Trust Cultures vs Non-trust Cultures

I don’t know where I saw this quote the other day but I like it:

“In cultures with trust, people ask to be taken off all the emails. In cultures lacking trust, people ask to be included on to every email.”

If you think you’re treated fairly you don’t need to check your back, you just focus on getting work done.

The Gif Made for a Museum

Quick summary: for 72 hours anyone on Reddit could edit a single pixel every 5 minutes on the below board:

A time lapse of the 72 hours

This feels like the 2017 version of the Million Dollar Homepage.

It’s group art: done by the masses, using technology available to everyone. I’m confident it will end up in a museum eventually.

How many technological advances had to happen for this to be possible? How many unique human beings had to communicate with each other to make this? It’s remarkable.

Your Circle of Influence

“I can’t do anything about my boss, he doesn’t listen and tries to micromanage everything.”

If I could recommend only 1 book to someone it would be The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s the best life & business book I’ve ever read and basically any other advice book could be “refactored” into terms of the 7 Habits.

One of the most powerful concepts in the book is the idea of your Circle of Influence vs. your Circle of Concern.

Your Circle of Concern is everything you care about: your family, the weather, world peace, Donald Trump, the decisions of your boss, the movement of your company’s stock price, etc.

Your Circle of Influence is the set of things that you actually have control over. Things like your own behavior, how you treat others, what you spend your time on, etc.

For the vast majority of people, our Circle of Influence is smaller than our Circle of Concern:

(This is one of the reasons on Twitter I’ve stopped following almost anyone who tweets about politics. It was growing my Circle of Concern whereas my Circle of Influence re: the federal government was static. It was distracting me from the things I actually have control over.)

“My boss always changes the work I turn in. Why even bother if he’s going to mess with what I spent so much time on?”

It’s easy to get into a default state where we see problems as things caused by stuff “out there”, outside of our control. It’s easy to throw up our hands and say this is someone else’s fault.

Which all may be true! Life is definitely not fair, and obviously we’re all born with different natural talents, opportunities, and social networks.

But that’s the point. Given that life is so deeply unfair, the only possible response is to focus on what you can actually control. 

Complaining is so easy because it gives responsibility of our current situation to others. It turns the arrow of responsibility outwards rather than inwards.

“I can’t change how my boss reacts, but maybe I’ll try an experiment and do extra research in advance and ask him up front what he thinks should be done and incorporate that into my deliverable.”

We can complain that things outside our control have negatively impacted our lives, or we can focus on things we can control and slowly grow that Circle of Influence.

I’ll be the first to say that I struggle with this. It is so easy to give up and say there’s nothing I can do. Like most things related to success in life, this idea is simple but not necessarily easy.

But given that most of life’s gains compound over time, if we focus our attention little by little every day on the things we can control, over enough time those little changes grow and you end up with a much larger Circle of Influence.

“My boss didn’t change anything on this deliverable, and he asked me for input in the next group meeting. Others were surprised and wondered why he cared what I had to say.”

We Have it So Good

I was listening to a fantastic podcast about a guy named Khe Hy. After 15 years working very successfully on Wall Street he left that career to become an entrepreneur. One of the things he mentioned was the allure of Silicon Valley and the tech entrepreneur culture:

Finance is a very zero sum game. I win, you lose. And that was the prevailing mindset in the industry. The example I always use to exemplify this scarcity thinking, is [when] a star analyst say they’re leaving to go to a competitor… what happens?

HR calls security…. they come in and they open your desk, and within 2 hours you’re out of the building and you’re locked out of your email.

It’s so humiliating. It’s so inhumane.

But what happens in tech? When [someone quits] in tech, the CEO writes this florally blog post that’s like “we’re so happy that so-and-so’s dedicated so much time. These are all the innovations that were attributable to them. While we’re really sad they’re gonna go, we’re gonna throw a party for them and we hope that we encourage you all to stay friends.”

People in tech often take for granted how relatively nice everyone is. And how long-term oriented the valley is. Personally I wouldn’t know how to operate under any other ethos.

But you could add to this list. For example, people complain about employees getting screwed by stock option terms which, okay, I’m sure happens in one form or another.

But the very normal alternative for employees in other industries is that equity never even enters the conversation.

It seems to me there’s never been a class of employee as well situated as the tech engineer: nearly unquenchable demand for their skillset and maximum availability of information to make the most informed decision possible.


We make the same mistake when we talk about money. According to givingwhatwecan.org, if you make $20,000 USD and have a family of 4, you’re in the top richest 20% of the world.  If you bump that to $51k (the median US household income) you’re in the top 8%.

It blows my mind that we basically never hear or talk about our wealth relative to the rest of the world. If you’re born with a healthy body in the US you’re probably one of the luckiest people in the history of humanity.

Go to El Paso, Texas and you can literally see over the border into Mexico. The difference between the housing & infrastructure that exists on opposite sides of an imaginary line some 100 feet apart is stark. How lucky some of us were to be born on this side of the line.


And the Internet? “The Internet creates horrible clickbait content, we’re on our phones all day, it makes us not like each other. Destroying our attention spans, etc.” What a depressing take.

It’s another cliche at this point to say how amazing the iPhone would have been to someone just 30 years ago. “Instant access to all the world’s information” isn’t quite accurate, but the fact that’s it’s even close to describing reality is remarkable.

We have it so good.

Excellence

In one of my high school classrooms our teacher had a huge banner with just one word on it: EXCELLENCE.

Those giant green & yellow felt letters have been logged in my brain ever since, and today I just have a ton of admiration and respect for anyone who’s really good at what they do.

Some examples:

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton

Ira Glass and This American Life

Jeff Bezos and Amazon

Casey Neistat’s vlog

Pixar

Jiro Ono, maker of sushi so famous in Japan someone made a documentary about him


(Some of this depends on personal taste of course, but there’s no question that each of these are loved by their audience. These people have mastered their craft, as evidenced by their successful work year after year after year.)


Personally the closest I’ve come to anything like this was learning to speak Spanish.

I lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for ~2 years. When I landed I didn’t speak a word of the language but after I’d been there 6 months you could drop me off anywhere and I’d be fine. After a full year it felt like I had a superpower.

I’d get compliments on my acento mexicano and the variety of slang I’d taken the time to learn, and the locals noticed. It’s not everyday a white American goes to the poorest state in Mexico and learns their language and their idioms.

The point here is that being good at Spanish felt good for its own sake. I didn’t need to be using it to make money or trying to achieve some other goal. Being good was achievement enough.1

I forget this constantly and need reminders. And I’m not sure I’d even believe it unless I’d (kind of) experienced it once.

But it’s totally worth the work. Even if there’s no other carrot at the end other than being able to look at yourself in the mirror and say “dang, I’m freaking good at what I do.”


  1. I think this is what some people in tech mean when they say the best developers program on the weekends. The point isn’t that they’re harder workers, but that they enjoy their craft so much they do it in whatever free time they have available.

You Don’t Need Another Tool

I read a great book a while back called The Systems Bible. It basically pounds into your head that systems are almost always bad, and should be avoided at all costs.

It does make a caveat that if you ABSOLUTELY need to create a system, make sure to start with a simple system and build any necessary complexity on top. If you create a complex system first the system will ultimately fail.

That’s kind of abstract, so what do I mean in real life…

Solving Problems that Don’t Yet Exist

E.g. Shopping for a new SaaS tool. It’s really fun to try out new SaaS products, but do you really need another one right now? What problem are you trying to solve?

Solving problems that don’t yet exist is tempting because it feels productive. But it’s not a good use of your time.

Because picking a tool to solve a problem is an optimization problem, not a building problem. It takes something you’re already doing and makes it better. It doesn’t build anything new in and of itself.1

And when you’re early and time is precious, you gotta be in Build Mode as much as possible.

It gets worse though: not only does it waste time today that could be used solving a problem that actually exists (i.e. building) but when the problem you’re trying to anticipate finally arrives the complex system you designed won’t actually solve it.

Why?

Because you didn’t fully understand the problem when you designed the system. So you’ll have to start from scratch on designing a new system anyway.

My rule of thumb now with any new problem is to first solve it using Excel:

  • List of people I need to contact? Forget a CRM, I’m doing it in Excel.
  • Tracking my investments? There are a million financial tools online… Excel works fine, thanks.
  • Tracking a list of royalties to be paid to a partner? Excel.
  • Personal and family goals? Excel.
  • Friends I need to get in touch with? Another list in Excel.

Excel is my personal tool of choice, but you can do this in lots of other tools: in a text editor, the Notes app, whatever.

Once you’re actually dropping the ball on stuff, bam… that’s when you can look for a tool. Experiencing the pain will tell you exactly what you’re looking for when you go shop for a tool.

Shopping is fun but in the end their real purpose to solve business problems. If you don’t yet have a problem, don’t go shopping.


  1. There are few exceptions for categories that you can’t do at all without a tool, like payment processing, but then you should just pick the one that everyone already uses (Stripe) and be done with it.