25 Dec 2015

Why We Will Keep Hearing "Humara Kuch Nahi Ho Sakta"

Modi should do this, Jaitley should do that. The government should do this, the judiciary should do that. Businessmen should do this, Bollywoodsters should do that. Dhoni should do this, Saina (not Raina) should do that. India should do this, Pakistan should do that.

Swacch Bharat Abhiyan will fail because Modi does not put in effort. Corruption will not be eradicated because Kejriwal’s honesty is being questioned (LOL!). Crime rates will not fall because the police does not care about the law. News channels will never sell honest news because they simply care about ratings and money.

"Swacch Bharat Abhiyan is novel idea", I tell my friend. But Modi is not doing enough to make it a success. He simply wanted to make the headlines - that attention-seeking globetrotter (by the way, here are some facts about his trips and devices). While saying this, I pop a chocolate in my mouth and throw the wrapper on the street. “Iss desh ka kuch nahi ho sakta,” I lisp while savoring the chocolate.

I want people to read my blog posts, share them, comment on them, and make me a star. But I will not engage with other bloggers. I will not write something that people like to read. I will write mediocre posts purely for myself and expect people to discover my posts and swoon over them. I will reciprocate only to people who engage with me first. And I will call popular bloggers snooty because they do not praise my writing.

I want the government to build better roads and flyovers. But when they are built, I will drive on the wrong side to avoid the 5 additional seconds added to my travel time because the route. If I accidentally get on a flyover, I will reverse rather than take the longer route - inconvenience caused to traffic be damned. As a pedestrian, I want vehicles to stop for me. But even when I see them coming at high speeds, I will cross the road, mentally challenging them not to slow down. Let's see who blinks first.

I want people (family, colleagues, subordinates, domestic help) to listen to me, but I will talk to them like a jerk. I will behave like a self-professed know-it-all, without even an iota of achievement to my name.

I want… I demand… I want… I demand…

My friend, when will you start doing something? Every change starts from within.

Added luxuries have made us more cocky and stubborn. We want conditions around us to improve without our quality of life being affected in the tiniest way. Not everyone can be pleased every time. Sometimes you lose a little, sometimes others do. All of it contributes to the bigger picture of inclusive growth - in your family, at work, or in your country. We know this, but still behave like street dogs. By being pig-headed in compromise, we stifle growth in society. We may be happy to have got what we wanted, but it hurts us in the long run. By demanding that others do what we want the way we want it, we display entitlement and selfishness, compromising humanity along the way. Then we complain that humanity is dead.

Change starts with you. And it doesn't have to be a turnaround in life that we have come to associate the word with. Can you cross the road quickly, or wait a few seconds for the vehicle to pass to ensure that it is not inconvenienced? Can you place an empty Bisleri bottle or chips wrapper in your bag, or throw it in a dustbin when you find one, rather than littering on the road and complaining that there is no dustbin around? Can you be kind to a stranger who can do nothing for you? Can you be respectful of other people without expecting them to reciprocate? Can you calm your mind when it is clamoring about daily events the most? Yes. Will you? That's a different question.

Like My Era, I'll leave you with a song. I hope you start with the Man in the Mirror and ask him to change his ways.

R.I.P. Michael. God knows we need you more than ever today.

17 Dec 2015

#My21DayChallenge - Week 1 Update

This comes pretty quickly, close on the heels of the previous post, but today marks the 8th day of #my21daychallenge. Here are some details on what has transpired in the last 7 days:

6 activities are part of the challenge, or experiment, or rather adventure, as friends mentioned in comments of the previous post. Here is how they went:

  1. Meet friends - 6 hours: I met Purvesh, Rakesh (technically, he is not a friend but someone far more knowledgeable) and Amit, a remarkably talented painter. Each experience was refreshing. Purvesh asked me uncomfortable questions, the answers of which have helped me set a goal for the next two years. Rakesh gave me tips to progress in an area where I was stuck. And Amit… well… his paintings floored me. I must meet more people this week.
    With Purvesh

  2. Exercise - 5 hours: Mission accomplished.

  3. Read - 7 hours: I think I have exceeded the preset time here. I completed reading Success Sutra and have started reading The Power of Habit again. Trust me, if you want to write a non-fiction book, use The Power of Habit as a benchmark.

  4. New Experiences - 4 hours: I have been lagging here. I heard some music from Winery Dogs and saw Amit's paintings. His portrayal of Gaya when the world ended is breathtaking (the painting in the centre of the image). I must spend more time in this. I will be at the Comic Con this Saturday. If you are around, come say hi.
    Some of Amit's paintings

  5. Waste Time - 14 hours: This is a goal which I feel I have exceeded. Social media again sucked me into its trap - I simply couldn’t find the guts to activate the SelfControl app. I also tend to switch on the idiot box during meals, because of which my meals get extended and time gets wasted… time that could be invested elsewhere. I think focus (or the lack, thereof) is the biggest problem here.

  6. Sleep - 50 hours: I need no motivation here. Probably have exceeded this target too (sorry, no photo of me sleeping).

Some challenges I am facing are:
  1. Not being able to document my activities well. I currently write in my diary, which is not an efficient way to go about it. Sometimes I forget, sometimes I don’t carry the diary along… I must look for an app which helps me keep a tab of my tasks in a simpler way. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Some of my tasks coincide. For instance, watching TV while eating meals is a combination of wasting time and time for eating food. When I met a friend at The Li’l Flea, it was a combination of meeting friends and new experiences. Need to figure that out.

  3. Motivation is not high.
I don’t feel a conspicuous difference in me. Then again, I have not done things too differently from what I did previously. Let us see how this week progresses.

14 Dec 2015

I am Conducting an Experiment on Myself

Recently, I tried to revive a music project with a friend.“I would love to, dude,” he said. “But I don’t have time.” He is not the only one faces this challenge. Many people say: “I would love to [insert activity] if only I had time.” Some of the activities include rest. I shudder to think that some people are so busy that they have no time to rest. In fact, I have started feeling like I am lazier than I thought, because I rarely am, if ever, hard pressed for time.

Then again, the bias of the mind is such that it overestimates everything it does. I thought that my ‘time management’ techniques were note-worthy, that people should learn from me. And so I thought of writing a blog post titled ‘6 More Things to Do When You Don’t Have Time’.

Interesting paradox, isn’t it?

I jotted down six ‘activities’ for people to do when they feel like they don’t have time. Then came doubts. This would be another boring, preachy, ‘knowledge dispersing’ post where the adage ‘those who can’t do, teach” would ring true. Some readers would appreciate it, the vast majority would ignore it, and the post would be forgotten within one day of being published. So I thought of taking it one step further.

I would try it on myself first.

I don’t suffer from dearth of time largely because I ignore irrelevant things (almost everything, actually), and because of a poor, virtually non existent, social life (my friends will vouch for that).

It worked wonders for me in the last year. I amassed a lot of knowledge in this period, reading articles online and trying things out, some of which worked while others didn’t. I have learned by getting my hands dirty, something that I could not do in the corporate world.

But I have hit a brick wall now. My ability of keeping things simple has been compromised, and so has my penchant for staying calm. I am stuck in a rut and my perspectives are restricted because I barely meet people. I have begun talking too much, pushing forth my points rather than trying to understand the person in front. I have started thinking that I know what is best for others. I have become lazy and complacent, and have procrastinated on an important project for over a year.

These are not my best days.

I have two choices to address this predicament: I can either wallow in self pity and blame circumstances, or I can fix it. I choose the former.

Just kidding, I choose the latter.

Here is the deal. I am conducting a 21-day experiment on myself (which started on 10th December) and will share the results with you. It takes 21 days to form a new habit, and I will try to form more than one in them.

There are 168 hours in a week. Below are the six activities, and the tentative amount of time that I will spend on them each week.

  1. Meet friends - 6 hours: The people who say “What? You’re crazy!”, don’t count as friends. The ones who say “You’re crazy and I love it”, do. So I will meet more of the latter. Hopefully I will upload more Facebook and Instagram-worthy photos, or at least be tagged in some.
  2. Exercise - 5 hours: I already exercise this much each week, so this shouldn’t be difficult to manage.
  3. Read - 7 hours: I read so much online that I have been ignoring good books which have shaped my thinking. I’m going to return to reading, with the aim of covering at least 20 pages a day.
  4. New Experiences - 4 hours: This includes listening to and making new music, attending conferences and exhibitions (if applicable) and anything else which plunges me into something new.
  5. Waste Time - 14 hours: Time spent on social media and in front of the idiot box (even news and sports) is time wasted. I will try to waste 6 hours between Monday and Friday, and 14 on weekends.

    Reading useful articles will not be considered wasting time, nor will doing household chores so that mom stops complaining about me being unmarried and her ‘not having a helping hand around the house’.
  6. Sleep - 50 hours: A minimum of 7 hours each day.

These sum up to 87 hours, which means I am left with 81 hours each week to work, complete household chores, eat food and travel for meetings. I’m thinking that should be enough.

How did I come up with these numbers? I don’t know. I’m just shooting from the hip. These numbers are not carved in stone. As I mentioned before, they are tentative. Plus, I’m still working on efficiently keeping track of this.

This experiment is not to see how much I work. It’s about evolving as a person. I believe that meeting encouraging people and exposing myself to new experiences will motivate me to do what is important, that reading will improve my writing and thinking, and seeing that I have only 81 hours a week to complete whatever I want to will make me more productive.

I could have started today, right? It’s Monday, the beginning of a new week. But I started on 10th December. The end of the experiment will coincide with 31st December, the end of 2015. On 1st January, 2016, I will have the results to share with you. And yes, I will keep tweeting about stuff with the hashtag #my21daychallenge. (It’s an old hashtag but nobody is currently using it. So why reinvent the wheel?) Engage with the hashtag and share your encouragement, insights, criticism or anything that you feel will help me.

Now, there are two choices. And I will choose between them depending upon what you suggest.

  1. I make a note of weekly progress and share my victories and challenges with you each week
  2. I make a note of weekly progress and share it with you at the end of three weeks.

What would you prefer? Wish me luck.

7 Dec 2015

5 Lessons I Learned About Life From a Workshop on Autism

Before becoming an independent content marketing consultant, I spent almost nine years in the corporate, trying to make my way through it, eventually (and happily) giving up. I couldn’t digest many aspects of the corporate world - especially its culture. I kept feeling like everyone chased the same things, blissfully unaware that they were headed in a wrong, overcrowded direction.

Last weekend, I attended a seminar on autism, thanks to my friends at SAI Connections. The speakers included Dr. Steven Gutstein (Dr. G), the founder of an autism treatment program named Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), and Mrs. Kamini Lakhani, someone who, in the last year, has shown me the other side of autism spectrum disorder - a side that 97 percent of us don’t know about. The more I interact with her, the more intrigued I am about the condition. Because while I earlier looked at autism as a disability, Kamini showed me how remarkable children with the condition are. True, their brains are wired differently from us, but that doesn’t make them disabled. In fact, the more I read about these amazing children, the more I feel like we ‘normal’ people are the ones who are disabled.

As I heard Dr. G’s speak, I started correlating his concepts about autism to everyday life. Everything he said had lessons for leaders.

When you hear the word ‘leader’, do you only think of a politician or senior executive of a giant multinational corporation? No, leadership encompasses much more. You can be a leader if you are a parent, a musician, a spouse, a team member or anyone whom others look up to.

Here are 5 lessons applicable to leaders which I learned at the workshop:

1. Plug the hole

Dr. G gave a terrific example - one which struck an instant chord with us: A ship is sinking, and the captain and crew are busy siphoning out the water. I have a glue that will fix the problem for good, but the team will have to stop bailing out the water and work with me. “We’re busy right now,” they say. “If we stop bailing the water out, the ship will sink.” Fair enough. But we are humans. Ultimately, our muscles will give way, and we will fail to siphon the water at the same speed as it’s entry. Or we will just die out of exhaustion. And the ship will sink anyway.

We are enamored with ‘fire-fighting’. We wear it like a badge, always addressing seemingly urgent things without addressing what is actually important. We are busy making others do what we want, or doing things ourselves because ‘we are faster at them’. But in the long run, we make people dependent on us. And once that happens, we complain about having to do everything, burning out, not having a life anymore and so on. 

Remember: Short term pains for long term gains. If you truly want to stoke someone’s creativity and independence, focus on plugging the hole of the ship rather than bailing out the water.

(L-R: Dr. Steven Gutstein, Mrs. Kamini Lakhani and Dr. Rachelle Sheely)

2. The far end of the pool

Parents and professionals overwhelm children with autism with infinite information, believing that the children will eventually grasp it. But it doesn’t work. They throw the child in the pool (metaphorically) hoping that he will learn to swim. Often however, the child steps out of the pool to save his life, and never returns. This hurts not only the parents but also the child, because his development is impeded.

The same happens in the professional world. Managers simply ‘throw people in the pool’ and expect them to perform. But this ’First day-First hour productivity’ is an overhyped misconception. When a pilot is trained, she is not immediately put onto the simulator, and bombarded with poor weather conditions and an engine malfunction. She is guided over time to develop the necessary skills to handle any situation - even the ones not included in the simulator.

The same principles must be applied by us. Before you expect a miracle from your subordinate, child, or team member, you must help her imbibe the necessary skills to deliver one. Remember, if the child or subordinate cannot do what you expected, the blame lies squarely on your shoulders… on the shoulders of the leader.

3. Empower growth seeking

Like children, if subordinates have to grow, they have to be presented with a positive and predictable environment. Before you try to develop specific skills in people, you must provide them with experiences which make them feel secure.

Motivation should be growth-seeking, not growth-limiting. I have seen far too many bosses do the latter. They demotivate people, or instill fear in them. This not only reflects the insecurity of the inept managers, but also builds a culture where people want to quit, not grow.

Leaders, on the other hand, alter the way their subordinates perceive themselves. They let their team members expand themselves to grow mindfully and accept unpredictability. Dr. G emphasizes on helping children with autism develop a sense of self, without which, they cannot function in a world which is not black and white. I believe the same can be applied to each avenue where a leader functions.

4. Most things don’t matter

We are always busy. Phone notifications, emails, meetings, multitasking, parenting, working… there is so much to do, and such little time! Surely, we should get better at time management.

But time management is a myth. Task management is the truth. It’s not about the number of tasks that you do, it’s about the number of times you do specific tasks which matter to you.

Warren Buffet has a philosophy: Write down 25 goals, and choose the 5 most important ones. Don’t put the others on the back burner. Instead, ignore them. Every time you have a task in mind, ask yourself, “Does this fit in with my goal?” If the answer is yes, proceed. If not, ignore it.

You will find that you can pursue selective work that pays off and will have more time for yourself. Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it?

5. Don’t tell, show

As I mentioned, before I met Kamini, I thought autism was a disability, that affected children were incapable of living independent lives, and that they are liabilities for their parents.

But in the last year, Kamini has shown me how wrong I was. And Dr. G did the same in his workshop. They spent more time demonstrating through videos and activities than telling me. And rather than telling me to get rid of my misconceptions, they watched patiently as I put all my delusions in a box, threw them off a cliff, and waited for the sound of them smashing against the rocks.

Barking orders and instructions is not half as effective as showing people. Language can never replace visuals. Use results, case studies, videos or anything that can keep people captivated.

It’s funny how life is, isn’t it? We find inspiration at the most unexpected places. I am single. Yet I took away a lot from a workshop about autism, and will implement them in my life. Which point struck a chord with you the most?

26 Nov 2015

When You Should Apologize... Or You Shouldn't

“Vishal, you didn’t apologize to me.”

“For what?”

“For having spoken rudely to me two days ago.”


“When you got angry and insulted me when I said that you shouldn’t ride bikes because they’re not safe.”

“Well, I love riding. And you persisted despite me explaining how integral a part of my life it is.”

“That doesn’t allow you to be rude.” Her voice grew louder.t

“I wasn’t rude. I just told you that I wouldn’t stop riding and that you should back off.”

“So you won’t apologize?”


“THEN YOU DON’T DESERVE ME!” she cried. 


This occurred in a mall. She violently pushed away her chair and walked away in a huff. I finished my burger, got up and walked quietly, mentally fist-bumping every man who gave me a look of admiration (feminists, please keep your judgement to yourselves).

Unfortunately she did not break up with me. But she refused to speak to me for three (peaceful) days. It’s the small moments of joy and happiness that we should appreciate.

Standing up for what you believe in was always considered a taboo. Mankind has evolved in leaps and bounds in technology or quality of life. But our limbic brain - our lizard brain - stays as apish as it was about 15 million years ago. If someone is offended by what we did or said, the status quo demands that we apologize. Why? Because the person was hurt. It doesn’t matter that the our sentiments were hurt before by him. This logic is messed up. But then, society is messed up anyway.

Apologies exact a toll on the offender, as this article states. When you apologize to someone, you hand the power over to them - the power to extend forgiveness and appear like ‘the bigger person’, or to deny the apology and make you feel like crap.

This does not mean that we should not apologize when we do something wrong (Aamir Khan, are you listening?). But apologies should not be trivial, or rendered often or lightly. Especially not when you meant what you said. Because when you apologize for something you meant, you silently tell the ‘victim’, 

“Your approval of me is more important than my personal feelings.”

And that sucks.

You know this, right? Haven’t you found yourself in a situation where you thought, “I shouldn’t have to apologize.” Yet, may of us do it. Why? Because of social pressure, which induces a feeling of guilt. And trust me, as much as that feeling is real, it is irrelevant.

Here is what you should do to get rid of the feeling of guilt:

  1. Be comfortable in your skin
    The main reason for this feeling of guilt stems from being unsure about ourselves. Fear and anxiety often dominate our thoughts during such periods. But we have to free ourselves from these insecurities, and take back the power of being secure in who we are - with our flaws and strengths. Read this article to know how to overcome self doubt and get comfortable with yourself (h/t to Kamini for sharing it).

  2. Choose your battles

    “Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most important ones and let go of the rest.” - C. Joybell C.

    Not all battles are worth fighting. in fact, most are not. And guess what. Fighting too many battles leaves your tank empty when you need the energy to stand up for yourself the most. Choose a battle which has serious, long-term implications. Let go if the consequences are little.

    You will encounter trolls and dismissive people. But remember: their picking on you does not reflect on your inadequacies, but on their own. Carry on with your work. But when they make a habit of it, you must throw back one punch. One punch which makes the world stand up and say to them - “Oh! You got ‘owned’!” And then, don't apologize for throwing the it.

  3. Don’t be a d**k

    Shane Watson was batting with a cramp. Shikhar Dhawan was taunting him on the field, acting like he had a limp. Dhoni intervened. He was having none of this. He openly indicated to Dhawan, “Don’t be a d**k.”

    How many times have the Aussies sledged their opponents? Those instances are more than the number of stars in the sky. But does Dhoni use a thorn to draw a thorn? In fact, during his press conferences, Dhoni comes out with responses which put the media and opponents in their places without being apologetic. And it makes us go, “Oh! He ‘owned’ them!”

    Mount personal attacks on someone who pisses you off and you become easy pickings for your instigator. He can show the world that you called him a/n [insert expletive here] and gain sympathy. All this while he was the person who started it.

    Stay calm and go about your work. But when you must, respond to the situation, not the person. This emotional balance will help you keep critics at bay, maintain inner peace and command respect from those around you.

  4. What matters more?

    Does the person matter more, or what he said? If it’s the former, is he having a bad day? Is it a one-off instance or frequent?

    If it is one-off, can you find the reason behind it, or ignore it? And if it is frequent, do you want to stay connected with someone who behaves like a jerk all the time? I don’t need to elaborate, do I? You are smart enough to get the drift.

If you stand up for yourself, there will be consequences. People will call you arrogant, selfish, a jerk, rude, and many other adjectives. They will hate you. But this isn’t hatred. In reality, it’s jealousy - of your guts to speak your mind and stand up for what you believe in. After all, people often hate those whom they want to be like.

Nobody owes you anything, and you owe nothing to anyone. If someone tells you what to do and you don’t want to, follow Robert Downey Jr.’s advice.

Stop apologizing for what you think is right. Live your life with no regrets, like your mom will be proud to read about it if it appears on the right hand side of the front page of a newspaper. For all you know, some day it will.

16 Nov 2015

11 lessons I learned from Jeff Bullas in 3 Days

You have seen his caricature everywhere, and almost certainly have read his blog posts. If not, the online influencers you follow have definitely mentioned his name. You cannot deny that.

Jeff Bullas was in Mumbai for the 2-day BNLF event organized by Indiblogger. His keynote on day 1 was awesome, and his masterclass on day 2 was… well, a masterclass.

Where Vinita (of the BlogwatiG fame) and I REALLY got lucky was on the third day, when we got the online marketing guru exclusively to ourselves. Jeff, Vinita and I spent the day roaming around Mumbai. We discussed many topics - culture, sports, experiences, politics, blogging, psychology and more. That Vinita and I learned a lot from Jeff is an understatement. I’ve put together a list of 11 splendid lessons Jeff gave us in 3 days... lessons which you would happily pay money for. But I'm sharing them with you for free!

Clockwise - Vinita, Jeff and me

Disclaimer: This is a really looooong post. And yet, it covers only about 7 percent of what we learned. However, this 7 percent can turn your life on its head.

The best lesson is the last one. So I hope you stay till the end.

1. Our biggest challenge
“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” - John Maynard Keynes.

If you have to walk away right now because your spouse is calling, or your child is crying, make sure you take this one lesson with you.

The adage of “thinking outside the box” has been beaten to death. Yet, almost everyone finds it impossible (not difficult… impossible) to do, because we are rigidly anchored to old ideas. “It’s always been like this” is our fallback theory.

Takeaway: Before you think outside the box (or even try), unlearn old practices, and learn new ones. Out with the old and in with the new. Because the day you are through with change, you are through.

2. Re-invent yourself

“I have re-invented myself many times over the years”, says Jeff. The last time he he did was in 2008, when he adopted social media and started his journey towards becoming the guru that he is today. And he continues doing so.

The world is changing at the rate of knots. What was indispensable a few years ago is now redundant. We’re perilously close to Digital Darwinism, where technology advances so fast that mankind is unable to keep up. Yet, most of us stay trapped in our comfort zones because… well, “it’s always been like this”. Remember point #1?

People who have flourished are the ones who have re-invented themselves, time and again. You must re-invent yourself too - repeatedly. Unless, of course, you don’t mind becoming as obsolete as the walkman. (By the way, the walkman can still demand a premium today. Can you?)

Takeaway: If you still are counting the laurels of yesterday, you are not doing enough today. What you achieved in the past may have worked, but that is the past. It’s time to do something new. As Gary Vee says, “do what is relevant in 2015, not in 2007.”

Which bring us to the obvious question: “How do I re-invent myself?” Well, read on.

3. What are you good at?

Jeff firmly believes in Pareto’s Law - that 80% of your results stem from 20% of your work. And he follows it to the ’T’. He focuses on the 20 percent activities which yield him maximum returns. The remaining 80 percent he either delegates, outsources or ignores. This not only lets him focus on what he is good at, but also helps him excel in those areas. And you know that in today’s world, ‘good’ and ‘unique’ don’t cut it anymore. You have to be remarkable.

To find what you are good at, Jeff suggests that you read ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’ by Marcus Buckingham. Along with insights on discovering your forte, this book gives you an online test which sheds light on your five key strengths. Based on those strengths, you can take up what you are good at and start a journey towards reinventing yourself.

Takeaway: 80 percent of your results stem from 20 percent of your work. Draw a list of your activities to map out which ones give you maximum returns, and which ones waste your time. Pareto’s Law will make you better at what you love, and drill the much needed focus into your life. And yes, read ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’.

4. Think bigger

“The population of Sydney is about 4 million, and that of Australia is about 25 million, which is less than the population of Mumbai”, said Jeff. He possesses in-depth knowledge of each city and country he visits. But I’m digressing here.

If Jeff intended on catering solely to the Aussie audience, he would have run out of new customers quickly. So his focus is not just Australia. It’s the US, Canada, India and the whole world. A sizable chunk of his readers are from India. Who would’ve thought! Jeff has also delivered keynotes at Kuwait and Beirut too. “Stop thinking local. Think bigger, think global” is his mantra.

Takeaway: The internet is a fantastic platform for you to reach out to every relevant person in the world. So stop catering purely to the audience in your city or country. You have no idea how your work can positively impact someone in a different continent. Think bigger. The world is your oyster.

5. Your purpose in life

Find out what you really want to do in life, and pursue it. Once you do, you will forget phrases like ‘Monday morning blues’ and ‘TGIF’. You will look forward to waking up each morning, and won't have to work another day in your life. You will not only be productive, you will be happy.

Takeaway: “Many people go to their grave without singing their song.” - Jeff Bullas (h/t to Vinita for the reminder). Which song will you sing? Someone else’s, or your own?

6. How we unknowingly waste resources

“I spend a lot of my time working with competition than working against it”, Jeff said to us over tea at the BNLF event. This is popularly known as coopetition. Here is a quote from an ebook by Copyblogger to validate it:
There aren’t many ‘lone wolves’ out there anymore. Partnerships and cross pollination are the name of the game. If you’re building your business on an audience attracted by your authority on a particular topic, you want to spend most of your time working with, not against, the ‘competitors’ for that audience.

Unfortunately, the vast majority spends time competing against each other. This leads to drain in resources like time, effort and funds. And how much do you have to show at the end of these wars?

Takeaway: Collaborate with your competition to offer value to your audience, and reap the rewards faster. You will double your business while investing less than half the resources.

7. Have an audience before you need it

Understandably, full time bloggers want to make money off of blogging. When Jeff was asked how bloggers can get deals to write sponsored posts, there was pin-drop silence in the hall. The whole audience listened with rapt attention - like Batman was speaking to us. Batman… sorry… Jeff, had one thing to say:

"Have an audience before you need it."

Banner ads and Adsense will not help you make money unless you get massive traffic to your blog. Instead, work on building an audience which you will own rather than rent. Build an email subscription base, encourage readers to share your content and return to your site, and strive for simplicity and value addition to offer terrific user experience.

It’s also important to put yourself out there. Brands rarely approach bloggers asking them to write sponsored posts, unless the bloggers are extremely popular. Until you reach that level of popularity, keep approaching brands and pitching your ideas of sponsored posts.

Takeaway: Have an audience before you need it. Grow this audience by offering remarkable value and making them share something personal with you in return. Read GrowthHackers and inbound.org to learn how you can grow your audience.

8. The only way to discover your potential

As a child, Jeff suffered from asthma. Today he runs marathons and is an avid bicyclist. He cycles almost everywhere he goes. He pushed the limits of his body and came out on top. Jeff - 1, asthma - 0.

Likewise, to discover your potential, you must keep pushing yourself to progress to the next level. Read this amazing Zen Pencils comic strip on how Bruce Lee pushed his limits.

Jeff pushes his followers too. Many in his coopetition circle might not agree with his frequency of tweets, but it works for him. “If your audience is not complaining, you are not pushing hard enough”, he says. Amazing!

Takeaway: “If you don’t hear complains, you are not pushing hard enough.” This is applicable to your body, your mind, and your followers. Even remarkable has an expiry date in today’s day and age. Don’t stop progressing.

9. Optimize for conversion

Many businesses start blogging merely for brand awareness. While awareness is important, what matters more is knowing what you want from your audience.

Don’t use campaigns purely to create ‘brand awareness’. Optimize for conversion right from the word go. Conversions don’t have to be sales. They can be newsletter subscriptions, signing up for trial offers or becoming a lead.

Takeaway: If you create guides, DIYs or blog posts for awareness and educating your audience, ask for something in return. Optimizing for conversion makes people return to your property, and helps you build an audience before you need it (see point #7).

10. What to do when your product is expensive

I faced a problem with a specific landing page on which we were selling tickets for an event. The target audience loved the content and gave feedback like “we have never seen anything like this in India.” Yet, nobody bought tickets. I asked Jeff.

“The more your product costs, the more the number of steps to get customers onboard should be”, he said. Jeff has an intricate system of converting users. Using Infusionsoft, he segments his audience. People who show interest in his products by clicking through on the Calls-to-Action are provided with more value-added content before he pitches for a sale. Even in this category, he has sub-categories, and customizes his messages for various groups.

The vast amount of information he shared had my head spinning, and I had to focus hard to avoid ramming into the car in front.

Takeaway: The higher the price of your offering, the more circumspect your audience will be. Increase the number of steps to convert your audience to customers.

11. Done is better than perfect

We’re down to the last, and most critical lesson (thanks for staying till the end). Many of us (including yours truly) have images of how we want things, and refuse to move forward unless something is exactly like that.

During his keynote, Jeff spoke about someone who was not ready to take her blog live because she wanted everything to be perfect. Here is news flash: Perfection can never be achieved! We will always want something more, and then more, and more. The project never goes live and eventually, it’s shelved. When Jeff said this, I felt like he was looking right through the thousand bloggers present and speaking directly to me.

Perfection is a utopian state, something we are always in pursuit of. Even global influencers like Jeff are constantly working on improvement. So start now, and pursue excellence. Success will follow suit. You have a whole lifetime to pursue perfection.

Takeaway: Done is better than Perfect. Stop waiting for the perfect moment and start now. Period. 

It was one of the best days of Vinita’s and my life. We showed Jeff CST, Marine Drive, and Colaba. We visited CafĂ© Mondegar and the Gateway of India. At the end of a lovely day, I shook hands with Jeff and Vinita hugged him. He then looked at me and asked, “Won’t you give me a hug?”

“I thought a hug would make you uncomfortable”, I said.

“Naah, mate. I’m good with a hug”. And we hugged.

Jeff, we’re really glad you came to India and spoke to us all. And dear reader, I’m glad you stayed till the end. If you take something away from this post, you can thank Jeff and me. And if you are upset about not being invited to the day out, it’s Vinita’s fault. She told me not to invite you.

10 Nov 2015

Nothing Can Match Drives and Memories

“I’m bored”, I said. “Why must all Mondays be like this?”

“You’re especially feeling like this because of your vacation”, Vikrant said. I had just returned that morning from a 5-day trip to Goa. I was missing the beaches, the food, the lovely weather and… well, everything that we do in Goa. Add to that the Monday morning blues and the feeling of staring at a computer screen, attending meetings, and wading through office politics for six whole days and the moodiness was compounded.

Vikrant sensed it, and offered to drive down to Datta Snacks in Panvel where we could drink kokum sherbat. We had time to reach office, but not so much that we could drive from Kopar Khairane to Panvel and back.

“Dude, you’ve already been away from office for 5 days, right?”, he asked.


“So how will one more day hurt? Plus, this will prepare me for the week ahead too.” Fair point.

So he stepped on the gas of his recently-restored Suzuki Gypsy. The feeling of speeding past office on a Monday morning brought a smile my face. Vikrant assured me that we would return in a little more than an hour. This was also an opportunity for him to really test the Gypsy’s abilities - he hadn’t opened the throttle in a while.

The road to Panvel passes from under the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. As we approached Kalamboli, I thought aloud that the Expressway would have been a great place to test the Gypsy. And as we approached the diversion, I waited for him to turn. Instead, he went straight and got onto the Expressway.

“Vikrant, what are you doing? We will miss work!”

Tune apna mooh kyun khola? Ab chup chaap chal (Why did you open your mouth. Now come along without resistance).”

Datta Snacks? Be damned.

Even worse, office? Back to fair point.

So we drove along. Vikrant rarely shows emotions - stoics would be proud. But today, I could see his teeth. The engine had done its 1,000 kilometres run-in so he opened the throttle. The Gypsy motored along at 110 km/h on the Expressway, but the fumes which get into the cabin were giving me a heady feeling. Anyway, the breeze compensated and I survived till we turned for Lonavla. We stopped at a hotel to have breakfast and fresh lime soda. And I started feeling better. Maybe it was the soda, maybe it was the feeling of sitting in an empty restaurant on a Monday morning while people were rushing to work… but Vikrant knew that the best way to rejuvenate me was to put me at the wheel. Again, if you know me, you also know that I am not formal with friends. And I love the ghats of Lonavla. So the “oh, are you sure? She’s your baby” dialogue never took place. I sat on the driver’s seat and prepared for a lovely drive up to Aamby Valley. I was keen on testing how the front sway bar and the CEAT Plus One R16 tyres would aid the SUV’s performance on the twisties.

For a vehicle which had been introduced around similar times to the Yamaha RD350, the vehicle’s stance was impressive. I had to put in some effort in turns because she didn't have power steering (Vikrant is a boisterous Jharkhandi who didn’t want power steering). But every turn I took, the 16” CEATs ensured that the Gypsy stuck to the line that I took. The heady feeling was quickly replaced by one of relaxation. Here’s a little secret: just before Aamby Valley is a diversion which is off-road terrain and leads to a village. When I offered to take the Gypsy there, Vikrant’s eyes lit up and he snatched the steering back (not literally, of course). And the SUV went through the ‘course’ with remarkable aplomb. On rocky terrains where one would gingerly have to drive a sedan at the speeds of 10-20, the Gypsy seemed comfortable at 60 kmph. This time, I heard Vikrant laugh.

By the time we were back home, it was 4 already.

There was hell to pay for the next day. Not only because both of us called in sick just an hour before office started, but because our other friends shared a piece of their mind about our adventure without them. Especially because Vikrant didn’t hand over the keys of the Gypsy to anyone until the previous day. To compensate, he let everyone drive the SUV around the campus during the lunch break (our office had a 140-acre campus). And as they say, all’s well that ends well.

4 Nov 2015

What Happens When You Sell Out to the Wrong People

Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez were slugging it out at the Malaysian MotoGP. The way they were going at each other, something had to give. And it did!

Rossi pushed Marquez off his bike.

I was furious! “FUCK YOU ROSSI!” I screamed, running towards the TV. “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!”

My mother came running from the kitchen. “What happened, Vishal?”

"GO BACK TO YOUR WORK, WOMAN!” I shouted, and continued hurling abuses at Rossi.

Okay, that didn’t happen. Here is the real version.

Rossi pushed Marquez off his bike. I sat up in my chair and said “Ooh!”

Mom handed me a plate, saying “ ‘Ooh’ ke bacche, yeh le khaana kha (Stop shouting and eat your food).” And I ate, quietly wondering whether Rossi would be penalized for that horrifying act or would get away scot-free yet again. You see, Rossi is to Dorna Sports (which governs MotoGP) what Robert Vadra is to the Indian National Congress.

Be honest. The first version sounded great, didn’t it? Like I really put myself out there, like it was heartfelt, like passion was running through my veins. You enjoyed reading it. But it wasn’t true. It was grossly exaggerated.

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend about James Altucher. Many of his articles have lines like:

“I’m sorry I lied to you that day I posted on……………..”

“…………and [I] didn’t answer until eventually she left, screaming my name.”

“Fuck you dad. RIP!”

She believes he writes from the heart (no offense dear friend, I know you’re reading this). And I said that he is the Chetan Bhagat of the United States. She scoffed.

Right on cue, James held an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on GrowthHackers last night. For the uninitiated, Growth Hackers is a fabulous portal where people share articles on content, growing a business and online marketing and more. And this was the description.

What did he think he would achieve by mentioning that he went into a ‘depression’ on GrowthHackers, a site dedicated to content marketing? Wait. Maybe this is content marketing. What if James knows that the most effective way for him to market his content (read 'books') is to berate himself? That enables millions to connect with his content, and buy his books.

Kanan Gill summed up the human attraction to grief and misery perfectly (I’m paraphrasing here)

“Suppose we maintain a diary. If we look at a day in 2014, we read about having stepped into a pile of dog shit. That’s all we focused on, that day. The good that occurred found no mention and was taken for granted.”

We like ruing over pain. And we gravitate towards people who share theirs with us. It makes them appear genuine, vulnerable. But is that what we need?

On one side, we have James Altucher who writes about how ‘fucked’ his life has been, in every post. And when I turn my head (or rather turn on the tele), I find yet another news channel slandering a man - something that they have indulged in for almost 15 years.

This man sold tea with his father when he was a child. His mother was a maid at others’ houses so that the family could make ends meet. He joined a political outfit and rose through the ranks to become the Chief Minister of his state. In 2002, a communal riot broke out. The world blamed him for it. The United States denied him a visa. The Supreme Court cleared his name, and he was elected the Prime Minister of India. But to this day, people call him a 'murderer', among millions of other derogatory terms. And he continues toiling to improve the condition of India, to empower the poor and make our country a global superpower. Yes, he is Narendra Modi.

Image Source

Or consider MS Dhoni. The man has captained India to win every competition. But a couple of bad series and we (media and mango men) bay for his blood, prepare the scaffold and wait for the opportunity to take him to it in chains and celebrate with pomp along the way.

Dhoni and Modi are torchbearers of hope for millions across India and the world. And yet we treat them like dirt. If there are people who deserve to cry about how ‘fucked’ their lives are, these two deserve it the most. Yet, their steely determination shows in their eyes as they carry on their work, achieving in a single life what we will not achieve in seven. We, on the other hand, prefer reading stories of people who................. well...............

It’s fine to display emotions. The occasional display shows a side of you that people didn’t know, making you appear more human. But too much self deprecation or broadcasting of misery makes me feel uncomfortable, and it should make you feel the same. Life is about moving forward after all, yes?

James Altucher is fun to read. Please don't misunderstand this post as one saying that you must stop reading his stuff. But for inspiration, look at people who keep moving in spite of the odds rather than selling themselves based on them. It’s time you let people find place inside your heart based on what we want to do. Do you want to whine? Or do you want your life to be worth watching when it flashes by on your deathbed?

For each choice, you have options. Choose wisely.

6 Oct 2015

5 Awesome Qualities of MS Dhoni

Someone posted a question on Quora asking about some good qualities of MS Dhoni. Some amazing answers were posted, offering insights into the genius' brain and temperament. I shared my 50 paise too.

Before reading my answer, please remember that everything I write is as an interested observer, and certainly not based on fundamental research. I'm as much in the dark as others about MS Dhoni, but love exercising my brain on what drives him, and learning from him.

Below is my answer to the question: What are some good qualities of MS Dhoni?

We look at MS Dhoni as a remarkable leader and batsman. But we must remember that his success stems from his perspective on life, which, as he says, the game is just a part of. In this answer, I’ll go a little deeper than his skills on the field, but will use examples of his cricketing life to justify my points.

Yeah buddy... keep smiling :)
  1. Detachment
    I remember watching highlights of the 2011 World Cup India-Pakistan semifinal with a friend. The match ended (we won), and Sachin jovially hugged Mahi. The latter merely smiled and hugged him with one arm since he was carrying a stump in the other. “Dekh kitna attitude hai usme (look how haughty he is)!”, my friend said about MSD. But it wasn’t attitude that Dhoni showed. It was detachment - from results, from emotions, the past and the future.

    There is simply an eternal state of calm inside him, looking at things as the plain truth rather than adding personal judgement to them. Detachment is also what enabled him to announce his test retirement after the 90th test match in the way he did, rather than doing so after 100 tests and announcing it before a test so that he would get a standing ovation, a guard of honor etc.

  2. Seeing the good in people
    We know the story, right? Dhoni joined the Indian cricket team and was often picked on by Yuvraj Singh because he was from a lesser known town. Yuvraj picked on Dhoni when the latter scored 148 in ODIs, saying that the true mark of a player lay in how he played test matches and so on. One day, Dhoni simply asked him why he was always so angry. Yuvraj smiled and that broke the ice between them. Yuvraj went on to play many a match-winning roles for India under Dhoni, especially in the 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 ICC World Cup. How would we respond to someone who is, say, a senior in our office space and keeps picking on us? Dhoni could probably see the good in Yuvraj, and hence coolly bypassed his bullying behavior and connected with him like few others could.

  3. Having faith in people
    Dhoni’s ability to back the right players doesn’t stem from a lesson of some business management course. His ability to see the good in people helps him give them assurance, which brings often out the best in them. Remember when Gautam Gambhir had lauded Dhoni when the former found a permanent spot in the Indian team? “Dhoni gave me the assurance that I would not have to worry about a spot in the team”, he said. “That gave me the freedom to play the way I liked.” And we know how many flourishing innings Gambhir has played for India. The more people are assured, the better they perform, as ex-Apple designer Mark Kawano highlights.

    We question why Dhoni backed Jadeja for so long. But Dhoni can look beyond Jadeja’s batting ability, sees him as one of India’s best fielders and a useful spinner. There are more roles a player can don than one. And his faith in people pays off more often than not, because people want to prove themselves when someone places faith in them.

  4. Seeing himself as part of a Whole
    In every answer, people who have met MSD talk about his humility. It’s also visible from the way he speaks and where he stands when the team poses with a trophy. Yes, in some remote part of Dhoni’s brain, he knows it’s important to let players and the support staff share the limelight, but not because he is a leader. It’s because he sees himself as part of a team, a Whole. That is also why he often bats lower down the order. Because averages be damned, that’s what the team needs, regardless of what the media or we think.

  5. Perspective
    "If 15 runs are needed off the last 6 balls, pressure is on the bowler and not on MS Dhoni”, said Ian Bishop. This is not because Dhoni is a hard hitter (well, partly it is). But it's because Dhoni has carefully analyzed the situation to let 15 runs remain in the last over. “My aim is to leave it till the bowler and me are on level ground, i.e. to the point at which he is under as much pressure as me. Then we see who can handle it”, he says.

    Another example: “Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just that the distance between the mistakes is more in the case of successful people.” His perspectives on life let him look at it (life) objectively, and that is probably what enables him to imbibe all the qualities that we often talk about.

I could write about Dhoni’s qualities day and night. But for now, I’ll leave you with the 700+ words above and this poem written by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

IF - Rudyard Kipling
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