A brief snippet of Paul Graham’s brief writing advice

His original essay is here.

A few favorites (all quoted):

  • Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can
  • Expect 80% of the ideas in an essay to happen after you start writing it, and 50% of those you start with to be wrong
  • …just say the most important sentence first
  • Read your essays out loud to see…which bits are boring (the paragraphs you dread reading)
  • Write for a reader who won’t read the essay as carefully as you do

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

New additions to the Personal Bible: Warren Buffett, Robert Greene, and a Hacker News comment

I created a Personal Bible for myself so I could re-read and re-re-read my favorite essays, poems, and passages of text. Below are new additions including a snippet from a Warren Buffett shareholder letter, a raw and honest comment on Hacker News, and some small snippets from other writers that I like.

Here’s my latest version as a PDF. Hope one day you can create one for yourself!


Warren Buffett’s 1989 letter to shareholders

My most surprising discovery: the overwhelming importance in business of an unseen force that we might call ‘the institutional imperative.’ […] I thought that decent, intelligent, and experienced managers would automatically make rational business decisions. But I learned over time that isn’t so. Instead, rationality frequently wilts when the institutional imperative comes into play.

For example: (1) As if governed by Newton’s First Law of Motion, an institution will resist any change in its current direction; (2) Just as work expands to fill available time, corporate projects or acquisitions will materialize to soak up available funds; (3) Any business craving of the leader, however foolish, will be quickly supported by detailed rate-of-return and strategic studies prepared by his troops; and (4) The behavior of peer companies, whether they are expanding, acquiring, setting executive compensation or whatever, will be mindlessly imitated.

[…] After making some expensive mistakes because I ignored the power of the imperative, I have tried to organize and manage Berkshire in ways that minimize its influence. Furthermore, Charlie and I have attempted to concentrate our investments in companies that appear alert to the problem.


I was the ambitious one, the one that strayed far from home, chasing the dream, getting caught up in the consumerism. I’m glad that by the age of 38 I have come to realize that I had everything that was important before I left. The remainder was a constant cycle of churn, want more, want bigger, want better, want newer, want more convenient. Except it’s hard when it’s being fed to you every day by every billboard, every sign, every menu, every advert, every press release, every news story, every TV show to differentiate between want and need. When you stop to analyze what you actually need – I mean really need: Clean air, clean water, shelter, nutrition, sanitation, family, community, companionship; how much of what you’re being sold every day is truly “needed” and how much of it is a want to fulfill some notion that has been sold to you by the media? – a Hacker News commenter


David DeAngelo: Prove to yourself over and over that you can cope with rejection


From Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power [Amazon]

Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness
When […] entering any kind of negotiation, go further than you planned. Ask for the moon and you will be surprised how often you get it.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Jeff Bezos on Amazon’s culture and strategy: “Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied”

This is from his 2015 Amazon letter to shareholders [source]. So much good stuff on what makes Amazon such a sustaining high performing culture, how to align vastly different business units and products, what challenges he’s faced – and the lessons he’s learned from them – as the company has grown and grown and grown.

On alignment and shared values

[AWS and Amazon retail] share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence.

There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.

On managing big company process and complexity

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2. A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes

The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.

On decision making

Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

Recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision.

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

$30B Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing shares gems in this Bloomberg interview

was a refugee from China to HK during the Japan invasion

“cashflow is the most important thing”

“whatever industry I get into I buy books about that industry”

believes in a Western management model mixed with a Confucian life philosophy

wears a simple Citizen solar-powered watch and runs his watch 30 minutes fast because he can be anywhere in HK in 30 minutes (!)

named one of his two holding companies Cheung Kong after the Yantze river because many other rivers flow into it, metaphor for how he should be (welcoming and truly modest, not just superficially so)

“I’ve always believed that it is very important for people to have faith”

his life philosophy in two sentences:
1. Always be industrious
2. The virtuous welcome onerous duties

framed a share of AIG stock, explains that AIG was worth almost $200B and seemingly overnight dropped to $17B, losing 91% of its value. serves as a reminder to his two sons: manage the company carefully, “don’t invest like gambling”

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Your life’s hitpoints

In March of 2013 I found this tool which took your estimated lifespan and turned it into a colorful grid. Like a hitpoints chart for your life.

Here’s mine:


Every tiny square is one month. Every line of squares is one year. And every group of squares is a decade. The red squares are the months I’ve lived, and the gray squares are the months to come.

My estimated lifespan is 82 years. And each year starts in the month of May because that’s my birthday.

I started using it in March of 2013 (the tiny yellow square). And every month since then, I’ve used Photoshop to color in an additional square to dark red. It’s been 45 months since I started, or 3 years and 9 months.

Is there a point to this? Not really. But it’s kinda like the blog post from Wait But Why. Just a fun(ny?) reminder. I like filling in a square every month, because I believe – rightly or wrongly – that it pushes me to see the big picture. To see life as a finite and decreasing resource. To see the months and years pass by. Not in a morbid sense, but in an attempt to increase my sense of urgency. And, perhaps, to strengthen my gratitude and appreciation.

I couldn’t find the original website to share with you. Sorry. However, it shouldn’t be too hard to use a lifespan calculator and create your own in Excel or Google Docs.

Let me know if you do, or already use something similar.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.