The right Technology for the wrong use-case!

Yesterday, @sweetsudha1 shared this hilarious evolution of Deepavali wishes over the years. 

As I laughed, I realized she had shared something very profound. 

Over time, Technology has rendered full-service transactions into self-service transactions. We are good with this transition – it saves us time, effort, and costs. We had to visit Banks for withdrawals. ATMs made this more accessible as we just had to drive over to the nearest kiosk with our Card. Desktops allowed us to do our transactions from home – so we didn’t have the bother of going to the ATM now. And today, Mobile apps enable you to transact anywhere – and you don’t even need to type stuff, you can just talk, and the App will do your bidding. It’s hard to see where this evolution isn’t helpful. Lower costs, convenience – on any parameter, it comes out on tops. You can extend this to other areas – taxis (hail a cab from your Uber app instead of going to the taxi stand), shopping (amazon as opposed to the store), food (have it cooked and delivered to your taste as opposed to visiting the restaurants). All full services are becoming productized – and we are the beneficiary.

But in her tweet, there is a fascinating context. Deepavali is a festival, a period of leisure and friendship. Leisure demands our attention – that’s what makes it worthwhile. You stroll to the beach – for walking – there’s no other reason. If adventure travel is your thing  – you do it because you like it. If you take the effort and the personal touch out of the interaction, you render the experience sterile. It’s worth ensuring that we don’t end up killing the experience while attempting to productize a hobby!

Companies like IKEA use experience (drive to the big warehouse on the outskirts of town, choose and transport the furniture components to your home and then build the table yourself) as their differentiator for business too. The customer pays for the experience of building stuff – for the customer’s experience and sense of fulfillment.

I’ll leave you with that thought. I feel we should be careful about productizing “personal” experiences out of the equation. Doing so may risk robbing us of our identity – we come alive when we interact with people and celebrate – we are a social animal after all!

Would you agree?

Habit Journal Day 8 – time for a haircut?

If there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it’s this – that we don’t know how to do the simplest of things!

No, I am not ranting about masks, social distancing and vaccines. I am talking about more mundane things. Let’s revisit the lockdown period, these are the first thoughts most people had (yeah, I see you nodding!):

  1. I don’t know to cook, and the restaurants are closed!
  2. I have no idea on how to change bulbs and tube lights, and there are five that need to be replaced!
  3. How does one go about getting a haircut without a barber?

And so on…

In essence, we can write super-computer code, create multi-dimensional cat videos on the cloud and articulate how Bitcoins are going to change the world. But, we didn’t know how basic stuff – a little humbling for sure!

But technology (as always) comes to bail us out. With a little know-how from YouTube, our microwaves, vacuum cleaners/robot mops, and washing machines save the day. Yeah – we cannot forget YouTube – because it is these videos that teach us which buttons to press 🙂

End of story? Well, not quite.

Number 3 – how do I get a haircut was the biggie for me. I am one of those guys who stroll into a salon every month like clockwork. The friendly barber (or hairstylist as they are called these days!) ran one of his machines for a few minutes on my scalp, and I was done. I didn’t ask him details, and he didn’t tell – somethings are better off as secret. A head massage followed, and life’s stresses simply melted away.

The lockdown made me realise I didn’t know the first thing about a self-service haircut, now that the Salons were closed. YouTube videos talked about sideburns and curls and stuff – it looked like it was easier to put a man on the moon than get yourself a haircut. I despaired, I prayed. And God sent his answer through Amazon.com – which anyway tracks our every move and preempts our buys. There was a company – get this – that specialised in self-service hair cutting machines.

What’s more, they had a “dummies version”. I ordered one right away and was comforted to note that they were sold out a few hours later. I had plenty of company in the “haircut” ignoramus community.

Thankfully, the government categorised hair cutters as essentials and so a few weeks later the machine landed on my doorstep all sanitised, masked and infection-free. I swept hair-locks out of my eyes and picked up the parcel gratefully.

The guy was not kidding when he said this was for dummies (he didn’t use that word but an equivalent official-sounding jumbo-jumbo, in case you are wondering). The machine comes with many blades – you chose one depending on how closely you wanted to crop your hair. The attachments come in different colours (the company knows you are likely to forget the next time around!). There’s also a fitting to ensure you don’t cur your left ear by accident (and another for the right ear). There’s a cap on the blade, so you don’t cut yourself while stowing it away. There’s a little bottle of oil and a brush to ensure the razor doesn’t infect you (I suppose). And there is a grand total of – one button. Side it, and it is up and running. Slide it back, it stops. The device works on a rechargeable battery – they don’t want you tripping over wires. Like I said, its heaven for the dummies!

It’s served me well, and I have already had three haircuts with it. While a barber may frown at the quality of the job, it’s certainly functional. And Zoom meets don’t capture sideburns anyway!

Wait – I haven’t said the last word yet. Human ingenuity surpasses anything technology can throw at us. With all this tech for cutting hair, these guys thought they had covered every contingency. Well, they had not – I managed to outfox them by losing the charger.

So while I hunt around for my charger, I’ll leave you with that thought. Man > technology. Good day!

Habit journal – Day 5: A goodbye to goodbyes!

My colleagues are too kind. They arranged a get together before I headed out for a year’s break and we relived shared experiences. That’s when a significant thought struck me.

There is no goodbye between friends.

Why?

Let’s revisit a famous analogy. Our life, it is said, is similar to a passenger on a train. People came aboard the train, were with us for a while and left when they arrived at their destination. Relationships are transient, so you were encouraged to connect with people when they were travelling with you. After all, your neighbour could well depart at the next station, and you would never see her again.

This analogy still holds true for human life. We are born, live and die – our physical time is indeed limited. But space and timezones have ceased to be a limitation now. Any person in the world is just one WhatsApp message/ call or tweet away. You have absolutely no excuse for not reaching out to a person you wish to. We had no destination we had to drop off on – virtually we were on the same train forever (or until we wanted to depart!).

As our meeting progressed joyfully – I realised I didn’t need a business reason to call any of these folks. They were friends – we were likely to connect just to say hello. That’s a profoundly satisfying feeling.
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As I chatted about this with a friend later in the day, he asks me a much deeper question. If conversations are so easy now, why are people often disengaged? We have competent, high tech phones. Why then do we hesitate to make that call we know we need to make?

I don’t know – but I suspect Maya Angelou has the answer:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

– Mary Angelou

And this, I realise, is what good teams do. They make each other feel good. And this goodness is what translates into a great culture. Happy cultures almost guarantee colleagues turn into friends – and with friends on board, work takes a playful hue. It’s a very virtuous circle.

So is technology pro-human? That’s a nuanced question. On one side, we push automation as a way to get humans out of the equation. On the other hand, “Experience” technology tries to make our interactions more human. As far as the common man is concerned, 4G and 5G are mere words until an emoticon, a video or a voice make it a worthwhile human experience. My point – displaying more human-ness through enabling tech is an option. And in today’s world, it’s an excellent choice.

And so we complete our meditations for the day. Goodbyes don’t exist anymore. Technology has rendered physical proximity non-essential, and so people are always just a call or message away. The trick is in how we connect and between Maya Angelou and today’s technology, we are covered. Agreed?

Enough for today – enjoy your weekend. 😀😀

Multi-tasking to multi-focus

A decade or so ago, multi-tasking was a much revered skill. People would flash it in their resumes, coffee corners would resound with whispers of the star who could do many things at the same time and supervisors would put that up as a skill to acquire proficiency in as you made your way up the corporate ladder.

Over the recent years, the experts have started leaning the other way – multi-tasking is driving you to distraction and driving your productivity down claim recent reports. If you are one of the people who have a chat conversation going on on your laptop, 50 emails screaming for your attention, your mobiles beckoning you for a calender meet or a whatsapp message and a colleague stopping by to drop off a memo for a priority task – you can but agree with the experts. Everywhere, everyone is busy but work doesn’t get done!

An alternate approach seems to be multi-focus – the ability to do many things but one thing at a time. Interestingly, this is exactly what the buddhist meditators have recommended for our wellbeing for thousands of years. There is a story where a disciple asks a monk what meditation is and the monk answers something to the tune of “be mindful. when drinking tea, drink tea. when walking, walk. when eating eat. when working, work”.

This principle seems to be at the heart of all successful work today. Jack Dorsey seems to be able to balance time between “twitter” and “square” – one company at a time. As does Elon Musk. As does AR Rahman with his “school for music”, his various concerts and of course his pilgrimages. Bill Gates brought in legendary focus into Microsoft and now into the Melinda Foundation – one thing (only) at a time. Dr.Abdul Kalam played rocket scientist, president and continues to be a role model – each role is perfect in itself.

There seems to be a lesson here for many of us. If dinner, TV shows and conversations with loved ones compete for attention – at the same time – time to evolve from a multi-tasking individual (where focus stretches thin) to a multi-focus individual (lesser time on each activity but with absolute focus).

You agree?

Finding design in Unlikely places….

Its that time of the year again – when we realise we have been away from our blog too long – and also that the new year is upon us and we can get away with putting together a quick “happy new year” message.

I thought I’d do one better – I’d also talk about how awesome music on my iphone sounded on my car’s audio system – which the brochures proudly proclaimed were “designed” to be iPhone/iPad compatible. What this meant was that I could simply plug in my iDevice and fiddle around with the steering audio controls and hey presto they would work!

Except that it didnt. Let me explain. The guys who designed the contraption on my car apparently designed it for iPhone 4 which came with a 30 pin cable. The guys who designed the iPhone 5s decided that 8 pins was good enough. So here I was with a devil of a choice – I could use an old phone or a new car – not both.

Or could I? A quick visit to google.com let me know there were tons of people out there who faced exactly this problem and to alleviate their distress, a new product had been invented – the 30 pin to 8 pin converter cable – and to procure this I repaired to my favourite accessory shop. Post the necessary greetings, the shop man unveiled a gleaming box with lots of important looking symbols and extracted a shiny white cable. All problems seemed solved now – until I plugged the cable into the phone that is – for it wouldn’t work. The reason, the cable was not apple “certified!”. A cable requiring “certification” – now isn’t that “insane”! (ok thats a crazy attempt at humour!). Turns out that apple had decided to put in a chip into every cable that would detect if it was certified for use with their new devices – for the 8 pin model had design features that made charging “lightening” fast!

This got me thinking – I had just discovered the new world of “cable design” a field I never knew existed. I guess this is why there’s that proverb about “God being in the details” – and I started looking at the other cables shipped with devices I own trying to figure out if they had some stories to tell as well – and here’s the report:

All charging cables happen to be very short. You can buy the most expensive iPhone or the most “value for money” nokia – they all come with ridiculously short cables. Why is this? One article (again post a quick search on google) proclaimed that this was because speaking on phones while charging was very, very dangerous and could result in burns – and shorter cables ensured that you couldn’t speak while charging unless you happened to be 2 feet high and loved speaking attached to a wall. Several articles debunked this article as but a spam. However the charging cables continue to come short, so if you figure out why, let me know!

I then proceeded onto the kindle. Now my kindle cable is very long – at least thrice as long as the standard mobile charger cable. Kindle as you know is a reading device not a listening device, so this doesn’t invalidate the above observation – indeed Amazon patently encourages you to use the device to shop and read while charging.

The kindle cable also doesn’t come with the plug at the end – perhaps their designers figured that anyone who buys a kindle already has several usb chargers at home and would appreciate a longer cable instead of yet another plug for their money. If this is true, that designer has a standing invitation for a dinner from me any day!

And now we come to the most important part – if you have a samsung, an apple and a nokia (not the smart one), you’ll discover that you need three chargers by conventional design. And if you happened to buy one in the UK, one in the US and one in India (and I am not even talking about Australia), you’ll figure you need as many converters – to make sure they fit. Some have flat pins, some have rounded pins, some work with 110 V, some with 240 V – you get the scenario. Well not anymore – all devices now work with both 110 and 240 volts, all new homes are fitted with universal switch boards now allowing any charger to be plugged in. Also all the charger plugs have usb plugging capability, so no matter what type of pin goes into your device a usb pin comes out the other end effectively solving the compatibility problem brilliantly!

Which brings me to the last point. The new Nexus comes with a charger that looks like a pod on which your mobile can lounge on – no wires at all. That takes the logic on the earlier para to a whole new level huh?

So here’s my point. Some wonderful accessories’ revolution (especially in cables, chargers and plug points) has been silently happening – and these revolutionaries perform a largely thankless job. While we appreciate newer, groovier devices – seldom do we take the time to look at and appreciate equally important work on cables and such that make it possible for us to live the life we do today! Thank you folks – you have my everlasting gratitude.

Let me close with a wonderful quote by Robert M Pirsig (from his Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values) and a wish for a brilliant 2014:

“The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha – which is to demean oneself.”

Now who can better that huh?

Tradition, Nature and Technology – a delightful potpouri

Its one of those days – where nature, tradition and modernity come pleasantly together; and we involuntary let out a sign of contentment. These moments are few and should be cherished – not because they happen infrequently -, but because we have so little time to notice such wonder these days.

For starters, its the “Deepavali” weekend, the weekend that the whole of India rejoices in – with everyone wearing new clothes, every home brightly lit with flickering earthen lamps, neighbours actively exchanging sweets and a smile playing on everyone’s face. And add an India-Australia cricket match and you certainly have a full hand. Thats tradition.

Nature seems to agree all is well and showers her bounty – a steady stream of rain – upon the earth. A few kids trying to light some fireworks run hither-thither in search of jugaads to make the fireworks work while the old woman across the street looks up to the sky as she remembers a long-forgotten, care-free childhood – and smiles a toothless smile. Nature is in her element and all’s right with the world.

I sit on the balcony, the rain pattering on the windows and a kindle in my hand reading John Grisham’s latest thriller. The Mobile brings in personal greetings from once-best friends – now lost in the mists of memory – and nostalgia competes for attention with the best seller in my possession. The messages win round one – soon tragedies of old reappear as fond comedies (remember when that teacher caught you cheating on your paper!), and foibles of youth now transform into achievements of your youth. Technology just brought the world – and the past – a lot closer to me.

On this wonderful occasion as we wish everyone a great festive season, here’s a hope that Tradition, Nature and Technology all continue to play such symphonies in tandem, delighting us with the ensuing harmony. Or to be more precise, to give us the “presence of mind” to be able to notice more of these enchanting dances and “leave the cares of the world” alone for a while – at least until the end of the festive season. Amen to that!

Apple explores newer horizons

It was “apple week” last week. Some loved the event, some hated it – no matter which way you swung though – it was one of the most talked about event in technology news ever since of course – last month’s iPhone 5S and 5C launch!

The events (and the products!) got me thinking – was something big happening out here? Is it just me or did Apple just unleash new categories with its launches? Consider:

The iPhone 5s launch repositions the phone as a “fashion statement”, essentially a new category for phones – while its 5c variant battles on the technology/ innovation plank with samsung and the other boys.

And doesn’t Apple’s hiring Angela Ahrendts (CEO of Burburry) reinforce this intent – here’s a good Forbes article arguing for it?

And how about the iPAD Air? Its not really a conventional tablet, its not a net book, its not a laptop nor a phone. So who is its competition – again no one – allowing it to charge that big premium – while the older gen iPAD and iPad minis continues to slug it with the samsung tabs of the world.

So while the competitors seem more focussed on the cheaper, faster, better (think chromecast/ htc one/ samsung tab etc.) planks – apple seems to be going for “lifestyle” – a new dimension for the industry itself. And that I think its cool.

Just wait a minute though. Samsung did a category definition with its note 2 (the “phablet” with the “s pen” right?). And with its new samsung gear+ note 3 combo?

Perhaps yes, but I think these are still products on the technology/ innovation plank focussing on faster/better/ cheaper – the note essentially did what the phone and the tablet could do and the gear is essentially an extension of the note 3 (a more versatile accessory than the stylus, its newer avatars of course may be a whole new story taking the fight into the nike fuelband category!!). Apple on the other hand seems to be going a whole new route – the closest analogy I can think of is the time when watches started appearing in jewellery shops as luxury goods. Thoughts?

Technology is at its best when it is invisible

And that my friends is a quote from Nassim Taleb’s thought provoking book “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder”. Good technology he maintains allows the job to be done without drawing attention to itself.

Take the Nike hyperfeel shoe for instance – it prides on making the runner feel the ground he is running on better/ get attuned to it as it were. This is the latest in a long evolution of footwear – and while hyperfeel’s ancestors prided on insulating the runner from the environment (Nike air with all that padding for instance!), the new generation prides itself on inclusiveness with the environment. This shoe is meant to allow the runner become one with his environment – its success is in making itself invisible!

Or take this quote from a fastcodesign.com article on google’s newly found design ethos “Google’s aesthetic aim is clear: to disappear. The most beautiful Google experience is the one you never notice”. An ethos that has found its way into many of google’s new products delighting its customers.

The living root bridges at chirapunjee where bridges are “grown over a decade or so” from live roots are great examples too. The bridges work, the trees continue to live and people use them to get across – the design is invisible. There are bridges that are reputed to be over 500 years old – talk about innovation, sustainability and invisible design all at one go!

And finally, this idea seems to not just propel technology and design, but also leadership – here’s a wonderful quote from the great Chinese sage Lao Tzu on leadership:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”

That’s that then. Time to ask ourselves if our designs and our work (or for that matter, our very selves) are invisible and very handy or “in your face – more attention seeking than solving a purpose”.

Generational?

As I settle myself into a cozy living room sofa and switch on the entertainment system, a curious thought strikes me – what I am experiencing today is 3 generations of technology – consider:

– the furniture has more or less remained the same (yes I know different materials and styles are in vogue today but the underlying substratum is much the same). Made from natural material (teak in this case), it has survived in form and concept for so very long

– The tv and the radio are an improvement from our father’s generation. Its a credit that the concept of the tv (and the radio) has lived across generations (the form of course is different – the smart tvs (and internet radios) of today are very different from their monochromatic, bulky ancestors

– The ipad and the note 2 are strictly one generation (or actually a part of a generation) old. They weren’t here a decade ago and in their present form/ concept aren’t likely to be with us the next decade. Wearables for instance are catching up quickly – and in a world where you can enter and experience myriad worlds with just your glasses, they probably would take over duty from these devices which look so indispensable today!

Interesting when you think about it – and perhaps worth some exploration about this movement of the ages and the things we value over time. An equally interesting detour is to look at what has similarly evolved in our lives – take for instance:

values – they have not really changed over many, many generations. Shiva, Christ and Buddha continue to guide us (many times through the medium of our elders and teachers) on what to value in life and how to evolve. Values like integrity, honesty, compassion etc. aren’t going out of fashion anytime soon!

Society norms are often a generation or two old. Smoking was considered cool (even medicinal!) a hundred years ago – its strictly a no, no today in most public places. Slavery, gender inequality, racism and many such isms are no longer considered acceptable (thankfully!). Of course other “isms” have crept in which will go out of vogue in the next generation as people become wiser too!

Our jobs, workplaces and vocations are all probably part-generational. Twenty years back – “IT as a career” meant something very different from what it is today and I am sure twenty years from now it will be again very, very different. Computer (immersive) games fall in this category as well. Probably our work timings, work places, the things we read, the heroes we look upto will change to – who would have thought even a decade ago nerds’ stories would capture mainstream imagination in such a big way – remember the block buster movie (the social network) and a tome of a biography (steve jobs)?

Here’s a thought that lingers.

If the above were true, would we want to reconsider how we spend our time?

Would we want to spend more time (and emotion) on stuff that lasts a few years, a couple of generations or through the ages?

Or can we integrate it somehow that what we do today aligns to what sustains through the ages?

Ten years of WordPress and interesting trivia from blogging history

Ten years and counting. Happy birthday WordPress.

Quite an achievement this in today’s technology-fuelled world where a calendar year is in itself a very long time.

The occasion merits a little investigation into the roots of WordPress. Here’s a gem of a blog which brings home the nostalgia in shovels – it’s an early blog postwhere founder Matt Mullenweg ruminates on an appropriate name for his project and cofounder Mike Littlecomments – and WordPress takes off. A moment in blogging history huh?

I’ve always found that an understanding of the folks behind momentous events is interesting – so who are these guys?

Check out http://ma.tt/which interestingly claims Matt’s “unlucky in cards” but he seems to have been lucky everywhere else. Mike little’s website proclaims “word press specialist” – and we really need say any more? So much for the WordPress guys and happy birthday again.

I guess its also time to celebrate some special moments in blogging history to wrap this post.

According to nymag.com. the first blog ever was created by a student (Justin hall) in 1994.This blog (http://links.net/) is still active and updated – and Justin is now with a mobile phone entertainment company. Go take a look at history today!

And then in 1997, John Barger shortened the phrase “logging the web” into “weblog” and is therefore a father of sorts to the blogging world. His weblog http://www.robotwisdom.com/ is still online – but please have a few hours handy before browsing it – it’s mammoth in scope.

A couple of years later, Peter Merholtz shortened “weblog” to “blog” (apparently he called it “we blog” on the sidebar of his wonderful http://www.peterme.com/). So here’s father number 2 – from a naming standpoint. And this is a wonderful blog to read too – and very well designed at that.

The year 1999 was also special for one other reason it turns out: a team of three friends ganged up to create the world’s first free blogging service (blogger.com). And to that we owe you many, many thanks – blogger team. Now they are a part of google and from their “about” page we understand they are a little big bigger but just as focused on helping people find their voice on the web.

But my favourite blogging story relates to this anecdote relating to a lady named Heather Armstrong. Hers’ was the first recorded case of a person being fired for blogging (yes!) about her workplace on her personal blog http://dooce.com/ (and yes dooce.com is still very much alive and current). As a result, we now have a new english word “dooced” which the urban dictionaryinforms us means “getting fired because of something you wrote in your blog”.

On that note, let’s look forward to many more years of blogging adventures (and hopefully we aren’t dooced in the process!).

Defining moments

Defining moments – you’ve got to think about them with a bit of nostalgia.

Picture our ancestral man walking in the woods completely at the mercy of nature. He worships her and hopes she will be kind to him. He prays, pleads and cherishes nature – for he knows this is her eternal playground and he is but a player who can make hay only when the sun shines.

And then one day, a nerdy one from his community comes up with a contraption which tilts the balance a little in his favor. He can now do more with less and he lays his achievement at the feet of his god. Ploughs, clubs (the animal beating kind not the trance inducing kind!) and fire are very early examples of such inventions. Man basked in glory with his invention and nature smiled in acknowledgement of his genius.

Over time, the machines take over and nature often gets displaced from the equation, indeed she has become fodder to the machines in several cases. Think about it – cars and phones have made distance irrelevant, air-conditioning and heaters have softened weather extremities and so on. The ozone layer, fossil fuels and precious metals are fast becoming endangered – but without doubt, the inventions they have enabled have improved material quality of life, saved numerous lives and put people on the moon.

To me, the second phase is always intriguing – the one where nature still ruled but man exhibited his brilliance and excelled. This man travelled where no man had gone before and could truly feel he had hit a home run (in the third phase, I suppose the machines could feel the same way too!). There are a few of the wonderful inventions from yesteryear we can experience even today – and when we do, we experience a bit of the joy that our very proud ancestor must have felt in those very early days.

The “Inland” letters: Think back a few hundred years. Man had to make long arduous journeys (or coax his traveler pigeons!) to communicate with his loved ones. It was only the fit and the adventurous that could make such journeys and a messenger could take with him but brief notes from the entire tribe. Just facts were shared – there wasn’t enough technology to be able to share emotions yet.

The age of the post office dawned then and allowed for low-cost, elaborate, emotional communication. Handcrafted letters to your loved ones and greetings to brighten up special occasions were the order of the day – a state of affairs that continued till the dawn of this century. People spent time choosing the type of paper (also the pen and the ink) and spent quality time composing letters that spoke volumes and were cherished by the receiver. Many from the “letter generation” have collections that they hold very dearly to this day.

If this seems like a cool thing, why not share a personalized (yes you could use your tablet too!) thoughtful message to a loved one today? How do we know its personalized – check the distribution list (it should be singular!), check the address and signature (it should not be auto signature) and ask yourself if the person concerned deserves a hand-written note (if he/she does you are bang on target).

Bicycles: The invention of the bicycle must have been a momentous moment for man who could suddenly travel twice or thrice the distance he could cover earlier in the same amount of time with ease. The bicycle still required him to pedal though (gears came much later!) and he couldn’t cycle on rough roads or in very bad weather. It wasn’t man vs machine vs nature, but rather a partnership that stretched the limits of man and machine and helped him do more with nature.

The bicycle even today brings in this feeling – almost mystical – of experiencing the fast paced world without sacrificing one’s humanness. You feel the road and its surface bumps (especially if you have one of those modern ones which don’t have suspensions!), you can see (and smell) the multi-colored hues on the vegetable seller’s stalls, sense the excitement in the old couple rushing to catch the bus home for dusshera and the prayers on the children’s lips hoping for a miracle (for the school to be declared a holiday!). You can also feel the stark indifference from the cars (and the big SUVs) which scream past, windows locked, music and mobiles on – they are there beside you on the road but the electronics (and machines) are a pied piper of our times – and have claimed these folks into their virtual world.

Now, here’s the thing – these reflections do not demand binary responses – you don’t need to replace your mercedes with a bicycle. You don’t need to replace sending hundreds of emails addressed to tons of people with personalized messages – you cannot do so nor would our relationship with most of the recipients be intimate enough to deserve a personalized message (just yet).

To complement our very busy life though, if could bring in a few moments where we get to experience some of these “defining and human” moments – our lives would be much richer. At these moments, we are truly alive with nature, machine and man in true equilibrium – and the symmetry does bring a smile to your face.

Information? Reputation?

So much for that experiment! I tried to put together a small note on what I thought was priceless information and in a pocket-sized format, and there were no takers (ha, ha!)! Not the regulars, not the folks coaxed by WordPress, nor those diverted by the search engines. Maybe the time wasn’t right, it wasn’t packaged right – or maybe it just plain sucked! So, let’s do the next best thing, call it off and move on to more sturdy ground…and do some meditation on “information and reputation” instead..

It seems to me information is no longer a “differentiated and powerful” currency. It’s a commodity – we have too much of it, and we have it everywhere. We have google to look up all sorts of worldly stuff, the newspapers for keeping count of all the depressing stuff, tons of metrics (and even more dashboards) at work and the psychiatrists to tell you more about yourself than you want to know. The age of “information being power” and the “middle managers ( please click to checkout a very nice piece from HBR)” – seem truly dead. Commodity exchanges (linking farmers and marketplaces), eBay (linking vendors to clients directly), social media (connecting news sources and client) and many like these – ensure brokers are going digital everywhere. As managers, information by itself seems to be a fairly ineffective  weapon in our arsenal. The quicker we recognize it, the better – unless we’d like to figure as  another pink slip statistic!
So what do we do after decades of playing the “parse and pass information” game? Do we have an alternative? Establishing a “reputation” of being able to assimilate different information sources and providing solutions seems to be one good alternate. In other words, technical consulting, implementation and support (advisory support on a technical or business aspect), mentoring (enabling a fellow human being achieve her potential), evangelism (espousing a cause we believe in, provided its not “information brokering!”) all seem to be dimensions we should tap into to avoid the failure game. Be the best and a beacon light for the multitudes to be successful – seems to be the mantra of the day. Isn’t “reputation” the currency which makes Eliyahu GoldrattKen Blanchard, Steven Covey, Anthony Robbins, Al Gore, Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle and the like so very sought after?
Interestingly this “reputation” over “information” thinking seems to have pervaded the digital world too. The Wolframalpha search engine gets a lot of rave reviews due to its ability to serve you contextual info, klout scores and pinterest leaders seem to have no correlation to the account owners’ “bigness” but more on the quality and appropriateness of the content shared, quora emphatically believes that humans are better than machines at answering queries and YouTube continues to “discover” teen wonders (that was meant to shock you!).
So is this the moral – information is now hygiene – it cannot deliver greatness by itself? Are what we do with the information and how consistently we do so – what gets us the laurels?
If you are a manager, time to reach out for a  “knowledge to wisdom” transformation exercise. If we are a digital provider, time to introspect – are we an artist or a painter of houses? And is that who we want to be?

P.S: if you are intrigued by the piece that inspired the first para, I have decided to leave it in this blog (titled “mindfulness”) for a week or so…