Saturday, October 23, 2021

Learnings from the fall of FC Barcelona

How the best soccer team in the world lost its luster

FC Barcelona produced the greatest homegrown talent of any club but failed to keep the production line rolling. Business leaders can heed its warnings.

If you had to date the peak of FC Barcelona’s reign in global soccer, it might be November 25, 2012. That night, Barça, which plays in the Spanish topflight La Liga, won 4–0 at little Levante. When Martín Montoya replaced the injured Brazilian Dani Alves after 14 minutes, all 11 of Barcelona’s players on the field had come through the club’s youth academy, La Masia. Even Barça’s coach that day, Tito Vilanova, was a Masia alumnus. Arguably, this homegrown 11 were the best on Earth. Soccer clubs pride themselves on having strong youth training programs, but this team was something special. Most of the players had won the World Cup with Spain in 2010. Another, the little Argentinian Lionel Messi, was widely recognized as the world’s best footballer. Barcelona at the time was all-dominant: in the decade from 2006 to 2015, it would win the European Champions League, the biggest prize in club soccer, four times.


How the mighty fall. For years now, Barça has regularly been thumped by better teams in European competition. This August, after running up debts of about US$1.5 billion, Barça was forced to let Messi join Paris Saint-Germain. The Catalan team couldn’t afford to offer him a new contract even after he had agreed to halve his pay. With the club in decline while I was researching my recent book, The Barcelona Complex, I sometimes felt as if I were writing about Rome in 400 AD with the barbarians already inside the gates or perhaps a chronicle of the humbling of GE, a once mighty industry giant whose management relied on past strategies for success with disappointing results. Barcelona’s fall from grace offers lessons for companies that lead or aspire to lead their sectors. The club fell into the trap set for every company that’s number one: it got lazy while its rivals copied its best ideas and built on them. It failed to create a sustainable succession plan for its aging players, and it was profligate with its finances. Barcelona failed to understand that greatness is always a moving target, not just on the pitch.


How the best soccer team in the world lost its luster? Talent unmanaged More than almost any other industry, professional sports revolve around the war for talent. The difficulty teams face in finding the people is something that most companies are starting to experience in the current tight jobs market. The cheapest way to find talent is to source it in-house, as Barcelona did brilliantly in the Messi era. But then the club fell victim to its own success. Once the team was packed with world-beating players, there was little scope for new talents to make their own developmental journey. When the playmaker Thiago Alcântara emerged from La Masia around 2010, he found his path to the first team blocked by the world’s best midfield in Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. Thiago ended up leaving for Bayern Munich. In 2020, he starred in Bayern’s 8–2 demolition of his old club. The Brazilian Neymar did find a place in the great Barcelona side, but he too eventually saw his development blocked. Neymar aspired to something greater than playing as Messi’s right hand, running onto the Argentinian’s passes. He wanted to be Messi: the fulcrum of every attack, winner of Ballon d’Or awards for European Footballer of the Year. In 2017, he left to become the main man at Paris Saint-Germain. Messi considered him modern Barcelona’s most significant loss. (Ironically, the pair are back together again at PSG this season.) More fundamentally, Barça fell into the trap that catches industry leaders across all sectors: complacency.


When an organization is number one, the temptation is to stop thinking. Why innovate when you are already the best? Paco Seirul·lo, a physical trainer who over the decades has turned into the guardian of Barça’s culture—he is known as El Druida (“the druid”)—told me that the club had never bothered to study the great Masia generation to understand how it had emerged. Meanwhile, every rival club was studying Barcelona. They followed the lead of the long-running advertising slogan of rental car firm Avis, which was number two in the market: “We try harder.” The German Hans-Dieter Flick was just one of countless European coaches who visited La Masia to discover its secrets. In 2020, Flick coached the Bayern Munich team that crushed Barça. During Barcelona’s glory years, as one La Masia coach admitted to me, he and his colleagues never made study visits abroad to see what other clubs were doing. They traveled only to explain their success to admiring foreign colleagues at conferences.


Over time, every big soccer club’s youth academy in Europe became La Masia: a university whose curriculum was devised by the legendary Dutch soccer player Johan Cruyff when he took over as manager at Barça in 1988 and explained that winning at soccer meant mastering the rapid passing game. For years, the on-field geometry of Barcelona’s interplay left opponents bewitched. But once everyone else has become La Masia, the original Masia loses its lead. “Football is evolution,” summed up Pep Guardiola, coach of Barcelona in its peak era, from 2008 to 2012. Especially in Europe, where the best teams play one another constantly, the sport improves almost by the month. After a team lost to Barcelona, it would go home and work out what it was doing wrong. Everyone kept getting better—except Barcelona. The one-time innovators were overtaken, in a process that the economist Joseph Schumpeter labeled “creative destruction”: new entrepreneurs come along with new ideas, and the pioneering systems of yesteryear are junked. If you play the soccer of 2012 in 2021, you will lose.


Messy money

When you’re number one, you also tend to get careless with your spending. While the money pours in, you stop counting every penny. In 2018, Barça became the first club in any sport ever to gross more than $1 billion in annual revenues. And so when Jorge Messi, Lionel’s father and agent, kept threatening that his son would leave unless he got another pay rise, the club kept giving in. From 2017 through 2021, Messi earned a total of more than €555 million ($674 million), according to highlights from his 30-page contract published in Spanish newspaper El Mundo, and not denied by player or club. Bayern Munich’s chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said he had “had to laugh” when he saw the contract: “I can only compliment him on managing to negotiate such an astronomical salary.”


A senior Barça official told me Messi’s salary had tripled between 2014 and 2020. He added, “Messi is not the problem. The problem is the contagion of the rest of the team.” Whenever Messi got a raise, his teammates demanded one as well. By 2019, average first-team pay at Barça was $12.2 million a year, the highest for any sports club on Earth, according to the Global Sports Salaries Survey by (Rival soccer clubs Real Madrid and Juventus were second and third in the rankings, with NBA basketball teams completing the top ten.)


In any talent industry, the talent has substantial power vis-à-vis the employer. But at Barça, the talent was so successful, experienced, and well-paid that its power became close to absolute. Quique Setién, head coach for seven unhappy months in 2020, said he was always aware that Messi could get him fired at any moment. By then, the survivors of the great Masia generation were effectively running the team and quite simply not working hard enough. Almost every day at Barcelona was take-your-children-to-work day. Kids would kick a ball in the changing room with their dads before a game. And whereas other Spanish teams would fly to road games the day before the game, to acclimatize, Barça usually flew on match day itself. The Barça players preferred it: they liked being at home longer.


As the dominant players aged, Barça’s training sessions slowed down. That was a shock for the Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, who had come from Atlético Madrid in 2019. There, he recalled, “Every training session was at the intensity level of a match.” Barça paid €120 million ($142 million) for Griezmann. In August 2021, it lent him to Atlético for free, his talent wasted for two years in what had become a dysfunctional team. Barcelona is now in freefall, and yet this is also a strangely creative moment at the club. The people on the inside understand that having lost their greatest talent, it’s time to start rethinking. Some of the spirit of innovation that once made this the world’s leading club may now be returning.


Source –

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Gaining Experience or Expertise?

In some circles, Ben Hogan is credited with “inventing practice.” Hogan was one of the greatest golfers of the 20th century, an accomplishment he achieved through tireless repetition. He simply loved to practice. Hogan said, “I couldn't wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I'd be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it.” For Hogan, every practice session had a purpose. He reportedly spent years breaking down each phase of the golf swing and testing new methods for each segment. The result was near perfection. He developed one of the most finely-tuned golf swings in the history of the game.

Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance. When Ben Hogan carefully reconstructed each step of his golf swing, he was engaging in deliberate practice. He wasn't just taking cuts. He was finely tuning his technique.

While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance. The greatest challenge of deliberate practice is to remain focused. In the beginning, showing up and putting in your reps is the most important thing. But after a while we begin to carelessly overlook small errors and miss daily opportunities for improvement.


This is because the natural tendency of the human brain is to transform repeated behaviors into automatic habits. For example, when you first learned to tie your shoes you had to think carefully about each step of the process. Today, after many repetitions, your brain can perform this sequence automatically. The more we repeat a task the more mindless it becomes. Mindless activity is the enemy of deliberate practice. The danger of practicing the same thing again and again is that progress becomes assumed. Too often, we assume we are getting better simply because we are gaining experience. In reality, we are merely reinforcing our current habits—not improving them. Claiming that improvement requires attention and effort sounds logical enough. But what does deliberate practice actually look like in the real world?


Deliberate practice always follows the same pattern: break the overall process down into parts, identify your weaknesses, test new strategies for each section, and then integrate your learning into the overall process.

Here are some more examples.


Cooking: Jiro Ono, the subject of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is a chef and owner of an award-winning sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Jiro has dedicated his life to perfecting the art of making sushi and he expects the same of his apprentices. Each apprentice must master one tiny part of the sushi-making process at a time—how to wring a towel, how to use a knife, how to cut the fish, and so on. One apprentice trained under Jiro for ten years before being allowed to cook the eggs. Each step of the process is taught with the utmost care.

Martial arts: Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning, is a martial artist who holds several US national medals and a 2004 world championship. In the finals of one competition, he noticed a weakness: When an opponent illegally head-butted him in the nose, Waitzkin flew into a rage. His emotion caused him to lose control and forget his strategy. Afterward, he specifically sought out training partners who would fight dirty so he could practice remaining calm and principled in the face of chaos. “They were giving me a valuable opportunity to expand my threshold for turbulence,” Waitzkin wrote. “Dirty players were my best teachers.”

Chess: Magnus Carlsen is a chess grandmaster and one of the highest-rated players in history. One distinguishing feature of great chess players is their ability to recognize “chunks,” which are specific arrangements of pieces on the board. Some experts estimate that grandmasters can identify around 300,000 different chunks. Interestingly, Carlsen learned the game by playing computer chess, which allowed him to play multiple games at once. Not only did this strategy allow him to learn chunks much faster than someone playing in-person games, but also gave him a chance to make more mistakes and correct his weaknesses at an accelerated pace.

Music: Many great musicians recommend repeating the most challenging sections of a song until you master them. Virtuoso violinist Nathan Milstein says, “Practice as much as you feel you can accomplish with concentration. Once when I became concerned because others around me practiced all day long, I asked [my professor] how many hours I should practice, and he said, ‘It really doesn’t matter how long. If you practice with your fingers, no amount is enough. If you practice with your head, two hours is plenty.’”

Basketball: Consider the following example from Aubrey Daniels, “Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50. The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt. The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice. To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?”


Perhaps the greatest difference between deliberate practice and simple repetition is this: feedback. Anyone who has mastered the art of deliberate practice—whether they are an athlete like Ben Hogan or a writer like Ben Franklin—has developed methods for receiving continual feedback on their performance.


There are many ways to receive feedback. Let's discuss two. The first effective feedback system is measurement. The things we measure are the things we improve. This holds true for the number of pages we readthe number of pushups we do and any other task that is important to us. It is only through measurement that we have any proof of whether we are getting better or worse.

The second effective feedback system is coaching. One consistent finding across disciplines is that coaches are often essential for sustaining deliberate practice. In many cases, it is nearly impossible to both perform a task and measure your progress at the same time. Good coaches can track your progress, find small ways to improve, and hold you accountable to delivering your best effort each day.


The Promise of Deliberate Practice

Humans have a remarkable capacity to improve their performance in nearly any area of life if they train in the correct way. This is easier said than done. Deliberate practice is not a comfortable activity. It requires sustained effort and concentration. The people who master the art of deliberate practice are committed to being lifelong learners—always exploring and experimenting and refining.


Deliberate practice is not a magic pill, but if you can manage to maintain your focus and commitment, then the promise of deliberate practice is quite alluring: to get the most out of what you've got.


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Real Wealth

We have a unique relationship with money. We want to have enough to be comfortable, but very few want to stop at that. We Indians want enough for our future generations too. Intergenerational wealth is common, with the inherent risk of the diminishing hunger of the future generations if they get too comfortable. Wealth is always relative. We feel wealthy not because of a certain number of net worth, but because we seem to be at par with whom we consider to be our peer set. While it is difficult to arrive at absolute net worth numbers (other than for those on the Forbes list), we try to make our judgement and place ourselves on a scale relative to others. Most of us also aspire to keep growing our wealth without paying attention to it – a task almost impossible and a subject for another day.

What is real wealth? Is it the ability to buy what one wants without thinking twice or bothering about the price? Even Kuber would find it difficult to sustain a lifestyle like that. If the whims are too frequent and the tags too high, one would find the coffers empty at some point, having spent itself on things that at best, can give one a temporary high. Real wealth can be the ability to buy things that are not for sale.


Is real wealth living a prosperous life? To have people take care of all your needs and to be able to take care of people who are dependent on you? At the base level, yes, and we try to reach higher from there.


Real wealth can also be the ability of able to maintain your current level of lifestyle while giving up the primary source of income which drives the lifestyle. For professionals it may mean giving up their current profession and focusing on their passion (if the two are different) without compromising on their current lifestyle.


What about non material things? Is good health real wealth? “Health is wealth” is definitely true, as anyone with serious ailments will tell you. Wealth and health are not a trade off and should not be mutually exclusive. Our character and reputation are also equally important.


Real wealth is also the unconditional love of near and dear ones. Having people to really care for you. It is the outcome of a life lived to its fullest and helping others realize their true potential and achieve their dreams. Material wealth along with a life of resentment and ungratefulness does not sound like a great life.


Real wealth is the total control on your time. “Time is money” is totally true. Time is scarcer than money hence becomes more valuable, in comparison. The ability to decide how to spend one’s time, in my view, is the litmus test of wealth. This can come only after one has achieved all what we have covered till now, and some more. Even the wealthiest are sometimes the slaves of their calendars. Time is finite, money is not. Every day all of us all over the world start with the equal amount of time available to all of us. Very few have the privilege of using their time as per their absolute discretion, and that, to me, is real wealth.   


In your view, what is real wealth?

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Big Risk In Too Little Risk

What do we think of when we think of risk? For most of us the initial thoughts may go to losses, downsides or doing things outside our comfort zone. Only few will think of the potential upsides of risk. But we should, as all risks have two possibilities – upside and downside. Payoffs and losses. This is where “calculated risk” comes into play. We hear this all the time from our sports commentators. The players or the team captain/coaches taking these calculated risks. What it means is that the risk- reward ratio is such that warrants taking an action that is different than normal times. The important thing to note here is that calculated risk does not mean it will turn out in our favor. As no outcomes are 100% guaranteed, if they are, where is the risk? Where is the risk if its popular and everyone is doing it? All decisions, even good ones, have some probability of things not going as per plan and going against us. Calculated risk means that we have thought through the possibilities, are aware of the consequences and we are now confident of making our move. If the situation is such that without a risky action, it cannot be redeemed, then it is not a calculated risk as our hand is forced and the risk should have been taken earlier.

We may think of risk as something that only businessmen/CEO/Politicians/Sportspeople take – anyone with high stakes, that is. Completely wrong. All decisions involve some payoff and hence some risk. All of us make decisions hence take risks. In fact, I believe, we do not take enough risks, as we become fixated with what can go wrong. Most everyday decisions don’t involve a life/death situation (unless you are a surgeon or at the border) are also easily reversible. Only a few big decisions need to be deliberated upon with adequate importance being given to the potential payoffs.


We Indians generally don’t like risk. Maybe risk has not paid off for us for too long. Most mothers (mine included) encourage kids to be risk averse. I believe it’s a sub-optimal way choose our professions. Or our lives. Our investments. Risk free is also upside potential free. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We all can do with some dynamism and some discomfort to get to our desired optimal levels. Like exercise – we can be comfortable on the couch or get out for a workout and enjoy the upside of that discomfort. The other end of this spectrum is people who take too much risk – we all know some of those. This is equally bad and again, a review of the decision making process is highly recommended. Risk builds up slowly but unravels quickly. Panics, Manias, collapse, run on an institution are all outcomes of risk coming off rapidly in the economy. Destruction follows these events, followed by rebuilding and a new life.


Turns out, risk is like all good things in life. We need to have some of it to keep pushing ourselves. Too much is fatal. So take some risks. Approach that stranger that seems interesting. Evaluate that job opening. Back that venture. Follow your dream. Do bigger things. Push yourself. No pain no gain is totally true. Pushing the boundaries is totally cool. If there is no risk, things are not at their optimal yet. There are some segments in our lives that should be totally risk free – the choice of our major relationships, some of our investments, the choice of where you live etc. All other areas should be open to an audit of the risk in them. Any good decision can have a bad outcome and bad decisions can have good outcomes. The idea is not to turn speculative or a risk addict or an adrenaline junkie but to be able to review the payoffs and act when the same turns favorable.


This choice is ours to make - between a guaranteed mediocre outcome or some chance of a great one. The biggest risk is taking no risk at all and certainty of a sub-optimal outcome. There is no judgement if one chooses one over the other, as long as we are aware of the choices and are making them consciously. It’s a very personal choice as unique as our fingerprints. But these should keep changing over a lifetime, if they don’t, we are not thinking enough about them. We need to be conscious of the cycles too. Risk takers are sometimes felicitated and sometimes ridiculed, depending on where in the cycle one takes risk. Betting the house is definitely not a good risk, the quest is about doing things optimally to get a better outcome. To avoid regret of not taking that decision. So go back to your drawing board, put up your decision making matrix and see if it can do with a little bit of risk. When to take the risk and where are equally important. We can’t change the past but starting today, we can change the future, one decision at a time. The best promise we can make to ourself is to not repeat past mistakes. And the best favor we can do to ourself is to keep that promise. Fortune favors the brave and the well prepared. More power to you!!

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Last Dance

A documentary recommendation this time – check the same out on Netflix. This is a documentary on the life of Michael Jordan focussing on his playing years. The documentary beautifully captures his absolute dominance of the game and goes back and forth in time, taking the viewers through the trials and tribulations of athletes that are at the highest levels of their games. 

Although I am not a basketball fan, this is an extraordinary piece that I would put on the must watch list. Michael was a talented athlete and was destined for greatness, however the level that he reached and then made his home, is without parallel. There were basketball demi gods before Michael appeared on the scene – Magic Johnson was already playing at that time. Not only he shattered all records but kept on pushing the boundaries, each season. For the nerds, scroll to the end for his career stats.

Basketball being a team game, elements of power play and team dynamics get introduced in the narrative. Michael knew he was good and kept pushing his team members and the coaches. Initially he was hated in the team for the pressure he put on everyone to rise up to his standards and the practice sessions that were as intense as real games. However his team members started loving him as they began to realise what Michael was doing by being the bad boy – pushing them to greatness and pushing himself every day too. As he says at one point in the documentary – I never expected any team member to do something that I was not doing myself. Some episodes are focussed on his team mates and keep coming back to Michael’s relationship with them and the respect they developed for one another. 

For me, the pivotal moment in their march to greatness is Michael’s realisation that he needs to trust his team members more than what he did. As a star player, he was always marked and through his sheer genius, he would continue scoring. However as they started getting into eliminations and the competition kept getting tougher, scoring kept getting difficult. Since Michael was guarded by more than one opposition player, his team members were free. The journey of how the coach hand holds Michael through this journey and the satisfaction when he starts trusting his team members to take the important shots, is wonderful to watch. 

The human side of Michael is on display too. The injuries and setbacks that are a part of an athlete’s life. His special relationship with his dad and the loss he feels when he passes away, his nature of betting too much and the trouble of taking a stand as a very successful African American athlete on issues related to the community, all get highlighted. 

The best part was the sheer hunger of Michael. Gets highlighted in each episode. He is the absolute alpha. How he goes after his opponents. How he bounces back from bad games. How he goes after players that are being touted as the “next Michael” How he pushes his team members every day. How he transforms his entire team physically as they keep getting beaten by a very tough team that plays rough (Detroit Pistons). He wants his team to be the baddest, and he does, to beat their opponents at their own game. There is the additional element of intrigue with their team management’s decisions and politics in the hiring and firing of coaches. The season beautifully navigates through the playing years of Michael and how in each season they face different teams with different strategies but come out on top. Totally worth 10 hours of your time, I would say. 

I did not want this to be a spoiler and have tried to put my key takeaways here, but this is not all. I would encourage all of you to see this documentary, like a beautiful book, we will come out with our own takeaways. Why is it called the last dance? What happens when Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan face off? How does his relationship evolve with other members of his team, players in the other teams and his support staff? Why did he retire from basketball to go to play baseball and come back again to basketball? A career spanning decades is covered in 10 hours and it is an absolute fascinating watch. Enjoy. 

Stats – 
Michael played 15 seasons in the NBA winning 6 championships. Jordan's individual accolades and accomplishments include six NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards, ten scoring titles (both all-time records), five MVP Awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors (joint record), fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections, three All-Star Game MVP Awards, three steals titles, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA records for career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game).

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Swimming boost to the brain

Dear Friends,

What a day as India won the Olympic gold, in keeping with the spirit of sports, an insightful article this time on the cerebral benefits of swimming. One more good reason to swim regularly if you don’t already 😊 link of the article is at the end for reference.

It’s no secret that aerobic exercise can help stave off some of the ravages of aging. But a growing body of research suggests that swimming might provide a unique boost to brain health. Regular swimming has been shown to improve memorycognitive functionimmune response and mood. Swimming may also help repair damage from stress and forge new neural connections in the brain.

But scientists are still trying to unravel how and why swimming, in particular, produces these brain-enhancing effects.

New and improved brain cells and connections

Until the 1960s, scientists believed that the number of neurons and synaptic connections in the human brain were finite and that, once damaged, these brain cells could not be replaced. But that idea was debunked as researchers began to see ample evidence for the birth of neurons, or neurogenesis, in adult brains of humans and other animals.

Now, there is clear evidence that aerobic exercise can contribute to neurogenesis and play a key role in helping to reverse or repair damage to neurons and their connections in both mammals and fish.

Research shows that one of the key ways these changes occur in response to exercise is through increased levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. The neural plasticity, or ability of the brain to change, that this protein stimulates has been shown to boost cognitive function, including learning and memory.

It’s tempting for adults to watch kids splash from the poolside, but research shows it’s worth jumping in alongside them. Studies in people have found a strong relationship between concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor circulating in the brain and an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for learning and memory. Increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor have also been shown to sharpen cognitive performance and to help reduce anxiety and depression. In contrast, researchers have observed mood disorders in patients with lower concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

Aerobic exercise also promotes the release of specific chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. One of these is serotonin, which – when present at increased levels – is known to reduce depression and anxiety and improve mood.

In studies in fish, scientists have observed changes in genes responsible for increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels as well as enhanced development of the dendritic spines – protrusions on the dendrites, or elongated portions of nerve cells – after eight weeks of exercise compared with controls. This complements studies in mammals where brain-derived neurotrophic factor is known to increase neuronal spine density. These changes have been shown to contribute to improved memorymood and enhanced cognition in mammals. The greater spine density helps neurons build new connections and send more signals to other nerve cells. With the repetition of signals, connections can become stronger.

But what’s special about swimming?

Researchers don’t yet know what swimming’s secret sauce might be. But they’re getting closer to understanding it.

Swimming has long been recognized for its cardiovascular benefits. Because swimming involves all of the major muscle groups, the heart has to work hard, which increases blood flow throughout the body. This leads to the creation of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. The greater blood flow can also lead to a large release of endorphins – hormones that act as a natural pain reducer throughout the body. This surge brings about the sense of euphoria that often follows exercise.

Most of the research to understand how swimming affects the brain has been done in rats. Rats are a good lab model because of their genetic and anatomic similarity to humans.

Rats serve as a useful laboratory model for understanding the effects of swimming on memory formation and brain health. In one study in rats, swimming was shown to stimulate brain pathways that suppress inflammation in the hippocampus and inhibit apoptosis, or cell death. The study also showed that swimming can help support neuron survival and reduce the cognitive impacts of aging. Although researchers do not yet have a way to visualize apoptosis and neuronal survival in people, they do observe similar cognitive outcomes.

One of the more enticing questions is how, specifically, swimming enhances short- and long-term memory. To pinpoint how long the beneficial effects may last, researchers trained rats to swim for 60 minutes daily for five days per week. The team then tested the rats’ memory by having them swim through a radial arm water maze containing six arms, including one with a hidden platform.

Rats got six attempts to swim freely and find the hidden platform. After just seven days of swim training, researchers saw improvements in both short- and long-term memories, based on a reduction in the errors rats made each day. The researchers suggested that this boost in cognitive function could provide a basis for using swimming as a way to repair learning and memory damage caused by neuropsychiatric diseases in humans.

Although the leap from studies in rats to humans is substantial, research in people is producing similar results that suggest a clear cognitive benefit from swimming across all ages. For instance, in one study looking at the impact of swimming on mental acuity in the elderly, researchers concluded that swimmers had improved mental speed and attention compared with non swimmers. However, this study is limited in its research design, since participants were not randomized and thus those who were swimmers prior to the study may have had an unfair edge.

Another study compared cognition between land-based athletes and swimmers in the young adult age range. While water immersion itself did not make a difference, the researchers found that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity breaststroke swimming improved cognitive function in both groups.

Kids get a boost from swimming too

The brain-enhancing benefits from swimming appear to also boost learning in children.

Another research group recently looked at the link between physical activity and how children learn new vocabulary words. Researchers taught children age 6-12 the names of unfamiliar objects. Then they tested their accuracy at recognizing those words after doing three activities: coloring (resting activity), swimming (aerobic activity) and a CrossFit-like exercise (anaerobic activity) for three minutes.

They found that children’s accuracy was much higher for words learned following swimming compared with coloring and CrossFit, which resulted in the same level of recall. This shows a clear cognitive benefit from swimming versus anaerobic exercise, though the study does not compare swimming with other aerobic exercises. These findings imply that swimming for even short periods of time is highly beneficial to young, developing brains.

The details of the time or laps required, the style of swim and what cognitive adaptations and pathways are activated by swimming are still being worked out. But neuroscientists are getting much closer to putting all the clues together.

For centuries, people have been in search of a fountain of youth. Swimming just might be the closest we can get.

Source –


Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Casualties Of Perfection

The key thing about evolution is that everything dies. Ninety-nine percent of species are already extinct; the rest will be eventually.

There is no perfect species, one adapted to everything at all times. The best any species can do is to be good at some things until the things it’s not good at suddenly matter more. And then it dies.

A century ago a Russian biologist named Ivan Schmalhausen described how this works. A species that evolves to become very good at one thing tends to become vulnerable at another. A bigger lion can kill more prey, but it’s also a larger target for hunters to shoot at. A taller tree captures more sunlight but becomes vulnerable to wind damage. There is always some inefficiency.

So species rarely evolve to become perfect at anything, because perfecting one skill comes at the expense of another skill that will eventually be critical to survival. The lion could be bigger; the tree could be taller. But they’re not, because it would backfire.

So they’re all a little imperfect.

Nature’s answer is a lot of good enough, below-potential traits across all species. Biologist Anthony Bradshaw says that evolution’s successes get all the attention, but its failures are equally important. And that’s how it should be: Not maximizing your potential is actually the sweet spot in a world where perfecting one skill compromises another.

Evolution has spent 3.5 billion years testing and proving the idea that some inefficiency is good. We know it’s right.

So maybe the rest of us should pay more attention to that.

So many people strive for efficient lives, where no hour is wasted. But an overlooked skill that doesn’t get enough attention is the idea that wasting time can be a great thing.

Psychologist Amos Tversky once said “the secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.”

A successful person purposely leaving gaps of free time on their schedule to do nothing in particular can feel inefficient. And it is, so not many people do it.

But Tversky’s point is that if your job is to be creative and think through a tough problem, then time spent wandering around a park or aimlessly lounging on a couch might be your most valuable hours. A little inefficiency is wonderful.

The New York Times once wrote of former Secretary of State George Shultz:

His hour of solitude was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job. Otherwise, he would be constantly pulled into moment-to-moment tactical issues, never able to focus on larger questions of the national interest.

Albert Einstein put it this way:

I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.

Mozart felt the same way:

When I am traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.

Someone once asked Charlie Munger what Warren Buffett’s secret was. “I would say half of all the time he spends is sitting on his ass and reading. He has a lot of time to think.”

This is the opposite of “hustle porn,” where people want to look busy at all times because they think it’s noble.

Nassim Taleb says, “My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill.” More than a measure of success, I think it’s a key ingredient. The most efficient calendar in the world – one where every minute is packed with productivity – comes at the expense of curious wandering and uninterrupted thinking, which eventually become the biggest contributors of success.

Another form of helpful inefficiency is a business whose operations have some slack built in.

Just-in-time manufacturing – where companies don’t stock the parts they need to build products, relying instead on last-minute shipments of components – was the epitome of efficient operations over the last 20 years. Then Covid hit, and virtually every manufacturer found itself dreadfully short of what it needs.

Super-efficient supply chains increase vulnerability to any disruption. And history is just a constant chain of disruptions. So you can imagine that we’ll hear stories of companies who increased their earnings by, say, 5% by maximizing supply efficiencies only to see earnings fall 20% or more due to having no slack when trouble hit. We are in the biggest post-WW2 consumer boom and car companies are shutting down production because they’re out of chips. A little inefficiency across the whole supply chain would have been the sweet spot.

Same in investing. Cash is an inefficient drag during bull markets and as valuable as oxygen during bear markets, either because you need it to survive a recession or because it’s the raw material of opportunity. Leverage is the most efficient way to maximize your balance sheet, and the easiest way to lose everything. Concentration is the best way to maximize returns, but diversification is the best way to increase the odds of owning a company capable of delivering returns. On and on, if you’re honest with yourself you’ll see that a little inefficiency is the ideal spot to be in.

Just like evolution, the key is realizing that the more perfect you try to become the more vulnerable you generally are.

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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Doing More Of What Works

Dear friends – sharing an article from bestselling author James Clear on implementing what is already known. Enjoy!!

In 2004, nine hospitals in Michigan began implementing a new procedure in their intensive care units (I.C.U.). Almost overnight, healthcare professionals were stunned with its success.

Three months after it began, the procedure had cut the infection rate of I.C.U. patients by sixty-six percent. Within 18 months, this one method had saved 75 million dollars in healthcare expenses. Best of all, this single intervention saved the lives of more than 1,500 people in just a year and a half. The strategy was immediately published in a blockbuster paper for the New England Journal of Medicine.

This medical miracle was also simpler that you could ever imagine. It was a checklist.


The Power of Never Skipping Steps

The checklist strategy implemented at Michigan hospitals was named the Keystone ICU Project. It was led by a physician named Peter Pronovost and later popularized by writer Atul Gawande.

In Gawande's best-selling book, The Checklist Manifesto he describes how Pronovost's simple checklist could drive such dramatic results. In the following quote, Gawande explains one of the checklists that was used to reduce the risk of infection when installing a central line in a patient (a relatively common procedure).

On a sheet of plain paper, [Pronovost] plotted out the steps to take in order to avoid infections when putting a line in. Doctors are supposed to (1) wash their hands with soap, (2) clean the patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic, (3) put sterile drapes over the entire patient, (4) wear a sterile mask, hat, gown, and gloves, and (5) put a sterile dressing over the catheter site once the line is in. Check, check, check, check, check.

These steps are no-brainers; they have been known and taught for years. So it seemed silly to make a checklist just for them. Still, Pronovost asked the nurses in his I.C.U. to observe the doctors for a month as they put lines into patients, and record how often they completed each step. In more than a third of patients, they skipped at least one.

This five-step checklist was the simple solution that Michigan hospitals used to save 1,500 lives. Think about that for a moment. There were no technical innovations. There were no pharmaceutical discoveries or cutting-edge procedures. The physicians just stopped skipping steps. They implemented the answers they already had on a more consistent basis.

New Solutions vs. Old Solutions

We have a tendency to undervalue answers that we have already discovered. We underutilize old solutions—even if they are best practices—because they seem like something we have already considered.

Here’s the problem: “Everybody already knows that” is very different from “Everybody already does that.” Just because a solution is known doesn’t mean it is utilized.

Even more critical, just because a solution is implemented occasionally, doesn't mean it is implemented consistently. Every physician knew the five steps on Peter Pronovost's checklist, but very few did all five steps flawlessly each time. We assume that new solutions are needed if we want to make real progress, but that isn't always the case.

Use What You Already Have

This pattern is just as present in our personal lives as it is in corporations and governments. We waste the resources and ideas at our fingertips because they don’t seem new and exciting.

There are many examples of behaviors, big and small, that have the opportunity to drive progress in our lives if we just did them with more consistency. Flossing every day. Never missing workouts. Performing fundamental business tasks each day, not just when you have time. Apologizing more often. Writing Thank You notes each week.

Of course, these answers are boring. Mastering the fundamentals isn’t sexy, but it works. No matter what task you are working on, there is a simple checklist of steps that you can follow right now—basic fundamentals that you have known about for years—that can immediately yield results if you just practice them more consistently.

Progress often hides behind boring solutions and underused insights. You don’t need more information. You don’t need a better strategy. You just need to do more of what already works.


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Friday, June 4, 2021

The King and his monkey

Sharing a short story this week, enjoy!!

Once upon a time there was a king. Like all kings he was great, powerful and whimsical. He had a pet monkey. His favourite. He was with the king at all times, the king used to enjoy the antics of the monkey and keep himself entertained. Everyone knew about the special position of the monkey in the king’s heart and the monkey basked in his masters attention and the privilege of being the special one.

One day, after a scrumptious lunch, it was nap time for the king. However there was a little problem - a fly. Every time the king started snoozing, the fly would come and sit on the kings nose disturbing his siesta. The fly was very persistent, this happened many times. The king was very irritated. The monkey was even more irritated and decided to teach the fly a lesson. The next time the fly came and sat on the kings face, the monkey hit it with a sword with all his might. End of story, for the king. For us, there are some lessons from this tragic story.

Every king has a monkey. As long as it is for entertainment, it is cool.

Problems arise when the monkey and those around him start taking the monkeys seriously.

Small problems can be ignored if monkeys are not around.

Monkeys with power lead to tragedies, sooner or later.

For all the kings, identify the monkeys and keep them in check.

For all the monkeys, stick to your natural talent of keeping your masters entertained and don’t take yourself too seriously.

For the others – if you see a king and the monkey together, don’t hesitate to tell the king, if you really love him and want him to be around.

You see, even the best intentions can lead to tragic outcomes.       

Take care, stay safe and enjoy your weekend.

Personal Finance 101

If you have the means to comfortably retire today, well done, this may not be for you. For the other mortals who have some time to go before that happens, read on, there may be some tips that you may find useful.

There are 2 ways to plan for your finances

1 - Bad things happen to other people.

2 - Expect the best but prepare for the worst.

This is for those in camp 2. For those in camp 1 – my best wishes!!

Term Life Insurance is absolutely necessary –

The insurance value should cover your current/ near future loans +5 or 10 years of loss of income. For those of us who live in a metropolis and had the courage to buy a home on loan, this may mean a life cover of 5 cr or more. Good thing is you can discontinue the coverage once the loans have been paid off and one has a retirement egg. It is best not to mix investment and insurance, so plans that mix the both can generally be avoided. Add ons of critical illness and permanent disability should also be taken. Think of it as planning for the untimely in a timely way. The earlier you start the better.

Medical Insurance is absolutely necessary too –

The insurance from your employer does not qualify, sorry. While it is good to have esp if you have co-morbid parents, it may not be available when you need it the most since your company may have different thoughts in the next crisis. So take medical insurance independent of your employer. Amount is also important – 25/50 lcs or higher. While I hope none of us will need to use it, it is an absolute must have. Earlier the better. 

Have liquidity in hand –

3/6 month expenses should be readily available. One can substitute this with credit card limits as well.  Be mindful that banks can also unilaterally reduce your limits when you need them the most.

Savings and investments –

Step 1 is savings. This should be a % of your total income and not some fixed absolute amount. Higher the better. Anything below 20% of your post EMI income is insufficient. Only home loan EMI’s count – depreciating assets and EMI’s for holidays etc don’t. Consistency is critical.

Step 2 is investing that saving. Take advise from someone you can trust, educate yourself and invest what you can understand and are comfortable with. Don’t get too comfortable though – it comes in the way of growth. Equities are absolutely essential if you want to save for retirement and have 20 years or more to get there. Earlier the better here too.

Risk Management –

Don’t try to get rich quickly. It’s a trap.

If it’s too good to be true, it generally isn’t.

Always think about the motive of your counter party. If it is clear, then good. It will help you make better decisions.

Verify the background of the advisor and speak with some of their clients before taking and implementing advise.

Keep a margin of error. Larger the better.

Concentration creates wealth. Diversification protects wealth.

There are many ways to get rich. There are only few ways to lose it – greed, leverage, ignoring risks, copying others without understanding what they are doing and (generally) bad financial decisions.  

Involve your partner –

Keep your partner updated on financial matters. At least once a year, make a balance sheet to list all assets and liabilities with details of bank accounts/fund statements/policy nos. If you owe someone some money or vice versa, your partner should know. Keep your policy documents and statements of investments secured and let your partner know. Create nominees and have joint accounts.

Keep your advisors close –

Advisors are very important – for your major life, career and financial decisions. Once you find people who really care about you, keep them close. People will make mistakes and not all decisions will turn out well, that is part of life. As long as it is not life threatening and an act of commission, it is ok. They will be around to hand hold your family in your absence.      

Give back –

It may be time, your attention, your money, a good advise or just a shoulder to cry on – pay it forward.

Invest in yourself –

Some of us are uncomfortable to manage money. It is important skill to work on it and can be acquired, just like you may work on your fear of water and inability to swim or your public speaking skills. As we upgrade our lifestyles as we progress through our careers, we need to upgrade ourselves too. Also take good care of your health, it is the best investment you would possibly make. 

Your financial plan is as unique as your DNA so there are no rules that apply to all. A principles based approach works best – understand the rules and apply the same to your situation. Why start with financial advise and end with advise on life? Because better finances lead to better lives, not vice versa. Please take good care and stay safe.