Category Archives: Productivity

Peace State of Mind

Paul Graham is so sensitive to capture the small but important stuff in life – I call it Fengshui, but just my way. Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

Productivity

In the article, I started to understand why I am sometimes much more productive than other. By “some times”, I mean at least a quarter, some times a year. In blogging, for example, pre-2009 years are much more productive than 2010, and 2011. Why is that?

Paul’s maker’s schedule answered the question. For programmers, writers, strategist, and basically everything that needs some hard work, people need a block of uninterrupted time. It is especially so for programmers, and writers that requires a lot of inspiration, and rely on the flow of mind more than other type of work.

To allocate enough uninterrupted time is the key to serious thinking, writing and programming. Knowing that there are at least few hours, or ideally 4 hours uninterrupted ahead, or for some bigger project, few days uninterrupted greatly help to improve the productivity.

Peace of Mind

I tried in the last few days, and found it great. There is a status I call “Peace State of Mind”. It is just like the status of meditation, but mediating in a world of problem solving, not (well, this is just for me) a fore-play of sleeping.

When I get into the peace of mind status, my world is quiet, and I can start to capture the most sensitive difference in either coding or writing, or thinking. When I go to use the bath room, I say hi to people, but not actively seeking for recognizing their faces (a little bit impolite but it is my state of mind). A SMS arrives, and I just peaceful ignore it, and checking email is not attractive, not to mention Weibo. That is a beautiful state, and that is very productive state.

How to Get There

To get there, you need few things:

  1. Allocate enough uninterrupted time. Set aside meetings, and set expectation of the people around you. Ideally, morning or late night. (I prefer morning).
  2. Find a peaceful place.  Refer to some Fengshui book to see where is best – facing entrance with nothing at the back. Ideally a wall or pole.
  3. Headset to keep noise away.
  4. A clearly defined task to start with.
  5. Relax and focus.

Hope this is helpful to you too.

Traveler’s Schedule

Paul Graham had another article back in 2009 about the Maker’s Schedule vs Manager’s Schedule.

That is a very good observation. “What you do changes very hour” is exactly why people complain the company is getting inefficient. People complaining about the meetings, but actually, they are not complaining the total time spent on meetings, they are complaining that the meetings cut their time into smaller chunk that does not work. Paul even went so far to claim that founders should resist, or at least postpone to become managers.

I wrote about What We can Learn from Travelers, and I listed some difference between a traveller and a resident. I should act one thing: Traveler always have a traveler’s schedule, which is very different from the daily routine of most of our lives. It is more like a manager’s schedule but more intense. They have limited time (few days for most people), and by definition, travel means to put as many, and as diversified things as possible into their schedule. They have to run by hours, and sometimes by 10 minutes.

For a business traveler, it is the same. It turned out that as traveler, it is so easy to have “speculative” meetings – the meetings with not expected output, and just drop by and say “hi”. That is so nicely fit into a business traveler’s schedule, just like a tourism drop by at the Milano Duomo and say hi to the church. However, it is so disastrous for some of the local people, especially the makers. We need to be aware of that.

That schedule works perfectly for a traveler, and that makes us exciting. We can accomplish much more (well, in terms of numbers, not total impact) than people running maker’s schedule. We need that, from time to time.

 

 

My 3 Words for 2012

It is almost the middle of the year, when I read Elliot’s blog entry: My 3 Words for 2012, where he got inspiration from Chris Brogan. For an ENFP, to-do-list is not my style. I would rather have a theme and put everything around that Guiding Pillars. With a theme, it is more like a pull not a push, and that is the mode of life I enjoy.

Here are my three themes: Talent, Do, (  ). I am leaving the third to later time.

Talent

I believe I have entered into a new era of management. I started to understand that a company is just like a LEGO brick game itself.

In a technical world, people seldom write code from grand up. They choose a language, and they choose an open source software, and they chose the right server, and they put codes to glue them together and build the right system.

To find the right type of person (the right personality, the right skill set, and right motivation) and put them into the right environment, working toward the right goal, and vision, is as important as what I mastered in the technical world.

So the right talent is the key, and the management skills and systems are the glue to put them together.

In this theme, I will put more effort in putting serious effort to learn people, to find the right person, and to get them aboard. I will systematically get to know them, find the right fit, and try everything I can to bring them on board.

Do

This is a simple word. I believe I will move toward more action-driven style. The life of a journalist is good, but to apply the observation and learning to action is as important. I am going to take a more action-biased approach.

Do means to take actions after thinking. Do means to think about next steps, and get there. Do means focusing on the path to get where you to get.

Planning Ahead Ended with Packed Days

I am planning ahead and started to put appointment one or two weeks ahead of time. Some of the meeting appointment is even a quarter away.

This practice ended up with very packed day. In the last few days, my schedule is like a meeting every two hours or one hour. I actually had 5 meetings today.

The upside of this type of scheduling is, it put the most important things on the calendar first, and you make sure you the important things done first, instead of urgent one.

Glad to share.

Scaling An Organization

I love technology, and enjoy scaling a system. You build the right architecture to allow scale out – using more computers to provide more processing power.

Talking about a company, we have to scale it as well. It is an art of scaling a human organization. To make a scalable system work for the people is much more complicated than in technical world.

When an organization grows, easy things started to become difficult. In technical world, insert a record into a database, serving a page view – any newly-graduate computer major can do the job. Inserting 1 million record per minute into the database, or serving 1 billion page views per day? Not easy. For the organization, it is the same. Communication within 1 0 person team is very different from 100 person team.

Communication needs to pay basically no attention when the team is small. Everyone knows everything – just like the husband/wife relationship. There will be no meetings, or PPTs – everyone just know.

It adds a lot of overhead as the organization gets bigger. This process seems to be irreversible, but need to be as slow as possible.

The key is communication. I just learnt it is exactly like the seat table. I paid great attention about who seats near whom, but not as closely as to the organization. We change seats every quarter to allow optimization communication. The same should happen to organization design.

To organize the team around functions or business are the key questions. We need to switch and alternate it every quarter to get the least of evils from any organization design.

The communication needs to be well planned, and enforced. We need to do it all the time, and that is the over head. We need to add a communication bus for the company to allow messages to flow within the company.

Shanghai New Traditional Industry Gather

New Year Gather

The interesting part of life is to set traditions. We now have a new tradition: to meet quarterly within the community of Internet entrepreneurs in Shanghai. Here is the first gather:

shanghai-jianshuo.mikeliang.etc-internet.jpg

They are the CEO of dianping.com, , 61.com, 51.com, pptv.com, jjdd.com, some of the most important internet websites in China.

Beautiful Life

Alan de Botton is really my favorite writer. I am re-reading his “Consolation of Philosophy”, and it inspired me a lot. On Consolation of Lack of Money, he wisely quoted Epicure about the natural and necessary needs of human. It turned out that those does not cost a lot of money, like running, is natural and necessary, while expensive houses and fame are not. We really need to switch the paradigm of this world.

Mileage of Running

I tend of enjoy accumulating mileage of many interesting programs – United Mileage Plus, or HHonors… But nothing is comparable to the feeling of accumulating calorie burns. I started to run about 3-5 km per day or walk the same distance. It turned out to be very exciting experience. Thanks to Nike Plus that help me to record that, and accumulate.

Other Learning

Controlling the scope of a project, or a meeting is one of the most critical part of success. We continued to recall some of the most important principles in project management.

Time to sleep.

Highly Recommend Ben Horowitz’s Blog

Here is a list of articles on the left side of Ben’s Blog. I found out all of them – every single article of them worth reading. You should, if you also run a company.

Thanks Richard Lim for sharing the first article with us.

P.S. John Morgidge, CEO cisco, once said

If you can’t see your car from your hotel room, then you are paying too much.

I just felt backed by one of the best CEOs on the important matter – cost saving.

Questions on Innovation

I got a list of questions to probe people’s innovation ability. Here is the list, and I think it is well thoughts and written.

  • Finds new ideas by relating out-of-industry trends and patterns to the business.
  • Creatively solves challenging problems by drawing on diverse ideas or knowledge.
  • Often finds solutions to problems by drawing on solutions or ideas developed in other industries, fields, or disciplines.
  • Frequently connects ideas from industries or situations unrelated to our business (often through analogy).
  • Frequently thinks ‘outside the box’ and others comment on this ability.
  • Frequently has ideas or perspectives that diverge radically from others’ perspectives.
  • Does careful analysis to make well-thought-out decisions at work.
  • Strongly prefers to make data-driven decisions rather than rely on gut instinct or intuition.
  • Insists on realism and facts when making decisions.
  • Does not jump into new projects and ventures or act quickly without careful thinking and analysis.
  • Constantly asks thought-provoking questions to get at the root of the problem.
  • Frequently asks questions to understand why products and projects under perform.
  • Asks insightful ‘what if’ questions that provoke exploration of new possibilities and frontiers.
  • Often asks questions that challenge the status quo.
  • Regularly asks questions that challenge others’ fundamental assumptions.
  • Excels at breaking down a goal or plan into the micro tasks required to achieve it.
  • Consistently creates detailed plans to get work done.
  • Regularly makes and follows plans to accomplish work.
  • Does work according to an organized plan.
  • Is incredibly well-organized in work life.
  • Gets innovative ideas by directly observing how people interact with products and services.
  • Has a continuous flow of new business ideas that comes through observing the world.
  • Regularly observes the activities of customers, suppliers, or other companies to get new business ideas.
  • Often pays attention to everyday experiences to get new ideas.
  • Is very observant of the world.
  • Must have everything finished ‘just right’ when completing a work assignment.
  • Pays attention to details at work.
  • Is careful to avoid making mistakes.
  • Focuses on the details to make sure work is done precisely.
  • Consistently follows through on all commitments and finishes what is started.
  • Has a history of taking things apart to see how they work.
  • Actively searches for new ideas through experimenting.
  • Frequently experiments to create new ways of doing things.
  • Is adventurous, always looking for new experiences.
  • Always follows through to complete a task, no matter what the obstacles are.
  • Holds self and others strictly accountable for getting results.
  • Doesn’t need a push to get started on new tasks and assignments.
  • Doesn’t procrastinate on things that should get done.
  • Regularly meets with people outside of the immediate industry to find best practices and spark new ideas.
  • Regularly talks with a diverse set of people (e.g., from different business functions, companies, industries, geographies, etc.) to find and refine new business ideas.
  • Actively seeks out individuals from very different backgrounds who can help find and evaluate new ideas.
  • Frequently interacts with a large network of contacts to get ideas for new products, services, and customers.
  • Attends many diverse professional and/or academic conferences outside of the immediate industry/profession.
  • Is not afraid of making big mistakes.
  • Frequently takes risks.
  • Has a strong desire to change the world.
  • Thrives on changing the status quo.
  • Creates an environment where others share diverse types of knowledge to discover unexpected connections among ideas.
  • Encourages others to draw on diverse ideas or knowledge to creatively solve challenging problems.
  • Engages others often in brainstorming to generate wild or very different ideas.
  • Cultivates an environment that supports the open sharing of different, innovative ideas.
  • Promotes asking “why” questions to get at the root of a problem.
  • Encourages others to ask questions that challenge the status quo or conventional ways of doing things.
  • Encourages others to ask “what if” questions to explore new frontiers and possibilities.
  • Cultivates new ideas by giving people frequent opportunities to observe the activities of customers, competitors, or suppliers.
  • Provides adequate time for others to directly observe how people interact with our products and/or services.
  • Encourages others to pay careful attention to everyday experiences in search of surprising, new ways of doing things.
  • Encourages others to be adventurous and seek out new experiences.
  • Praises others for experimenting with new ways of doing things.
  • Actively supports experimenting by others to discover and develop new ideas.
  • Provides opportunities for others to network with individuals from very different backgrounds or perspectives.
  • Encourages others to engage in frequent conversations with a diverse set of people (e.g., from different professions, business functions, companies, industries, geographies, etc.) to find and refine new ideas.
  • Supports others’ attendance at professional or academic conferences or events to meet people outside of their profession, function, industry, or geography.
  • Encourages others to challenge the status quo.
  • Supports others’ efforts to initiate significant changes in how we do things.
  • Encourages people to take risks.
  • Advocates taking risks to pursue interesting new ideas or paths of action. 68.
  • Stays more informed about industry and technology trends than colleagues.
  • Does not make rash decisions.

Daily Report

Daily report is a great way for people to do some meditation, and review what happened during the day. In my company, many new hire write daily reports, as communication and summary. What about my daily report?

Breakfast

Breakfast is one of the details we need to pay attention. In my so many years of running a company, free breakfast is the single highest ROI benefits I have ever tried. It helped the team to save time, foster communication, and increase the level of happiness. We should do more things to make the breakfast and other small benefits like this better. Free drink is another benefits that wildly spread out in the bay area among Silicon Valley hi-tech companies, and recently are the free meals (with nice chef)… We should increase the standard of the company to the next level.

Avoiding Swapping Thoughts

One of the productivity tip I got is, always send meeting request, send short update the time you think of, and don’t delay. In computer world, swapping memory out of disk is a very high cost activity. In our brain, we should also avoid switch context when it is possible. Like today, after a phone call, I should have sent a very quick note to other guys for the update, make an appointment, and confirm a meeting. Those didn’t happen, and I was dragged into another meeting, and that didn’t happen until deep in the night.

Mobilizing Resources

Something managers should do is to set goals, and mobilize resources among different priorities, and not neccessarily thinking about solutions on behalf of the team members. If something need to happy, ask two questions: 1. Do we have the right metrics, or goal for this. 2. Do we have the resource ready for the team to go for it. If the answers for these two questions are both true, very likely, the goal will be reached (provided you have a really good team).

Team

The efficiency of a discussion is always constrained by the slowest brain. Try to set the standard and keep the bar high. Don’t compromise. Never.

Interviews, and Stanfords

I am amazed how hard it is to setup the system, and how easy it is to follow a system. The current interview process is still a clone of the Microsoft system, and I believe there must be some improvement on that.

The other day, Ann gave a very good point that hiring is all about the priorities. No one is perfect. Just choose those that you cannot compromise, and put them high to the requirement list, and really check that, and then let the other lower priority requirement go. People are perfectly imperfect. Just choose what you want most, and don’t be too greedy. Also, communicate the priority list, compare note among managers, and interviewers to make sure you really act as a team to choose the right person. As a matter of fact, no one can succeed in all aspects.

The Magic Number

When there are more people, we need to consistently change the format of communication, and innovate about how to run a company. The same format working for one team size, does not work for larger, or smaller team. The key is to get the spirit of many activities, and change it for the environment. For example, when we have more people, a big circle of all employees to gather every second week does not work. Even two separate circles cannot make it working well. Need some time to fine tune it.

Culture

Culture of a company need to be passed on, and one of the effective way to do it is to pass on quotes, and stories. Office environments are very good point to get started.

We will have a wall of the famous sayings in the companies, and printed it out with the person who coined it. For example: The speed of code must match the speed of thoughts.

That is all for today.

P.S. I watched the India movie Three Idiots. Yes. Very nice one, but I wondered why a 2009 movie get so hot in China after two years.

Never Squeeze Buffer Time for Travel

Now it is official: I will get to airport for any travel 2 hours before departure. That is the law now.

The past experience shows that the practice works well. There are several reasons.

A long line at check-in counter, and a slow attendant/a slow customer, or both can easily cost 30 – 60 minutes (As I did this morning at American Airlines SFO counter).

Other things may happen. Just before I returned my car, I realized that I didn’t fill in the gas yet. So I exit at a unfamiliar exit of US-101, only to find myself lost in the curry roads. After get a gas station, they do not accept my credit card (expected), but the counter was closed due to July 4 holiday (surprise!). Then I need to find another one.

Things do happen. So prepare for it.

The upside is, airport wifi (free in PVG, SHA, and 45 minutes free in SFO), and good Internet client like iPhone and iPad, I can be as productive and as happy at airport.

That is the reason to prompt me to fix the lead time and stick to it.

The Possible Death of Fixed Line

Why? Because of telemarketing.

I have been using my phone number since 2001. Everyday, I got a lot of phone calls. Most of it comes from fixed lines. Most of them, if not all, start with “Are you Mr. Wang? May I interrupt you for a moment. We are a company ….”. They are real estate agencies, credit card companies, securities company, etc.

I have formed a pattern recognition that all calls from fixed lines are telemarketing calls. I started to natually skip any phone calls that is from fixed line to my mobile. From time to time, I pick up some randomly to check the reliability of this rule. So far, there is no false positive.

Does it mean the death of fixed lines? When telemarketing becomes more and more mature and the do-not-call database has no song to emerge in China, my choice maybe increasingly popular.

Harvard MBA Recommendation Questions

I started to help people to give recommendation for business schools. This is the question from Harvard, and I think they are great dimensions to assets people’s ability. This is a list:

Below Average (Button Third)

Average (Middle Third)

Good (Top Third)

Excellent (Top 15%)

Outstanding (Top 5%)

Leadership Potential:

Self-Confidence:

Personal Maturity:

Professional Maturity:

Imagination and Creativity:

Motivation:

Intellectual Ability:

Analytical Ability:

Quantitative Ability:

Teamwork Skills:

Listening Skills:

Ability in Oral Expression:

Ability in Written Expression:

Self-Awareness:

Global Perspective/Awareness:

Interpersonal Skills – With Subordinates/Colleagues:

Interpersonal Skills – With Superiors:

My Contact Management Tips

In the current world with most applications like iPhone contact manager, and Gmail contact designed around English names, it is a little bit challenging for Chinese users. Here are my tips:

1. Design a consistent naming system for yourself. Here is mine.

2. Whenever someone has a Chinese name, record it in contact manager using the correct Chinese name.

3. Always input Chinese name as a whole into the Last Name section. It is strange to enter two Chinese characters into the First Name columns, and one character into the Last Name. The worst is when it is displayed, like in iPhone, that last name is in bold font, and there is a space between the first and the last. Not necessary at all.

4. When enter English name, no matter for native American/English, or English name for Chinese, follow the tradition to input last name and first name into their columns.

5. For frequently used Chinese name, enter the phonetic first name, and phonetic last name (both iPhone, and Google contact manager support it), so it is sorted correctly as they were native English names. (Update I found out that I only need to change the International setting, and set the language to Chinese Simplified, it will enable iPhone to automatically sort by Pinyin of the corresponding Chinese. No need to input by ourselves).

6. When possible, enter company names – for family members, enter “Family”, and for classmates, enter the class name into company columns.

7. For certain people, enter “journalist” or similar into Title field, so it can be easily sorted out by search (in both iPhone, and Google Gmail contacts).

8. If I cannot recall who the person is from the contact information, I will delete it (well, with backup somewhere).

9. From time to time, ensure the contact information is up to date.

Tips: from time to time, backup your contact information into some secure places.

The Devil Wears Prada

I watched the movie on the United Airlines flight to US, so I watched it two and a half times on flight. I love it.

One year later, I started to read the book. Combined with my current thinking of great leader, I started to turn my perspective, and look at the world from the eyes of Andrew Sachs (the assistant)’s boss, Miranda Priestly.

From the eyes of Andrew, Miranda is the devil.

But when you watch carefully enough, you will find Miranda is a good leader – she sets high standard, sets clear goals (not how to do it), pays close attention to details (of the final results, not the process).

Some typical Miranda style announcement:

I don’t understand why it is so impossible to confirm an appointment…

Your incompetence does not interest me…

It is YOUR responsibility, YOUR job. Ge….t me h…ome!

She is a devil, in a sense similar with Steve Jobs. They are another great type of leader, not my type, but definitely not the wrong type.

P.S. Corrected some spelling errors.

I Started to Get Interested in Economics

Wendy finally decided to take spare time to attend the Finance MBA program of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. She has my full support for the decision. Good education makes people wiser, and happier, although I don’t think the degree has too much value.

Wendy’s Passion

Wendy’s passion for finance has lasted for years. After reading the incredibly thick book – The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World by Alan Greenspan, she just finished another book about George Soros – another incredibly thick book. Wendy has the passion to talk with me about finance, and economics, just as I was passionate to talk with her about business, and some times even coding and other techs. I didn’t appreciate it as much as she wanted me to. We sometimes beg the other party to spend time just to listen what we learned. Interesting, isn’t it?

Public Lecture

I went to the Cheung Kong Business school in the Cypress Hotel (walking distance from Hongqiao Airport) to attend a public class by Professor Gan Li. To my surprise, this is a very good one.

With no offense, I attended other lectures on economics, and I could not understand what is going on (the fault is mine because I am lack of some basic knowledge on economics). Professor Gan’s talk on the Efficiency of Thin and Thick Markets (PDF) actually solved many of the problems I have.

Economic Matters

As CEO of Baixing, an online market place, it is hard to operate the market well without knowing some basic economic knowledge. Many of the problems we face are not longer technical issues – it is economics issues. The talk actually raised my passion about economics. I am so privileged to chat with Prof. Gan for about one hour afterward – my appreciation goes to him.

Opportunity Cost in China

One thing we talked was about the challenge for professors in the States to return to China. China is a place full of opportunity, and that makes the cost to be focused and patient quite high. That is exactly what I observed – there are few really good engineers (they are all turned into so-so managers, or businessman)…. I agree with the point – the problem of having too many opportunities.

Forward Hindsight

Forward Hindsight is the name of my friend Ashish’s company in Minneapolis, MN. It was because of this company name did I learn the English world: Hindsight.

Hindsight: recognition of the realities, possibilities, or requirements of a situation, event, decision etc., after its occurrence.

I started to love this word, and started to appreciate the name of Ashish’s company – how good it will be to have forward hindsight.

Photography

In University, I attended a class named “Photography”. The experienced photographer taught us how to take great photos. The key learning was, always keep notes before you take any photo on your notebook. Write down

– why you want to take this photo.

– what you want the viewers to see.

– what techniques you use to archive that

– what the final photo look like in your mind

– how you did to make it better.

After you write down all these on the notebook, you can take the photo. At that time, there were not digital camera, and you need to wait for the film to be developed before you see it. After you get the result (the photo), you can compare it with the note you took, and find out what is different from you see, and improve it the next time.

Today, I don’t now how digital photography impacted people’s photograph skill. It may improve it because it shortened the feedback loop, but it may also make it harder to master the beauty of nature, because people think less about taking photos – they always have chances to re-do it if the photo on LCD display is not perfect.

Decision Making

We all make decisions of all kinds, like what stock to buy, when to buy it; what house to buy; what car to buy; which school to attend, or what event to attend when there are many.

For all the decisions, I wonder if I can lesson to my photography teacher, and apply what he taught: write down the decision making process on a piece of paper, or on this blog if it is public, and take actions to make the decision. Then after a while, revisit the reasons of the decision and compare it with the result – that is the way people learn. Most people do it implicitly. I will try to make it explicit, and I hope that will continue to help me to learn and make better decisions in the future – that is, get the most out of the same experience.