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Opinions

Anything but new normal – Coronavirus Pandemic

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. It is going to be anything but new normal. As a result 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

anything but new normal
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. As a result, 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.

What are the implications?

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? 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. In conclusion, it is mind numbing and we won’t be able to stop it or slow it down!!

Prepare for anything but new normal

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.

Anything but new normal presents opportunities as well

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, then 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.

anything but new normal
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. After all we are in anything but new normal.

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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.

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Opinions

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

It’s time to build. Marc needs no introduction!! He is the co-author of Mosaic, the first widely used web browser. He is also the co-founder of Netscape. In addition, he is the co-founder and general partner of Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. Marc makes a hard-hitting point about our pervasive failure to build. COVID-19 crisis has literally revealed all our weaknesses. This is aptly personified by the quote below by James Lane Allen.

“Crisis Doesn’t Build Character, It Reveals It”. 

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

it's time to build during coronavirus pandemic
Failure of action and inability to build is leading to catastrophic consequences

Effective governments have managed to “flatten the curve”. Containment, tracing, and lockdown have enabled this. Ineffective governments and their health systems have struggled. I find this argument flawed. I believe the real issue is over complication of decisions. This may be putting in place too many processes. This is exasperated by legal landscape, middlemen etc. Our failure to build and scale the health system has resulted in chaos. 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. It is 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. “Short Term” Investor focus exasperates this. 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. We 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. These include – Education, Healthcare, Housing and Infrastructure.

On one hand, this has resulted in escalating price curves for these sectors. While, on the other, 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. It is clear that we are heading for a ticking bomb.

There is a need for 10x improvements across sectors. One reason why, it’s time to build.

We need to scale up our high quality education. Also, 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. Instead, start holding left and right both accountable for results. Upon reflection, in a place like India this is of paramount importance. See Twitter on any given day, you will likely see trending topics downplaying or up-playing the ruling government. Whether you are a Prime Minister Modi fan or not, we need to support him. Please do not get polarised by social media. Instead, focus in your own capacity for nation building.

it's time to build and come together
It’s time to come together

Finally, a crisis demands us to come together, sacrifice, and resolve. As Marc says, building is hard but our forefathers did it. 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
Experiences

Flying and the “Queue phenomenon”

Flying? 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, we can explain this behaviour 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 face inconvenience by many aisle obstacles. Whatever is the reason, yesterday something really funny happened. While flying to Chennai one such queue was standing for almost an hour. When the gate finally opened, and boarding started we hoarded into a bus. I was expecting mayhem. However, people seemed already satisfied by standing in the queue for absolutely no reason.

I have given up on queuing when flying

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. This is 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!!