Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Google+ gets an A+

On the surface, I am a bad candidate for Google+.  For one thing, I was a slow adopter to Facebook, grudgingly creating my account only when I moved internationally so as to have a way to keep up with my friends.  For another, I look like a walking advertisement for Apple, with my Macbook, iPad, and iPhone never far from sight.  Finally, I am already absolutely overwhelmed by an incoming torrent of emails, twitter, and Facebook notifications, and the last thing I want is another fucking website to be checking.

Therefore, when my friend at Google sent me a "Field Trial invite" last month, I glared at the email and stubbornly ignored it.  Then, predictably, early adopters such as Ben and Stephen -- no wait, sorry, that should be Ben and Stephen, found their way on the site and so I too, did the inevitable.  Within 30 minutes of playing around, I can already say I am hooked and I hope it takes off.  It's fast - the way Facebook used to be, before it got cluttered with plugins, addons, and ads.  Unlike Buzz and Wave, it's well-designed, user-friendly, and it works.  It has the potential to replace both Facebook and Twitter, and very possibly LinkedIn as well.  In fact, if any sort of critical mass gets on it, then I will want the G+ bar wherever I browse - and unlike Facebook, Google can actually make this a reality in the short-term future.   Furthermore, unlike Facebook, the privacy and sharing on almost every item you post is easy to understand and completely within your control.

In some ways, it's almost unfair.  Lists on Facebook serve the same purpose as Circles on +, and I use Lists extensively.  But by the time Lists were implemented, I already had over 500 friends.  There is simply no easy way to go back through my friends and sort them into lists hours of tedious clicking.  Facebook compounds the problem by purposefully making privacy settings obscure and difficult to control.  On G+, every new friend gets added to the right Circle with no extra clicking.  The process is fast and intuitive.

Also, Facebook kind of went about it ass backwards.  It started as a closed environment, where people felt safe and secure posting their information.  Then, with each major update to the site, privacy is loosened and a ruckus is raised by users who feel violated, but have nowhere else to turn.  Now, there is an alternative, and everyone already knows Google's purpose is to serve up ads, so there's no big surprise there.  I am glad Google has refused to give up on social, and they continue to take chances and commit to having a presence.

Facebook's strategy worked well for them, but every strength is a weakness on the flipside, and G+ does a good job of exposing those vulnerabilities.  This will be a great battle between these two great tech giants - competition is always good for consumers.  G+ is a pleasure to use, and I look forward to watching how Zuckerberg and Sandberg plan to strike back.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Favorite line from Colbert's speech

Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what's going to happen next. And you are mostly just yanking ideas out of your ass as you go along. And like improv you cannot win your life.

Watch Stephen Colbert's 2011 NU Commencement Speech in it's entirety here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oh how things change

Courtesy of my friend:

"At first people started talking to them selves, or at least it seemed that way, and then you realised that actually they had bluetooth ear pieces in - now I just saw what I thought was some one having an epileptic fit on stage, turns out they were playing a game on the Xbox using the kinect controller.. 

What a strange society it is that our kids are going to inherit."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bye Bye B-school #1

Rather than attempt (and fail) to give a comprehensive post reflecting on my 2 year journey in business school as it comes to a close, I want to first direct you to some great writing done by my predecessors and fellow Kellogg alumni, on "What it's for," and "Was it worth it?"

As I grapple with my last set of finals (likely ever) this week and slowly knock out my remaining assignments, I would like to blog more, as recently I feel I have let several fleeting streams of thought escape me by failing to sit down and work through them.  The goal is to do a series of posts (titled Bye Bye B-school) so I don't feel so compelled to try to get it all out at once!

"There is no truth.  There is only perception."
                 - Gustave Flaubert, 17th century author of "Madame Bovary"

Life is only a series of perspectives.  Unsurprisingly, there are many perspectives to take on this very subject.  For example, one aspect is that there are two sides to each story.  Another is that the more you learn, the less you realize you know.  My favorite wording of this is from Harry Kraemer, who describes that as you improve in something, you feel like you're going from a 6, to a 7, to a 8... but around the time you get to 8 or maybe even 9, you suddenly realize that the scale wasn't out of 10, as you originally thought, but instead 20.  My personal learning has been around learning to let go the "one right answer" mentality I have held for the majority of my (Asian-learning-style inspired) life, and instead embrace the ambiguities, complexities, vagaries and downright messiness of real-world problems.  Kellogg's group culture has been a strong antidote for me; we all know it is important as leaders to consider each individual perspective, but how many of us can keep that in mind when the discussion heats up and we know someone else to be wrong?  When I believe I am right, I can feel my back arched and eyes flashing, and I will use angry rhetoric, extreme analogies, and an unrelenting cascade of arguments to prove my point.  I can't pretend that I'm now suddenly a collaboration-loving snugglebunny in groups, but I do feel much more self-aware in group situations and cognizant that I need to take off the blinders.  This applies not only to groups, but also within a company, realizing that there are different departments with different goals, or even within an industry, seeing how the different companies fit together because of different strategies.  On the opposite end of the scale, in personal situations, I am much more aware of conflict, looking beyond the surface issues to diagnose the origin.  Different perspectives can be traced to different values, experiences, or beliefs, and if conflict cannot be resolved outright than at least it can be understood and tolerated comfortably.  This applies even to conflict within myself; when I am confused, or frustrated, remembering to step outside of my present perspective and find a new one is the surest route to getting back on track.

"Were I to wait perfection, my book would never be finished."
                - Tai T'ung, 13th century author of "History of Chinese Writing"

There can be efficiency in "good enough."   We hear frequently in life about the 80/20 rule.  But following onto the previous point that there is no constant, when everything is only a matter of perspective, it makes sense not to commit yourself so far down one path that there can be nothing else.  Because life changes.  My perspective will change.  My friends can attest to my tendency to veer to extremes, and one consequence is I either dive into something with 100% zeal, or if something isn't working out right I drop it like a wet rag.  Just these last few days, spurred on by this article with great advice on what works in startups, I have begun seeing how this "good enough" principle can apply not just in today's fast moving tech world and software development, but my personal life and projects.  This is not to say that things shouldn't be done properly, and I know my personal perfectionist inclination (shared by many b-school types) will always be pushing me to get as good of a product as possible.  My goal is to stay motivated and committed on the war, knowing some battles will be lost along the way, and although I won't always get everything optimized, it will have to be "good enough."

This dovetails nicely into another lesson from Harry Kraemer:  The job of a leader is only two-fold:
  1. Prioritize
  2. Allocate resources
Inherent in this definition is that not everybody is going to win.  Some projects, some departments, will have to be "good enough."  Again, this may be common sense, but business school helped drive this point home.

Every man builds his world in his own image.  He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.
                  - Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged" 

Make choices explicitly.  So if we accept that life is a series of perspectives, and that a lot of the time we do not have the power to, nor should we try to, control everything, then what follows is that all we can control are the choices we make.  Many times when we feel we have our backs against the wall, it is easy to forget that there is always a choice.  Not seeing the choice and going ahead is failing to take into account the other perspective.   Knowing there's a chance you may fail, but having weighed the consequences and making the choice explicitly, there are no regrets.  I didn't mean to make this post all about Kraemer, but making explicit vs. implicit choices is something else that he drove home in his Managerial Leadership class.  It is easier to make a choice implicitly, because there is an excuse if things don't turn out as planned.  Making a choice explicitly can be scary, because it acknowledges that you have control, and there is a power and associated responsibility that comes with the control, where if things don't turn out as planned then it is your fault.  Part of the problem is being able to differentiate a poor decision from a poor outcome; often in life there will be good decisions that result in poor outcomes.  But only by making choices explicitly can we ensure that our actions are aligned with our values, that that what we're doing makes sense and is actually the right decision for us.  Making choices explicitly forces you to anticipate the ensuing result, to consider the multiple perspectives, so that we aren't surprised by an outcome.  So for example, it's one thing to tell yourself you're going to get around to mowing the lawn, and keep putting it off.  It's another to recognize that yes, someone else could say you should mow the lawn, but that you are prioritizing going out with friends, cleaning the house, and other hobbies over it.  Even if the outcome is the same (the lawn doesn't get mowed), by making the choice explicitly, rather than feeling guilt and anxiety over not mowing the lawn, you recognize that you have made the choice, and the consequence of the choice is an unmowed lawn.  And if you don't have more important things that take priority over the lawn, then why the hell haven't you mown it already?  No reason not to anymore, right?

Okay, that's it for now.  Up and at 'em in 4 hours for yet another final presentation, whee.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


On an independent study last quarter, the professor was unable to give me feedback during the quarter and now, after grading my final project, has given me the choice of

1) take a B now
2) make changes (estimated at 15-20 hours of work) to receive an A

Honestly, I don't have the 15-20 hours to put in this quarter.  In fact, cost benefit analysis tells me clearly to take the B and to continue bailing out (ladling water out) rather than take on more water on an already sinking ship.  I am going to sleep on it before responding, but I already know I will be making the changes.    There is something wrong with my brain.  This is why I wish I knew more about psychology, so I could understand why I make irrational choices.

There is no right answer

I got really annoyed tonight because my roommate needlessly reran the dishwasher, even though the contents were already clean after I ran it yesterday.

While that is certainly laziness on his part for not checking, the hissy fit I felt like having was disproportionate to the offense.  (Luckily, he is out, so I had time to calm down and probably now won't even mention it)

This either means 1 of 2 things.

1. I am more suited to live by myself (no doubts here) and I should in the future to maintain my Zen.
2. It is good for me to live with someone else, to practice putting things in perspective and thinking from another person's point of view, and I should get a roommate in the future to learn to be a better person.

Love how depending on your opinion and/or perspective, either one can be right.  But they are complete opposites.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Productivity slump

from xkcd, a nerdy physics and computer programming based web comic that I absolutely adore  

I've been doing a fairly good job this quarter with keeping up with things, and so it was a little bit disappointing yesterday when I had my least productive day of the quarter by far.  There were quite a few contributing reasons:
  • went out drinking on Friday night
  • the weather was crappy, automatically reducing motivation
  • had coffee with the ex - never a good idea if you want to focus on work
  • I cooked all my meals yesterday, which takes a substantial amount of time

But I think there are 2 primary reasons I am frustrated by how yesterday went.
  1. I haven't scheduled any me-time.  Even on days where I do no schoolwork, I usually am trying to tackle things off my to do list (including yesterday, when I went to get my battery replaced at the Apple store and then grocery shopping).  Unsurprisingly, my brain just shut off yesterday and no matter how long I sat in front of the computer, I managed to find other ways to spend my time.  The Making of a Corporate Athlete, a great article introduced to me by Orlando, talks about how just like physically, muscles need rest cycles between workouts to be order to grow and stay healthy, mental and emotional energy requires rest cycles to have sustained high performance.  In the future, I am going to try to build in a full day of restoration every 2 or 3 weeks, devoted to something fun which I actually enjoy doing, which is preferable to spending a whole day unsuccessfully trying to work and constantly kicking myself for not being able to.  Luckily, I have a few weeks of break coming up where I plan to do nothing but sleep, eat, exercise, and read.  I can't think of the last time I curled up on the coach with a musty tome borrowed from the library, and that used to be one of my favorite activities in the world.  
  2. There are just too many frickin distractions.  I am sorely tempted to delete my Facebook account.  I was a late adopter to Facebook, only creating my account once I moved internationally so I could keep up with my US based friends.  I can see the value in maintaining weak ties, but I think it has gotten to the point where I miss the days when friends would call each other up to find out what's going on, rather than just following & commenting on Facebook.  It is far too easy to waste hours surfing through old friends pages and pictures, and similarly, as my Twitter stream velocity increases, clicking one link too often leads to me coming to my senses 45 minutes later, having meandered my way through an interesting online discussion on a current event or technological trend.  Even my friends, whom I love dearly and cherish the opportunity to stay in touch with, chat with me on messengers with the inevitable result of losing focus on work.  Now, the majority of the time I have been exercising self control by closing all extraneous applications, but when I am in a productivity funk like yesterday, it becomes a pathological impulse to let each distraction carry me away.  The author of xkcd, in the above comic, talks about how he created not only a 30 second delay between loading of web pages and chat clients, but also restricted his OS so that multiple programs could not be run at once.  This is a fairly hard line to take, but I can see the need and have yet to find my own methodology to truly take control of this issue.