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 →

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 →

Your cold emails compete with cat pictures for my attention

Unsolicited emails – the cold emails – have notoriously low reply rates. I’ve seen sales people celebrating 1% reply rates as a huge win. Honestly, isn’t that a bit embarrassing? Only 1 reply out of 100 emails and even that one reply is usually “no, thanks” or “don’t email me again“.

Common justifications for this abysmal reply rate is either people are too busy or simply throwing up hands and saying: “who the hell knows”. I think we can do better than this when it comes to understanding why cold emails don’t get replies.  ...  Read the entire post →

Your first sales hire should be two sales reps, and other tips

Recently someone asked me a question about hiring and structuring sales team in India.

Incidentally, someone asked a very similar question in our Inverted Passion slack group (now we’re 271 people). I shared my experience of growing an inside sales team at Wingify in India. In this post, I’m copy-pasting my answer from the Slack group and adding some more tips. ...  Read the entire post →

The Motivation, Emotion and Repetition (MER) framework for marketing

Our collective understanding of marketing has a massive hangover from the pre-Internet days. If you ask most people to define marketing, they’d go with definitions like “to inform about the product”, “to create brand awareness” or “to spread the word”. All these definitions are wrong because of the same reason: they serve company’s goals, not customers’.

This error of thinking in which the entrepreneur assumes customers have same motivations as s/he has is called the mind projection fallacy. This error is very common and hard to cure. I’ve written about how it affects entrepreneurs when they design products, get excited about new technology or seek new startup ideas.  ...  Read the entire post →

Organizations are habit maximization machines

Have you seen this famous video on Youtube where one guy dances and it keeps on attracting other people to join him? Soon enough this one person’s weird dance is a group dancing together. In case you haven’t, check it out (it’s just 3 minutes long):

Organizations grow similarly. Whether the founding team intends to or not, every startup project ends up acquiring cult-like habits. Here’s how that happens.

What makes company cultures different from each other?

Imagine your name is Paras and you’re the founder of a startup project (it could be a company, a non-profit, a religion or even a country). You have a weird habit: you like to come to office by noon and stay late (say until 8pm). You hire your first employee, and on the first day he comes to office at 9am (just like he did in his previous job). The empty office seems odd to him, and it becomes odder still when he sees you stroll by in office during his lunchtime. In the evening, since it’s the first day of his job, he waits for you to leave but the entire time, you are happily busy on your laptop. You leave office by 9pm and a couple of minutes after you, the new hire leaves. Thinking of his first day as a fluke, the new employee comes in early again tomorrow but the same thing repeats.  ...  Read the entire post →