Friday, March 6, 2020

The 12 Most Important Questions By Jeff Bezos

In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story – Jeff Bezos
This week an article from CNBC on a topic we seem to think over at least once every year, from a man whose thoughts will be worth considering.
What’s the secret to a long, happy and successful life? That seems to be a question we ask ourselves over and over.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has shared his thoughts on this very topic many times — and he might just be onto something.

“When you are 80-years-old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made,” Bezos said in his 2010 commencement speech at Princeton University.

The purpose of his speech, called “We Are What We Choose,” was to emphasize the difference between gifts and choices: “Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.”

In other words, no matter how successful you become, what you’ll end up caring about the most in hindsight isn’t the number of zeroes in your bank account, but it’s the choices you made to get where you are. But without the benefit of hindsight, how can we tell if we’re on a path that we’ll be proud of when we look back on our lives 10, 20 or 30 years from now?

In his talk, Bezos recounted the time in which he first came up with the idea to start an online bookstore business (which would later become what the entire world now knows as Amazon). At the time, he knew that moving forward with the idea would be a very risky move.

Bezos even asked his boss, who he said was “brilliant” and “much admired,” for advice. He was told that although it “sounded like a very good idea, it would be an even better idea” if Bezos didn’t already have a good job. “It really was a difficult choice, but ultimately, I decided I had to give it a shot. I didn’t think I’d regret trying and failing. And I suspected I would always be haunted by a decision to not try at all,” Bezos said. “After much consideration, I took the less safe path to follow my passion, and I’m proud of that choice.”

The truth in life is that we’ll all make choices we end up regretting. It’s called failure, and failure can be a good thing because it teaches us how to be better. But as we grow older, our goal should be to minimize the number of failures that lead to regret.

“In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story,” he said towards the end of his speech. To build a great story, Bezos offered 12 questions and urged everyone to think deeply about them:

  1. How will you use your gifts?
  2. What choices will you make?
  3. Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
  4. Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
  5. Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
  6. Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
  7. Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
  8. Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
  9. Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
  10. When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
  11. Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
  12. Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
While these questions don’t provide a fool proof recipe for happiness, they can guide us in making choices that will ultimately help us live a life we’re proud of.
Not all of us will end up reaching the same height of success as Bezos, a self-made billionaire and the richest person in the world. But there’s no reason we can’t — or shouldn’t — challenge ourselves to build a story worth telling.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Akbar & Birbal

Akbar had the navratnas in his darbar. The best of them was Birbal. Not because of the wisdom (both direct and implied) that exists in those stories, but because of the wonderful relationship that the protagonists had. All relationships can learn from this beautiful example of a perfect relationship that existed between a master and a subordinate. Let us delve deeper. 
Would Akbar be as great if he did not throw impossible challenges at Birbal?
Or did not allow Birbal to express himself freely and fully?
Or acknowledge his mistakes when Birbal showed him the mirror?
Would Birbal be as great if he did not have Akbar as his benefactor and tough taskmaster?
Not many people in power can “reflect” on the reflection that they see especially if (a) they don’t like what they see and (b) the mirror is held by someone who is below them in the power equation. Very few subordinates will have the courage to (a) say that the emperor is naked and (b) hold the mirror that confirms to the emperor that he is naked. Throwing away the mirror that highlights the “uncomfortable truth” and joining the other subordinates in throwing lavish praises on the naked emperors fabulous garments is a much easier option indeed, that’s why a vast majority will take that route.
Emperors need to embrace and nurture those (you would be lucky to find a few of them, by the way) who have the courage to act and say what needs to be said. Subordinates need to know that there always exists a line that can/should not be crossed and the best way to guide an open and intelligent mind is a gentle nudge and not a strong push and “I told you so” attitude. It’s difficult – like all other meaningful things that are worth striving for.
So what is your favourite Akbar Birbal story? Here is mine.
To all the Akbars and Birbals reading this – may you have more wisdom and power. We play many roles every day – we are the Akbars of some relationships, Birbals of some others and the darbaris of a few. If we stay true to our roles the relationships will be fuller and more meaningful. And while it may be very difficult to do it all the time, it will be worthwhile to attempt to do it most of the time. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

To Bee or not to Bee

We humans and bees (also ants) have lots in common. Both are social and live in complex societies. Communication is very important to us. Division of labour and specialisation exists in both the societies. Risk management is critical to both – more about it at the end.
A colony of bees consists of 20,000-60,000 honey bees and one queen. Worker honey bees are female and do all the work. Larger than the worker bees, the male honey bees (also called drones), have no stinger and produce offspring for the colony.
Life cycle of a worker bee is 5 – 7 weeks and they have defined work as per their age
Week 1 – Clean the honeycomb, feed larvae
Week 2 – Build Honeycomb, receive food from incoming bees
Week 3 – Guard the hive, remove dead bees
Week 4 onwards – get nectar, pollen, water
The busy bee is really busy!!
  • Honey bees must gather nectar from two million flowers and fly about 90,000 miles – three times around the globe – to make one pound of honey.
  • The average bee will make only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
  • A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.
  • A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour.
  • The queen bee can live up to 5 years and is the only bee that lays eggs. She is the busiest in the summer months, when the hive needs to be at its maximum strength, and lays up to 2500 eggs per day.
  • Honey has always been highly regarded as a medicine. It is thought to help with everything from sore throats and digestive disorders to skin problems and hay fever.
  • Honey bees have been producing honey in the same way for 150 million years.
  • The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.
  • Honey lasts forever.
  • Bees make honey so that they can eat it in the winter when there are less flowers.

Honey bees use movement, odour cues, and even food exchanges to communicate. After collecting nectar and pollen from many different flowers, bees fly back to their colonies. They regurgitate nectar, mixed with enzymes, and expose the mixture to the air for several days, creating honey. Pollen is mixed with nectar to form a protein-rich substance called beebread. Beebread is primarily used to feed young developing bees, called larvae. Odour cues transmit important information to members of the honey bee colony. When a worker honey bee stings, it produces a pheromone that alerts her fellow workers to the threat. That's why a careless intruder may suffer numerous stings if a honey bee colony is disturbed.

Honey bee workers perform a series of movements, often referred to as the "waggle dance," to inform other workers the location of food sources more than 150 meters from the hive. Scout bees fly from the colony in search of pollen and nectar. If successful in finding good supplies of food, the scouts return to the hive and "dances" on the honeycomb. After performing the waggle dance, the scout bees may share some of the food with the following workers, to communicate the quality of the food supply available at the location.

The honey bee dance was observed and noted by Aristotle as early as 330 BC. Karl von Frisch, a professor of zoology in Munich, Germany, earned the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his ground breaking research on this dance language. His book The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees, published in 1967, presents fifty years of research on honey bee communication.

The scout bees play a very imp role in the diversification of the food sources for the colony. You see, some bees ignore the “waggle dance” and keep going further to find other food sources. The idea is to diversify in a way that there are multiple sources of food for the colony at all times. The trick is in optimisation – enough bees should go to an established source so as to collect most of the available food and some should keep scouting for new sources so that the risk of running out of food is minimal. One can also argue that the most progress that humankind has made has been from people who like these scouts have ignored the conventional wisdom and taken the road less travelled to new discoveries.  
Are we making the best use of our time? Are we optimising our time between the short and long term objectives? Are we in a symbiotic relationship with nature like bees and flowers? Are we making the society better with our individual contributions and working with one another? Perhaps we still have a lot to learn from the bees.
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Friday, January 3, 2020

Solitude

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sharing a very interesting article that I came across.

It's important to spend time around people. You can improve your habits and learn new things when you're surrounded by interesting people. Of course, much of life's biggest joys stem from our relationships. But too much "people time" might also be a bad thing. Our digital devices often make us feel like we need to be connected 24/7. And all of the noise, activity, and hustle can wear you out (and ironically can leave you feeling lonelier than ever).

Solitude is an essential component to your health and well-being. But, as a therapist, convincing people to spend time alone can be a tough sell. Many people who enter my therapy office are already feeling lonely. And there's evidence that says loneliness is becoming a health epidemic. Being alone and feeling lonely are two completely different things, however. Many people feel lonely even when they're in a crowded room. And some people spend lots of time alone without ever actually feeling lonely.

In fact, building more solitude into your daily life might actually reduce your feelings of loneliness. Solitary skills take practice if you're not used to being alone, but over time, you can grow more comfortable with being by yourself. But shirking loneliness isn't the only reason you should spend more time in solitude. There are many other reasons spending time alone can help you build the mental strength you need to reach your greatest potential.

 1. Solitude helps you get to know yourself.
When you're by yourself, you make choices without outside influences. You can choose how to spend your time without worrying about anyone else's feelings. Making choices on your own will help you develop better insight into who you are as a person.

Being alone will help you grow more comfortable in your skin as well. The more you know yourself, the better equipped you'll be to be your authentic self when others are around.

 2. Alone time could improve your relationships. 
Spending time with friends, family and colleagues contributes to a "we vs. them" mentality. Although unintentional, you'll see people who don't fit into your inner circle as different from you and you'll develop less empathy for them.

Spending time alone breaks down those barriers. Studies show you'll develop more compassion for other people when you set aside time for solitude.

 3. Solitude boosts creativity and productivity.
There's a reason artists, musicians, and authors seek solitude when they want to create something. A private space, whether it's a secluded studio or a cabin in the woods, allows them to be more creative. Studies confirm that being alone often fosters creativity.

In addition to boosting creativity, solitude also skyrockets productivity. Studies consistently show people perform better when they have privacy (which means open floor plans make terrible work environments).

 4. Solitude improves psychological well-being.
Learning how to be comfortable by yourself may take some getting used to. But solitary skills could be help you become mentally stronger.

Studies have found people who set aside time to be alone tend to be happier. They report better life satisfaction and lower levels of stress. They're also less likely to have depression.  

 5. Being alone gives you an opportunity to plan your life.
While it's important to have joint goals with your romantic partner, family members, or business partner, you also need to make sure that you're living your best life as an individual. Be proactive about planning out your life, similar to the way you might plan for retirement or plan a vacation.

Setting aside time to be alone can help you reflect on your goals, dreams, and aspirations. Take a break from the hustle and bustle to think about whether you're living life according to your values and whether you might want to make some changes.

 How to Set Aside Time to Be Alone
You don't need to aside huge chunks of time to be by yourself in order to benefit from solitude. Just 10 minutes of alone time each day could be enough to help you rejuvenate from the daily grind. If you think you don't have time to sit quietly and think, you probably need alone time more than ever. The busier you are, the more likely you are to benefit from some quiet time. Whether you decide to meditate, write in a journal, or take a hike in nature, it's up to you. But, whatever you do, silence your electronics and allow yourself to be alone with your thoughts. You also might schedule an activity to do by yourself once a month. Go to dinner alone, take a long walk by yourself, or engage in an activity that you enjoy.

 If you're not used to solitude, the silence and lack of activity can feel uncomfortable at first. But, setting aside time to be alone is an essential component of building mental strength and living a rich and full life.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

One Life. Many Masterpieces.

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark."

Everyone is talented but only a few make use of some of our talent. Only a tiny fraction of humankind is able to rise above the ordinary and not only realise our full potential but do more. Today’s story is about Michelangelo, who did all this and much more!!

Michelangelo was a painter, architect, sculptor and poet. He was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy, the second of five sons. His father was a banker but was serving with the government when he was born. The family soon realised that Michelangelo had no interest in the business of money but had a longing for art. His mother was ill so he was placed with the family of stonecutters at a young age where he got fascinated with marble and the tools of the stonecutters. At the age of 13 he was sent to Ghirlandaio and the Florentine painter's fashionable workshop. The next year he was studying sculpture in the palace gardens of the Medici Family – the powerful rulers of Florence. It is fascinating how he got there – he would secretly copy the original sketches reserved for much older students in the studio and he was so good at it that it was impossible to distinguish the copy from the original.

"If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all."

Michelangelo was a perfectionist. He wanted his works to be real. So he spent hours in the common baths, quarries of stonecutters, wrestlers and any other place where he could see the human body in motion. He even dissected the dead bodies to take a look at the muscle beneath the skin (it was illegal then). All this led to a distinctive style – muscular precision and reality combined with beauty. His “Battle of the centaurs” and “Madonna seated on a step” are proof of this, created when he was only 16 years old.

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

Michelangelo reimagined a lot of things. He read and re read the Bible to imagine David from “David and Goliath” not to be the timid and skinny boy that had been created thousands of times earlier, but a muscular and fearless boy. After all David would regularly wrestle with both lions and bears to rescue the sheep that they stole from the flock. Michelangelo took 3 years to turn a 17-foot piece of marble into a dominating figure of David. The strength of the statue's sinews, vulnerability of its nakedness, humanity of expression and overall courage made "David" extremely special.

Michelangelo spent 4 years painting the Sistine Chapel, suspended mid air on his back with his hands raised for hours at a stretch to paint the roof. The project fuelled his imagination, and the original plan for 12 apostles morphed into more than 300 figures on the ceiling of the sacred space. (The work later had to be completely removed soon after due to an infectious fungus in the plaster, then recreated.) He fired all of his assistants, whom he deemed inept, and completed the 65-foot ceiling alone.

Michelangelo worked for nine consecutive Catholic pontiffs from Julius II to Pius IV. His breadth of work for the Vatican was vast, and included everything from crafting ornamental knobs for the papal bed to spending four gruelling years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s dealings with his holy patrons were not always pleasant. He had a particularly fraught relationship with the combative Pope Julius II, and once spent three years working on a marble façade for Leo X, only for the Pope to abruptly cancel the project. The artist later enjoyed more convivial partnerships with other pontiffs, and found a famous champion in Pope Paul III, who defended his work “The Last Judgment” after church officials deemed its many nude figures obscene.

Not only was Michelangelo great at what he did but he was also prolific. Sadly many of his works have been lost to the wars of Europe. The fact that he could do so much in so many fields is a testimony to his talents. Not satisfied at being able to work only during daylight, he would spend many nights with a candle atop his hat with the wax dripping on his clothes and hands. He was lovingly called IL DIVINO – the divine one. He was working till the last week of his death.

Whenever you are short of inspiration, do not hesitate to pick up “Agony and the Ecstacy” by Irving Stone which is a biography of Michelangelo. Talent is overrated. Hard work is underrated. A combination of both talent and hard work creates legends. I wish you all the best with creating your own masterpiece!! Enjoy your weekend 😊

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Flywheels and Feedback Loops

I wonder if so many people would still be smoking if one cigarette killed you? It seems ok to smoke till one day (far away in the future, hopefully) all the years of bad behaviour catches up and manifests into a scary medical report. This is a classic long negative feedback loop. You push things far away into the future till one day, future arrives (Thanos is smiling).
Ideally one would want shortest feedback loops as the effects are known immediately and one can course correct. Trading vs Investment. The daily P&L in trading is a short feedback loop – you know every day if it’s working or not. In investments you have a long feedback loop so you can console yourself that even if the results are not encouraging, your process is correct and the markets will eventually see what they are missing today.
Short feedback loops can be painful but can encourage good behaviour by eliminating bad ones. Long feedback loops can mask bad behaviour and make it harder to inculcate good behaviours. Thinking of climbing Everest? Or learning a musical instrument? Or becoming the best version of you? All the best with the years of dedication. Same with good health. Easier to follow fad diets that show immediate results than following an approach that will work but requires lot of dedication and discipline.
Feedback loops also reinforce themselves. That’s why good keeps getting better. And maybe that’s why bad gets worse. Until things reverse. Nothing lasts forever. Feedback loops and flywheels.
Jim Collins originally used the Flywheel as a metaphor in Good To Great:
Picture a huge, heavy flywheel — a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible.
Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn.
What all can we derive from this -
Momentum — An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and object in motion tends to continue in motion. Newton’s first law, applied to business and life. Flywheels (being massive heavy objects) are hard to get moving. If they get moving, they are likely to continue.
Feedback Loops — The faster the wheel is spinning, the easier it is to add incremental speed. The faster it moves, the more energy it generates. And the more excited everyone (and you) is about how great this Flywheel is!
Compounding Return on Effort —No “one push” makes it happen. Continuous small inputs add up into an impressive output, eventually.
Direction — Sustained effort must be focused in one direction in order to maintain momentum and compounding returns. Misplaced effort is either wasted or counterproductive. That is why it is immensely difficult to change behaviours.
Continuous Process – Need to keep working so that the flywheel is in perpetual motion. The momentum that it has will keep it going for some time, but not forever. And remember, it is difficult to get a flywheel in moving in the first place. 
There is a limit — these things don’t go to infinity and beyond!! Too fast and the entire thing can come apart. The laws of physics apply to all things.
You can see each of these concepts in this one paragraph from Good To Great explaining the effect:
The momentum of the thing kicks in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn … whoosh! … its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum.

Flywheel Effect: Feedback loops that build momentum, increasing the payoff of incremental effort. Unfortunately it works both ways – positive and negative.

I hope we are working on our own feedback loops to achieve the impossible!! Enjoy your weekend :-)

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Friday, November 1, 2019

The Pursuit Of Happiness

What is happiness?
Do we want to be happy?
Do we know what makes us happy?
The dictionary defines Happiness as that feeling that comes over us when we know life is good and we can't help but smile. It's the opposite of sadness. Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel happiness.
It is a well-researched topic and many benefits of good health and longevity are believed to be linked to happiness. Interestingly, studies seem to indicate that happiness plateaus after certain level of financial achievement. Many studies also indicate the below characteristics exhibited by happy people –
Satisfying Social Connections
Looking at the bright side
Having a meaning and Purpose in life
Spirituality
Gratitude
Adequate rest and physical activity
But again, what is happiness?
Is it objective or subjective?
Is happiness the absence of sadness? Or do both co-exist?
Is it in small joys or the big moments?
Is remembered happiness more cherished as compared to current happiness?
Are there levels of happiness – is it the same in small and easy to achieve tasks vs big but difficult to get tasks?
Is it a goal or it comes from achieving ones goals?
Is it defined by our genes or is it an attitude that one can cultivate?
Can we influence it or is it defined by the environment we are in?
Is it in being selfish (doing things for oneself) or in selflessness (doing things for others)
Is it fleeting or everlasting? Or somewhere in the middle?
Is it in keeping control or giving it up?
Can one be worried and happy at the same time?
Is Happiness in the journey or the destination?
As you see I don’t have the answers. Like most emotions, it’s complicated. If we are able to look inward and better understand ourselves, I am sure we will know what makes us happy. In my case I have come to realise that I cherish the time spent in misery to achieve something that gives me happiness rather than doing things that give happy moments now but create dissonance later (eating sweets and not working out, binge watching, procrastinating on an important task etc).
So what makes you happy? Go figure.
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