Those were the days


First up, I would like to thank my friend Ashu Sabharwal for sending me a link to songs from a different era. It was a trip down memory lane. The days of listening to western songs on “Forces Request” on AIR. 7 or perhaps 8 songs in one hour with endless dedications interrupting.

The title of the post is from a song by Mary Hopkins in 1968.

“Those were the days”, we all reminisce once we cross an age when we have teenage kids. We try very hard to tell them how our lives were as exciting if not more as compared to their lives now. We are trying to compete because deep inside, we are jealous. Jealous of their lives in this new age where it is very easy to be spontaneous and impulsive. More importantly, it is perfectly fine to give in to an impulse.

“Those were the days” is not actually us thinking about the wonderful childhood. It is more about realising how dull it was compared to the lives kids have today. Yeah yeah we all can rationalise that by saying we didn’t have kind of stress that exists today.

Today when the kids argue with us, we are not upset that they are arguing with us. We are upset that we were not as strong willed or confident when we were kids. We never dared to voice our opinion or discontent.

“Those were the days” we tell our kids when we studied so much and spent endless hours with our books. The truth is that we didn’t have anything else to do! Today the kids don’t need to spend that much of time because their awareness due to technology is way more than ours used to be.

“Those were the days” is our way of holding on to our youth in our memories. It’s probably our “go-to” place to escape our current lives full of stress.

Heart of hearts, we wish we were born couple of decades later to maximise everything that this world has to offer. We want TARDIS. Travel back in time to relive our lives. Ain’t gonna happen. 

When the brakes fail



Life flashes in front of your eyes. Depending on the speed you are at, either you become the news people read in the paper the next day, or you live to tell the tale.

What brought this on? Happened to me yesterday. Made me wonder. Those few seconds (if I was any faster, it would have been fraction of a second) were a whirlwind of thoughts. Of course in between all those thoughts, I did manage to switch off the car and use handbrakes. Lived to tell the tale.

But while I was sitting by the roadside for two hours, waiting for the tow to arrive, I was thinking. The thinking was a continuation of a lot I have written in past posts. Is this what life is about? We build our lives around people, around acquisitions, around things we like to collect and hoard. And all of it can go poof! In a fraction of a second it can stop being meaningful. Become useless. Makes you wonder isn’t it?

Our lives are like automobiles. We drive our lives. Sometimes at a fast speed with open uncluttered minds or the life gets stuck in a jam. Jam of emotions, circumstances, people who want to come in our way, slow us down.

There are times when the car is full of people and there are times when we drive alone.

I always get confused between analogy and metaphor but life and automobile, they are kind of interchangeable. It’s about constant moving from point A to point B. Mundanity is defined by where you travel. If it is all about home to work and back home, the route is predictable and boring. So is life. 

Do we ever travel from point A to point Z? Do we even travel to point D?! I very much doubt that.

We put miles and miles on the odometer of the car, travelling to same old places year after year (and then we change the car and do the same thing). Similarly we go through the years of our lives doing the same thing over and over. In life actually we continue with the same life since we got only one life. Till the engine just shuts down.

I have put many miles on my life and those two hours made me wonder. Yes this drive has given happy moments. Have driven on expressways and also through potholes. Have been stuck in jams frequently but as it happens, there is always a way out of the jam eventually.

There are still many miles left on this old warhorse. The trick now is to explore Point D or E or….

The road ahead is defined by what you see from the windscreen. Not in the rear view mirror. The rear view only shows you wants coming behind you. Far too often we are choosing our left or right basis what’s coming from behind. Whereas we are supposed to navigate what’s ahead and keep moving forward. 

We would all like our roads (and life) to be an expressway but it doesn’t happen. Just as it is tough to find a free road, similarly in our country governed by all the archaic societal traffic signals, our progress is slow. There are bullock carts (rules of the society set in 18th century) and then there are Audis and BMWs that are whizzing ahead and around us. Whoever said driving is easy and life is easy, think again. One bogs you down and the other creates expectations which you can’t match and get left behind.

But then we do get through. We may not travel very far. But can we make the most of the drive? Aim for point E?

Will we wait for the brakes to fail?

(Image courtesy AA1car.com)

Law of Unintended Consequences


There actually is a law like this and the definition is:

In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones foreseen or intended by a purposeful action.” The term was popularised by American Socialogist Robert K. Merton.

It is interesting right? And what’s even more interesting is that this law is operating all the time in our lives. Whether it is work or personal life, there are always unintended consequences.

Some consequences we are aware of, and some we don’t even realise. But there are far reaching effects of some decisions we take. Not all unintended consequences are directly impacting us or even indirectly. So we don’t bother about them.

We have been taught to think in a linear fashion. No matter how much one reads about lateral thinking (and even that is in relation to us and what we do), our thinking is very linear. A to B to C and so on. Alphabets are linear so are numbers. Our verbal and numerical abilities are conditioned to think in a linear fashion.

We have faith and destiny to blame when our actions lead unintended consequences.

In business for instance, growth is the driver. All our attention is focused on growing, become bigger, becoming a market leader. So all our actions, our decisions are aimed towards growth (I won’t mention profit here since in the so called e-commerce, no one thinks profit).

Snapdeal for instance, grow, grow, grow was driving it. The founders were solely focused on growth, valuation and funding. Nobody stopped to think even for a moment as to what will happen if things go south. And things did go south. Unintended consequence? Layoffs. So many people suddenly out of job. So is the case with a whole lot of startups and the financial meltdown of 2008.

I have mentioned startups because that’s the burning issue right now but look through the history. Person who discovered all about atom, he would have been happy with the discovery. Would have gone to town talking about it. Would he have ever known that it will become a weapon?

Take politics for instance. When US was courting Osama, did they ever think that he will become a monster and turn back on them? He is gone but the turmoil remains.

The problem lies with us. While we talk about long term thinking, it never is long term. Monthly projections, quarterly projections, annual projections. Stops right there. Of course it would be foolish to think beyond a year in today’s dynamic world but still. Our actions and decisions are driven by short term impact. Long term is nice to talk about in boardrooms but it’s all about here and now.

Organisations don’t waste time in predictive models that will tell them impact of their decisions on a larger environment. Their models tell them about their business in the context of their industry, competition, economy and government regulations. They want a clear cut answers as to what will happen to their growth once they take a certain action. Doomsday scenarios are not in the interest of any strategy person or a consulting organisation. Not taking the unintended consequences into account is passed off as risk taking ability of the person or organisation.

It is our belief that we look at our decisions in the context of consequences. Never unintended consequences. It is not in our DNA. And let’s face it. We can’t keep track of every consequence of our action. Forget unintended, we can’t keep track of every single intended consequence either.

Typically, most of the unintended consequences are negative. Wonder why. I have been trying to think of examples that would show unintended consequence to be a happy one. Haven’t come across any. Would you know?

As always, I am putting this thought out there. Just a thought. To check what do people think of this topic.

Times


Quoting yet again from a book by Stephen King. This time it is from Christine:

“…there are ” times” in human existence. That when it came to be “steam-engine time”, a dozen men invented steam engine. Maybe only one man got the patent, or the credit in the history books, but all at once there they were, all those people working on that one idea. How do you explain it? Just that it’s steam engine time.

Comes the Civil War and all at once it’s ” ironclad time”. Then it’s “machine-gun time”. Next thing you know it’s ” electricity time” and “wireless time” and finally it’s “atom bomb time”. As if those ideas come not from individuals but from some great wave of intelligence that always keeps flowing… Some wave of intelligence that is outside of humanity”.

Interesting concept right? Through the ages we have had these waves of discovery and inventions that have propelled humanity forward (or hurtled downhill).

There was a dotcom wave where everyone wanted a website that will help people do something and then there was a bust wave too. Just like it is for startups now. Everyone wants one. A 100 others want to be part of every startup that comes into existence. Of course the Malthusian theory of population is at work in corporate world too and hence we see more companies going under than stay afloat.

Not just discovery and inventions, it is also true for people, politics and religion.

Political parties stay in power or ousted depending on the wave. It is not so much the anti incumbency factor but the dying of the wave. Look at our own country. BJP rode to power on a new wave. Congress lost because their time had ebbed. Would Obama had won if he could have gone for third term? Probably not. It is time for Trump. Just the way it was time for Obama. Same goes for religion globally. Won’t discuss that. Its for everyone to see. Not to forget what happened in Germany with Hitler.

Look at history. Dynasties came into existence and then died. Why did that happen? It was their time and then it wasn’t.

Our lives too are driven by these “times”. There is never a stable continuous path to our lives. There is no constant upward movement. Or downward movement. It ebbs and flows. However, we all hope that every downward spiral when it ends, settles higher than the previous low. (Just like market shares which always settle a little higher after every sales promotion). Yes we all want that there is no downward spiral. But it is not in our hands. Time drives everything. Just the way it is said in the song by The Byrd’s… “Turn turn turn…”, there is a time for everything.

Look back at your life. Look back at history. Look back at technology. Look around what’s happening. It is time at play. We are being either buffeted by the waves or floating on serene waters. Now if only we understood this concept, will we not be less disappointed, less stressed and less distressed when it is not our time? Will we not make the most of it when it is our time?

The world around us of course doesn’t give us the luxury to think things through. We are at it constantly. We fight even harder when the times are tough (to not fight is to let the world tell us we have failed). But the fact is, we can’t fight time. I am not saying we lay low and do nothing. But it is about not creating points of resistance for time. Because sooner or later, our upward journey will begin again.

Holds true for humans and holds true for corporates. Cut, slash, burn will not help you grow. It will only make things worse. But stick around, ride out the storm, look closely for trends that you as a person or organization can use to start the next wave. We all can’t be Columbus or Einstein. We all can’t be leaders and innovators. But we surely can develop a sense for the trends. Sense for what trend will fit right in with our capabilities. Oh and before we jump on to the next trend, we must ensure that it is not just a quick passing phase that will be over sooner than you utter the word trend. Quick is always disastrous in the longer run. For individuals as well as corporates.

The key is to understand where we are on the time continuum and gear ourselves accordingly. During an impending natural calamity, we do not break down things, we shore up, we strengthen so why do we do otherwise with our lives.

Suitcase


Apart from Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher is another favourite character of mine. Long back I written about how both are quite similar. Won’t go on about that. What sparked this post (as it happens, not the first time I have read the following passage but trigger happens when it is meant to πŸ™‚

Jack Reacher – “I carry a spare shirt, pretty soon I’m carrying spare pants. Then I’d need a suitcase. Next thing I know, I’ve got a house and a car and a savings plan and I’m filling out all kinds of forms”

Pretty sharp statement about how people lead lives, if you ask me. Process of evolution we call it. From the Stone ages when all that mattered was foraging for food, we move on to various things – clothes, shelter, transport, community, society, values defined by society. We keep adding stuff or bettering what we have (we call it process of evolution). 

Somewhere along the line, the size of the suitcase gets bigger and bigger… and heavier. We have started stuffing it with stuff that society and the world around us tells us should go into the suitcase. The suitcase doesn’t carry fun stuff anymore. It carries the weight of responsibilities. They are taking up all the space. Also taking up space are our expectations. You are lugging it around, burdened by what you are carrying. And mind you, it always is YOUR suitcase. No one will help you carry it because they are carrying their own. If anything, they would expect you to carry theirs too!

But the thing is, all along, your life as a suitcase  became fancier to match the stuff you got inside. You don’t even realise the weight of it all till one day, you try lifting it. First with one hand and then with both hands. But the weight is so much! Probably the handle comes off. The suitcase is bursting at it’s sides.

And that’s the time you sit on that very suitcase and wonder. How did it get this way? What was I filling it up with? What was I thinking?! What did I do wrong? I was doing precisely what I was expected to do. 

Last week I was having a discussion and the person said (not verbatim) – ” isn’t life about being born, growing up, having a great job, getting married, having kids, taking care of kids, taking care of parents, grand children and then dying”

My question was – ” who said this is how life is supposed to be?” The answer was – “society”. Question – who said you have to follow what society says? Answer – “Samir we are social beings, part of a larger society and we should conform to what society says.

Can’t argue with that.

Of course the discussion carried on much longer but the point of mentioning this bit here was, the suitcase… this thinking leads to it becoming heavy.

My point is, it is our suitcase. Shouldn’t we decide what goes into it? Don’t we fill our suitcase with the stuff WE want when we travel? We don’t let others tell us what we should carry. If it’s weekend travel, we know what to carry. If it’s a longer trip, domestic or international, we know what to carry. If it’s air travel, we know how much weight to carry etc.

So why did we go wrong with the suitcase called life?? Why have we let others decide what goes in? Why have we let others dictate? We kept stuffing it because there was no limit to how much can we carry? If we carry 20kgs else airlines will ask us to pay for more, why didn’t we have a limit in mind as to how much we should carry. Of course if the airlines didn’t have the limit, we would have probably carried our whole household!

Greed and wanting more is what makes us fill it up. Bigger house, bigger car, more money, status,…. we keep it making the suitcase heavier. We look around and see people carrying bigger ones and we want ours to be even bigger.

We had looked at duration of travel and filled our travel suitcase accordingly. Why didn’t we look at life as a length of travel and filled ours too in keeping with the length?

The difference perhaps is that we look at life as work travel and not holiday travel. Work travel is all about files, documents, gadgets, formal attire… while holiday is fun! Somewhere through the travel called life, we stopped having fun. There is nothing in our suitcase that says life is fun. It’s a pity.

The strange thing is that only when the travel is supposed to end is when we start wondering about the weight. Too late.. the handle has come off, we can’t get a suitcase any bigger and stuff is overflowing and that is it.

Yes am pontificating because I have also been guilty of filling my suitcase with a whole lot of unwanted stuff and now it is not possible to let go of all that. But am going to give it a shot. Can’t empty the whole suitcase out but perhaps start putting some fun in and remove the baggage of expectations.

Ryan Bingham in the movie “Up in the Air” uses backpack as a metaphor and back in 2009 when I watched the movie, the thought had crossed my mind but back then too I was busy filling up with what is considered right. This is about taking stock again.

Worth a watch again. This scene.

Cheat codes and spoilers


Most of us love them. Cheat codes for games. That level you are stuck on forever and then you get hold of the cheat code and yippee! You get through the level. You feel awesome. You brag about crossing the level (and psstt.. you don’t tell anyone how you got through). Scrounge through the net today and these cheat codes are available everywhere. While many are for free, some are paid too. And the fact they are paid, means there is a market for them.

Spoilers are excitement too. We hate them (even though we are dying to find out what happens next) and we love them (when we are the ones doing the spoiling). Back in college, when there was no Internet, somebody had put up on the notice board that Kajol is the killer (can’t remember the movie)! Now we get to know the plot and pretty much everything on the web. Long before movie comes out, there are previews and ‘making of the movie’ stuff that keeps happening.

So you must be wondering why am I going on about this? Cheat codes and spoilers.

Life. That’s what I am about. There are no cheat codes or spoilers for life. Sure you can cheat your way through life, but that’s not the cheat code. It’s what most people do to get ahead and do well and make money blah blah. All that cheating has materialistic connotations to life. How to live a fulfilling life, there are no cheat codes to that. If you are stuck, you are stuck. You have to work your way out. You don’t have a cheat code αΉ­hat will get you to next level. And no matter what level you are or how well off you are (the benchmark of being successful in this world), there would have been occasions when you wished like hell that there was a cheat code. 

Authors of self help books, pretentious and profound writers though make money out of supposedly providing these cheat codes. Ha! The books sell a million copies. Enough to suggest that there are people out there who look for help to get to the next level. I don’t know of anyone who has transformed his or her life after reading any of these books.

There are no spoilers to life either. We never know how life is going to pan out. We never get to know the climax of every life stage beforehand. We all work towards a certain something in life but have no clue what will happen ten years from now, five years from now or even a year from now (life turns on a dime). We can make all the plans and have all the things in place but it al that might fall like a house of cards. A gust of wind will just blow things apart.

Of course, there are astrologers, tarot readers and what not who promise to tell you how it will turn out. Ever seen an astrologer sitting under a staircase in a mall, eager to be the spoiler. Wanting to tell you how your life will be. Did he or she ever figure out from their own horoscope or palm that they will be spending their life under that staircase? Oh maybe they did but they didn’t have the cheat code to better their lives :p

Talking of cheat code again, they give you the cheat code. The Stone they want you to wear on your finger or around your neck. That mantra they ask you to chant. Supposed cheat codes πŸ™‚

It’s all a big scam. Worse than a ponzi scheme.

We as individuals are extremely insecure. As i wrote in my last post, we are constantly looking for divine intervention. We become the Mark (term used by conmen for suckers) for all these writers, astrologers, palmist and tarot readers. There is money to be made from insecurity of people so lets make money. It’s a big business. This insecurity. We are like lemmings walking up to them. Ever consulted any of these people when the times are good? The fact that you are reaching out to them is a big signpost you got on your forehead that says am in trouble and I need divine intervention. 

They send you back with enough optimism that future is going to be bright for sure (their spoiler) and wear this Stone for that (their cheat code). And we go back home happy. Knowing that we have now put our faith in that black string around our neck. That emerald or ruby or whatever. When things don’t quite turn out right, we seek second opinion… another astrologer or whatever… the cycle continues…

If you have read this far, you are hoping that i will have a revelation or nugget of wisdom which can help. Sorry, no such thing. I am not selling anything. What I have got here is experience of many I know and my experience. Am still looking for the cheat code and hoping I get a peak at the future ahead… πŸ™‚

The digital age


You are not human anymore. In a world driven by binary, you are just a number. Or maybe you used to be human but then came the real digital age… when brands and marketing teams decided that you need to be analysed as data. 

The social network wanted more of you on their platform so that they can sell you as numbers to the marketeers.

And here is the thing… you agreed. You opted in.

Your life was made bare with every post, every status update, every checkin, every review, every share, every new addition to the list of contacts. You let yourself become data. And then data became big data. The more people who jump in, they bring with them lot more information to be mined and made available for brands for better targeting.

Now it is no more about your experience of having a coffee, a meal or watching a movie. Data is gathered about where you have that coffee or meal, the kind of movies you watch, how often do you go as a couple to watch the movie, which theatre you frequent, what’s your favourite show timing (Mail I received from bookmyshow the other day!)

You travel and google travels with you in the background. The map knows your home address and office address (two destinations frequently traveled).

You look at the information and depending on your digital evolution, you are either amazed or shocked. But hey, it is too late. You opted in every time you pressed “I agree” for any app without reading the fine print.

So there you are… just a number to a digital marketing professional. The professional who probably knows you way better than your spouse or partner.

So all those who crib about privacy should shut up. You got seduced by technology and now it is too late for you to complain about intrusion. Might as well figure out if there is something constructive that can happen, now that the brands and marketeers know you so well. 

And if you don’t like what is happening… do the digital disconnect. Now that would be the toughest thing for you to do. Remember you got seduced?