Source Code for Life v0.1

Happy Easter. In this first 12 week year of 2018 I summarized 80 popular books, nearly one for every day of the year.

  • I let whim and interest guide my book choice, but they tended to be around the top recommended lists of gurus and entrepreneurs.
  • I think learning needs to be complemented by doing, so for the next 12 week year of 2018 I will only be executing the source code I have compiled here.
  • Your mileage may vary when reading jumbled thoughts from random self-help gurus.
  • I am merely open sourcing what resonated with me. I’d love for you to write your own version of this, ESPECIALLY if you disagree.

What follows is compiled insights for Infinite Learners. Enjoy. You can watch this Github repo for future updates.

Header - Top Level Rules

The topics I have split out below consist of: Productivity, Interpersonal Skills, Sales & Psychology, Tech Leadership, Life & Career Philosophy, and Mental Models and Systems Thinking. It is highly artificial to split these interrelated things, so I extracted the most important, common threads among them to this top level Header section.

Micro: Tactical rules to run your life

  • Smile! It makes you, not just people around you, feel better. 😄
  • Learning is more important than earning.
  • Your brain is not a storage device. Have a system to write stuff down (say, on and make it organizable and searchable.
  • Play to your strengths, hire and work with other people based on their strengths.
  • Remember the power of storytelling. A good story has more power than a good argument.
  • Take pride in artistry in your work, and be generous with the results. People crave the authenticity only you can provide.
  • Mastery is achieved by having a craftsman mindset focusing on rare and valuable skills, making small bets with a remarkable end goal, in the Adjacent Possible. (be So Good They Can’t Ignore You)
  • Always be on the lookout for your Purpose in life, and when you find it, align everything to it. As a company, rally employees and customers to your Purpose too. When you find yourself in Flow, that’s a big hint.
  • Flow is everything. Seek out jobs where you can exist in a Flow state. Arrange your environment, calendar, and life around optimizing your time spent in Flow. Your best work will be done here, and the world will reward you for it. Ignore the noise that aims to interrupt your Flow. Destroy, eliminate, extinguish, kill with fire the Unimportant things that pretend to be Urgent (like notifications).
  • Understand what people want. There are many, many, many theories of what people want, but the three big ones are the study of Incentives, of Motivation, and of Fascination.

Macro: Big truths to shape your worldview

  • Stoicism will get you through tough times and not mislead you during emotional highs and flashes of anger.
  • Technology has profoundly changed so, so many of the rules of our society and economy.
    • The dominant Medium of our era defines our ideas of truth.
    • Companies and experts used to profit from information asymmetry, and now have to find better ways of delivering value.
    • Effective marketing has switched from constantly interrupting you (eg with commercials and banner ads) to having your permission (eg with blogs and newsletters and referral codes).
    • The Information Age valued left-brain skills, but as these get commoditized and automated, the “Conceptual Age” may now put right-brain aptitudes like Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning on top.
  • Understand the 12 Leverage Points in All Systems: Parameters < Buffer size < Structure < Delay < Negative feedback < Positive feedback < Info flow < Rules < Self Organization < Goals < Mindset < Transcendence.


  • Your brain is not a storage device. Put ideas and tasks in a central source of truth, for example a Checklist or a Trello board. Modern human knowledge is too huge to store, organize, and apply all within our brains.
  • Discard things that have served their purpose. Say No more often.
  • Don’t multitask. Multitasking is not Productivity.
  • Your willpower is limited.
  • Be proactive, take control.
  • Begin with the end in mind: have a Mission, Vision, and specific Goals.
  • Put first things first. Urgent != Important; do Urgent & Important things first, then Important Non-urgent things. Avoid Urgent Unimportant things.
  • Sharpen the Saw and Recharge. Make sure to balance personal with professional life.
  • Make room and Define your working space. Define your work time vs free time. Define your online time vs offline time. Boundaries help you do deep work.
  • Do premortems envisioning how your project might fail. Talk to your future self, and use the “uh-oh” effect to spur you to a strong finish.
  • Use short Checklists to prevent avoidable mistakes, and schedule communication for teams.


Interpersonal Skills

  • Smile!
  • Be genuine and sincere.
  • Be interested in others and use their names. Make them look good. When they suggest ideas, do a “yes, and” instead of rejecting it offhand.
  • Admit mistakes immediately. Be buoyant to rejection.
  • Think win-win, Try for positive sum.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Empathize, and Listen. Ask, Define, and Frame the problem.
  • Synergize; combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork.
  • Difficult Conversations: Be mindful of what you want and what you want to avoid. Make them feel safe. Focus on respect & shared goals. Contrast criticism with praise. Show you care. Paraphrase to ensure understanding. Get the facts straight. Make sure you have a resolution by reaching consensus or someone to decide.
  • Common Communication mistakes: Overemphasizing content, being inauthentic, being unprepared, being not self-aware, repeating the status quo.
  • Communication tactics: Eye contact, Posture, Use Gestures, Vary your voice, Pause, Have a point of view
  • Pitching people: Shorten your pitch. Involve them in the process. Ask a question. Rhyme. Invoke purpose.
  • Practice the 5 aspects of Emotional Intelligence: Self-awareness, Self control, Motivation, Empathy, and Influence.


Sales & Psychology

  • We justify our actions, not vice versa.
  • 40% of actions are unconscious habit. Habits stick because you crave reward. Redirect your cravings, don’t resist them.
  • Habits are formed through a Trigger -> Action -> Reward -> Investment cycle. Spot companies doing this to you, and use it responsibly.
  • Establish Keystone Habits, which help you gain a series of small wins and have positive spillover effects for your willpower and habit formation.
  • Beware of System 1 Unconscious flaws (Priming, Halo Effect, Confirmation bias) and System 2 Cognitive flaws (Heuristics, Risk Assessment, Memory).
  • Your thinking is being influenced by Priming: Fact recall, Word choice, Credit taking, etc. When making critical decisions, try to take them out of the given context.
  • Things go viral if they have Social Currency (makes people look good), Triggers (top of mind), Emotional value, Publicity, Practical Value, or a entertaining/educational Story.
  • Ideas are sticky when presented as: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete (with examples or imagery), Credible (backed up with Experts, Stats, or with your audience), Emotional, and having a Story.
  • There are 6 weapons of Influence: Reciprocation, Commitment & Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.
  • There are 4 ways people respond to Outer and Inner expectations: Upholders value self-reliance; just tell them what you need. Questioners value purpose; justify what you want to them. Obligers value teamwork; hold them accountable. Rebels value freedom; let them decide what to do.
  • There are 7 triggers of Fascination: Lust (triggering anticipation of pleasure), Mystique (filling knowledge gaps), Alarm (tending to relevant threats), Prestige (going for social status), Power (desire for control), Vice (forbidden things), Trust (familiar things).
  • When shit happens, you can reconstruct your reality in a positive way.
  • Snap judgments are good at filtering signal from noise and when primed with intelligence and experience. They are bad when rationalizing gut feel, associating competence with looks, under stress, and when unconscious bias is present.
  • People have 3 levels of motivation: Basic needs, Extrinsic (eg money, force), Intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is strongest and is driven by the Flow state, pursuit of meaning, self determination, challenging tasks, and having a voice in decisions.
  • You can also phrase this as the study of incentives: economic, social, and moral. Beware unintended consequences applying incentives out of context, or replacing a big, unquantifiable incentive (eg moral) with a smaller but more measurable one (eg economic).
  • Flow is enjoyment of novelty and growth, skillful, immersive, involves challenge and intrinsic reward.
  • Gamify work.
  • Do Permission marketing instead of interruption marketing: Appeal to self-interest, focus your efforts on a qualified audience. Your goal is building a relationship, not making a sale. Teach the benefits of your product, and earn trust. This builds long term loyalty and virality.


Tech Leadership

  • Hire based on strength, not absence of weakness. Hire only when necessary. Build flexible teams. Always ask if you have the right people in the right place. Fire fast and fair.
  • Having the right People is more important than the right Ideas and Processes.
  • Know when you need to focus on strategy vs execution, being a peacetime vs wartime CEO.
  • Find and Articulate a simple vision. Make sure this message is delivered, and role model it. Communicate it with a KPI or North Star.
  • Motivate people. People work harder when needed and united by a goal. Evaluate performance by team results. Give them feedback and the support they need. Encourage healthy competition.
  • Assess people’s Task Relevant Maturity. If they are very experienced at the task, give them room. If they aren’t be more hands on. Reevaluate as time passes. Very similar to parenting. Help people eventually manage themselves.
  • Decisionmaking: Is this decision worth making? Define who is responsible for the decision, learn from the past, and solicit alternative views.
  • Monitor, pair, and trend indicators to run the business and understand the levers. Prioritize goals and identify obstacles. Proactively detect problems.
  • Avoid Secrecy. Promote open communications/radical truth in relationships and evaluations; use flowcharts and metrics to clarify how things work.
  • Try new things and expect to Fail. Fail early and plan iterations. Series of quick decisions is better than overplanning. Spend “wasteful” R&D in order to be first to market. Allow personal project days.
  • Build momentum.
  • Technology is JUST an accelerator. It won’t fix what you don’t have. Start from the problem, not the solution.
  • Put thought into designing the workplace.
  • Level 5 leaders are Excellent managers, Modest, Ambitious, do succession planning, Confront facts, and engage in Socratic Debate.
  • How to Cross the Chasm from Visionaries to Pragmatists: Have a Whole Product, establish a Beach-head, make a Powerful Claim, lock down your Distribution Channels, and price like a Market Leader.
  • 7 Questions to evaluate Companies: Is this 10x better? Is this the right time? Can I get a large market share? Do I have the right people? Can I reach the right customers? Can this survive competition? Is this non-consensus?
  • B2B > B2C.
  • Human-centered Design: Helps users learn to use the product; avoids dangerous errors, and brings users and tech closer together.
  • The power of Word of Mouth means you have to be remarkable or die. Taking risk is SAFER than avoiding risk. Invent with marketing in mind.
  • Launch earlier, stand for something, and make it inimitable. Launch early, repeatedly, and authentically.
  • Identify the market’s central Pivot; Isolate and create demand around it; Innovate and anticipate second-order effects; Test hypotheses; learn from others’ past.
  • How to form a Tribe, create a Movement around your cause: Start by giving generously and authentically, connect to an existing yearning in a new way, tell a story of the future, create channels for horizontal and vertical connection, and give them something to DO.


Life & Career Philosophy

  • Avoid the hedonic treadmill.
  • Much of Media is noise. Don’t listen to noise.
  • Life is too short for complaining or lounging.
  • When shit happens, you can reconstruct your reality in a positive way.
  • Take risks, have clear preferences, build a business. Avoid laziness and arrogance.
  • The Days are Long but the Years are Short. The little things you do every day matter more than the big things you try to do once in a while.
  • Being right is an illusion: choose values you can control, learn from failure, commit to things and narrow your options.
  • Identify and write down your core Principles: fundamental truths to keep you on goal.
  • Build up to big goals with low level goals. Balance deliberate vs emergent strategy.
  • Choose interesting work where you can make a difference, have autonomy, and can enter Flow state. Know that The Resistance opposes all our creative endeavors. Treat your dream like a job and work at it.
  • Avoid our hidden bias to blame and reward Talent. Effort and Grit is more valuable than Talent; you can go very very far with Deliberate and Intelligent Practice.
  • Be in permanent beta and prioritize learning. Learning is more important than Earning. Constant learning. Did I mention learning is good for you? If it comes to it, don’t be afraid of career change.
  • Know yourself. Know your competitive advantage.
  • Own a territory: Grab attention, define a niche, and command loyalty.
  • Pursue breakout opportunities doggedly.
  • There are 2 levels of Networking you should pursue: Deep Professional Alliances, and broad, weak acquaintances. Both can be valuable. Relationships need constant work but have a long term payoff.
  • Satisfaction = Motivation + Discipline
  • Invoke muses. Apprentice under a mentor, then outgrow.
  • “Do what you love” is wrong. Learn to love what you do through achieving Mastery, Autonomy, and deep Relationships.
  • Mastery is achieved by having a craftsman mindset focusing on rare and valuable skills, making small bets with a remarkable end goal, in the Adjacent Possible.
  • To reach Mastery: Challenge what you have learned. Broaden your mind. Practice skills until they are automatic. Focus on the bigger picture.
  • The dominant Medium of our era defines our ideas of truth.
  • New tech is always underestimated as extending existing tech.
  • Play to your strengths; look for strength in others; deal with coworker frustration by involving their strengths.
  • Death is a part of life; live life with meaning while facing death.
  • A Growth mindset seeks Development, views Failures as Opportunities, and relish Difficulties. Changing your mindset: Changing role models, reaching out for support, talking about mistakes.
  • Play Infinite Games: see a series of moments, endless possibilities, no clear winners, treat it as play, and liberated from the past.
  • The Information age has become the Conceptual Age: Emphasis on left-brain has given way to “right directed thinking”, where Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning have gained more importance today.
  • Be a Linchpin. Linchpins are indispensable artists who find their own way instead of taking instruction, who put emotional labor into their work and gain a reputation for it, who choose to fight fear and discomfort by repeat exposure instead of retreat.
  • We mistake luck for skill (the narrative fallacy) and forget that life is non-linear and path-dependent. Going the last mile often has asymmetric payoff, and also pay attention to overconfidence in risks you don’t fully know (Ludic fallacy).
  • Eat to Live: >2lbs of greens a day, get 90% of your calories from plants.


Mental Models and Systems Thinking

  • Antifragile systems benefit from volatility, depend on fragile constituents, and overcompensate to stressors.
  • Understand stocks vs flows, Positive vs Negative feedback, System resilience, Self organizing systems, and Hierarchical/Fractal systems.
  • Mistakes in systems: Managing by only looking at outcomes, doing linear projection and false isolation, having slow/no feedback.
  • Look at the 12 Leverage Points in a system: Parameters < Buffer size < Structure < Delay < -ve feedback < +ve feedback < Info flow < Rules < Self Organization < Goals < Mindset < Transcendence.
  • Know the difference between scalable info (where you can draw useful conclusions at different scales) and unscalable info.
  • Image matters more in situations where people (bankers, politicians etc) have no skin in the game, while Competence matters more where SITG is fully tied in (doctors, entrepreneurs)


Note: Not all of the 80 were worth including here, so it doesn’t add up to 80.

That’s it! What rules do you run your life by? Share it below!

Tagged in: #life #advice #principles

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