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 →

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.

Imagine the damage this big miss in our education has caused. If we had Decision Making 101, we could have reduced regrets, moved faster in life, saved money and get psychological peace and comfort from making confident, thoughtful decisions.

Our brains didn’t evolve to make the ‘right’ decisions

We need to first admit that thinking is hard, and deep thinking is even harder. This is because our brains never evolved to be certain, they evolved to ensure we survive and reproduce. While we want to optimize (take the best possible decision), our brains want to satisfice (take a good enough decision).

This difference in what we want (choosing the best career) and what our brain gravitates towards (choosing a “good enough” career) results in that familiar gut-wrenching confusion. Once we take a gut-backed decision, we keep asking ourselves: “what if I negotiated a little bit more?”, “what if I had chosen a different major in college” and our brain happily remains undecided because even it doesn’t know! (How would it know if you haven’t done proper thinking?)

The default method of deciding for most people is really sloppy. If there’s a big decision hanging up in the air, we immediately start considering options that occur to us. Then we do a Google search or ask our friends and family. In most cases, this decision making process relies on luck (availability bias): whatever comes to mind or whatever Google search turns up influences not just the decision but what we value.

We’re forgetting how to think

Thinking is hard enough already, but even that ability is slowly getting lost. Reflect on this: when was the last time you closed your eyes and really thought hard about something for more than 5 minutes?. If you do that regularly, fantastic! But with Google just a few keystrokes away, our default method of thinking is becoming web search. We’re delegating our thinking to Google.

Internet is great at giving us pre-thought ideas and knowledge but it is taking away our ability to think in return. This loss of thinking happens in two ways:

  • Social media makes us react, rather than to act. Our opinions and preferences are constantly getting shaped by what we see and read around us. Do we really know what we want anymore?
  • Google lulls us into a feeling of “thinking” without actually doing any thinking. Reading a Quora answer or Medium article is not thinking, but it feels like that because our brain gets an expanded perspective (one that it didn’t have before).
  •  ...  Read the entire post →

    Review of Life

    There’s a new multiplayer game out in the market. It’s called Life. I’m half way through it, so thought of reviewing my experience of it so far. I’ll try publishing the full review once I’m done playing.

    It’s hard to pick a genre to categorize this game into. Its open ended nature means it can be action, adventure, fantasy, horror or all of these combined at once. I’m told that the gameplay differs from player to player, and in fact it could change while you’re playing it. (Honestly, I’ve never seen a game before where the genre changes all the time) This fluid nature of the game is definitely confusing and that makes it hard to box into a label. It really is a genre-busting game.

    Unlike most other MMORPGs, you cannot customize your character in the game. The skin color and other accessories available to you seem to be randomly determined and you can’t change those options. Another odd element of the game is that each player starts with vastly different powers – you can get any level of wealth, status, or intelligence when you begin.

    As you can imagine from my description, the game doesn’t pretend to be “equally fair” or have “level playing field” for all players. As a player, when you start you could either be really disadvantaged or massively ahead of others – there’s no way to predict what you’ll get.

    It’s been hard for me to find an interview of the game designers, but my guess is that they wanted to make an interesting game, not a fair one. If that was the goal, Life succeeds spectacularly. It throws all sorts of interesting challenges: imagine trying to survive when you’re born with zero wealth, or making progress as black in a tribe of white players, or not getting frustrated when you’re born with all powers filled up to the max already.

    If I were to pick one defining game mechanic for Life, I’d pick uncertainty. The game environment is predictable, but only to a certain extent – random things can fly out of nowhere and hit you, events that happen far off can impact you, at one moment your health levels are high and then they’re suddenly low. The game keeps on throwing surprises. Similarly, if you’re smart, you can predict actions of other players, but there’s those edge cases that you cannot plan for – even the most predictable ones can act randomly and spoil your well crafted plans. So a useful tip to my fellow gamers is they should expect to constantly adapt to his/her surroundings and whatever else the game throws at you.

    On the subject of winning the game, Life has introduced several new innovations. First, the game doesn’t make it clear what does the player need to do to win it. (Heck, it doesn’t even tell you how to play – the tutorials are useless and really don’t prepare you for actual gameplay). In absence of a giant red arrow that says “next level”, many players wander for a while and then simply give up and abandon the game. (I didn’t want to quit because on forums other players were discussing that the game has a bug where quitting it deletes the game from the hard disk permanently. It’s a crazy bug, no? In case you’re wondering how I’m able to write the review, the game is currently running but is minimized. And, no, you cannot pause MMPORGs. If you are a parent, you should know that.)

    After playing for the game for a while and getting frustrated with my lack of progress, I noticed a countdown on the top-right of the screen. It quickly became obvious to me that no matter what I did or didn’t do, the countdown kept on decreasing. Initially I thought this suggested that I had to reach some place, or some level or beat someone else before the countdown gets to zero. But, of course, this was merely an interpretation because the game didn’t come with any instructions.

    I did some research to find out what did the countdown number indicate. On the game forums, amazingly, nobody had actually seen the countdown hit zero. Instead, the experienced users complained that the counter really had no significance. The majority opinion on the forum was that no matter what the countdown said, the game would quit suddenly and without warning (and then, of course, it gets deleted from the hard disk). These users were quite frustrated by this feature/bug and wanted their money back. They felt cheated that all their effort into collecting powers went to waste when the game quit without warning them. They complained that all their careful plans of using these powers amounted to nothing.

    After reading such reviews, I decided to play the game a little differently. Knowing that I had paid dearly for the game and that it could end anytime, I stopped paying attention to the countdown and focused on having fun. I did things that were neither too tough (that I’d bang my head against the wall in frustration), not too easy (that I’d get bored out of my wits). Since I had no idea how long the game will last, I didn’t make long range plans, and also didn’t engage in power collection. Instead, I solely focused on playing the game, one countdown unit after another.

    Yep, there have been moments of frustration and times when I wanted to do rage-quit. But, overall, I think this game is a unique experience that’s worth having once. While other games have cheat codes that help you win, this game has none. While other games come with well designed levels and logical gameplay, in this game almost you’ll be on your toes playing levels designed by other players’ and design your own levels for others to play. While other games give you multiple lives and shallow replayability, this game can be played exactly once (and never again after that).

    Some players like games with well defined rules that they can master, but I like unpredictability, chaos and surprise and Life fits that bill perfectly.

    So, overall, I’ll give Life 4.5/5. It’s available on all platforms and I recommend buying the authentic version (if you can afford a cup of coffee, you can afford the original copy. So don’t be a cheap pirate.)

    Hope you like the review. Since each experience of playing Life is unique, consider sharing your review too (I’ll be super interested in reading it).

    PS: I couldn’t find contact details of the game designers. In case you know how to reach them, let me know. I’d like to send them a thank you note and ask a few questions 🙂