When a Book Gets Caught Up in the Story. The Art of the Book in the Digital Age

When I was in college, David Foster Wallace (DFW as he was affectionately referred to) was a literary powerhouse. He was the author that all of the literature fanatics loved to read (or at least said that they loved to read). He wrote books like the thousand-page tour-de-force Infinite Jest that were too long and complicated for science geeks like me. DFW gave exactly one talk about his philosophy on life, addressing the graduating class of Kenyan College in 2005. The talk was titled This is Water.

After he died, that speech became a holy relic to the worshippers of DFW. But how do you take that speech and make it into something more, both as a homage to DFW and a way of preserving and extending the insights of the author? You create a book.

I loved the speech and was curious about how it could be transformed into a book. The speech is only 25 minutes long, so it needed to be something special. When I was in college, there was a room in the library for special books called The Art of the Book. It displayed books for their craft and construction, not just their content. The book This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life reminds me of the books in that room. It is a beautiful little volume with DFW’s speech split up over pages, complementing the cadence to the author’s writing. Continue reading “When a Book Gets Caught Up in the Story. The Art of the Book in the Digital Age”

Capture Better Memories Without a Camera

I’m always looking to better capture the special moments of my kids growing up. While having an iPhone in my pocket at all times lets me document these experiences, I feel like I’m not capturing the essence of those moments. I started thinking that technology was part of the problem, and if technology was causing the problem, more technology won’t fix it. Continue reading “Capture Better Memories Without a Camera”

When Millions of Eyes at Amazon Were Wrong

Disclaimer: I worked at Amazon Web Services as the Head of Banking Business Development. This writing does not represent the views of Amazon and opinions written here are strictly my own. Also, I’ll admit that this post wouldn’t be very interesting if it wasn’t about Amazon; however, it does highlight some key things about the company: 1) Amazon, like every other company, makes mistakes 2) Unlike many other companies, Amazon doesn’t view itself as infallible 3) When mistakes are discovered, the company quickly fixes them.

Amazon has a very strong culture. At other places I’ve worked, culture is an aspiration at the senior level but took a back seat to more pressing concerns like making as much money as possible. Amazon embeds its culture in its 14 Leadership Principles. This is a common language and framework that forms the basis of everything the company does, from interviews to everyday decisions. Continue reading “When Millions of Eyes at Amazon Were Wrong”

What a Wonderful Word

I remember the first time it happened to me. It was the first year of business school and we were working on an economics problem set. My friend Yugin had just arrived from Korea and she was correcting an answer for her economics homework.

She asked me “What’s the English word for after you erase something?”

I thought this was a philosophical question like, “What’s left of an image after you remove it?” Something like the way Robert Rauschenberg erased a drawing by William de Kooning to push the boundaries of art.

So I answered, “When you erase something there’s nothing left. You’ve erased it.”

“No, that’s not what I’m asking. Those little pink things that come off the eraser. What do you call that?”

“Hmmm … eraser shavings maybe. We don’t have a word for that in English.”

“Huh,” she said, “that’s odd. We have a word for that in Korean.” Continue reading “What a Wonderful Word”

How Much is That Really Worth? The Mother-in-Law’s Guide to Valuation

Dearest Mother-in-Law,

Last year, when you and I went to the One World Observatory, we saw that famous tourist location—the penny crushing machine. We watched a tourist put her penny in the machine and then added in a dollar. The machine then crushed the penny into a medallion that she could take home as a souvenir. Your quite reasonable reaction was, “Why would you pay a dollar to have your own Penny crushed?”
The Penny I Crushed at 1 World Trade

The way you were looking at it was:

  1. Initial valuation: $1.01.
  2. You start with a penny and a dollar.
  3. Then you put a dollar in a machine that crushes the penny.
  4. You get back the crushed penny.
  5. Final valuation: $0.01.
  6. Result: You feel like you’ve wasted a dollar.

But I think the crushed penny is a pretty good value. To understand why, let’s understand the job that the crushed penny is doing. When most people think about products, they think about the product itself, i.e., I’ve taken a penny and gotten a crushed penny. But people don’t buy most products just to own them, they hire products to perform a job. The famous Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” Continue reading “How Much is That Really Worth? The Mother-in-Law’s Guide to Valuation”

Thank You for Being a Friend

If you threw a party and invited everyone you knew, you would see the biggest gift would be from me and the card attached would say, “Thank you for being a friend.”
Theme Song from The Golden Girls

In Judaism, the word minyan refers to a group of 10 adults that come together to pray.  For certain prayers, most importantly prayers of mourning, a minyan must be present. It’s a struggle to find 10 Jewish men and women on a Sunday morning at our shul. On one cold day, I volunteered and was the 8th adult there. Not convinced we’d get to 10, we started the service. I was wondering why we had this arbitrary number of 10. Why are we dragging some people out of bed who don’t want to be there? Just then, surprisingly, the 10th person showed up and in a palpable way, and we were transformed. We went from praying as individuals to praying as a community. I felt like we were the lions forming Voltron.

It made me think about friendship. Friendship is about being there for one another. Anyone can celebrate with you when it’s convenient. A true friend is always standing by you even when especially when things are tough. Continue reading “Thank You for Being a Friend”

Mother-in-Law’s Guide to Open Banking

Dearest Mother-in-Law,

First of all, Open Banking is not about keeping banks open later in the day or having more banks open on Sundays. Open Banking is about 2 things:

  1. Open Banking Regulation: Many countries are regulating how banking data can be used. Open Banking refers to customer ownership of their own banking data. This article will focus on Open Banking regulation.
  2. Open Banking Collaboration: Even when this regulation doesn’t exist, banks see the benefit of collaboration and the usage of APIs (which is just a technical word for being able to use stuff from other banks). This version of Open Banking is broader and I’ll try to cover it in another post at some point.

Continue reading “Mother-in-Law’s Guide to Open Banking”

Creating Great Social Experiences

Creating products is about building great experiences for customers. In the past, companies would create products to tell a story to customers. But my old boss, Raja Rajamannar, CMO of Mastercard, says, Storytelling is Dead. Jeff Bezos says that at Amazon, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” However you cut it, customers are now engaged participants rather than passive recipients. It’s the job of companies to engage with customers rather than just treat them as an audience. Continue reading “Creating Great Social Experiences”

Carpe Diem! How to Live Like an Emperor

At the end of last year, Bubbie, my last living grandparent, was fading away. She couldn’t see, could barely walk, and her kidneys were failing. It was becoming clear that we needed to savor each moment with her. So we created some great memories — like the last time we had a steak dinner with her and needed to push her on her walker around the corner to the restaurant. Or the last time she came to our house and Ari asked if he could snuggle her because he really likes snuggling people. We spent those last months finding special moments with Bubbie. And it was exciting because Bubbie was always up for some good fun. Continue reading “Carpe Diem! How to Live Like an Emperor”

Focusing on the Most Important Thing

Focusing on the right thing is key to being successful in work and life.  If you focus on one thing, you can accomplish anything. But, as a mentor once told me, “If you have 12 apples, don’t take one bite of each.”

But figuring out what to prioritize can be tricky. At my college reunion, my friend Lutz and I were spending the day with our families. We’d jam-packed the day with great activities. As we were walking down the street, I saw a sign for Ashley’s Homemade Ice Cream.

I said, “Lutz, I’d really like to buy my family some ice cream.”

Being the logical German, he said, “Yes. That would be nice but there’s no time left in the day. We need to go hear the President of the University speak.”

“Lutz,” I said, “you have to prioritize. You can always watch the video of the President’s speech or read a transcript. But how often are you able to spend time with your family on a beautiful spring day, sitting on the college lawn eating ice cream?”

He said, “You’re right. Let’s get the ice cream.”

And it was the best decision we’d made that weekend.