22 Jan 2015

3 Things Einstein Taught Me About Solving Life's Problems

It’s almost been a year since I left the corporate world. And it’s been my happiest and most productive one. See, a guy like me loves simplicity and doing things. However, the corporate world isn’t so fond of them. I’ve noticed that complexity matters more. When I worked for others, excruciatingly long hours were spent pouring over details planning many things that never saw the light of day. And because my opinions were always at loggerheads with my colleagues seniors, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I think I still do.

I was a part of the corporate world for long enough to closely observe its culture and draw patterns. 1 thing I found rampant across firms (and I despised it) was — fire fighting: trying to douse fires which became too large to ignore. What was also noticeable is how much my colleagues and seniors enjoyed it. They spent more than 6 hours out of 10 in a day grappling with problems that should not have existed. What a waste of productivity! Imagine what organizations can achieve if hundreds (or thousands) of employees get these 6 hours daily (or 30 hours weekly) to work on something constructive!

The concept of problem solving today is flawed. “If it isn’t urgent, worry about it later,” is the mantra. Eventually, the ignored problem becomes so massive that it calls for — you guessed it — fire fighting. This behavior is so deeply entrenched in most organizations that it has become a culture. Oh by the way, it is rampant in life outside work too.

You are nodding while reading this, aren’t you? “But how should we fix it?”, you ask. Well, I asked Albert Einstein the same question. He answered with 3 quotes. Quotes which, like in a movie, were revelations for me and now are an integral part of my life.

1. "It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer."

We don’t want a problem to stay around for long; it should be gotten rid of as soon as possible. So we immediately jump into ‘resolution mode’. Each person — to shine brighter in front of his boss — becomes an expert on solving it. The meeting room echoes with dialogues like “listen to me”, “I know what to do” and “this is how we’ll do it”. But people fail to realize that the proposed resolutions are merely quick fixes. The problem will rear its ugly head again. So what should we do? Well, read on.

2. "If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions."

This is arguably the best piece of advice Albert Einstein has given us. The more time one spends understanding a problem, the more effective the resolution. Techniques like 5 Ys and Fishbone allow us to get to the root cause of the problem, and take steps to eliminate it permanently. Ask Paul O’Neill who turned an ailing Alcoa into one of corporate America’s heavyweights by simply addressing one core problem — worker safety.

Don’t look for solutions immediately; think different. Take time to comprehend the gravity of the issue at hand. Keep redefining the problem until you get to the root cause. The solutions you and devise will actually save you a lot of fire fighting time. And for all you know, they may open up new avenues for you.

3. "Logic will get you from point A to point B. Imagination will take you everywhere."

Edward de Bono points out in his book ‘Lateral Thinking’ that too often we spend time measuring how right or wrong a solution is. "But", he says, "you can’t dig a hole at a different location by digging the same one deeper." Be prepared to consider all options, no matter how relevant or irrelevant they are. Let our so-called understanding of ‘logic’ take a back seat and imagination take over. Be prepared to "think different". This concept isn’t only applicable to problem solving. It can be used for everything under the sun that you can think of. Thinking of something? Yes, it can be used there too.

problem solving

These concepts aren’t easily accepted. Hell, it takes a lot to start practicing them in the 1st place! It takes dedication to simplicity, to think different and putting something out there even if you’re not 100% satisfied with it. Brace yourself for opposition, “This isn’t how it’s done”s and even indifference. But get a hang of them and you will feel like a prophet. I know because I feel like one.  These philosophies should be a part of your daily lives too, just like they are in mine.

Where can you use these philosophies in your life?

image courtesy: Google Images

8 Jan 2015

1 Fundamental Flaw in Parenting Since Centuries Which Needs Fixing

One Sunday morning, a friend invited me to his house for a cup of tea after we completed our jog. I like the positive vibes his house gives out and am particularly fond of his daughter. I asked if she was awake and he said “yes”. So I went over. I occasionally glanced at what she was doing while sipping tea and chatting with my friend. I don’t intrude in children’s private spaces unless invited. The sofa we sat on had wide arm rests, but I was visibly discomforted by keeping my arm on it while holding the cup of tea. His daughter noticed, placed coasters on both arm rests and said to us, “Now keep your cups here while you talk.” It was amazing how comfortable things became after that simple step. We sipped tea, placed our cups on the coasters and continued talking. Oh, did I mention that she was 2 years old then?

There are more incidents like this. Kamini Lakhani, who works with children on autism spectrum, informs me that some of the most profound insights on life which she has gained have come from 9 year olds on the spectrum. And it’s unbelievable how much they know. One of her students is a whiz when it comes to airplane models. The other - a splendid painter - knows when she is stressed without even seeing her.

I am reminded of Groucho Marx’s quote: “Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can't make head nor tail of it.” Do you know who invented the concept of SMSes, way back in the early 90s? No, it wasn’t Nokia. It was Finnish teens - boys who were too scared to ask girls out on a date and girls who wanted to keep their BFFs updated real time about what was happening on the date.

groucho marx 4 year old

Since the event at the friend’s house, I’ve started asking more children for solutions to problems. As said before, I don’t treat them like children unless they are less than 1 1/2 years old. “Baccha hi toh hai" (s/he’s just a child) is no longer part of my lingo, and it is painful to see parents dismiss their children’s intelligent suggestions saying “Beta, abhi tum bacche ho” (you’re just a child now).

As parents, it is your responsibility to get your child involved with you as soon as possible. There is no ripe age to begin. The 1st 5 years are their most crucial ones. In fact, I have observed that children who are involved in their fathers’ and mothers’ interests from a very young age often turn out more confident than their peers and excel at something (to hell with research). Steve Jobs’ adopted father imbibed the importance of beauty in him from a very early age. See how the world benefited? You’re probably reading this article on a gorgeous iPhone right now. What if Paul Jobs had said “Steve, tum abhi bacche ho, tum nahi samjhoge” (Steve, you won’t understand because you are a child). I was delighted to see my friends Purvesh and Mital take their toddler to Comic Con dressed as Superman! That is the level of involvement I’m talking about.

awesome parenting tips
Shivansh (Superman), Mital (Lara) and Purvesh (Captain America) at Comic Con

It has become awfully easy to ignore our children today. You want your child to stop disturbing you with endless questions? Simply buy her an iPhone or an iPad, install WiFi and banish her to her room. As Nouman Ali says, your child will use these gadgets to find a new set of parents online. Do you want to be a good parent? Then introduce your child to something good which has her hooked from a young age. And be with her, guide her, track her progress. Give her the “teachings” you want to impart constructively. Take care of her diet. More healthy food for the brain and body and less money for junk. And instead of spending time Facebooking about how nasty men are, imbibe values in your child to become a better human (yes, cranky moms, this is aimed directly at you).

It has always been a mistake on our part to be dismissive of children’s opinions instead of being inclusive. If you want your child to make you proud, listen to her. Value her opinions and suggestions. You never know where the next Oprah Winfrey is lurking, unable to show herself because no one will listen to her. Nor do you know which suggestion of her’s will solve a major problem in your life. And for God’s sake, stop counting your sacrifices. Unless Lord Indra begged you to give birth, it is your duty to endure for the child. It is your responsibility to make your child a better human rather than a better slave to the world’s status quo.

I hope we really understand what children need and deserve. They don't crave for fancy phones or junk food. They want to be heard, respected and most importantly, loved! Your thoughts on this? You don’t have to be a parent to have an opinion, you know.

1 Jan 2015

10 New Year Resolutions That Will (Hopefully) Make Me A Better Person

I don’t remember the last time I made a New Year’s Resolution (let alone stick to it). But I read this amazing article by Jeff Haden and thought “Why not make these my New Year’s Resolutions?” MS Dhoni's retirement from test matches has left me with a certain hollowness. I want to be more like him - a composed, intelligent, humble and genuine human being driven by a larger purpose in life. These 10 resolutions should be a good place to start.

  1. No waiting until I am convinced I will succeed
    People close to me know that I have been wanting to embark on a project since 2011. Fear (and sheer laziness) have helped me make excuses for 3 years (4 now, since it’s 2015 already). This year, the project will see the light of day. And I will do whatever I’m capable of to make it succeed. If I don’t find time, I will make it.

  2. No being distracted by notifications
    In 2015, schedules will be adhered to… diligently. No more peeking into Facebook or glancing through emails or Whatsapp during those times. As I write this article, the SelfControl app has already been put to work, blocking my access to Facebook, Twitter and Quora. You will see me less on Facebook and taking more time to respond to emails and Whatsapp messages. There, you have been informed.

  3. No blaming others - for anything
    There is a amazing quote on social media - “You cannot build your house on someone else’s property.” This means that people must not rely on others’ platforms to succeed in their online strategies. I think the same holds true for life. This year, whatever happens, I will refrain from saying “I didn’t get what I wanted because of [name].” If I want something, I will do what it takes to get it. The onus is on me, not anyone else. No more blame games. But no attempts to sabotage someone’s spotlight either. Credit will be given wherever it’s due.
    new year resolution 2015
    image Courtesy: Mark Teasdale/Flickr

  4. No checking of my phone while talking to someone
    I’ll try something even harder. I won’t pull my phone out when I am with someone. Even if I do, it will lie silently in a corner, so that I can give the person in front of me the respect s/he deserves. I will bring conversations back to being with people in front of me rather than being with those who are not.

  5. No multitasking
    I suck at multitasking. And it looks like people around are getting even better at it. However, their boats barely move forward. Maybe because we are paddling to move forward, to the left, towards Northeast and Southwest at the same time (I didn’t say NorthWest because you would start talking about Kim Kardashian’s baby). Research shows that multitasking reduces our productivity by up to 50%. So I’ll follow Steve Jobs’ saying “Being busy doesn’t count. What counts is what you are doing to stay busy.” Goodbye multitasking. Hello productivity.

  6. No interrupting
    I've got into the stinkingly bad habit of interrupting people while they speak. I was proud of being an astute listener, but my ego is getting the better of me. In 2015, I will genuinely listen to people without thinking about responding. Once the person finishes her statement, I’ll take a few seconds to frame what I want to say (or ask). And if the person starts speaking in the interim, I’ll start listening again. And if we are talking and I interrupt you, please point it out.

  7. No whining
    I’m responsible for my future. Even if I want to wallow in self-pity, I’ll take a leaf out of Jennifer Anniston’s book. The “Why Me” syndrome and brooding will last 1 evening. The next morning, the focus will return to fixing things.

  8. No relinquishing control to the past
    What’s gone is gone. Nothing can be done about it. I have committed some blunders. Maybe they will come back to haunt me, maybe they won’t. But they won’t decide where I go from here. Each new day is an opportunity to start afresh. I will treat it as one.

  9. No wasting time on people and things that don't matter
    Less time watching TV, reading Times of India (ToI-let paper) and other mainstream papers, browsing Facebook and meeting people who believe that the universe is conspiring against them (this includes AAP supporters). More time helping people and sharpening 3 skills which I believe will pay off in the future - communication, music and ‘getting things f**king done’.

  10. No talking behind another person's back
    “If it’s not your place to talk to someone about what they’ve done, it’s definitely not your place to talk about them.” I’ve been part of bitchy gossip; hell, I’ve even initiated some of them! This year, the only things that I will say about people behind their backs is how awesome they are. If I have to say something unpleasant, it either will be on the person’s face or won’t come out at all. 
So there they are. My New Year’s Resolutions for 2015. I’m going to periodically track how I’m doing on each of them.

Your turn. What are your resolutions? I would love to hear from you.

11 Nov 2014

A Stupid Trait in Human Beings

I’d like to tell you about a low phase in my life. I had friend (or so I thought) who was never happy. Nitpicking, finding fault and blaming others for her messes were part of her daily routine. To the extent that she once even blamed a McDonalds waiter for not telling her to order a meal other than the one she ordered because she would change her mind later.

Was I spared? No sir! My wardrobe, personality, sense of humor, preference of books over movies… everything I believed in was ridiculed by her. I kept trying to change myself to fit her mould (as I said, not a phase I’m proud of). The more I tried, the more I hated myself. And the louder her criticism became. I kept going deeper into a shell, bordering on depression. Until one day I had enough and walked out on the “friendship”. No amount of pleading or coercion has convinced me to reverse the stand.

You see, I let her govern my life. Why was I so stupid? Well, that is what I want to talk about.

Man, by nature, is a social animal. And part his social nature includes the desire to please people. That’s okay. We all need to please people so that we can live with them. Think about it. You have kept the people who can please you close to you, isn’t it?

But when we take this to the next level, the trouble begins. What do I mean by the next level? Well, the desire to please people who are never satisfied.

Please dump negative people

Don’t mistake this post as one blaming women. I have seen middle aged men being repeatedly vehement and scathing in their remarks about everyone else. Some have chosen to ignore, bust most others have tried to toe in line. The latter, especially youngsters, have gone out of their way to please the unhappy bastards, only to be ridiculed further. Repeated dialogues of “Shame on you”, “How can you even think you can…” have made people try harder to please the self-proclaimed perfectionists, only to be demeaned further. Those perfectionists, ironically, are people who only worsen something when they stick their noses into it. And yet, the vast majority spends all its energy in trying to please them. This happens everywhere… corporate, friends, blogging, get-togethers, seminars, home… everywhere.

Too many times we anchor our happiness on endorsement from others. However, remember that people who keep finding fault with others draw their happiness from such lowly acts. Trying to please these emotional vampires is impossible. You only make yourself unhappy in the process because you keep going against what you stand for and don’t even see positive results.

Confident people tide over such pessimists. This confidence stems from belief. Belief that they are worth something, that they don’t need someone an opinion on how they are living their lives. Believe me, you are better off without pessimists however much they claim to offer “constructive criticism for your own good.” Remember, every person is a product of the 5 people she spends most time with. If you are spend time with people who are forever bickering and criticizing, do you have any idea how much you will hurt your mind and soul?

It’s time to move on. Leave the wrong people behind. Life functioned before them, and it will after them too. And believe me, once you do so, you will be happier.

Do you agree? Or disagree? Drop a comment.

image courtesy: Google Images

24 Oct 2014

Which Will Be the Fastest Growing Country in the Coming Decade?

“The old forecasting rule was to make as many forecasts as possible and publicize the ones you got right. The new rule is to forecast so far into the future that no one will know if you got it wrong.” - Ruchir Sharma.

Which is the world’s fastest growing economy currently? Without doubt, it’s China. But will China continue on the path of 9-10% growth for the next few years? Most economists think it will, but China is slowing down due to multiple reasons. It may soon witness a recession, which won’t be anywhere close to what the rest of the world encountered in 2008. China’s recession is more like a slowdown to 6% growth.

So which country will bag the gold medal for growth in the coming decade? Ruchir Sharma attempts to answer this question through his masterpiece ‘Breakout Nations’. He has analyzed the history, political scenario and sentiment of a lot of emerging markets and correlated them to the countries’ economic conditions. In this book, renowned economist Ruchir Sharma meticulously dissects countries like India, Russia, Brazil, China, South Africa, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey and others. He offers valid insights, backed up with sound stats, into the strengths, weaknesses and areas of opportunities for these emerging nations.  

'Breakout Nations' - Ruchir Sharma

Every nation has its fair share of obstacles. Whether it’s infrastructure, government overspending, policy paralysis, the refusal of political figures to give up power, stagnation or something else, each country is battling problems which have occurred due to decades of following the same patterns. Some countries like Russia, Brazil, Nigeria and South Korea have used difficult times to revamp the way they functioned, and have been rewarded handsomely. Others have chosen to stick to tried and tested (and purely functional) models which have restricted their opportunities for growth.

Ruchir Sharma isn’t just shooting from the hip like many so-called economists do.  He has toured each country extensively. He brings out astonishing details of day-to-day functioning the emerging nations. For instance, the strategy being adopted by companies in China to woo workers back from their villages after Christmas vacations. Or corporate head honchos in Brazil using helicopters to travel from one office to another within the city because of excessive traffic. Or that Russia is heavily dependent on oil prices to secure its future. Each problem (and more) has stemmed from conditions which have been building over long, and continue develop. Since this book was written in 2011, scenarios have changed a little. But most of his predictions seem on track for the coming decade.

This book is a pleasant and entertaining read for anyone who is remotely interested in economics. The language is simple yet elegant. Facts are made interesting with the help of short stories and anecdotes. It reminds me so much of Gurcharan Das’ ‘India Unbound’, another gem. Of course, after having spent years interacting with the world’s most powerful politicians and writing umpteen research papers, nothing less is expected of Ruchir Sharma. I couldn’t find a single shortcoming in the book. Partly because of my love for macro economics and also because I don’t have even 0.1% of the knowledge which the author has. Read the book to find out which are the ‘Breakout Nations’ according to the author. You will be surprised to know that they’re from among the usual suspects.

19 Oct 2014

Honda Amaze Aims to Set A New Record for The Longest Drive

As I write this post, Honda has almost set the record of driving the Amaze for a grueling 23,000 kilometers. The car has completed 15,000 kilometers with 21 days to go to set the record and being driven by Bunny Punia, Shantonil Nag and team.

I had driven the Honda Amaze from Navi Mumbai to Aamby Valley and back (read the blog post here) and had an amazing time. The lavish space in the car, refinement of the engine & gearbox and drive quality had impressed me. So when the team which is aiming to achieve this record was in Mumbai, I had to pay them a visit.

The event was held at International The Lalit and started early. I got a chance to catch up with a few people whom I had met at the previous event. After breakfast (lovely chicken sandwiches, coffee and cookies), we settled down to hear from the marketing team about the engineering innovations which the Amaze boasts of. Some include offering loads of space in a car which is about 4 meters in length, a windshield which keeps the car 6 degrees cooler than competition and an engine with a good boost while being fuel efficient at the same time.

Bunny Punia walked up to the podium next, showcasing a lovely video and a series of photos narrating his experience with the Amaze since he had started driving it. We then went out for a photograph with the car, which is when I got to speak to him.

Manufacturers will always speak about their car in glowing terms. But when an independent ex-auto journalist, whom you have been following since about 10 years, praises the car, you know you have a winner. Bunny said that the car was quite comfortable and they had done more than 12,000 kilometers in it without a glitch. He said that he wasn’t carrying any tools except an emergency tire inflator. He hadn’t felt the need for any. The car was reliable on rough patches as it was on the highway and was munching miles with ease.

I then got the opportunity to speak to Shakeel san, the marketing head of Honda Cars India (at Honda India, they term each other ‘san’ like in Japan, as a mark of respect). We had a long discussion where he informed me about the Mobilio doing very well in sales and that they were soon setting up a manufacturing plant in Gujarat (both these news were later reported in newspapers). It was quite an enlightening decision, where I got to leant more about Honda’s marketing and product development strategies. Add to that a delicious lunch (I ate so much that I skipped dinner) and you can be assured that it was a memorable event.

I have spoken to some Honda Amaze owners since the ‘Hang Out with Honda’ event. I wanted to know whether the car continues to impress over a period of time. And most of them have echoed the sentiments of Bunny. They say the car is reliable and doesn’t need maintenance. The car lives up to the Honda brand’s reputation by offering reliability, refinement and a ‘feel-good’ factor to drivers. For anyone who is looking to own a comfortable sedan in the sub 10 lakh price range, the Honda Amaze is definitely recommended.

30 Sep 2014

Social Media Week 2014 Offered Answers to Most Questions Related to the Online World

How to create engaging content? What are the biggest challenges in faced in content marketing today? How are companies using the online space to design products specific to target audiences? How to brand yourself using social media? Answers to these questions and more were offered in the Social Media Week held in Mumbai.

Many digital enthusiasts were looking forward to this event. Held from 22nd to 26th September, this event would feature renowned speakers and influencers focusing on the online world is evolving and how we can adapt to it. Since I had stepped into this world recently, it wouldn’t be wise to give SMWMumbai a miss. Some friends had attended the event held in 2013 and were impressed.

The event flagged off with a ride on Sunday 21st September. Many riders (including yours truly) had assembled at Fountain Hotel and rode from there to Talasari. While I didn’t go for the ride, I heard it was fun.

Thanks to Blogadda, I got a pass to attend the event on 23rd and 24th September. Unfortunately, I could only attend on 23rd. Thanks to April broadcast, however, a lot of people (including me) got to view the event even if we couldn’t make it to the venue.

Ah! The venue. Novotel Hotel in Juhu. Step out in the hotel’s open spaces and you were greeted with the sound of the ocean. And the view of the ocean over the swimming pool and the verandah outside the seminar halls was a sight to behold.

The volunteers at the event were helpful and spontaneous. When I told them I had come through Blogadda and didn’t have a physical pass, they promptly made one and handed it over. No questions asked. They also informed me of the events being held in specific seminar halls at that time.

The seminar for engaging content was conducted by Payal Karwa and Varun Duggirala. They spent an hour providing us with insights on creating engaging content. They elaborated on aspects like story telling, creating an emotional bond and understanding the brand’s USP and designing content accordingly. Varun further kept us engaged by asking the audience to describe the brand as if it were a person and then simulate how it would behave on each platform. He did this by making the audience interact online and offline. It was interesting, unconventional. The ‘engaging content creation’ seminar kept us engaged right till the end.

Lunch was great, albeit somewhat spicy. The chicken pomegranate chaat was delicious. Plus I got to meet Manish Pandey and Amit Panchal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - those guys work like they’re on Red Bull all the time!

The next seminar was conducted by Navneet Kaushal of PageTraffic. It was on content marketing and the challenges faced. He rightly pointed out that the biggest challenge for social media marketers today is content distribution, not creation. It’s no use creating great content which just sits around waiting to be discovered. You have to be proactive and innovative in your attempts to reach out to people. He educated us on content curation tools to write articles which people want to read. Further emphasis was placed on sticking to a content calendar, stock images (some of them cost just $1) and being versatile. Posting the link to a 1,500 word article on SEO on a Sunday doesn’t make sense. Photos of happy puppies do, which make people celebrate the Sunday. And to an extent, you need FB ads to promote your content and increase page likes and website hits.

What Navneet Kaushal talked about are strategies followed by many online influencers like Neil Patel, Sean Ellis and others. It made complete sense. Navneet has been blogging for SEJournal and ClickZee since long now. Audience asked him how it helps in conversion, and he said that it doesn’t directly help. Instead, it helps build the brand PageTraffic and establishes them as an authority. And authority breeds trust, which then helps in conversion. Words of wisdom which should be heeded and adopted by us all. For me, Navneet Kaushal’s session was the highlight of the day.

I then walked into IBM’s session of how the digital space is helping brands profile potential customers and create products catered to their needs. Since I walked in while the session was almost over, there isn’t much to share. But it reminds one of the algorithms used by Target, the supermarket, to profile shoppers and send them e-mails of products which customers will find relevant. It’s amazing how much the digital world is advancing. A few people voiced their concerns over brands able to peek into our personal lives, but it was rightly countered with the view that brands can only access information which we have posted online. The less we share about ourselves, the less brands will know. Hence, the onus lies on us.

The final session was the one I was looking forward to most. I was intrigued about how people can use social media to brand themselves online. But it turned out to be quite generic. Tanvi Bhatt made it a typical personality development session with just the last 15 minutes spent on how to use social media. Plus her tips were for novices; those who haven’t used Twitter or LinkedIn or don’t blog. It may have been useful for a lot of people there, but I feel it could’ve been more specific and detailed.

After the event, I got to meet Apeksha Harihar, Meera Rai and Hitesh Rajwani from Social Samosa and Sachin Uppal. Had a lengthy discussion about the online space with them which was just as good as the seminar itself. I missed the rest of the days - was looking forward to hearing Kunal Jeswani and Jeff Bullas… maybe next time…

The event was a great experience. It was wonderful to see people share insights and bond like they’ve known each other for long. Passionate discussions, networking and information exchange made the event fun. And the venue was the icing on the cake.

Thanks Blogadda for letting me attend the event. I had missed it last year and wasn’t prepared to give it a miss this time. The event is recommended to everyone who is in the digital space - whether you’re pursuing a career in the field or not.