How To Solve Problems

Lessons from 2 weeks

Hey friends,

This week, I want to talk about how to solve problems. I will assume that you have read Paul Graham’s essays and Marc Andreessen’s ‘It’s Time To Build’. If not, please give it a skim, if not a thorough read.


The past 2 weeks have been energizing. I have gathered focus and clarity to work on meaningful problems. The funny part, though, is that I have not done anything differently.

When I'm not working, I'm reading, which was always the case. When I'm not reading, I'm thinking, which was also the case. Yet, this time, my output has been more productive and impactful than ever before. Plus, I’ve been happier knowing exactly what I want to do.

I think that's because of a laser-pointed focus on two questions:

  1. How to scale large internet businesses to profitability, and
  2. How do power laws impact content-creators' incomes and followings?

Of course, these questions are not important to you, but they are useful comparisons to test your articulation of the things you’re working on. Chances are, if you know precisely what it is you’re trying to do (or solve), you will be able to articulate it simply.

The first filter to learn how to solve problems is to articulate them, clearly.

How did I get here?

I’ve learned three specific lessons on solving problems.

First, learning is unconstrained. You can read 1000 books on machines, and there will still be things you won't know. You will have invested hours, and you will still feel incomplete. If you do this for 10 years, you'd have lost a good chunk of life. Don’t learn for the sake of learning. Find a problem. Articulate it. Try solving it. Whatever is important to learn for the sake of solving the problem, learn it. You’ll thank yourself later.

The other thing I've learned is this: Unless you do something yourself and are willing to fail or get lost in that thing, you will never learn anything. I wrote about this here. The basic idea is that it's easy to write a book on how to swim; it's much harder to, well, swim.

There is no perfect playbook, no perfect answer, no perfect way. There are many playbooks, many ways, many answers. You just have to pick one. Sure, you might pick the wrong one first, but chances are, even if you pick the wrong one, you'll still get ahead than if you don't. Be willing to get lost in the problem. That’s okay. That’s when you’ll find your way out. That’s what will stick.

Finally, don't expect things to come too soon. If it were that easy, it would’ve been done by now. You’re not “wasting time” if you don’t make progress.

To assuage my worries of wasting time, now, I think of myself as an ‘independent researcher’, about which I wrote here. If you’re a researcher, assume that 90% of what you do will not amount to anything. But the 10% that does, will make up for everything. This is liberating.

Stay at it. Don’t expect things too soon. (It took me 2 weeks to articulate the above questions to you.) Of course, as you think about this point, a must-read article is The Calculus of Grit by Venkatesh Rao, that goes much deeper into the idea.

Until next time,


A New Newsletter

I launched another newsletter! This time, I’ll be writing more long-form articles, thinking about and analyzing the tech + media industries. I call it ‘The Media Stack’ for reasons I’ll explain. This newsletter is going to be once-a-month, with 12 solid longform articles published by the end of 2021. Subscribe here.


Ali and I will be releasing 2 new episodes of the podcast by the end of this week. In the meantime, feel free to listen to any of the previous ones here.

Our Commonplace Book

  • Tristan Harris and Yuval Noah Harai are back at it! Do listen to this 2-hour podcast, if you’re down to understanding 2 million years in, well, 2 hours.
  • A lot has happened over the past 2 weeks. If you’d have the time, do read this longform article on The Atlantic to get an in-depth analysis of how history can predict the future.
  • If you’re in the mood for a fun yet deep read, this essay on the meaning of life will be a great read.