A Video Summary of Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”

I recently listened to an interview of Salman Khan where he encouraged people to share their knowledge with the world in the form of short, easily digestible videos. Listening to that interview made me decide to create this video, a summary of one of my favorite pop psychology/business books. It is a combination of a review and a summary with the weight on the latter. Enjoy!

The Flaw of The “I can turn it on whenever I want” Excuse

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best is now.” Chinese proverb

There are many excuses that people have for not doing what they know they should and what they really want to do. One especially dangerous excuse I call the “I can turn it on whenever I want” excuse. I know, the name needs work but it gets the message across. Whether it is starting to exercise and eat healthy, learning to program or whatever other activity/habit, many people delay taking action thinking that they can just start whenever they want. The good news is it is not too late, you can start whenever you really want to if can muster up the will power and apportion the time to do so. The bad news is that most people will never start, let alone keep it up.

Of course the best time to have started something would have been in the distant past but unfortunately the past can not be changed. Duh. Thus, the best realistic option is to start now. If you can keep up the desired activity for a decent amount of time, the activity can turn into an automatic habit and it will be easier to keep up after that point. Depending on the activity, there may also be a steep learning curve in the beginning and being in the middle of a steep learning curve is oh so frustrating. Therefore, the hardest part is to start the activity and keep going for a long enough period of time so that it becomes habituated and that you can conquer the beginning of the learning curve. But once you conquer the learning curve, you can begin to see results and your work can begin to feel like play.

Yes, starting is hard. Yes, you can think of many excuses. Yes, you can keep putting off action. Though if you do not start now, time will pass you by and no progress will be made. You will one day look back at the past (the current present) and will wish that you started then (now). So what are you waiting for, start now and go and get yours.

P.S. Even though this blog post is written in the second person view (the you view), I am the intended audience of this post. I have had trouble starting things and keeping them going but I am trying to change that. I decided to share this post because I think it is possible that some other people could possibly benefit from this message as well. Thanks for reading.

Don’t Eat The Marshmallow

In the 1960s a series of experiments were conducted on young children, now known as the “marshmallow test”. The young children were each offered a marshmallow and told that if they could wait a few minutes they would be given another marshmallow. The videos of the experiments make for great entertainment and the results have had a large impact on the success of peoples’ lives. For more information on the experiment, read this delightful New Yorker piece by Jonah Lehrer. In brief, the reason why this experiment is able to predict so much of one’s future success is because it conveys whether one has the ability to delay gratification, the ability to focus on greater future gains at the expense of immediate gratification.

I never took the “marshmallow test” when I was young so I am not sure whether I have an in-built nature to delay gratification, but now having the conscious knowledge of the importance of delayed gratification I plan to further cultivate this ability and to apply the concept to my life.

In the real world, the test is not of delaying the eating of delicious desserts(1) but of ignoring the abundant distractions that surround all of us so that we can focus and accomplish meaningful work. Paul graham describes how distractions have evolved and have become more addictive then ever. The challenge is to overcome these distractions and in the words of Mark Suster, to JFDI.

I am not advising one to never goof off or relax, focusing on enjoying the present is important too. Though if you want to accomplish great things, it is important to on some level to sacrifice the present for the future. Or sacrifice may not be the right word because that word signifies giving something up and in a way, it is more of an exchange. I have experienced the fulfillment of accomplishing good work and the state of flow while doing so and I have also experienced the hedonistic enjoyment of lounging by a tropical beach during the day and partying at night. Both are enjoyable in their own way, but I prefer to focus more on the former. Of course hard work is not just a state of flow and a feeling of accomplishment. It is hard work. It is struggle. It is finding ways to continue when you may not feel like it. But in the end, I think it is well worth it.

For a while I was focused on living the 4HWW ideally designed lifestyle(2). I tried out living abroad briefly and backpacking around Costa Rica and Nicaragua. While I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and plan on doing a lot of traveling throughout my life, I want my work to more than finding out how to spend the minimum amount of time to bankroll my lifestyle. I want my work to be meaningful and engaging to me. I want to swing for the fences and to repeat the Silicon Valley cliche, I want to change the world. Maybe at some point in the future I will change my mind but at the very least, putting in the hard work now is the way to stay upwind and to keep my opportunities open.

So remember, don’t eat the marshmallow.


(1)Though eating healthy is another test of will power

(2) I am still a big fan of many of the concepts in the 4HWW and have applied the work principles to be more productive in learning and at my former jobs. The problem in my view is that it implies that the goal of a “lifestyle business” is to minimize work and in doing so, maximizing free time and then recommending that that time should be used primarily for traveling and living abroad. I think Tim’s own choice of how to spend his time is a better example, working hard to write quality content and engaging in advising innovative startups. THe other problem is that Tim down plays the importance of working hard, especially in the beginning of a business. He worked 80 hour weeks to build BrainQuicken and only afterwards did he find a way to decrease his weekly work load. It may be possible to only spend the mythical four hours a week but it may be better to rather think in the mindset of what you can accomplish with hard work.

Get in the ring

Doing something where there is a chance of failure is scary but remember in the words of Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So go for it and get in the ring and give it your all. Happy new years everyone and here is to a great 2011.

The 2 Graphs That Will Define The Future of Search

The term “graph” is used to mean the underlying data structure of a set of objects.

The major initial innovation of Google was to map the links on the web and use this data to rank search results. This data could be called the “Webpage Graph”. Of course, Google has done a lot to improve search since then, adding over 200 relevant factors. The next major wave of improvement in search results will come from hooking into the social graph and the taste graph.

The Social Graph – how people are connected together on a social network

Facebook got this right by focusing on real identity and making the site ubiquitous so one’s facebook connections could fully replicate their real-world connections. By combining people’s interests (their profiles) with the connections advertisers can now target you by what you and your friends like. This hasn’t led to high CPMs on Facebook (yet) but it still proves to be very valuable information.

Google wants this information. They wish that Facebook would just open up this information but Facebook doesn’t allow users’ data to be used for doing targeted advertising by third-parties. Google says they are going to create a social layer for search. It is still cryptic what they mean by this but basically they think knowing how people are connected and having profile information could lead to higher quality search and advertising quality.

The Taste Graph – Measures what people will like by what other people like

Two systems: popularity based and recommendation engine based.

Amazon was the first to use this concept well. Amazon used the popularity concept by having user-written product reviews. This helps users make informed decisions on what to purchase and made Amazon a trusted source to find what to buy online.

Netflix decided instead just showing the average ratings, Netflix would allow each user to have a customized expected rating for each film using a recommendation engine. This method is definitely superior to a purely popularity based taste graph in that it provides more accurate information for each user.

Hunch is trying to do what Netflix did for movies reviews but for everything–an ambitious goal for sure. They are trying to get there by having users answer multiple-choice questions and say whether they like or dislike certain things. I think eventually more ways of getting feedback will eventually be required but that is for another time. Right now it is just important to see the trend of the rising importance of the “Taste Graph”

Google measures which user clicks on which links and this leads to a lot of interesting data that goes into improving search but it is still not a full “taste graph”. Google could benefit from a taste graph in a similar way they could benefit from a social graph. This information could lead to better algorithms and thus better search results.


Eventually all of these graphs are going to converge and it is going to drastically improve personalized search.

Most likely, Google will find a way to get a detailed profile of each user and a detailed social graph of whom they are connected to. On top of that they will know what each user likes based on having information on what decisions they have made and how they have rated different things. All this information will go into improving personalized search results.

It will be a big challenge for Google to obtain this information and it won’t happen overnight but in the very long term, Google will most likely find a way to get this information.

“The perfect search engine,” says co-founder Larry Page, “would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want.” In order to get to this point, Google has to know who you are and what you like.