Categories
Learnings

4 steps to achieve Asynchronous zen

I was in a painful meeting last week, the host was very well prepared but many others were not. The host had to spend time explaining the complex detail before anyone could make a meaningful contribution. It was quite painful to do via video conferencing. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. The audience should have been more mindful about the basic premise of asynchronous remote work. Empathy!

Let’s discuss some levers that will make asynchronous work, work 😇.

1. Commit as a team to asynchronous practices

Whenever I hear “asynchronous”, I go back 17 years (!) to my computer networking class at University. I remember being fascinated by TCP and UDP protocols. In case you are not familiar, these are communication mechanisms at the heart of the internet. TCP is used for accurate, reliable and relatively slow connections, whereas UDP is used for relatively fast but lossy connections. The key thing to note here is that UDP is fast, because it is asynchronous i.e. does not need to establish a connection with the receiving computer.

asynchronous protocol
Crude but effective description of an asynchronous protocol

In a remote setting, you need to reduce handshakes with others and achieve an “independent” state of productivity similar to a device using a UDP protocol. This is what I mean by asynchronous work. Let’s unpack this a little.

“Communication stress grows exponentially the larger or more distributed you are. With that, it’s significantly easier to mis-communicate or misinterpret. It’s important to create clear processes with clear intentions, which will reduce the amount of additional stress you feel internally.”

Threads CEO Rousseau Kazi

Imagine that you are a solution designer working on an app. In an office setting, you could gather around a whiteboard with engineers, product managers, and come up with design options. You might have multiple meetings until you agree parts of your design and then work on putting it all together. Remotely, this process would be cumbersome to replicate. Instead, you could use a collaboration tool to “build” a design artefact and then share it. Your engineering and product stakeholders can then review it at their own convenience and leave comments on different parts of your design. Your next iteration would take those into account and so on.

In my experience, this way of working if done right, is more efficient.

Think about it, your initial focus is on producing an artefact. You can get it to a higher standard as your work was relatively distraction-free. Also, since you are not forcing a time constraint of a meeting, people can review a more complete vision of your design at their leisure. Your focus as a solution designer then is iterating your design artefact rather than trying to get everyone on the same page.

People often do not play their part in asynchronous work (this is not necessarily malevolence) and they would rather wait for the next meeting before raising concerns. This introduces delays and stressors in the system. Key takeaway is to commit as a team to asynchronous. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work.

2. Leverage multiplexing

Let us go back to computer networking for a minute. Multiplexing is a technique in which more than one signal can be sent over a single medium, and the bandwidth of that medium can be utilised effectively. Multiplexing avoids the scenario of each signal having to wait its turn and therefore reduces delays.

With asynchronous time division multiplexing, time slots are flexible, and assigned when connected devices have data that is ready to send.

Asynchronous Time Division Multiplexing in Computer Networks

Now, let us apply this concept to asynchronous work. Imagine that you are the Lead UX designer for a mobile app, you are also completely remote. You need to design the next generation experience for this popular app. Fortunately, you and the product team have done a good job at defining features, user stories, personas, and you also have good research at hand. You allocate user stories to your team members and they work together in a design sprint. While this is typical for an agile team, your remotely distributed team demands more.

UX Design
Source: Unsplash, Author Amélie Mourichon

You have limited bandwidth together, and therefore, meeting time is very expensive and you have tight timelines. What you need, is a very effective way to break down your user stories into minimum viable changes (MVC’s), this gives the most autonomy to the designers working on your team, and allows them to ship small but frequent changes to experience design. For instance, when a designer is ready with their MVC, they can asynchronously review, iterate with product teams and ship.

To summarise, you can break down and then can combine (multiplex) multiple MVC’s to deliver greater complexity using the same bandwidth.

3. Call upon your deepest sense of empathy

The whole concept of asynchronous is not possible without deep empathy. Imagine that you are a product manager trying to convey a new feature to an engineering team. If you do not make an effort in articulation and you do not put yourself in the shoes of your engineering colleagues, you will not achieve your work objectives. You might miss critical scenarios or edge cases or worse assume a feature as feasible when it’s not. Also, you will then need to use the most expensive currency of your remote team – a meeting.

So, you need to anticipate, prepare in advance, and make an effort to write better, speak better and work in a way that is easier for others to understand.

If you are responsible for planning, or co-ordination, ask yourself a question. Is something really urgent? Most of the times the answer is no. In such cases, it is better to resort to asynchronous, thoughtful communication. If you communicate non-urgent things in an urgent manner e.g. via workplace chat tools, you induce unnecessary anxiety that your colleagues can do without.

The person working with you asynchronously does not always know it all. Try to make your communication as contextual and complete as possible. If you commit to review something in a week, do it. Leave helpful comments when you anticipate something, perhaps a new feature decision explained via a pro-active comment on Figma.

Asynchronous work puts the responsibility on you as an individual so think about how your performance is affecting the whole setup.

Have a deep sense of empathy towards your coworkers, humanise the process.

4. Know when to switch to synchronous working

There are things that should not be done asynchronously. Areas where judgment is involved are good candidates for start. For instance, think about a performance review. There are so many ways in which this conversation can go wrong if done via Google docs. You need to use that expensive currency (meetings). Other things include interviews, 1-1s, strategy decisions etc.

Another key thing to call out is mental health. Let’s face it – widespread asynchronous work is a relatively new territory. When you work for extensive periods of time this way, it can get incredibly lonely. In addition, lack of immediate feedback can induce anxiety. It is also upon you now to stay up-to-date, and effectively communicate. Some asynchronous communication can be taken out of context and exasperate misunderstanding.

It is so important to spend meeting time on building teams, address issues, and protect mental health of yourself and your teams.

If it’s not working for you, don’t push it.

Asynchronous work precludes water-cooler moments, and spontaneous group creativity.

Not that I am expert in this area but I’d like to spend quality time together with my team every now and then, in person. Bonding with them, perhaps arguing with them or better playing with them. I’d like to be able to discuss serious issues together, face to face with a cup of coffee!

To summarise, asynchronous helps the whole team progress faster, reduce waste and increase deep engagement with their work. My initial thoughts are to jump in, slowly explore and experiment. What are your thoughts?

References

  1. https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/asynchronous/
  2. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210406-how-asynchronous-communication-could-change-your-workday
  3. https://buffer.com/resources/asynchronous-communication/
  4. https://uxdesign.cc/the-case-for-asynchronous-design-meetings-1a10f2440bd5
  5. https://remote.com/blog/why-you-should-be-doing-async-work
  6. A whole section could be written about asynchronous tools but I’ll leave it to your better judgement to explore.
Categories
Experiences

The Uberisation Curse

On a cold spring day you’ve just landed at the London Heathrow airport. You head over to the Uber boarding point at short stay car park 5. You summon your ride and wait staring at your screen for the driver to show-up. There are many unsuspecting passengers doing the same thing around you. You keep staring at the animated car icon on Uber and hope that the driver shows up sooner rather than later. It takes about 40 minutes just as the driver calls you and you scramble to locate the car’s number plate. As he complains about the queues at the terminal, you are already frustrated but are glad to get out of the airport. Sounds familiar?

On-demand services aren’t always better

Consider our earlier example, if you had called a private cab company and scheduled the ride ahead of time, you would have found the driver waiting with a placard outside the terminal. While Uber is supposed to be convenient, in this case it ends up being inconvenient.

Another ubiquitous on-demand part of our lives is entertainment. For instance, I have YouTube premium. Ad-free videos and curated music is awesome and value for money. I also need my Netflix for Star Trek, Disney+ for Marvel, and Amazon Prime Video for Star Wars. We now have more choice of programming than any other time in human history. Yet have you noticed that it is quite frustrating to decide what to watch, so we end up watching familiar shows like “Big bang theory”. Don’t even get me started on the graveyard of Netflix originals.

When my generation grew up, entertainment was not on-demand. Yet, we had programming pre-curated, pre-planned and delivered through a device called as TV 😀. It was awesome, even with ads!

On-demand services might be making us miserable

Aren’t food delivery apps brilliant? Last week, I found myself randomly scrolling on the feed of one of India’s popular food delivery apps called Swiggy. I asked myself, what am I doing on Swiggy? Then I realised I was hungry, probably a little bored, too. I subconsciously made a pavlovian association between Hunger, boredom and Swiggy. Thankfully, my conscious afterthought pulled me out of it. I was shocked at how addictive this stuff is!

Swiggy is frictionless. Literally 3 taps and you can get your favourite burger and fries at your door under 20 minutes. Despite all the convenience, selecting the restaurant and the menu is still stressful. In conclusion, on-demand sugar and fat might be convenient, but does not add much value to our mental peace or physical health by creating an addictive association. On the other hand, if you spend time mindfully buying ingredients, and cooking it with or for your loved ones, it is therapeutic. I know that not everyone will agree with me, but it is worth trying, mindful cooking can be an outstanding de-stressor.

When you have too much choice and availability, we tend to become lazy. For instance, in the example above, in a food ordering app, we tend to be frustrated with the choice fatigue, and would often give into the algorithmic recommendations. Algorithms do not necessarily have your best interests at heart. Instead, they optimise for engagement. Prior to Uberisation, you would mindfully think what cuisine you wish to eat, then look up the best restaurants, make a reservation, dress-up and have a good time, regardless of the food. It is more joyful even if not convenient.

The curse is universal

Learning on YouTube is awesome, but there is something different about hand-picking books and making sense of them in a slow and mindful manner. On-demand learning apps are causing a tectonic shift in the way our youth learns. It is super convenient, but are we losing something in the process? You tell me!

Take groceries, remember in the pre-pandemic world when you drove to your favourite supermarket and discovered new products, tried new kinds of cheese, or perhaps made new friends in the aisle? On-demand grocery is super convenient, but why do I miss going to the supermarket with a check-list in my hand and let randomness of the supermarket surprise me?

Spotify is awesome too, but it can never replace the joy of a mixed-tape the love of your life made for you. Salon services, healthcare, home services, much of the same can be said about almost all the on-demand services.

Best of both worlds is possible

On demand services are making a lot of positive difference to the world as well. As a result of changed market dynamics smaller players now have access to a larger marketplace. These services are also market expanding in nature. For instance post introduction of Ola / Uber in India, the taxi market has expanded significantly. This means greater employment for the masses and overall better domestic consumption for the economy.

The key is mindful consumption of on-demand services. Hair Salons are still around, so are restaurants and supermarkets. We still have libraries and bookstores from where you can borrow reference books. You can still make a digital mixed-tape and surprise your loved one on your next anniversary. You could still use Uber when it really is convenient, and you could still use Swiggy when pandemic makes it nothing more than a lifeline.

The challenge is also open for the on-demand service providers to open up experiences that are currently missing. This is happening in e-commerce, where many major brands offer a hybrid shopping experience. Others can follow suit and bring back the very experiences that make us human.

Categories
Newsletters

The incredible potential of difficult conversations

You messed up big time and you need to give your boss the bad news. Perhaps, a persistent request from your biggest supporter at work is difficult for you to accommodate. Also, someone is consistently undermining your role and you’ve simply had enough!

Sounds familiar?

1. Take a cue when faced with these tradeoffs

These situations are awkward, uncomfortable and they often smell of conflict. They almost always involve challenging tradeoffs. Would you make an excuse with your boss and risk breaking trust or come clean whatever the consequences? Will you resentfully accept the request by your biggest supporter or reject it with honesty and endure discomfort? Would you write a passive aggressive email to a colleague that undermines your role or would you be open to understand what is driving their behaviour?

Whenever you are faced with such tradeoffs you should know that you have a difficult conversation on your hands.

2. There is power in committing to have a difficult conversation

Avoidance is tempting. At great cost, I have learnt that difficult conversations are an instrument of redemption. If you avoid conflict, mistrust grows and relationships deteriorate. Moreover, you need to manage consequences of these strained relationships at the cost of growth. On the other hand, if you did come clean with your boss, you might get reprimanded, but your boss will always remember that you took responsibility for a mistake. If you honestly declined the request from your biggest supporter at work, they might actually appreciate it more. Also, it may turn out that the colleague who has been undermining your role, did it because of something you said at the team meeting. You are able to patch things up, and you don’t have to deal with the thorny issue anymore.

There is power in taking full responsibility for your difficult conversations.

The more positive outcomes you achieve, the less your aversion to difficult conversations.

3. How to prepare for a difficult conversation?

Framing

There is a lot of advise out there that says don’t frame it as a difficult conversation. However I have observed that it helps to acknowledge it. Self-affirmation that I have turned many such conversations around with a positive outcome is a great way to muster courage.

You could choose to frame it differently. Some choose to frame it as “getting closure”. That’s fine as long as you are not being vengeful about it.

Understanding Emotions

It’s helpful to understand what are the emotions involved between you and the other person. For instance, a colleague who is undermining your role may be insecure about theirs. If you even acknowledge their insecurity, you have a better chance of dealing with the situation. Others may perceive you as eccentric, overly nosey, perhaps there is fear.

I take cues from facial expressions, keen observation of body language when you are together, public comments in meetings, or simply how responsive someone is can tell a lot about emotional equation between you two.

Considering power differential

The person whom you are going have a difficult conversation with may be equal, less, or more powerful than you. This has implications on how you prepare for the conversation.

When I am dealing with senior executives, I want to be absolutely sure that I am not out of line. Senior executives, no matter how strict also appreciate honesty. Deceptive, sugar coated, and convoluted feedback serves to frustrate anyone, let alone senior executives who have to deal with difficult situations at scale.

While dealing with subordinates or peers I want to ensure I don’t come across as too sure of myself. Showing genuine appreciation for a different point of view is helpful. You cannot fake it.

Avoid gossip like the plague

You don’t like someone at work, it might be tempting to confide with your close colleagues. You might say, Lynsey is always trying to undermine me in every situation. She is so arrogant. You may feel like you have just released some burden, but you have just committed a big disservice to the potential success of your conversation with Lynsey. You have now framed and confirmed a biased perception of Lynsey. This will make it very hard for you to have a genuinely engaged, difficult conversation with her.

It’s harder to fill a cup that is already filled.

Manage the narrative in public very carefully otherwise the narrative will manage the situation.

E-mail, text, and the snowball effect

It’s tempting to respond with a very satisfying “ReplyToAll” and show that you are no less. The thing though, is that e-mail is free for all. The more people on the chain, the more free fall opinions, the more polarisation and the more agony. I call this the “e-mail snowball effect”. This is a sure way to ruin your chances to a productive conversation, and it’s certainly going to be more difficult now than it was before the drama that unfolded via e-mail. Please don’t take the bait. Even if someone else starts it be the first to end it.

Texting is worse. You think you are doing it 1-1, you feel powerful with a fire and forget mechanism. Please do remember that it’s two-way. There is no guarantee that it’s private and often it becomes a venting ground. Face to face or video, or at least a phone call is must.

Time it well

You shouldn’t have a difficult conversation when either of you are emotional, tired, anticipating a critical deadline.

4. Practice the following conversation principles

These work particularly well for difficult conversations but are equally applicable to any conversation.

Invert the pattern of interaction

Notice the pattern. You and the other person typically have patterns of verbal exchange. For instance an aggressive boss might react to a mistake by yelling or making a terrible remark. You might shrug off, back off into a corner or you might react verbally as well.

If you know that there is a pattern then try to invert it. If the boss yells, and you have a tendancy to react try a minutes’ silence. This will throw the other person off balance, and also most likely make them think their reactions as well. This technique is very effective!

Don’t get distracted

When you are discussing the other person might make personal comments. They might say but you never listen or say you always are late to respond to my work requests.

Acknowledge the first part of their personal remark and bring the conversation back to the topic. For instance you might say, “I appreciate that I may come across tardy or impatient, but today I’d like to understand if you are willing to change your publicly made comments as they undermine my role. This has an effect on my productivity and therefore affects everyone including the company”.

Deliberately slow judgment.

Be curious, this will avoid confirmation bias. This will allow right questions, entertain other point of view, and engage in a dialogue. Be eager to “understand” than score +1 points by proving that you are right and the other person is wrong.

Deliberately slowing judgment is a superpower

Articulate what needs to change without complaining. For instance, don’t say, “I find your publicly made comments humiliating and therefore stop making them”. Say, “I’d like you to be sensitive towards how your publicly made comments might affect my ability to perform my role”. That is a lot better, as it steers clear of personal blame and focuses on what can be improved without judgment.

Humanize

When you are having a challenging conversation, it is natural to expect emotions such as anger, resentment, fear and contempt towards someone. However if you humanize those emotions you would find it a lot easier to control your emotions. For instance, you are extremely angry with someone for sending a publicly humiliating email to you. You can certainly prepare and have “the conversation” with them however it is helpful to think why they may have done such a thing? For instance you can say to yourself, “Martin has gone through a lot. This quarter has been incredibly difficult” or, “Martin has 4 young kids, and the pandemic hasn’t been easy on anyone. Everyone is not themselves sometimes”. This will put you in the right frame of mind instantly. It will avoid reactions and set stage for a good conversation, or make the one you are having already a lot better.

Don’t try to control the outcome

During a conversation focus on the relationship between you and the other person. Be genuinely okay with a negative outcome. This is not a negotiation, first you need to iron out an interpersonal issue. Even if you try to negotiate it’s not going to go down well.

5. If nothing works?

This is a completely plausible scenario. Even after sincere efforts and genuine conversation, if the other person remains in their square, and you have a dysfunctional relationship, then you have 3 choices.

Accept it, set a boundary or make a change. Which choice depends on all of the things we have already touched upon.

May the force of difficult conversations be with you!

References

Categories
Learnings

Do you have a healthy relationship with Power?

Power and influence are an existential reality. You may not like power, but you cannot deny that it plays an important role in shaping lives around us. A healthy relationship with power can improve your chances of organisational success.

Most people look at power with contempt

According to the works of Bennis and Nanus, 1985, power is the most essential and the most distrusted element for human progress.

Power has such a bad name, most of us want nothing to do with it.

John Gardiner, 1990

This could be a result of perceived abuses of power. For instance, disillusionment with organisational politics can ensue if you assume the world to be “fair & just”. Reality hits, when you observe an organisational move and think that it’s dirty politics. Whereas the move, perhaps a reorganisation, might be simply balancing of risk that is necessary for the company.

The contempt of power can also be down to perceived absence of power. For instance, we despise political leaders for not doing enough in a crisis. While that might be true in some cases, in others it could simply be communication failure or that you simply don’t know the nuances.

Not quite! Politics is an instrument for good even though it contains many bad Apples.
Photo by Brian Wertheim

In either case, the “just/fair” worldview is naive. There are usually multiple factors at play. Power & influence play an extremely important role in determining outcomes. This is not only applicable to organisations of all sizes, but also to large democracies, adhocracies, and autocracies.

Psychology of power

As touched upon before, we often tend to look at the world as a fair place and assume people deserve what they get, pleasure or suffering! For example, sexual abuse victims often get flak for how they dressed-up provocatively. I’m not suggesting that everyone does this, but a large section of society does.

This creates distortion of reality, deviating from real issues. For instance, many blame personal failure on themselves. I failed, because I must have been terrible. This logic precludes any scope for improvement and subsequent success.

A decline mindset not only repels power, but also opens door to tyranny.

Abhi Shah

According to Robert Cialdini, 2007, We turn off our thinking when it comes to authority figures and go into compliance mode. This mindless compliance is debilitating. We neither critically analyse authority nor decisions. All authority figures are prone to biases and errors of judgment. We often wrongly assume that authority figures possess superior knowledge.

Notice carefully, we are different with authority figures!
Photo by Hunters Race

To make things interesting, we tend to look at successful people as good and unsuccessful people as bad. Therefore we also associate success with power. Needless to say, this is a fallacy. In my observation, many people assume that their performance is sufficient to gain power & influence. People tend to leave too much to chance and fail to manage their careers.

Types of power

Let us quickly look at different types of power.

  1. Positional power is what you gain from formal authority of hierarchy.
  2. Referent power is what you carry as your personality and your brand.
  3. Connection power is basically drawn from your network. If you are well-connected, it is considered a good proxy.
  4. Reward power is where you have the resources that you can control and incentivise people with.
  5. Coercion power is self-explanatory. Worth a mention that it is not very effective in long term.
  6. Information power is when you trade information for influence. Information does not warrant expertise.
  7. Expert power is when you have knowledge and skills that is scarce.

What makes some people more powerful than others

This is probably the most actionable aspect of power. Pfeiffer describes it beautifully.

Extraordinary Will

People with Power show boundless energy. They are optimistic, they do not engage in negative talk, or gossip. They show initiative and are never shy to roll-up their sleeves. This is an infectious quality and naturally makes you a better choice over others while taking a pick.

Focus is a fabulous leading indicator too. While a lot of talented people will try to do too many things, people who focus and really choose things for positive impact on the organisation achieve meaningful results.

Focus is the mother of all self-improvements Photo by Paul Skorupskas

Finally, ambition is underrated, but it shows vision, it shows that you have the audacity to dream and challenge the status quo.

In summary, will is determined by energy, focus, and ambition.

Relentless Skill Building

I have discussed self-awareness at length in my other post. Self-awareness shows a reflective mindset which is an essential quality before you can weild power effectively.

Most senior leaders & promising future leaders I have met have a voracious appetite for reading, learning and applying knowledge.

Abhi Shah

This ability to enhance your skills at scale is an outstanding leading indicator towards acquiring power.

Confidence also, is a brilliant way to gain influence. People likely associate power with acting confidently. Especially when this is coupled with rest of the qualities described above.

In addition to this, ability to read people, and demonstrating empathy matter tremendously.

Power favours those who handle conflict effectively

We tend to associate anger and assertiveness with power. Therefore leaders who avoid conflict are unlikely be seen as worthy of power.

Fortune favours the brave! Photo by Sushil Nash

Interestingly, we tend to forgive those people we are constantly connected with.

People with power are not afraid of asking for help

Familiarity principle (Cialdini, 2007) implies that we should not shy away from interacting with senior stakeholders. Least because of apprehensions about power! Asking for help is actually flattering for the authority figure in question. However, don’t do it for the sake of doing it. Do it genuinely, with someone that can genuinely help.

Likability is not a condition for power

Psychology tells us that people’s support often depends on whether you are winning or ascending not necessarily on whether you are likeable. While this may sound harsh, think of it this way. Would you rather be universally likeable and have no influence or would be selectively likeable and have tons of influence?

Likability is like a Unicorn – Cute but not real… Photo by Annie Spratt

People pleasers don’t do well in the corridors of power as people with higher authority will not share it with you unless you are willing to make tough decisions. These coupled with right values are in fact what any organisation needs to succeed.

My take on this is that both are not mutually exclusive. You can be likeable even if you have to make tough decisions. As long as you are walking the talk too.

Can you convey power through how we talk, behave, and act?

Are you interesting and memorable? Think about an influential authority figure you know. It is likely that they will be both interesting and memorable. You absolutely need to have recall value. It is a great way to start building influence.

It is also not optional to have an original personality and a sense of humour! Chances are you will be quirky, maybe a little rough on the edges. However there is enough room in the world for your way to flourish. Don’t be afraid to let your originality thrive. Wear it on your sleeves!

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken – Oscar Wilde

Your communication skills need to be top notch if you ever want to enter the corridors of power.

Your speeches need to be polished, presentations top-notch and your e-mails brief but well written. You may not possess these skills, in which case, work with someone who does. Take a course, do something about it! It will pay handsome dividends.

Your appearance matters as well.

Some people suggest formals, a clean shaven look, and smiling etc. I think that is not correct. Be you! As long as you don’t have a distracting appearance, it is okay to be unique. A set of glasses perhaps (Satya Nadella), different sort of hairstyle. People will begin to associate it as your brand signature.

Appearances are deceiving but they matter! Photo by Konsepta Studio

Gravitas typically refers to all of the above and the way you carry yourself. For instance, usage of gestures while talking, tonality, pitch, weight, influence, and ability to speak the truth.

Crises reveal people with Gravitas and expose those who lack it

Gill Korkindale, HBR

To conclude, Power should be looked at as an instrument of good. If you shy away from it, it will not come to you. If you harness it for the good of people and organisation around you, you might command more of it!

What relationship do you have with power?

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Categories
Learnings

Make networking work… for you!

Most advice on professional networking out there is based on what you should or should not do. It is not detailed enough on how you should conceptualise networks, and develop the mindset necessary to become a successful networker.

Let’s change that.

6 Degrees of separation

The Math is simple. There are 7.8 billion people in the world. Imagine you knew 50 people. Now these 50 people knew 50 other people and so on. Repeat this 6 times and you’d be able to reach 50 to the power 6 or 15.6 billion people! In simple words, you can reach anyone in the world in six hops through networking.

Social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn massively reduce the degrees of separation. On average on Facebook’s billion plus users are separated by 2.9 to 4.2 degrees of separation and this is reducing even more.

It is actually such a small world – Photo by Robynne Hu

To conclude, the stronger your network, the fewer degrees of separation you will need to reach anyone in the world.

“n” Degrees of Freedom

Did you know your network has degrees of freedom? Let me explain, in a two dimensional plane, a point can be described by an X-coordinate, and a Y-coordinate. These can vary independently of each other, it has two degrees of freedom.

Your network however, has multiple degrees of freedom. Geographical diversity, richness of expertise, ethnic mixture, disciplinary variation, seniority make-up, gender mix, age, skills, interests, values, etc. This multi-dimensional nature of your network can be an extremely powerful asset.

illustrative degrees of freedom in 3D space – Wikipedia

It can open doors. For instance, my network was critical in enabling a career shift from technology into commercial and back into technology. A diverse network can help you build your personal brand, too. For instance, it might give you an opportunity to share your expertise e.g. AI skills with another group of people that sorely need it. You have merely shared your knowledge but you have also opened a new set of possibilities for the future.

To conclude, higher the degrees of freedom, higher the value of your network!

The ♾ butterfly Effect

The term butterfly effect refers to the random and sometimes disproportionate effects of small changes in a complex system. The metaphor in point being flapping of wings of a butterfly leading to a typhoon!

Small things in a complex system may have no effect or a massive one, and it is virtually impossible to know which will turn out to be the case. (Ref)

The butterfly effect

When we internalise this principle, it has profound implications on how we treat people. Within a diverse network with numerous degrees of freedom, the potential to create and capture value is unlimited. An opportunity or a calamity can strike any minute, therefore we must keep making a deposit in our account of “networking capital”. Keep doing good.

For instance, Sundar Pichai has incredible knowledge of products and technology. He also has some tremendous successes under his belt (e.g. Chrome Browser). However, key thing that stands out in his personality is his ability to solve problems with humility. Sundar’s personality has certainly played a key role in his meteoric rise to CEO at Google.

To conclude, strongly believe in the butterfly effect! Do not leave any opportunity to create value for people around you..have faith that this is the right way of networking.

The social Media Fallacy 🕸

Social Media is great to simply codify (document) networks. I think it is also one way in which you can engage with people. However, it is not necessarily a great way to form new connections. Stay clear of approaching random people on social media, unless you have a compelling value proposition for them.

or NOT Photo by Daria Nepriakhina

In my experience, best way to network is to find something to do together. For instance, when you meet someone senior, ask if you can do something for them. You will be surprised how much goodwill you can create with this simple question. If you meet someone outside of your area of expertise, ask them what they do, and share what you do. Call people to your team meetings, share a book review, or a helpful experience that may enrich their perspective.

In summary, common actions form great basis to display behaviours, communicate non-verbally and verbally! Do not let social media give you a false sense of networking. Leverage it for what it is good at, engaging large audiences!

Don’t be that person 🤦‍♀️ 🤦‍♂️

Don’t be a taker. Be a giver! if someone says no, they mean it and you should respect it. Do not chase them and be annoying. Also, almost nobody likes random calls asking for a favour. Respect people’s time. If you must discuss something you need, schedule time, prepare, and give the person some sense of how they can help you. Most people are helpful and they will do what they can, but the key is to be reasonable and make it as easy for them as possible!

When you promise something, deliver. You promised some feedback on a product? don’t ghost! Also, show up at least sometimes at social events. Do not make personal comments. Do not critically gossip about anyone.. don’t make remarks that are insensitive, lose, nosey or unnecessarily political. Try and keep personal issues at home.

In conclusion, don’t be that person 😄 and approach networking as a habit rather than an activity. Make it your second nature and see where your adventures can take you next.

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Categories
Opinions

3 reasons you might want to turn on that video!

Have you noticed? A smaller proportion of attendees, and typically the same people turn on their video during a virtual meeting. What drives this behaviour? Let us look at some possibilities.

The thought of this post was more frustration. I hope you will excuse me!

Many Senior leaders realise the critical need of being present

During extensive remote working, leaders need to be present more than ever. Showing-up via video can be a strong positive signal to the team. It’s more intimate than voice, and at least some non-verbal cues can be communicated. Senior leaders recognise this.

Some simply demonstrate their openness via video presence

Many people I greatly admire are approachable, open, and just very comfortable in their own skin. I have consistently noticed that regardless of their seniority, or extroversion, they take efforts to demonstrate their value of openness! Turning on video is one such conscious effort they are willing to make.

Positive or negative peer pressure

This is an interesting phenomenon. I have seen that often people do it to avoid standing out! if majority have their video on, it seems almost rude to not have yours on. Eventually, someone gives into the pressure.

Now imagine a really senior leader has his or her video on. People may feel compelled to turn on their video, too! Especially in a smaller group.

Group think creeps into virtual as well Photo by Dylan Gillis

Reverse is also true as the group dynamic plays out very predictably! When a leader doesn’t turn on his or her video, participants usually follow suit. Also, in a busy call if most people have their video off, the “video on” crowd might feel out of place, and give up eventually!

While there may be other reasons to consider, I would like to move on and tell you 3 reasons why you should turn your video on!

1. It is an opportunity to signal that you mean business

Firstly, if you decide to show up on video, you will have to take some efforts. Get out of your PJs, and put on a presentable outfit. You will have to refrain from fidgeting with your phone. You cannot get distracted and browse the web while a discussion is on. Turning on video sends an unconscious signal that you take your work setting seriously. It also naturally reinforces that you are not tardy, or distracted. In a 100% remote world, this can be a competitive advantage.

2. It is an opportunity to stand out

Did you know, most video conferencing systems will bump people who have videos on to the front of the screen. It is a reliable way to get some familiarity with your stakeholders. Psychology and sociology both tell us that familiarity is a critical pre-requisite of approval. We do not approve, let alone prioritise something that we are not familiar with.

Photo by visuals

In a virtual setting, video is one of very few tools you have left to enhance your familiarity!

3. It is an opportunity to demonstrate emotional intelligence

Imagine the host of a virtual meeting turns on their video. Everyone else couldn’t be bothered. How do you think that makes the host feel? The host is probably thinking am I the only one in need of better social contact here?

Yours truly in my wife’s office that I have encroached upon!

A brave one (like me 😜) might put that aside and carry on! Most people however, will not have a great aftertaste. Anyone willing to take initiative during such a situation is a genius on the EI scale. This is an opportunity to be kinder to your host, and make their day just a bit brighter. I have also noticed that there is a fair bit of snowballing going on when it comes to video – others might follow suit. This is a better outcome for communication overall.

This doesn’t mean everyone CAN and SHOULD share their video

People’s lives are unpredictable, and this opinion piece doesn’t claim to be comprehensive in nature. Some may live in a small flat and will simply not have the room to be on video conference easily. Others have caring responsibilities that make it impossible to be on video.

Many studies have also revealed that being on video is stressful. One of my posts covers aspects of why that is. Please remember though that we have a choice. So choose to do what does NOT stress you!

Please don’t stress, 2020 is NOT normal 🙂 Photo by sharon wright

Please do share what makes or breaks video sharing for you! Perhaps someone will find it useful.

Find that interesting? Connect with me via my e-mail list. I send 2 e-mails a month with useful tips & learnings!

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Categories
Learnings

Fascinating anatomy of decision making

Everything changes when you decide to be a parent. You can no longer stay in your couch all day reading books. Your favourite hangout every other evening is all but gone. You probably cannot see your friends as often as you used to. You definitely cannot travel around the world like there is no tomorrow. Yet, I remember graduating from “am I even ready to be a father”, to “I want a little baby holding my hands” in a matter of months. One morning, I was ready to be a parent. Just like that!

Now compare that with 6 months of agony I went through while buying my first sedan. I started with various online forums, read a million reviews. Saw hundreds of YouTube videos. I must have taken at least 40 test drives. I still had cold feet a day before the car was due for delivery. 

Odd, right?

We make decisions under sub-optimal conditions. 

Hardly any decisions are “perfectly” informed. In fact, lack of sufficient information is what makes decisions challenging. To matters worse, our choices are fallible to various biases. For instance, we are prone to “IKEA bias”. Assume you created a piece of furniture. You tend to value it more than other furniture. Similarly, it’s hard to notice faults with business or product that you may have built. Another example of cognitive bias is “Groupthink”. We tend to conform to the group narrative in order to avoid conflict. For instance, in a meeting if a couple of peers suggest another meeting to solve a problem, you tend to say yes, even if deep down you felt it wasn’t necessary.

Our past choices constrain our future choices. For instance, just because a set of stocks gave you handsome returns doesn’t mean they will next time. However, some of us tend to prefer some biased “favourites” in our portfolio. 

Worse, we do not always have the highest-level conceptual understanding of the decision. For instance, many companies around the world are going 100% remote. Some of them are giving an option to the employees, others are not. This will presumably reduce costs and provide people with flexibility. Are we sure though? Do we have evidence that long term remote work will not disturb the social fabric of the company? do we know enough about long-term health impact of work from home? we have anecdotal evidence about increase in productivity but do we know if this is sustainable? This however is not stopping companies from “re-imagining” future of workforce. 

remote or not remote that is the question
Remote or not to remote is a long-term question

Steven Johnson lays this out beautifully in his book “Farsighted: how we make decisions that matter the most”. He explains, this is the problem of “bounded rationality”. We are limited by the information we have. It is therefore imperative that we seek out a full spectrum of possibilities, and seek diverse views before making critical decisions. 

Decision theory – All heart or All brain?

There is a ton of literature in philosophy on decision theory. There is normative decision theory that suggests a good decision is the one that achieves the most desired outcomes. Normative decision theory assumes the actors to be perfectly rational. This is hardly the case with human beings but for software and methodologies it may make sense. Descriptive decision theory on the other hand says that, in situations of uncertainty, a good decision should prefer the option with greatest expected desirability or value. In simple words, you should try to apply a practical lens and then try to optimise value of the decision. 

The difference between the two is explained well by an argument in philosophy called as Pascal’s Wager. The decision in question is whether to believe in god’s existence or not. Under normative theory people might make a list of pros and cons, look at rational evidence of god’s existence. However, in reality, this is hardly the case. People make the decision to believe in god based on their own interpretation of uncertainty, risk, expected positive impact etc. I for instance, believe in god as force for good. The existence of god in my conscious thought makes my life better. Therefore, it is certainly desirable for me. This is the basis of descriptive decision theory. It is not always scientific or rational but valuable nonetheless. 

Your values are a sophisticated navigation system 

Building on the descriptive decision theory, it is worth noting that complex choices and life altering decisions can’t always be divided into sound unsound, rational and irrational buckets. We still respond to a lot of situations intuitively. While having a rough day, we might react to snide remarks with anger. When you are extremely stressed you might respond with eating indiscriminately! Rationality does not always find a customer during such situations. However, during stressful situation if you let your values drive you, you may not be as impulsive. For instance, “being secure” is one of my core values. When I am having a rough day, I do not respond to snide remarks with anger, instead I am able to choose to ignore them and focus on what is in my control. I am not always successful at applying the values navigation system. I still need to control mid-night snacking. 

midnight snack decision making
Midnight snack anyone?

There are other times when we simply do not have enough information to decide. For instance, in 2016 when we were blessed with a child, I was a few months into my new job in London. The changes in circumstances brought back a real prospect of moving back to India. Was raising a child closer to family more important than immediate career prospects? this was an extremely challenging decision. Deepika and I sat down and made a list of values that were really important to us. One of these values was “family first”. We believed, that our professional success alone wouldn’t make us happier. That point on, it was easy to follow through. It is needless to say that British weather helped us tremendously to make this choice 😜! 

moving is permanent
Boxes, boxes!

To conclude, your values are your guide. They are your navigation system through the complex pathways of decision making. 

Deciding and opting are not the same thing!

Let us build on how we can use values to make good decisions. Sometimes decisions are not about making complex choices, but they are rather about assuming a new identity. Graduating from one set of values to a higher set of values. Resetting your values in simple words. 

For instance, when you opt to have children, you are graduating from “individual freedom” to “family”. These values do not co-exist, but you are basically saying that the value of “family” is now more important to you. You are choosing to become a different person, opting to be a parent. This is why some of the most complex and critical decisions in life do not feel all that difficult. 

Next time you face a critical life choice, consider if there is an opportunity to redefine your values and identity. You don’t always need to decide, you can opt! 

Is your next personal decision an aspiration or an ambition?

One of my mentors asked me to enrol in a yoga class last month. He suggested that improved breathing techniques served to increase his stamina and reduce stress levels. This was very exciting. Everyone holds an ideal image of themselves. I was no exception. I thought, “this is brilliant, I can finally start a healthy morning that I have been procrastinating about”. Turns out, I almost fainted during a 3-hour class and did not want to continue. It took me two attempts to do it at my own convenience. In the hindsight, I let my aspiration to be a different version of myself interfere with a more rational and suitable way of achieving my goals. 

Yoga is life but not for me I guess
I am still a Yoga wannabe! Not quite there though 😁

Take another scenario, at the beginning of the year, I started a weight loss regime. I knew exactly what I wanted. I persevered, and I lost 7.5 kgs. in 3 months. This is called ambition. 

Notice the subtle but really important difference. Ambitions know exactly what they want, aspirations only have a vague sense of value, they hope a future version of yourself will appreciate. We are always hatching plans to do new things. Try to analyse if it’s an aspiration or an ambition. There is nothing wrong with being aspirational but you are likely to be disappointed when things don’t go as planned. 

Have you noticed how unfulfilled choices haunt us?

When Deepika and I were travelling through South America, we were stuck in Manaus, Brazil for a couple of days as our flights to Argentina got cancelled. We missed a couple of places on our planned itinerary. Although we had the time of our lives in the Amazon rainforest, it was hard to get over the missed spots on our itinerary. 

The Amazonas
The Amazonas was fascinating!

It’s strange how unfulfilled choices haunt us. That country we did not move to, the job we didn’t accept. While the outcome is not always in our hands, being aware of this phenomenon while making life altering decisions is helpful. I use the “no regrets” principle. If the decision is once in a lifetime opportunity and I have thought it through, I usually am biased towards acting on it. As I wouldn’t like regrets later. Perhaps another trip to South America when the pandemic passes. 

Are you differentiating between means and ends? 

Before we get all hung up on “no regrets” it is crucial to understand if a decision is a means or an end. For instance, if you are deciding on whether to take up intermittent fasting, what is your end goal? If it’s weight loss, then it’s a means decision not an end decision. This means you could weigh alternatives. On the other hand, if you were deciding on saving up to buy a house, there are usually no alternatives. You should make such decisions more carefully and with intention. 

As per HBR, this is really critical for executives. Executives should try to figure out what is strategic vs. what is problem solving. Senior leaders lay a lot more stress on strategic decisions than problem solving. Good leaders also lay more stress on impact than speed of decision making. Also, decisions need to be actionable – otherwise they are just good intentions! 

Mental models & Lessons from Jeff Bezos

Mental models are a powerful technique to quickly weigh important decisions. These encompass values, expertise in a domain, extensive experience and great leaders have a wealth of these mental models. 

For instance, Jeff Bezos attributes a lot of his company’s success to effective decision making. In a letter to his shareholders in 2015, Jeff suggests that most decisions should be made with around 70% information you wish you had, if you wait until you are at 90% you are probably too late. He also says that some decisions are like a one-way door and they cannot be reversed. Bezos calls them Type 1 decisions. 

Amazon is a behemoth and why?
Amazon’s secret

Other decisions are like a two-way door, they are fully reversible. Bezos says such Type 2 decisions should be made fast, as you can always walk back through the door. Bezos also uses disagree & commit technique. When you are in charge of a situation, sometimes you may not have a consensus, but as a leader you will have the responsibility to find a way forward. In such scenarios its helpful to say, “I know we don’t have an agreement, but I would like you to move on and commit to this decision”. 

Beyond anatomy of decisions

Now that we have learnt about the anatomy of decision making, let’s understand briefly, the psychology of decision making. 

Decisions are basically influenced by perception of risk. Our risk perception is shaped by our knowledge and sometimes other people’s opinion. It is therefore important to gain the highest conceptual understanding of subject matter before making critical decisions. In the age of information overload, it is also crucial to be choosy about what and whom to listen. Be wary of what you consume on social media. Don’t trust everything. 

Another fascinating aspect of decision psychology is decision fatigue. Human brains are designed to ration decision making. When we are faced with a decision, we almost always choose the shortest path first. Don’t believe me? Try looking at difference between opt-in percentages, and opt-out percentages on customer experience choices such as paperless billing. 

In addition, whenever we make too many decisions, we simply shut down decision making part of our brain and go with whatever is default. This has profound impact on life around us. For instance, Prisoner’s fate in parole hearings fairly correlates with the time of day their case is heard by the judge. Early hearings and hearings after a break tend to be more favourable. Think about that for a minute. 

My hack to deal with this is being mindful about decision fatigue. Schedule rest just before an important decision-making situation. Schedule important decisions after a break or in the morning, if you are looking for highest chances of a favourable outcome. 

happiness is not conditional
Happiness is ahead of both good and bad decisions as you will learn and get better!

Finally, if you aspire to learn more about topics like this, please subscribe to my fortnightly newsletter. Happy decisions!! 😊

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References:

  1. Mindset – Carol Dweck
  2. Steven Johnson – Farsighted: how we make decisions that matter the most
  3. New Yorker – Art of Decision Making
  4. Scientific American – Article
  5. HBR – link here
Categories
Experiences

Sleep better! 15 hacks to rock your productivity

It was fall of 2018. A usual work trip via Mumbai. Me and my car driver were cruising at about 80 KPH on the Mumbai – Pune expressway. The rumbling of tyres on the concrete pavement was fading into the pitter patter of the diesel engine. I was engrossed in reading my favourite book after a good nights sleep, as we passed the Khalapur toll. In about 20 minutes, I instinctively looked up. The car was strongly veering towards the right as we were about crash on to the divider. I literally shouted, “Watch-out!”. I had one hand on the driver’s shoulder, pinching him while bracing for impact.

Thankfully the driver regained control and said, sorry sir, “ek second ke liye aankh lag gaya tha”. Hindi for, sorry, “I fell asleep for a moment”. While counting my blessings, I somehow made it through the rest of the trip with a heightened sense of consciousness and a strongly caffeinated driver.

Inadequate sleep has caused major economic & productivity crisis!

The cost of inadequate sleep in Australia according to research is about $18 Billion. That is about 2-3% of Australia’s nominal GDP. In the US, the number is close to a whopping $400 Billion. Also, across many other large economies, it is close to 2% of their GDP. I estimate for India, it is to the tune of $60 Billion. The grim economics adds up quickly. The well-being issues caused my inadequate sleep makes it even worse. It is no secret that poor sleep affects health adversely. It does so in children and in adults. In fact, the effects are even worse in the elderly. It is a leading cause of cardio vascular diseases, and undoubtedly results in lots of untimely fatalities.

sleep less in the city
Days feel horrible when we don’t sleep well through the night

On a day to day basis, poor sleep results in cognitive issues. I am sure you have noticed that after a poor night’s sleep, we find it difficult to pay attention to our work schedules, or complex issues. We demonstrate reduced understanding of simple things. Also, we show delayed reaction time. “I am sorry, I missed that question could you repeat please?” – does this ring a bell? While this can result in some harmless fun at work, the collective cost is quite serious.

The delayed or impaired reaction time claims many lives on highways all over the world every single day. Not to add, it makes us perceive things excessively negatively and results in overall irritable behaviour. Leaders need to be especially aware as bad sleep will result in poor decisions. As a result, this can impact not only yourself but also the organisation and your teams.

Our bodies are amazing at regulating sleep, but…

Circadian Rhythm. Scientific term for our regular sleep-wake cycle literally means “about a day”. I have experienced this really strange phenomenon where I often wake up at precisely the same minute in the morning. Sometimes so precise, that I see the same number 7.03 on the watch few days in a row! Have you noticed this too? The conspiracy theorist in me thinks this is another proof that we live in a computer simulation. However, the realist in me knows it shows how good our body clocks are.

Our age plays a big role in determining the mix of sleep types and their duration. In simplest terms, older adults do not sleep as well as younger adults.

As we grow older, we lose our ability to regulate or generate sleep.

This applies to ease with which one can go to sleep, the amount of deep sleep, and the fragility of sleep. Everything gets worse as we become older. There is research that substantiates why this happens. So how do we react?

Hacking our way around common enemies of sleep   

If we focus on these 15 hacks, we can substantially improve our ability to generate and regulate sleep. I have tried and tested these!

1.    Pre-plan your day and prepare your morning!

Take a look at your calendar for next day and do a dry run in your mind. This should relax you about the next day. Some people even go to the extent of trying to pick what we want to wear the next morning, you may want to prepare breakfast menu or chop some vegetables ahead of time.

enumerate

Any sort of prep relaxes you as you know you are better equipped for the day to come.

2.    Express anxiety or residual emotions. Talk or Journal.

Anxiety & worry can affect sleep. We are just sat in bed, thinking about our unresolved emotions. We worry about how that challenging interview would turn out. Your amazon parcel is stuck somewhere! There is no end. Just using your friends, partners as a soundboard for this can massively alleviate the impact that worry has on your sleep.

sleep journal

I have observed that writing what is on your mind, or listing down tasks, has an overall relaxing effect before you go to bed.

3.    Tweak lighting. Not only in your bedroom but also during the day.

Melatonin secretion is photo-sensitive. In other words, it is affected by exposure to light. This means you should be exposed to as much natural light as possible during the day. As the day wanes, artificial lighting should be controlled depending on your tasks or sleep routine. In our house, we start early evenings with bright whites, and slowly dim them and switch to soft yellows as we approach bedtime. I have observed that this has a nice transition effect. The bedroom lighting has to be soft. I have a combination of yellow spot task-lighting for reading etc. and overall soft yellow hues.

soft lights

Although not compulsory, consider automating lighting. I have this automated in our bedroom. An Alexa command can switch from bright to yellow. We can also control dimming which is very useful if you don’t have specific lights installed for reading etc. It helps you ease you into the night.

4.    Do not forget the lighting for bathroom breaks.

It is not routine but sometimes we have to wake up to go to the restroom. Most of our bathrooms are either inadequately lit up, or they are super bright. I have installed an IR based motion sensing dim lighting in my bathroom. This is in addition to all the other kinds of lighting that I can control manually.

under the bed light
source: Iwantitall.co.za

This ensures, when I am a sleepy head, and I am going into the restroom, I don’t have to manually turn the lights on or off. You can also install dim motion sensing lights under your bed. This way, when you step out of bed, it lights up a soft hue. Such lighting ensures my eyes don’t have to endure sudden exposure to bright lights. It also makes sure I don’t trip over! 😄

5.    If you can, allow natural light to enter your room in the morning.

Keeping some parts of blinds open allows natural light to filter through gradually as it dawns. This ensures Melatonin can ebb, allowing our natural circadian rhythms to take over and gently wake us up. This is so much better than the jarring sound of an alarm.

natural light

Your smart home can help. You can get smart bed lamps, although I am not sure how good they are. They get brighter as it dawns and they claim to gently wake you up. Have you tried one? Let me know in the comments section whether it works!

I ran out of budget 😁, but one thing I would like to DIY one day, is to automate opening of blinds in the morning. I will keep you posted on the effort. For now, partially open blinds do a good job of letting the natural light in easing us from sleep to wakefulness.

6.    Please invest in a good mattress

When was the last time you bought a new mattress? Majority of us would say a long time ago. Speaking for India, there are many start-ups that have really changed the game on the whole mattress experience! There is so much choice available. After doing months of research, we settled on a moderately layered memory foam + a composite base. This is our choice, and you will probably prefer something else. However, the key takeaway here is the value of experimentation. Good mattresses need not be expensive, but if you like one that is expensive, please invest. It is one of the best ways of spending your money. 🙌🏻

7.    Experiment with pillows!

On a related topic let me share some science on pillows. Pillows determine spinal alignment. They can give you chronic neck and back pain. Choose a pillow that keeps your head aligned to your sternum and collar bone. If you sleep flat on your back, also ensure head is not too high or too low but properly aligned to your body. Experiment until you fight the right fit.

8.    Fresh or dedicated bedding every night can work wonders

It is a bit of work, but changing your bedsheet can do wonders to your sleep. Who does not like the smell and feel of a fresh bedsheet as you prepare to snuggle? Apart from all the health benefits such as reduced allergens, etc. there is a discrete brain signalling that occurs when you change your bedsheet before hitting the bed. Your brain knows that now you are entering a relaxed state. Your favourite PJ’s can have the same effect. So please take the extra effort.

9.    Mosquito nets for my friends in India or tropical countries

I grew up sleeping on beds with full sized manual mosquito nets. It was a chore, but a worthwhile one. Firstly, it allowed us to keep the room fully ventilated, which was awesome. Secondly, with a tent like effect, it immediately made the sleeping environment a bit cosier. This may not work for you or some may feel claustrophobic, but it certainly worked for me.

10. Mess stress is real 😃 keep your bedroom tidy!

You may have a gift, and you can sleep in a dumping ground. However, for most people, mess is a major cause of stress. Just keeping your room clean and tidy can control the hormone cortisol which is a major miscreant towards your sleep.

11. Snore, but don’t roar! 🦁

Can you really control snoring? It is certainly possible. Some exercises, elevated position (pillows), nasal pressure equalizer devices all can be done without visiting a sleep clinic. These do help. If you do not get relief, please do visit a doctor.

snore

12. It’s worth investing in an air purifier

Unless you live in Swiss Alps, or remote countryside, you are likely to have urban pollutants in your bedroom. This causes congestion, allergic reaction, hoarseness of voice, and a few other issues. A HEPA filter based air purifier can really make you feel less stuffy in the morning. Personal experience, and I 100% recommend it.

air purifier
source – amazon

If you use a room heater, consider getting a humidifier. The heat radiators will suck moisture out of the air and make your airways dry and itchy. This cannot be good for your upper respiratory tract. A humidifier works wonders. Similarly, in tropical climates, an air conditioner can regulate humidity well. This will really improve quality of your sleep. Ceiling fans are a strict no for me they also dry out your airways, and often result in poor sleep. This may be different for you.

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13. Try white noise. It didn’t work for me.

There are various white noise apps, and devices available on the market. They are supposed to make you sleep better or faster. It didn’t work for me, but hey give it a shot, what do you have to lose? Let me know if it works for you.

14. Exercise more during the day, keep it light in the evening

Vigorous exercises in the night contribute to heightened alert state and loss of sleep. Regular exercise will definitely improve your deep sleep. Also avoid too many liquids in the night so as to avoid completely unnecessary trip to the loo! Avoid big meals after sunset can also help you regulate blood sugar and positively affects quality of sleep.

15. Desirable sleep routine

Start your bedtime routine with something you love. A book, some soft music, perhaps? A cup of chamomile tea, or simply some fun chat with your little ones! This can truly be the best time to connect with yourself and your loved ones. Once you have a set and desirable routine, you won’t let anything else distract you!

sleep desire
sleep desires

Use habit forming methods to do this effectively. Meditation can be amazing too! This will help you win over all the other distractions.

Pro-technique to sleep faster

US Army uses this technique. It involves relaxing muscles of your body one by one and visualising a pre-determined scene. I have tried this once, and due to sheer curiosity of whether it will work, it didn’t work for me 😄. It may work for you! Let me know if you manage to try it.

Is it ironic that I was writing this article at 1am Saturday night? Ethical dilemma wasn’t over until I bought it, and slept for a good 7 hours before finishing up on Sunday. If this article doesn’t give you some insight, at least its length can help you snooze better. 🤣 Either way, it is a win-win.

Oh and by the way, did I mention that you should keep away from screens a couple of hours before bed? Easier said than done, right?

Happy sleeping…

Categories
Learnings

Self improvement – How can I make myself invulnerable to criticism?

Self improvement is incomplete without certain immunity to criticism. How many times has your day been spoiled by harsh words? Perhaps your boss, parent or spouse said something and you felt terrible for a long time? Criticism can bring us down on the brightest of days. It is incredibly difficult to be self-motivated all the time. Whether we admit it or not, we all are vulnerable. One of the best self-improvement lessons I have learnt is to choose my reactions to criticism slowly & thoughtfully.

Invulnerability is bad for self-improvement.

self improvement through being safely vulnerable
Shed that weight, its not necessary

Invulnerability suggests you put up many defences to ensure you are not vulnerable at all. This can impact you negatively. Criticism is often an opportunity to learn or introspect. It is also an opportunity to keep your ego in check. What you really need is to be safely vulnerable. In this post, I share some ways of doing that.

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Healthy criticism is actually great. Have you ever met a person that criticises you all the time? I tend to ignore such people, as they are often projecting their weaknesses out by criticising everyone and everything. However, when a lot of people criticise you about something, you have got to listen. Unless of-course like Galileo you have a theory about Earth’s relative position with respect to the Sun. Indeed, there are scenarios when you are right, and the world is wrong. Alas, not all of us are Galileo. Therefore, we must pay attention and entertain a contrarian point of view.

Understanding intent is key

Criticism reveals more about the person criticising than his or her subjects. Do listen carefully. Criticism is bad when it is full of blame, and focuses on personality rather than behaviour. Suppose someone snaps at you in office, “you have no idea how to write presentations”, don’t let it bother you as it is classic blaming and it reflects poorly on the person criticising than you. It talks about what is wrong rather than how to make it right. It indicates implied contempt. Instead, if that person made a constructive comment or, “your slides are not flowing well, perhaps you should consider changing the sequence” that is actually not criticism it is useful feedback. It is the only way one can get better. You should treat such feedback like pearls collect as many as you can and get richer!

Emotional Intelligence is an important trait for effective self improvement

Emotional intelligence is about knowing yourself very well and your ability to truly understand your worth. Most people who struggle with criticism do so because they have certain insecurities about themselves. For instance, some people associate their identities with their flaws. I am really bad at public speaking, or I am not great at politics. In case of such people, when someone criticises them negatively, they think its their fault. It makes things worse and has an overall poor impact on one’s well being. This negative identity association can only be avoided by placing a high value on and nurturing your self-esteem.

self improvement through emotional intelligence
Source HBR on Emotional Intelligence

Take time to come to real terms with your achievements. Accept compliments or at least get into a habit of saying “Thanks, that is very kind of you”. Over time your self esteem will greatly improve. In critical situations, ask yourself am I being too harsh on myself? practice self-compassion.

We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.

Swami Vivekananda

Also, you will notice your self esteem is directly proportional to how your mood is, and exercise is the most natural and most sure shot way of elevating mood and keeping it steady. Once you are grounded and confident about yourself, you can build on that steady foundation through self improvement.

Criticism can be one of the best ways of building a strong relationship

self improvement through altercation
An altercation is a great way to deepen relationships

I was in a conference call many years ago. I was negotiating a contract, and I was reading out a clause to explain our position. The lawyer on the other side snapped back and said, “we know how to read, can we get to business”? This was harsh, it was critical of the way I was making a point and I admit, it hurt. I did not disturb the conversation, but after our call I dropped him an e-mail and suggested that we chat.

He reluctantly agreed to chat one-on-one, and I explained him that I was merely trying to convey differences in language of the clause, and that his sudden snide remark made me feel terrible. The concerned colleague was very apologetic and not only issued a written apology but appreciated that I didn’t get mad at him but gave him constructive feedback. Turned out, we made great progress after that.

Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude

William James

Conflict management is an art, and way beyond the scope of this post, however criticism often leads to conflict. It is important to remain calm, and try to manage the situation in a logical way after you have had a chance to cool down. If you take some extra efforts to reconcile with the individual after you have had the conflict, you will find that your relationship will get stronger. The whole storming, norming, and performing phases are not just on paper. They actually work in my opinion, even in your personal relationships.

Be a great listener and genuinely show that you are not perturbed by any kind of criticism or feedback.

The best and most successful people I met take criticism, feedback, comments like a sponge. They are so composed, and calm through it all. They do not bat an eyelid. When someone is being harsh they dis-arm him / her through their disdain for emotions. Not only that, but also they are great listeners and acknowledge the critic.

self improvement through composure
Self improvement through composure and great listening

For instance when someone says, “I don’t think you can do public speaking very well” the maestro at handling criticism will calmly respond with, “I understand why you may think that way, do you want to share with me a few tips about how I can improve on public speaking”? that’s it, disarmed. What is best, is that they do genuinely take the feedback, analyse it, and become better. They will also conveniently ignore negative criticism. Be that guy or girl!

Positive body gestures can help balance the chemical response of your body to criticism

Open Arms, a Smile, shaking hands, fist bump are the types of body gestures that elicit a hormonal response at a micro level. When you greet someone with such body language and a smile on your face, you are defusing their instinct to criticise. This may not always work, but it is definitely worth a try.

 smiling
Smile is a short range criticism defuser, but please criticise this post!

Great mood can make you smile, but did you know that a smile can elevate mood as well? Smile releases dopamine and serotonin in your body which reduces your blood pressure and anxiety. A dash of humour does the same trick as well. In fact when you share a laugh with someone it is very unlikely that the person will criticise you the next instant. Even in face of harsh criticism, one should smile, and respond positively. As a result, your response is less likely to be flight or fight.

Pro Tip for self-improvement – It’s okay to prioritise optimistic people over constant negatives

Learn to spot a person, sometimes unfortunately a friend, boss or a colleague, who just cannot help but constantly be negative about everything. These people drain us of our will power and energy. They just create a domino effect that can shake all the hard earned self esteem. No matter how resilient you are, sometimes people get on your nerves. There is an easy answer to this. Avoid such people.

Abhi’s tweet

If you must deal with such people. Use a combination of assertiveness and selective sharing. Assertiveness will help set the expectations right from the very beginning. It is also okay to tell them NOT to make comments that may be upsetting. Selective sharing will ensure you talk only about what is needed, and share only what is needed – this limits exposure to the criticism. However, best possible option is to completely ignore the said individual.

Finally criticism and rejection are very similar, your reactions can very well be similar as well. I think the most important lesson is to delay our reactions and respond to these thoughtfully. Rejection as well as criticism come with many self improvement opportunities. How many will you latch on to?

References

Clive Simpkins

HBR Emotional Intelligence

Psychology Today (Dr. Steven Stosny)

Psychology Today (Dr. Leon Seltzer)

NBC News

Greatist post on criticism

Categories
Opinions

Anything but the “New Normal”

Make no mistake, this is turning out to be the greatest challenge of our generation or perhaps for many generations. What has hit us is not a one off event, it is a volley! The pandemic will be followed by a Series of crises. I think we need a new strategy to deal with this incredible challenge, one that allows us to anticipate, prepare & adapt to this whole new world. Hang on, what whole new world?

The world is changing in profound ways we don’t understand yet

We are at the precipice of cascading changes that will literally change everything

The world economy is already in a recession. Shortages of food are expected, especially in the lower income countries. The ripple effect of coronavirus on public health infrastructure is going to inevitably mean more suffering and death. Many cities will suddenly find big companies moving their employees to “cloud”. Twitter, Facebook, and Shopify have already announced permanent work from home as an option some have announced they will become 100% remote. So what happens to real estate? rentals in places like San Francisco? Also, why can’t companies like Shopify then hire a fully remote talented engineer in Manila? Or Dhaka? How will this change the Job Market? Will Bay Area remain lucrative? what about Bangalore? Will Harvard, and Stanford be the same they used to be? Will we as a generation accrue same amount of education debt? What about retail to e-commerce shift? What about shift from television to streaming? What about shift towards cashless? Cryptocurrency? Remote education? Rest assured, many have already become mainstream and are here to stay. Everything is on hyper-drive. It’s mind numbing and we won’t be able to stop it or slow it down!!

Prepare for the unexpected

Many governments around the world fumbled, jumbled and simply didn’t get their head around what was coming. Many touted this just as a flu, others said we will acquire “herd immunity”, some were debating until it was too late. This is not the criticism of the governments, they have a tough job balancing precaution with overreaction. However, it underscores the nature of the challenge. It is completely unpredictable. Although some have done better than others, and there are lessons to be learnt. The unpredictability stems from the pandemic itself, for instance, it cannot be predicted whether therapeutics / vaccine will arrive in a month or in a year or in a few years. Although most of us have an optimism bias, it is a dangerous proposition if it does not prepare us for what is coming. Therefore we have to stop saying “the new normal” and we have to prepare for the unexpected. WHO’s chief scientist recently painted a bleak picture suggesting it will be 4-5 years before the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. We cannot assume that people in charge, or governments necessarily know what they are doing. You need to be in charge. Do what feels right, don’t let anyone tell you that they know better. The more original solutions and meaningful actions the more our chances of coming out stronger as a community. Especially, the younger generation has a massive responsibility to figure out what is wrong and fix it and also build a better future. If someone has an issue with how you are doing something, let them do it their way and you let history decide who did it better. Remember, all crises come with great opportunities.

Adapt and build a community for what you believe in

We need to adapt to the changing landscape. Many small private label retailers and some big fashion brands are now partnering with Amazon to keep going. Some of my dear friends have completely changed their area of expertise and adopted to upcoming technologies such as Cloud, AIML among others. I have seen a massive push in areas such as group buying, where farmers sell their produce direct to the consumer – cheaper prices, fresher produce, and elimination of middlemen. No big tech involved, whatsapp and google sheets do the job just fine for these pandemic entrepreneurs. Many of our team have joined up with academia, and friends to help governments make policy decisions. All of these are heroes in my opinion. Passion economy has become very big as well! Passion economy is about celebrating individuality and sharing it with the world, and in return getting paid handsomely for it. As per the linked article, the top writer on the paid newsletter platform substack makes US $ 500,000 a year from reader subscriptions. All of us have hidden teachers, cooks, music tutors in us, and we too can make an opportunity from it. Turn to YouTube and start a v-log, open that Shopify storefront you always wanted to sell Socks, write a blog, create a private label on Amazon, start a podcast, help someone with parenting, pick up someone when they are feeling low, or help a stranger who needs a job. Do something you are passionate about, and who knows you may have the next million subscribers.

Source – Social Media Credits Unknown

Good luck on your journey, it is going to be unique and challenging, but I promise you it will be worth it.

Categories
Opinions

Building Social Capital in a Pandemic

building social capital in a pandemic
Be on the lookout for what is lost – Satya Nadella (source – nytimes)

Building social capital in a pandemic shouldn’t be any different than any other times. Correct? This excerpt from Satya Nadella’s recent interview with nytimes got me thinking. All of us have social capital built up. Some of us are spending it as we ride out the worst pandemic the world has seen in a 100 years. What happens when the hardships increase or conflicts arise? Can we simply continue to build more social capital in this socially distanced world? Perhaps we can!!

We are in this together

I have spoken and connected with many long lost friends. Virtually met friends from primary school that I hadn’t heard from for decades. This happened only because of the pandemic. I have shared more intimate moments with my child, and with my loved ones, that I wouldn’t have probably done to this extent. Our innate human nature is compensating for lack of social contact. Moreover there is a really clear underlying sense that we are all in this together. We may or may not have herd immunity but we definitely have acquired herd empathy.

Purpose is greater than productivity when it comes to building social capital in a pandemic.

A lot of organisations track productivity metrics. I have seen and even experimented with many approaches to measuring productivity. While they are certainly useful, they do not generally encapsulate nuances of behavioural psychology let alone a raging pandemic. As Satya mentions, poor mental health, widespread burnout, and false sense of euphoria over magically switching over to an all remote environment are all real dangers. The best thing about office for me, is it offers a clear boundary between family and work – this blurring boundary is not something a virtual setup will be able to solve for easily.

Practically, what I have observed is that in this environment a sense of purpose trumps productivity metrics. A sense of purpose need not necessarily be a big visionary statement. It can be simply clear, concise and collective objectives. Such clear collective objectives can actually ensure that layers and layers of communication are not needed. It also ensures effort on the right kind of tasks with minimum redundancy. We can also federate decision making and ensure speedy decision making.

Shared values, Shared trust and reciprocity

We all know that Interpersonal relationships form the very heart of social capital. We have to put in concerted efforts to create new social relationships, especially at work, reach out to new people.. setup virtual coffee sessions, help someone out without necessarily expecting something in return. Teach a new skill, ask for advise, give advise, mentor someone. What is most important is that we share common values – values that your organisation chooses to identify with. Also build trust and common sense of purpose relentlessly. That I believe is what keeps the team going.

I find 1-1 informal conversations as frequently as possible helps a lot. Last but not the least, reciprocate! If someone reaches out, take the time out to have small chat. Someone seems a bit down, offer help or a chat. If someone calls you, make an effort not to forget to call back – be approachable – especially as a leader.

I hope you found this useful, but these are just my thoughts. I’d appreciate your views too, thanks for taking out the time to read.

Categories
Opinions

Reflections on Marc Andreessen’s clarion – it’s time to build

Marc needs no introduction, but for non-tech dwellers, he is the co-author of Mosaic, the first widely used web browser; co-founder of Netscape; and co-founder and general partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Marc makes a hard-hitting point about our pervasive failure to build. COVID-19 crisis has literally revealed out weaknesses aptly personified by the quote below by James Lane Allen.

Crisis Doesn’t Build Character, It Reveals It 

According to his original essay, this has been exposed by the Coronavirus crisis. We have failed to build medicines, vaccines, ICU Beds, ventilators, masks, PPE and many more things – this is not to say we lack the capacity to build or innovate but that we knew about bat-borne coronaviruses for a long time, and we were caught un-prepared. In Marc’s words, “it is failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to build”.

No alt text provided for this image

It is widely reported that effective governments have managed to successfully “flatten the curve” thanks to aggressive containment, contact tracing, and lockdown measures etc. It is also reported that ineffective governments and their health systems have struggled. I find this argument somewhat flawed. I believe the real issue is over sophistication of decision making and getting things done. This may be putting in place too many processes, rules, and regulations, complicated legal landscape, middlemen when it comes to procuring, lack of control over supply chains let alone manufacturing, and simply spaghetti of complex interdependencies. Our failure to build and scale the health system has resulted in chaos and as a result loss of life. Perhaps some of these failures could be explained using Chaos Theory. Edward Lorenz and his definition of chaos seems quite relevant now!

“When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future”

According to Marc, this is not because of lack of money, but simply because of lack of desire to build. We have tried to optimize everything without regard for second & third order effects. For instance, by outsourcing manufacturing just because labor is cheap. As a result, there is now a quantum shift of “build” expertise to offshore locations and worse strategic reliance on them. This is exasperated by “Short Term” Investor focus. Marc argues that this is why we haven’t seen flying cars, massive delivery drone fleets, or Hyperloop mass adopted yet.

While the essay is America centric, I can imagine that this has crucial bearings on developing economies as well. Take India for instance, we shouldn’t just aspire to become the “services” provider for the world, but should take urgent steps to improve our manufacturing prowess and reduce reliance on foreign manufacturing. Marc goes on to say that we also see major discrimination when it comes to building and scaling up in a few sectors such as Education, Healthcare, Housing and Infrastructure. This has resulted in escalating price curves for these sectors while availability of smartphones and consumer tech becomes more affordable than ever. Again, this is not only applicable to America, but developing economies such as India as well. In our generation, we have seen incredible escalation in price curves of Education, Healthcare, and Housing and we are headed right for the ticking time bomb. We need to scale up our high quality education. We need to use 10x improvements in Online learning to educate every remaining soul in India. We need to unleash telemedicine and last mile delivery services to massively scale up and improve our healthcare system. Through public private partnerships we need to build new cities to reduce strain on our metropolitan areas and also control spiralling housing prices. Finally, Marc makes a passionate appeal to stop obsessing over whose model of building is better (left or right) and start holding both accountable for results. Upon reflection, in a place like India this is of paramount importance. Open Twitter on any given day, you will likely see trending topics downplaying or up-playing the ruling government. Whether you like or do not like Prime Minister Modi, we need to support him. Please do not get polarised by social media and its dopamine triggering content. Instead, focus in your own capacity for nation building.

No alt text provided for this image

Finally, a crisis demands us to come together, sacrifice, and resolve. As Marc says, building is hard but our forefathers did it, and we can too. If now is not the time to start a “build movement” I don’t know when is?

Thank you Mark for your seminal call to arms – I will surely be building!!

Categories
Learnings

Atomic Habits at home & at work

Atomic habits has become a religion for me. We are creatures of our habits. What we do is greatly influenced not by what we believe but by our conscious and subconscious habits. We are also highly biased beings. This post is about inculcation of good atomic habits that will help us fight ill effects of bias.

Atomic Habits is a great read

Speaking of habits, I read this book called “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. It was by far the top 5 self-improvement books I have read so far. No wonder everyone raves about it on Twitter and elsewhere (yes that is where I get my book recommendations from). As I was reading this book I had a revelation – the fabulous deep psychology insights given by James are not only applicable for individuals and their lives they are also applicable to corporates and teams. Please do buy the book!! and check out the website please subscribe to his newsletter and also read a stash of articles. Oh and yes, I am not affiliated with James in any way, and I wasn’t paid to write this article.

James’ basic message breaks all habits into 4 parts – Cue, craving, response, and reward. By hacking or enhancing these parts he implies that we can form or break habits more effectively. Let us have a look at some ways we could do that.

Atomic habits tip 1 : Make it obvious!

Want to read at bedtime? keep a book on your pillow.

Want to go the gym regularly? keep a gym bag, and shoes in a very visible location. In short make it obvious. I have experienced remarkable changes when I am consciously creating visible cues to the habits I want to form. At work, creating visible cues seems important too. If you keep a bottle of water on your desk, you WILL drink more water. If you want to steer a meeting or conversation in a particular direction having a visible cue whether it is using a white-board or using a powerpoint slide is very effective.

Atomic Habits Tip 2: Make it attractive

Aristotle once said “once begun is half-done” – this is a really important hack. Most habits that seem hard to continue every time, will seem easy if you make them attractive. You want to wake up early but you are struggling. Make the start of the day attractive by doing something that you love doing. I have changed my start of the day to fixing a cup of coffee and spending some quality time either reading or writing. Waking up early is now effortless. At the gym, once I wear the shoes I have observed that I, 100% WILL get through a full workout. All I therefore need to focus on at 7.30pm most days, is just wearing my shoes. At the cardio, I catch-up on my favourite streaming shows…This makes the whole workout thing much more attractive and satisfying.

At work, I associate my coffee breaks with menial tasks that I otherwise find hard to start and complete; for instance I will start doing expense reports along with a coffee break. An intense activity can be started on a lighter note… for instance, we plan to start our leadership meetings with a fun activity and then get into the serious stuff.

Atomic habit tip 3: Make it easy

It is human nature to find the path of least resistance – consciously make your habits as easy as possible in order to improve your chances of succeeding at them. For instance if you want to get to work on time, pick a set of clothes the previous night, keep your essentials in one place together. If a difficult presentation is coming up at work, do not leave it till the last minute, prepare well in advance and be confident well before the deadline.

You can use technology to automate many things in order to make them easy. In our house for instance, I have outfitted all bathrooms with occupancy sensors and timer based isolators. So it is not only easy to switch off, it is completely automated. We use Alexa for switching off all other switches in the house – this makes it both easy and fun, as a result our electricity bills have reduced considerably.

At work, you can make remarkable adjustments by automating and making tasks easier; for instance, use speed dials, use free time slots in your diary. Spend some time away from desk in a quiet space for your slow thinking tasks. Another great hack to make it easy, is the use of noise cancelling headphones at work. Most office spaces are open plan and if your team is any fun like ours is, you all are a chatty bunch. Noise cancelling headphones (and I highly recommend Airpods Pro – next best thing since iphone 😄) just change the game – throw in a spotify deep focus play list and it is nirvana for slow thinking tasks.

Atomic Habit Tip 4: Make it satisfying…

some habits are intrinsically satisfying. You obviously feel accomplished and physically pumped after a workout, however are you treating yourself for consistency? probably not. James describes in his book that by creating a satisfying ritual associated with continued effort can help you be more consistent. For instance, after every successful workout, you can move a paper clip from one jar to another. Simply creating this ritual can make workouts more satisfying, as silly as it may sound by just moving a paper clip from one jar to another. I am yet to try this but I will let you know how it goes.

We can make habits satisfying many different ways. Another obvious way is to use technology to track your habits. Making progress is one of the most powerful motivators. I use a 35$ mi band 4 tracker – it has an app that has a feature called streak, it automatically tracks how many days in a row you hit your activity goal. It tracks sleep as well and provides you with a score. It’s brilliant to just track progress and acts as a powerful motivator for me.

At work, kanban boards, status reports or simply scrum calls act the same way. I personally find drawing a big rectangular check box on my to do list and just ticking it every-time I accomplish a task. It’s weirdly satisfying.

The book peeps is much more than these tips and I highly encourage you to read and share with me your tips of how it has helped you!! Thanks for reading 😀.

Categories
Learnings

“Atomic Habits” at home & at work

Oh my… we are in 2020! While readers of this post maybe an exception, I am pretty sure, there is a graveyard of new year resolutions around us. We are a hopeful species though and no doubt we will again make resolutions in 2021. What can I say, we are creatures of our habits.

Speaking of habits, I read this book called “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. It was by far the top 5 self-improvement books I have read so far. No wonder everyone raves about it on Twitter and elsewhere (yes that is where I get my book recommendations from). As I was reading this book I had a revelation – the fabulous deep psychology insights given by James are not only applicable for individuals and their lives they are also applicable to corporates and teams. Please do buy the book!! and check out the website http://Jamesclear.com please subscribe to his newsletter and also read a stash of articles. Oh and yes, I am not affiliated with James in any way, and I wasn’t paid to write this article.

James’ basic message breaks all habits into 4 parts – Cue, craving, response, and reward. By hacking or enhancing these parts he implies that we can form or break habits more effectively. Let us have a look at some ways we could do that.

1. Make it obvious!

Want to read at bedtime? keep a book on your pillow.

Want to go the gym regularly? keep a gym bag, and shoes in a very visible location. In short make it obvious. I have experienced remarkable changes when I am consciously creating visible cues to the habits I want to form. At work, creating visible cues seems important too. If you keep a bottle of water on your desk, you WILL drink more water. If you want to steer a meeting or conversation in a particular direction having a visible cue whether it is using a white-board or using a powerpoint slide is very effective.

2. Make it attractive

Aristotle once said “once begun is half-done” – this is a really important hack. Most habits that seem hard to continue every time, will seem easy if you make them attractive. You want to wake up early but you are struggling. Make the start of the day attractive by doing something that you love doing. I have changed my start of the day to fixing a cup of coffee and spending some quality time either reading or writing. Waking up early is now effortless. At the gym, once I wear the shoes I have observed that I, 100% WILL get through a full workout. All I therefore need to focus on at 7.30pm most days, is just wearing my shoes. At the cardio, I catch-up on my favourite streaming shows…This makes the whole workout thing much more attractive and satisfying. At work, I associate my coffee breaks with menial tasks that I otherwise find hard to start and complete; for instance I will start doing expense reports along with a coffee break. An intense activity can be started on a lighter note… for instance, we plan to start our leadership meetings with a fun activity and then get into the serious stuff.

3. Make it easy

It is human nature to find the path of least resistance – consciously make your habits as easy as possible in order to improve your chances of succeeding at them. For instance if you want to get to work on time, pick a set of clothes the previous night, keep your essentials in one place together. If a difficult presentation is coming up at work, do not leave it till the last minute, prepare well in advance and be confident well before the deadline. You can use technology to automate many things in order to make them easy. In our house for instance, I have outfitted all bathrooms with occupancy sensors and timer based isolators. So it is not only easy to switch off, it is completely automated. We use Alexa for switching off all other switches in the house – this makes it both easy and fun, as a result our electricity bills have reduced considerably. At work, you can make remarkable adjustments by automating and making tasks easier; for instance, use speed dials, use free time slots in your diary. Spend some time away from desk in a quiet space for your slow thinking tasks. Another great hack to make it easy, is the use of noise cancelling headphones at work. Most office spaces are open plan and if your team is any fun like ours is, you all are a chatty bunch. Noise cancelling headphones (and I highly recommend Airpods Pro – next best thing since iphone 😄) just change the game – throw in a spotify deep focus play list and it is nirvana for slow thinking tasks.

4. Make it satisfying…

some habits are intrinsically satisfying. You obviously feel accomplished and physically pumped after a workout, however are you treating yourself for consistency? probably not. James describes in his book that by creating a satisfying ritual associated with continued effort can help you be more consistent. For instance, after every successful workout, you can move a paper clip from one jar to another. Simply creating this ritual can make workouts more satisfying, as silly as it may sound by just moving a paper clip from one jar to another. I am yet to try this but I will let you know how it goes. We can make habits satisfying many different ways. Another obvious way is to use technology to track your habits. Making progress is one of the most powerful motivators. I use a 35$ mi band 4 tracker – it has an app that has a feature called streak, it automatically tracks how many days in a row you hit your activity goal. It tracks sleep as well and provides you with a score. It’s brilliant to just track progress and acts as a powerful motivator for me. At work, kanban boards, status reports or simply scrum calls act the same way. I personally find drawing a big rectangular check box on my to do list and just ticking it everytime I accomplish a task. It’s weirdly satisfying.

The book peeps is much more than these tips and I highly encourage you to read and share with me your tips of how it has helped you!! Thanks for reading 😀

Categories
DIY

Alexa, Water my plants!

What you will need

Please note that these are representative products, only ones I have tried in my setup are the smart switch and the drip irrigation kit.

ELOVE 18 Watt Submersible Water Pump – 180V-230V, 1.85 M Cooler Pump for Desert Air Cooler, Aquarium, Fountains https://www.amazon.in/dp/B07BW882S2/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_i_4RT78B1MVZ1FTHGSP70M

CINAGRO Plants Drip Irrigation Kit | Watering Kit for Home Garden, Farming & Agriculture Purposes (20 Plants Kit) https://www.amazon.in/dp/B091SR284C/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_i_dl_2ZS5EXT1810XPNS26SM5?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

Wipro 10A smart plug with Energy monitoring- Suitable for small appliances like TVs, Electric Kettle, Mobile and Laptop Chargers (Works with Alexa and Google Assistant) https://www.amazon.in/dp/B08HNB2FSH/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_i_dl_M89KCXT957XD9KNVCTQ2

De MONIX Plastic Water Storage Container with Lockring , Unbreakable Jumbo Plus Plastic Drum, Multipurpose Plastic Storage Barrel ( 80 Liters Tank,Colour – Blue ) https://www.amazon.in/dp/B09DW957QG/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_i_CXDCKK6FCTKERKQNMNDR

A few tips to put it all together

1. Main thing you need to understand is how many plants you have and what is their watering need. The drip irrigation kit linked is for 20 plants and an 18W motor works for that scale (I have 16 plants and it works fine), however, if you have more plants you might need to get a more powerful motor – they come in 40W and beyond that you might need to look to combine them (that is possible as well).

You can be a scientific nerd about it and buy a motor with a flow rate which is a summation of individual nozzle flow rate of the drip.  Hit me up if you want more info on this calculation I might update the post later with it.

2. Once you get the drip installed (it comes with a link to a YouTube video) adjust the nozzle so that you get the desired flow rate. The flow rate will change the more nozzles you add to the system.

3. The water reservoir is the most important part, you want to place it so that it won’t cover your apartment into a swimming pool. You also want to check how much is the water storage and whether it is enough. 50-80 litres should work fine for 7-10 days for 15-16 plants.

4. The submersible motors are meant for fountains and water coolers but they do the job on this. DO remember that they are electrical appliances, you need to make sure that exposed wires NEVER touch the water, use discretion or seek help from a professional.

PLEASE be safe.

5. Finally, once plumbing of the drip is completed all you have to do is, to put the submersible pump in the water reservoir, and connect using the nozzle provided with the motor to the irrigation inlet. Test the system a few times for leakage – the drip system leaks a bit for 3-5 days. That is normal. There should be no leaking jets.

6. Now connect the smart switch, and name it “Plant Water” or similar in the companion app – you can go for Belkin, Wipro, Sonoff, you won’t usally go wrong with them. Then go to your Alexa, and import the corresponding alexa skill on your alexa, the switch should be tested for commands via the app & Alexa – usually this is very straightforward.

“Alexa, turn on plant water” should turn it on, and so on. You can customise it using Alexa routines. Most smart switches will also allow you to create custom schedules – very useful for watering.

7. I put a camera on the whole system because I can keep an eye on the system, I recommend this for peace of mind.

Good luck and safe DIYing.

My setup:

Sorry folks, this is a quick demo video we shot, in the rush for a vacation, I will add to this section some more photos when I am back from my vacation.

Categories
Experiences

How Spectral thinking can overcome pitfalls of Categorical thinking

One look at a scarlet rose, and a 2 year old blurts out “red”. Did you know that children under a certain age perceive pure colours, whereas we don’t? We often perceive colours through the lens of a familiar language. For instance, if you speak a language that doesn’t have a distinct category for green and blue you may not be able to visually distinguish between these colours very well.

Remember “The dress”?

It’s true colour is blue and black. Ironically, Many see it as white and golden. Why do different people see different colours? For some of us, the brain confidently filters out blue wavelength. It senses that there is a shadow around the object.

When we look at colours of rainbow 🌈 we see stripes of various colours. However, the boundaries are not super clear. If you took it upon yourself to count how many colours are “actually” in a rainbow, the answer will boggle your mind. Despite considering limitations of the visible spectrum for human eyes, you could potentially find a million different colours in a rainbow.

To summarise, we take our ability to differentiate categories of colours as granted. We also assume that our colour vision is bulletproof. As various examples above prove, that is not the case.

Categorical thinking is flawed

Categorisation is an essential part of learning, memory, cognition, and reasoning. If you were in a jungle and you couldn’t tell a bear from a bush, well, good luck to you 😀. For this post however, let’s get into the drawbacks of categorical thinking.

1. Categorical thinking and Amplification error

Performance appraisals in organisations elicit emotional reactions. Many organisations enforce a bell curve or at least categories of performance. While Jack may be labelled as average, Sandeep might be labelled as an under-performer. Suppose, Jack is at the bottom of the average category whereas Sandeep is at the top of the under-performer category. The difference in actual performance between Sandeep and Jack is likely to be negligible.

Image Credit : Unsplash, Amy Hirschi

This is dangerous because we tend to suppress similarities between Jack and Sandeep and amplify differences. I fully appreciate that this is an area laced with a lot of complexity and the choices of categories are debatable. However, simply being aware of amplification error, we can avoid unfair outcomes by bending the curve rather than bending people into categories.

2. Discrimination against unknown categories

On January 28, 1986, Space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida, killing all 7 astronauts aboard. Cause of the disaster was attributed to an O-ring. A circular gasket sealing the rocket booster. This had failed due to the low temperature. This was a risk that several engineers noted, but that NASA management dismissed

In God we trust, all others bring data.

David Epstein notes in his book Range, that NASA had this motto. NASA was so data driven that they did not take into account the hunches of people who had honed their instincts for years working on the complicated aerospace systems.

In summary, thinking in categories can make you blind to presence of unknown categories of information (Expert instincts in this case). Do not discriminate against unknown categories.

3. Categorical thinking & innovation

Thinking in categories prevents us from thinking outside the box. For instance, Kodak when faced with a new category i.e. digital camera an invention by one of its own electrical engineers, simply ignored it as an internal threat. Instead of investing in digital cameras, they ran campaigns to tell people how physical photography was better. They could not break out of what was back then a hugely successful category.

Image Credit: Unsplash (Museums Victoria)

As a counter example, Software as a service (SaaS) is hugely successful. This paradigm has dispensed the users from the arduous process of paying for and setting up infrastructure, restrictive licensing, and installing and maintaining software. Instead, they simply ask the users to pay a fixed periodic fee. If we pay close attention, there are a lot of new categories here. Infrastructure sharing, application sharing, indirect charging, paying only for what you use.

Innovation by definition is obliterating categories or creating new categories (of products in this case).

Flex your spectral thinking muscle

While categorical thinking tends to suppress similarities and amplify differences, spectral thinking appreciates that two things can be more of the same despite being in different categories. Spectral thinking is able to zoom out from finite categories to an infinite spectrum.

Suppose you are in a role titled “Business analyst”, you are likely to be boxed into things you are supposed to do. For instance, the role may not enable you to be a part of product decisions, or contribute to engineering decisions even if you have the experience and are qualified to do so. This is why I am not a big fan of role titles. I appreciate that they do serve a purpose but they also push us into pitfalls of categorical thinking.

The solution lies in our ability to break the category of our role title and create new ones. For instance, if you network with product managers, and take up a side gig breaking down complex features, and helping with research, perhaps you can break into that category and become a product manager yourself!

How have you dealt with categorical thinking?

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Newsletters

Strategic Discomfort 🌵

This week was a break from routine. As you know, I migrated my newsletter to Substack. Substack saves me the effort on formatting and compiling. In other great news, Mindfulness Index is now available on Google News. I have also removed subscription pop-ups from my website and tweaked the homepage. If you have thoughts about how I should re-design my website, let me know. A new look and enhanced navigation is already in the works 😊.

I have also been getting my hands dirty on computer vision algorithms. I am trying to solve a practical problem. Synchronising work and family calendars. I’d like to be able to take a picture of one through my phone and update the other one automatically! I will issue an update shortly.

Now onto the mindfulness learnings! Enjoy.

Strategic Discomfort 👨✈

In 2013, the federal aviation administration (FAA) concluded in a report that there was an endemic reliance on automation when it came to flying. For instance, a pilot suggested that on a flight from London to New York, he only had to physically touch the flight controls only 7 times. According FAA, pilots were losing basic flying skills and posing a major safety issue as a result, attributing some crashes on basic piloting errors.

In horse racing, the best of horses deteriorate their A-game, when they play against inferior competition, regardless of whether they win the immediate encounter. Presumably, if horses train against the best of the best, they will push their own limits.

As a general mental model, too much comfort reduces peak performance. On the other hand, strategic discomfort springs us into action and improves performance. In day-to-day life, simply writing down your pending tasks will make you feel disconcerted until you prioritise and take action.

(Credit: Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

3 secrets I learnt about sleep & stress from Andrew Huberman

Andrew Huberman is an American neuroscientist at Stanford. He has made numerous contributions to the field. For practical purposes, he’s a voice of authority when it comes to neuroscience of sleep, stress and many other related topics.

  1. Optic flow calms down circuits that are responsible for stress. “Optic flow” is basically the movement of objects past our retina. For instance, objects passing us by when we go for a walk in the morning. In simple words, walking is a brilliant way to destress. Ah, we know that already but for me, knowing the “why” makes it incredibly sticky as a habit. #Keepwalking.
  2. Most physical effort on our part is associated with release of Adrenaline in our body. When the effort is extended, these levels sometimes hit a peak and we reach a quit point (one might say, that’s it, I need to rest now). Dopamine on the other hand, the feeling good hormone, resets our ability to be in effort. Lot of people don’t know this but, Dopamine is actually what Adrenaline is made up of. This is why we need rest and relaxation. Joy and pleasure provide chemicals for effort!
  3. Don’t place too much stress on number of hours of sleep, consistency of your routine is more important. This determines quality of our sleep. When we see a bright source of light 2 hours prior to our sleeping hour, our circadian rhythm shifts forward, and you sleep late and wake up late. If we see a bright source of light really early in the morning, circadian rhythm shifts backward, making you feel sleepy earlier than usual. Why is this important? Because we fret a lot over sleep but rarely think about consistency.

(Source: Lex Fridman Podcast, and other Stanford publication linked in the post)

Did you like what you read? Take a moment to spread the word. I will really appreciate it.

Abhi

Categories
Newsletters

The Boat Made it 🚢

I am incredibly excited to send the latest version of my newsletter from Substack. Thanks for your continued readership as I look to bring even more value to you by focusing on content.

Perspective creates Truth

Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. The ability to see this in practice, is a superpower. This mental model asks us to be deliberate & slow in judging people and situations.

For instance, when dealing with performance, it is easy to conclude that your colleague Tracey is great or awful, based on first hand experience. However, after slowly taking into account diverse perspectives from others, you will discover that reality might be more nuanced. Perhaps, Tracey is great at design, however she is not good at communicating it.

The truth about Tracey’s performance is not absolute, it is multi-dimensional and depends on your perspective.

In every situation that involves judgment, just be mindful that perspective creates truth.

Abhi Shah

The boat made it, and so can you

The Ever Given was stuck in the Suez Canal. Honestly, I have never seen a ship as big as that one. Some lessons 👇

Life is unpredictable, and edge cases sometimes do come true. If 2020, and 2021 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.

Tough situations can seem uphill at first, but then sometimes they can be solved with grit and determination, and the results might surprise you. Initially expected to take weeks, the rescue was carried out in a relatively shorter time.

Reportedly when the ship was about to get stuck, the ship responded by increasing speed, that made bow thrusters ineffective and pushed the ship dangerously low under water and made everything worse. In a high stakes situation, your instinct to act quickly can actually set you back more!Twitter @Twitterthe boat made it and so can youMarch 29th 202135,207 Retweets172,560 Likes

The stress bucket

This infographic from Poppy Harding is a gem. It talks about how stresses from our daily lives add-up, and then how we have mechanisms to release it such as exercise, sleep, mindfulness, etc. also how unhealthy habits can make it incredibly unhelpful to release the overall stress levels.