Friday, July 17, 2020

Consistently Mediocre or One Time Brilliant

Grab all the opportunities, especially the ones that were missed the first time around. Not everyone gets a second chance.

Bollywood quiz – remember Uttam Singh? He was the music director of the musical Dil To Pagal Hai. Ismail Darbar? He was the music director of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. These movies had one of the most melodious songs of those times and topped the charts in the year of their release 1997 and 1999 respectively. But the music directors are now (almost) forgotten. Not because of some lobby or conspiracy theory but because they faded away having done their best work in those movies. Perhaps full credit should go to their respective directors who could inspire and extract the best work from their team members.

I am sure all of us can think of many sportsmen, actors, businessmen, authors, creative people and others who had great “promise” but could not deliver to that promise. Only a few people have in them that allows them to keep pushing the boundaries and get better and better with time, while most find it very difficult to recreate their own best work? All the devotion of a lifetime distilled into one work which is so sublime that it can never be touched again. Or the blessings of the craft that were yours to command that get taken away from you? Perhaps the skill was a finite resource that got extinguished in the pursuit of perfection, instead of the infinite reservoir that we all desire it to be.

Those who are consistent become great. Those who keep getting better with time become immortal. But is it better to be consistently mediocre than flash in the pan brilliant? I would pick brilliant every time. Only with the benefit of hindsight do we have the ability to see which was our best work. Till then its best to keep trying to be better every day, even if slightly better than yesterday. It all adds up into what we understand better as compounding.

Mediocre or brilliant is not a function of your circumstances and benchmarks. If you were a very good wicketkeeper when Dhoni was around, you did not stand a chance to be in the Indian team, unless MSD was injured. So you waited to shine in the IPL or other formats. Here the context of brilliant is functioning at the best of your abilities and then continuously expanding the limits. Similarly mediocre is not about feeling small if compared to a very high benchmark but working well within your abilities without trying to expand the limits.

Our work in this world is the memorial that we build, for us to look back with satisfaction (and hopefully pride) and for others to admire. It can indeed be wonderful with dedication and sincere effort!!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Paying It Forward

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

The Silicon Valley has been the hub of entrepreneurial activity and at the forefront of innovations that have taken the world by storm over the past 25 years. While there are many factors (talent, capital, technology, head start) that have contributed to the mega success of the valley, I kept coming across “paying it forward” in the interviews of the super successful valley people. Let’s see what it means and how it has played a large role in shaping up the culture of the valley.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as to respond to a person's kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else. To pay it forward means that instead of paying someone back for a good deed, you do a good deed for someone else. There is also a book and movie by the same name.

The most famous story is of Intel CEO Robert Noyce agreeing to meet and coach a wannabe entrepreneur Steve Jobs in 1975. “Bob Noyce took me under his wing, I was young, in my twenties. He was in his early fifties. He tried to give me the lay of the land, give me a perspective that I could only partially understand,” Jobs said, “You can’t really understand what is going on now unless you understand what came before” As Mark Zuckerberg was struggling in his early days as an entrepreneur he turned to Steve Jobs for advise and Steve obliged. Paying it forward.

Fairchild Semiconductor was possibly the first success story of the valley, what is unique was that their employees would not hesitate to show up at their competition to help when called to solve a technical difficulty. What is entrepreneurship if not the burning desire to help others, including your competition. This may be what makes silicon valley tick. The valley works on network. No one can build a solid network without paying it forward, without the willingness to help others.    
Another way to think about it can be Gratitude. It inspires kindness connection, strengthening social ties and making one happy.

We also see similar examples in the Marwari and Jain communities where the senior and successful help the young entrepreneurs of the community get started with capital and good advise. May the tribe of people who keep paying it forward keep growing!!