Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Spero Ventures. Early LinkedIn, Twitter. These are my thoughts on tech, brand, marketing and community.

How did LinkedIn become the last best social network standing

Why I continue to use LinkedIn (and Twitter), after my rift with the rest!

Love LinkedIn’s new features that popped up over the last few weeks, including LinkedIn Live, Newsletters (in “Creator” mode), Dark Mode, and No Politics mode.

Now, can someone at LinkedIn turn on the No Cringe mode 1, and make my day!

Jokes aside, LinkedIn’s tortoise to the fast-moving, fast-breaking Facebook, Instagram 2 and the ilk, is slowly, but surely winning its own race. Against all odds, and competition, in a world that increasingly drowns & revels in noise, LinkedIn’s legendary CEO Jeff Weiner’s 3 ethos of deriving “signal from noise” is finally seeing its purpose writ large 4 in its winning, at-large.

LinkedIn is the super-hero the world never asked for! Boring, dependable, and utilitarian. LinkedIn is not the social network your Mom warned you about, vs. Timothée Chalamet’s TikTok, Tilda Swinton’s Instagram, and Bill Murray’s Facebook.

Wes Anderson, auteur and director of “The French Dispatch” also cuts the check for everyone else in the picture below, and is a perfect stand-in for LinkedIn. 5

Let’s dig deeper. I’ve checked out all of these three new features and I’m here to say: they are incremental, they work (sorta, kinda, some not yet) but LinkedIn has one job. To get you a job. And, since they’re still great at it.

The rest is just icing on the cake.

So, take em for a spin. Here’s my quick-take on all three new features, hat tip WSJ’s Joanna Stern. 6:


1. Creativity on LinkedIn? What does that even mean?


Who is a Creator on LinkedIn?

My $0.02: LinkedIn Live, and Newsletters doesn’t work yet. But turning on Creator Mode, allows you to set 5 topics you’re going to be writing on more proficiently, and my assumption is you get better promotion for those topics. Think of this, as getting in line at an Apple Store, for a new iPhone.

Sometimes you’re just a few decades in the wrong place. Joining LinkedIn, one of the first goals was to find ways LinkedIn was teeming with LinkedIn Open Networkers (LIONs) and one of our main goals was to expand our offering to more mainstream professionals.

Fast-forward to today, and you see LinkedIn’s new focus on “creators,” Who is a creator on LinkedIn?

So, I just turned on my LinkedIn “Creator” profile on LinkedIn, given my attempts at turning on the writing spigot, anytime now.

Here’s how I turned on “Creator Mode” on LinkedIn. I’m still unsure, why social networks make it so obscure to find basic things like this feature set. For starters, it’s in your profile section.

So, hit “View Profile,” from your “Me” icon on the top right hand, and you’ll see “Resources” (Private to You), right below Analytics.

Clicking on “Resources,” lets you choose up to 5 topics you’ll be writing about. What does this result in? I’m not sure, but I presume, there’s a level of engagement and attention that might be directed towards your profile at that point.

And, I can check if that’s the case. For example, prior to turning on “Creator Mode,” I was pleasantly surprised to see couple of my earlier posts garner over 3000 views, and one which Jeff Weiner had shared, got me nearly 300,000 views.

My Top 5 Biggest Hits on LinkedIn:

1. CEOs Good to Great: Who Made the Cut and Why (363,655 views) 
2. 2020: Reflections on a Year Gone Wrong (5830 views) 
3. It's time to unfriend Facebook and "the algorithm" (3290 views and counting) 
4. Covid made me do it: Life, Love and Work (1510 views) 
5. Time for Stories: The Next Era of Social Media is Now (846 views)  

The secret to many of these views is 1. Write interesting content, 2. Make it so it ties to the right people who care about that content, and 3. Promote.

The rules are the same on Twitter, which was the first time (after the world of blogging) where we atomized attention to specific individuals through @ mentions and topics (# Hashtags). This is LinkedIn’s world of hashtags (similar to what Instagram copied from Twitter).

Regardless, if you see yourself writing content on a more regular basis, it’s worth checking out how much this new feature, helps you with attention and vitality.


2. LinkedIn Live & Newsletters


This alone is worth marketers the price of admission to LinkedIn. This is a big deal.

My $0.02: Email never dies. Social media might, but your trusty old boring email never does. Just ask Substack. LinkedIn Newsletters is a perfect distribution mechanism for content you create on LinkedIn. And, LinkedIn Live is a great add-on for any “creator” or “brand” that chooses Clubhouse, like live-audio or live-video to promote your brand — personal or corporate.

Both LinkedIn Live (I’m not sure whether this is a Clubhouse clone or an Instagram Live clone) regardless, both are worth having in your marketing arsenal, especially if you happen to be in marketing for any brand.

And, newsletters are even more interesting, given Substack’s popularity, it was but natural that LinkedIn & Twitter will attempt to add both these features and LinkedIn just did.

The problem though is both these features are “live” yet not live, when you turn it on. All documentation suggests I should have both features available once I’ve turned on “Creator mode,” but my best explanation as to why not, is that LinkedIn is rolling this out slowly over multiple geographies.

What helps you create a newsletter on LinkedIn?

And, these are the exact same criteria for LinkedIn Live, although China is the only creator that isn’t feasible yet. I wish LinkedIn were more transparent about when and how one gets access to these newsletters, but that’s just the nature of product rollouts.

Now that I have the feature enabled, let’s see how long before it gets turned on.

In addition, I’ve also tried doing the same with Revue on Twitter, so let’s see if that works.

Whether it’s your killer Excel formula or big thoughts on payroll management, your expertise is in demand. LinkedIn wants you to share it as a “creator”⁠—yes, the word tech companies have fallen in love with to describe people who, well, create videos, posts and other internet stuff. — Wall Street Journal 7

This is the stuff that Quora and Reddit have been really good at doing. Creating their corner of the internet, filled with categories of hashtags and answers. And LinkedIn is finally entering that territory, given nearly a billion professionals call LinkedIn home.


More Signal, less Noise


From the early days of Jeff Weiner, I’ve heard him talk about separating signal from the noise, and I feel like some of the features LinkedIn most recently announced are variations on that theme.

In particular, the no-politics mode they debuted, is what one would expect from LinkedIn and also firmly establishes them in the opposite camp as noisy as it seems most days. I, personally, have not experimented with the feature, but it feels necessary and LinkedIn’s implementation trivial.

1. At the Source: Remove Every Post with Political Bias

Every time you see a post that’s overtly political, you now have a chance to set the record straight, scratch the entry and start from scratch. I’m curious if this means you won’t see similar posts, or posts from the author itself?

2. Master Switch: Feed Preferences

This is in the “Settings and Privacy” tab, and once you’re there, it’s a little convoluted but you have to look for “Feed preferences,” that’s stuck towards the bottom of “Site Preferences,” and off you go.

p.s. That said, I am disappointed it feels nearly impossible to find the folks I follow, but I guess if the game is to make things as simple as possible, not too simple, than this might be it.

No politics nor religion in the workplace or at Thanksgiving dinner, and LinkedIn seems to be taking it seriously, and rightly so. How well it works remains to be seen. But its implementation is simple, effective, one-click. Kudos to a product team firing on all cylinders!

For those 810 million users on LinkedIn, if you’re wondering how do I turn on the No-BS or No-politics mode, if you’re wondering how can I create a newsletter or share my thoughts more publicly with my right circles, I think LinkedIn’s making some moves. I will be closely watching, definitely trying out the “creator” features, and can’t wait to make LinkedIn my newsletter of choice (it’s been 15 years in the making, since I started there).

And, if you’re wondering how do I turn on Dark Mode. Look no further…


  1. This is true on LinkedIn & Twitter, and much worse, when I started there in 2006. But today, you have a new brand of “marketers” and self-promoters, who say things like this. That said, I think LinkedIn is in a similar position, where they want the mainstream of “creators” not just the cringe ones. ↩︎
  2. The aggressive algorithm on all other social networks is what led me to quitting them en masse. Here’s how I explained it last week. ↩︎
  3. I’ve heard Jeff, in his early days, both as an acting-CEO and later as-CEO, drilled down the idea that LinkedIn’s greatest asset of ↩︎
  4. This post is a response to a WSJ exclusive by Joanna Stern, who interviews LinkedIn’s current CEO, who I’ve known from over a decade ago, and announces 5 new features; 3 impactful, 2 minor, that I cover in this post ↩︎
  5. This picture stirred a meme on Twitter, at the Cannes premiere of Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” at times absurd yet provoking bemusement the four here, in their “natural” avatars represent a diaspora of human or corporate diversity that lends itself well to humor. ↩︎
  6. Joanna Stern’s post on WSJ does a pretty good job of highlighting the new features, and this post is me, trying out all three features and my raw, honest take on all of em: Creator Mode, LinkedIn Live, and No-politics mode; the other gimmicky mode being the dark mode ↩︎
  7. From Joanna Stern’s interview with LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky ↩︎

Filed under: Latest at LinkedIn, LinkedIn Features, What's New in Social Media, , , , , , ,

Love in the Time of Covid: A Valentine’s Day Story!

How does one go from “Panic Room” to Getting Engaged in 365 Days?!

“It has surface innocence, surprise, the revelation of a concealed meaning, and the catharsis of solution.” – Stephen Sondheim

A year ago, I had spent 365 days not seeing a human soul for 365 days, thanks COVID!

Here’s how I pulled off a surprise proposal between then and now!

Yes, what a difference a year does make… some years, they do!

That said, I stumbled upon a lot of highs and lows through this process of planning a proposal (how does one find a ring to her liking, plan a surprise, what elements should it include) and figured I’d write this down, both for my own sake; and all you gentlemen & women, who might find this interesting.

There’s only one rule while building a proposal: Surprise, and surprise, and surprise. With a final reveal. And, one more thing…

All of Life’s a Play.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” – Shakespeare

A proposal, like Life itself, is kinda like a stage play… with an audience of one. Obviously, you know your audience, so use that intel for all the surprise one can glean.


Step 1: Start with the End in Sight


For the longest time, I had no clue how, when & where I was gunna do to propose. All I knew is I didn’t want it to be in public, cos it sounded cliched.

So, I’m driving on the Golden Gate Bridge (back from the jewelers 1 ) and it hit me.

It had to be home. For us.

It doesn’t matter “when,” but the “where” is home. Once you got the “where,” everything else works backward from there.

And, it had to be around family. Our very first date, we talked about our families, me (as an immigrant) about how I missed mine, and hers (as someone very close to a large family) about how much it mattered to her. And knowing how she felt about her family, it had to happen around them, and a dear friend of mine.

Once you have the end in sight 2, it’s easy to plan.

I love the idea of bringing it back home, for a couple of reasons:

  • For starters, it’s the best surprise possible. Creating a ruse, is a breeze, since planning a weekend away, makes that the “where” for her.
  • The longer you plan the “weekend,” the bigger the surprise when you return home.

She will not enjoy those 24 hours, but she will, the return home, once it all sinks in.

Guaranteed.


Step 2: Stage The Ruse


Now, for the fun part.

The keys to a surprise, whether it’s a magic trick or a movie script is one thing only:

Misdirection.

Storytelling (whether it’s in movies – see Ocean’s 12 – most profoundly in magic) is about setting up an elaborate ruse and ensuring your audience is staring deeply at that ruse, certain that the rabbit (or in this case, engagement ring) is gunna come out of the hat they’re looking at.

Setting up that ruse, the hat they stare at, is pretty much the entire job.

For me, it came together, when I got a Friday off (serendipitous) and decided it was going to be the ruse. I had planted enough hints along the way (at very normal moments, mind you) that I wanted to take her to my favorite town in all of wine-country – Yountville – and you definitely wanna play that up.

The key is to double-down on (in this case) the wine country trip, as much as possible. I, quite literally, planned an afternoon at Clos Pegase, dinner at my favorite restaurant in Yountville, and brunch the day-after in Bouchon, and a massage (!); all of which bear the hallmarks of a proposal.

And, you wanna act coy, while playing it up. Also, this wasn’t a last-minute addition, we had been planning a trip to wine country for some time. So, it felt very natural (to her) that I’d propose there. 3


Step 3: Let There be Music!


It is commonplace to see a photographer or two jump out of the bushes to photograph an unsuspecting fiancé, when she has said the magic word — Yes — and yes, I’d highly recommend that, especially if you’re planning a surprise for the ages.

But, what’s more important, and it was to us, was music. Our music.

I knew her family (especially her Dad) were big fans of the Beatles, and I can’t stop thinking about  wisdom from Dylan (no matter the occasion). So, I put together a playlist, and stumbled upon an Octoberfest event the day after I planned to propose; so I reached out to the musician.

Through Tim, I found a journeyman musician, Dore (a neighbor almost) who was more than thrilled to make our playlist real.4

To wit: the music was truly what made that evening special, and filled with happy tears.

Always, go with the music. Here’s my playlist that I can’t believed we were able to pull off for that moment. I had them arranged by chronological emotions (from start to finish) and Dore picked the ones he was most comfortable with.


Step 4: Surf the highs-and-lows


The key to any act of storytelling is relentless surprise.

Quite literally, that’s all it requires, and once you’ve decided to take her on a journey (until you return to home), the entire path is paved with surprises.

All you have to do is tension and release and surprise. Keep it tightly wound, and any pratfalls and unintended bloopers along the way only adds to the elements of surprise. That’s the most important thing you can do when you’re building a score (or a scare) or a proposal.

“You’re playing with tension and release, and surprise. When do I sit in the moment, and when do I explode a moment. When is the audience ahead of me? Keep surprising us. That’s the most important thing you can do when building a score.” — Lin Manuel Miranda 5

When is the audience ahead of me?

There were a couple of moments, where I thought the game was up.

For starters, the first winery, I’d called ahead and asked them if anyone had proposed there and asked them to basically give us the same deal.

That said, their service left a lot to be desired, we were hounded by hornets, and it was kind of a cluster.

While driving to our dinner at Yountville, my calendar which was usually synced to the Apple Carplay popped up a calendar event that I had shared with the folks who were in on the surprise, and were gunna be waiting for us home! Spoiler Alert: she didn’t notice it, but I assumed she had seen it?!

Unsure of what to do, and unable to ask her, I had to preemptively distract by asking her straight out if she expected a proposal during the trip?!

Well, I had to…

And, when she said “Yes,” I blamed the winery (who kinda messed up big time) to suggest I wanted a perfect proposal, and the hornets kinda ruined it.

Next day, I find the best seats in Bouchon (of course, that was planned ahead of time too), to intrigue her too, and yes, she thought I was going to propose there too.

Fast forward to home, it was so worth it. And, it’ll be tough in the moment to hold it in, but remember, this is what makes that finale oh, so delicious. Just popping the question, giving a ring, and photographers jumping out ain’t as sweet.


Step 5: One More Thing — What begins with family, ends at home!


The One More Thing, for us was always going to be family. It was the thing and the one-more-thing. And I knew, once the surprise to see the photographers and the musician sunk in, seeing family (hiding in the other corner of our patio) was the piece-de-resistance.

And, boy, it was.

The principle of storytelling, the third act has to tie somehow to the beginning of what started it all in this world.

The Closing Image can be a single scene or a series of scenes, but the mirror effect between Act I and III works best if you dedicate an equal amount of screen-time for opening and closing images. — Three Act Structure in Screenwriting 6

It is but natural, that our first conversation, centered around home & family, would tie back to proposing in front of that very home & family. Nothing else made sense to me in the grand scheme of things.

“Your finale has ups and downs and isn’t a straightforward race to the finish line.”

Once you spark Point B, the rest is putting together a roller-coaster to Point B.

My goal was always to propose at our home, and I knew wine country would be the perfect ruse. And, yes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs (and, smiles) along the way; but, what really matters is the finale, the conclusion, the rock on which you’re building your (both you and her) future.

To be honest, finding love in a pandemic, is like finding a needle in a haystack (but just with one more thing, the haystack’s on fire), but when you do, the feeling of elation is a high, higher than usual. The job now is to keep that flame alive (not the haystack, but in our lives).

All’s well that ends well.


Outro: “The Man in Me”


You didn’t think I’d end this post without the words of my favorite poet. Of course, there’s a Dylan song to capture this moment as well.

Stumbled upon this gem, yesterday while writing and it immediately spoke to what finding love might feel like. And I don’t mean love in a cheesy way.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all you lovebirds out there!

"Storm clouds are raging all around my door
I think to myself I might not take it any more
Take a woman like your kind
To find the man in me

The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from bein' seen
But that's just because he doesn't wanna turn into some machine
It take a woman like you
To get through to the man in me." 

    — Bob Dylan, New Morning "The Man in Me." 


  1. long story. But finding the jewelers was a nightmare, in and of itself. But, I’d alway recommend going to the craftsmen and women vs. the major stores that are sleazy to say the least. I did find our jeweler after visiting 4 or 5, through a cursory google search, in San Francisco. ↩︎
  2. I think will do it at home kind of like how we were discussing at the jewelry store. And I’d love to have a live jazz band and would love to have a surprise thrown in when I take her to Healdsburg and then when we return will have the whole place set up, and I could also get the patio cleaned out that we needed to clean right before that time. ↩︎
  3. I feel bad as I describe this, and those 24 hours were torture to me, not that I was bumming her out, but to hold the secret in, so I could ensure the big finale surprise as best as can be! It was a thrilling 24-hours! ↩︎
  4. If anyone reading this is interested in a musician for their special day, reach out to me, and I’m happy to connect you to Dore. ↩︎
  5. Lin Manuel is talking about the elements to build a musical (which is similar to a stage play) ↩︎
  6. I love the movies that get this right, and if you’re writing your proposal, it’s essential that your third act, ties to the first. Innumerable films nail the landing, including Soderbergh’s Kimi that just launched on HBO. Without giving away much, the final scene is a direct resolution, denouement from Scene A that kicks off the movie. ↩︎

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Thoughts, , , ,

It’s time to unfriend Facebook and “the algorithm”

Why I quit Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok for good

Yesterday, I deleted my Facebook account. 1

Ditto for Instagram. And, Snapchat. And, TikTok.

It is time to unfriend “the algorithm” before it’s too late. The writing is on the wall. 2 (no pun intended)


It is time to reclaim our Attention!


“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” — Steve Jobs

Breaking up with the algorithm across Facebook, Instagram, & TikTok leads to a re-evaluation of our lives. Why this matters now, more than ever before…

Apple’s a company that doesn’t have most resources of everybody in the world.3

The way we’ve succeeded is by choosing which horses to ride.

We try to look for these technical vectors that have a future, and that are headed up, and, you know, different pieces of technology kind kinda go in cycles.

They have their springs and summers, and autumns, and then they, you know, go to the graveyard of technology.

And, so we try to pick the things that are in their springs. — Steve Jobs on Products

The beauty of great storytelling is that it’s applicable across the board. This analogy is true for Apple, true for Facebook, and true for me. Facebook, in my opinion, is in its autumn (I’m sure they might think otherwise), but more importantly, I’m in my summer.

And if you choose wisely you can save yourself an enormous amount of work. And you can put your energy to make those technologies great on your platform.”

What I do with my time in my summer (let’s hope) “if I choose wisely,” I could save myself an enormous amount of work or trouble in the long-run.

And I choose to put my energy in people, platforms and work where I see the greatest upside for my growth, and their success. To Dylan and Jobs, a huge debt of thanks, for articulating this decision, in words that I couldn’t have stated with any more clarity.


It’s easier to quit the mafia than Facebook!


Now, the beauty of any mafia, as the saying goes “once you’re in the racket, you’re in it for life.4” But that’s true for any institution; whether it’s your family or Facebook or the Catholic Church. 5

“Once you’re in the racket, you’re in it for life.” — Al Capone

But, institutions, are in most cases not built with the individual’s interest at heart, given the numerous conflicting desires and goals. And, someday, sometime, one has to do the right thing and move away, when it’s affecting your mental health. And, as you very well know, the institutions will not make it easy on you leaving.

To leave Facebook is akin to leaving the mafia you find yourself in, if you go by the many hoops they try to make you jump through to delete your profile. It’s such a cynical ploy, and an understatement on how they perceive you and your attention.

Unflappable in their relentless attempts to derail your finite attention. They make it near impossible to take what is yours and leave. But enough is enough.

I am compelled to write down my version of what I went through to simply delete my Facebook profile, since (shockingly, despite being extremely social-media savvy) it took me a few Google searches, rifling through Facebook’s own documentation, and sighing bemusedly at how folks who work there get a good night’s sleep.


Three Clicks to Delete your Facebook Profile:


Here’s a Cliff’s Notes version on how to delete your Facebook profile. I wish I had this when I was attempting to do just that. Amazing, how much leeway we give bad faith operators in power, in this world. But, I digress.

Step 1: Find your “Settings & Privacy” (Top Right Hand Corner), then “Privacy Shortcuts”

Strange, yet obscure way to hide your delete Facebook button. But, I’ll go with this flow. The word “shortcuts” also throws you off, and having “Privacy Checkup” right above, also makes you wonder which road to take.

Masterfully deceptive, egregiously stupid, and (I bet) extremely effective, at dissuading you and making you want to give up, before you even begin. But, fear not, I got you and will lead you to the promised land.

Hit “Settings & Privacy,” then “Privacy Shortcuts.”

Once you figure out “Privacy Shortcuts” is the magic door that will lead to your escape, you are confounded by this page. Now, this is the entire page on my desktop iMac and a cursory glance (will NOT show you the delete button). Go on… I’ll wait.

Also, the category to place it under “Tools to help you control your privacy and security on Facebook” is also so intentionally misleading to make you wanna throw up. Regardless, scrolling down just a second, scrolled all the way to the bottom, under a sub-heading that says “Your Facebook Information” — “View or download your Facebook information at any time.” Wow. The mind boggles at such a brazenly disingenuous ploy to throw you off.

But, if you persist, and don’t blink, you’ll see the “Delete your account and information” before it disappears.

Step 3: Download Information, “Delete Account”

If you’ve come this far, you’re that much closer to deleting your Facebook account. Now all that stands between you and peace-of-mind, is to Download your information before hitting Delete. As you can see I had 1500 photos and 2500 posts, which I chose to download (just in case), but on perusing them I realize I had stopped uploading my pics to Facebook a while back, roughly 10 years, and these photos were good to have, but I could have lived without em.

I suspect your experience may vary. Regardless, hit that Download button, before you consider permanently deleting your Facebook account.

And, just like that you’re just a click away from deleting 17 years of time spent (some fruitful), and a lot of wasteful minutes across the Mark Zuckerberg Universe (MZU).

Hit Delete, and, just like that — “Serenity Now.” I haven’t thought about it for a second since, and I doubt I ever will.


Matters of Mental Health


I’ve written about my odyssey through mental health, across grief and time, over a year ago 6. A couple of things 7 have changed since then.

A global pandemic, civil strife, rogue actors, bad faith, and Orwellian technology that knows no bounds, has no keepers and brooks no maker of it. But, people chose to react to chaos in different ways. My initial reaction, and I think for a lot of us, in the early disorienting months (Feb – May 2020) were zoom happy hours, and that goes for virtual habits, including ones inhabited by the social algorithm.

But, this abundance, this fantasy, these distractions fed by any of those sources only causes the chaos to spread. In the middle of chaos, only stillness matters.

  • Stillness matters. It surfaces meaning.
    • Abundance messes with our minds. The world doesn’t live with abundance, and scarcity is a feature, not a bug. Pain & Grief, might be the highest versions of this, and possess deep meaning to life & death. But, the only way we can confront that is in stillness.
    • What the algorithm seems to promise, is a fantasy, and it’s time we saw it for what it is.
  • Dependence isn’t good.
    • I realize how much I depend on Facebook Connect to log into sites, and increasingly on voice-activated Alexa and Portal, understanding both Facebook and Amazon now hear every word I speak. And, just like in any abusive relationship, being dependent, or co-dependent is not something one should take for granted. It’s better late than never.
  • A bad friend, is deleterious to health
    • Alcohol, cigarettes, Facebook. Or the Algorithm.
    • The algorithm is worse than alcohol. It’s worse than cigarettes. And, please don’t say we were not warned. It’s time to quit relationships that don’t serve us well.

Just the process of extricating myself from the Facebook rabbit-hole was reminder enough that this was an abusive relationship that has gone on for too long.

But, as I’d mentioned in an earlier post, unfriending Facebook has its immense benefits to mental health. More than alcohol, more than cigarettes, more than eating habits (salt & sugar), more than our physical well-being, the “algorithm” slowly, but surely wraps itself around how we process the world itself. We find ourselves staring into Medusa’s eyes, turning into stone, and the sooner we curb this enthusiasm for distraction, and fashion it after our purpose; the better.


Dylan: ’Til our error we clearly learn


As an early part of LinkedIn, a huge Twitter evangelist (from back in the day to now), social media continues to be a critical part of my daily life and work. But, there’s a difference between that naive take on social networking, with which I was schooled, to today’s attention land-grab, that has me (and many folks I know), rethink the purpose of social media itself.

Someday in the (near) future, we’ll look at this experiment in the human condition, giving kids iPhones like doing out cigarettes, and turning a blind eye to the various genocides that large behemoths have turned a blind eye to, as atrocious.

But, for starters, I wanna reclaim my attention.

For what am I, without my thoughts.

As with all things in life, I’ll let Bob Dylan bring it home 8, spittin’ words of wisdom on technology, our abuse of it, and what it all means.

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way

Now he's hell-bent for destruction, he's afraid and confused
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill
And all he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies

Leave no stone unturned
May be an actor in a plot
That might be all that you got
'Til your error you clearly learn

I, for one, am in no mood to make the choice to repeat my mistakes, spending time blithely whether it’s on vices we entrust with a lot of good faith — whether it’s Instagram or alcohol. So, goodbye and good luck to Mark, his minions, and my next glass of scotch.

Good Night, and Good Luck!


  1. 17 years in, though a phantom-limb phenomenon at this time, it’s a fully-grown teenager if I had a child at that point in my life, and it’s strange that it has accompanies a lot of my wins and successes in these years past. Still, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Fin. ↩︎
  2. Who doesn’t remember Facebook’s original “wall” posts, before “the feed” took over. Here’s a great piece by Taylor Lorenz, currently at The New York Times, on the day the wall died. “Sahil Kapur, a journalist in Washington, D.C., echoed Zoe’s sentiment: “Posting on someone’s Wall is more about public consumption than a real conversation. The wall did have a certain appeal when Facebook was a tighter-knit community of college students, but that changed.” ↩︎
  3. Coming from a company at its peak at the D8 Conference in 2010, when they had just surpassed Microsoft as the most valuable company in the world, might seem specious. But, Steve is right about one thing, no company has unlimited resources. No human, has unlimited attention. And, focus, is imperative for any and every goal one has in life. ↩︎
  4. Yep, that was Al Capone who said it. ↩︎
  5. As a recovering Catholic, I understand the role dogma plays in the vice-like grip that religions have on your “soul,” and hence your actions, your inability to make choices as you might freely. ↩︎
  6. Losing a parent, for the first time, will be the hardest thing you ever deal with in your life. The ground beneath your feet, and mind, shifts irrevocably. Now, toss in a breakup, work turbulence and you have a perfect storm. I did, and this was before the pandemic. Meditation, running and staying fit — mentally and physically — saved my ass and my life, arguably ↩︎
  7. Finding passion in career and a partner unlike any, is a start, and boy, did 2021 make up for 2020’s absolute decimation ↩︎
  8. Dylan’s “License to Kill” is a diatribe against technology’s wayward eye when we have major problems right here on planet earth. How resonant today, when there’s a debate about billionaire’s pet projects to Mars and the Moon, when we are faced with climate change, a pandemic and political unrest. ↩︎

Filed under: Facebook, Facebook, HOW-TO Use Social Media, Mark Zuckerberg, Mental Health, Productivity, Productivity Tools, Public Relations, Social Media Tools, TikTok, , , ,

All Roads lead to [[Roam]] Research

Why Roam Research is the future of project management, note-taking and to-dos

  • To-do’s don’t work.
  • Project Management tools don’t work.1
  • Note taking apps do not work

But… Roam Research just might be the Swiss-Army Productivity Knife we’ve all been waiting for.

The four most beautiful words in the English language are ‘I told you so.’ – Gore Vidal

Who doesn’t love discovering a music or stand-up act before the world does 2 LinkedIn (2006), Facebook (2006), Twitter (2007), Spotify (2011), Quora (2012) have been products I fell in love with before the world did, but I think I found myself my next big obsession – [[Roam Research]] – that others might discover in the years to come.


The first draft of life. Roam Research.


A few months ago, stumbling upon a serendipitous tweet, I dove head-first into [[Roam Research]].

A few minutes of exploration later, and $15 of monthly-subscription lighter, I found myself haphazardly and confusedly creating a “root folder” in Roam Research.

Fast forward to 3 months later, I live my work and (slowly, personal life managed) on Roam Research and can’t imagine starting any work day without Roam.

This is the post I wish I had read when I got started.

Screen Shot 2021-10-24 at 8.47.10 PM


Notion is basically lipstick on a Word Doc! 3


It’s not fair to compare Roam to Notion. Or Asana. Or Todoist.

But, as a platform for connecting-the-dots of life 4, Roam somehow out-performs all of the above at their job, and more.

The problem Roam solves is vastly different from what Notion (a better designed & prettier Microsoft Office or Google Suite of productivity docs) solve, or Medium (a beautiful WYSIWYG editor for organizing thoughts), or Todoist (a robust task management app) try to accomplish, and to be honest they all fall short because of one fundamental flaw in how we work. They are all beautiful siloes.

An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood.

That sticks, right in there somewhere.

[he points to his head] – Dom Cobb, Inception

There’s many a slip/s between the moment an idea/s has “taken hold of your brain” to “fully formed, fully understood.”

Enter Roam Research.


Now what does Roam do?


How do we build a platform that makes it trivial to track-download those ideas and process them effectively, without dropping them into beautiful lists of to-dos, notes, and projects?! The challenge being each of those categories of information (to-dos, notes, and projects) interact with one another, but not seamlessly and live in separate islands, including the original silo which is pen-and-paper.

Roam connects the dots between islands of ideas

Roam is a breakthrough in that it allows us to navigate each of these islands of different shapes & sizes (to-dos, notes and projects) by atomizing how each of them are built – from a checklist. Not only does Roam make it trivial to input these ideas mindfully 5 outside of their siloes (like with pen & paper, but better – onto a canvas for drawing upon them with structured data.6), and a simple suite of under-the-hood Easter eggs that pop up at just the right time to get shit done (work or life) and manipulate any idea.

Since forever, we’ve done tasks, projects and every single day, in one haphazard way: ideally, by putting pen-to-paper. Then Microsoft Office, brought the hurt to workplace “productivity,” to be followed by a lighter version — Google Docs. And more recently Notion has created a prettier version of Office (not to be outdone, MS Office ripped off Notion just this past week, to strangely rave reviews and dull re-looped critiques 7).

But, then imagine a near perfect way to capture your thoughts, process intelligence and get shit done — in the moment, through every moment of your life?! It’s almost like Anthony Bourdain describing the In’N Out burger:

Bourdain orders his burger “animal style” — a double patty with extra Thousand Island sauce and pickles. He divulged what he loves most about the burger. “This cheese-like substance is just perfect,” he said. “This is like a ballistic missile … a perfectly designed protein delivery system. – Anthony Bourdain 8

Roam is that ballistic missile perfectly designed for downloading ideas, impelled at completion. 9


What Office could not, and Notion does not; Roam does… 10


Targeted, flexible, multi-layered, Roam is “Notion meets Todoist meets Asana” with agenda, purpose and goals. 11

By shifting all your writing into a bulleted list, and giving you the ability to seamlessly vary that list, Roam reclaims your attention from the tyranny of the blank piece of paper that has writers shudder before writer’s block, and cedes immense control back to you. By also giving all that is needed back to the keyboard makes trivial what might have (until now), taken different iOS apps, desktop apps, and a moleskine notebook to accomplish; a seamless mind-meld between your thoughts and fingertips.

Imagine that, but for every idea that permeates your brain, every idea worth taking down, and because of their mutual links you can jot down and literally “connect the dots” (whether it’s tagged by date or topics, or whole sentences and paragraphs – more on that in just a second.) In the public sphere, that’s Twitter.

In the private sphere, that’s Roam. And I can’t wait to see how that might translate to the work sphere.

Microsoft Word or its online evolution Google Docs is quite literally that blank piece of paper, while both Medium and Notion have prettied things up a bit, without reinventing the original grammar of Word which has served its purpose, but it’s time for the Tesla, not a prettier horse.12

Note taking for me has shifted away from [[Google Docs]] and each time I work on [[Notion]] I realize their immense disadvantages to working seamlessly on a platform like [[Roam]]. It is impossible for any other platform for you to basically get started creating, weaving and connecting ideas without you having to hit a Command-F to File or Scroll to Search or Discover.


Here’s how Roam’s Tesla fares against all previous productivity islands.


Roam’s Swiss-Army-Knife of Five:


Roam differs from Word or Docs or Notion in its minimalist interface (no bells, no whistles, no command-F drop-down from a mouseovers and clicks) that belies the powerful mapping engine powering it, that respond to the click of your keys. (snap of your fingers allusions)

Here’s the five-step crash-course, I wish I had at my fingertips when I jumped on the Roam bandwagon, that might have speeded up my learning times exponential.

Five tools in your tool-belt that will get you humming along your Roam journey in no time. My only $0.02, don’t think twice, don’t overthink, don’t over-plan, just start typing…


1. Pick a Topic, Start a Page: Hit the [[ ]] running…


Imagine being able to create new pages on the fly, without hitting Command-F (File), Open New, and create a new document, or toggle between folders unsure of where you’ve these documents saved, but is there a better way to do this right now.

The framework of Roam Research is built on its bulleted checklists, but more importantly on its bi-directional Wikipedia-like links that can be spontaneously created with the subtle tap of [[ ]].

Whether it’s a mini-rolodex or creating groups of individuals around specific categories, words, book reviews, you name it, create a topic, launch a page, while you generate your ideas. I use it as a mini-rolodex, so I add the job title before the name, I create and tag groups of individuals (so folks who are in Sales, etc.) I even use it for all rough drafts of posts I eventually end up writing, including this very post you’re reading.

The rough draft of everything I think; I build and create on Roam Research, starts with a pair of [[ ]].

It’s interesting that V2 or V3 of every idea goes to different apps:

  • Writing: iA Writer, then WordPress
  • Projects: Emails, Docs, Notion (at times) depends on who I’m sending this to
  • To-dos: Rarely, todoist, for the most part all of my to-dos are reviewed and check-listed on Roam Research

It’s hard to explain Roam to someone who hasn’t used it before, Before I continue, I have to warn the users here, that unlike Notion or Google Docs, there is no freemium version of Roam, so be prepared to pay up-front a subscription to enjoy the benefits of Roam, but rest assured, I don’t see myself working on any other product for note taking (Google Docs), Task and Project Management (Todoist), and everything else under the sun.

Roam is as good as your bulleted checklists and topics (like Wikipedia, but imagine for your personal and work-life), and by just typing those magical [[ ]] keys yields a satisfying Pavlovian response the way that red notifications icon felt on Facebook back in the day. 13


While Google Docs, Notion and others are basically “better, faster horses,” 14, what Roam seems to do is build a new grammar of productivity from the ground up.

And, that leads to a network graph of ideas, unlike any I have seen since my days working at a social network or two. The beauty of these brackets and the chance to start off on topics, is the rich contextual data that accrues that one can see at the bottom of each page.

Over time, I’ve also found myself auto-creating a page for each day, which ties back to making Roam a productivity tool. Creating todos, is as easy as Shift-Enter that toggles through a to-do, done and none.

To me, this is where the magic begins, the 140 character magical spin on documentation itself from Roam. Take Roam for a spin, and in a few days, either the double bracket, or there’s a Chrome extension, that creates a double-bracket, when you hashtag (I know, most of you are rolling your eyes, but when you hit that Easter egg, the productivity gains are immense.

For the first time, in my life, my browser has truly become a moleskine notebook, where I don’t have to toggle between taking notes with a pen-and-paper, staring at my iMac browser screen, but it’s all on Roam, and the keys fly as fast as my mind can.

It’s liberating. And, frankly, this post doesn’t do it justice.


2. Finding a needle (word) in a haystack (block): Double Brackets (())


Now imagine losing your thoughts & ideas in paragraphs, making it more difficult to bring them back up on command, since [[topics]] don’t necessarily tell the full story, but what if you were able to bring up paragraphs or blocks on command by just opening up (()) not just the (it’s called “blocks” here), and imagine being able to at random call up each block that searches and pulls up relevant blocks that might have otherwise been lost.

Imagine a tool that basically allows you to do all of the above three seemingly incongruous goals, and blend them into a daily stream-of-consciousness (yes, seems impossible) that somehow gets things done, while allowing you time to ponder over ideas you’re mulling over (whether it’s a blog post – all of my draft V1s start on Roam) or projects you’re planning at work, events you host, I could go on.

This is basically the culmination of what I described as the fundamental issue with to-do apps. Zooming out and zooming back in to our lives is a constant battle & challenge, but I think, I’ve finally found a tool that allows me to do just that.

Now granted, some of you may be intimidated by even trying out Roam Research. The team seems to revel in the community finding itself, vs. building communities (like Notion seems to be so good at doing), so consider the next five tips and tricks, what I’ve learned in the past 3 months that I slowly Easter-egg’d my way into so you don’t have to…

This is a pretty easy way to master the fundamentals of what makes Roam Research such a powerful tool to accomplish all of the above three – note taking, to-dos and project management – and frankly, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.


3. All Life is a Routine: Double Semi-Colons;;


All of life is a routine. Or a habit.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.” – Gandhi

Somehow Roam gets it, and make it trivial to harness its power.

For the life of me, I’ve tried to figure out life-management, that has taken different shapes and forms from Things to Todoist (most recently), tied to RescueTime, but they all hit upon a fundamental snag — context switching and zoom-in and out of our thoughts — what if there’s a way to go from thoughts to tasks to projects to checklists while you’re on the topic and out and in.

Let me give you an example: tasks are recursive projects that might range from a broken stove knob to a major home renovation. They also slip-and-slide priorities to projects to calendars to time itself. It’s one giant hairball that just cannot be undone, until the very framework and its various parts have been convincingly redrawn.

Every single day, pre-Roam Research, I used a different set of tools for note taking, to-dos and project management, and I must have tried a whole slew of them, and all of them failing, since they were separate islands and they never connected.

Routines have a very important place in life. To-dos, time management systems, project management can all be made more efficient through routines, and no time management app makes it easy to create-and-recall routines as Roam does, and only by being immersed in this environment and using routlines for what they’re worth might one recognize its power.

This has to be my easiest time-saver

  • Emails you send (before an event)
  • Processes and steps you need to set up (during an event, before an event)
  • Daily Top 3 tasks to accomplish
    • Ditto for the week

Just like the iPhone made text an indelible part of our lives and relegated phone calls to the merely urgent, and much like the Macintosh made typewriters irrelevant while making keyboard usage ubiquitous. Roam makes the creation and re-creation of routines and habits trivial from the get-go, what a liberating thought that is but I’ve never seen the ease with which one can create a routine, through keyboard shortcuts.15


4. Tables, Kanban, Pomodoro, on the fly: Double Curly Brackets


The last two features I’ll bring up, might seem trivial at first glance, but I bring them up as an example to showcase the power of Roam Research as a platform for productivity.

Evernote is a popular one that many swear by, I’ve personally only briefly used that app, but there are many others. For me, over the last couple of years, it came down to my favorite Moleskine notebook and pen, which truly works to highlight the day’s Top 10 and any other notes that need taken down.

But a moleskine’s advantage (focus) is betrayed by the inability to link to ideas (I know Moleskine has an app that allows to upload your note taking) a digitized moleskine but again it does not solve the fundamental problem, and something that requires specialized hardware and a subscription that I don’t plan on buying.

While creating a table on Roam Research is as easy, as

{{table}}

Yep, hit Enter, and it’ll guide you through how to type in the headings and the respective entry points for a table. But the beauty of Roam Research is how trivial they’ve made the idea of creating a table.

Ditto for a {{Kanban}} table. Or a {{pomo}}doro timer, in case you wish to time your writing a blog post.


5. Isn’t Research All About The Highlights: Command-H


Life needs a highlighter. What I’ve always envisioned in a modern moleskin is the ability to highlight as we go, and it’s always been impossible to do with any of the task management apps I’ve tried thus far. Just select the sentence, and hit “Command-H”

Imagine a tool that basically allows you to do all of the above three seemingly incongruous goals, and blend them into a daily stream-of-consciousness (yes, seems impossible) that somehow gets things done, while allowing you time to ponder over ideas you’re mulling over (whether it’s a blog post – all of my draft V1s start on Roam) or projects you’re planning at work, events you host, I could go on.

This is basically the culmination of what I described as the fundamental issue with to-do apps. Zooming out and zooming back in to our lives is a constant battle & challenge, but I think, I’ve finally found a tool that allows me to do just that.

Now granted, some of you may be intimidated by even trying out Roam Research. The team seems to revel in the community finding itself, vs. building communities (like Notion seems to be so good at doing), so consider the next five tips and tricks, what I’ve learned in the past 3 months that I slowly Easter-egg’d my way into so you don’t have to…

This is a pretty easy way to master the fundamentals of what makes Roam Research such a powerful tool to accomplish all of the above three – note taking, to-dos and project management – and frankly, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.

The reason being it’s always been impossible to context switch rapidly, especially and most importantly, directly from your keyboard. So you can go from [[Topics]] to ((Blocks and Paragraphs)) to ;;Templates for Routines, and {{Kanban & Tables}} back to a single minded Focus has never been possible, and never from the comfort & luxury of your keyboard.

And the ability to have a daily Top 5 and then some, and then highlight the one you’re working on, allows you to stay focused for as long as you need.

And if you need a timer, all you need is {{timer}} at your hand. Or a {{POMO}}

See the list goes on… Regardless, like a blank sheet of paper, Roam does feel a bit intimidating when you start, and over the course of 3 months I’ve learned what I wish I had known at the start. Building an app ecosystem related to tasks might just takes this to another level.

The key to me, is taking this hyper-invested community of theirs, and move into the mainstream. This post of mine, is just a simple way to describe what has worked so effectively for me — this Swiss Army Knife of Five above.

The four saddest words in the English language, “It might have been.” – Poet John Greenleaf Whittier 16


The Promise of [[Roam]]: Roam is the iPhone to Notion’s Blackberry


Roam’s only competition is itself, and a timeline that competes against Google Docs, who might throw a wrench in the works. But, they are unlikely to move as fast as a nimble competitor like Roam.

What else can they make trivial

To me this is the power of Roam. Any thought process that one can think: topics of interest, blocks of ideas, routines and habits, have been trivialized to a point where your keyboard does the work that normally felt intuitive to pen-and-paper-and-moleskine-notebook.

Ditto for productivity, I feel if they play their cards right, Roam is a far more efficient way to get things done (GTD) than any other tool I’ve ever tried. And if it is, why wouldn’t you make it easy for teams to collaborate off of, and imo that’s exactly what its founding teams would like to do, albeit with religious fervor.

So, what can one expect from Roam Research in the future, and more specifically, what do I wish to see in its North Star.

With a switch of the keys, {{}} or should I say, double curly brackets opens up a world of features that can be summoned at a moment’s notice. Ironically, as well as they connect the various islands of thought on a blank webpage, Roam is the ideal version of Google Docs.

  1. For example: Just this past Sunday, I created a quick overview of my week’s writing with links and a quick hashtag [[time-blocks]] I have created for myself to better manage my time (both at work and in life).
  2. Imagine creating a table on the fly while you let your ideas do the typing. I’ve truly never felt more liberated than when I stumbled upon this easter egg, while planning a sequence of events for the upcoming quarter.
  3. Collaboration (I’d hope) is a simple addition to the foundation they’re building. I find it a huge hassle that I can’t easily share my writing with my peers, colleagues, at work, and I find myself and my content stuck on Roam Island. Ironic, as it may seem.

There’s just so much that Roam could be, and already is, and that can be its greatest undoing as it is its greatest strength. That blank sheet of paper, needs to be defined and communicated effectively to its legions of fans. I see Roam, the way I saw the users of LinkedIn, when I started there back in the day — 2006. Most of LinkedIn’s users were a very active cult of open-networkers (I’m not making this up), and the goal was to create a brand that transcended this core group of users to all professionals, which LinkedIn did.

Ditto for Twitter, that is the closest to the ethos & brand that Roam could emulate. Take for example, how mainstream Twitter’s hashtag and @ mention seem these days, something I’d have never imagined back in the day, when I started using it at SXSW within a core group of insular techie users!

I can’t wait to see what the team at Roam, builds next. But, I’m sure there’s no ceiling for what they can build, but the devil (is always) in the details and execution. And, I am thrilled to continue being an avid paid user of this amazing product.

Just gimme more.


  1. By some estimates, the operations economy is going to be far eclipsed by a project economy and tools to enable these projects are going to become the next Microsoft or Google in the workplace. ↩︎
  2. I remember seeing Abel Tesfaye, way before he became known as The Weeknd, and that’s how I feel about technology worthy of evangelism. ↩︎
  3. Love the allusion to a phrase that has gotten quite a few people into hot water, no pun intended, including President Obama in 2008. That said, I reiterate the absolute hot mess that is Notion, as if “’A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog,’ meaning, ‘Circumstances do not alter a man’s nature, nor even his manners.’” proving Charles Spurgeon right, via his 1887 compendium of proverbs, The Salt Cellars. ↩︎
  4. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” – Steve Jobs. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs is from his Stanford Commencement speech that can be found in its entirety here ↩︎
  5. This is vastly different from a to-do app like todoist that makes it trivial to add your ideas from any source, but sometimes constraints are good. They focus the mind on a stack-ranked list, as opposed to adding a bunch of to-dos from every source imaginable only for you to declare bankruptcy ↩︎
  6. Ironically, “Canvas” is what Microsoft Loop – their Notion clone – often calls itself when painting a new vision of office productivity ↩︎
  7. Microsoft Loop is a new Office app for the hybrid work era, via The Verge. “These collaborative Loop components have been the dream of Microsoft for the past couple of years, and it’s clear the company has been adjusting how Loop works to fit the realities of pandemic life. A central Microsoft Loop hub looks like an improved way to track and organize these components — and a clear response to the new hybrid work era to which many businesses are adjusting and competition like Notion.” by @tomwarren ↩︎
  8. Known for his brash, yet honest delivery, Bourdain sets us straight on what makes the In’N Out Burger above and beyond, the best at what it does, via Eater. ↩︎
  9. Getting Things Done (GTD) was a “work-life management system that prioritizes clarity by eliminating chaos that is our heads. Think of it as the Marie Kondo technique for your brain. ↩︎
  10. I’m going to caveat this entire post both with “I told you so,” and this has been my experience. For many MS Office might out of habit, be the norm, and for others Notion might have created an ideal community for habit, but if you were to start from scratch and define “that productivity tool” that has it all; it has to be Roam ↩︎
  11. I remember the early days of both LinkedIn & Twitter, there was no existent grammar to describe them both. They both evolved organically through stellar leadership into what they are today, but no one knew what they were, just that they were incredibly powerful tools and you knew someday they’d fulfil their potential given great parenting. Ditto for Roam; it feels difficult to describe to others, which might drive some folks away, but I hope to put a spin on it, that show folks what I see today. ↩︎
  12. I do understand that the team at Notion has built a great platform that works so well, for so many professionals, here’s an example; but again, so has Microsoft and Google. ↩︎
  13. I wrote about that red notification icon that might have been an attractive addition to Facebook on Facebook that was geared towards that dopamine hit ↩︎
  14. Yes, Henry Ford might have used a variation of the quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” but trust me all that some people want is a faster horse. Maybe some day they might consider a Model T, or a Tesla, but for the majority of folks we are selling productivity tools to, they just might want a better, faster, prettier Google Doc. ↩︎
  15. Mobile Roam: I’d so love for Roam to release an iOS app, since I can’t imagine the speed benefits of creating routines or any of the other time benefits unleashed by Roam Research. A browser is a great way to get your ideas through, but the explosive power of Roam can best be harnessed on mobile and it’s going to be a herculean task to make that switch seamlessly. Templates in Roam, via hereAlso Capiche ↩︎
  16. Via Quote Investigator: In the passage above Mancroft also referred to “the saddest words” which he linked to Bret Harte. It was true that Harte wrote a comment on this topic; however, he was reacting to an 1854 remark by the poet John Greenleaf Whittier who proclaimed that the saddest words were “It might have been”. ↩︎

Filed under: Knowledge Networks, New Products, Productivity, Productivity Tools, Roam Research, What's New in Social Media, Writing, , , , , , ,

Covid Made Me Do It: Life, Love & Work

Purpose. The Only Road 2020’s Dumpster Fires Led Us To and Why!

By good rights I ought not to have so much
Put on me, but there seems no other way.
Len says one steady pull more ought to do it. 55
He says the best way out is always through.

This post has been a long time coming… But I’d like to talk about three significant updates in my life, real quick, as yet another exciting week looms ahead, while an “atmospheric river ” of torrential rains batter the Bay, but my thoughts remain fixed on words I have to say:

  1. Work: I recently started as Head of Brand & Community at Spero Ventures
  2. Love: Got engaged
  3. Life: Got better at finding my community; pursuing meaning.

“You can’t use an old map to explore a new world.” — Albert Einstein

But more importantly, this is about a few good lessons learned in the eye of the storm while everything spun around. In every aspect above, there was something meaningful I learned, which might dovetail with your experience.

One crisis at a time.

As Robert Frost opined, the ‘best way out is always through,’ and to make it out, one has to process what’s gained. Here’s that journey…

And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through
Leastways for me—and then they’ll be convinced.1


1. [✔️] Work: The best “work” is the work you’d do for free

“When building habits, choose consistency over content. The best book is the one you can’t put down. The best exercise is the one you enjoy doing every day. The best health food is the one you find tasty. The best work is the work you’d do for free.” — @naval

Sometimes, a pandemic is all one needs to clarify what matters in life.

Nothing like a swift kick in the pants to enable one to find what one loves doing. If this pandemic taught us anything it’s that life is rare, life is short, and we better make the best use of our time doing what we love, with folks worth spending time with.

Here’s why:

Three things the pandemic reminded me about life: it is about purpose, purpose and purpose.

It’s as much about the end, as it is about the beginning. And in the middle, is finding purpose.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs


A job ain’t ‘just a job’ no more.

More than ever folks are finding the weight of today, bearing down upon them with the swirl of events ranging from once-in-a-century pandemic to once-in-forever climate change.2

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” – Winston Churchill

And to me it all starts with mental health.3


Flashback: The middle of the pandemic, circa 2020

I thought the panic attacks had subsided. Or, so I told myself.

It was a recurrent nightmare around the time I went through my personal hell.

But, here I was months into the pandemic, towards the end of 2021, yet feeling that familiar sense of claustrophobia wash over me.

Mental health is that nebulous pandora’s box that needs attention, whether you’d like to or not. More recently, my intuition seems to be felt across the country. In large numbers, folks are starting to drop off the work force whether it’s young creators or middle-managers. 4

“It feels like I’m trying to capture this prize, but I don’t know what the prize even is.” – Via The New York Times 5


But I digress…


If the pandemic has taught us any one thing, it’s that this is not the time to be timid, especially if wherever you are is causing you to relive some of the lowest moments in your life.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” — Steve Jobs

None of that is worth it, so when the opportunity came about for a role to build community; yes, that community that first drew me to LinkedIn (I talk about it here to a friend of mine, Jeremiah Owyang, once I started there).

And, work is a critical part of it. After a year of soul-searching, 6 different startups, two of which happened to be LinkedIn & Twitter, I found the isolation goading me on to a sense of meaning & purpose, and hope.

And, like I told Kay when I was negotiating a “job” offer at LinkedIn, the most satisfying experience of my career until now, “I’d do this job for free.” I miss that purpose.


Work comes full circle: Back to Community at Spero Ventures


I’m excited to share that I’m back where I belong — building community — in a role that reminds me the most of my first), building brand and all it can mean for a portfolio of startups at a mission-driven Spero Ventures.

It’s back to my roots, building brand with community; thus, marketing.

The first stage of my career included building communities of our users for startups, from LinkedIn to Twitter. And at Spero, my goal is to build & sustain a mission-driven community of startups in our portfolio. If you’re a startup founder, I’d love to hear your story, and in the coming weeks and months I’ll be at work telling the story of our startups to those who care.

Your career (& life) will come in seasons: seasons of power, seasons of recovery, seasons of grief, seasons of hustle, seasons of rest.

If you’re in a season you don’t love, hang in there. The seasons always, always change. And this one could be teaching you something powerful. — Jenni Gritters

The Future (of work, the work and for me) is clear, regardless of the undulations, cliffs, peaks and lows, finding the equanimity that a mind at peace with itself and its surroundings might offer.

Pursuit of equanimity is what life is all about. And the meaning of work.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the twain are inextricably linked, so where you work matters more than ever before. A job just ain’t a job anymore.

Feel free to connect with me on twitter @mariosundar and of course, reach out on LinkedIn.

Next Week: Finding Love in a Pandemic and More…

Who should be reading my writing?

My next post this week is on my indulgence in @RoamResearch, that has changed the way I work. Very rarely does such a product come along. One that irrevocably changes behavior, that’s addictive, and that one didn’t imagine until it came along.

A snapshot of one of my recent weeks; there’s no competition between what takes up the bulk of my time — Roam Research — during my work hours and out of it

About Mario Sundar:

What a difference a few years make! Between 2005 and 2020, the world changed and so did I. ®

If you know me, you know me. It has been quite a journey since I got my start at LinkedIn in 2005, as their 2nd PR & Marketing hire. 5 “startups” later, including Twitter during its most chaotic (remember the 2016 elections), 5 startups, and right through this pandemic stoked era I find my thoughts on technology evolve.

I will continue blogging here my thoughts on life in the time of Covid-19, evolution of social technology, and my personal focus on health, fitness, and spirituality.

Come, follow me and over 10,000 of my friends on LinkedIn and Twitter. For now, the easiest would be for you to follow me on Twitter @mariosundar.


  1. Robert Frost’s magnificent ode to loneliness and mental health in the magnificent “A Servant to Servants.” ↩︎
  2. From one-of-a-kind tennis stars to Olympians to kids with a camera making TikTok videos for a living, to middle managers across the country, every professional every where, is going through what is in my mind — “The Great Renaissance” — and using the chaos to figure out what truly matters and many of them standing up for it.[^ Via The New York Times: “As people collectively process the devastation of the pandemic, burnout has plagued nearly every corner of the work force. White-collar workers are spontaneously quitting jobs; parents are at a breaking point; hourly and service employees are overworked; and health care professionals are coping with the exhaustion and trauma of being on the front lines of the pandemic.” ↩︎
  3. Going through grief, while battling heartache and career realignment, will set you straight. I wrote about just that pre-pandemic in my post on what a year 2020 was and how it changed me. ↩︎
  4. From tennis’ brightest star Naomi Osaka who withdrew from the French Open in June 2021 to one of the country’s greatest Olympians (and the most decorated gymnast in the world) Simone Biles who withdraws from this year’s Olympics citing mental health, saying “We are human, too” as if that needs to be said. ↩︎
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/08/style/creator-burnout-social-media.html Burnout has affected generations of social media creators. In 2017, Instagram influencers began leaving the platform, saying they were feeling depressed and discouraged. “No one seems to be having any fun anymore on Instagram,” a contributor to the blog This Is Glamorous wrote at the time ↩︎

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Spero Ventures, Thoughts, VC Community, VC Platform, Venture Capital,

Time for Stories: The Next Era Of Social Media is Now!

LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, now Firework

This post has been a long time coming. But I couldn’t have picked a better time.

It’s when the dust settles, that the stories begin.

The past decade has truly been a roller-coaster in my life and work 1; but the highs can be captured in two startups I was a part of, and whose products I’m most passionate about. And my excitement at a third startup, where I started recently.


Preamble

It is 12 years since I started at LinkedIn 2.

A whole eternity has passed between now and then. Social has evolved from the social network to the feed 3 to “the like,” 4, both of which reinvented modern communication, to Twitter’s @ mention, hashtag and threads and finally today’s ubiquitous Stories.

It is these 3 social tech innovations that have signaled a paradigm shift in how we communicate — game-changers — and I’ve been lucky enough to have been a part of two of these seminal moments in technology. Here’s that story, and mine.

Network.

Hashtag.

Stories.


Network. When LinkedIn Changed Work.

I recall when I started at LinkedIn the world was a different place, Twitter wasn’t around, Facebook was still just in colleges and Friendster was a cautionary tale.

LinkedIn didn’t even have a profile picture and there were extensive debates on adding this simple feature! But the six years that followed LinkedIn launched a slew of new features (Hat tip, @adamnash) that is now a mainstay of professional networking whether it was People Search, the world’s first application platform for professionals, game-changing smart features like Who’s Viewed my Profile, or LinkedIn News that originally launched as “LinkedIn Today” (stealth version was called “LinkedIn Signal”) — becoming today’s modern resume and Professional News Magazine in one.

Regardless, it was an exciting part of my journey in social tech, that was made even more special as nearly half a billion professionals across the globe today call LinkedIn, their work home!

Next stop. Twitter!


Hashtag. When Twitter Changed News.

While at LinkedIn, Twitter was starting out and I recall when one of my colleagues, Steve Ganz, brought it back from SXSW in 2006, and gave me a hands-on guide 5.

38,000 Tweets, 13 years, and 7500 followers later, I’m still smitten.

Twitter, as a product, was a slow-burn but a few weeks in and I was hooked and it was clear from day one that it was an information sharing powerhouse. Ditto for Facebook, I remember Jeremiah Owyang, rave about Facebook after an afternoon of golf. But, I digress…

Fast forward, 10 years and there I was at Twitter HQ, as part of the PR team built by Natalie Kerris, Apple veteran, and yes it was thrilling to be a part of a product that only rivals Apple in my daily consumption.

Twitter products that have changed the world, include the world’s acceptance of the @ mention (that was invented by @jack), Retweets (a throwback to the era of blogging where you reblogged others), the hashtag (accidentally invented by Chris Messina) and the Twitter thread (that was accidentally invented by another user, Marc Andreessen).

Walking into their San Francisco offices (seems quaint now in the era of the pandemic where Twitter WFH for life!), but the time I spent there (albeit short-lived) was worth the space Twitter occupies in my heart. And I wish it had been longer… Gotta move.

Next Stop. Now!


Stories. When Snapchat Changed Publishing.

Since Twitter, we have seen 4 years of chaos in the world culminating in an election that just wrapped. I have been at a couple of other startups, including one that competed with Google Photos, and was later acquired by Snapchat.

Speaking of Snapchat.

It is clear that what Snapchat created with Stories has taken the world by storm. Never have I seen a social feature, get copied so thoroughly. And, Snapchat just copied TikTok today.

Just this past year, we have seen every social platform from Pinterest to (yes!) LinkedIn, mimic this feature and pay homage to the most exciting space in social tech; one that is short, compelling and visual.

Tomorrow. The Best Part of Storytelling is Now.

That brings me to the latest startup I joined recentlyFirework.

Through a challenging few years, I find my life and career come full circle within the social space. This is a startup that gives me a chance to once again work by the side of Jerry Luk (co-founder, Firework) who built LinkedIn’s mobile app, back in the day.

Firework sits in the short video and stories space, a grown-up more like Google AMP Stories, than the flippant memes you might see on TikTok. A creative medium that lets publishers tell their boldest new stories in modern ways, while connecting with an emerging global audience in ways that has never been done before!


Stay Tuned for more…

It has been quite a journey since LinkedIn in 2005 and it’s been even more tumultuous in the past 6 months, in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

I will continue blogging my thoughts on life in the time of Covid-19, evolution of social technology, and my personal focus on health, fitness, and spirituality.

So follow me and over 10,000 of my followers and connections on LinkedIn and Twitter. For now, the easiest would be for you to follow me on Twitter @mariosundar.


  1. I recently walked through what made it such a wild ride, and how meditation & running saved me. ↩︎
  2. Here’s an early interview I did with friend & analyst Jeremiah Owyang, where an awkward me talks him through what all this means to tech and me ↩︎
  3. Remember when the chaos erupting from their users when Facebook launched the feed in 2006 ↩︎
  4. The “Like” was created by Bret Taylor, who also created Google Maps, and much later Quip, which sold to Salesforce ↩︎
  5. I also recall LinkedIn co-founder and Head of Product, Allen Blue, giving me a demo of the very first iPhone when he got his before the rest of us, time stood still! ↩︎

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Firework, TikTok, What's New in Social Media

CEOs Good to Great: Who Makes the Cut and Why?

3 Lessons I Learned from Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn

My five years at LinkedIn 1 is the best experience of my career.

One of the biggest reasons: Jeff Weiner.

Here’s my thoughts on what made Jeff the best CEO I’ve ever worked with, as he transitioned his role a month ago to Ryan Roslansky after 11 years of one of the most successful runs as Chief Executive I’ve ever seen.

From L – R: Jeff’s first LinkedIn Hackday judging with Adam Nash hosting, to the picture on the right, arguably (correct me if I’m wrong) Jeff’s first LinkedIn All-Hands in 2009 as he was introduced as CEO by founder Reid Hoffman, and below: my peers in the marketing & comms team, circa 2008: Richard Chen & Krista Canfield

There are Good CEOs, and then there are Great CEOs. Besides, Jeff Weiner, Dan Nye and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), I have worked on Jack Dorsey’s team (Twitter), Andrew Dudum (who now runs Hims) and worked closely with Adam Nash (CEO Wealthfront) during his time at LinkedIn — one of the best product minds I’ve ever seen. But, I can objectively say, Jeff Weiner is as good as it gets as a leader.

Here’s three reasons why and three lessons I learned:


Lesson 1: Compassion As Purpose

Jeff Weiner was always about the High-Order Bit. I talk about that in my post on grief. As Steve Jobs would often say, what is your high-order bit. And Jeff would always ask us to stack-rank prioritize our goals, and if I had to pick the highest-ranked legacy of Jeff’s — it’d have to be compassion.

Harvard Business Review wrote about the “Best Leaders being Great Teachers,” in which they relate a story shared by Mike Gamson 2, who I got to know in 2008 and who went on to lead LinkedIn’s Sales efforts:

Another example comes from Mike Gamson, a senior vice president at LinkedIn, who told Business Insider that his first meeting with the company’s new CEO, Jeff Weiner, involved a two-hour discussion of Buddhist principles. Gamson said he wanted to be a more empathetic leader, and Weiner asked why he wasn’t instead aiming to be more compassionate. The pair explored the difference between those concepts, with recourse to a religious parable.

I have a similar story, though I wish I had the chance to explore spirituality more with Jeff, than just this brief moment during my time at LinkedIn…

The Aha Moment: Breathe In, Breathe Out

Some of you may have read my recent post on how Meditation has become an incredibly important part of my life, helping deal with grief and cope with chaos.

Way before that post, there was this anecdote:

During my time at LinkedIn (since early 2007) I had the opportunity to work with the founding team, executive team, and Jeff during his first few years since his time as acting CEO.

Fast forward, to a particularly high-stakes conversation I was having with Jeff in the middle of a tumultuous period in my life, and (of course) I have a panic attack 3.

I don’t know how other CEOs might have handled it; maybe they’d asked me to collect myself and reschedule the meeting, but Jeff instead helped guide me through composing myself while he suggested breathing techniques that are common to those who meditate, and it helped calm me and got me on to the habit of meditation that I have finally put into consistent practice.

Sure, it felt strange sharing this here, but it’s the tiny moments in life that leave a mark. Of the five years I spent at LinkedIn, this experience is at the top of my list!

Compassion in the Workplace: A Feature, Not a Bug

CEOs also need to recognize that we are in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, stressors mounting by the minute 4, an epidemic of loneliness so desolate that compassion is more relevant now than ever in the history of the workplace.

A group of researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Harvard Medical School released results from a survey they conducted in the second half of May, and 55% of people said they were more stressed than in January, before the virus was perceived to be a widespread threat.

We are living through unprecedented times, when over half of a country’s adults are under a once-in-a-century moment in history and this situation is only likely to continue.

As the workforce transitions into Gen-Z you recognize that unlike prior generations, they care most about personal well being and a work-life balance and more than ever, they crave a sense of purpose. 5. The two biggest takeaways post-pandemic (epidemic of loneliness and the WFH phenomenon) will demand that CEOs be more compassionate, wise and spiritual; the best among them setting an example worth emulating.

Jeff has also created a platform-for-compassion in The Compassion Project for elementary school students across the United States, inspired by the PBS Documentary “A Class Divided;” a classroom experiment in compassion that has its origins in a teacher’s efforts to calm her students and help them understand discrimination and divisiveness in the aftermath of the Martin Luther King assassination.

We’re in a time where people are increasingly being torn apart. People are looking to reinforce their own views by connecting with others that look like them and sound like them. Tribalism, as some would call it, is reinforced through both conventional and new media channels. – Jeff Weiner

Couldn’t agree more. It’s never been more important than in these days Black Lives Matter, where stoked by the fires of circumstance and polarization, we find our deepest insecurities bleed into an epidemic of anxiety.

These circumstances are seeing parents moonlight as teachers while going about their day jobs, a shocking increase abuse, both in homes and in the workplace, as we continue to isolate and expose ourselves to the searing heat of 2020. It is, now more than ever, for all of us (at work and home) to create a platform for compassion in every imaginable scenario.

Great leaders don’t just teach about work—they also proffer deeper wisdom. – Harvard Business Review

Lesson 2: Clarity, Consistency and Curiosity

The very first thing I recall Jeff define as CEO was a clear vision (“Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”) and mission (“Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful”). Remember this was before the IPO, when LinkedIn has 30 million users (that under his leadership has scaled to 700 million users) 6, and the stack-ranked priority, the high-order bit for Jeff was identifying those core values, then sharing that with the leadership team, and as part of his Comms team our priority was disseminating that vision across our entire company.

One Vision, One Mission, Godspeed.

The Vision Jeff entrusted with his teams, and the Mission he demanded we create for ourselves were reiterated over and over again, until you could blurt it out were someone to wake you rudely in the middle of the night.

And everyone in the company knew that 7, as Reid continues:

Jeff says that you build trust through consistency over time. One of the things he said that stuck in my mind was that by the time that you’re getting bored of yourself saying a message, your organization is just beginning to hear it.

And Jeff hired for Mission Sync:

This showed up in how Jeff recruited people to LinkedIn. His pitch wasn’t, “Come work for me.” It was, “Come work together with me on this mission.”

Great Leaders Teach, But Also Relentlessly Learn

Star leaders also take a page from Socrates and teach by asking sharp, relevant questions, often in the course of furthering their own learning. According to a colleague at HCA, Frist “was always asking probing questions to find out what was happening.” He did it to “educate himself, not to make you feel like you were doing something appropriate or inappropriate. It was an educational venture.” 8

Jeff’s product curiosity was always spot-on. Not only was he one of the first few people at LinkedIn, who understood the true import of Twitter that I evangelized internally relentlessly, when everyone was wondering where does fit into the larger corporate storytelling paradigm. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, relates a similar story about Jeff when he first visited Jeff at Yahoo! Network critiquing the product with Jeff’s team 9

Jeff’s reaction was perfect and telling — he was intellectually curious rather than defensive. He showed an intensity of curiosity and learning, especially towards being what I call an infinite learner. And, he wanted his people to talk and interact more than he did, which reflects Jeff’s focus on leading the team, as well as being a part of the team. – Reid Hoffman on Jeff Weiner

Lesson 3: Culture & Community

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, famously asked 10 Jobs during the last few months of his life, thus:

I once asked him what he thought was his most important creation, thinking he would answer the iPad or the Macintosh. Instead he said it was Apple the company. Making an enduring company, he said, was both far harder and more important than making a great product.

And I think Jeff understood that very well, since the day he started at LinkedIn.

Our All-Hands was a big deal. And with Jeff’s arrival, it became the heart-and-soul of LinkedIn’s culture. I briefly had the fortune of working with Jeff on crafting those until my good friend Armen Vartanian took over, and it was clear from Day One, Jeff was going to carry forward the vision and reiterate it in ways — both artful and purposeful — at these gatherings.

The All-Hands wasn’t just an excuse for us to gather, like the Pixar building that Steve Jobs built, but it was a reason to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It was the culture, given who LinkedIn is about connecting every single professional in the world — bigger than all of us professionals working at LinkedIn.

And it worked. And it shows.

How You Go from 100s to 16,000 Employees!

In another distinct way, Jeff’s actions pay homage to the lessons left by Steve Jobs, especially with the way he crafted his transition, to Ryan Roslansky, who came to LinkedIn from Yahoo!

Jobs maintained an excellent and relatively stable executive team during his second tenure at Apple. The more mature and confident he became, the more he surrounded himself with strong, opinionated executives who felt comfortable arguing with him. – There Is No “I” in Steve, Fast Company

Jeff came to LinkedIn that way. With a team in mind, a plan in place and this transition, as Reid suggests was always the best case outcome, and kudos for finding a stellar product leader to carry forward that vision:

Another great lesson I learned from Jeff was the importance of having multiple succession plans for every executive — one for an immediate emergency successor, one for a year down the road, and one for the long-term. Ryan was Jeff’s long-term succession plan. He was Jeff’s first hire after arriving at LinkedIn, and had worked for him at Yahoo for five years before that, so they have a very strong and lasting alliance. – Reid Hoffman

Jeff’s Biggest Legacy is the team he built and is leaving behind. Having briefly crossed paths with Ryan, it’s clear LinkedIn is in great hands.


In Summary; Thank You Jeff!

And, yes, these are all stellar examples of why was trending on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, given the outpouring of gratitude and employees, past and present, sharing their career high — working for Jeff.

Of course, in classic Jeff style, the All-Hands was a huge-send off with singing of Jeff’s favorite song, which did and would have brought tears to the eyes of anyone who had the pleasure of working at LinkedIn with Jeff during a glorious run. No wonder, the hashtag was trending for a while.

This is my story.

For showing me what real leadership is; #ThankYouJeff!

The Last LinkedIn Alumni Reunion Dinner I attended in 2019 with some of the early folks, hope to see Jeff in the future


  1. My alma-mater of over five years, and where I spent my most informative and insightful years as the second PR & Marketing Hire right through to our I.P.O. ↩︎
  2. A great Harvard Business Review by Sydney Finkelstein on what separates the best leaders – the ones that teach ↩︎
  3. Check out how meditation helps me cope with grief, while dealing with a relentless pandemic in 2020 here and how this episode might have been my first foray into meditation ↩︎
  4. Here’s the most recent study on July 1, 2020, that finds 55% of Americans are stressed with numbers shooting up if you’re past 50 years of age ↩︎
  5. Source: Dynamic Signal, “When Gen-Z’ers believe they are surrounded by like-minded people who feel their effort has a purpose, work is less like a job.” ↩︎
  6. Source: Statista and 400 employees (that Jeff scaled to 16,000 employees!), Growth of LinkedIn members from 2009 to 2016 ↩︎
  7. Here in Jeff’s own words that we heard reiterated during those formative years, how and why one should define their Vision, Mission and Values so clearly ↩︎
  8. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor at Tuck School, Dartmouth, writes “Best Leaders are Great Teachers” for the Harvard Business Review, calls out their Socratic approach as well as their compassion ↩︎
  9. I’d highly recommend you check out Reid Hoffman’s LinkedIn post on Learnings from Jeff ↩︎
  10. This Harvard Business Review piece by Walter Isaacson outlines The Real Leadership Lessons of Jobs, which include Focus, Simplify, and Taking Responsibility to the End ↩︎

 

Filed under: Best-of, Jeff Weiner, Latest at LinkedIn, Linkedin, LinkedIn Colleagues, LinkedIn in the News, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Thoughts

2020: Reflections on a Year Gone Wrong!

How I escaped my worst year and what it taught me about 2020

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

2020 was the worst of times!


Table of Contents

2020 is unlike any other year in modern history. It is up there with 1918, 1919 and 1920; the three years suffused by World War I, that got decimated by the Spanish Flu. A pandemic of epic proportions that laid waste to 100 million lives, and came back wave after wave decimating hundreds of thousands more with each subsequent wave two and three times as awful as the first in the spring of 1918 1.

That’s where we find ourselves this beautiful summer morning in 2020. On top of the pandemic rearing its head, we find ourselves in a couple more pandemics; racial and informational, both of which have been exacerbated since the 2016 election leading to the most divisive climate in this nation’s great history.

But you wonder, what was my worst year and what does it have to do with 2020.


2016: The Worst Year of my Life, Until 2020

I lost my Mom.

I lost my Dream Job.

I lost my Girlfriend.

Snapchat from WayBack: Pics From my last trip that reunited me with my parents, sister, and nephew Gabe.

I didn’t see this coming — at all! To lose one of the above, and I’ve seen people lose their minds. To lose all three, albeit slowly, then suddenly and some in parallel; was an earthquake, on top of a tsunami in the middle of a hurricane. And to sit there in the middle of that storm unraveling, was an uncanny experience and one that has steeled me for the rest of my life. In particular, one that has steeled me for 2020.2

“There is no love of life, without despair of life.” – Albert Camus

Here’s my story of 2016, what I learned from it, and how I’m applying it to this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” ― Viktor E. Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning

What I’d have given to not go through those months of distress, losing the most important people in the world to me, seemed cruel and incomprehensible 3, but as cliche as it sounds, those tears were meant to teach.

Turbulence clouds the mind, mists the future, and all I could do was silently spiral into a mental paralysis. As I now connect those dots; when all three had fallen through, it truly felt like falling off of a cliff and I was free-falling. And there was nothing to stop the fall.

And it was at that moment, that I found meditation.


Step 1: Find your High-Order Bit!

Steve Jobs calls it the High-Order Bit. The one that has the power to unlock other powers, exponential across other options. Jeff Weiner, in his very first week at LinkedIn, told all of us to come up with each team’s mission / vision statement, and then figure out our stack-ranked priorities as we re-aligned every part of the organization. And the high-order bit is the one that sits atop that pyramid of priorities.

If you could do just one thing right now, and one thing only with the most impact on every other priority, what’d it be?

For me, that was meditation.4

Fight, Flight or Meditate?

To be honest, at that point in 2016 when the bottom fell out, I wasn’t thinking straight. I was free falling, and my-then-girlfriend-soon-to-be-ex recommended guided meditation with former teacher of hers. And all it took was one session, and the free-falling turned to free-floating. A free association of ideas, possibilities and peace. And since then, I’ve tried my darndest to describe what meditation is, to the uninitiated.

3 Keys to Meditation: The why, the when (it works) and the how of meditation?!

The Why: Bend or Be Broken!

“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” – Confucius

The parables are as old as Time itself, but the lessons are simple, and frankly until you experience that moment of no return, when you lose someone you dearly love and can’t ever see them again; when you walk through and out that door.

That’s when shit feels real.

As Harvard University psychiatrist George Vaillant, describes in the most recent edition of Scientific American, describing the mental health crisis humanity faces, thanks to the pandemic.

A resilient individual resembles a twig with a fresh, green living core. “When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead it springs back and continues growing.” 5

Apparently 2/3rds of individuals recover from traumatic episodes and may even learn from it, but a third of us are lost for months, maybe years.

My own experience from a couple of years ago, could have turned out vastly different, were it not for some opportune decisions I made; regardless, I did lose time to the vicissitudes of trauma. Decisions, like meditation, that came through a lot of soul-searching, a supportive family, and a few good friends that cared about me.

Without them, I’d have been lost, and my writing is an humble effort at educating even one lost soul how I came through that door, and lived to tell the tale.

When you lose a parent (especially, a parent); that’s when all bets are off. The foundation shows its true shaky premise and you have to hold on for dear life, spiritually. But what presents itself as an impossibility — “how could this happen to me,” and “how will I ever get out of this situation,” gives you the ultimate lesson in living — “Let Be.”

The Bard Said it Best: “Let Be”

Hamlet (Act 5, scene 2, 217–224):
Not a whit, we defy augury.6 There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to

come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come — the readiness is all.
Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t

to leave betimes, let be.

Accepting I don’t have all the answers, that where I am isn’t the endgame, that I don’t even have a clue what the endgame is (!), and looking forward into the “abyss” with peace, not fear at the uncertainty — is what meditation teaches us. Much like Yoga isn’t just about the physical solace it provides, nor is Meditation just about calming the mind. It’s about using the storm, to find the calm — the eye of the storm.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape. – Pema Chodron

The When: Meditation is the Cure, The Key is in the Abyss!

“The Arrival of Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” – Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche 7

With apologies to Winston Churchill, “We can all be trusted to do the right thing (in this case, Meditation), once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”

I had tried meditation in the past, but never felt the need for it, nor did I miss it. But, when things got ugly, I frankly had no other alternative, and the more I held on tightly to everything that was slipping, like sand, through my fingers; the more I needed an out, and that’s where meditation came in.

It’s as if someone found the secret to life, locked it in a treasure chest, threw the chest and the key down the abyss. And each time one of us stares into the abyss, we fear it swallows us whole. But, the journey to find the key must be made.

The journey to find the key is the right thing. The only option.

And so does fear. In fact, anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without reference point, experiences groundlessness. – Pema Chodron

And the right thing… is meditation.

There is nowhere to hide.

Sometimes, however, we are cornered; everything falls apart, and we run out of options for escape. At times like that, the most profound spiritual truths seem pretty straightforward and ordinary. There’s nowhere to hide. – Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

There is nowhere to run.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech

Now, meditate.

The How-To Meditate: Zoom out, Zoom in!

Meditation is an invitation to notice when we reach our limit and to not get carried away by hope and fear. – Pema Chodron

The secret to meditation is letting go with focus, and to “not get carried away by hope and fear.” You’re watching your life unfold, without the affectation of your ego. It’s the real world mental equivalent of the Dolly Zoom, best encapsulated by the famous scene in Jaws:

“You can observe more of the background, while keeping the foreground in the same place.”

The Dolly Zoom as you can see describes meditation perfectly. In much the same way as the Dolly Zoom, employs both the telephoto and the wide-angle lenses at the same time, meditation is the deliberate practice to lose yourself-and-your-ego by focusing on two things at once — the foreground of your life, and the background of your life — until they both disappear and you experience this weightless, groundless feeling as described by Pema when you’re fully in the Now-minus-Ego.

The challenge with meditation is that it’s underrated and vastly misunderstood, so many folks let go of the practice before they master it. Let me walk you through my three simple hacks to get started. Stick with this for at least 30 days, and let me know whether it worked or not @mariosundar.

I study Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my mind

I wanna do things for the benefit of all mankind

I say to the willow tree, “Don’t wait for me”

I’m saying to hell with all things that used to be

— “My Own Version of You,” by Bob Dylan

Step 1: Third Eye First, Tune your Spine!

The three steps I outline need to happen at once, and there will be a moment when you subconsciously do all three, but I’m still at the stage where I’m tryna ride this bicycle of my mind, and those moments of blissful riding the mind are few and far in-between.

While there might be a lot of exaggerated stories about the “Third Eye,” the fact of the matter is that it’s a simple hack to focus on a specific point, it could be a mantra (as is common in Transcendental Meditation – that everyone from Howard Stern to Jerry Seinfeld swear by), but the answer is simple — find a word or visual spot to focus.

Personally, I shut my eyes, sit erect on my yoga pillow and focus on a spot between my eyebrows and trust me be — it is not easy to focus for a concentrated period of time on any spot (visual or mantric), and the trick is to pursue that for as long as you can. And if you can do that for more than a few minutes, you’ll see yourself floating away, while focusing on that spot.

Dolly Zoom your mind. Tuning Fork Your Spine!

In yoga meditation, the meditator withdraws the life force (prana) from the sensory and motor nerves — by a process known as pranayama (life-force control) — and directs it to the higher centers of awareness within the spine and brain. – Paramahansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship

That’s where you start. Keep your spine straight and your focus on either a mantra or a visual point between your eyebrows.

Step 2: Empty Your Breath

Equally important, I realize how crucial proper breathing is to achieve the meditative flow, after you hit the first two notes from Step 1. It’s amazing how bad we are at breathing right; anxiety and stress and alcohol and lack of sleep doesn’t help. But meditation can be a bridge to getting better at something so foundational to better living.

Controlled breathing, like what you just practiced, has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment. – New York Times, The Benefits of Controlled Breathing 8

My first experience with this was during a particularly high-stakes conversation I had with Jeff Weiner 9 way back in 2010, who I had the pleasure of working with during my nearly 6 years at LinkedIn, and I recall him asking me to breathe in and out, in a measured way when I was about to have a panic attack (more on my anxiety in a later post). But that worked, and it’s clear why that is the case.

Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol. – New York Times, The Benefits of Controlled Breathing 10

Next week, I’ll outline the modern tools I use to track the effectiveness of my meditation, if you’d like to track that either subscribe to this blog here, or follow me @mariosundar.

Sneak peak (Week of June 29, 2020: Meditation Hardware)

  • The Apple Watch (Tracking Runs, Meditation and Workouts)
  • Core vs. Muse (Tracks Meditation)
  • Komuso Design (Tracks Breathing)

Sneak peak (Week of July 6, 2020: Meditation Software)

  • Headspace vs. Calm
  • Core vs. Muse
  • Transcendental Meditation (TM) vs. Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF)
Step 3: Empty Your Mind

So, the worst year of my life and what it taught me about 2020.

I didn’t think I’d make it out of 2016 in one piece. But, here I am. Thanks to family; thanks to a few close friends. And thanks to my biggest epiphany.

All happiness rests in one place. Between our ears! There’s the rub…

Happiness isn’t a given. Kurosawa, inarguably the greatest writer / filmmaker ever, once said:

“With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. … The script must be something that has the power to do this.”

With bad software between your ears, even the best circumstances life gifts you might be wasted materially, and most definitely spiritually. But with good software buoyed by daily meditation, calm and equanimity, you will take anything life throws at you, and you will create a masterpiece.

Yes, it sure has been a long, hard drive

But someday every thing’s gonna be different

When I paint that masterpiece – Bob Dylan

Since 2016, right through to the Pandemic of 2020…

I ran most days (88% – 92%).

I quit alcohol.

I lost 50 pounds.


Finally, I’m back to writing.

SnapBack to Now: That’s me, 50 pounds lighter, before the Pandemic of 2020, in front of my favorite restaurant

Now, let’s do this all over again! Here we go…

The best way to follow my writing is Twitter. I’m also in the process of redesigning so you can find my writing in your Inbox!Please subscribe to @mariosundar, with 7500 other friends who follow me, or if you’re in Public Relations or Marketing, connect with me on LinkedIn, with 3500 other professionals in our space. I also have a secret project I’ll be launching shortly. Stay tuned.

It’s good to be back.


  1. Source: John Barry’s “The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” that outlines the excruciating spread of a pandemic that took 100 million lives and 5% of the world’s population, with two thirds of lives taken between 18 – 45 years, across three waves in the middle of a World War, via Peter Attia’s excellent podcast — The Drive ↩︎
  2. My experiences resemble this retelling in the New York Times by Eva Holland, Author of “Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear.” I call it “Deliberate Resilience.” ↩︎
  3. Everything at that moment, will feel random, meaningless, surreal, but make no mistake, it is suffused with meaning and it will take years to unwrap. The only gift I wish for you is to be open and curious over the next few years. ↩︎
  4. This is particularly true for those of us, stuck at home, with our inner demons. Sam Lansky, Author of Broken People, nails this dangerous time to slip-and-slide into binge-eating-or-drinking in his terrific TIME piece Stuck With Yourself: The Hidden Price of a Pandemic ↩︎
  5. An introspective Scientific American feature delves into similar themes I discuss in this post on the macro-psychological view of the pandemic and how 2.6 Billion people are coping with anxiety ↩︎
  6. The exact moment where Hamlet recognizes everything is out of his control, and learns in the following lines to accept with grace, and the moment shall arrive. More here ↩︎
  7. A beautiful primer on why “Chaos is Good News” from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche ↩︎
  8. Lesley Alderman, Psychotherapist and New York Times’ contributor, outlines the Breathe-Exhale-Repeat Formula that is a necessary Step 2 in my outline for meditation efficiency ↩︎
  9. Jeff Weiner is currently Executive Chairman at LinkedIn, and I had the pleasure of learning and working with him during the first four years after he began LinkedIn’s comeback from layoffs back in 2008 ↩︎
  10. “Breathing is meditation for people who can’t meditate,” says Dr. Belisa Vranich, author of the book “Breathe”) ↩︎

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn Colleagues, Thoughts, Writing

Five Reasons I ditched Writing App “iA Writer” for “Ulysses!”

Writing and blogging tools have come a long way since I first started using iA Writer, one of the simplest writing tools I could find to publish on WordPress or Medium. Today, there seem to be three writing apps of varying degrees of complexity from left to right that has risen to the top — iA Writer, Ulysses, and Scrivener.

Kafka on Writing or How to Beat Writer's Block
Kafka on Writing or How to Beat Writer’s Block

After some debate, and a few years of using iA Writer, I switched to Ulysses recently since it feels like a grown-up version of iA Writer. It takes the craft of writing seriously, provides an accountability better than any other writing platform and seems to make the inscrutable keyboard-friendly plain text formatting syntax — Markdown just as simple as needed. So, without further ado, here are the five reasons I decided to “upgrade” to Ulysses from iA Writer.

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

Franz Kafka, born on July 3rd and my greatest inspiration to overcoming writer’s block

Five Reasons to Switch to Ulysses!

  • Better Organization: There’s a story to be told about story-writing platforms like iA Writer and Scrivener but Ulysses organizes itself best from the eyes of a writer
    • The Writer’s Journey: The way the app is organized — from personal notes to blogging to writing a book; all the while allowing for random thoughts to permeate an “Inbox” is a terrific way to organize the writing process, regardless of your stage of writing interest.
    • Markdown Onboarding: The challenge at times (for me) with iA Writer was that the organization was rather nebulous around Markdown; 1 that seemingly is a feature, not a bug. Ulysses on the other hand does a pretty good job of educating you on Markdown and distills it down to core features that every writer needs – whether it is adding images, videos, or footnotes (all three of which I had desperately sought to add on iA Writer but constantly lost and finding myself scouring the web for Markdown syntax). Not only does Ulysses guide you while you type in markdown commands but it eases the confusion should you forget the syntax; like when you try to add a URL with the basic syntax, it automatically pops up the URL title bar and you take it from there vs. not knowing if what you did was right.
Markdown to add images on Ulysses
Markdown to add images on Ulysses

I get a distinct feeling, there’s a lot more onboarding magic waiting to happen within Ulysses as I continue to use it, and with the determination to get back into the daily writing game, it was crucial that I had a product that allowed me to see progress being made and that held me accountable.

Onboarding their Subscription and building a community made it worth the price of admission
Onboarding their Subscription and building a community made it worth the price of admission
  • Progress Bar: I love the goal-setting feature which pops up when you hit attachments in the main-screen that allows you to not only tag (which makes for the easiest organization; something that iA Writer was strangely lacking) but also lets you add images (yet another feature that I found missing in iA Writer because previews were almost impossible to do); but most importantly, it allows for goal setting (both in number of characters, but more importantly with a due date for your writing). Believe it or not, the past week has seen me draft over three posts, and being intentional about setting a date/time to start blogging and completing the process truly helps beat back writer’s block.
  • Backup & Version Control: Oddly enough, losing a well-written draft on iA Writer was the trigger that led to my switching apps and one that early users of Microsoft Word might recall. I still can’t find that iA doc which was lost while transferring it across folders on iCloud. And just the fact that Ulysses backs up all its documents with version control was enough for me to switch. Just syncing across devices within iOS isn’t enough (maybe if you’re a real amateur) but it’s the ability to hold the documents in place, for perpetuity that gives a writing app the distinction it deserves.

    It’s like one of my favorite moments from Seinfeld, where Jerry and Elaine mock the reservationist for taking their reservations but not holding it.

    See, you know how to take the reservation; you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation – the holding!

    Anybody can just take em.

     

     

  • Multimedia: Speaking of embedding YouTube videos, the only reason I briefly switched to Medium (more on this later) was their exceptional web editor that allows you to preview any multimedia link (from images to YouTube videos to tweets) right there on the page as will be seen on your published page. That’s a terrific feature and one that iA Writer could care less about (remember, they are the markdown writer — plain text writer) but frankly, most of my posts are social in that they connect to a bunch of images, videos, and tweets as jumping off points for conversations. Ulysses is helpful in embedding / previewing pics, embedding videos (not previewing) and are yet to allow for either on tweets. Regardless, this is a considerable upgrade from the iA Writer interface whose primary goal was not moving from your keyboard but made previewing quite the pain.
  • Quality Pays: Finally, the pricing. The fact is there’s a reason one pays for a Mac vs. a lesser priced PC and that argument has been made before. While iA Writer charges $29.99 for the Mac version, and $4.99 for the iOS Version and I haven’t paid a penny more since I purchased it years ago.

    Ulysses goes a different model — subscriptions! And while I’m not a fan (I frankly don’t have a clue how many apps I have subscribed for that I don’t use!) this is an app I plan to use on a regular basis. And on a feature-by-feature comparison, it wins. Frankly, it wins on their document organization, keywords, and backups, because — words matter. When you pay for quality, it shows. And $39.99 a year, ain’t too bad a price to pay for that.

What’d make it even better

Medium’s web-based editor is most definitely the best WYSIWYG editor on a blogging platform out there. It’s miles ahead of WordPress and that’s their secret sauce. I just wish something as simple as Ulysses or iA Writer will allow Twitter, YouTube and Image embeds (Ulysses allows image and video embeds — but (vid) embeds doesn’t translate to WordPress and it’s not as good as it can get, auto-play can be)

 

Regardless, I have to stress that writing on iA Writer is a terrific way to get into the habit of writing or getting back in the game. And you can always upgrade to Ulysses later. Love both these writing apps!

Tweet-Roll: Further Reading // Writers to Follow

Thanks to the following writers for their work that I reference and include above. But more importantly, this is a mini-version of blog-roll that used to be a great way to find a community of similar writers. When I started my blogging experience, I found a community of early bloggers who were included in my first blog-roll including @jowyang, @annhandley, @chrisbrogan, and of course, the incomparable @guykawasaki. Further reading and cast for this post, below: 

About Me: Thanks for reading. I’m Mario Sundar, Twitter’s 1st Evangelism lead in 2016, also LinkedIn’s 2nd PR guy between 2007 and 2012. I’ve been blogging for over 10 years and these are my thoughts on technology and communications.

If you like my writing, please subscribe, comment or respond here below. Or you can find me @mariosundar on Twitter.

  1. iA Writer aggressively markets itself as a Writer for Markdown and purposefully stays on point, making simple additions like images and videos painful.

Filed under: Business Blogging, New Products, What's New in Social Media, Writing, , ,

Microsoft’s Office Space under Attack!

When was the last time you felt elated about using Microsoft Word, or Microsoft Outlook, or any of the products in the Microsoft Office Space? Never.

Cue classic Office Space printer demolition scene

All of these products were built with an utter disregard to the user experience, much like printers, much like phones in the pre-iPhone era. All of these products have widespread usage within the enterprise but much like the DMV, don’t seem to give a crap about their users’ experience. But that was before the iPhone. The iPhone taught us was that if we build an exceptional product for users, the enterprise is within reach. Focus on the user and the rest will follow.

Into this new dynamic, we find two new extremely buzzy mobile entrants: Slack and Quip.

  • Both Slack and Quip are meant to operate in a Post-PC world.
  • Both Slack and Quip are mobile-first, making their usage on iPhones and iPads as efficient as using them on the desktop.
  • Both Slack and Quip will eventually take on Microsoft Office if they execute well – Quip, by recreating the killer apps (Word and now spreadsheet) as well as the newsfeed (collaboration) while Slack started with messaging and is now moving to own killer apps like document editing and in the future “calendars and task management.”

Jessica Lessin at The Information, seems to think that Slack and messaging apps’ hype is overrated. But I think she’s missing the bigger picture that Slack and Quip are both not just about messaging.

Be leery of products that tout their better messaging experiences. As Arjun Sethi, co-founder of MessageMe who just joined Yahoo told me: “Messaging is secondary. The primary use case cannot be messaging.”

Agreed. But I think in both cases, Slack and Quip, it’d be inaccurate to think their ambitions are relegated to messaging. Office made Bill Gates the richest man on the planet because of the platform they created.

A platform whose crown jewels thus far remain:

  • Killer apps
    • Documents and spreadsheets (Word and Excel)
    • Presentation (Powerpoint)
  • the dots that connect them
    • Email / collaboration (Outlook and OneNote)

That is all there is to this cash cow, the killer apps and the dots that connect them. For Facebook it’s photos and the feed; for LinkedIn, it’s jobs and their enterprise product; and for Apple it’s the Camera and the Phone.

Interesting to see that all of Microsoft’s office products hinged on the ability for people within an organization to collaborate and I believe this fundamental secret sauce is under attack with products like Quip, Slack and Evernote.

Both Slack and Quip, aim to recreate that dynamic from the ground up in a mobile future that Microsoft frankly does not own nor lead anymore. Quip has created the post-PC version of killer apps that drives work. I wouldn’t be surprised if they built the rest of the killer apps mentioned above (they just launched spreadsheets as a premium feature), should they find a demand for it. And once they create the suite, the superior product experience will drive large teams and enterprises to ask for “Quip Inside” to their IT teams, the same way we bugged our IT teams about switching us from Blackberries to iPhones. And we saw how that played out.

What do you think is Slack and Quip’s potential? Are they overhyped?

Postscript: There are others who are also jostling within this space, like Asana (which aims at collaboration from to-dos) and Evernote (which aims at it from note taking), and as someone who has tried the product I find Quip extremely addictive for an Enterprise product and I’ve heard the same about Slack from startups and friends who have been using them. Box and Dropbox are two other pieces to this puzzle from a server side, with Box playing the LinkedIn to Dropbox’s Facebook.

But make no mistake, what we are seeing right now is the Unbundling of Microsoft.

Filed under: New Products, Quip, Slack

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