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Phoenix: Armistice

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Great song. Great album.

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December 30th, 2009 at 12:43 pm

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Outliers by Malcom Gladwell: a review and reflection

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I finished the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell . (I listened to the audio version available at my library.) I enjoyed it tremendously.

The premise of the book is that we tend to credit outstanding performers (“outliers”) with outstanding skill. While Gladwell does acknowledge that all outliers do have top-notch ability, he makes the case that ability is not enough: there also needs to be some external situation that enable this ability to jettison a person to the upper rungs of performance. Since many people have ability, but few people have favorable circumstance, we should really credit the circumstance with the generation of peak performance.

The book is not science in the true sense of the term: There are no controlled experiments to show that ability is a weaker predictor of success than is circumstance. However, one could argue that such a controlled experiment is impossible: you can’t hold all other things equal—and Gladwell has come pretty close to performing the experiment (retrospectively) by considering both people with great talent and great circumstance that accelerate to the pinnacle of their field, and people that have great talent but not circumstance. The best we can say is that Gladwell is a journalist and he has gone beyond the 3-example rule to give evidence of his hypothesis. However, he has not scientifically proven it. A larger (statistically valid) study could prove it.

That said, his description of how things happen rings true with me. I can’t say that I’m at the pinnacle of my field. (Lately, I can’t even define the field.) However, I did benefit from some good circumstances in my life:

  • When I was in the 5th (?) grade, my dad brought home an HP computer from work. I quickly began programming in BASIC and plotting sinusoids. I learned a lot about both math and programming from the experience. My parents continued to buy computers: I started programming on Windows 3.1 when I was in 7th/8th grade.
  • After I finished the 6th grade, my parents moved us to the US. This was a designed shift in circumstance. My parents wanted my sister and I go to high school and college in America. They worked very hard to get us here.
  • Going to University of Illinois, I met someone who would later be a partner at Infinium. That certainly helped get me in the door at Infinium.

In addition, it’s clear to me that Infinium itself illustrates the sort of paradigm shift that Gladwell talks about in the book: the founders of Infinium predicted that things would go digital and be software-driven—and that one could then do automated trading.

The chapter on the Canadian hockey teams also reinforces a principal I’ve learned over the years: coaching is for everyone, not just for your good players. I think in corporate environments, there’s an over-emphasis on differentiating talent. That differentiation is good. However, it tends to get confused with where managers spend their time. That’s a shame; as the book shows, structures that seem to be meritocracies can be fatally flawed. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book . I especially recommend it for teachers, managers, and parents. (Yes, I know that covers a lot of ground.)

Written by PoojanWagh

July 2nd, 2009 at 7:34 am

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Radiohead: Let Down

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This has remained in my top-ten favorite songs for almost a decade.

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June 23rd, 2009 at 6:54 pm

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Neutral Milk Hotel: Holland, 1945

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It’s an amazing song, but honestly, get the whole album.

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June 5th, 2009 at 2:32 pm

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The Reputation: For the Win

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Listen to Song #9: For the Win.

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May 30th, 2009 at 11:30 pm

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Arcade Fire: Wake Up

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… as featured in the trailers for Where the Wild Things Are.

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May 27th, 2009 at 8:04 pm

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Metric: Stadium Love

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“No one is getting out”

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May 15th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

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GTD Seminar

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A few weeks ago, I got to go to the David Allen Company’s “Mastering Workflow” Seminar. I’m glad I did. The seminar resolved several misconceptions I had about how GTD works, despite my owning Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity in both text and audio form.

The seminar was lead by Chris McIntyre. He was an impressive presenter. I noticed that he immediately asked who had read the book and was implementing the system. He asked those who raised their hand what they liked about the system. Very smart: I’ve seen many a presentation get derailed by “experts” who want to either show their knowledge or derail the presenter. By identifying the “experts”, Chris recognized their expertise and brought them into the fold.

The seminar isolated several reasons why GTD wasn’t working as effectively for me as it could be:

  • Processing: I (for some reason) didn’t get that one should process all inboxes once a day. I was tending to do it as part of the weekly review, which left me feeling very behind. I thought I was deviating from the system when I processed more often. In addition, since I wasn’t sure I was going to process daily, I tended to try to process things as they came—which disrupted my focus.
  • Collecting: Ask, “Do I need more collection buckets or less?” I tried my best to have just one bucket. However, that’s a bit unreasonable. There’s an optimal value for each person (and it probably changes from month to month).
  • Someday/Maybe: I never could figure out whether I should put more or fewer items on the S/M list (versus the next-action context lists). The answer: are you repelled by the number of actions on your next-action lists? If so, move some of them to the Someday/Maybe list.
  • Multiple Someday/Maybe lists: There’s no reason to have one. If there’s a major project you want to do sometime in the future, you can have a separate list for that.
  • Email: I try to follow the 3-folder arrangement (Inbox, Follow-Up, Archive). However, what I didn’t realize was that instead of processing things in my inbox, I was deferring them by putting them in the “Follow-Up” folder. When an action needs to be performed on an email, it should go in the Follow-Up folder, but the action needs to get recorded somewhere (@Email for example).
  • Action Support: If something wasn’t in my inbox, it was either in trash or in a Reference file. I found myself creating new filing folders for even the smallest things. Instead, Chris recommends having an “Action Support” folder for active things. This really simplified my filing. I didn’t need to create a “tuition” file just so I can pay the tuition. Technically, my wife came up with this idea before I went to the seminar, but I didn’t listen.
  • Ticklers: I could never figure out how to separate between a tickler file and a Someday/Maybe. Chris cleared up the confusion by pointing out that the Someday/Maybe list gets checked every week (during your weekly review), while the tickler gets checked on a specific day/month. I asked whether I could use a calendar for this purpose. The answer was yes, except that a tickler file is useful if you want the actual object (bill, concert tickets, etc.) to be the reminder.
  • Managing No’s (Someday/Maybe): The Someday/Maybe list is a way of not making an agreement. Trick to managing your next-actions is to figure out how much you can do this week.

I had a few other random, non-actionable thoughts:

  • Did David Allen come up with the runway, 10,000-foot, 50,000-foot model due to his consulting relationship with Lockheed-Martin? Perhaps it was the best metaphor for the clientele. Perhaps their nomenclature inspired him.
  • Capture everything: I always thought GTD was compulsive in the habit of capturing everything even if it’s not important. However, I think the reason for this is that there are things that we just don’t want to do (we want to procrastinate) and leaving the decision of what to capture to your intuition can be dangerous. It’s better to retain everything and analyze it clearly.

The biggest thing I learned from the seminar was that I need to experiment more. I had taken the GTD methodology to be a mandate. However, during the seminar, Chris McIntyre makes it clear that the GTD recommendations are merely practices that have been found to be effective. I’ve found that my ideal GTD system as the following traits (personal preferences):

  • Very little setup: things such as contexts, etc., should not require setup. I should be able to add/remove contexts on demand.
  • Printing: I find it hard to organize work (that’s usually on a computer) with a computer. It’s nice to have a printed checklist.
  • Computer automation: I find it tedious to do things (such as match a project with an action) that can be automated.
  • Paper capture: …however, I can draw diagrams and capture information much easier on paper.

GTD isn’t for everyone, but I’m getting much more value out of it now that I understand it better. Before, it seemed overly complicated. Now it seems a simpler and effective.

In a future post, I’ll describe the GTD system that I’m using now.

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May 13th, 2009 at 10:08 pm

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David Garza: Black Music

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Really like the pause between the “she likes that…” and “…black music.”

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May 8th, 2009 at 11:58 pm

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Mountain Goats: Sept 15th 1983

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Originally, I thought this song was about Menachem Begin.

I later found out that it describes an tragic, unjust scene and the song became closer and more haunting.

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May 4th, 2009 at 4:59 pm

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