Nurturing passions

Passions are activities that bring us joy and can be sustained over a long time. We feel joyful doing these activities because they get us into a "flow state" or "in the zone", where you are fully absorbed, chugging away almost effortlessly. You get there when you achieve a balance between the level of challenge and ability that lets you perform without interruptions and produce desirable results, which in turn motivate you and provide you resources to do more of the activity and improve your ability. 

People who have and pursue passions live more fulfilled, exciting, and joyful lives, which is why it's worthwhile to nurture a few different passions. I say nurture and not just "find" because we don't develop passions by default - we aren't born with them and we don't simply find them. I say nurture a few passions and not just one because it's good to diversify for variety and just in case you lose the ability or interest to pursue some passions. 

There are two main requirements for developing a passion. The first is picking an activity that has the potential to become a passion. And the second is getting over the beginner's hump. 

Picking an activity is important because not all activities have the same potential to become passions. Some activities may have a low flow state as they need a large team, coordination, or a lot of interruptions. Some activities may not have higher states of challenge or rewards. Some activities are more suitable for your physical and mental aptitude, environment, resources, and preferences. Creating (art, music, programming, writing, etc.) and sports seem like the most common domains of flow-full activities.

When you start out on a new activity, you are challenged by the beginner's hump. Your ability is low - your activity is constantly interrupted by needing to look up instructions, get help, tune your tools, make corrections, etc. The substance and quality of your results are also not inspiring enough to keep you going. You may hit similar plateaus and humps at later stages. Deep curiosity or desire, perseverance, good coaches, and peers can help you get over these humps. 

When you find an activity that has passion potential and get over the beginner's hump, congratulations - you have given yourself a wonderful gift of a lifetime of joyful flow states!

Human Body is like a Company

It struck me today that there are many similarities between a human body and a company. Similarities and metaphors are useful because you can extrapolate the understanding of one system, usually a simpler or more understood one, to another. 

The mind (or conscious brain) is like the CEO and executive team. The brain is like middle management. The organs are like various departments. 

The mind, like the CEO, makes infrequent (still multiple times an hour) but consequential judgment decisions, the brain makes more frequent but more habitual calls, and the organs, are like various departments, do routine functions with occasional fire fighting. The vascular and nervous systems help distribute messages and resources. 

The mind, like a CEO, is important but not all-powerful. The mind doesn't have visibility or direct control over the organs (like how much insulin the pancreas is secreting). It largely relies on the brain and organs to function independently and reliably on a day-to-day basis.  Without clarity and regular examinations, the mind may not discover problems until it's too late. The brain, like the middle management, needs coaching and rewards from the mind to establish good routines. The organs rely on the mind and brain to solve larger problems like poor environment, stress, or nutrition, and to keep them coordinated, safe, and well-nourished. Problems in one area usually spill over to problems in other areas, causing a vicious cycle of decline. 

Just like a company needs healthy win-win relationships with an ecosystem of customers, partners, and investors, the body needs a nourishing environment and relationships. 

A healthy body, like a healthy company, is where the mind, brain, and organs are all healthy and working well together and with their environments. 

Start with Why, Then What, Then How

This is one piece of wisdom that's nearly universally relevant for everything we do - personal or professional - but is so often forgotten and worth repeating often. 

Start with Why

What's the goal or problem? Why does it matter? Is it actually important?

This is the foundational step that determines the success of anything we do but is so often missed or glanced over. We get into execution details before understanding why; we get swayed by what others are saying or doing; we continue doing things out of habit, even though they are ineffective or irrelevant. Projects often become chaotic, fail or lose steam during execution because the why isn't clear or important

It's very important to clearly understand, believe in, and align on with stakeholders. One of Amazon's core principles is to "Work Backwards"; i.e. define success and even write up the future press release, and then work backward from that. Clarity on why and where you are going gives you clarity, helps you make decisions through the project, energizes and aligns the team. 

If it's a personal decision, think about what matters to you in life and what kind of life you want. If it's a business decision, think about what's really important to the company and customers now and in the long term. 

Then What

What needs to happen to achieve the outcome? What are the checkboxes and levers to fulfill? What's the 20% that will lead to 80% of outcomes?

This step requires some thoughtful research and prioritization - first deconstruct the problem to deeply understand all the things that matter and then select the ones that matter the most. 

Then How

What's the best way to get to the "whats"? What are the different approaches and pros/cons of each? What is the roadmap, milestones, timelines, owners? How do we keep track and stay in sync?

Oftentimes, alternatives aren't explored, plans aren't detailed enough, or the process isn't well thought out. 

3 crystal balls

Imagine if someone gave you 3 crystal balls and said your life depends on them. If they get dirty or cracked, your life suffers. If they break, your life ends. If they are spotless and well kept, your life will be a joy. 

Now imagine how much you'd care for them. You'd keep them in a safe place, polish and shine them, examine them every day for any damage, and never let anything or anyone harm them. 

It makes life simple, doesn't it? Just take care of 3 crystal balls and all is good! 

I'm now going to give you those 3 crystal balls that determine the quality of your life. 

I can hear some of you groan, "Ah not this mind body spirit hocus pocus again!" or "I already knew that. My grandma told me this." To you all, I say, most of the precious life wisdom is actually simple and know for ages (see Lindy effect). We know them, but we simply don't follow them and chase after the latest trend. Repetition and clarity don't spoil the prayer. So let's dive into why and how we take care of these 3 crystal balls. 

Crystal Ball 1 - Mind

What you call "you" in your mind and what you call life or "reality" is all perceived and created in the mind. Every experience you have is through your mind; therefore the quality of your mind shapes the quality of your life. Think back to when you were sleep-deprived, stressed, or depressed. I'm guessing you didn't have a good life experience during those times. And if you aren't fully present, are you even alive in those moments? 

Crystal Ball 2 - Body

Our mind is inextricably attached to our body. There are nerve signals, hormones, blood, nutrients, and all sort of other things that are constantly exchanged between the mind and the body. Think of the times you were sick, in pain, or exhausted. The health of your body plays a huge role in the quality of your life experience. 

Crystal Ball 3 - Spirit

Spirit is a fluffy term. I define Spirit as what makes life worth living and what makes it worth taking care of the other crystal balls. It's the excitement, love, joy, and purpose that you feel. Think of the times when you felt directionless, demotivated, bored, or stuck. 

These crystals are tightly related and connected!

Your clarity of mind, peace, and joy determines how you take care of your body and fuel your spirits. Your body's health and energy influences your mind and spirit. Your spirit gives you the motivation for a better mind and body. 

Each one improves the other two. But they can also drag each other down in a vicious cycle and you feel like you are in a rut. If that happens, the ball to start is with your body - just start moving every day and the rest will follow. 

Caring for the crystal balls

There's a lot that has been discovered and shared about taking care of these crystal balls. My main advice is to keep it really simple and practicing them regularly. Here are some simple crystal ball care techniques that work well for me: 

  • Attitude: Deep understanding and regular affirmation of the inherent meaninglessness of life and what really matters to you; integrity between what you believe, think, and do; curiosity, optimism, excitement, playfulness; growth mindset. Catching and avoiding stress, judgment, negative talk or thought, or obsession.
  • Routines: Good sleep, exercise, alone thinking time or therapy, time in nature, self-care routines, pleasures and hobbies, vacations, taking care of chores. 
  • Activity: Doing things I enjoy and am excited about, challenging and rewarding pursuits, learning, not overcommitting, being effective in planning and doing stuff. 
  • Community: Company of supportive and joyful well-wishers; caring for others and helping. 
I have written about these in more detail in my other post "Mostly peaceful, often joyful, sometimes upset".

Some insights on team work and decision-making from a game of Codenames

I was playing a few games of Codenames with some colleagues. For those who aren't familiar, Codenames is a game where the "spymaster" can give one clue word that can help their "operatives" guess a bunch of team words (say, blue) while avoiding a bunch of opponent team's words (say, red). It's a wonderful team game that is fun and strategic. 

I was the spymaster in one of the games, meaning I could see all the team words and the opponent team's words and I had to give clues to my team of 5 to make them guess my team's words. It gave me a unique vantage point to observe team discussions, dynamics, and decision-making while knowing the right answer. 

I said "Greece" to hint at "Atlantis" and "State" (not the best clue!). I felt good when a teammate immediately suggested Atlantis and State to the rest of the team. But another teammate more strongly proposed "War" and that Greece is a country and not a state. There was some discussion, then ultimately a vote, War was confidently chosen, and we lost the game. 

1.  Quality of decision-making is separate from the quality of the outcome. You may get an answer right, but only because you lucked out with the wrong process, and vice-versa. Getting it wrong upfront helps as it forces us to examine the quality of decision-making. 

2. Acknowledge that many decisions, by default, are likely to be wrong. Even more true for group decisions as they are subject to group-think and several other biases and flaws. You have to deliberately be rational and rely on logic and data. Think critically and double-check the rationale before pulling the trigger. 

3. Don't get tied to the options you proposed.  The goal is to get to the best option, not your option. Pay attention to what your teammates say, especially the ones who are thoughtful but gentle as their opinions usually get drowned otherwise. 

4. You won't get it right always, but if you optimize for learning and adapting both your decision-making process and knowledge of the domain, you'll get better over time. Codenames is a "kind learning environment", meaning there's an immediate feedback loop that can evaluate the quality of the decisions and the players, and then improve. But most actual business work, by default, is not. Unless you set up experiments or try different hypotheses, you may never learn. 

5. Think several steps ahead, and maybe work backward from the end. As a spymaster, you want to pair the hard to pair words upfront when there are lot more options. You may want to wait on the ambiguous words until the end, as they may become easier when more words are cleared.  

6. Consider all the factors, or as President Bartlet says is West Wing, "Look at the entire board". As a spymaster, you may give a clue that seems right to you, but your teammates may have a different perspective, or there may be an opponent team word that matches the clue better. 

PSA: Social media does NOT represent reality

The majority of us get our news and along with it, our world view, morality, opinions, and daily furies, from scrolling the social feeds across Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Google, and others. Given the amount of exposure, we think media reflects reality. I'm convinced that is absolutely not true. 

There were a couple of recent stories that made me realize how lopsided and low-quality social media is. 

Recently, Eric Adams got nominated for mayor of New York City. If you are on Twitter, you may have not even heard of him because of his nearly absent social media presence and measly sub-100K following. You'd have assumed that Andrew Yang, who ended up fourth in the election with just a fraction of the votes, is going to be the obvious nominee because of the #yanggang fame with 2M fervent followers. 

Another recent study revealed that just 12 people were responsible for the majority of COVID-19 vaccine-related misinformation!

If you are looking to get a balanced and complete picture of the world, social media is not where you will get it. This happens for several reasons, including: 

1. Not all people's views are expressed on social media. Only a portion of the world is on social media and in most user-generated content platforms, <10% of active users actually post content. Most are passive consumers. Some people are overexpressed as they use armies of bots, skilled agencies, paid promotions, or networks to spread their views. 

2. Not all views are equally amplified on social media. There's usually a steep power-law distribution where the top few % of viewed posts get most of the views and there's a long tail of posts that are hardly seen. Social media companies determine what gets amplified with algorithms that optimize for engagement or time spent, as they contribute most with ad revenue and customer retention. 

People and views that are extreme - enraging, shocking, untruthful, and push our buttons (like "Did we really land on the moon?") get more engagement and therefore get prioritized by the algorithms. 

3. Every single one of us has different social feeds and social media realities. Our feed is personalized to show us the posts that engage us the most - usually the ones that pander to our biases. Someone who's conservative will see a news article about how guns are our rights and someone who's liberal will see an article about why guns are causing deaths. We are put in our own bubbles, with different realities, that appeal most to us. 

So what's a better way to stay informed? 

I'm still figuring it out, but here are a couple of steps that can help. 

  • Don't get riled up and amplify nonsense! Pause, think. 
  • Assume anything is biased or wrong unless proven otherwise. Especially things that feel right to you as you may be falling for confirmation bias. Do your own research on all sides and perspectives. Most things aren't as simple as what the 140 character post of fury makes it seem like.  

  • Be deliberate about choosing the quality of your information. Seek diversity of opinions. Rely on people and media that are less reliant on daily engagement and churn, more tested, and more thoughtful. Ruthlessly unfollow purveyors of outrage. 

The Center of Humane Technology has plenty of other helpful tips

3 types of product improvements

The main role of a product manager to identify and prioritize product investments within your area that'd have the most impact on the overall business goals (aka roadmap). 

Usually, you don't make just one investment. You make a portfolio of bets. You can place bets across multiple core pillars or themes as I have suggested in a previous post on product strategy

It's also helpful to assess your portfolio mix across the type of product improvements: 

1. Ah, finally improvements (bugs, annoyances) 

These are fixes for obvious annoyances or broken parts of the experience. Users know it and product teams usually know it. These experiences can cause casual users to churn immediately and fans to churn eventually. 

Regularly identifying and fixing these before they snowball is a good defense and good for building trust, pride, and quality (reduce broken windows!). 

2. Yeah, that's better improvements (iterative improvements)

Products aren't perfect out of the gate (and if it's perfect, you probably launched too late :)). You need to iterate and keep improving them over time. Initially, these iterations will produce a lot of big wins. But eventually, the yields decline and that's a sign to invest elsewhere. 

3. Oh Wow! improvements (big bets) 

These are step-level changes - completely new products or experiences like when Apple launched the iPhone, or significant improvements to an existing experience like when Google launched instant autocomplete search suggestions

As you can imagine, these are the trickiest kind of investments. They are high-risk and high investment bets. But they are also essential (nothing ventured, nothing gained). As Jeff Bezos puts it, "If the size of your failures isn't growing, you're not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle." 

Depending on the size of your team, you should have one or more big bets brewing at any point in time. But be careful not to spread yourself too thin or rushing in before thoughtful strategizing and validation. 

10 part Mad lib to get crisp on a product or feature idea

Often times products and features are doomed to fail even before you start working on them because the customer, problem, their evaluation criteria, usefulness and usability of the solution, go-to-market and customer acquisition mechanisms, and business model are not understood or well defined. 

This mad lib forces you to research, articulate and iterate on all of those questions before you start implementation. 
  1. People like [specific segments, demographics] 
  2. Who are faced with [specific problems]  
  3. and care about [key criteria]
  4. Will use [solution] 
  5. To do [steps to use solution] 
  6. and it would help them [impact on problem and satisfaction]. 
  7. They'd discover this solution through [acquisition channels] 
  8. And they'd use it whenever [need]
  9. Which happens once every [need frequency] 
  10. And they'd pay [price, payment or revenue model]
As the old adage goes, if you had 1 hour to solve a problem, then spend 40 mins thinking about the problem and 20 mins iterating on various solutions. 

Lessons from death

I recently had to face some unexpected illnesses and deaths in my family. 

Sickness and death are powerful reminders of the impermanence, fragility, and mystery of life - about how little time we all have, how little control we have, how we are a small transient part of a grand timeless machinery, and how little we know. 

They are also powerful reminders of the colorfulness and meaning in every individual life, regardless of how transient or small it is in the grand scheme. 

We fondly remember the departed's endearing and unique traits. We recall and cherish their remarkable or amusing stories. We feel grateful for their kindness, love, and joy. We celebrate their path and accomplishments. We learn from their wisdom and missteps. We mourn missed interactions, their unfulfilled dreams, the void of their absence, and for those who are close to them. 

Death teaches us what we value, gives us the urgency to prioritize meaningful pursuits and interactions, and to live free in our short lives. 


I'm currently on a staycation at home, with no plans. I used to take vacations only for certain specific or special purposes like traveling to new places or social events, and there was a certain pressure to make the most of them, so this is a change. 

Thanks to COVID travel restrictions, aging into my 30s, my philosophy on LYWE and peace & joy, I have revisited and expanded my definition of vacations to the following: 

  1. Spending time on self-care and peace-promoting activities. 
  2. Spending time on any joyful activity or hobby.
This expanded definition lets me plan and take time off for a lot more things than to just travel - to write on my blog, think, read, just relax and do nothing, sleep in, catch up on chores, enjoy leisurely coffee, walks, hikes, and hangouts, etc. When I travel, my agenda is more relaxed rather than packed and I even take a day off after travel to do the above. 

Taking time for yourself and doing less or nothing are vastly underrated. It's great for inner peace, reflections, and knowing and doing what you want. Vacations for peace and joy are a step in the right direction. 

Customer retention = Frequency of Need X Fulfillment X Mind share

High customer retention is the holy grail of most businesses. If customers keep coming back to your business, it increases lifetime revenue per customer (LTV) and you earn more per cost and effort of acquisition. 

Customer retention may be hard to execute, but really simple to understand. There are three main factors that impact retention: 

Frequency of Need 

Users use products to satisfy a need. Some needs recur on a daily basis, like the need to eat, sleep, talk to people, hear the news, commute, or shopping. Some needs recur on a monthly or yearly basis, like doctor visits, car maintenance, or vacations. Some needs are episodic and happen a few times per lifetime, like dating, wedding planning, home or car purchase, teeth alignment, or funeral services. 

If you are serving a need that's recurring frequently, you have more potential for retaining customers. If it's less frequent, it's likely that customers will only come back infrequently or just try a different solution next time the need arises. If the need is episodic, then it's likely that the customers never come back. 

It's possible, but very hard to manufacture a need or increase the frequency of a need. So if you are gunning for high retention, serve a frequent need. If you are serving a low-frequency need, then you should charge higher or have a large addressable market. You can try to improve retention by serving more adjacent needs. For e.g. Linkedin's B2C product was serving the need to find jobs, which happens every few years. But they expanded to an adjacent need to learn about the industry and network updates, which is much more frequent. Linkedin also expanded to Sales and Recruiters who have a much more recurring need. Amazon expanded from selling just books to selling everything. 


If your business fulfills a customer's need, then they are more likely to come back when the need arises again. There are three dimensions of fulfillment: 

  • Speed: Customers have to experience the fulfillment or "aha" moment as quickly as possible. 
  • Quality: Better the experience compared to their current or any alternative, the more likely customers are to come back
  • Consistency: The need has to be consistently fulfilled every single time. Even better if there's more fulfillment (or lower effort) over time, because customers' expectations only increase over time as they get used to a certain quality of service. 

Mind share

Lastly, you need to stay in touch with customers so they remember to come to you when the need arises again. Dominos advertises new flavors of pizzas not because those flavors sell well, but just to remind customers about pizza. Subscriptions, social media, email newsletters, advertising, notifications, cool launches, seasonal promotions, etc. are all ways of retaining and increasing mindshare. 

Retention is one important aspect of growing your user base and you can read about other aspects of growing your userbase in my previous post

Designing your life for "energized time"

I believe that time is all we have and how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Well...until someone recently introduced me to the concept of "energized time". 

Let's say you want to create more time for a project. So you reduce family dinner time and sleep time by 30 mins. It works well for a couple of days. But after that initial gain, you start feeling less productive or energized during your project time. I think we all intuitively understand and agree with this. 

So it isn't just time that matters. How we feel during that time matters too. 

So now I believe that "energized time" is all we have. 

Understanding Energized Time

Life is a series of activities - things you think and do, and also how, where, and with who. 

Your energy levels - physical, mental, and emotional -  vary because of the activities. Higher energy levels mean you feel present, lucid, sharp, at ease, happy, and ready to run a mile. There are recharging activities that increase your energy and consuming activities that decrease your energy. For most activities, the marginal effect on energy decreases or even reverses over a prolonged length of time.  For e.g.: socializing for 30 mins can be energizing while doing it for 3 hours can be exhausting. 

Let's illustrate with a simple day. 

You wake up with higher energy after sleep, feel fresh after a shower and coffee. Then you get to work, and through the 8-hour workday, your energy levels spike up and down but drop on an average. They pick up again after you do a quick workout and enjoy dinner and entertainment with friends or family. 

The output and quality of any activity is a function of the area under its line (energy X time). Your work output is a function of the area under the work line. Your overall output and quality of life experience are a function of your overall energized time, which is the area under the entire line through the course of your life. 

So higher energy levels boost your output and quality of life, which is a great outcome. Now the question is how to influence it.  

Let's say you are in the middle of a tough project with a hard deadline and you decide to sleep only 5 hours instead of your regular 8 and work extra hours. 

Your work time is longer, but your overall energy and therefore your output is similar or even lower. You also end your day with lower energy, which will cascade onto the next day. If you keep this up over multiple days or weeks, you'd probably fall sick or burn out. Skipping or reducing exercise, social activity, entertainment, etc. will also have a similar effect (this is probably a key reason why a lot of us feel more stressed and blah during this pandemic and lockdown). On the flip side, if you sleep or relax too much (say 10 hours instead of 8 hours of sleep), then our energy levels may not increase proportionally or even decrease and we lose time for other energy-boosting or output-producing activities. If you don't do anything productive or purposeful, your energy level will probably drop as well. 

Simple career advice

I have changed my jobs several times and I have struggled with the decision every time. Am I doing the right thing? Should I stay or try something else? Am I growing quickly enough? There’s a lot of career advice out there, but they can be incompatible, overwhelming, and unhelpful. So I have simplified it for myself here.

As with every life question, the answer starts with the big why. Understand life and decide what you want to do and experience. And then follow it. The best life hack is clarity and intent.  My scorecard and purpose in life are to experience peace and joy for myself and for others. 

Career or profession is “what we do for others”. Career is not a separate or siloed-off section of life - it is embedded and entangled in it, ideally harmoniously. 

A career or profession that is harmonious with my life purpose (1) increases peace and joy for others, (2) while doing something that’s joyful and interesting for myself, and also enabling or not disrupting other peaceful & joyful activities.  I don’t want to trade off my peace and joy for increasing others' as I don’t think that’s necessary* or optimal because I feel and do better when I’m enjoying what I do. 

If I want to grow in my career, then I’d either (1) deliver more peace and joy, or (2) more joy in the activity or enabling other activities, or both. But the maximizer approach - seeking the “best impact” and “best joy” - is never-ending, all-consuming, makes us miserable, and compromises my main goal of experiencing peace and joy. You don’t have to grow - you can just maintain if you are happy. Be a satisficer and focus on making directionally correct moves.

I can grow and maintain by (a) changing the problem I work on (more interesting, needed, underinvested, etc.) , or (b) by changing how I work on the problem (more effective - invention, skills, leverage; more fun, more compatible team and setup, etc.), or both.

You don’t always know where to start or how to grow. You will make mistakes, move backward and sideward. Try not to get sucked into pursuing side outcomes like money (beyond a point), what society thinks is hot or impactful as you will lose yourself, fool yourself, and miss the main goal. Keep it simple, clear, and intentional. Define, explore, try, learn, adjust and repeat. 

[1]A potential exception is when I’m losing my peace because I’m struggling with basic needs.

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it useful?

For the first time ever, I learned the same principle in THREE different contexts on the same day! And it was surprisingly relevant for the mood I have been in over the last couple of weeks. So I'm going to memorialize it here.  

In the morning, a friend shared a scene and a quote from the movie Bridge of Spies, where the character is oddly calm when he's on the verge of being sentenced to the death penalty.  

“You don’t seem alarmed.”
“Would it help?”

“Don’t you ever worry?”
“Would it help?”

“You’re not worried.”
Would it help?”

At noon, during lunch, my workplace hosted a fireside chat with Lori Gottlieb, author of "Maybe you should talk to someone." That was thrilling as I'd read and enjoyed the book just a few months back. She said the person we talk most to in our life is not our spouse, kids, nor is ourselves! We do a lot of self-talk in our heads, which significantly influences how we feel, act, and think. And unfortunately, we are usually not too kind to ourselves. Her advice is to filter all our thoughts through 3 questions - Is it true? Is it kind? Is it useful?. If they aren't, then dump them. 

And then finally, in the afternoon, at my workplace onboarding, we were discussing a principle of "being super transparent, but also be kind." Let's take this hypothetical situation - a colleague's been rude and annoying to everyone lately, and their manager asks you for feedback. You can lay it all out in the spirit of transparency, or you can simply tell them it has been difficult, but you will rather talk to the colleague first, which is the kind thing to do. Just transparency - saying anything we think to anyone - isn't a virtue. It needs to be kind, true, and useful too. 

10 failure modes

It's sometimes easier to think of what will make you fail at something than what will make you succeed. That's why I like the technique of "inversion" - instead of trying to be successful, just avoid the things that cause failure and you will succeed. I also like the practice of doing "pre-mortems" before starting on any project or team - imagine you failed, think of all the reasons why, and then prioritize and mitigate them. 

Here are some common failure modes that you can try to avoid when you are pursuing anything - personal, career, business, relationships, etc.

1. No burning curiosity, desire, intent, or conviction. Most hard-to-achieve things take a long time and a ton of effort. So if aren't really emotionally, rationally, and intellectually drawn to a pursuit or excited about the process, just pursue something else you actually are drawn to. Seriously, why pursue things you don't want or need?!

2. Lack of deep understanding (and failure to keep learning) of the problem, solutions, and space. You don't have to know everything when you get started. But learning and research is a good place to start. And continue to have a beginner's mind and never stop learning. A good mentor or coach can accelerate your understanding quicker than most books or courses.  

3. Misguided (or missing) strategy or principles. Goal without a strategy or a plan is just a wish. You should have a strategy that includes clear goals, levers to achieve the goal, current position, strengths, weaknesses, threats, etc.

4. Poor planning. Without comprehensive, specific, and actionable plans, strategy is just a theoretical and intellectual exercise. Plans should identify specific whats and hows - metrics, requirements, processes, milestones, resources needed, owners, and timelines. 

5. Poor execution.  This could happen because of a whole bunch of reasons. Not having the right level of skills, standards, effort, or attitude, not being consistent, not working well with a team or having a wrong team, not paying attention to details, doing too many things, etc.