Subtlety

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Subtle changes have the power of making a huge difference. People don’t realise it at the time, but it does.

To Illustrate:

Take a point and draw a line. Now take a 1 degree deflection from the starting point and draw another line. Initially the paths of both lines seem similar but as you go on extending the line the divergence is apparent and huge. And the longer you draw the lines the more the deviation.

Let us assume you are flying a plane from Bangalore to Delhi. If you have a 1 degree deviation in your route, you will find that you land up in Haryana instead of Delhi. The same plane, if it was flying from Delhi to New York would end up in Washington DC with such a small deviation.

Even in absolute terms the difference is subtle but the outcome is wildly different.

Planes do not fly in straight lines, and neither is life a straight line.

Like a deviation can make a huge difference in the long run; so can a nudge or a learning born out a conversation. The effects of these subtle changes can make the difference between success and failure.

Surround yourself with people who can give you the right nudge and push you in the right direction. Gather diversity of thought from a variety of people. They average themselves out and you tend to arrive at good decisions.

A nudge, a push, a casual conversation can change everything.

Rationality and Randomness

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When you look up at the sky in the night, you see constellations. Constellations are human inventions, an attempt to ascribe pattern to a random gathering of stars. Why do we do that?

The human brain is tuned to find patterns, it is not tuned to understand the concept of randomness. When you find something which is completely random, you still try to find patterns therein. This is because randomness as a concept is extremely hard to grasp. How can you describe randomness? There is absolutely no model through which you might be able to understand randomness. It is therefore impossible to understand.

Randomness is a part of all of our lives. On a certain day you leave at 8:30 and get to the office at 9:00, while on another you get there at 9:20. Let us say on your first day to work, you left at 8:30 and reached at 10:30 because there happened to be an random accident that happened to block off the road. You would certainly leave early the next day, but it may not be needed.

Which brings us to rationality.

Human are supposed to be rational creatures. We look at all of the information that is available to us and make a rational decision based on the information that is available. At least, in theory that is how we are supposed to be. Having said that almost none of our actions are truly rational.

The stock market is described as a place where all publicly available information about a company is assimilated to give the stock a value, in theory. And, what drives the market – Sentiment!

Rationality is about being able to follow a pattern, model or a rule. A rational decision by design can be deconstructed and the reasoning is apparent. 

Millennia of practice has taught us that the rationality and randomness do not work well together.

One of the experiment often cited is – would you take $50 today or take $100 in 5 months. Often taking the $100 is shown as a sign of patience and rationality; but life is full of random nonsense. What if this person who was offering you the money, got angry with you? Or if they decided not to give after 5 months? Or they died? So, now what would a rational person do?

For all that we may claim to be rational, we are conditioned to think and do things based on past experience rather than pure rationale. 

The randomness of life makes the irrationality of our behaviours just. 

First Times

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One of the things that is true about human nature is that our ability to face a situation improves if we have  faced such a situation already.

The first time you change your job, you find the transition a lot harder than thereafter.

If a family has had a case of cancer once, their ability to deal with another member suffering it is much improved.

The first child is always an experiment. Parents don’t worry as much about the second child and the second child also benefits from the best practices learnt from the first.

As an entrepreneur you have to deal with many first times. Keep them coming thick and fast. Face the unknowns as soon as possible. It won’t be the last time you will face it.

Straight ‘A’ students are highly disadvantaged in the real world. A life where you have never faced a calamity, a failure, a disaster leaves you ill-prepared to face it.

Some day you will have to face it, probability has a way of catching up!

Murphy’s Law…

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states – Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Murphy did not come up with this. It was attributed to him.

Either way, this is a pessimist’s way of looking at life.

If fear dominates you, you think about the things that will go wrong and what you keep thinking about, often comes to pass.

If faith/belief dominates you, you think about the things you want to achieve and they come to pass.

 

What have you been thinking about?

Change

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Status Quo is a very powerful thing.

Have you ever heard anyone tell you that they are enjoying the hunt for a new job? They might realise that a change is necessary and important; nevertheless they would not enjoy the process. There is a certain inertia in the way things are. Change implies overcoming that inertia and changing direction. This is inherently a hard thing to do.

People hate this process; people hate change.

When a bridge falls, you just see the change happen on the day that the bridge falls; but the change has been in the works for a while. The cracks were forming for a period of time, the stresses were building, the structure was weakening; it is just that you did not have the ability to see it happening. You see the final outcome and hate the outcome.

Many people notice change when it finally arrives at their door. They think, the situation changed overnight. Change rarely happens overnight. Change has to overcome inertia and then arrive to be. Change is usually a long time in the making. It is our ability to perceive this change that is weak.

Therefore people are rarely prepared for change.

Strength had to transform into weakness and weakness into failure for the bridge to fall. While most of us notice the second part, we do not notice the first part. Change is persistent.

Most of the startups are trying to get into areas that are not traditional. They are trying to do things that have not been done before. This means that they need to change the behaviour of their customers. It is wrong to expect this change to arrive when you seek for it to arrive. It will be a gradual process beginning with taking the inertia out of the system.

Set a goal, pursue it, seek it out. Initially, it may seem like nothing is happening. Then slowly but surely, change will become visible.

At 20

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The unrelenting nature of change and the rate of exposure that youngsters get today means that they are growing up much faster than we did back in the 90’s. When I look at it, I feel a little sad because ignorance is bliss and the children born today are being robbed of their ignorance much too soon. This in turn results in many of them starting to think like a 40 year old when they are 20. This is inherently detrimental to their development and their ability to achieve their potential.

Having been through my 20’s and having seen the world after I turned 30, I believe that I have a lot more to learn in the future and much more to achieve. The unrelenting comparison for grades, college admission and jobs, results in every 20 year old wanting to peak at 21. They want to start at the zenith. When you do that, the way ahead is usually downhill. I did precisely that, fell and then got up again. I was a straight A students, passed out the valedictorian of my batch, refused to sit in the placement and got myself a job. I was given one promotion and 3 pay hikes in 15 months. Then I quit, to start my own venture and the world taught me lessons rather ruthlessly.

Here is my advice on what to do when you are in your 20’s.

Travel – There is nothing in life that has taught me more than travelling. When you are young, you have the ability absorb a lot more. At the same time you also have the ability to adjust and be flexible. These qualities wear out as you progress through life. Travel as much as you can. Take the Europe trip on a shoestring budget, visit 20 countries in 3 months, work along the way and build relationships.

I visited 5 countries in 7 days once! Sleeping in trains by night and seeing the cities and meeting people by day. I do not recommend this!

Meet the locals, strike up a conversation, learn how they live. Learn about their culture and the basis of their culture. This will broaden your thinking and provide you greater perspective. You will no longer be restricted to the way of thinking that was ingrained by your upbringing.

Traveling will be the best investment you will make in your life and the returns it will provide will be an order of magnitude greater. You will learn more and understand the world better. You will become a more well rounded human being.

Question Assumptions – At one point of time, the greatest minds in the world said the World was Flat. Nothing is set in stone and you need not take it as given, just because someone claims certain research or cites a book. Question everything, often that is only way that we can make things better. Often times even the best theories are made with certain assumptions based on the facts available at the time. Facts keep changing. The only constant is change. You are best positioned to do this when you are 20 because…

Don’t plan – If you were to look at life as a mathematical equation, it would have far too many variables for you to be able to pin down the exact details of how things are going to play out. Hence, live life. Don’t get obsessed with planning and making sure that you are saving money or shit like that. Invariably life will bring you to a point where you would not be left with a choice but to do that. But that time is not when you are 20.

Experience. Don’t buy – No matter what you buy, even your dream house, you are eventually going to get over it and it would not mean the same to you. Experiences on the other hand grow richer with time. You will remember them fondly and you will enjoy them more when you think back about it. So if the choice is between buying an iPhone and taking a trip to Thailand or paragliding, take the trip, reach into the air.

Your parents probably were not right about everything – You will realise as you go through this journey called life, that your parents were not right about everything. And that is okay. They come from a time that was very different and they developed their thoughts in a different set of circumstance. Learn to identify the things that were right and the things that were wrong.

Get a mentor – You will be required to take decision that you have not taken in the past. It is always helpful to have someone with more experience listen to you and provide you feedback.

The most important thing to ensure about a mentor is that, this is a person who would provide advice but would not get upset if you do not take it.

It is for this reason that family usually cannot serve in this role. Being able to look at you objectively is critical to mentoring you well.

Work with great people – Instead of pouring a shit ton of money on useless educational degree (even if that is Harvard) work with people who are great, even if they do not pay you well. Think of it an investment in the long term. They will be able to make you realise your true potential better than any college ever can.

It takes work to make one produce their best and you are not even aware of what YOUR best is when you are starting out.

Colleges tend to treat everyone the same way and that is greatest disservice that they do to those who put their trust and money on them. There is no price that you can really put on realising your true potential, knowing great people and growing personally.

Jugaad – Not the best way…

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In India we have the habit of choosing short-cuts to doing things which we like to call ‘Jugaad’. Unfortunately, the word has been misconstrued to mean resourceful and has been promoted as the right way to doing thing.

Jugaad is an inefficient way of doing something and in the long run detrimental to the organization. At a very early stage, when resources are lacking or absent, it might be effective to get around problems; but in established  or growth stage jugaad can be extremely detrimental.

 

I will illustrate this with an example:

When cricketers use a bat, the bat tends to start chipping after a while because of the repeated impact of the ball on the bat. In order to protect the bat, players often cover their bats with bat tape, which ensures the integrity of the bat. A jugaad in this case would be to use duct tape, if the right type of tape is not available. Not the optimum solution, but it might help you get around.

Similarly, in planes, especially around the wings there are times that small cracks or loosening of screw takes place. In such cases, repairs are undertaken using what is called ‘Speed Tape’. The tape looks like duct tape but is way more stronger and can withstand high speed usage. It keeps the plane together

Would you like the jugaad approach here? Would you get on a plane where duct tape was used instead?