on a topic that I’ve been obsessing over lately.

1/ Whenever someone says “this is true”, or “I’m a truth-seeker”, ask them to first define truth. (Or if you’re asking this question, answer what evidence will constitute truth for you).

2/ Getting a hold of the definition being used for truth is especially important when talking about complex systems like business, politics, economics, ecology or essentially any field where you usually can’t just read error-free data from a well-isolated system.

3/ This privilege of substituting data with the truth is mostly available only to physicists. But even there, interpretations of truth can be widely debated – is 5-sigma a good enough threshold for declaring the Higgs boson to be true? Well, it’s anybody’s guess.

4/ The word ‘truth’ is bothersome because it’s ill-defined. If something is ‘true’, it won’t be debated. If something is debated but is ‘true’, how would you differentiate ‘truth’ from ‘falsity’? You’d use your subjective judgment to assess the evidence and then make that distinction. If you’d do that, so will everybody else and they can arrive at an opposite conclusion. (Much to your chagrin, they usually do). How can your truth be different from someone else’s truth?

5/ As you can see,

this ‘truth’ business is a slippery slope. I’d much rather prefer to use the word ‘satisfaction’ ...  Read the entire post →

You cannot plan for happiness (but you can discover it)

Most of our waking moments are spent either doing things that we expect will make us happy or trying to be happy. It’s like happiness is a currency and we want to hoard it as much as we can, as fast as we can. But the more we chase happiness, the less we’re able to get it. Yet if we momentarily forget about our desire to be happy, we find ourselves to be happy.

Before dissecting this contradictory nature of happiness, it’ll help to first define happiness. Everyone has their pet definition of happiness and each dictionary will define it in its own way. There’s no United Nations mandate specifying ingredients for happiness. It seems that happiness is hard to pin down and, as you’ll see, that’s precisely why you cannot plan for happiness.

The happiness paradox

Happiness is fundamentally an emotional feeling. You see, we feel happy. If happiness was a physical object located somewhere in our 4D spacetime, we could have sent space missions to find it and bring it back to us. If happiness was an idea, we could have ordered a book on Amazon and wrote reviews about it. If happiness was a person, we could marry it and be done for life. But happiness is none of it. If we knew what happiness was and how to get it, the entire self-help industry would have been long bankrupt. Yet the market for heres-how-you-get-happy is thriving because we’re suckers for happiness.

What I find most paradoxical about happiness is that we often think about it. Thinking is a process where we state some assumptions and work through their implications. Thinking is full of biases and is limited in its capacity (we aren’t able to store more than a couple of assumptions in our working memory). Thinking works best when there are a few variables involved. You’re fine thinking about whether Socrates is mortal (or discovering quantum mechanics), but you’re not ok thinking about how the future will unfold because it has far too many variables than what you can hold in your head.

Emotional feelings like love, disgust or happiness are a product of millions of years of evolution of our mind. There’s no single thing or principle that makes us happy. There’s no grand unified theory of happiness. Yet, we deploy our thinking hats trying to plan for a happier life. Thinking is significantly underpowered for this simulation: how our body and mind will react to billions of combinations of ingredients that make up our daily life and its context.

Miswanting: wanting things that won’t make you happy

There’s an idea in psychology called miswanting. It’s the difficulty we have in predicting what’ll make us happy. Here’s a simple example to illustrate miswanting. Suppose you think a beach holiday will make you happy. Since thinking is linear and full of biases, what leaps to your mind is pristine beaches, sun, beer and perhaps good food. Feeling pleasant and excited, you book your tickets. When the day arrives, you discover that the flight is delayed, or there was a cranky baby in the flight. Or when you reach the hotel, you find out that you forgot to pack sandals. On the beach, you get irritated by all the sand that’s stuck on your feet. There are tourists everywhere. It’s loud. Sun is harsher than you thought.

When you’re planning for a holiday (or any other experience you expect to derive happiness from), you obviously cannot think of all the nuances that’ll ruin the experience you planned for ...  Read the entire post →

Writing is defragging brain

I write for myself.

I write when there’s an incredibly hard idea that I need to teach myself. I write when I have a glimpse of an insight that’ll remain hidden until caught and penned down. Writing is a way of having long conversations with myself.

Sometimes I use the double column technique to reason out emotions. Every day I do garbage collection in my mind and dump it on a todo list. I maintain two dairies: one for distilled insights from stuff I’m reading and thinking about, and the second for rough sketches and workings.

Ideas are vague, floating and ephemeral. Putting them on a piece of paper (or up on a blog) makes them concrete and bundle them in a crystal-shape that you can show to other people.

Speaking and talking is cheap and usually off-the-record. Writing things makes them official – your claims are then on the record, so writing forces you think better.

Most good ideas are nuanced. There are a thousand caveats associated with anything worth talking about. These caveats – spoken – will bore the listener. Unspoken, they will misguide the listener (especially, if that listener is you). Writing gives you the ability to take all those caveats and convey them in a powerful and cohesive whole.

Some people prefer a one-line summary. They prefer fortune-cookie sized wisdom. But good things come with an effort. That’s why I like to read and write long, well-argued essays, full with a gazzilian caveats, sparking a bazzilian consequent ideas.

Good writing should be done first and foremost for oneself. Good writing should be done every time the mind is overloaded with activity arising either due to confusion or insight.

Write well, and write often because it’ll help you think confidently. Treat writing as an extension of your mind, so you can either discard things you don’t need by writing stuff on disposable pages, or crystallize ideas that aren’t letting you sleep well by putting them on a blog.

Inverted Passion 2018 in Review

Last year in December, I decided to take two months off for a sabbatical. What I wanted to do in that period was to write a book on my experience and learnings bootstrapping Wingify to a multi-million dollar SaaS company. What I ended up doing is starting this blog and a community around it. A year later, it’s a perfect time to reflect on this thing which was never planned to be.

Inverted Passion in Numbers

  • Members in the Slack community: 446
  • Sessions on  the blog: 190 per day
  • Unique visits to the blog (in one year): 45,000

Best Posts of Inverted Passion

By time spent:

By # of unique pageviews (in the last 12 months):

Most Retweeted Threads

I think the future generations will look at the lack of universal basic income and the extent of wealth inequality in the same way we look at slavery.

Just like we now ask how could you ‘own’ another human, they will ask: how could you let a human die out of hunger? ...  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.

1. Everyone wants to progress, but only leaders are willing to sacrifice for it

We all know what’s good for us: exercising regularly, eating healthy food, quitting smoking, and meditating. Yet, how many of us have the willpower to follow through?

Wanting and really wanting is two different things. Really wanting requires sacrificing short-term happiness for long-term success. I know you know that already but I also know that the common wisdom is hard to follow through. We all fall into temptations decided by our today’s mood.

Leadership requires not falling into today’s temptation and putting in long hours when you least feel like it to do extra work, extra learning, helping others, going the extra mile. To be a leader is to sacrifice today for tomorrow.

2. Leaders look up, while non-leaders look sideways

After college, when we’re young in our careers, it’s natural to bond with co-workers and peers of similar age. And just like college mass bunks, it’s easy to huddle up with work friends and get into a comfort zone. We are a sum of people we spend time with.

As uncomfortable as it may sound, leadership requires going above and beyond. If your standards of work quality and effort are set by your peer group, you’ll progress slowly. To be a leader is to always set your standards to what people much better than yourself have (and not the standards that people like you in your peer group have).

3. Leaders select themselves in roles of leadership

It’s a myth that people are promoted to leadership positions. Leaders don’t wait for an official leadership position or title. They simply start behaving like leaders wherever they are and then the organization simply gives them a leadership title to recognize what they were anyways doing.

As the name implies, leadership means leading the organization and not just following instructions. If you’re doing whatever your manager asked you to do, you’re not leading but following. You’re a leader if you do whatever your manager asks you to do PLUS your own initiatives that propel the company forward.

Your chosen direction could be wrong so you may gravitate towards playing it safe and only doing what is explicitly asked. But that’s not leadership. To lead is to take the risk of being completely wrong.

4. Leaders make themselves dependable and indispensable

It was surprising for me when I realized that different people have different definitions of ‘work’. For most people, ‘work’ is activities they need to perform in order to make a salary. For leaders, ‘work’ is more personal as they put their soul into their work. Because they have high standards, they take it personally when they fail to deliver. They know it’s upon them to work harder if the deadlines are tight or they’re asked to do the impossible.

For some mysterious reason, irrespective what project is given to them, I have never come across a leader who externalized the failure on someone else. Leaders never make excuses. I mean it: never. They always take it upon themselves to do whatever it takes to get stuff done.

While others are ‘working’, leaders are ‘delivering’. The tenacity and stubbornness to deliver good results make them dependable. Because the organization knows they always deliver, they’re given more responsibilities and they get pulled into most important projects. Leaders consistently prove their ability to deliver and that’s how they become indispensable.

5. Discipline is a superpower and leaders know that

Nobody teaches us the value of discipline early on but I’ve come to realize that it’s a superpower. In India, where our culture is easy going, the surest way to stand out and be noticed is to be disciplined. To be disciplined is to always come on time, taking copious notes in discussions, delivering before deadlines, doing regular and consistent follow-ups, and most importantly, keeping your promises.

You wouldn’t realize but you reduce confidence from others in you every single time you ‘forget’ a meeting or ‘miss’ a deadline or do ‘half-baked’ work because that’s all you remember from the discussion. For people early in their careers, being disciplined is the #1 predictor of their success. (And it’s also unfortunate how few know that it is so important).

As they say, the secret to life is simply showing up.

6. Leaders are unpopular among their peers because they work hard, know more and deliver regularly

This is counter-intuitive but I’ve seen that leaders quickly become unpopular in their peer group because they’re just so much better at what they do. This growing unpopularity makes many would-be leaders uncomfortable and they start changing their behavior to gain approval from their peer group.

Leaders who break through and progress rapidly swallow the bitter pill and do what’s right for their growth. A group of non-leaders is like friends where they comfort each other. A group of leaders is like a soccer club where they know that their lack of performance cannot be justified because some other (or even everyone else) on their team are not performing. They understand that when the next season comes, it’ll be their performance that’ll count first and only then the performance of the team they belonged to.

7. Leaders are intimidating because they’re masters of their craft

When you talk to leaders, they’re capable of intimidating you because they know so much about their field. All great leaders are functional experts. You put them against a peer in the same function and they’ll know more both in depth and in breadth.

This almost PhD-level mastery of their field requires long stretches of tinkering, reading, and thinking. And the interesting part is: nobody asks them to master their craft. It’s easy for them to be good at what they do, but they’re not satisfied at that: they want to become great at what they do.

Non-leaders have a ‘fixed’ mindset and accept their fate of learning ability or IQ. Leaders have a ‘growth’ mindset and that makes them put in additional hours every day required to master their craft. (The extra hours require sacrifice, but that’s requirement #1 for leadership)

8. Leaders lift the entire boat, and not just themselves ...  Read the entire post →