Things which have been consistently true
After 15 years of building technology businesses, I've changed my views on a lot of things from how to build software to what a good culture looks like.
A small subset of things have remained consistently true.
All of these are "true" for me, as always when I write "you" I really mean me. Writing is hard.
Here they are:
- Sleep, Exercise and Diet pretty much trump everything else. For me I'd estimate the ratio is something like 50% sleep, 30% exercise, 20% diet but I've no reason to think that generalises. I firmly believe that when looking to improve output, culture, any number of things, ensuring a workforce is getting enough sleep would probably out-perform almost any other initiative
- Writing really is thinking. I have close to zero examples of situations where someone taking their idea and then spending several hours writing it out in a structured long form way didn't make it at least one order of magnitude better
- Writing is thinking but talking is communicating. Humans were designed to talk to other humans face to face. Writing and talking serve different purposes and you can't substitute one for the other. It's frightening how quickly human relationships decay without some form of direct human to human communication with all the body language and tone of voice that goes with it. This is the main factor to manage when building remote
- Generally the return on consuming long form non-fiction content vastly outweighs short form non-fiction content if your goal is to acquire knowledge or understanding
- It's possible to do vastly less than I estimate in 1 week and vastly more in 6 months. So planning the 6 month horizon is far higher leverage than doing another crazy 1 week sprint. This has been true across work, exercise, nutrition, relationships, learning and pretty much any other domain I can think of. Unfortunately the 1 week sprint feels much more exciting and resisting this pull is hard
- All of the worst conversations I've had started with me going in with a strong opinion and telling everyone else about it. All of the best ones started with me asking other people lots of questions and follow up questions. 9 times our of 10 I'll learn something that causes me to meaningfully re-evaluate the opinion I would have started with
- Prioritising X over the people I love and care about is essentially always the wrong choice. In retrospect "the other thing" always turned out not to matter very much and I wished I'd prioritised the people I love. I don't have a single example of this where on reflection I couldn't have far better prioritised the people I love while still delivering fully on "the other thing" whether that was work, exercise, hobbies etc
- People are basically good and well-intentioned. If I look back at nearly every situation where I attributed motivation to malice or some negative personality trait, I was pretty much always wrong. The negative thought processes that went with this not only added no value to the situation, they actively reduced my effectiveness and happiness
- To paraphrase Sam Altman, it would have been worth being taking advantage of a few times while assuming the best in everyone just for the additional positivity and opportunity exposed by this mindset
- A very useful heuristic when interpreting people's opinions is to watch how certain they are. The more certain someone is, particularly in complex domains, the more suspicious you should be of their conclusions. People who are consistently extremely high certainty on a large range of topics are generally the least informed and least likely to be right. This is a great heuristic when evaluating investors.
- Most of the biggest positive impact events in my life were the result of putting myself in situations where I'm exposed to a high degree of serendipity, generally either by meeting people or creating content, especially content which then goes out onto the internet
- It's amazing how many problems both in business and life in general could be avoided simply by giving and learning to receive feedback. It's frightening how often I realise I'm unhappy with how someone has done something, I'd like them to do it differently and for some reason I haven't explicitly told them that. Thanks for the Feedback and Radical Candor helped me a lot and I thoroughly recommend them. Once you start seeing this in yourself and others it's hard to stop seeing it! I keep "turning up the dial" on how much feedback I give and finding it's still possible and constructive to go further
- The things and mistakes you're most frustrated about in others are probably the things you're most uncomfortable with about yourself. Be careful of this because it can skew decision making and communication across all parts of life
- Compounding and compound effects are by far the hardest to internalise. This applies to money, technical architecture, team culture and numerous other things. It's a great example of where it's worth writing out longform and drawing systems diagrams can help you to identify huge blindspots
- Delegation is incredibly hard to get right and probably the highest leverage skill that exists when building a business. It's better to fail by over-delegating and pulling back than by under-delegating.
- It's incredibly easy to criticise other people's ideas and to come up with reasons why somebody might be wrong, why a business idea might not work and how things could go awry. It's far more interesting and valuable to be able to sit with those points while thinking through how it could work out and where there might be value. Almost all interesting step changes came from things which sounded unlikely or far fetched at the time. So the ability to sit with the challenges and explore the opportunity space is incredibly important. You'll still generally conclude against an idea, but you'll also get most of your returns for the ones which turn out to be important.
- Negative comments on the internet invariably tell you more about the commentor than the subject they are commenting on
- If in doubt, put on a podcast, go for a run and then think about it again.
- If that doesn't work go to bed, get a full nights sleep, and it will be better in the morning
- What I'd tell myself about startups if I could go back in-time
- Short form vs Long Form Content
- Writing is thinking
- Thanks for the feedback
- Radical Candor
- Outlive & Lifespan
- Why we sleep
- The hard thing about hard things