William Liao

September 9, 2021

How to fall in love with the problem

In 2016, my manager (and now mentor) wrote “fall in love with the problem, not the solution” on a post-it note and promptly placed it just below the keyboard on my laptop that I’d just received from the IT department. I was an infant in the world of professional work with a challenge-me attitude and a lot of energy to give. Putting tha...
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September 8, 2021

"We" versus "I"

The terms “we” and “I” perform two important and complementary functions: Everything relating to the outcomes your team is driving towards should be described with we. We implies unity of effort; it implies that “we’re in this together to achieve a common goal”. Everything relating to the specific actions that need to be taken to get t...
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September 7, 2021

Moving metal barricades

Last Friday evening I had the privilege of getting to see John Williams conduct some of his most famous pieces at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The event was packed — every single seat of the 17,500-seat venue appeared to be occupied. As you can imagine, the process of getting to and from the venue was rather cu...
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September 6, 2021

Open conversations

In April, The Journal of Controversial Ideas released its first issue. Like any academic journal, it undergoes rigorous peer review. Unlike other academic journals, it allows authors to publish under an alias. The creation of the journal is driven by two motivations: 1) To protect academics who might otherwise be cancelled, demoted, or...
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September 6, 2021

Do one hard thing eveyday

There are plenty of things that we dread doing at the outset, but later end up being grateful we did them: Preparing for a marathon. Getting a new degree. Switching careers. This is the wisdom of hindsight — we generally only fully appreciate this phenomenon looking back. I’ve come up with a new motto to leverage this wisdom: do one ha...
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September 5, 2021

Forcing functions

A forcing function is something that aligns short term incentives with longterm goals. Some forcing functions work — but only in a very narrow sense: A football coach imposing a penalty for anyone who shows up late to practice is a forcing function that encourages team members to show up on time. The team shows up on time every morning...
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September 3, 2021

The Fresh Start Effect

In 2014, Dr. Hengchen Dai, her doctoral advisor Dr. Katy Milkman, and Dr. Jason Riis published a study called “The Fresh Start Effect”. The main finding of the study was that specific dates — birthdays, new semesters, new years, etc — empowered people to more effectively set and achieve new goals. Sometimes change can be hard, and in t...
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September 2, 2021

The world is probably not on fire

Most incidents appear far more severe in the moment than they do in hindsight: Your quarterly sales are underperforming (how am I going to recover this?). A valued team member leaves to go to another company (how are we ever going to function?). Your product receives a negative review (how did we get so out of touch?). Any combination ...
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September 1, 2021

What will you not do?

Knowing what you want to do and what you don’t want to do go hand-in-hand when it comes to focusing your energy and spending your time in the wisest manner possible. Despite this, attention seems to be disproportionately paid towards the former: What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to study in college? What problem...
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August 31, 2021


We rarely know exactly what we’re doing. And this is a good thing: Uncertainty gives you permission to ask “what if”, to tinker, to wonder, and to wander — all activities that have paved the way for valuable discoveries like penicillin, chocolate chip cookies, and x-rays. There’s no need to purport to know what you’re doing; instead ha...
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