Why arguing with someone is important


Arguing with someone is not fun, but it’s very important. 

Both in personal and professional relationships (think of co-founder relationships) I think that arguments – and the way how we resolve them – are the ultimate test of how compatible we are. 

If I was ever in a relationship in which we didn’t have arguments to begin with, I would be seriously worried: Is my partner suppressing any feelings? Is she hiding her annoyances? Are we even making ourselves vulnerable? In a relationship without fights, I’d question these things. 

I have come to accept that arguments are a given. They happen in the best relationships. But apart from just accepting they are a given, I actually believe they should happen. Arguments offer us a window into the other person. They allows us (and it allows them) to learn about their limits and see where our personalities cause friction. I rather uncover these friction points than ignore them. 

What’s most telling about arguments however is not the limits and boundaries we uncover, it’s more about how we are able to deal with the arguments that come up. I once told my co-founders early on: I am not worried about us fighting, simply because we will, I am more worried about us resolving our arguments. Our compatibility with each other is not a question of how many fights we have, it’s a question of if and how we are able to resolve these issues.

Compatibility between two people is not measured in whether and how often they fight, but in if and how they resolve their fights. 

Do we argue respectfully? Do we do our best to understand where the other person is coming from? Do we listen or are we just waiting for an opportunity to throw our opinion into the conversation? There are so many different indicators that signal “healthy arguing” and that’s what I would be more concerned about, not whether and how often we fight. 

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Passing down culture from generation to generation


Many years ago, I was in my late teens, I met another Iranian one day. Generally not a big deal, but given that I didn’t really grow up around a lot of Iranians, it felt special to meet a fellow German-born Iranian. 

Excited and curious, I asked a lot of question: Where in Iran are you from? How good is your Farsi? How often have you been to Iran? Oh, you have never been? How come? Oh, you are from a persecuted minority? I see. 

I had visited Iran every single summer growing up, which helped me form a very strong connection with the culture, the people, and my relatives. Quietly I wondered, how can you be Iranian if you have never been to Iran? 

The same day I talked to my mom about this: Mom, how can someone say they are from a specific country if they have in fact never been to that place? And she said something that really stayed with me: The Iranian government already took away his Iranianness from him, you have no permission to do the same. 

My mom was right. It wasn’t for me to decide how Iranian someone felt or how they wanted to call themselves. Their sense of heritage wasn’t for me to judge. And more than anything, feelings for where you are from and what you call yourself aren’t black and white. culture gets passed down with different flavors and in different degrees. 

I have Iranian friends whose Farsi is far worse than mine, but their love and excitement for our annual Nowruz celebrations far exceeds the enthusiasm that I could ever feel. I have other friends who have never been to Iran, but travel around the world to support Iran during the world cup – again, something I would never aspire to do.

As I think about my own children one day, I already know that I will want them to carry on my Iranian heritage, but I also know that it won’t be easy for me to pass it on to them. I am already a diluted version of my parents who decided to leave Iran in their early 20s. My children will be an even more diluted version. And while the thought of being able to pass down only a diluted version makes me uncomfortable, these experience I made have taught me to appreciate that one’s relationship with culture comes in different flavors. 

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14 Books in 3 months – How I did it

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In the first 6 months of this year I read 2 books. In the 3 months that followed, I read 14 books. That’s basically going from 1 book/quarter to 14 books/quarter. 

So what changed? 

Reading more books has always been on top of my resolution list. Every January I’d swear that this is the year when everything would change. I’d buy the books I’d wanna read, I’d even take them with my in my country-to-country moves, but I’d never touch them. Too busy, too little time, too distracted. 

After developing a big passion for podcasts over the past two years, I found myself squeezing in podcasts into every free minute of my day. I’d listen to them when getting ready for work, during the shower, on my bike ride to the office, and so on. I’d even listen to them at 1.5x speed, trying to process more and more information in less and less time.

Then it occurred to me that this might be the solution. I should listen to all the books that I’ve been wanting to read.

You need to know that I’m an idealist at times. I don’t have a kindle, because I love holding a book in my hands. But what’s the point of savoring a feeling if I never actually never find time to experience, I asked myself. I further realized that at the end of the day what mattered most was that I absorbed the content of the book, so did it really matter if it was through reading or listening? 

So early July I started listening to books. And before I knew it, I was devouring one book after the other. Suddenly I was reading all the books that for years were on my shelves. Within days I would start and finish listening to books that would have taken me weeks or months to read. 

The most important lesson for me here was that sometimes I need to be less idealistic to reach a goal. Sure, books are physical items with ink on paper. That’s how they were invented and “ought” to be consumed. But at the end of the day what matters is now how I consume it, but that I do it. And if a different method works better, then that be it. 

If you are curious, these are the books I read

  • Bad Blood (the story of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes)

  • Super Pumped (the story of Uber and Travis Kalanick)

  • So you want to talk about race? (a book on race relations in the US)

  • Know my name (the memoir of the Brock Turner rape case) 

  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (the memoir of Chris Hadfield, Canada’s first astronaut) 

  • The Accusation (7 short stories written by an anonymous author who lives in NK) 

  • The Last Girl (the memoir of Noble Peace Price winner Nadia Murad)

  • Bullets and Opium (interviews with survivors of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989)

  • Born a Crime (Trevor Noah’s memoir of growing up in South Africa under apartheid) 

  • Billion Dollar Whale (the story of Jho Low and how he betrayed the Malaysian government)

  • Dreams from My Father (Barack Obama’s first memoir) 

  • Becoming (Michelle Obama’s memoir)

  • Shoe Dog (A memoir by the creator of Nike) 

  • Why Nations Fail (a book about the origins of power, prosperity and poverty)

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China Musings #23: Apple, Dolphin, Water, Vegetable and Beer.

Apple, Dolphin, Water, Vegetable and Beer – what do these things have in common? These are just some of the rather unusual names I heard people introduce themselves in China. 


When I started working for Ofo in Beijing, I asked for an email address. Annoyingly, the name that was put on my Gmail account was not “Omid Scheybani,” it was “Scheybani Omid.” So every time someone would receive an email from me, especially in the US, they would think that Scheybani was my first name. How do I know? Well, they replied with “Hello Scheybani.” Sigh. 

This was my first lesson in how Chinese names were just different, yet surely not my last.

I soon realized that some of my Chinese colleagues had Chinese names, others had English names. And they would always start with the surname. For example my COO’s name was Zhang Yanqi, Zhang was the surname, Yanqi was the first name by which he was called. On the other hand, one colleague’s name was Zhao Fan, where Fan was the first name, but he went by his full name “Zhao Fan.” It’s like walking around and being called “Smith Jason” or “Goldberg Josh.”

I learned that until the mid-1900s, a person had three names besides their surname: ming, zi, and hao (these are terms, not names). Ming is the name that your parents would give you. Zi is the name granted to a person at the beginning of adulthood, and the Hao is a less formal kind of name chosen by the person themselves. 

Those “Hao”s by the way were pretty sophisticated. It could be something like Dong Po Ju Shi (the man who resides in Dongpo) or Zhe Xian Ren (the banished immortal). 

It wasn’t until China was opening up in the 1970s, with increased exposure to the West, when people started giving themselves English names as well. In some ways, these English names are informal “Hao”s that represent another layer of identity. 

The reason why people give themselves English names is primarily because foreigners struggle pronouncing some of the Chinese syllables. The letter X like in Xi Jinping’s name is pronounced more like a “sh” sound. The letter C is more like a “tz” sound. It’s not easy, and it can get messy with some Chinese names like 诗婷, a girl’s name that means ‘poetic and graceful’ in Chinese, yet is pronounced and written as “shiting.”

Now the challenge is that in a culture like in China, it’s hard to choose English names that “fit.” What do I mean by that? Well, some people name themselves after “things” like Apple, Dolphin, Water, Vegetable and Beer. Trust me, meeting someone new and hearing them introduce themselves as “Vegetable” can cause a lot of awkwardness. 

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An important lesson I learned negotiating deals


One of the most valuable lessons I learned in negotiating business deals (and more lately in relationships where you equally negotiate for certain outcomes/desires/needs) is that negotiation is not a zero sum game. 

Meaning, that there doesn’t have to be a loser for there to be a winner. In other words, you can negotiate in a way that allows for two winners to emerge. 

Let’s take a hypothetical example of two people negotiating for one orange. Person A and B, they each want the orange that is on the table. They each negotiate adamantly, hoping to get the orange. After digging a little deeper into what their real needs and goals are, it turns out that Person A wants the orange peel, whereas Person B wants the flesh of the orange. They decide to peel the orange and split according to what they each wanted. We got two winners. 

My relationship put me into a similar position recently. I wanted to go out and spend the evening outside of home, whereas my partner wanted to stay in. You would think that this is an “either/or” situation. You can’t be out and about and be spending your evening inside. Well, after peeling off a few layers and trying to understand what our real motivations and needs were, we realized that she wanted to stay in so that we could cook together, whereas I wanted to go out because I wanted to be social. I didn’t oppose cooking at home, and she didn’t oppose socializing in the evening. So our compromise ended up being “cooking at home, and then going out for a drink.” Once again, what looked like a zero-sum game ended up yielding two winners. 

What’s really important here is trying to understand what someone’s motivations are and why they want what they claim to want. More often than not, there are ways to find compromises and ways to allow both players to get what they are looking for. 

Keep that in mind next time you are negotiating. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.

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Managing expectations while searching for a job

Here is a piece of advice, a reminder if you want, that I give to friends (and to myself) who are searching for jobs

At least once (yet probably more like 2+ times) you will find a job that you really like, one that looks like a perfect fit, but that you will not get. 

Looking back on my own experience interviewing for jobs, both at Google as well as later in my career, I remember moments when this happened to me. I remember seeing the perfect opportunity and feeling that the job description must have been modeled after my resume. How am I not the perfect candidate for this role? 


I would apply, but I wouldn’t get the job. Either they preferred another candidate, or I screwed up the process, or their idea of the right candidate changed. I have seen this happen so often – to me and to others – that I remind myself that this is a given, almost a basic truth, about the job searching process: the first few opportunities I see, chances are, I won’t get them. 

Why even talk about something that I’d consider “truth?” Well, because we tend to forget. We sometimes navigate the job searching process with a sense of entitlement, and that’s why we end up feeling disappointed. Because we think we deserved something we didn’t get. 

You might say that’s a very pessimistic way of thinking, but in my opinion this is actually a constructive way of thinking. I am not trying to discourage anyone from applying to those jobs they find and like, but I do hope to help “manage one’s own emotions and expectations” as they do so. Applying for jobs is already a roller coaster ride, so if you can find ways to mitigate the lows, then you are really just making sure that the process doesn’t drain your emotions too much. And that is definitely a good thing. 

Funny enough, in hindsight, those opportunities I considered “perfect matches,” I often conclude that they weren’t as good as I thought they were. Maybe this is just a defense-mechanism and an attempt to rationalize away a rejection, but I do believe that we evolve as we go through the job searching process. That’s why some of the opportunities that we thought were great, are not that great anymore as we move along the process and learn more about own desires and preferences. 

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Didn't get a job? Help your friend get it!


I recently interviewed for a job that ticked many of the boxes that are important to me: international focus, lots of travel, ability to start a team/office from scratch, and a lot of external relationship management. 

Excited to have passed through the first two stages via videoconference, I suggested I could come up and interview in person in their Berlin headquarters while I was visiting my parents at home in Germany. the cost of flying to Germany was on me, the cost of taking a train up to Berlin was on them. 

I showed up, did the case interview, and felt pretty good about it. I didn’t feel I absolutely killed it, but I still thought it was a solid performance and that combined with my fit for the role, I would advance to the next stage. After all, the next stage was with the CEO and three of our mutual friends had strongly recommended me to him (two of them even before they found out that I was applying for this position). 

A few days after the interview, the recruiter asked to talk. She called me and informed me that I didn’t make it to the next round. Reason: they wanted more detail. 

As I receiving the call, I was disappointed. But the following day I emailed the CEO to thank him for the opportunity and to recommend someone who I thought would be a much better fit for the role.

Wanting to make sure that my recommendation wouldn’t fall through cracks of an overcrowded CEO email, I also emailed the recruiter and the interviewer to let them know as well – with my friend’s resume and a paragraph explaining why I think she’d make a perfect fit. Days later I heard she was in Berlin going through the interview process. 

In a follow-up feedback conversation with one of my interviewers, he thanked me for the recommendation and expressed surprise since this would’t happen very often for someone who got rejected to come back and recommend someone else for the role. 

Given his surprise, I keep wondering why. I had already taken my shot, and I wouldn’t lose anything by recommending a friend. Quite the opposite, I would be helping a friend (which would make me feel good), I would establish a positive relationship with the firm and its individuals (which is helpful for my own future) and I would help a friend get a cool role (who doesn’t want to have friends in cool positions?). 

So next time you don’t make it through an interview process, think about which of your friends might make a better fit and recommend them. 

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From the Outside vs. from the Inside


A friend and I were recently talking about the upcoming WeWork IPO and some of the more questionable decisions that its CEO Adam Neumann had made – including the decision to trademark the “We” brand and then sell its rights to WeWork for $5.9M. 

Almost collectively we wondered: “what must he have been thinking?” 

But then I remembered something that helped me understand – or at least try to understand – what he must have been thinking: namely not much.

I remembered that many years ago, before my friends and I went to North Korea, I felt very anxious about the trip and that I had sworn myself to be utterly cautious while there. But then, a few days into the trip, all of those worries were gone. We felt at ease, drinking, joking, taking pictures, and just behaving with a comfort that I could have never foreseen. At some point I was even sitting on a barber chair and a woman was shaving my neck with a razor. Ahead of the trip, this idea would have appeared insane to me.

It made me realize what a difference there is between how we see things from the outside versus how things feel from the inside once we are in the moment. 

It was the same story with Otto Warmbier who had presumably stolen a sign in North Korea and was sentenced to prison. While it’s not entirely clear whether it was all staged or not, but after my own experience in North Korea, it was comprehensible to me that after a few days in the country, you might let go of your fears, start to feel comfortable, and do something evidently stupid. Except that in that moment it doesn’t really feel that stupid anymore. 

Once you are in the moment, things just look differently. You start building your own narratives and rationalize away concerns that you might have previously held. You build your own reality. It’s very similar to Elizabeth Holmes’ story of Theranos, or Jho Low’s story of the 1MDB fund. From the outside, WTF. From the inside, a world that makes perfectly sense to you because it runs on your own narrative. 

And I thought that it might have been a very similar story with that “We” trademark deal with WeWork. From the outside this looks stupid. But from the inside, I am sure it didn’t as much. It’s not justification for what he did, but more an attempt to understand what he must have been thinking: namely not much. 

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Thoughts and Reflections on the Book "Becoming"


Last December, I was in a book store in my hometown in Germany when someone was pointing at Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and asked the cashier if the book is any good. Standing right next to that woman, I confidently chimed in: “oh yeah, it’s latest rage.” My confidence was a bit of a far fetch considering that I had not read the book. 

Fast forward half a year to today, I just finished listening to “Becoming.” Over 19 hours of material that I consumed this week (again, at 1.75x speed which brings it down to ~11h of content). 

Overall, I thought it was a great read. The book had three larger sections, first her upbringing in Chicago, second her life with Barack, and lastly her life in the White House. For me personally, the second section was the most interesting one. It was nice to hear about her upbringing or hear her perspective on the time she spent in the White House, but learning about Barack Obama through her lens – which was the focus of the second section – I found most interesting. 

In her first section, the focus was on her upbringing in the South Side of Chicago. There were valuable lessons about racism, inequality, and a number of other social justice topics. The one quote from the book that stuck with me was that “failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.” She said that in context with the way how many blacks are treated and the language that is often used around them. 

The second section, as mentioned, was about how she and Barack met, dated, and ended up getting married. But it also included her perspective on him, his ambitions, his way of thinking and doing, as well as his career progression along the many years they were together. As an Obama fan through and through, I have read a bunch of biographies and memoirs of people who worked with him. But getting to learn about him through his wife was a much deeper and closer point of view. 

In her third section she talked about life in the White House. What it was like to move in, and to live a new life under the scrutiny of media. What it was like to raise two daughters in the eye of the public, and how they adjusted to this new life with all of its limitations, responsibilities, and opportunities that came with it. It was a very candid, always appreciative, but at times also lamenting recount of their eight years in the White House. 

Throughout the entire book, Michelle Obama also talked a lot about what it’s like to be a woman next to a husband who is very driven, and successfully so – what it all meant for her. Princeton and Harvard educated herself, she often had to put her own ambitions behind Barack’s. Not just as the woman that she was, but also as a mother with all of its responsibilities, many of which Barack couldn’t shoulder given his absence and focus on politics. I think she talked about a lot of the issues women face in today’s society: pursuing one’s own career, trying to be a good mother, or getting one’s husband to be an equitable partner.

What I also appreciated a lot was to read about this all from the perspective of a black woman. She raised a lot of race-related sensitivities in the book that helped me develop my own understanding of race in the US. 

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