HNY and two life-changing gifts for you!

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.”

Alan Watts

As we embark on the new year, here are a couple of frameworks from two legends (one was a stoic philosopher and the other leads our ecom revolution today!) that have served me well over the years – with the wish that they prove to be key tools in your arsenal too and make the year very special.

How to overcome fear – the Seneca way

Fear is an universal emotion – while what we fear differs from person to person (security/death/illness/loneliness), the emotion itself looms heavy on most of our minds. Seneca, the stoic sage, has an antidote to fear that builds upon a simple insight that “fear of an event is often more crippling than the event itself”.

And once we accept this, then he has a simple solution to transcend the fear. Embrace the fear and act upon it – albeit in small doses!

Seneca gives us a practical example to illustrate his framework and his advice on how we can overcome the fear of poverty are very relevant even today (the fear of poverty is why we are “always” engaged in worrying about our financial security, our addition in working all the time etc.)

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” – Seneca

Seneca

Now Seneca was one of those rare philosophers who practiced what he preached – and his solutions therefore have exceptional real time validity. So do try out the framework, it has certainly worked for me in many instances.

How to evaluate life changing decisions – Bezos’ regret minimization framework

In the face of a decision that involves a significant change to our life – personal or professional – I have always had the challenge of debating endlessly between what the mind tells me is right and what the heart encourages me to do. Jeff Bezos (yes the Amazon guy) apparently faced a similar dilemma a few decades ago – he was torn between choosing to embark on an uncertain dream (starting amazon.com) or continuing with his job (which included a “big bonus” in the short term!).

In his trademark style, here’s him thinking this through and coming with a wonderful framework that can serve all of us:

I went to my boss and said to him, “You know, I’m going to go do this crazy thing and I’m going to start this company selling books online.” This was something that I had already been talking to him about in a sort of more general context, but then he said, “Let’s go on a walk.” And, we went on a two hour walk in Central Park in New York City and the conclusion of that was this. He said, “You know, this actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.” He convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision.

So, I went away and was trying to find the right framework in which to make that kind of big decision. I had already talked to my wife about this, and she was very supportive and said, “Look, you know you can count me in 100 percent, whatever you want to do.” It’s true she had married this fairly stable guy in a stable career path, and now he wanted to go do this crazy thing, but she was 100 percent supportive. So, it really was a decision that I had to make for myself, and the framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called – which only a nerd would call – a “regret minimization framework.”


So, I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.” I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision. And, I think that’s very good. If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, “What will I think at that time?” it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. You know, I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year. When you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.

Jeff Bezos (I believe this was from “the Everything Store” – a wonderful book by Brad Stone)

I’ll leave you with one more thing (yeah!) – some wonderful advice from Russ Roberts‘ “How Adam Smith can change your life” where he encourages us to be kind and trustworthy to make the world a better place. BTW – if you haven’t read it yet, this is a must read book on so many different levels.

 “If you want to make the world a better place, work on being trustworthy, and honor those who are trustworthy. Be a good friend and surround yourself with worthy friends. Don’t gossip. Resist the joke that might hurt someone’s feelings even when it’s clever. And try not to laugh when your friend tells you that clever joke at someone’s expense. Being good is not just good for you and those around you, but because it helps others be good as well. Set a good example, and by your loveliness you will not only be loved, but you may influence the world.”

And that’s it for now – here’s wishing everyone a wonderful year. Please do share/like/comment this post – it’s the conversation that adds the greatest value to a post.


A concotion of New year wishes, grandma (& grandpas) and air travel

Its that time of the year when everyone is thinking up of wishes for the new year.

I have a special one – mainly inspired from my recent travel spanning 3 countries, 6 airports and marathon queues and here it is:

“In 2013, air travel should become grandma (and grandpa) friendly”

This is in truth a googly (or if you are reading this in the US a “headfake”) – it’s actually several wishes (and rules) rolled up into one. As a bonus and to please the bean counters however, I shall also talk about the associated saves.

Here goes (beware it’s a bit wicked!):

Wish A: Any airline which globalizes food names will have their licenses revoked immediately. Idli, vada and sambar can no longer be called rice pan cakes, lentil doughnuts and semolina porridge! I shudder to think what they would call haka noodles or sushi (unless ofcourse like the pizza these were named before we become “globally” enlightened!)

So what’s the ROI? –Fewer dictionaries required on board to help the stewardess convince the grandma that the food is indeed vegetarian and never walked once in their lifetime. This time saved by the stewardess can be used to sell more duty free goods – $$$

Wish B: A World-wide realization that Grandpas are not fedex employees. Getting them to remove (and repack) any “large and/or complicated” electronic equipment at every security check point (which in these days would mean everything from watches to mobiles to tablets to laptops) will require the CEO of the concerned airline to come down and personally put in everything that has been removed into the minuscule sized luggage that grandmas pack. The same logic applies for liquids (remember grandmas are not chemists and cant be expected to carry pipettes to measure their concoctions into 100 ml bottles) – they will be allowed to carry any sweets/ treats and such with no checks whatsoever. Exceptions include any home-made medicine they may carry for their grandchildren – these can (actually must) be confiscated -failing which the aforementioned CEO will need to partake of the stuff.

So what’s the ROI? millions of hours saved of course. Also the CEO gets some exercise (and the bitter medicine) which will help him live longer (and understand life is not all roses…)…

Wish C: “Name Pattern based Terrorist identification software” (wow!) must be globalized. A name (or initial) which goes without any challenges in the UK (for example) cannot be detained for questioning in the US (or for that matter across different airports in the same country). An addendum is to acknowledge that Indian parents (and East Europeans too I suspect) consider their job properly done only if their children have a minimum of 21 characters in their names – getting these checked by the poor hassled TSA (or equivalent) agents will result in the CFO of the concerned airline having to take chinese lessons! Continued failure to adopt this law will result in him having to watch this video!

So what’s the ROI? – Saves in the doctors’ fees that will undoubtedly result if the poor security guys continue to be subjected to reading a million passports each with wildly different roots

Wish D: Asking people to checkout their luggage only to give it back to a connecting flight’s counter a hundred yards away will result in the CTO of the airline having to listen to one of grandpa’s long (and very boring) tales. Same fate will befall the airport boss whose terminals are more distant from each other than your destination airport is.

So what’s the ROI? -Saves from the reduced risk of someone’s grandpa checking your luggage (by mistake of course) to a remote destination isn’t enough?

On which irreverent note, I should acknowledge that much as terrorism, technology and scale have made travel that much more complicated, the people on the ground (stewards, security agents, luggage coordinators, information kiosks) more than make up for it by extending their help – and with a smile to boot. It was Christmas time then – and the good cheer, goodwill and kindness of these people was wonderful to behold – thank you all.

And wishes to all my readers for a wonderful year ahead. I know some of you would have come hoping to see a signature “meditation on our times type”  story or perhaps even a technology story – but new year eve I believe deserves something like this –  irreverent and absolutely not-on-point. Agreed?