The Weekly Hagakure #5

Self-improvement and advice from the future self.

In the book Atomic Habits, there's a story about a photography class taught by a professor named Jerry Uelsmann, at the University of Florida. On the first day, he divided the classroom in two: one side would be evaluated solely on the quantity of work they produced — one hundred photos would get an A. The other side would be evaluated only in terms of the quality of their output. It could be just one photo but it had to be near perfect.

Surprisingly, the "quantity" group came up with the best photos overall. These students experimented with all sorts of things, like lighting and composition, tried out various methods and learned from their mistakes. The other group was stuck for too long discussing what quality is. They ended up handing in one mediocre photo.

James Clear, the book's author, describes this as the difference between “being in motion” and “taking action”. For example, if you search for a great diet plan and read a few books about nutrition, that's motion. If you actually eat a healthy meal, that's action.

This made me think. I often fall prey to the fear of missing out, which leads me to jump around all the time and read about all sorts of things. I read a lot of books, to the extent of sometimes impressing people with how "well read" I am. But is that what I am going for? Am I really learning anything? Or am I just pretending to be?

As I take time off and reflect, I have come to more clearly notice a number of these glitches in my programming for which I don't have fixes yet. I take solace in what plenty of people much smarter than I am say, that the pursuit of what we’re really here to do is a lifelong one. All good things take time, and everything worthwhile is uphill. Rome wasn’t build in a day. The virtue of patience doesn’t exactly come naturally to me, but it is also a skill to be developed.

Meanwhile, if I could project myself 30 years into the future and give some advice to my present self, I somehow believe that advice would be: "just relax."

I should heed that advice.

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3 Articles

✍️ Let’s Stop Talking About Quality
A classic discussion between engineers and product managers is the good old trade-off between quality and time-to-market. But what does quality even mean? Is everyone on the same page about what it is? Hardly so. This post by Sam Stokes looks at quality from the perspective of empathy and collaboration. At the end of the day, the quality of our work is always about the quality of our relationships.

✍️ The Lesson To Unlearn
This longer post by Paul Graham opened my eyes to yet another way our upbringing sometimes formats us in unhelpful ways. In this case, how education is setup so that passing tests ends up being more important than actually learning, and how that reflects in the way many startups are built and managed.

✍️ Advice For a New Executive
When I was preparing for my first executive role, this post came in handy. While I think the wisdom contained here applies a lot more broadly, I especially appreciated the advice for a VP of Engineering to partner "absurdly closely" with Product, and how it is an ongoing conversation about priorities and trade-offs.

2 Podcasts

🎧 Sam Altman on Choosing Projects, Creating Value, and Finding Purpose
Not everyone will found startups and build companies, but everyone benefits from better figuring out their purpose and how to work more effectively towards it. One thing I like about Sam Altman is his laser focus on figuring out what matters and what doesn't, then acting on that information. Because there's nothing worse than working really hard on that which should not be done.

🎧 20VC: Matt Mochary, Coach to Silicon Valley’s Leading VCs and Founders
I believe coaching should be a huge part of any manager's role. This podcast episode contains a ton of wisdom from one of the best executive coaches out there on fear and anger as motivators (and turning them into joy-based motivation), giving difficult feedback, dealing with imposter syndrome, etc. Super recommended listening.

1 Book 📚

Someone once asked Warren Buffett, "how do you find a worthy mate?" Buffett answered, "to find a worthy mate, be worthy of a worthy mate."

I liked this a lot because it both puts the responsibility on each of us to be our best selves, but also to be helpful to others. I have a long way to go in this department, but I strive to get closer every day.

The Education of a Value Investor is the first-person account of Guy Spier's journey to be a better person, more mindful of others, and more in touch with his purpose. If you watched Wall Street, the 1987 movie starring Michael Douglas, you can imagine Spier as a greedy Gordon Gecko wannabe with increasingly questionable morals. Throughout the book, we witness Spier's metamorphosis into a low-key hedge fund manager whose life goal is simply to compound personal goodwill (and, sure, money as well) through honesty and kind gestures.

Why would you want to read a book about an investor? As it turns out, I have learned the most about human nature and psychology from reading about investing. Spier writes:

As I came to see it, the key is to accept who we are, understand our differences and limitations, and figure out ways around them (…) detect these emotional vulnerabilities in myself so I could develop strategies that prevent them from subverting me. This process of self-correction begins with self-knowledge. (…) It's crucial to be open to the possibility that we might be mistaken.

Once he realized he needed to change, Spier focused on finding the right mentors for himself and modelling them. Importantly, he also re-created his environment into something more conducive to the long-term thinking that successful value investing requires. These are tactics and skills that can benefit anyone who needs to make quality decisions all the time. Which is almost every job these days.

The Education of a Value Investor, beyond being a story of transformation and self-awareness, also contains a bunch of actionable learnings that you can leverage to improve the quality of your decisions. Perhaps its most important lesson though, is that we should be who we are, not who we are supposed to be.

And if you ever felt the need to slow down and step back, this might just be as great a read for you as it was for me.

🙌🏽 Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it, and until next week.

👉 You can follow me on Twitter @prla