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10 July 2018

A tryst with exotic cooking....

"I want to prepare some exotic stuff. Shall I make Bruschetta today", my son announced to the universe.
"Look at his initiative" my wife gushes, "at this age other kids will be playing football and wasting their time"
I am filled with pride for this damn initiative.
"We need bread, onion, garlic and tomato. Appa, can you go and buy the stuff from the market", my son asks
As a dad it is my duty to support my son in these endeavours. Especially when he is taking the initiative. For all you know, he could end up as the next Sanjiv Kapoor. Who am I to come in the way of the universe?
So off I go with a spring in my steps, if you see what I mean.
I get the stuff from the market. Dump them on the table and retire into my cool bedroom with a Baldacci.
"Call me when it is ready" I announce superflously. I have done my bit to advance my son's career. Let me relax.
"Appa, can you cut the vegetables? I have to go out for a swim", my son asks. 
Shouldn't l be the one relaxing? I think to myself. 
"Which vegetables should I cut?" I query.
"Wash and cut onions in small pieces. Remove the seed from tomato and cut them in thin slices. Cut garlic laterally", the request has become instructions. 
He goes out for a swim. I patiently cut 10 tomatoes (after removing the seed), cut the onions, cut the garlic...
Cut my finger...
By the end of the cutting, I am tired. My eyes are burning having cut those damn onions.
"Are the vegetables cut ", my son asks. He is back from the swim and is fresh and raring to go.
"Yes", I inform him proudly.
"You have cut them too small", comes the inspection report.
Now he takes the bread from the packet. 
"Appa, can you grill the bread?", he asks. It is almost like his mom is invisible. He is not expecting anything from her.
I have to support him. It is the price one pay for being a dad.
"How do you want it grilled?"
"Lightly apply olive oil and grill", comes the prompt reply.
I grill the bread, apply garlic on that and hand it to him.
It is not over. I grate the cheese, lightly saute the vegetables in cheese.. 
Finally, once every bit of backbreaking work is done, my son puts a layer of the sauted vegetables on the toasted bread and give it to me. I take a bite.
"Dad, how is my Bruschetta?", he asks.

06 June 2018

Book Review: Steve Jobs: Author: Walter Isaacson

There is no question about it. Steve Jobs was THE tech icon of late 20th and early 21st century.

To say that he was versatile is an understatement. He excelled in creating customer needs and then delivering products that met these needs. He was a master at creating successful businesses. He started two highly successful product companies, Apple and Pixar. He oversaw the creation of several iconic products including Apple, iMac,iPhone,iPad and iPod, not to mention the terrific movies like Toy Story (1 and 2) that were created out of Pixar Studios.

Click here to buy the book Steve Jobs @Amazon

He had a ken for identifying the right people and getting the best out of them. He recruited great engineers, great designers, great technology developers and great marketing people. He was a master at creating a great support ecosystem. He Identified, developed and partnered with great advertisement, marketing and hardware manufacturing companies. He had the artistic vision to see how a perfect product will look like. He was as deeply involved in the design of the Apple Store as he was in the design of the latest iPad. He was the numero uno when it came to negotiations. He managed great people, negotiated, bullied and cajoled strong personalities from different interests to partner with him in his journey. Changed the music industry, the desktop publishing industry, the software industry, the hardware industry...

27 May 2018

How Jim Carey helped me in my Career....

It was the beginning of the April 2016. I had just started out my career as a Freelance ERP consultant. I had no prior experience as a Freelance Consultant. I did not know how the freelance consulting worked, how a consultant received leads, how they were converted to opportunities, how consultants set their price, how they branded and marketed themselves....

Except for updating my LinkedIn profile title as  'Independent ERP Consultant', I had done nothing. I did not know how to proceed.

That is where Jim Carey appeared out of nowhere.

28 April 2018

Book Review: The Chosen One: Sam Bourne

This is the review of the book 'The Chosen One' by Sam Bourne. I will give it a rating of 3 / 5. 
Maggie Costello is an idealistic journalist who dreams of contributing to make the world a better place. She is a part of a core campaign committee that helped elect Stephen Baker to be the President of the United State. Baker is also an idealist who shares Maggie's interest in using the bully pulpit of US in making the world a better place. One of his project is to have an oversight over Darfur, Sudan where sectarian killings had become a norm rather than an exception. Maggie is tasked with driving this initiative which she is very happy to do. 

26 April 2018

Book Review: Deep Work: Cal Newport

Deep work refers to concentrated, distraction free work for a long period of time. That is a kind of work that can add value and let us achieve our full potential.

Buy the book 'Deep Work' @Amazon

As we enter the changing world of technology the need for deep work becomes all the more important . However, this is the age of social media and email that causes distraction and hence people are losing their ability to do deep work.
Author contrasts the deep work with shallow work, where the work is interspersed with too many distractions. Scarily, as we indulge more and more in shallow work, we lose our ability to do deep work.
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 explores the idea of deep work and

09 April 2018

Lessons from Great Minds of Value Investing.

One of the benefits of reading and learning about investing and investors is that you can learn a lot about life. You get more life wisdom rather than investment wisdom, I would even go as far to say that the latter is a bonus. Most of the great investors have tasted great success, experienced great failure, resisted temptations, handled bare borne emotions like greed and fear, shown exemplary courage and exemplary humility, separated what is important from what is urgent and unimportant and finally, helped a large number of people to become successful and lead their life with calm and peace. 

For his book 'Great minds of investing', William Green and team interviewed 22 of the greatest minds of investing

08 April 2018

The education of a Value Investor: Guy Spier

There are some ideas that, while relating to investing and belong to 'Penny Wise' blog, are so full of Life Lessons, and hence by default belong to this blog on personal growth. This post is one such.

I had heard about Guy Spier while reviewing the book 'Dhandho Investor' (Buy the book at Amazon) written by him and Mohnish Pabrai. You can read my review of the book here

This is a part of the 'Author Talks' series of Google Talks. Guy Spier is a Value Investor and has written the book 'The education of a value investor'. (Buy the book at Amazon)

This is a unique talk. If I expected full on maths, analytics, number crunching and investing strategies and PE Ratios, I was in for a surprise.

06 April 2018

Yoshi and the bird....

Once upon time, there was a rich man in Japan. His name was Yoshi. He was a very rich man. But he always wanted to be more rich, more money.
One day Yoshi was walking in his garden. He saw a strange bird on a small tree. It was very small. But it had very beautiful and colorful features. Its voice was also very lovely. Yoshi had never seen such a bird in his life. He slowly went near the tree unseen. He caught the bird. Now the bird began to speak.
“Why have you caught me?” the bird asked.

31 March 2018

So, what do you do?

In a one pager on learning, Prof.Richard Feynman says that till you can explain an idea to an 8 year old, you have not completely learned it. Let us call it the '8 year old test'

There are four steps to this process.
  1. Choose a Concept 
  2. Teach it to a Toddler 
  3. Identify Gaps and Go Back to The Source Material 
  4. Simplify (optional)
So here is what I am going to do. There is one question that I frequently get when I talk to someone new. Most of you get the same question.

26 March 2018

The story of god, devil and truth...

This story is from the book 'Tao Jones Averages', written by Bennett W Goodspeed. The story deals with man's tendency to understand, sort, order and arrange everything rather than feel and just go with the flow and take experiences as they are meant to be felt.

God and devil were debating about the goodness of man as they walked down a seldom-used road. While they were arguing about man's inner nature, they noticed the lonely figure of a man approaching them. Suddenly the man bent over and picked up a grain of 'truth'. "You see", god exclaimed, "man just discovered 'truth' and that proves that he is good". "Ah, so he did,", the devil replied, "but you don't understand the nature of man. Soon he will try to organized it, and then he will be mine!"

22 March 2018

Book Review: The Tao of Pooh: Benjamin Hoff

The book, 'The Tao of Pooh', written by Benjamin Hoff is an attempt to explain the principles of the Chinese philosophy of Tao through the eyes of Winnie the Pooh, a famous character created by A.A.Milne in the book by the same name.

Winnie is a simpleminded bear that spends his time enjoying life and taking it as it comes. The philosophy of Tao deals with simplifying life by simplifying thoughts and actions. This meeting of minds between Tao and the life philosophy of Winnie forms the genesis of  the book Tao of Pooh.

This delightful book of about 170 pages, divided over 9 chapters, packs a truckload of wisdom. So let us dive right in....

19 March 2018

Top 10 Blissful things

Today I completed a task that needed two hours of undivided attention (cleaning the house). I was so immersed in the work that I did not realize that I had cleaned the entire house. Knowing that the task was completed was a bliss.

David Letterman, American TV show host had a 'Top 10' list, which he used to air every night. So here is my List of top 10 things that give you bliss.

10. While analysing a company, realizing that Cash Flow is the same as Net Profit and the PE is less than 10
9. Identifying a company with 10 years of continuous profit growth that is available at throw away valuations
8. Finishing reading 'Reminiscences of a Stock Operator'
7. Completing a very strenuous work out. Completing a blogpost. Completing anything worthwhile
6. Licking a vanilla ice cream from a cone
5. Completing an intense but mundane task (like house cleaning)
4. Sitting at Coffee Day and sharing ideas with a friend
3. Finding one's passion
2. Finding a bottle of cold water when out in the street on a hot day.
1. Finding a public restroom when you desperately want to pee

Wu Wei, Taoism in action

'Wu wei' is one of the most important concept in Taoism. Literally it means 'without doing, causing or making'. We could loosely call it as 'Going with the Flow'. It is like the flow of water that works around the obstacles rather than fight against it. It is sensitive to the natural rhythm of things. 

The concept of Wu wei is explained in the following story from Chuang-tse

At the Gorge of Lu, the great waterfall plunges for thousands of feet, its spray visible for miles. In the
churning waters below, no living creature can be seen.

One day, K'ung Fu-tse (Confucius) was standing at a distance from the pool's edge, when he saw an old man being tossed about in the turbulent water. He called to his disciples, and together they ran to rescue the victim. But by the time they reached the water, the old man had climbed out onto the bank and was walking along, singing to himself.

K'ung Fu-tse hurried up to him. "You would have to be a ghost to survive that," he said, "but you seem to be a man, instead. What secret power do you have?"

"Nothing special," the old man replied. "I began to learn while very young, and grew up practicing it
Now I am certain of success. I go down with the water and come up with the water. I follow it and
forget myself. I survive because I don't struggle against the water's superior power. That's all."

When we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us, we reach the level of Wu Wei. Then we work with the natural order of things and operate on the principle of minimal effort. Since the natural world follows that principle, it does not make mistakes.

15 March 2018

Bisy Backson, or how not to achieve a goal...

Most of us are busy all the time, setting our goals, making our resolutions, and acting on them all the time to achieve our goals and meet our resolutions. We feel frustrated when we are not doing anything.

As this story illustrates, sometimes we can achieve our goals by simply doing nothing.

There was a man who disliked seeing his footprints and his shadow. He decided to escape from them,
and began to run. But as he ran along, more footprints appeared, while his shadow easily kept up with him. Thinking he was going too slowly, he ran faster and faster without stopping, until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and died.

If he had stood still, there would have been no footprints. If he had rested in the shade, his shadow would have disappeared.

Sometimes, no action is the best action.

You always see this phenomenon play out in stock market investing. There are people who cannot sit idle if they have cash on hand. They have to trade or they have to invest. Other than making their brokers rich by frequent trading, or missing out on potential multibaggers, they achieve nothing. Then there are others who have to take medicines even for common cold. They have not heard of the statement, 'If you take medicines for common cold, you will be cured in a week. If you do not take any medicines, it will be cured in seven days'. Most of us are like ants, always doing something, always moving aimlessly, hitting into someone, missing directions....

Action, action, action....That is the buzzword.

I had a chance to work in Dalal Street in Mumbai. If there is one place in India, where the maxim of aimless action is most prevalent, it is in this financial nerve centre of India. People are always moving, hither and thither, mumbling to themselves, talking excitedly on their mobile phones, bumping on to passers by, navigate thru the honking vehicles who compete for the tiny space...

Boy, it is chaos....with a capital C....

But constant action do not help you. As the story of 'Sleeping point' shows, you have to act to the point that you can sleep well at night. Action is worthless beyond that point.

Sometimes no action is the best action....

A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.....

As per Tao philosophy, everything has an inner nature, a purpose. The challenge is to identify the inner nature and apply it to our benefit.

This is illustrated by this beautiful story by Chuang-tse...

Hui-tse said to Chuang-tse, "I have a large tree which no carpenter can cut into lumber. Its branches  and trunk are crooked and tough, covered with bumps and depressions. No builder would turn his head to look at it. Your teachings are the same—useless, without value. Therefore, no one pays attention to them."

"As you know," Chuang-tse replied, "a cat is very skilled at capturing its prey. Crouching low, it can leap in any direction, pursuing'whatever it is after. But when its attention is focused on such things, it can be easily caught with a net. On the other hand, a huge yak is not easily caught or overcome. It stands like a stone, or a cloud in the sky. But for all its strength, it cannot catch a mouse.

"You complain that your tree is not valuable as lumber. But you could make use of the shade it provides, rest under its sheltering branches, and stroll beneath it, admiring its character and appearance.

Since it would not be endangered by an axe, what could threaten its existence? It is useless to you only because you want to make it into something else and do not use it in its proper way."

In other words, everything has its own place and function. That applies to people, although many don't seem to realize it, stuck as they are in the wrong job, the wrong marriage, or the wrong house. When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong. You also know where you don't belong.

The story of House Burglar turned Soldier....

As intelligent people, we are always trying to analyse our emotions and habits, then judging them to be good or bad, and then trying to improve ourselves by trying to get rid of the perceived bad habits or emotions.

Sooner or later, we are bound to discover some things about ourselves that we don't like. But once we see they're there, we can decide what we want to do with them. Do we want to get rid of them completely, change them into other things, or use them in beneficial ways? The last two approaches

The poem of Winnie the Pooh...

On Monday, when the sun is hot 

I wonder to myself a lot: 

“Now is it true, or is it not, 

“That what is which and which is what?” 

On Tuesday, when it hails and snows 

The feeling on me grows and grows 

That hardly anybody knows 

If those are these or these are those. 

On Wednesday, when the sky is blue, 

And I have nothing else to do, 

I sometimes wonder if it’s true 

That who is what and what is who. 

On Thursday, when it starts to freeze 

And hoar-frost twinkles on the trees, 

How very readily one sees 

That these are whose- but whose are these? 

On Friday- 

14 March 2018

The Vinegar Tasters: Essence of Chinese Philosophy

The Vinegar Tasters is a Chinese Allegorical composition that depicts three old men tasting Vinegar from a Vat. The first has a sour look on his face, the second wears a bitter expression and the third old man is smiling.

This allegory is used to explain the three Chinese philosophies, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. The three old men are K'ung Fu-tse (Confucius), Buddha and Lao-Tse, founder of Taoism and the vinegar they are sampling represents the essence of life.

To K'ung Fu-tse (kung FOOdsuh), life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out of step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of the universe. Therefore, he emphasized reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth. Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. 

To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering. The world was seen as a setter of traps, a generator of illusions, a  evolving wheel of pain for all creatures. In order to find peace, the Buddhist considered it necessary to transcend "the world of dust" and reach Nirvana, literally a state of "no wind.". The devout Buddhist often saw the way to Nirvana interrupted all the same by the bitter wind of everyday existence.

To Lao-tse (LAOdsuh), the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at any time As he stated in his Tao Te Ching (DAO DEH JEENG), the "Tao Virtue Book," earth was in essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws—not by the laws of men. These laws affected not only the spinning of distant planets, but the activities of the birds in the forest and the fish in the sea. According to Lao-tse, the more man interfered with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable. Only then did life become sour.

What he saw operating behind everything in heaven and earth he called Tao (DAO), "the Way." A basic principle of Lao-tse's teaching was that this Way of the Universe could not be adequately described in words but its nature could be understood

The basic Taoism that we are concerned with here is simply a particular way of appreciating, learning from, and working with whatever happens in everyday life. From the Taoist point of view, the natural result of this harmonious way of living is happiness. 

Through working in harmony with life's circumstances, Taoist understanding changes what others may perceive as negative into something positive. From the Taoist point of view, sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.

13 March 2018

The Tao Way to handle negative habits and emotions....

Each one of us has some habits that we want to get rid of. We struggle with it through our lives and stress out ourselves trying desperately to remove it.

That may not be the right approach. The right approach may be to use the negative habits and emotions to our advantage, as this gem of a story from the book 'Tao of Pooh', beautifully demonstrates.

Sooner or later, we are bound to discover some things about ourselves that we don't like. But once we see they're there, we can decide what we want to do with them. Do we want to get rid of them completely, change them into other things, or use them in beneficial ways? The last two approaches are often especially Useful, since they avoid head on conflict, and therefore minimize struggle. Also, they allow those transformed characteristics to be added to the list of things we have that help us out In a similar manner, instead of struggling to erase what are referred to as negative emotions, we can learn to use them in positive ways. We could describe the principle like this: while pounding on the piano keys may produce noise, removing them doesn't exactly further the creation of music. The principles of Music and Living aren't all that different, we think.

So rather than work against ourselves, all we need to do in many cases is to point our weaknesses or pleasant tendencies in a different direction than we have been.

The following incident recorded by the Taoist Liu An can serve to illustrate:

In the state of Ch'u, a housebreaker became a soldier under the General Tzu-fa, a man known for utilizing the abilities of others to a remarkable degree. 

A short while later, Ch'u was attacked by the army of the state of Ch'i. Tzu-fa's men went out to counter the attack, but were driven back three times. The Ch'u strategists exhausted their minds while the enemy forces grew stronger.

At that point, the housebreaker stepped forward and asked for a chance to work for the defence of Ch'u. The General granted his request. 

That night, the housebreaker sneaked into the Ch'i camp, entered the general's tent, and removed the curtains from the bed. Tzu-fa sent these back the next morning by special envoy, with a note which explained that they had been found by some men who were out gathering firewood.

The following evening, the housebreaker removed the Ch'i general's pillow. The next morning, it was returned with a message like the first. 

On the third night, the housebreaker removed the general's jade hairpin. It was returned the next morning.

That day, the Ch'i general called his officers together.

"One more night," he warned them, "and it will be my head!" The troops were ordered to break camp 
and return home.

So there is no such thing as an ability that is too useless, too crooked, or too small. It only depends on what you do with it. As Lao-tse pointed out, the bad can be raw material for the good.

So quite often, the easiest way to get rid of a Minus is to change it into a Plus. Sometimes you will find that characteristics you try hard to eliminate eventually come back, anyway. But if you do the right things, they will come back in the right ways. And sometimes those very tendencies that you dislike the most can show up in the right way at the right time to save your life, somehow. If that's ever happened to you, you'll think twice before setting out to completely Unbounce yourself.

09 February 2018

Life Lessons from a Train Journey....

Gupta was my colleague when I was working in the Steel Plant. One day over a cup of coffee, he told me about this incident.

One night, he was travelling from his home town of Dharbanga in Bihar to Durgapur. At night when he woke up, he found that the train had had a breakdown and had stopped in a no man’s land. It was about midnight and was not clear when the breakdown had happened and when it will be attended to. There was no way of knowing where they were and how far they were from Durgapur. Gupta was supposed to attend duty the next day.

Since he was light on luggage and since it was unclear when they will attend to the breakdown, while other passengers decided to wait for the crew  to arrive, Gupta decided to walk along the railway track in the direction of Durgapur.

“I was not sure where I was and how far I was from Durgapur. I did not know how much time it will take for me to reach my destination”, Gupta told me while taking a sip.

“I was looking at lot of uncertainties. But I couldn’t sit idle. So I just started walking and continued walking. I took it step by step, walked one step at a time but continued walking”, Gupta continued his story.

“Eventually at around 2.00 AM I came across a railway station that was familiar. I knew that from there if I walked at a decent pace, I could reach Durgapur by early morning in time for the duty. So I walked for another 5 hours and reached Durgapur at about 6.30 AM and reached home by 7.30. I was able to reach office, albeit a bit late, at about 9.00 AM. All is well that ends well”, said Gupta

I was fascinated with this story. “What did you make out of that experience?”, I asked.

“My walk of over 7 hours can be divided into two phases. In phase one, the first three hours or so, I walked in the general direction of Durgapur, hardly knowing how far I will have walk and unsure if I will be able to attend duty the next day. In this phase, I had to cope with the  uncertainty and a lack of clarity in mind. Motivating myself to keep walking was tough in this phase. But I willed myself to take it one step at a time.”,  Gupta paused for a sip of Java brew.

“Phase two started when I knew where I was in relation to my destination. I knew the effort required and had clarity about when I will reach my destination. That was one load off my mind. But still I had to walk for about five hours, one step after another, without succumbing to tiredness or falling to the temptation to give up and wait for the morning for a bus to take me to Durgapur”

Gupta finished his story. You could say that he was proud of himself.

This happens many a time in life. Lots of times we are having to work, move forward in face of significant uncertainties. For a student in Class X in India, it could be the preparation for the exams falling two years later and the associated uncertainties regarding her future. For a project manager it could be a project that is embroiled in so many issues (believe me, they do exist) with end nowhere in sight. Or it could be that one is stuck in a lousy job from which there seems to be no escape.

For 10 years of my life, I worked in a steel plant, staying away from home, working in a job that was not aligned with my interest or my potential or to my goals and aspirations, but not having courage to quit...

If you can imagine that, you know what I am talking about.

It is at times like these that Gupta’s advice becomes relevant. It is important that we keep that fire burning, that hunger unsated and those steps uninterrupted.

Whatever happens, one should move forward. Yesterday is history, our life is going to be made over a series of tomorrows.

So look forward and keep up those steps one at a time....