5 Creative ways to keep kids busy, my experiences with a 3 year old.

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It’s been over 2 and a half months, and the chirping of little kids has been eerily quiet in our gated community. Last week, my 3 year old son asked me, “Daddy, when will Conora-virus go? When will the playground be open?” and I had nothing but a sigh and an unsure “soon, Anik, soon…” to mutter. Sad, right?

Don’t let the occasional memory of playground or his friends fool you though. Anik has been having a gala time since the Lockdown began and he’s been a very happy child. We will give him full credit for that, but my spouse and I have facilitated a few playing and learning experiences for him that we would like to share.

1. Cardboard + imagination = unlimited fun

Weekends? no! They are craft days!!We ask Anik – What would you like to “make” today and the answers are as imaginative as they can be. Spaceship, Speedboat, A Car City, A Booster Rocket. Some spare things in the house, and a bit of stationary and we sit with him and craft our way to some really cool #makercraft. Patience is key, so is participation – for sticking, colouring, marking and all kinds of stuff the kid may enjoy. We usually start with a plan on a whiteboard and then keep iterating our way. I will let the pictures do the talking. We hope Anik learns creativity, patience, and the love for building.

2. Pre-schoolers make great little chefs!

The entire world has been baking during the coronavirus pandemic and we are no exception. This surely is a proven way to keep your kid engaged. Helps Anik learn textures, tastes, dexterity, and again, making. We have gone a step further and given him some common ingredients and let his imagination take over. We have as a result, Grape and Potato wafer canapés, Apple Pie Made up of Apple and Coarse Sugar, and many other creative recipes you will not even find in a Michelin star restaurant. Take a look at some of these!!

3. Household chores + role play can turn pre-schoolers into happy little helpers.

Want to load your dishwasher? You should ask your kid for help, Anik calls it a dishwashing Robot and he loves to help. Our cleaner bot is his robot friend too, he calls it Eva (from the Pixar movie Wall-e). Anik also loves on days to clean up and show us his superpowers! This doesn’t always work but when it does it’s great!

4. Your house spaces and furniture are your best friends!!

A bean bag, a hydraulic bed, sofa, simple mattress, can turn into amazing physical activities for kids. Balcony / Terrace can turn into yoga spaces. IYou don’t have to do a lot, just don’t interfere with creativity. There is a big safety issue here, so please exercise common sense. We turn our hydraulic bed into a slide, sofa with a bean bag turns into a bird’s nest, a mattress can turn into a ski slope. My kid for instance has conceived a fun pretend swimming pool – a bedsheet surrounded by pillows and a house ladder as a diving board, and there is pretend splashing too, and we have to be there with him. I’m sure all of us can relate to jumping on the bed, but with Anik we have taken it to a whole new level. We have also brought in aspects of simulation for instance we have built a car city replete with school, hospital, garage, emergency services, roads and everything!! Anik had blast building and playing.

5. Technology is a means to an end – we can reinforce this through play

Tech does NOT mean screens. Screens are okay, I am not averse to a couple hours of screen time a day, but it surely is passive and doesn’t engender or utilise creative ability at all. We try to harness tech to keep the kid engaged and curious, this could be simply be , communicating with his friends, or helping me repair a tap, or teaching how to replace batteries in toys, and then come the science experiments. For instance at 3 although not with a lot of expectations, me and Anik have created a DC generator prototype that generates electricity from another fan and a propeller wind mill. We have also created a water pumping station using siphon action. Anik’s grandfather has designed an aeroplane shuttle system based on a rope and a few straws. It’s brilliant. You can also experiment with Augmented reality fairly easily. Finally Lego! Lego is not tech but isn’t it? Using building blocks to create fascinating things… for me there is no better definition of tech.

I don’t pretend to be a super parent. These are humble efforts that are purely born out of necessity. Who knows, they might even inspire some parents and kids!!

Can you relate? Let us know in the comments below.

Anything but the “New Normal”

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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.

Building Social Capital in a Pandemic

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Be on the lookout for what is lost – Satya Nadella (source – nytimes)

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, friends from primary school that I hadn’t heard from for decades. This happened only because of the pandemic. I was proactive in reaching out, many friends proactively reached out to me. I have shared more intimate moments with my child, and with my loved ones, that I wouldn’t have probably done to this extent. I believe 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

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 well understood, clear and concise Collective objectives. Such clear collective objectives can actually ensure that layers and layers of communication are not needed and it also ensures that the effort is spent on the right kind of tasks with minimum redundancy. Decision-making also can be Federated during such times, therefore people don’t get frustrated with bureaucracy.

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 or be mentored. 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. If 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.

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

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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”.

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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.

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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!!

“Atomic Habits” at home & at work

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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 😀

Scourge of the 👍 “Likes”

There is a chance that you discovered this post because someone “liked” it. A seminal development in the history of consumer internet products, the “like button” was first created on Vimeo website in 2005. You probably already know that on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram etc. it has been all rage ever since. Originally designed as a better option than favouriting content it has become the norm of social approval, and engagement.

Step back a minute and understand why. Human mind is wired in such a way that it craves for affirmation and it also craves for social approval. Like button is the simplest form of affirmation that one can provide or receive.. In people’s mind it creates the perfect dopamine hook. They post content, and it gets likes and comments. Moreover there is variability in the likes and comments driven by the social graph. The person doesn’t know how many or who will like their post. Given this variable incentive, we are drawn in more and more. Our brain loves variable reward (Las Vegas anyone?).

The jury is out on the data sharing practices of the social giants however this addictive nature of their platforms gets little attention. We know about misinformation on the internet (hopefully) however the like button has contributed significantly to the addictive nature of the internet and smartphone. The mechanism is exactly same as getting hooked to a narcotic. In fact, studies highlight that the areas of brain that light up due to dopamine hooks of Facebook and Instagram are not different to the areas of brain lighting up when a drug addict takes a hit. So in a nutshell you are being hooked on purpose in order to increase your engagement levels and therefore profitability of these companies.

There are other effects that need attention including amplification of confirmation bias. Likes lead to algorithms showing you similar content amplifying what you like or sometimes reaffirming what you don’t. I have seen my parents take extreme political positions thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp. Surely it is not healthy for democracy?

Through this post I only wish to increase awareness of this subject. I for one have deleted the Facebook app but I still like and favourite content on Twitter and LinkedIn. What can I say? I am hooked.

Flying and the “Queue phenomenon”

How many of you have noticed, that people just love queuing up at the gate while an aircraft is boarding? In fact, I have noticed that even before the gate has opened some people love queuing up. Zone wise boarding? No no! People still want to queue up. Upon landing the plane doors aren’t even open yet and there are many who will happily queue up in the aisle.

While utterly illogical for the most part i think this behaviour can be explained by basic human nature to be a bit insecure. We see a queue growing in size, and we feel compelled to join the front of the queue. We don’t want to cede our territory and be at the back of it. Perhaps we are anxious that we may not get space in the overhead storage compartment or we are petrified that we may miss out on boarding in a sane way. Perhaps we are anxious that we may be inconvenienced by many aisle obstacles. Whatever is the reason, yesterday something really funny happened. While traveling to Chennai one such queue was standing for almost an hour and when the gate finally opened and boarding started we were hoarded into a bus 😆 I thought for a minute that there would be anarchy but perhaps people were already satisfied by standing in the queue for absolutely no reason.

I have given up on queuing – I’d rather sit quietly and read a book or observe other people while wondering why do people queue up. I go towards the end of the queue when most people board feeling peaceful and accomplished that I’m still going to get my reserved seat and it doesn’t matter if there is no overhead storage left for my handbag.

Our brains are wired to be competitive it feels irrational to not queue up it also feels like if you queue up you will get into the plane faster but the plane ain’t leaving until boarding is complete! Hey but who am I to tell hundreds of limbic systems bored at the prospect of flying in a pressurised tube at 30000 feet and trying to get some excitement by queuing up 🙂?

Some lessons in real life I can relate with. What do you think?

  • Don’t engage in meaningless competition
  • Sometimes just because all others are doing it, you don’t have to do it
  • While fear of missing out FOMO can be real the effects often can be unfounded
  • just because you are busy doesn’t mean you are productive

Until next time, ciao!!