The Right Expectations

Found this bit of wisdom by Marcus Aurelius rather timeless:

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill will, and selfishness– all of them due to the offender’s ignorance of what is good and evil. That people of a certain type should behave as they do is inevitable. To wish it otherwise were to wish the fig-tree would not yield its juice.”

Self-reflective speech MBA exercise

MBA is not only about studying finance and accounting and solving cases, we also have multiple courses on leadership. One of them was focused on communication aspect. And as part of this course we had to deliver various two-minute speeches in front of the group of 10 people. Then, we received a feedback. Speeches were also recorded for later personal review.

Topic of each speech was different, but I found the first one the most interesting as it provoked certain self-reflection during preparation. So, I thought that you might want to try exercise by yourself. If you do not have a group of people to present in front of, just imagine an audience and record a video with a smartphone and watch it. The first topic was very simple: “Who am I?”

Also, we were given several hints or questions we might consider answering while preparing or delivering a speech:

  • What forces have shaped you, what real challenges have you faced? 
  • What do you care about in life?  
  • What’s an unexpected characteristic, or interest, or talent?  
  • Who is most important to you?  
  • Where are you vulnerable?  
  • What is a long-term aspiration you hold? 

And here is a couple of questions to ponder when watching your video:

  •  Articulate what stands out for you watching your “Who Am I?” video. What are you pleased with? What do you specifically want to improve?

So, this is it. Hope, you find it helpful.

For me personally the most interesting part was to see how differently other nine people approached the same exercise.

Thoughts, pictures, music

Some thoughts I took notes on during last months. Some pictures I took during last years. Some good music.



“When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.”
– Milarepa





“You all laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.”
– Mikhail Bulgakov


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Quora: ask any question

I could not find enough time to post here recently. I certainly have been doing more reading than writing. So, I thought why not to share some of things I read? And I decided to tell you about Quora.

As you most probably already know, Quora is a questions-answers website which succeeded in doing what Google and multiple other companies failed at: provide a decent quality of responses.

Several months ago they even created their own book “Best of Quora 2010-2012“, compiled of best answers, available for free download. It covers quite a range of topics. From Steve Jobs to moldy cheese, from neurological basis of curiosity to Jay-Z. I hope to find time and selectively read the most intriguing ones.


In a meanwhile, here is the short list of questions on the website itself that I found noteworthy:

Add me if you are there.

Venture Lab: free Stanford University online courses

I devoted some of my time to self-education in September-December using the opportunity provided by Stanford University Venture Lab‘s online courses. In this post I would like to briefly describe my impressions and share some useful materials from the courses. Venture Lab courses are somewhat different from other online courses in that they take place during a specific time with specific deadlines, and you need to enroll in order to participate.

I tried three courses: Technology Entrepreneurship, Crash Course on Creativity, and Finance. As they are very different, I will tell you about each one separately.

Technology Entrepreneurship

This is probably the best one. Although, there are multiple opinions on whether entrepreneurship can be taught, there are a lot of useful materials.

Lectures certainly vary in content. Some are quite theoretic and contain, for instance, large charts showing, how probability of team’s success depends on the number of members or on their background. Others are more about anecdotal. There was, for example, a story about history of skateboarding culture. I didn’t know that it originated from dry Californian summer during which many Californian pools were empty and people started using them to ride inside instead of swimming.
Aside from theory, there is also a team work that is highly encouraged and is in fact an integral part of learning process. Working in teams you are supposed to do market research, create and test the business model. Participants are very diverse. There are people from Pakistan, Belarus, Serbia, Russia, Canada and many other countries. You can pick any of already existing teams (hundreds of them) or create your own and invite other students to join.

If it is too late for you to participate, you might still benefit from these materials:

I think it takes about an hour a week or so to keep up with the lectures. But if you want to do more, for example communicate on forum, read recommended books, and actually try to apply ideas to some project, it will take longer, of course.

By the way, if you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend you these recent notes from Peter Thiel’s lectures. They also happen to be in Stanford. Computer Science dep. It will save another hundred thousand dollars. 😉

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How I (did not?) beat the GMAT


In this post I want to share my experience of preparation to GMAT test and advice on some “DOs and DON’Ts”. It will only be interesting for those who want to pass it and already know what GMAT is, what it is for, and how it is generally structured. Others will probably derive no benefit from reading this article.

So, as we assumed that you have a basic understanding of how test works (if you do not, I would recommend that you read the Wiki article about it), let us skip all the introductory information about the test and dive right into the preparation, my experience, and advice.

gmat test


Full disclosure

I think, it would be fair to start with my own result to manage everybody’s expectations. Who knows, maybe some of you will leave after this part…

I took the test twice and scored exactly the same, 710. Q49 and V38 — first time and Q48 and V39 — second time. It is the 92th percentile. In other words, 92% of those who took the test did worse while 8% of them did better . Ironically, I received 6.0 out of maximum 6.0 for Analytical Writing Assessment, GMAT section I almost did not prepare for.

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Harvard positive psychology class

Positive psychology course at Harvard by professor Tal Ben-Shahar is freely available on YouTube. Highly recommended!

It covers all the well-being related topics: health, happiness, longevity, optimism, change, success, self-development, emotions, goals and many others. It’s all spiced with a reasonable amount of scientific scepticism that popular self-help books usually lack.

However, to my taste Tal speaks too slowly and the whole thing takes too much time. That’s why I would recommend actually downloading all episodes using one of the Youtube downloading services, such as Offliberty. And then listen to it using VLC or other player that allows you to increase playback speed 2x.

Here are the videos. It gets especially videos at 3-4th video.

If any of them don’t work, try one of these lists: Positive psychology playlist, links in the description for the first lecture.



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Moonwalking with Einstein review: memory & mnemonics

I’ve just finished listening to an interesting audiobook about memory and mnemonic techniques: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. Author is a young journalist who decided to try all the memory improvement techniques himself but remain sceptical and objective while doing so. He talks about memory itself and the way it was influenced by spread of written language and by technology. Than, he tells us stories about people with extraordinarily good memory and amnesiacs, about people who had an ordinary memory but became memory champion and about mnemonic techniques they used.

moonwalking ith-einstein the art and science of remembering everything by joshua foer


Joshua begins his quest with a totaly ordinary, if not mediocre, memory. Bus after long preparation and work with best so-called “mental athletes” wins one of US memory champtionships. Although he himself acknoledges the fact that most of techniques he learned are useless in day-to-day life, I actually extracted a lot of intersting and useful ideas from the book. And this is what I would like to share with you.


Interesting facts and ideas

  • Memory becomes highly underestimated nowadays because of all the various ways to store information “externally”. But in fact, the better we remember our life, the more connections we can make. Memory is also necessary to understand and appreciate many things in life. For example, a person who never read or heard anything about China would not get as much culturally from the trip there as somebody who studied history and architecture of this country for a couple of months.
  • One of the people Joshua interviewed for the book tried to increase “subjective” (perceived) life expectancy by improving his memory. The idea is that the more events you remember the longer life seems to be.
  • Best chess-players don’t really evaluate all the possible moves logically. Instead, they recognize familiar patterns from other games.
  • Cab drivers in London pass obligatory and very demanding exam called “The Knowledge”. It has been found that those who passed it after months of preparation have larger brain region that is responsible for orientation in space. Interestinlgy, brains of “memory champions” are actually quite typical.
  • Odyssey and Iliad were initially created the way that made it easier to remember it and paraphrase verbally instead of writing down.
  • We can remember almost unlimited number of pictures. At least the fact whether we’ve seen one or not. That is why many memory techniques revolve around transforming other types of information into visual images.
  • Also, Joshua acquaints us with several interesting, although ambigous personalities, such as Daniel Tammet, Ed Cooke, Tony Buzan and others.

Mnemonic techniques:

  • Some savants naturally use synesthesia (mixing visual, audiotory and other types of perceptions) to enchance remembering and learning through associations.
  • “Chunking” is a technique of breaking information into smaller pieces. For example, it is easier to remember a phone number when it is presented as 12-34-56 than when it is presented as 123456.
  • Major system. To use this technique, one should use the same consonants for certain numbers. Then, to remember a number, one uses these consonants to form words, which are supposedly easier to remember, by inserting vowels.
  • Memory palace. Images are placed in a certain space (appartment, city route or real imagined palace). The more absurd, shiny, sexual and animate the images the better.
  • Speech preparation. Try to remember key topics to cover in your speech by visualizing them.
  • Remembering texts. Try to feel empathy with an author, to resonate emotionally with a text.
  • Deliberate practice: here Joshua gives just another interpretation of the same old study, which almost everybody mentioned recently. The basic conclusion is that people who are best at something did not necessarily spent more time practicing it. But they practised differently.
  • In essense, deliberate practise is  an effort to consciously improve one’s level of mastery instead of stopping at the minimum acceptable level (“ok zone”). For example, one might try to type faster than he or she would normally do in order to progress.
  •  Deliberate practice also comprises of constant adjustment to feedback and focusing on the most difficult aspects. For example, top violinists practiced most difficult pieces instead of just playing what they already know. Top chess-players re-played best chess games in their heads trying to understand the reasons behind each move. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin learned to write essays by first attempting to cover a certain topic by himself and then comparing the texts to those of best writers.
  • Person – action – object system. According to this mnemonic system, one should come up with a person, action and object for each of 100 digits: from 00 to 99. Then, these “PAOs” are used to form sentences in order to remember long lists of numbers.
  • Remembering names. Try to come up with a meaningful association. For example, nobody of people studied could remember name “Baker” (no associations) but majority remembered profession “baker” (a lot of associations).
  • The reason why people sometimes get an impression that times flies faster might be related to the fact that our life becomes more boring and we get fewer new experiences. In other words, we have less interesting things to remember. So, make your life more memorable!
  • Practical advice to remember things in day-to-day life: pay attention. For example, focus on remembering that name instead of just waiting for your time to introduce yourself.
However, it is less clear how to apply it all to learning things that might actually be useful, such as grammar rules, math formulas or just life experiences. Any ideas?
Overall, there are not so many practically applicable things in the book but it is still very interesting to read.
Here is the short interview with an author that covers many of the topics from the book:

How to win any negotiation: summary of “Getting to Yes” by William Ury

I listened to Getting to Yes by William Ury who is probably the most recognized negotiations expert few months ago.

If you never heard about William Ury, short TED talk might be the best way to get to know about his impressive career:

And here are the notes that I wrote down while reading it. Probably they will be of some use for you as well:

1. Always set a goal of negotiation form the very beginning: “You want to sell at the higher price and I want to buy at the lower price. Let’s find the fair price that can both agree upon.”
2. Always try to understand interests behind a position. How did you arrive at that price? Why do you consider it just?
3. Always repeat the position of another side: “Correct me if I’m wrong. Do I understand correctly that you consider this price to be just because…”
4. Always set a principle, external standard to judge the agreement. E.g. fair solution.
5. Separate a person from a problem. “We are very grateful for everything you did for us but it’s very important for us to arrive at the fair solution.”
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