The Importance of Guiding Principles

Overview of the values I hold that are relevant in Tech.

I first moved out to Berkeley two years ago from Thailand. When I first arrived at college I was eager to get involved in consulting and follow the tracked path many students find themselves on. But then I discovered the world of startups and fell in love.

In the words of Chris Sacca, the beauty of startups comes from the fact that it all begins with…

“a couple of people in a room building a product. They have unreasonable optimism, unbounded by reality or experience and are singularly driven to succeed when everything is stacked against them.”

This resonates strongly with me and is part of the reason why I have gotten so heavily involved in the world of tech and startups.

Two years later after working at two startups, and having gone through the process of starting my own company I’m certain that I am on the right path. In my short time in the tech world I have come to realize the importance of having a core set of guiding principles when making decisions. I have highlighted a few of mine below.

Net Positive

Whether in life or business I try to approach things with a net positive mentality. What I mean by this is to make sure that my actions ultimately create meaning in the world. For me to create meaning is to do one of three things:

  1. Increase the quality of life for others
  2. Prevent the end of something good
  3. Or right a wrong

This approach I believe will result in positive externalities. In business combing profits and purpose has clear competitive edges in the long run. This outlook will allow you to attract better talent than competitors, lower overall customer acquisition costs and increase lifetime customer value. In my own everyday life, this mentality has led to greater fulfilment and a feeling of purpose in my actions.

First principles

Reasoning from first principles means to identify the fundamental truths in each situation and reason upwards from there. Typically, individuals reason and learn from analogy but I contend that reasoning from first principles is more effective. Reasoning from first principles has allowed me to challenge and question traditional assumptions, to see things as how they should be not how they are.

From my experience individuals with lengthy experience in a field don’t necessarily add as much value as you may think. Of course this is a generalization and is not true in all cases, but there is something to be said about founders who enter an industry with a fresh perspective. Founders who don’t have preconceived notions about a certain industry are able to view the industry starting from the fundamental truths. They are then able to build a compelling product from what should be, not what was set by tradition.

Growth Mindset

Employing a growth mindset means that my primary concern is not about being right and wrong but rather about learning . When I accomplish something I try to identify what went right and learn from there. Similarly, when I fail or am wrong about something, what’s important to me is the fact that I am able to learn and grow from my mistakes.

I like the mantra “often wrong, never in doubt,” it reminds me that it’s okay to be wrong and you don’t need to be right all the time. Often times a disproportionately high value on being right, this can cause people to be afraid to develop their own contrarian opinions, making them conform and default to herd mentality.

Mild Optimism

This last guiding principle may contradict what most people in Silicon Valley believe, but the idea of mild optimism is one which I think is very important. Ask most technologists about how they feel about the future of the planet and more often than not you will get an optimistic answer.

However, as Peter Thiel describes in his book “Zero to One”, extreme pessimism and extreme optimism both converge to the same thing. Individuals who are extremely pessimistic believe that the world is doomed and there is nothing they can do. Those who are extremely optimistic believe that everything will eventually work out and so think there is nothing they should do. Thus, both converge to nothing.

The idea of mild optimism does not eliminate human agency from the equation, which in turn motivates me to take action.

Final Thoughts

Having a cognitive framework for making decisions has been very helpful for both my academic and professional career. I would recommend everyone to try to develop guiding principles of their own, but always be willing to question them as you continue to learn and grow.

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