Experiences Learnings

The Korean

As I started to bench press, I sensed a familiar presence. 2 sets of 20 kilos in, I began to feel a bit of strain in my shoulders. Before I could adjust position, I felt a tap and a bit of push under the elbows. Someone gently guided my arms to ensure the elbows didn’t sink too low. “hmm!”, a voice followed.

My gym trainer simply called him “The Korean” and so it stuck! About 5’ 2”, he usually wore an unassuming look. He had these round metal-rimmed glasses, sparse silver hair and a peculiar fitted t-shirt. I was told that he was in his late sixties and that he “even had grandkids”. He certainly looked seasoned, but boy, his fitness level was so impressive, it put most younger people to shame. He showed up everyday, and was totally focused on his regime. He would spot youngsters and older people alike and help them with exercises from squats to skipping and everything in between! He wasn’t much of a talker, but everyone loved him.

Interestingly, this week marks exactly a year since I started working out. Barring exigencies, I have shown up 6 days a week, no exceptions. In February of 2022, a benign but pesky auto-immune condition showed up and I had to act. I am pleased to say it has fully dissipated, since. Also, comments like “Abhi, you’ve put on” pushed me over the edge. 3-4 months in, as the metabolism improved, the puffy eyes went away, water retention reduced, and the muscle tone improved. Result? A healthier body, a healthier mind and better photos, yes! It was incredible. I also noticed that every workout significantly elevated the mood. The outlook on life challenges significantly improved too. I admit, there were days when I didn’t feel like working out, but I still showed up. This habit of showing up, no matter what, spilled over into other areas of my life. Obviously, it’s not all smooth sailing. I have managed to get injured twice and the last 20% of my weight goal has been incredibly hard to hit. Yes, it’s the diet, I know! I cannot yet stop myself from that untimely bout of comfort food 😕but hey, I’m getting there!

I’ll be honest, when I see youngsters super engaged at the gym, I wonder why I wasn’t as health conscious 15 years ago. I then realize that I simply wasn’t aware of my  vulnerabilities back then. It’s also revealing that most regular people I know at the gym are older adults. 

The Korean, in his late sixties, probably crossed all these stages a long time ago. He had achieved the nirvana of his own fitness and he was now paying it forward. He left us for Korea a few weeks ago and we had a short farewell. We gave him some gifts and bought a cake. At the farewell, he must have spoken about 12 words. However, he looked happy and grateful. You see, he didn’t need to talk, he let his values and culture do the talking all these months.

I left the gym that evening inspired and smiling, I had learnt a valuable life lesson in the most unlikeliest of places!


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?


  6. A whole section could be written about asynchronous tools but I’ll leave it to your better judgement to explore.

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?



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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3 Key takeaways from “End of Average”

Have you ever sat clueless through a class, wondering what your life has to do with differential equations? Do you ever notice that personality tests are very similar to horoscopes? Do you also feel that they are non-sense? If the answer is yes, this book is for you! Todd systematically upends our very foundation of society in “End of Average”.

The author articulates three principles of individuality to help us navigate away from the perils of what he calls “averagianism” — the jaggedness principle, the context principle, and the pathways principle.

1. Jaggedness Principle

The jaggedness principle highlights the multi-dimensional nature of our individuality. For instance, we confidently label people as introverts or extroverts. This could not be further away from reality. Someone labeled as an introvert may be very coy at work. The same person may be very chatty and expressive with their mates. A person may not have the best GRE score, but still they might be best graduate researcher in the country!

woman sitting near white wooden door
Photo by Masha Raymers

We still use dated concept of traits and averages in all walks of life. In our education system, we rely on standardised tests that compare you on “a score” against the average e.g. SATs, GRE. We rely on standard curriculums that are neither flexible nor personalised. At work, we rely on performance systems that apply a bell curve to fit people into buckets. According to author this is not an optimum way to judge people, their personality, performance and behaviour.

Recognizing our own jaggedness is the first step to understanding our full potential and refusing to be caged in by arbitrary, average-based pronouncements of who we are expected to be.

Todd Ross, End of Average

Author compels us to re-think how we perceive, measure and act so unconsciously using avergian labels and methods!

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”4″]

2. Context Principle

An IQ test should not decide our intelligence. Similarly, a 4 letter label from our personality test should not decide our personality. The common flaw among both is the lack of context. For instance, a kid who shows repeated aggressive behaviour may be labelled as a “brat”. However, you can perhaps explain that aggression as linked with very specific circumstances. Yet, if you remove or alter the circumstances, that kid may be very pleasant, otherwise.

The author cites bullying in school under peculiar circumstances and how it made him react aggressively. In summary, context is critical and cannot be ignored.

Astrologers figured this out long ago, which is why horoscopes often seem persuasive—if the astrologer informs us that Leos are sometimes shy, well, we are all shy sometimes. It just depends on the context.

Todd Ross, End of Average

Author encourages us to use “if-then” scenarios rather than traits to compare personalities and behaviours that are not greatly explained by traits. For instance, don’t refer to someone as aggressive but refer to the behaviour in context. In other words, you could say, “John is aggressive with his peers when his physical dimensions are mocked”. This doesn’t mean John is aggressive in general! For me, the key takeaway was a new way of thinking about people’s personalities and behaviours at a more granular contextual level.

3. Pathways principle

Pathways principle argues against normative thinking. For instance, in order to become a successful developer you must study computer science is normative. In reality, you could be a janitor who takes up classes on YouTube and turn out to be a better developer than a computer science student.

we remain reluctant to grant students extra time to complete tests or assignments, believing that it is somehow unfair—that if they are not fast enough to finish these tasks in the allotted time, they should be appropriately penalized in the educational rankings.

Todd Ross, End of Averages

We assume that if the children don’t crawl through their development, there must be something wrong with them.

Photo Credits – Harvard Ed Magazine

Author suggests that once you understand your personality and behaviour under different circumstances, you can begin to make sense of which path to take to achieve your goals. There is no easy answer, however author encourages us to explore the unexplored paths, and have faith in your “better-self” as opposed to a relatively better than “average” you.

Get your copy, here!

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