Monthly Archives: January 2017

Life is Cruel

The world was not created for you or by you.  Remember this fact and make no mistake: there are rules to the game, and they are not set by you.  If you want to win, play by the rules.  If you don’t know what the rules are, learn them.  If there is no-one to teach you, expect to have a tough time. Expect to be treated unfairly.  Deal with it.  And be patient.  Be patient because eventually, you’ll learn the rules.  Be patient because eventually, you’ll have the opportunity to win.  Don’t give in to despair.  Don’t give in to the obstacles and setbacks and unfairness and the cruelty.  Be patient and keep going.

Remember, the world was not created to help you.  You have to help yourself, and you have to play by the rules.  How much you want something means nothing if you go against a rule, because the rule will win.  Make no mistake, find and follow the rules of life and you will find success.  Fail to do so, and you will suffer.

Context: terminally ill patient asks loved one to commit double suicide with them.  According to certain religions, terminally ill patient will die of natural causes and therefore go to heaven.  Terminally ill patient is afraid of death and doesn’t want to enter it alone.  Loved one loves terminally ill patient and so agrees to join them so that they won’t be alone.  However, according to certain religions, because the loved one who committed suicide did not die of natural causes, they will be punished with eternal damnation in hell.  The loved one didn’t follow the rules of a natural death.  And the terminally ill one didn’t follow the rules of the loved one achieving a natural death.  So in the midst of death and despair, two lovers demonstrate love, and are punished dearly for it with separation and torture.

Now I’m not religious, so I am not using this story for any religious purposes. I just use it to highlight how no matter how pure the intention, no matter how strong the desire, no matter how good the plan, if the actions don’t follow the rules of reality, the expected outcome will not occur.  So please, learn the rules of the game and follow them.


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Career Advice (General)

Career Advice: What are the real reasons some people get promoted and others don’t? A good answer on Quora: The content is copied below, and credit is due to the poster Ramkumar Balaraman:

In most organizations, promotions aren’t correlated with hard work or technical know-how. The only exceptions are high-impact independent contributors, such as salespersons, real estate agents, surgeons, etc., or very junior level jobs where you are still an individual contributor.

Other than such exceptions, the likelihood of promotions are usually determined by:

  1. How well you understand your boss’s goals. Most hard-working employees put in extra effort to excel at their assigned goals. For fast-track growth, you need to instead expend the minimum effort it takes to meet your goals, and then spend the extra time in understanding your boss’s goals and helping him/her meet them instead. Understanding your boss’s goals is sometimes as easy as asking him/her.
  2. Whether you’re talking to your ‘real boss’. Point [1] can sometimes backfire if you’re doing it for the wrong boss. Sometimes you join a promising job after interacting with a senior hiring manager, only to find yourself slotted under someone who is only one level above you and is still trying very hard to prove himself/herself. Your chances of a promotion are quite bleak in these situations, unless you ‘recruit’ someone higher up in the hierarchy to be your ‘real’ boss. However its also very important that you do not bypass your assigned boss or make him/her feel threatened when doing so. This means the only person you discuss your assigned goals and responsibilities with is your assigned boss. However, your ‘real boss’ is the one whose office you walk into and ask if there is anything on his/her plate you can help with.
  3. How frequent your touch-points are. You could be working your ass off in your corner cube, and you may think its obvious to everyone how much of a difference you’re making, but its usually not. You may have heard about the need to keep seeking feedback and tried to do so, but found that there’s always something critical going on and there’s no time. Whenever you join a new job or project, its important to put weekly one-on-one recurring meetings on your boss’s calendar and monthly one-on-one recurring meetings with his/her boss. This is least odd in the beginning, but has a tremendous impact in both them being aware of your work, and you being aware of your progress and their goals.
  4. How well you understand the business. Ultimately businesses are in the business of making money. If you don’t get the ‘big picture’, i.e. what your cash flows look like, who your largest clients are, what their priorities are, what your competition is doing, where your industry is going, which parts of your business are the cash cows and which are emerging, etc., you will always come across as an individual contributor and seldom as a leader. Dedicate some time every day or week purely to understanding your business. It will make a big difference to the way you judge situations and the kind of reasoning you bring to meetings, and in turn, to whether people see you as a leader.
  5. Whether you have a track record of getting things done. What is often important to your boss and his/her boss is not how hard you are working, but whether you are getting things done. One part of this is your ability to speak in terms of business outcomes rather than individual tasks. People often claim that someone is moving up by politically taking credit for their work, but the fact is that the person who is able to articulate progress in terms of business outcome subconsciously gets credit for progress made by the entire team – its more common sense than politics. The other part of this is how you’re able to work with other parts of the organization to overcome obstacles, rather than simply report obstacles to your boss. A successful negotiator is also perceived as a good leader.
  6. How reliable you are. Many employees are very reluctant to say no, or to disagree with set timelines. Sometimes they see it as not really being a choice. Other times they are simply non-confrontational. Best case scenario you are overworked and meet your commitments. Worst case scenario you are overworked and miss your commitments. Either way you have no time to study your business and no time to work on higher-order goals. Your boss will also continue to make commitments on your behalf. You’re better off being the guy who calls it like it is right from the start, and consistently does so. You may find your boss to be disgruntled initially, since he may need to pass on the bad news to someone else, but you will always be appreciated for it in hindsight, which is what matters at the end of the day.
  7. Whether you ask for the resources you need. Employees often assume that its wrong to ask for resources to do their jobs. Sometimes a lot of your work can be cut down through the use of a software tool. Other times you’re doing a repetitive task that is not the best use of your time and you could be more productive if you hired an intern. A $500 software license may seem like a lot, but spread over a year, its often not much. Depending on how well you present your case, these are more often seen as evidence of initiative than evidence of indolence.  They save you time that you can then spend on more important goals.
  8. How the rest of the organization sees you. Whenever you have an opportunity to help, no matter who the person is asking for it and whether it is related to your assigned duties or not, as long as you really are able to help or assist, do so. It will always come back when it matters. The exception is when someone is simply trying to move drudgery from his/her queue to yours.
  9. How much you respect both yourself and others. Ultimately people only respect you as much as you respect yourself, as well as how much you respect them. This does not mean becoming an egomaniac. It does mean valuing your colleagues and subordinates for the expertise they bring to the table, for this makes it easier for them to regard you as a leader. It also means you remain open to changing your mind if the evidence supports it. It also means you don’t become a yes man for the sake of it. A yes man may see temporary ascension under the wrong type of boss, but it never lasts. More often, your inability to disagree when a situation warrants it is also the same characteristic that lets people believe that they run the least risk if you are passed over for a promotion.
  10. Whether you ask for responsibilities, rather than promotions. In modern corporate culture, promotions do not bring you additional responsibilities. Rather, you are given a promotion because you’ve already taken on the responsibilities of the position you will be promoted to. Seeking (the right) responsibilities is easier than seeking a promotion, as long as you have everything else above nailed. A promotion will then be a natural result.
  11. Whether you know when to move on. Sometimes you seem to be doing everything right, but you continue to be passed over for that promotion year after year. You may not know all the reasons for not getting a promotion, even if you ask all the right people about it, but you will always know when you’re stuck in a dead-end job. Don’t live in perpetual denial. Break the cycle, move on and don’t look back. Remember that when you decide to move on, you really need to stick to it all the way. Never accept a counteroffer from your current employer no matter how attractive – the relationship never lasts.

The above rules apply only when you are trying to move into line management or middle management.

If you’re trying to move into senior management or executive leadership, you likely possess all of the above already. The power dynamics and the rules of the game have changed, however, and this is where conventional leaders often get stuck indefinitely, especially in large organizations. If you continue your current style of functioning, your only chance of a promotion is if your boss gets promoted, but you already know he’s been stuck there several years. You’ll often find, to your frustration, that even if your boss leaves, someone else is brought in to take his place. The key decision makers are usually a small team of top execs who may not even be in the same location as you are. Your access to them is limited to occasional large gatherings or workshops where you struggle to be noticed. You are likely well compensated and feel respected as the head of the group you manage, but feel like you’ve hit a brick wall within the organization.

There’s only one rule at this point: Make yourself redundant

I’ve seen this play out again and again so often it’s almost clichéd, yet never fails to be dramatic. The leaders who stay stuck are those who want to be involved in every decision in their team, for they can’t trust anyone else’s judgement better than their own. These leaders are perpetually buried in the details and their teams cannot operate in their absence. In contrast, the leaders who make the rapid ascent to the top are those who choose the right people within their team to take decisions for them, and empower them to do so with minimal oversight. They effectively make themselves redundant in the process.

This seems counter-intuitive; doesn’t making yourself redundant lead to a higher risk of a layoff? Apparently not.

These are also the leaders who then spend all the extra time they have piloting transformational initiatives, presenting at industry conferences, leading outreach programs, and thinking of as well as executing new and innovative ways of doing business within their group. They are often called to present their approach to top execs, and then help roll them out to other groups. They soon end up far more visible than their boss and become natural top candidates for the next senior leadership opportunity that opens up. Often, one is opened up for them. They’ve already eliminated any dependencies on themselves within their group, so they take very little time to move into a new opportunity when it opens up.

Such leaders epitomize the ideal of working smart and have fun doing it.

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Play Your Game

To achieve what you want out of life, to be secure and confident, to be in control, to live with yourself, sometimes the right strategy in the face of chaos and uncertainty is to play your game.

I learned this concept from my USTA tennis team in 2015.  My teammates noticed that I played well in practice, but not well in competition.  Why? They noticed that my playing style changed due to the pressure and stress of competition, and the type of opponent. When I was at practice, I allowed myself to be myself and embraced my natural strengths and weaknesses.  As a result, I played optimally for who I am.  I was good at backhands so I hit more backhands.  I was good at slice serves so I hit a lot of slice serves.  However, when I was in a competition, I felt like I had to be perfect in every way in order to win. I had to play my opponent’s weaknesses rather than my own strengths. As a result, I made the game about hitting forehands, because that’s what traditional strategy says is safer, and about hitting top spin serves.  In other words, I wasn’t playing to my strengths.  As a result, I performed worse because I was using my weaknesses to compete.

“Play Your Game” means several things.  For one, it means you should set the pace, the rules, the actions.  Take control of the situation rather than be controlled by the situation–don’t play someone else’s game (your opponent’s) and instead, impose your game upon your opponent.  Second, it means stay within your comfort zone.  Everyone has a different set of advantages and disadvantages, and out of that comes that person’s unique strategy and style.  Play the strategy and style that is best suited for you, and not the strategy and style that you’ve seen other people different from you do.  You will do better when you make decisions based on the reality of the situation, which is that you have advantage A and disadvantage B, than when you make decisions based on theoretical ideas on what it ‘should’ be when it isn’t so.

Last year, 2016, I learned firsthand the cost of not playing your game when I played in the Mountain View Open Tennis Tournament.  Here I was ‘out of my element’ in the sense that I was surrounded by tennis players who were much higher level than I was accustomed to.  They hit harder and more accurately than me, and moved faster and got tired slower than I did.  I immediately felt the pressure from my surroundings to not be myself, because if I was myself I felt I wouldn’t survive against this level of competition.  As a result, I pushed myself to play my opponent’s game rather than my own game.  I played into his hands.  He trained for years to hit hard, accurately, and quickly, while I trained for a few months to simply get to the ball and hit it high over the net and into the court.  Rather than stick to my training, I tried to do things I’d not practiced–hit the ball low over the net with high pace-and compete on his terms.  As a result, not only did I lose, but I injured myself because I was straining my body and mind and muscles past their breaking point, past what they were used to.  The cost of not playing your game is not only that in the short term you do works, but sometimes that you injure yourself and you do worse in the long term as well.  Don’t hurt yourself trying to be someone you’re not.  What I should have done instead is done my best, stayed within my game, and played according to my rules. Even though I would lose, I wouldn’t get injured.  That way, I can work on improving and getting better so that next time I won’t lose. Instead of being delayed from training by the injury recovery time.

At the end of the day, “Play Your Game” is a way of saying ‘be yourself within a competitive context,’ when under duress–when an opponent is trying to make me play his game, I should play mine; as the world is trying to change me to conform to its measuring stick, I should maintain my own measuring stick.  As Einstein said, don’t judge a fish by how it can climb a tree.  Find your game and play the game that’s meant for you.  As in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, play to your strengths: when facing a dragon or large problem, approach with your best foot forward, not someone else’s foot or a borrowed contraption you don’t know how to use.

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