Reflections on self mastery

The ability to fully master yourself is predicated upon the ability to cut through the narratives thrown off by your limbic brain in situations of stress to tap directly into your sensations and be at peace with them.

The ability to master the environment is predicated upon the ability to physically execute upon a series of actions which in the process yields a corresponding set of sensations and results.

The ability to master other sapiens and mammals is predicated upon the ability to bend them to your will, namely the disciplined application of the carrot and the stick. In Sapiens, it is necessary to utilize narratives to  manage their limbic brain.

Any property in nature brought to its extreme form counter-intuitively appears on the surface to be its exact opposite. High levels of Self-mastery on occasions gets perceived as Sociopathy by the casual observer.

Forecoming social experiment: To practice exploiting the unsuspecting street tout without yielding a single dollar.


  • Steve Jobs, by Walter Isacson
  • The Elon Musk blog series, by Urban Tim
  • Titan: the life of a John D Rockefeller, by Chernow Ron
  • Anabasis, Xenophon
  • Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
  • The everything store: Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon by Stone Brad
  • The Facebook effect: The inside story of the company by Kirkpatrick David
  • Machina by Sebastian Marshal
  • Be slightly evil, by Vankatesh G Rao
  • Sapiens: a brief history of humankind by Yuval Noah Harrari
  • Why the west rules for now by Morris Ian
  • Analysis of Arabic Street tout aggressive sales technique by Gary Teh
  • Observations in Sudan by Gary Teh
  • Summary of learnings into the subject of Mundfulness by Gary Teh

Key aways from Anabasis, Xenophon

Anabasis, Xenophon
  • The same set of raw facts can be used to construct a really positive story or a really negative one. Choose your frame wisely.
  • Ethics is not universal, but restricted for application only on a group. In domains where ethics don’t exist, Might means right applies.
  • Do not count on continued gratitude and love from the crowd. They will just as soon turn against you as they would worship you
  • When dealing within conflict first elicit all existing context, thereafter make your case by applying clear logic and consistent argument.
  • Be wary of individuals with dubious characters. If anything, you can always trust them to stay dubious.
  • Market is not always readily available. There needs to be willing buyers and willing sellers
  • The vision will stay the same while the nitty gritty details should remain flexible to cater to changes as required.
  • Timing is important. Some times are not conducive for specific activities while others are. The use of sacrifice /blood magic should be helpful in decipheringbthe present moment given a clear binary frame.

Takeaways from conversations observed for the week

  • Ved and Tim
    • Abstract terms like simplicity can get interpretated differently
    • Simplicity could mean minimal number of clicks
    • Simplicity could mean the look and feel is something I am most familiar with
  • Regina
    • To keep the tendency to do everything yourself in check
    • much better to learn from the mistake of others
    • find a group of people that are actively learning how to solve the pricing problem and learn their lessons. It’s cheaper
    • personal branding is important. Not being taken seriously results in lack of access to resources in times of need

Relevant resources

  • The design of everyday things
  • Dont make me think

Evening reflections on the importance of story telling

If you want to scale beyond your own physical efforts, you will need to be able to convince others the importance of what you are doing. When you are successful at that you will be able to elicit their muscles to work for your own cause.

To be able to elicit their muscles, you will need to be able to tell a good story. If you read the book titled “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari, story telling is a technological innovation by the human species that has enabled large numbers of people to coordinate their efforts based around a single endeavor. It is one of the main causes for the human species’ predominance in our environment.

This innovation is enabled by our limbic brain which understands things based on narratives. Compelling narratives elicit an emotional response resulting in human motivation and corresponding action.

As a product manager working on the core product as opposed to growth, the primary focus is the narrative as opposed to the metrics.

The primary job of the executive is to “fight” for resources to further his agenda. The way he does so is by telling a compelling narrative to the company.

As opposed to a demagog, a good product manager tells a story, backs it up with data and delivers his promise. The demagog gets his resources by telling a story but never delivers anything of substance.

Learn to tell a story. That is a very important skill set acquire if you haven’t done so.

Inspired by conversations with Ved.

Related readings

Keys take aways from “Be Slightly Evil”

  • The more universal truths you uncover about the world, the less the number of moral opinions you will need
  • In life, you will eventually be forced to decide between being somebody or doing something
  • The unreasonable person adapts surrounding conditions to himself
  • The straight path in your head turns to spaghetti in the real world vice versa
  • The straight and narrow path grounded in truth seeking is the faster road to meaningful destinations
  • Power handed to the untrained mind leads inevitably to mental damage
  • The ability to see reality as it really is, in minimally deluded ways, leads inevitably to the earning of authority
  • A CEO’s job is to interpret external realities for a company, A.G. Lafley
    • survive a lack of incoming empathy
    • generate a positive atmosphere and empathy for others under your “information protection” umbrella
    • A startup team of two is better than solo entrepreneurs due to the sharing of “information parenthood”
  • Idealism believes in change and creates believers who don’t change whereas the opposite is true
    • The idealist goes into Zen Retreat and remains unchanged after he is done
    • The realist starts a business and is forced to change
  • Path to freedom
    • Integrating the self (addiction) and the shadow (aversions) to cover your whole personality
    • Myer Briggs cognitive function
      • first four functions represent your self
      • last four functions represent your shadow – usually triggered by stress
  • Status
    • If status doesn’t matter to you, it becomes available to you as a tool to control those whom status does matter
    • consciously cultivate away this felt need
  • The easiest way to figure out someone is to look at the information they choose to consume
  • Handling information
    • Truth telling
      • requires you to calmly separate your feelings from facts and tell yourself the truth before you tell others
      • cursing and candor both reflect an inability to bear the stress of being otherwise
    • Cold blooded listening
      • listen for the data behind heated words
      • don’t take what you hear  about your personality as worth responding to
      • freely draw your own conclusion about the data received
    • Dissemination
      • the larger the group the fewer the key beliefs allowed to be conveyed
      • at the level of human civilization use extremely simple but very fertile fill-in-the-blanks messaging
  • Handling negotiation
    • most work is done away from the actual negotiating table
    • Discovery pre-work conversation to tease out what people know and the trust relationship
    • the more there is that mutually greed upon, the less there is to negotiate
    • ignore sunk cost
  • Choose to be effective instead of being liked
  • On money
    • aim to be anti-fragile
    • even millionaires are stuck in the psychology that the money is transient
    • salary men are stuck in the illusion that the pay check will extend indefinitely into the future


  • The fighter who changed the art of war, Boyd
  • 48 Laws of Power
  • The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
  • The Redemptive Self, McAdam
  • The origins of political order, Francis Fukuyama
  • Yes, Minister
  • Glengarry Glen Ross

Book summary: Secrets of Power Negotiation

Behavioral advice

  • Be willing to live with ambiguity
  • Be resilient
    • Maslow hierarchy of needs
      1. Survival
      2. Security
      3. Social
      4. Self-esteem
      5. Self-actualization
    • Be willing to live beyond stage three most of the time – surpass the need to be liked
  • Don’t be conflict adverse

Dealing with the decision maker

  • When present with a proposal, don’t ask for something specific in return but let the other person offer up an item for exchange
  • Get the other person to commit first
  • Always flinch when proposed something
  • Never say yes to the first offer
  • Ask for more than you expect to get
  • Never be too eager to close the deal – they will give away half of his/her negotiating range
  • Shut up and wait after delivering a rejection or delivering the details of a proposal
  • Always negotiated in absolute numbers instead of percentages
  • Convince them that you are the only one that could solve the problem

Finding the decision maker

  • Ascertain the person you are dealing with is the actual decision maker
  • Do not present yourself as the decision maker
  • When possible always defer to higher authority. The more vague and abstract the better
  • Seek to neutralize the other person’s Higher Authority Gambit ( also watch out for good cop and invisible bad cop)
    • Appeal to their ego
    • Get their commitment that they will take the proposal to the committee with a positive recommendation
    • Use the qualified subject to close (assume close)
      • Example: let’s sign the deal and put in the condition that it will be closed unless the following conditions occur

Things to watch out for

  • The value of a service greatly diminishes after its been performed
  • Negotiated your fee before you do the work


  • Impasse
    • incomplete disagreement over one issue that could kill the whole agreement
    • solution:
      • Propose to set aside the issue and discuss the other details based on the assumption that we will be able to sort out this issue as some point
      • Create momentum by solving other smaller issues first
  • Stalemate
    • both sides are still talking but not making progress
    • Solution:
      • Create momentum by solving other smaller issues first
      • Change the dynamics by altering one of the elements
  • Deadlock
    • lack of progress frustrated both sides causing conversations to come to a halt
    • Solution:
      • bring in a 3rd party
        • mediator
        • arbitrator
    • Keep an open mind about deadlocks – they happen sometime

Tactics to watch out for and utilize

  • Good cop / bad cop
  • Red Herring – they ask you for something impossible to divert attention so as to get something they want out of you
  • Cherry picking – if on the receiving side, Don’t deal
    • ask for itemized breakdown
    • Learn so much about your competitors that they would see it as a waste of their time to go talk to them
  • The deliberate mistake
    • They offer a good deal to you and then realize from their boss the terms no longer apply
  • Acting dumb to make their feel OK and cause them to let their guard down
  • Don’t get thrown off by their tactics just focus on the concession you are targeting for

Powers of concern

  • Reward power
  • Coercive power
  • Reverent power –
    • When people invoke the power of traditions. The power accumulated by doing things consistently
    • How to neutralize it:
      • Demonstrate exceptions do exist
      • Demonstrate that times have change
  • Situational power
    • Always do enough research so that you can challenge the situation

Book summary: Nelson Mandela – the long walk to freedom

Impressionable statements

  • A man who takes away the freedom of another man is a prisoner of hatred
  • To make peace with an enemy, one must work with that enemy. The enemy becomes one’s partner
  • After being branded a radical revolutionary, to be perceived as a moderate was a novel experience. I knew I could react in one of two ways, i could choose to scold him for his impertinence or choose to listen to him. I choose the latter.
  • In family issues we remain friends but Politically we are in opposite and antagonistic camps
  • Like the reign of all great leaders, he keep his people united. People of all walks of life and different points of views all remained loyal to him not because they all agreed with him but because he listened to and respected all different opinions
  • There is nothing like returning to a place unchanged only to find ways in which you yourself has altered


Book summary: Start with No

  • focus on goal – action and behavior u have control over. E.g dont act needy in negotiations
  • do not focus on objective – results/outcome U have no control over. E.g. Closing the deal
  • define mission and purpose: it should be based on adversary’s world view
  • dont say no for adversary. Let him take responsibility for his decisions
  • don’t think win win – aka forget about the need to give up ground
  • always phrase questions to elicit any objections he might have – this will help get pass emotional issues to essential issues that need addressing
  • Ask interrogative lead questions to unpack the subject
    • who …
    • what …
    • when …
    • where …
    • why …
    • how …
    • how much …
  • Avoid verb lead questions to avoid skewing the subject’s response
    • can we do …
    • is it …
  • A leaders job is to paint a clear VISION of the PAIN as well as the SOLUTION to remove the PAIN
  • Avoid triggering off too much negative or positive emotions
  • budget – always set the budget U want to allocate for a specific negotiation
    • Time n Effort = 1X
    • Money = 2X
    • Emotions = 4X
  • keep a close watch on the budget and make sure the opponent does not drive it above budget
  • never compromise on ur mission and purpose just because u think u have already blow your budget
  • figure out the pain and corresponding budget of the adversary
  • decision maker: figure out who is that person and what is his pain and what is driving his cost
  • Blocker: figure out who are the blockers and use interrogative questions to get around them
  • Blocker: important to have him feel ok

Summary: Difficult Conversations


Conversation Part 1: Focus on what happened

  • start by talking from a keen observer’s perspective and then move on to exploring each other’s stories
  • Don’t assume they meant it: disentangle intent from impact
  • Focus on how we could rectify the error

Conversation Part 2: The feelings conversation

  • Talk about the feelings and the actual sensation that is going on within both people
  • Figure out how to manage each others’ feelings

Conversation Part 3: The identity conversation

  • Keep your balance. Understand and explain that the implication of the conversation in no way detracts from your self-image.
  • avoid having all or nothing identities, such identities are very fragile and prevents conducive acceptance of negative feedback