Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or borrowed ideas of others.
Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.”
Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange.
The person who tells the most compelling story wins. Not the best idea. Just the story that catches people’s attention and gets them to nod their heads.
Something can be factually true but contextually nonsense. Bad ideas often have at least some seed of truth that gives their followers confidence.
Behavior is hard to fix. When people say they’ve learned their lesson they underestimate how much of their previous mistake was caused by emotions that will return when faced with the same circumstances.
Even among the most ambitious individuals, learning plans are rare. Most people are reactive. They don’t plan. Like surfers in a violent ocean, they surrender to their environment.
They direct their attention towards the never-ending shouts of email newsletters, friend recommendations, and social media feeds.
We can do better.
What Should You Do?
Learn in three-month sprints and commit to a new learning project every quarter.
Even the longest projects are simply a collection of short term tasks. Knowing that, you should break down the project into daily increments, and create a series of daily and weekly goals to learn the skills required to complete the project on time.
A few thoughts on why, even though "all lives matter" is a valid statement, we should be mindful and empathetic and not use it to hijack #BlackLivesMatter, which is a movement literally begging for people to pay attention to the social inequalities facing black people.
I want to use a practical, very specific example that may help provide better context outside the seemingly controversial race issue.
I started @FundiBots in 2010, using robotics as a fun and practical way for Ugandan students to experience the magic of science.
As the years went on, our team and regional reach expanded and the number of students we trained grew exponentially (10,000+ to date).
But something started to show in our data: we had far fewer girls in our robotics classes than boys. For every 10 boys, we had about 3 girls.
I'm very dark-skinned, even by Ugandan standards and I travel a lot, but the only place I ever feel safe is when I'm in Africa. I love Emirates, but every single transit through Dubai is a nightmare of resolutely ignoring stares, hushed whispers and pointing, sneering adults.
It doesn't help that I'm tall, so I stand out like a sore thumb in almost all crowds. I always joke with friends that if we ever get lost in a huge crowd, all they have to do is look for me.
I am, in very, very many ways, hard to ignore. Especially because I'm very dark-skinned.
Every trip comes with the mental preparation for the fact that I will be judged first by of the color of my skin.
Not by the decades of experience. Not by the skills I have acquired. And not by the impact of our work.
But judged by the one thing I have no control over: My skin.
I wanted to share a few thoughts on working from home/learning from home, diving a little deeper beyond our Twitter comfort zones.
These observations come from discussions on extending learning at @FundiBots and working from home with our team members across the country.
Let's break this down into access levels.
Level 1: Electricity.
The primary foundation necessary for remote work or remote learning is inaccessible to a lot of people.
Our teams in Mbale and Gulu especially suffer with this; these regions are notorious for day-long power cuts.
Level 2: Fast, affordable internet connectivity. Video calls and conference calls consume A LOT of data. I saw estimates that a 1 hour zoom call uses 500MB to 1GB. Factor in about 3 calls a week, across X number of employees and you're heading for above-normal expenses.
My biggest business lesson from 2019 starts with this:
One of the most painful things that ever happened to me was shutting down @elementaledge in 2017 after spending 12 years trying to build an international-level multimedia studio.
At the core of my failure were two things:
1. My constant inability to bring in consistent business.
Marketing, sales or business development were not within my skillset. I hated it. I was exceptionally good on the creative side, but awkward and introverted on the client side. I couldn't close deals to save my life.
a) Founders have to do the tough things, and the toughest of things is selling the vision to the team and to the clients. For introverted tech-focused founders like myself, this is where a business-savvy co-founder would have brought much-needed balance to the force.
Remember that you have to perform and deliver at the same level and quality as when you had a proper full-time office to work in. It is very easy to slack off because of a lack of accountability or supervision.
2. Maintain Your Routine.
Do not change your routine. Where possible, follow the same routine as you would during a normal work-day. Wake up at the same time, go to "work" at the same time, leave work at the same time.
Somewhere between 2004 and 2006, I obsessed night and day over a product I was building called "Pathfinder".
It was the coolest thing I had ever done and I knew it was going to make. all. the. money.
A thread on life lessons from a failed project. 👇
Pathfinder was this insanely ambitious plan to digitize and map Uganda, primarily for tourism and business. The big, hairy audacious goal was to put GPS trackers on boda-bodas and set them loose, collect the data and plug it into this gorgeous mapping system I had built.
It was as ambitious as it was ridiculous. And I was building it in Macromedia Flash (the original before Adobe bought it), and I was a Flash and design guru so of course, it was really, really pretty.
At some point in 2002, I dropped out of my first semester (Kyambogo University) and never attended any school again.
A thread on the perceived value(?) of university education versus the expected outcomes.
Obviously, my dad was mad pissed; we barely spoke after that. My relatives all thought I'd gone mad, and to this day, most of them still cannot explain what I do.
In hindsight, it was a very poor decision. In hindsight also, it was the best decision of my life.
I dropped out because education wasn't working for me. I wanted to do robotics or microelectronics, none of which was an actual course in Ugandan universities, and obviously, I couldn't afford the costs of studying abroad.
Entrepreneurs have to master the art of rejection, internal and external. But let me tell you, it [censored] hurts.
We never talk about failures, yet they are more than the wins. So let me share just a bit about the tough side of my work.
1. In 2016 and 2017, I got rejected for ALL the grants and fellowships I applied for. ALL. And those were the years I applied EVERYWHERE. Because we needed money, fast.
1.a [ The only win in 2017 was one fellowship, The African Visionary Fellowship, which I didn't even apply for but it changed me and @FundiBots . Basically one of our funders saw how much African founders were struggling to raise money and decided to do something about it. ]