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04 August 2019

Jiji Thomas - The Rock

One a while I write blog posts about my batch mates from Engineering College, under a series titled 'Tribute to my batch mates'. I try to chart their life over the last 30 years or so as a celebration of our friendship. So far I have written about Krishnamuoorthy Rao, Saji P George (Saiper), Saji Mathew Premnath and Hanumant.

One person that I always wanted to write about was Jiji

But I was unable to. I was stymied.

What was there to write about Jiji? I asked myself. He was not flamboyant, was not a poet like Premnath, not a cricketer like Kunjamoo, not a good orator like Tom Alex, not humorous like Rames, not a singer like Habeeb, not a nerd like many dudes in our batch, not reserved like (well you decide), not into technology like Ebby, did not use flowery malayalam like Appi Saji, did not frustrate us with his ever changing menu choices like Valiya Thomman (MRF), was not known for his innocence like George, did not give chala fish in the mess like Saiper, did not frequent Padukkadu like Saju Paul, did not climb the coconut tree in girl's hostel, did not try to steal 3D glasses after watching the film 'My Dear Kuttichathan'....

He did not do anything special and did not make any mark in the conventional engineering college terms, if you see what I mean. He did not do anything memorable.So what will I write about?

Have mercy on me. Give me some material to write about, people...

But here is the irony.

Ask anyone of our batch mates to name five persons from our batch that stood out for them or whom they looked up to during our college days, 90% of people will have Jiji Thomas in their list. Ask them to name five of their batch mates that they are still in touch with,  five people who are in their phone contact list, I bet that 90% will have Jiji on that list.

There was something about Jiji that I had to write about, but there was nothing to write about.

This dichotomy frustrated me. What do I write about Jiji?

How can one be so memorable as Jiji obviously is, but a narrator cannot find stuff to write about him?

I struggled with this for more than two years. Every time I talked to Jiji, I reminded myself that I have to write about him but a part of my mind will ask me the question, what will you write about?

Then three thoughts came in my mind the other day while I was having my morning walk in the nearby park.

I remembered my recent visit to Kottayam. There is a huge boulder in front of Thirunnakkara temple. It has been there for ever since I can remember. I doesn't do anything (obviously..), but you cannot imagine a Kottayam without that rock. Without it Kottayam will not be the same.

You could say the same thing about Round in Thrissur or Kovalam Beach in Trivandrum.

Then it stuck me. I realized that Jiji does for us what the rock does to Kottayam Town. He is a strong emotional part of our college life. He defines TEC for us.

I also remembered that some time ago, I had written an article in my blog about 'Bougainvillea Leadership'. Bougainvillea is a steady performer. It rises with the sun every day and does what it does best, makes the universe colourful. It has not airs of superiority. It is not temperamental like a rose, not fragrant like a 'Mullapoo' and is not mysterious like 'Neelakurunji'. Damsels do not wear it on their hair, bees do not line up to have its nectar, pundits do not use the flower to do puja, flower shops do not sell Bougainvillea garlands, Romeo do not use it to demonstrate their affection to Juliet.

But you can't imagine a morning walk without seeing these colourful flowers. These flowers are an inherent part of our daily life. They are steady performers. They colour the universe, with the least amount of fuzz, day in and day out. 

Jiji is steady as a Bougainvillea plant. In the four years that we spent in Engineering College, I don't remember him being emotional except for once. That was when Santhosh Mathew was beaten by SFI goons. I remember the frantic, desperate look on Jiji's eyes as we all scrambled around, seething with helpless rage.

Other than those regular 'beating' events, Jiji maintained his poise, equanimity, balance and objectivity (You don't need a Roget's thesaurus to say that these are Synonyms, hey, it is my blog, remember?)

Like Bougainvillea, Jiji was everywhere where he was needed. He is a natural leader and has the itch to solve problems and get things done. He has the rare ability to focus on the task at hand and not to be distracted by irrelevant stuff. You name any event or activity that happened during our four year stint in collage, you will see Jiji, directing, coordinating and rolling up his sleeves to do the heavy work. You take a sports event for example, and Jiji will be there as a referee, player or in the audience cheering his favorite team.

I remember an inter-batch (or inter-hostel?) badminton match that I played wihen we were in the third semester. I was playing Anand Singh of fifth semester. I lost the match from a position of strength. I remember Jiji cheering for me. I remember feeling guilty about letting him down.

"It was disappointing that you lost", he told me later, "don't worry Swamy, it is only a game. You will win next time"

With his oval shaped face and wave of thick black hair, Jiji used to look like young Shahrukh Khan. He used to part his hair in the middle and the flowing locks will move like a wave as he ran. I used to admire his hairstyle and for a couple of years when in college, used to comb my hair like Jiji.

Did not work really. With a face like mine....

Jiji has this rare ability to elevate you to a higher level every time he talks with you. He is non-judgemental and will debate with you fiercely and with respect. He believes that debating with a person on an issue is the best form of respect you can show that individual. You show that you listened to him, you understood and appreciated his point of you and presented another perspective that he may have overlooked. He will be the first person to agree if he is in error. Not only he will agree that he was wrong, but also take action by changing his behaviour.

Jiji is a serious, boring kind of guy. Not for him stupid jokes that I crack once in a while (well, most of the time, I am the 'Kathi' remember?). He remains objective, analytical and factual. He can do it for hours. I have never seen him raise his voice in anger or frustration.

But he is not a bore. He has diverse interests and can talk for hours. I regularly talk to him and every time I call him or vice versa, we tend to talk for at least an hour which increased to two hours or more a few months before 2019 elections.

What did you do after graduation, I ask him.

"After completing Engineering, I went to Ahmadabad where my dad was posted. I joined Batliboi as a maintenance engineer. I worked there for about two years and then joined GMMF (Gujarat Milk Marketing Federation, company that owns Amul brand) and worked under Dr.Varghese Kurian. I learned a lot during that time." he says.

The current religious polarization in the country is not new for Jiji. He told me about his boss in Batliboi, a person named Viren Shah.

"Viren Shah was my manager when I worked in Purchasing department in Batliboi. He had a policy of not purchasing anything from Muslims. He refused to register any Muslim vendor. He rejected them on one pretext or another", he says.

"Later Shah left the company and moved to Gulf. I am sure that he is not rejecting Muslim vendors now.", Jiji allows himself a chuckle.

My blood boils as I hear his talk about this bigotry. I tell him that I would have blasted Shah. Jiji is more sanguine about these things.

"You can't change people. Everyone has their life journey. You can only learn to accept", he tells me.

Just before the recent elections, I used to vociferously argue against the 'Othering' of minorities in this country. "Why are minorities not protesting?", I used to ask him. "After all every tax paying citizen has equal rights in this country. By not protesting against this 'Othering', minorities are implicitly going on the defensive", I tell him.

Jiji tells me about people and their 'Life Journey'. Learning happens only when someone is ready, he tells me. When the time comes, you do not have to tell them anything. They will become aware of their mistakes. By telling them that they are wrong, you do not gain anything, he says.

Well, I am not a saint like him.

We agree to disagree.

Jiji married Anju in 1991. They have a son Neville. He is pursuing Post Graduation in Literature from a leading institution in Hyderabad. Being a liberal, Jiji has allowed his son to choose the path that excites him. He is there to support and guide his son.

After almost ten years in Ahmadabad, Jiji changed the course of his career by moving into the exciting area of Facilities Management. India was in the initial stages of a massive economic expansion and much like our friend Saji Mathew, he was in the right place in the right time.

In 1999, he joined a company called MacLellan Integrated Services, a US based facilities management company. He was initially posted in Chennai and I remember meeting him there when I had visited Chennai in 2002. He moved to Bangalore in 2004 and worked with MacLellan till 2006.

Jiji faced a major crisis in life in 2004. Two days after moving to Bangalore on February 9, 2004, his parents were involved in a major car accident on February 11. His father had his hands severed and had to do Plastic Surgery to get them fixed. His mother spend 50 days in ICU and Ventilator before she, with god's grace, recuperated.

"That incident shook me", says Jiji, "It all happened so fast, I did not even have any time to even unpack my stuff after I moved to Bangalore"

As usual, he handled the incident with grace and dignity.

In 2006 he moved to a Company called Ascendas which was maintaining a 300000 Sq.ft property of ITPL in Whitefield in Bangalore. With just three days into the new company, he faced a major crisis. How he handled the crises tells a lot about Jiji's positive attitude and problem-solving approach to everything.

"Barely three days into my stint in Ascendas, we got the news that a bomb was placed in ITPL. I was instructed to oversee and handle the emergency. I was new to the company and new to the property. To handle such crises, one must have an in-depth understanding of the property, which I did not have. I failed miserably in handling it. Fortunately it turned out to be a hoax call. There was no bomb", he tells me.

I remembered this incident. I was working in TCS at that time and we had offices at and near ITPL.

"Once the dust settled down, I sat down and prepared a detailed 'Emergency Response Manual' and step-by-step procedure to handle different types of crises. I send the same to Ascendas HQ in Singapore and that became the Global emergency response SOP for the company."

"Well, I guess something good came out of it after all", he says modestly.

"I believe every experience is a learning opportunity", he announces in a matter-of-fact tone.

I can't agree more.

He worked with Ascendas for two years before moving to RMZ in Bangalore in 2008. He worked there till 2012. He dabbled as a freelance consultant for about a year and worked on a project based out of Mumbai. I was also working in Mumbai at that time and we used to meet occasionally at Mumbai airport as be boarded our flights for weekend return to Bangalore.

In 2013, he joined workforce back with GSH group a US based Facilities Management Company. He worked there for four years, before returning to RMZ in 2017 to head their Facilities Management Division. Recently RMZ has spun off their Facilities Management division into a company named 'SMART Services', with Jiji as the CEO.

You heard it right. Jiji Thomas, the second CEO from our batch.

It is a huge fucking deal...

Anju, Jiji's better half (she is really better, I can tell you) worked the the field of ERP, same area that I, Mohanan M and Dabbar are working in. For about five years she and I were colleagues in Oracle. Just before I left Oracle in 2012, Anju left the company and joined Infosys. For the last two or three years, she is not working.

That doesn't mean she is idle. She has a wide variety of interests, one of them being investing in Stock Market. Since I am also interested in the market, I ask her about her portfolio. It reads like 'Who is Who' of Indian Corporates. Infosys, ITC, HUL, TCS... you name them and they are in her portfolio. She has purchased them a few years ago and does not want to sell them.

She has also purchased a part ownership in a farm. For an annual payment, they will give you land to cultivate your favorite vegetables. Jiji says that almost all the vegetables they use at home comes from the farm.

Jiji's eyes light up  when he talks about his dad. "He was very disciplined and was stubborn as a mule. At the age of 32, he was diagnosed with diabetes and was prescribed 30 minutes of daily walk and was proscribed sweets and sugar of any kind. He has not broken that habit voluntarily even for a single day till he passed away", he tells me. 

In 2014, Jiji lost his dad to Blood Cancer. "He did not suffer much", he tells me, "struggled for 6 months before he passed away"

God has given him many crises to test his resilience. So far he has proved his worth. He doesn't want to discuss them.

If Jiji has any quirks, it is his interest in cars. He is fascinated by them and buys and discards them at regular intervals. In the last thirty years, he has bought and sold 8 cars.

I ask him to tell something about his fixation for cars.

"I love long drives and cars are my weakness. I started off with Maruti 800 an moved through Hyundai Santro, Hyundai Accent, Honda City, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i10, Skoda Laura and Ritz. Currently I own two cars, Skoda Rapid and a BMW that I purchased recently". He says.

I count 10 cars. Jiji is surprised.

At the beginning of this narrative, I spoke about three things I thought about while walking in Jayanagar Park that changed my perspective on writing about Jiji. One of them was the rock in front of Thirunnakkara Temple in Kottayam, another was about Bougainvillea.

The third thing I thought about was Dr.Manmohan Singh. In the last 25 years, Dr.MMS has been there whenever the country needed him. He was always self-evasive and let his colleagues take the credit. 'Maunmohan Singh', his political opponents called him. But if you look at any great achievement of the country in the last 25 years, be it Polio eradication, poverty reduction, Nuclear Deal, double digit GDP growth.. Dr.MMS is there at the background, guiding and directing.

Doctor saab is not known for his Oratory or Charisma or Flamboyance or Humour. But every time there was a crisis, India looked up to him.

That is what typifies Jiji Thomas. Handling crisis comes naturally to him. With his steady, structured and methodical approach, he quickly goes into the root cause and solves them. If you are in any kind of crisis, there is nobody in the world you would want to have nearby than Jiji. In his unobtrusive and understated way he will take charge and ensure that crisis is handled efficiently. 

One thing about Jiji always perplexed me. How can one be so balanced, objective and rational?

In one of our recent discussions, Jiji told me about his family. "I have a sister and a younger brother. Throughout our childhood, me and my sister stayed with our grand parents in Kerala, while my brother stayed with our parents."

That could be from where he developed his defining traits. By staying with his grand parents.

I felt sad. Having to spend your childhood away from parents must have been tough on you, I venture my opinion.

"It was not tough. We used to go to Ahmadabad during out vacation. besides, I had an advantage that I could apply for higher studies either in Kerala or Gujarat", he makes light of my concern.

Always practical. Always Positive. That is Jiji Thomas for you.

01 August 2019

Articles that I read in July 2019

Short URL for this post is

11-Jul-2019: Thursday
Today I read an article by Maura Thomas in titled 'To Control Your Life, Control what you Pay Attention To'. Your attention determines the experiences you have and the experiences determine the life you live. You mst control your attention to contol your life. This is the age of distraction and it is even more important to focus on things that matter.

To be consistently productive and handle stress better, we must strengthen our attention management. It is the practice of controlling distractions, being present in the moment, finding flow and maximizing focus. It will help to unleash your genius. Attention Management is deliberate rather than reactive. Part of it is becoming aware of when your attention is diverted.

14 July 2019

Articles that I read in February 2019

06-Feb-2019: Wednesday
I also ready a good article by Jeff Haden on Prioritizing your tasks. Note down everything you want / have to do. Cull out 5 top tasks and focus on on them. Then break down each of the above 5 tasks to actionable sub-tasks and start working on them.

While reading it, I was thinking that there are a lot of stuff that I want to do, but I am not prioritizing. I also have to review the boo that Maria has sent me and publish my review in my blog. 

07-Feb-2019: Thursday
I also read an article by ‘The Emotion Machine’ on ‘Mindful Photography’. It says that as you go through the day, you take five photos that represent the day. There are two advantages of this. One, while looking for interesting things to take photos of, you are living a mindful life. You are in touch with what is happening around you. Two, these photographs will give you a chronology of your life and will tell you what you did on that day of your life. Keeping this in mind, while coming out of the park, I took a selfie with a post box and posted in my Facebook page. I got a lot of likes for that photos. Most of them were from the ‘seniors’, who straddle the old and the new.

26-Feb-2019: Tuesday
Today I red an article by Ryan Holiday titled ‘How to digest books above your Level and increase your intelligence’.  The focus of the book is on reading to lead. The key points in the article were.
  1. It is not enough that you read books. You have to read books that elevate your intellect. Read books that are difficult to read.
  2. When you read the book, try to identify the messages it conveys rather than the facts it presents. Lessons matter. Facts less so. Focus on the message and how you can apply them.
  3. Before you start reading a book, check the web to understand the basic assertions of the ook. Your objective is to answer two questions, what does it mean and do you agree with it.
  4. Read the introduction / prologue/ Notes Forwards. This will give you the context. It is very important since you are reading a book above your ‘level’.
  5. Look up words and phrases you do not understand. You could look up thesaurus, Wiki, Youtube etc
  6. Mark passages.
  7. After two weeks of finishing the book, go back to it. Collect all your notes and categorize them. Use them frequently in writings and conversations.
  8. Read one more book in that genre.
Previous Months:

January 2019

27 June 2019

About Trusting Your Gut

On 11th January 2019 I read an article by Liz Ryan on how to trust your intuition. Her articles are always good and she adds a lot of value. This was also not different.

(In the post below, words 'Intuition' and 'gut' are used interchangeably to mean the same thing)

She wrote about ten ways to listen to your gut while making any decisions. As children we always trust our gut feeling, but we lose that ability as we grow older, rather we unlearn it by suppressing our gut feelings in favor of intellect. The ten ways to ensure that your gut is active in decision making are:
  1. Pay attention to the way your body reacts in different situations. Noticing your emotions and body reactions is the first step to re-establishing the connection with your gut
  2. Learn to listen to the signals that your gut is sending you. Ask your gut to take your decisions and relax as you let your body make decisions for you.
  3. Spend as much time with people who reinforce you
  4. Day dream. (Note: I do it a lot). Don’t try to censor ideas that your gut tells you.
  5. In the evening reflect on your day and try to answer the question, what was my body trying to tell me?
  6. Identify the difficult moments in your life when you listened to your gut and made decisions.
  7. Always listen to your body before making any decisions
  8. Venture into unknown experiences whenever you can.
  9. When you have free time, sit quietly and ask your body what should I do now? Listen to its suggestion
  10. Stop and listen when your gut sends you a message. Pause in the middle of any important activity and take input from your gut. Your gut is never wrong.
The three suggestions that stood out for me were, one, whenever you are about to take a decision, confer with your body and take its concurrence, two, when you are sitting idle, ask your body what should I do now and do what the body says and three, every time you tend to  become analytical stop the brain-work and listen to the body.

Nice article to close the day.

Listening to my gut has made me hopeful and optimistic. For example, after writing my test for job interview in SAIL in the year 1987, a very prestigious company, I knew in my gut that I was going to get the job. There was no concrete reasons for that confidence. The process had only begun. There were at least three steps before the concrete job offer - I had clear the test first, then there was a group discussion followed by a final interview. Somehow I knew that I was going to get the job. It was not a kind of peripheral knowledge. It was a deep belief that I was going to get the job. Over the next three months, I saw daily signs that I was going to get the job.

Finally I did. When I did I was not elated or anything. I knew that I was going to get it. The offer letter was a confirmation of something that I already knew.

This has happened again and again. I remember this incident that happened in the year 2000. I was working as an academic and at the age of 36, I wanted to change the direction of my career and move into the area of information technology. I did not have ANY experience in IT till then and others would have balked at the idea of a career change into a totally unrelated area at that age. While coming back from my first interview for a prestigious IT firm in Bangalore, I knew a car with the license plate number 333. Immediately I knew that if I kept serendipitously seeing this number everyday, I was going to get the job.

I just knew.

Over the next 50 days, every day I saw a license plate number 333. As I kept seeing, my confidence and belief that I was going to get this job increased. I was destined to get it. It was just a matter of time.

The advantage of my gut feeling in both the above cases was that my strong belief in the ultimate outcome, increased my confidence and I behaved as if I had already achieved the goal. For example in the former case, I, normally a very shy person very scared of attending interview and group discussions, aced both. I was scintillating in group discussion and effervescent in the personal interview. In the second case of transitioning to the IT, one of the steps in the process was for me to take a session on an IT topic to professionals. I am normally an average public speaker at best, but in this case I was so damn good !!

Because I knew I was going to get it. I behaved as if I already got it.

In addition, listening to my gut have helped me take some tough decisions. In 1995, at the age of 32, I took a no pay, two year sabbatical to pursue MBA program. Logically, everything was wrong about that decision. 32 was the age when people 'settle down' and start looking at a long grind in their current jobs. I was married at that time. I was getting good pay and perks in my company. The path forward after MBA was unclear and at the age of 32, in a paradigm of 'age' and 'fitment', moving to a new career in India of those times was almost unheard of. But,  after listening to my gut, I decided to go for the program and that opened up avenues that I could never have imagined.

After MBA I went back to my job. Then in 1998, at the age of 38, my gut told me that it was time for change. My gut told me that I had to leave the current job if I have any hope of improving my station in life and working to my potential. So when I got a job in Bangalore, offering 20% of pay that I was getting in SAIL, into an unrelated area of academics, I took it. Letting go of 80% of your pay for an uncertain future is not an easy decision, but I had one friend, my gut. My gut told me that everything will turn our well in the end.

And it did. I made friends, I learned new technology, I changed my career from academics to the most satisfying career of ERP consulting and I have been doing it for the last 19 years. I have travelled the world, I have made many friends and have learned a wrote. I discovered my passion for writing and blogging. I discovered Social Media, doors opened for me when I least expected....

All because I decided to follow the gut.

The point is, all those decision looked wrong at the time I took them. But in hindsight, those decisions proved to be the right ones for me and exposed me to new vistas and opportunities which I would not have got had I not followed my gut.

There is one more huge decision that I made after following my gut. I am still waiting for time to prove me right.

There are at least two occasions when I did not follow my gut. In both cases the gut told me to take control of some very fluid situations. But I intellectualized, considered all the risks and then walked away. Those two decisions proved to be the absolute wrong ones and the effects haunt me even today. 

I regret not following my gut in those circumstances.

I made the mistake of allowing my head to take over my heart. I am not wired for that.

20 June 2019

Articles that I read in January 2019

I read an article in Emotion Machine about a counter intuitive way to handle worries. As per the article, you should designate a specific time of the day to worry. You should worry only during this time slot. At other times, if you have any worries, you should note it down so that you can handle it during your ‘worry time’.

The article also suggests various strategies to handle worries.during the designated time. You can make it a practice to write all your worries on a piece of paper and tear and throw it away, symbolically throwing away the worries.

Another approach is to divide your paper into two halfs. On one half write down all your worries. On the other write all your positives. The positives need not correspond to the negatives, they need not counter the negatives. Only condition is that you must have as many positives as you have worries.

Another strategy is to write down and analyse each worry. Focus on the assumptions that are causing the worry.

The other two strategies are to sing away the worries, literally singing the blues away and doodling your worries.Worry cannot coexist with any form of creative activity.

The key to handling worry is trust and faith. Many people make the mistake of trying to handle worry through rational thoughts and analysis. Rational thought may have its uses but when it comes to handling worry, its use is limited. Worry comes from the subconscious. Only trust and faith talks to the subconscious.

The key challenge to talking to subconscious is that you can do it only when you are totally relaxed. And when you are worried you are never relaxed. So you never communicate with your subconscious which is the repository of solutions to your problem. So your problems are not resolved.

And this is what the approach of worry time solves. Since you have a designated worry time, you give yourself the freedom to relax at other times.

Today  I read an article by Liz Ryan on how to trust your intuition and listen to your gut. Her articles are always good and she adds a lot of value. This was also not different.

(In the post below, words 'Intuition' and 'gut' are used interchangeably to mean the same thing)

She wrote about ten ways to listen to your gut while making any decisions. As children we always trust our gut feeling, but we lose that ability as we grow older, rather we unlearn it by suppressing our gut feelings in favor of intellect. The ten ways to ensure that your gut is active in decision making are:
  • Pay attention to the way your body reacts in different situations. Noticing your emotions and body reactions is the first step to re-establishing the connection with your gut
  • Learn to listen to the signals that your gut is sending you. Ask your gut to take your decisions and relax as you let your body make decisions for you.
  • Spend as much time with people who reinforce you
  • Day dream. (Note: I do it a lot). Don’t try to censor ideas that your gut tells you.
  • In the evening reflect on your day and try to answer the question, what was my body trying to tell me?
  • Identify the difficult moments in your life when you listened to your gut and made decisions.
  • Always listen to your body before making any decisions
  • Venture into unknown experiences whenever you can.
  • When you have free time, sit quietly and ask your body what should I do now? Listen to its suggestion
  • Stop and listen when your gut sends you a message. Pause in the middle of any important activity and take input from your gut. Your gut is never wrong.
The three suggestions that stood out for me were, one, whenever you are about to take a decision, confer with your body and take its concurrence, two, when you are sitting idle, ask your body what should I do now and do what the body says and three, every time you tend to  become analytical stop the brain-work and listen to the body.

Nice article to close the day.

Today I read two good articles, both of which opened my eyes to my weaknesses. The first article was written in the ‘Acquirer’s Multiple’ by John Hopkins. The article summarized Michael Burry’s MSN Case Studies. Burry is the doctor / investor made famous when he made huge returns during US Subprime crisis. He was profiled in the book ‘The Big Short’ by Michael Lewis.

The article is titled 'How Can Investors Get Eve After Suffering a Loss'. Burry says that when presented with new money, investors aim is to grow it by 30% to 40% or more in normal cases. But if the investor has lost money, his goal shifts to breakeven. Here is where the math fails him. Breakeven math is cruel. For example, to overcome a 50% loss, the investment has to double from the current valuation. This is significantly higher, and very difficult to achieve, that the investor’s normal expectation of 30 to 40%. While he is happy with 30 to 40% returns in normal cases, the same investor wants a much higher return in breakeven cases.

To get such returns, the investor ends up taking excessive risks. The ratcheting up of risks only leads to a ratcheting up of losses leading to a downward spiral!

In case you are sitting in a loss, the best option is to analyze the cause of the loss. Most probably one will find that losses were caused due to either fundamental factors or due to the investor having strayed from a successful investment method or process.

Since the risk of ruin is real in stock market, the investor must be careful with any decision that he makes with his money.

You can read all the case studies HERE

I read another article in It is a great website for quality content. This article titled 'Most People Think This Is A Smart Habit, But It’s Actually Brain-Damaging' written by Michael Simmons is about the damage caused by Junk learning.

What is junk learning? In simple words, it is learning something that do not add value to the learner. It provides an illusion of learning, an illusion of a time well spent but it is really harmful to the learner. Just as a junk food sates your hunger but is ultimately unhealthy, junk learning sates your intellectual hunger but ultimately hurts the learner.

There are a few reasons why junk learning hurts you. First one is the physical changes caused to the brain. Learning of any kind will alter the brain. It means that one has to learn to a plan and ensure that only healthy input goes into the brain.

Another pernicious impact of junk learning is that it leads to junk decisions. Author gives two examples from his life of wrong decisions generated by junk learning. First is that for a long time he was under the idea that sales was bad. Due to that learning, he avoided learning about this value adding activity.

An example given is about author wanting to become a writer. For years he had this idea that to become a good writer, one has to write a lot of content. So every day for the next three years he wrote a blog post each. No one read his posts and then decided that he was not a good writer and that he cannot make a career out of writing. This meant that he had added two more junk learning on top of the first one.

Then he read the book ‘Blockbusters’ by Harvard professor Anita Elberse. The book said that in the world of media like movies and writing, it is better to churn out high quality content rather than volume. Once he internalized this knowledge and erased the original wrong idea, his productivity skyrocketed and career opened up.

Learning is a circular process of taking in information, reasoning with that information, experimenting in the real world, getting feedback and taking in what we learn and go through the cycle again. If one part of the process is faulty, it can throw up our learning process. Junk learning affect that first step by taking in bad ideas. This makes our reasoning bad and this leads to ineffective actions and wrong decisions etc.

The final impact of junk learning is that our fundamental bad idea will lead to new bad ideas piling up. We discussed this earlier when new bad ideas piled on the author’s first idea that writing more content will lead to a career in writing. And how reading the book ‘Blockbusters’ helped him debunk the original bad idea and led to a successful career in writing.

Let me give an example of the negative effects of Junk Learning. It is an extreme case of Junk Learning. I remember the incident that happened one day in 2001 when I was driving down to Hosur with my manager Rajumohan. He popped a question, what would you prefer, achievement or money? I remember replying that I will prefer achievement over money. You can read the full post here.

The article also says what happened after I realized my mistake, what happened when I dumped my junk learning and saw the light as it were...

I just lost 8 years, that is all.

What hit me was junk learning. I imbibed the wrong lesson that for me money doesn't matter, only achievement did. Due to this junk learning, I moved from project to project, doing great work, but never really having the courage (or feeling the need) to ask for a raise I deserved. Money did not matter to me remember?

Why was it junk learning? Because the question was wrong. 'Achievement or Money' creates a false binary. They are not the same. Achievement is related to how diligently you do your work, money is the measure of the value of the output you produce. If you are an achievement oriented person, you will produce high value output, but you won't know the value of your output.

Did I tell it right? Did you understand what I meant. Achievement and money are not mutually exclusive. I should have answered 'I would prefer 'Achievement and money'. Had I done that I would not have taken many wrong decisions that I took over my career. I would not have left 20000 shares of a company on the table (worth almost 60,00,000 INR as per today's share prices) and left for a paltry salary of 8,00,000 per year. I would not have left a job that was giving me almost 100 Pound Sterling a day in UK, in addition to my salary in India, to another job that was giving me almost the same Indian Salary, without those Pound Sterling.

You see what I mean? Junk learning cost me a lot. I trace all my wrong decisions in my career to that one discussion  'achievement or money' that I had with Rajumohan in 2002.

That is how pernicious junk learning is.

So, what are the sources of junk learning? How can be overcome its negative effect?

Author mentions five sources of junk learning and ways to overcome them. The first source of junk learning is the learning that depreciates in value as time progresses. The learning depreciation means that one has to keep learning continuously just to stay in the same place. One mental model that help to overcome this is to acquire learning that appreciates in value over time or at the least learn stuff that do not depreciate over time.

I intuitively know this. That is the reason that I ask everyone to learn business concepts and accounting flows rather than an application version. The former do not lose value, in fact the more you work on this, the more your value will increase. Learning an application version like R12 is like depreciating learning. The learning is useless as soon as the version changes.

Second source of junk learning is overconfidence that comes out of scant learning. This is called Dunning-Kruger effect, which says that till one point, the more you learn, the more you know that the less you know. The awareness of your ignorance will lower your confidence till it touches the lowest level before rising. Little knowledge will make you to commit mistakes. The way to handle this is being a cynic and regularly question your assumptions.

The third source of junk learning is confirmation bias. We tend to learn new stuff that confirms our current understanding. This is not the correct approach. We must learn by trying to prove ourselves wrong. Learning happens through assimilation and accommodation. In assimilation, we use our existing knowledge to learn new things. Accommodation happens when we understand the futility of our existing knowledge to handle a new situation. Here our current knowledge is either wrong, or is useless to handle the new situation or worst, hinders our learning new things. Confirmation bias encourages assimilation but discourages accommodation. We accept ideas that confirm to our existing knowledge and ignore those that counter our point of view.

We call it binary way of thinking. This is rampant in the current state of political polarization in India where we are not ready to listen to counter view points.

We stunt our progress by avoiding discomfiting evidence. Why do we do that? A study shows that we perceive intellectual threat like a physical threat. We need to overcome confirmation bias by stress testing our fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality and learn to handle the strong emotions that come up when we do that.

Fourth source of junk learning is trusting the wrong people and wrong ideas. This because of the Halo effect. We assume that if a person is good in one area, he must be good in others as well. The example given is of George W Bush. In the days immediately after 9/11, his approval rating of the way he handled the aftermath of the crisis skyrocketed. In addition his approval rating for handling the economy also improved. It was difficult for people to approve his work in one area while accepting that he was not good in an unrelated area. It was a mix of Halo Effect and confirmation bias in action. The way to handle Halo Effect is to maintain a healthy dose of scepticism.

Halo effect explains why children think their dad is a superhero.

The fifth and final source of junk knowledge is over-specialisation. It limits our ability to learn across disciplines. The concept of learning transfer deals with how we transfer our learning from one domain to another. Positive transfer occurs when a concept used in one area applies to another unrelated area. This is akin to how McDonald's used the Toyota concepts of Production Line and JIT in Burger business. Negative transfer occurs when learning in one are hinders the learning in another area. For example those who learn Spanish find it difficult to learn English because the latter has gender-less nouns.

Over-specialisation causes negative transfer. The way to handle this is by learning supplemental areas that are transferable. These include learning how to learn and learning how to regulate and monitor ones limited resources like limited short term memory and slow learning rates. Author comes up with the idea of mental models to aid learning transfer.

Mental models are ways that aid the transfer of knowledge. Specialization limits the mental models that you can access in a certain situation. This article in Farnam Street Blog documents 108 Mental Models including Systems Thinking, Occam's Razor, Multiplying by zero, Greesham's Law, Bell Curve etc. The more the mental models you know, the better decisions you will make.

There are a number of links to support materials provided in this article. The links are.
There are a number of takeaways for me from this article. I am making a number of assumptions based on the learning I had in the past. For example I have taken many decisions based on my learning. Liz Ryan has influenced me to leave my unhappy job and so has money moustache in wanting me to retire and live on my savings. So has all the articles that I read asking me to find my passion.

Tomorrow’s task is a brutally honest and candid identification and assessment of the learning that has held me back from achieving my full potential. Also prepare a plan of action for the future.
It is time that I moved out of being a tyro, aficionado and a dilettante and move on to becoming a professional. I need a learning plan and an outcome plan. I need to put a money target to my learning and focus on my learning.

I read two articles today. First one was in ‘Emotion Machine’. The article was titled ‘Small talk vs Big Questions: How to build a deep connections with anyone?’. There are 36 questions that you can ask people to develop deep connections. You can read the article for the full set of questions. The five questions that I liked are:
  • Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  • When did you last sing?
  • If you wake up tomorrow with a single quality what would that be?
  • What does friendship mean to you?
  • What would be the one thing, other than your family, that you will save if your house caught fire?
Asking these big questions will help build authentic relationships.

I also read an article by Morgan Housel. The article is titled ‘When it's time to do something’. He is a very good writer who adds a lot of value. This article was below par. He says that we should attach actions to define our labels. For example, I keep saying that I am a long term investor. I should back it up by stating what I will do in case of various hypothetical situation? What do I mean by that term? Do I mean that I will stay invested in equity for a long time no matter the market rises or falls? Or do I mean that I will hold on to individual stocks for a long time no matter the price rises or falls? Won’t I do any selling at all? What happens if the market has overrun its valuations? Won’t I book profits?

Every time I say I am a ‘long term’ investor, I must qualify what I will do in various hypothetical scenarios mentioned above. ‘Long term investor’ is just a label without any definition. It need to be embellished with definition, examples and actions.

For example someone says I am a positive person. He or she has to substantiate that statement with examples of how they have behaved positively in various situations. They have to explain how they will behave in hypothetical situations. For instance, how will they handle pink slip as a ‘positive person’?

A so-so article.

Today I read three articles.

Seven metaphors of cognitive defusion in ‘’ written by Steven Handel.
The problem with facts in by Tim Harford
Why everyone should write in by Morgan Housel

As per the article Seven metaphors of cognitive defusion written by Steven Handel, one must learn to accept and detach from one’s thoughts and not take everything seriously. While we cannot control our thoughts, we can easily learn to detach from them. One way to do it is to use the idea of cognitive defusion, which is a process of accepting our thoughts while at the same time distancing ourselves from them.

One good way to do this is by the use of metaphors. The article lists seven metaphors that we can use for cognitive defusion.

Clouds in the sky: Think of your mind as sky and thoughts as clouds. Just like clouds, each thought will dissipate and pass us by.
River Stream: Imagine you as an observer sitting on the banks of a river or a stream and watch water flow. Every droplet of water is a thought that flows away.
Passengers on a bus: Your mind is the driver of the bus and every thought is a passenger that gets on and off the bus. Just as the driver of the bus is not attached to any passenger, the mind can easily detach from the thoughts. The best part of this is that you can attach faces to the thoughts and tell them, ‘this is your bus stop, please get off’ or ‘thank you for your feedback’ etc.
Suggestion box: Think of your mind as a suggestion box and eth thought as a suggestion. You have the option of accepting or rejecting the suggestion.
Brain drain: Give yourself 5-10 minutes and write own all that comes to your ind, without any filtering or editing. This helps you to purge the thoughts that you never thought existed. Best time to do this is either in the morning or in the evening. It can also help purge your worries and anxieties.
Feeding the wolves: this is based on the story of two wolves fighting each other. One wolf represents light, hop and positivity and the other represents darkness, despair and negativity. The grandson ask ‘which wolf wins the fight’ and grandpa replies ‘whichever wolf you feed wins’ You can feed energy to positive thoughts and starve the negative thoughts. We have the choice.
Burning your thoughts: Write down your negative thought on a piece of paper and then burn it.

All these metaphors can help you detach from your thoughts. You can use the one that works or use a combination of the approaches.

The second article that I read today is ‘The problem with facts’, written by Tim Harford for The article is on the challenges faced while countering fake news. This is an age where Fake News abounds. Most of the decision by President Trump, in fact even his election as President of the US is a testimony to the success of fake news. In Britain, Brexit campaign is based on Fake news. Given these developments, the article addresses three questions. One, why is it easy to spread fake news, two, what are the tactics adopted to spread fake news and three, how can we counter the spread of
fake news?

The article draws extensively from the experience of Tobacco industry that used various diversionary tactics to deny the linkage between smoking and lung cancer and delay any statutory action on the above linkage.

The word ‘Agnotology’ coined by Robert Proctor, is the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced. Facts are not enough to win this kind of argument. There are three reasons why it is difficult to fight fake news with facts. First is that a simple untruth can beat off a complicated set of facts by being easier to understand and remember. The use of a simple word like ‘Amnesty’ is sufficient to overpower the complex issue of immigration.

The second reason why fake news is difficult to counter is that facts can be boring. Boredom and distraction are a powerful tool. Tobacco industry, by diverting huge funds to research on unrelated areas like genetics and air pollution was able to divert public attention from perils of tobacco consumption. The objective of this distraction to trivialize important facts to make them stale and boring.

The third reason for success of fake news is that truth can be threatening and when threatened people tend to avoid the facts all together. Or the threat makes us latch on to even unrelated doubts.
In case of tobacco industry for example, many journalists who were smokers, got threatened by the facts presented and latched on to the idea that more research was needed on the link between smoking and lung cancer.

What are the tactics used to spread fake news or counter facts? Tobacco industry followed a four stage approach. In the first stage, the industry appeared to engage, promising high quality research into the issue. Public was informed that researchers were working on the issue. The second stage was to complicate the question and sow doubts. Stage three was to undermine serious research and expertise. Autopsy reports were dismissed as anecdotal, epidemiological work as merely statistical and animal studies were dismissed as irrelevant. Final stage was normalization - to point out the tobacco - cancer story was stale news.

Doubt is the product of fake news industry. It is the best way of competing with the body of facts. The ideas is to keep the controversy alive and then brand it as stale news. The advantage is that doubt is easy to produce.

Now we come to the most important topic. How do we counter fake news?

The author provides only one solution. Develop scientific curiosity in people. Research shows that fake news is negated by scientific curiosity. While scientific literacy strengthen the set positions, scientific curiosity motivates them to seek out facts that could counter their positions.

We need champions who can present facts. One example is Carl Sagan. Another example is Swedish doctor Hans Rosling who reached an astonishing wide audience with facts like the official world bank data.

We need Fact Champions to counter the spread of fake news.

Another good article that I read today is titled ‘Why everyone should write’ written by Morgan Housel. The article explains the benefits of writing. There are many ideas in our mind that we do not put into words. We do not verbalize our ideas by use these to make decisions. By putting the ideas into words, we understand their origins, limits and their interaction with other ideas. Writing crystallizes the ideas. Putting ideas on paper is the best way to organize them in one place and helps in clearly understanding the ideas.

If we are asked to answer the following questions, we will fumble.
  • What is your edge over competitors?
  • How do you reach to unforeseen risks?
  • What have you changed your mind about recently?
  • What part of your job you are not good at?
We will get clear answers to these question only if we write them down.

Sometimes writing is encouraging. It clarifies the ideas. Sometime it is frustrating. It exposes the flaws in your argument.

Writing helps us in making better decisions. Before taking any decision, write down why you are taking the decisions.

Then take the decisions

Another benefit of writing is that it begets new ideas. The process crystallizes those fuzzy ideas lying inside your mind.

So write.

Write anything. It is the process that matter

Today I read an article called ‘Selfish Writing’, written by Morgan Housel. The article starts off by  referring to the book ‘Most Important Thing’ written by Howard Marks (I have that book in my reading list). This book is based on the memos that Marks sent to his investors for over ten years.

During those ten years when Marks was sending those memos, no one  noticed them. However when he published the book based on those memos, it became an international best seller.

So why did Marks continue writing the memos, even when no one was reading and responding to what he had to say?

Marks was writing for himself. He was enjoying the process of writing. And he thought that wheat he had to say was important.

As mentioned in the article that I summarized yesterday (why everyone should write), what differentiate you from  writers is that writers write. They put their ideas on paper.

I can identify with Marks. For the last 13 years, I have been blogging with hardly any response from the readers or anyone engaging with me. I have not had my articles referred anywhere or developed any new network based on my writing. I have not monetized my writing (not made any money), but I continue to write, I continue to blog with the hope that one day, the sheer volume of great content will make my blog be discovered and through that I will also be discovered.

Just as Ambi used to study harder after every failed interview, with the the only goal of reaching a stage where ‘they cannot reject me because I do not have knowledge’, I will continue to write till the sheer quality of content in my blog will make it the ‘Go to’ blog for anything related to ERP, money or personal growth.

Since Housel is interested in writing about investments, he suggests that you write about investment related topics. Some of the suggested topics are:
  • What is your investing philosophy
  • What is your investing strategy
  • Why did you make that investment
  • How did you feel when that investment did not work out.
  • What have you changes about your mind and why?
  • What is the investing lessons that you have learned over your investing career?
Last two are mine.

Just by writing the answers to the above questions, you will learn a lot about yourself.

Today I read a good article in Scientific American on breathing techniques. It mentioned the scientific basis of deep breathing technique. One good breathing method mentioned was called ‘365 method’. Three times in a day, you do pranayama of 6 breath cycles per minute, for five minutes. 6 Breath cycles in a minute means 10 seconds per cycle. You can do 4 seconds inhalation followed by 6 seconds exhalation or 5 seconds each of inhalation and exhalation. This way you will do 90 breath cycles of controlled breathing in a day and you follow this habit for 365 days.

The key benefit is the physical changes that happens in brain. The controlled breathing stimulates the cerebral cortex thus increasing your intellect and shifts the focus from Amygdala which controls emotions and cause worry..

13 June 2019

Articles that I read in May 2019

I also read a very good WSJ article titled ‘It is never too late to start a brilliant career’ written by Rich Karlgaard. The author says that as a society we are obsessed with early bloomers. We are always on the lookout for the precocious teen. However that is not in step with how our brain evolves. Our prefrontal cortex, the part of the rain that handles complex tasks like planning is growing till the mid to late twenties. In addition, other physical change like Myelination and Synaptic Pruning occur in our body during this period due to which our thought processes develop clarity and focus.

There are two types of intelligence, Fluid Intelligence that handles ‘High IQ tasks like analysis and Crystallized Intelligence that helps us see the connection between things, otherwise helps us perform ‘High EQ’ tasks. As we grow older our fluid intelligence (that makes us good coders, for example) is replaced with Crystallized Intelligence that makes us good managers and planners. The practical implication is that as we grow older, we should strive to do tasks that fit with our crystallized intelligence.

The book is filled with examples of late bloomers. Raymond Chandler who wrote his first book at the age of 49, Tony Morrison who wrote it at 39 and won Pulitzer at 55, J K Rowling who created Harry Potter at 35, and even Warren Buffet (the article doesn’t mention him) who created 80% of his wealth after he was 50 years old

(Even me, for example. I published my first book at the age of 55, just two days ago. I also wrote my first book, yet to be published, just last year. I have always been a late bloomer)

Innovation and creativity starts when most people are well into their forties. The average age of a US Patent holder is 47. Scientists ascribe this to a phenomenon called ‘Salience Network’ that connects the novel ideas of the right hemisphere to the stored images and ideas on our left hemisphere. A child, for example, may have many novel ideas, without the availability of ideas and images to make and innovative and creative connection. As we grow older, the novel ideas in our right hemisphere can compare with the stored ideas in left hemisphere to make innovative connections!

This is why creativity increases with age!

In summary, as we grow older, we should not despair but be on the lookout for opportunities to identify careers that can satisfy our Crystallized Intelligence and keep on nurturing our right hemisphere to come up with innovative ideas.

In other words dare to dream...

This article fascinated me because I can vouch for this. I am a classic late bloomer. I did my MBA at 33 years and moved to a career of ERP Consulting at the age of 38!. I have written my first book at the age of 54 and published my first book at the age of 55!

I am on the way to receive my first literary award any time now.

The idea of Myelination and Synaptic Pruning also answered a long standing mystery for me. How was I , a person who was scared of interviews, suddenly become so confident as to tell the GM of an IT Company that if they did not recruit me, ‘It was their loss, not mine’? Now I can see that during the early 20s, the neural explosion was happening within me that made me nervous and jittery and later the other two phenomena gave me clarity of purpose and the confidence in my skills that comes with it.

I also know that while my Crystallized Intelligence has improved with my age, my fluid intelligence has not gone down at all. I can still code as good and even better than many of them.

I also realize that sometime I am allowing the memories of my past to interfere with my present decisions. This articles makes me realize that I am evolving everyday and my past should not be allowed to make my decisions in present for me. My past is only a guide post not an obstacle or a director in my decision making.

Finally society discourages people from dreaming. Dreams are the only way to talk to the right hemisphere. But society puts so much control over our minds that we stop dreaming and start becoming ‘practical’. Our creativity and innovation suffers slow decay as a result.

I also read an article in Emotion Machine titled ‘Bless the messenger. Focus on sharing more positive news with people’. The article says that people cannot separate the message from the messenger. The more negative messages you post, the more people will perceive you negatively. The author suggests a ‘Positivity : Negativity’ ratio of 3:1. For every one negative message you post, you must post three positive news.

Am I immune from this? Do I always focus on message?

I read an article in the Emotion Machine on ‘7 Cognitive Biases that are killing your goals and productivity’, written by Steven Handel. These biases are not good since they form a pattern of thought that will lead to a pattern of actions. The seven biases are:

  1. Planning Fallacy: We underestimate the time it will take to complete a task. Due to this we tend to postpone our actions to the last minute. I see this happen to me all the time. For example, I have to publish my ERPTop5 post every week on Wednesday. I should ideally start planning for each post on the previous weekend. But I don’t do that I wait till the last minute and do a shoddy job.
  2. Sunk Cost Fallacy: Investing energy and resources on a lost cause. It is better to cut your losses
  3. Illusory Superiority: We tend to overestimate our intelligence and skill
  4. Survivorship Bias:  The tendency to focus on examples that succeeded in a certain situation, not on the ones that failed in similar situation
  5. Hindsight Bias: Tendency to look back on past events and think that we knew all along how it would turn out. It stops us from thinking critically about the past events and learn from them.
  6. Social Comparison
  7. Zero Sum Bias: Also known as ‘win lose’ mindset.
I also read two articles today. The first one was titled ‘Before You Set New Goals, Think About What You are Going to Stop Doing’. ( see I wrote the title based on the Capitalization rules explained in the UDEMY course on Proof reading), written by Elizabeth Grace Saunders for 

Deciding on the tasks to be removed takes time. She has given a few strategies to do the above. First one is to ‘Question all your work commitment’ to see what can be dropped, what can be delegated and what can be postponed. You can chart your work commitments in a file that contains columns for activity name, type (constant or varied), hours / month, Professional Importance, Personal Importance and length of term.

The second strategy is to reassess  your work style. Get some ‘me’ time to focus on your tasks. 

Another suggestion is to restrict time spent on Social Media.

Third Strategy is   to ‘Add new goals strategically. Once you have time on hand, you can add new tasks or simple tasks that frees time from your frenetic pace.

To say ‘Yes’ to the new, you must say ‘No’ to the old.

The second article was titled ‘The Pros and Cons of Perfectionism, According to Research’, written by Brian Swider, Dana Harari, Amy P Breidenthal and Laurens Bujold Steed for As per the article, the psychology of perfectionism is complex. While perfectionists try to produce flawless work and they have higher levels of motivation and conscientiousness, they also tend to set excessively higher standards leading to burnout, anxiety and depression.

Surprising finding of this studies is that perfectionism is not good for the organization.

Perfectionism is divided into two groups or dimensions. ‘Excellence seeking perfectionism’ is a tendency to demand high levels of performance standards from ourselves as well as those who work with us. The other one is ‘Failure avoiding perfectionism’ which deals with aversion to failing to reach high standards. This group always worry that their work is never good enough. A perfectionist might be a mix of both these dimensions.

The beneficial effects of perfectionism were stronger for those higher in the former dimension. The detrimental effects were stronger for those higher in the latter (Failure Avoiding).

Specifically the studies did not find any relation between performance and perfectionism. It may be because perfectionists tend to delay their output.

In summary, the beneficial effects of perfections like increased engagement and motivation is offset by y detrimental effects like depression and anxiety which has consequences beyond the work place. Organizations should teach these perfectionist employees ‘to chill out’. This is all the more important since studies show that perfectionism has increased over the last twenty-seven years.

Today I read a good article by Morgan Housel  for Collaborative Fund on the ‘Five Lessons from History’. As usual, it is a fascinating article from Housel. He says that more specific a lesson from history is, the less relevant it becomes. The more important lesson from history are more fundamental in nature. The five lessons are:

People suffering from sudden, unexpected hardships are likely to adopt views they previously thought unthinkable. Removal of gold standard after great depression and the advent of Hitler in Germany are all examples. To think that we will not fall for these is to fool ourselves. The reason we adopt views that are unthinkable is because more changes happen along with the catalyst event. For example, if markets fall, businesses lose confidence, economy will collapse and so our reactions will change.

Reversion to mean happens because successful people cannot stop and let go. For example, when my portfolio was high in 2018, I couldn’t let go and sell. So I lost a lot of money. Long-term success requires two things. Getting something and keeping it. The behavioural traits that are required for both are exactly opposite. For example getting returns in stock market requires risk taking while keeping the gains requires risk aversion. Most people are strong in one or other.  As the saying goes, ‘being right is the opposite of staying right’.

Unsustainable things can last longer than you anticipate. There are two reasons for this. One is incentives and the other is story telling. The incentive structure motivates people to continue selling duds. Regarding story-telling, if enough people believe something to be true, unsustainable ideas can get support. Modi’s competence is an example. He tells of the difference between expectation and forecasts. The later should be used sparingly.

Progress happens slowly, setbacks happen quickly. The same point was made in 1999 by Swaminathan Iyer. This is the reason why long-term thinking is difficult.

Wounds heal, scars last. While the situation that caused a calamity may recover and reverse (wounds may heal), but the aftermath of these experiences may linger. After a depression, the economy may recover, but people will remain skeptical and risk averse. People’s moods, emotions and expectations will take long time to fade (Scars remain)

Great article.

Previous Articles

Checkout articles that I read in March 2019

06 June 2019

Articles that I read in April 2019

In the month of April 2019, I read the following articles.

1. The questions that matter: This is written by Tim Hanson in the He says that ‘the probability that you learn something from the answer’ depends on the ‘Nature of question’. The highest probability of learning is by asking basic questions. As you go forward on the continuum of ‘Detailed’, ‘Complicated’ and ‘Nitpicky’, you learn lesser and lesser from the answers. Basic questions are simple one liners. He gives example of a 15 year old Bank of America shareholder asking the question ‘What are you doing to increase the share price?’. This is as simple a question as it can get.

People are afraid of asking basic questions. They fear that they will be judged as stupid questions. There are some stupid simple questions like ‘Don’t you think’ questions where you want the respondent to give the answers you want to hear, ‘Gotcha’ questions, leading questions…

Great questions are open ended, short and precise. Some of the short questions that Hanson asks are ‘How is the business?’, ‘Can you expand on that’, ‘Why’, ‘Is my understanding correct’ etc. We learn more by asking basic questions. They are meant to elicit information. 

2. Smart guide to procrastination: This is written by Zaria Gorvett for BBC Capital. The key concept in this article is ‘Unscheduling’. Instead of scheduling tasks you HAVE to do, you schedule tasks you WANT to do. A model unschedule will never contain words like ‘Write book’, ‘finish Presentation’ etc.

In unscheduling you schedule tasks you enjoy doing and fill the remaining available ti with routine tasks. Do not schedule any work tasks at all. The premise is that since you have scheduled time for enjoyment you will somehow finish your boring / work tasks quickly so that you can ‘go out and play’. Unschedule gives you a week that you can look forward to. Since the time for leisure is clearly scheduled, you become aware how much time you have for work.

I think that premise is a stretch.

Having ‘unscheduled, how do you get work done?

Instead of getting intimidated by huge work, it is better to slice it down to small chunks of 15-20 minutes each. That way you will make progress in your tasks and will encourage you further to continue on the task. It is all about making a start.

Another suggestion is to change the language you use to describe work. Rather than saying ‘I must’ or ‘I have to’, try saying ‘I choose to’. This reframes that tasks as something positive, an idea that ties in with what Adam Grant mentioned in the article that I reviewed a few days ago.

The three key ideas in the article are Unschedule, Reframe task description and uses short 15-20 minutes burst of work. 

3. How to improve your memory (even if you can’t find the car keys):   The article is written by Adam Grant for NY times. He starts off with aa study on bartenders. They found that great bartenders had incredible memory. One lady named Janice could remember the names and favourite drinks of over 3000 customers!

Grant suggests three approaches to improve the memory and increase retention. The first approach is not to do anything immediately after you learn anything new. These ten minutes of calm and blank mind will help consolidate the learning. This approach was found to have increased retention in normal people from 10 to 30% and in neurologically damaged people from 7 to 70%.

Grant says that making notes and highlighting passages are passive approaches and will not improve retention. Instead of doing that grant suggests to question (quiz) yourself of the content that you just learned. This quizzing is an active approach that will aid the retention.

During my school days I used to do this all the time. As soon as I finished studying something, I will imagine that I was the person setting the question paper and try to identify the questions that I would ask, if I were to set the question paper. It was incredibly effective.

(Another approach I used was to sing what I learnt. I will convert prose to songs. I remember that I could sing my entire class 12 chemistry text book)

The third approach that Grant suggests is to teach someone wheat you just learned. Teaching clarifies the concepts in the mind and aid retention.

4. Old school writing tools that will boost your creativity, concentration and speed:  This article is written by Ephrat Livni for Quartz Magazine. This is a short article that discusses the benefits of writing long hand on the paper or typing using an old type of typewriter before transferring to the computer. The biggest drawback of using a computer to writer you first draft is that you will be writing and editing at the same time. This interferes with thou flow of thoughts and interrupts the buildup of your story. Many famous writers including J K Rowling write their first draft of theri books on a paper before transferring the same to the computer.

Another drawback of typing in a computer it allows you to modify your story as it is evolving. It does not allow you to explore your story idea to the fullest.

Writing by hand allows writer to write in a linear fashion allowing them to know precisely where the story is going.

The advantage of long hand writing are:
  • It improves thinking
  • Writing words lead to increased cognitive activity
  • Writing improves long-term information retention, better though organization and increased ability to generate ideas.
5. An Astrophysicist Who Maps the Universe’s Terra Incognita:  I also read an interview with an Indian scientist Priyamvada Natarajan for Quanta Magazine. She is an Astrophysicist researching on the outer dimensions of the universe into ideas like black holes, quasars etc. For me the most fascinating part was her evolution. Both her parents are academics and at the age of 15 she got her computer. She was fascinated by space and Astrophysics at that young age. She met the head of Nehru Planetarium in Delhi and explained here interest in space. She was asked to writer a computer program, the details are not important for his article. She worked hard for six months and created a program that can analyze any part of the earthy by entering latitude and longitude.

She has not looked back since.

Ten years ago she wrote a book predicting some factors about black holes which were later shown to be correct.  With the first ever picture of a black hole being released now, her life story acquires new significance.

She was an accepted member of Indian scientific community at the age of fifteen.

Throughout her life, she has allowed her intellect to guide her decision making. It has acted as her beacon, her guiding light in her life journey. 

That article made me  wonder. Why do many intelligent people work well below their potential?  The reason is while we have intellect, we don’t know how to use it. An intellect should have a worthy goal to pursue. Priyamvada was set on being an astrophysicist from the age of 15. But many of us? 

One day we want to be writers, another day we want to start our company, third day we want to get a salaried job. Our intellect do not have a goal to focus on. It doesn’t get up in the morning with a clarity of purpose.

All of us have this pent up intellectual energy  that we release through instant gratification. We use our intellect in an ad hoc and shoddy manner.

You have to backup your your intellect with worthy goals and dreams. That catalyzes the intellect. I am sure that all of us reading this post will have a list of worthy goals that we want to pursue 'when we have time'. That time is now. Ideally we should be getting up every morning raring to go. We don't do that.

Priyamvada would have !

Not having goals to focus on is one reason why we do not make full use of our intellect. Another reason is that we allow peripheral and irrelevant issues to cloud our intellect. So we devote much of our time on fruitless thoughts and emotions and regrets that we do not have any control on. Instead of being a focused acetylene torch that can cut through metal, our intellect becomes like a wild forest fire that destroy everything in its wake, our future, career, relationships and friendships  finally subsiding on its own, having spent so much of energy and having only general destruction to show for.

It is not that  we don’t know the problem. It is not that we don’t know what to do. It is that we are just procrastinating. We don’t want to commit energy and time towards worthy goals. We are content to get up in the  morning and let time slip by.

Most of us are plain lazy, both physically and intellectually. We may use fancy terms like 'I am waiting to find my passion', but that is the simple fact. Due to the former  we are hardly doing anything and due to the latter we are hardly creating excellence. Even when we do an intellectual work, we are ok to do a shoddy work.

Every work of ours should be a masterpiece. But they are not.  We are just  ‘75 percenters’, comfortable doing a 75% quality work.

What the story of Priyamvada tells you is that it is not just enough to be intellectual, you have to convert your time and thoughts and efforts to your intellectual goals

The solution is simple. You should know what you want and should have a dogged persistence till
you complete whatever you have to do. We need to have the self discipline to focus on the intellectual effort. Creating intellectual content needs effort, lots of effort.

That is how greatness is made.

Previous Articles

Checkout articles that I read in March 2019

30 May 2019

Soya Vegetable Pulav....

Yesterday I made Soya Vegetable Pulav at home. Here is the recipe.

  1. Cumin seeds: A pinch
  2. Cinnamon - One stick
  3. Cloves - 3-4
  4. Cardamom - 3
  5. Black raisin - a few
  6. Bayleaves
  7. Cashew nuts: a few
  8. Green chilli - One sliced horizontally
  9. Onion chopped - half a cup
  10. Potato cut into cubes - 1
  11. Beans chopped - half a cup
  12. Carrot chopped - half a cup
  13. Cauliflower - half a cup
  14. Olive Oil
  15. Ghee
  16. Soya chunks - One cup
  17. Pulav rice: One cup
  18. Salt to taste 
  19. Mint leaves: A few
  1. Boil Soya chunks in water till they become fluffy. Quickly drain the water and press the chunks till all the water is removed from them 
  2. Fry the chunks in olive oil till they are golden brown. Keep aside
  3. In  a pressure pan, pour olive oil and ghee and heat
  4. Once oil is heated, add the cumin seeds and let them crackle
  5. Add Cinnamon, Cardamom, Cloves, Raisin, Bay Leaves, cashew nuts and mix them till cashew is golden brown
  6. Add chilly
  7. Add the onions and stir the mix till Onions turn golden brown. 
  8. Add the remaining vegetables and Soya chunks and mix for two minutes. 
  9. Pour water till it covers the vegetables
  10. Add salt and stir till it is dissolved
  11. Add rice and mint leaves
  12. Mix thoroughly and keep the pan closed and with the weight on top. 
  13. Heat in medium flame for three whistles
  14. Switch off the stove and wait for 15 minutes.
  15. Open the pan and viola ! your pulav is ready
After I made it, the quality check was done by my hyper demanding son. He gave his stamp of approval.