Occam Razor: Shave all your problems away!

The simplest solution, often the one with the least assumptions, is usually right. So says Occam’s razor.

Why am I talking theories on a Saturday? Isn’t it time for breakfast?

Hold on for two minutes. You’ll like what I’ve got. This razor will shave off a ton of misery in our daily lives. Interested?

Imagine you are stuck in traffic, running late for a meet. You are anxious. You turn on a spiritual channel on the radio and try positive affirmations. And force yourself to smile – fake it till you make it, right?

Just when you think you are succeeding, the car in the back honks. And honks. The saint on the radio is still talking but is drowned by your inner voice. Can’t he see we are stuck? We are all under pressure to reach quickly; what makes him so unique? These young rich brats (he’s driving a Mercedes) are the cause of all the problems in the world. Their parents are to blame. And so on. We curse the driver, his parents, the state of the world, the traffic, everybody.

The razor gives us an alternative. The simplest explanation is our guy likes honking! Or a slightly more exhaustive assumption – perhaps there’s a toddler with him who’s responsible. Suddenly, our anger disappears – for the act is no longer personal!

This works equally well when a colleague doesn’t return our call or email. The simplest assumption is that she has not got to the email yet, and hence there is no reply.

The razor magically moves us out of the equation, and that is liberating. Unless you want to engage in a spot of self-pity!

Try it; it’s fun and rewarding. Here’s a secret I have learned. The simpler solution is mostly the truth. And even when it’s not, it’s easier on our minds!

As Marcus Aurelius says:
We need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions to eliminate unnecessary actions.

Necessary, Advanced and Vanity Learning!

Satya Nadella famously said it’s the time of the “learn-it-all,” not the “know-it-all.” Indeed learning seems to have taken the world by storm. Step into LinkedIn, and someone’s celebrating a certification. Call a friend on the weekend, and she’ll tell you she’s on her way to class. I think this is, overall, a cool trend.

I believe there are three parts to learning.

About half of all learning is “necessary” for doing one’s job. Technology is evolving at a fast clip. We need this knowledge to keep our jobs.

A quarter of the learning is “advanced.” Remember Walter Gretzky’s quote?

“Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

For succeeding in tomorrow’s world, we need specialized skills. Advanced learning is the answer.

It’s the other 25% – “vanity” learning – that I’m less optimistic about. People don’t want to do vanity learning. Peer-pressure and performance appraisals make them do it. And yeah, Catchy slogans are great traps too 🙂

“Data is the new oil” has everyone running for an analytics certification.

“Voice is the new UI” has everybody clustering around Alexa and her ilk (yeah, I know there’s a male voice variant too).

“Crowd around cloud” gets us all looking at Cirrus – sorry, Azure. Ok, I made up that one!

It’s not that these aren’t vital trends – they are. But are they helping us stay relevant? Or will the certificates be delegated to a nail on the wall?

“It’s better than doing nothing, though,” is the public refrain.

This comparison is flawed. The alternate to a “vanity course” is NOT nothing. You could do an advanced course or learn Japanese. Put your feet up on a handy footstool and chill to some music. Maybe spend time with a loved one. This “better than doing nothing” argument is wrong because it assumes a fixed number of things you can do with your time.

It’s your time, and the choices are infinite. Choose wisely – keeping your interests in mind! Happy learning.

Maradona – God with a touch of the devil!

I became a TV sports fan during 1985-86. Those were glorious years.

1985 started off with a bang, with India winning the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup. The Indian team’s victory lap on Ravi Shastri’s Audi (the player of the Series) is a moment that I cherish to date. And this win was against Pakistan, making it all the more special.

But, 1985 was not done yet. Boris Becker, a 17-year-old unseeded German, managed to win the Wimbledon. With his summersaults, big serves, and attitude, he ushered in a youthful, colorful decade of tennis. Wimbledon had just birthed a new star to succeed Bjorn Borg and the mercurial McEnroe.

1986 began with a shocker. Requiring four runs off the last ball, Javed Miandad hit Chetan Sharma for a six to win the Sharjah tournament. India- Pakistan matches always have an edge to them, and this finish drew frenzied reactions across the globe.

A couple of months later, Kapil Dev put the smile back on our faces. He led India to a pristine win over England at Lords. This was India’s very first Test win at Cricket’s hallowed ground. Life was looking good again.

And these are just a few nuggets. The mid-eighties saw some fantastic sportsmen and women. Not only were they gifted, but they had an edge to their character, adding to the drama.

All said, though, the mid-80s belonged to Diego Maradona. Maradona had genius footballing skills. He would also do anything to win – as the infamous “hand of God” episode proved. He would score a masterly goal one minute and fake a fall (and request a penalty!) the very next minute. The world loved him. Here was a man with a God-given gift and a touch of the devil in him. We had a superstar in our midst!

He won Argentina the World Cup in 1986. 1986 also was the first year Indian fans could see the entire world cup live on TV. I suspect he added many, many millions of new football fans that season.

The Maradona saga continued in 1990. We love to root for a gifted, imperfect superstar – and if he’s the underdog, even better! Would Maradona pull out another World Cup win? We hoped so – and prayed too. He brought his team to the final with sheer will and energy. But, Argentina lost the finals – of all things to a late penalty. Maradona burst into tears; it was an emotional end to a marathon campaign. And yet, that campaign remains a favorite. It’s a testament to the magic that one man can affect on the sports field. It reminds us of why we watch Sports.

Post-1990, Maradona, the sportsman, faded away. News of an arrest or ill-health would appear sporadically. I’d be instantly transported back to the time when Maradona turned lay viewers like me into connoisseurs. That’s a rare gift. Imagine watching a Federer backhand or a Dhoni helicopter shot. Life turns into a party. Maradona did that every match.

Maradona taught millions like me to love sports. For that, I am eternally grateful. While he is no longer with us on earth, his stories will stay forever.

Musings on a rainy day

The cyclone is approaching. The winds are increasing, and the rain is thundering down. I barricade the doors, secure the windows. I remove objects that can fly off the balcony and hit pedestrians. It’s a couple of hours of hard work, and there will be a cup of filter coffee to cheer me at the finish. I muse on how much harder life must be for the volunteers working to keep the city safe.

A friend works for the Government. The state machinery is working very hard to relocate people and keep them safe from the storm. It’s hard work; he’s thankful his family is elsewhere. He feels it must be challenging for the people he’s helping as they relocate to the shelters.

A gentleman is relocating his family to a government shelter. He’s worried about what will happen to his home. And yet he says a prayer of gratitude to God – at least his family will survive the storm. What about his friends who weren’t as fortunate?

We tend to compare the quality of our lives with others.

Isn’t it curious that when faced with a life-changing event (a big storm or a life-threatening event or in the face of ruin), humans survive, comparing themselves favorably with people who suffer a worse fate? We tell ourselves a story that we will come strong. Nature has dealt us a better hand than our more affected brethren.

When we don’t get a good raise/ bonus or that promotion, we are aghast. We compare ourselves against those who seem to have got a better deal and feel sorry for ourselves.

In short, big things get us to act. It’s the little things that make us fret. I’m sure there’s a moral in there somewhere.

Hurrah, we have a 30-day-streak of daily journal posts!

Today marks the 30th installment in my 90-day series. I am one-third complete! Thanks to everyone who read, liked, and commented. I owe you one.

“Wait, but there are only 28 posts,” says the incorrigable math guy. Where did he spring up from?

“I also did a couple on LinkedIn, including one on launch day. So it adds up the magic number,” I reply and move on before he asks me anything else.

Every milestone is an opportunity for reflection. I learned a lot from thirty days of writing. If you plan to embark on a habit journal, these notes may come in handy.

Habit building works best when you make time for it. Slot an hour every day and start typing away. It doesn’t matter if you are inspired or not. This hour is “fingers on keyboard” time. Let Asimov and PGW be your beacons.

Ninety days is a long time. It only seems short if you are a CEO of a public company, with a market to please. It’s best to take it a day at a time. Don’t feel guilty if you drop a day or two (I hope that math guy is not around!). You are building a habit muscle, not looking to score in a compliance competition!

We all have a lot to share – but, we must take the time to reflect. Carve out fifteen minutes for reflection or use your shower or drive time.

The length of the posts doesn’t matter. The content should dictate how large a post should be. It takes time to perfect this art – it’s ok to get it wrong and iterate.

It’s best to write in simple, short sentences. But complex, long ones are easier to craft! Don’t let anyone fool you – simple is hard!

When you commit, something magical happens. You cannot buy more time, so you begin eliminating tasks to free up time. You are becoming a master of No. “No” is a life-skill – it will serve you well in every part of your life.

Daily posts require significant editing efforts. Having an automated writing assistant helps quash spelling errors. It even helps resurrect sentences. My go-to tool is Grammarly.

Your posts may feel unloved at first, but keep going, and the audience will come. Getting views, likes, and comments is a blessing that keeps you motivated. Thanks a ton, everybody – you are angels 🙂

Ok, now, let’s proceed to the second leg of the journey.

Say No and free up your time – and attention!

Getting good at anything takes time. And practice.

This weekend, my site went live. Subscribers started coming aboard, and readers shared wishes on social media. To thank well-wishes and welcome subscribers meant I needed to free-up a few hours. I ended up saying No to several asks. Saying No is always hard. Once done, the sense of relief is immense.

A gentleman desired discussion around crypto-currency on LinkedIn. I saved my (and his!) time by telling him that it wasn’t a priority. Later in the day, a friend wondered if I would be interested in supporting a few projects. We agreed to an X but not Y approach – he was free to share/ use the blogs for his project work. However, my time was off-limits. Then, there was a popular, high-value course offered at a considerable discount. Mouthwatering, but a lower-priority item (for now). I passed it up. And finally, I decided to go on a unfollow spree on Twitter. I unfollowed handles I respect but whose content was not on my priority list. I am genuinely amazed at how many I can unfollow – I am currently unfollowing ten every day.

When you say No a lot, you can say yes to more things that matter. I subscribed to a writing program. I also have joined a community exploring Digital models.

“No” is a potent tool. But, it’s a tool we are often hesitant to use. Do check out my post on how a master of No operates. There are some cool ideas. Or you could decide to say No to the post 🙂

A website launch, welcome feedback and bugs to squash!

What a fun week this has been! My website went live. And people continue to share good wishes on Twitter and LinkedIn. Thank you. I feel blessed.

We squashed a couple of bugs. These are defects that shouldn’t have been shipped out in the first place! But we learn! And the good thing is the feedback’s coming.

Where do we go from here? Well, we need to make this genuinely impactful for readers (who are also leaders!). We’ll post more essays on topical leadership. We will launch our newsletter next week. Maybe add more forums to connect with our community. Yes, there’s a lot to do. The most important thing, though, is to do it all with a goofy smile. Happy weekend everybody!

Decision making skills: Go Permission-less and ask for forgiveness later!

Whenever you attempt anything, the thing that slows us down is waiting for permission. And most of us have been taught that getting approval is a risk-free approach. Should hell break loose, you will not be held to blame!

Are you one of the folks who believe this?

Early in my career, I discovered one truth. That over 70% of our project decisions and innovation need no permission. And they are localized, so you are the best judge. When we ask our boss for approval, it’s probably a very low-priority item on her/ his plate. So there is a delay – simply because she’s got other higher priority things to do!

Another 25% will be in the bucket of “OK to ask but not necessary.” Sometimes, you are fishing for a compliment or simply need a quick validation. You have done your work, and you know the risks – and you are confident that they will not bring ruin in any case. In these cases, it’s best to simply go ahead and start executing. Should things not work as expected, you can ask for forgiveness; the damage isn’t extensive anyway. Over the long term, the scale of innovation rewards will prove you right.

There’s a last 5% that can cause significant damage should things not go as planned. For these, it’s always best to take feedback and permission before going ahead. The delay and due-diligence in approvals are worth it.

I remember reading about Jeff Bezos preferring reversible, small currency decisions being owned by the individual directly. It’s when huge non-reversible items come up that his management gets involved. He feels this unlocks more innovation at speed.

I agree with him, do you?

For authentic success, focus on what hasn’t changed!

This week, I spoke with friends from school after a long time.

We just picked off from where we had left years ago, and the usual laughter, random ideas, intense discussions peppered our conversation. As we talked, I realized something important. 

We often focus on change. We track what we learned, how we grew.

We however ignore what hasn’t changed. And yet, it is the latter that usually allows authentic friendships over long, sustained periods.  Pick a friend from your childhood, teens, or early workdays – there was likely resonance at a fundamental level. You can pick up the phone and have an unbelievably fun, stress-free conversation right now with no qualms.

What hasn’t changed is what defines you as a person. 

I look back at my notes from the Strengths Finders training – it says your traits remain the same since childhood, and so do your strengths. The priority of the strengths displayed may change, but not the strengths themselves.

Interestingly, Jeff Bezos has nailed this focus on things not changing in his approach to business – here’s him talking about this:

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

Givers and Networks

Today @valafshar tweeted a set of great principles. One of those was “Networking is about giving.” His tweet is a gift to us, showing he is a living example of his message – thanks, Mr.Afshar.

As I mull over the statement, I have come to believe there are four types of giving as it relates to networks:

1. People give to others, who can give them something back in return – the traditional networking play. The model was successful when hierarchies controlled access to information and power. Its utility is decreasing now. 

2. People share information and knowledge unconditionally using Digital networks with people they have never met – like the tweet that gave rise to this post. As a consumer, you are free to use it as you feel, with no obligation to the sender. But remember, there are many professionals who are consumers too. It’s the nature of Information to flow freely and create “network effects.” And Network effects deliver outstanding results for the sender – the very reason we find such high-value, virtuous networks on Social media.

3. People give their “quality” time to family and friends. They don’t expect anything in return. Interestingly, this behavior leads to remarkably high trust network access (and trust is the most revered currency in today’s world). Remember, the information is cascading across people who trust and value each other. 

A friend spends some of his time helping relatives with their investments and has helped several loved ones navigate some tough times. Unknown to him, his reputation as a trustworthy, dependable, and expert investment advisor was spreading outward. Last week, a leading equity firm approached him for a partnership – this network had trumped impressive LinkedIn resumes and thought leadership! 

4. People who give without leaving their footprint. These people are unique – it is their nature to give, and they do so without leaving a footprint. Nature favors these folks and rewards them multi-fold. Not that they care about that, though!

As I type up this post and try to quantify how much of a giver I am, I realize one thing. No matter how much I give, the Universe (family, friends, coworkers, bosses, peers, teams, neighbors, strangers, online community) provide me 100X more. We are all net receivers living in a giving world. That sure is humbling, but it’s also comforting.

The best networks don’t advertise. We get invited to participate when we turn givers. The rewards are multi-fold, and yes, they are an opportunity to share even more. 

As Mr.Afshar says, networking is about giving. Indeed, only “Giver” networks matter. Remember Giving Networks scale exponentially; traditional networks grow linearly at best.

How to succeed? Notes from a reading of #Essentialism.

Priority is singular, so pick your top-most goal and make it your priority (thanks for this Essentialism reminder, Greg McKeown). 

Write that priority down. 

Now, review your day:

1. You are what you think. What did you reflect upon today? 

2. You are what you consume. What did you read/ view/ listen to today? 

3. You are what you share. What did you share today – where and with whom?

4. You are what you do. What did you act on today?

Remember, you have only one priority. Did you spend at least an hour today thinking, consuming, sharing, and working on your priority? 

Congrats, you are all set for success – this formula/ daily practice works!