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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

8/01/19
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.

11/01/19
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.

15/01/19
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 medium.com. 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.


16/01/19
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.

17/01/19
Today I read three articles.

Seven metaphors of cognitive defusion in ‘theemotionmachine.com’ written by Steven Handel.
The problem with facts in FT.com by Tim Harford
Why everyone should write in thecollaborativefund.com 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 Ft.com. 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

18/01/19
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.

28/01/19
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

10-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.

11-May-2019
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?

13-May-2019
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.
16-May-2019
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 HBR.org. 

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 HBR.org. 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.

29-May-2019
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 medium.com. 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.

Ingredients:
  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
Steps:
  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. 

25 April 2019

The fine art of procrastination: Part 2....

Over the last few days, I have read a couple of articles on various aspects of Procrastination and how to deal with it. Then I remembered that I had read more articles on the subject including the wildly popular article and TED Talk by Tim Urban as well as the mother of the self help books, Getting Things Done.

This is Part 2 of a two part post. 

I thought that in this article I will collate the lessons from all these books and articles and present a 'Universal Theory of Procrastination'. I will be referring to the following material in this article.

In part 1, I reviewed the following articles.

Why you procrastinate (It has nothing to do with self-control), written for NYTimes by Charlotte Leiberman
In part 2, I review the following articles and resources. 

Why procrastinators procrastinate, written for waitbutwhy.com by Tim Urban
How to beat procrastination, written for waitbutwhy.com by Tim Urban
Getting things done, best selling book written by David Allen

All the material referred in this article are sources from publicly available material. I have just collated and summarized them in this blog post.

 Why procrastinators procrastinate is the first of a two part article written by Tim Urban. Originally written in 2013, the two articles and the TED Talk by Tim Urban on Procrastination  has attained cult status in any discussion on procrastination. The highlight of the article is its creative and innovative way in which Mr.Urban discusses the emotional topic. He has introduced terms like 'Instant Gratification Monkey (IGM)', 'Dark playground (DP)' and 'Panic Monster (PM)' to explain the idea. While a rational decision maker does what she decides to do, the procrastinator's decision making is clouded by 'Instant Gratification Monkey' that focuses on momentarily gratifying but ultimately useless tasks. The IGM guides the individual away from the important tasks to immediate puerile tasks.

The IGM takes the individual to the Dark Playground (DP) where leisure activities happen when they are not supposed to happen. The air in DP is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-loathing and dread. Sometimes the individual tries to fight back, but end up doing weird unrelated activities which are neither fun nor have any relation to the real task.

The only thing IGM is scared of is the Panic Monster (PM). Normally dormant, this waits till the task can no longer be postponed. Once PM arrives on the scene, the IGM vanishes and the individual is left to fend the panic all by herself. While the individual  finishes the task after attack by PM, in rare cases, the individual may run away from the task itself.

Procrastination cannot sustain due to three reasons:

1. It is unpleasant
2. The procrastinator ultimately sells himself short
3. The have-to-dos may happen, but not the want-to-dos (What Steven Covey calls the 'Important but not Urgent' tasks.)

How to beat procrastination? This is covered in the part 2 of the article. The reason why a procrastinator does it is because in his mind he has this belief that 'He will somehow finish the have-to-do tasks, but is not competent enough to finishing the want-to-do tasks'. Unless this belief changes, the individual will not be able to get rid of the bad habit. There are two aspects to this, one is Planning and the other is Doing.

The plan of a procrastinator is hazy, wildly ambitious and do not consider reality. The list may be long and daunting. Many of the tasks in the list may be unpleasant and procrastinator puts  them in his list without thinking any details. On the other hand, effective planning sets you up for success. Effective planning deals with selecting one task from a list of many tasks and complete it. Ideally you should choose the activity that will bring the most happiness to you. Ensure to knock out the urgent items quickly before you focus on the important things, the things that matter.

Effective planning turns a daunting task into small manageable steps.

The idea is to take it step by step and consistently move forward.

The final step in effective planning is effective scheduling. Until the task is in your calendar, it will never get done.

Now that we have planned and scheduled, the next step is....

Doing...

He compares starting a task as entering a Critical entrance. Once you enter, you can either go to the Dark Playground to procrastinate or to the 'Dark Woods', where the process of creation and task completion happen. Once the task is completed, you come out of the Dark Woods into the Happy Playground, where you feel happy and satisfied. Sometimes you enter into a state of flow where you complete one important task after another.

So what should a procrastinator do? First thing to do is to get in to the critical entrance. Start the task quickly. However this is where IGM puts its fiercest resistance. Once you enter the Dark woods of doing the actual work, you must resist the temptation of delaying or quitting and going to the dark playground. In Dark Woods, you may also come up with some obstacles that look insurmountable and the temptation to stop and quit is tremendous.

As you make progress on the task, the satisfaction produces its own motivation that propels you over the dark woods. The ensuing increase in self-esteem weakens the IGM.

As you continue working, you will reach a tipping point where the happy playground is in sight. Since IGM is interested only in playing, at the sight of the happy playground, he will become your partner and both you and IGM will move towards the happy playground in unison.

Another thing that could happen at the tipping point is that you become so passionate about the task that you continue with another task after the present one has completed. You enter into a state of flow. Since the monkey is also looking for happiness, in a state of flow both you and IGM work in unison again.

The final problem is that the IGM has a short term memory. It forgets the lessons on tuesday that it learned on Monday. So for procrastinator, everyday is a struggle.

How do you overcome the struggle.

Learn to finish the tasks that you start, the more tasks you finish, the more the confidence will build up inside you that you can finish tasks you start. So your challenge is just getting through the critical entrance. Once inside, you will tame the IGM.

To take control on your tasks, you have to:

1. Internalize the fact that everything we do is a choice.
2. Create methods that will help you tame the monkey.
  • Get external support
  • Create an artificial panic monster
  • Remind yourself to make right choices
  • Schedule your tasks. Set an alarm to remind you to start
  • Remove distractctions
  • Review and modify
3. Aim for slow and steady progress. Change the storyline from 'I procrastinate on every task' to 'Once a week I do a hard task without procrastinating'.

While the TED Talk by Tim Urban on Procrastination cover the same points discussed in the previous two posts, there was one critical point that stuck me and even shocked me when I heard it. There are some tasks that are very important for you where there is no panic monster. For example, if you are planning to write a book, you can spend years procrastinating on that without any 'Panic Monster' to goad you in to action. For example, for the last five years I have been telling myself that I will start a consulting company on my own, and I am just delaying it year after year. There is no deadline to meet, there is no immediate panic monster to goad me in to action. Mr.Urban says that while you do not feel immediate urgency, a time will come when you will no longer be able to do it even if you wanted to and that time the 'Regret Monster' (words mine) will hit you so hard that you will end up only with guilt and self-loathing and no achievement.

That hit me hard. As soon as I heard this Ted Talk, I started writing the first draft of a book that I have been meaning to write for a long time.

18 April 2019

The fine art of procrastination: Part 1....

Over the last few days, I have read a couple of articles on various aspects of Procrastination and how to deal with it. Then I remembered that I had read more articles on the subject including the wildly popular article and TED Talk by Tim Urban as well as the mother of the self help books, Getting Things Done.

This is Part 1 of a two part post. 

I thought that in this article I will collate the lessons from all these books and articles and present a 'Universal Theory of Procrastination'. I will be referring to the following material in this article.

Why you procrastinate (It has nothing to do with self-control), written for NYTimes by Charlotte Leiberman
Why procrastinators procrastinate, written for waitbutwhy.com by Tim Urban
How to beat procrastination, written for waitbutwhy.com by Tim Urban
Getting things done, best selling book written by David Allen

All the material referred in this article are sources from publicly available material. I have just collated and summarized them in this blog post.

11 April 2019

The cunning fox in the Aranyaka Forests....

Let me tell you a cute little story.

This is a futuristic story from Panchatantra....I remembered this story after I listened to Sekhar Gupta explaining the latest developments in Rafale Deal. To understand the story better, you must start off by watching the video. You can watch the video here.




Once upon a time in Aranyaka Forests there lived a Fox named Jagadamba.

Jagadamba wanted to buy a few items for the forest. Security items to prevent enemies from attacking Aranyaka Forest. So he signed a contract with Uditatma, a Zebra that lived in the nearby Triambaka Forest. Jagadamba signed a contract with Uditatma for 1000 rupees with an offset contract of 50%. This meant that Uditatma had to purchase 500 rupee worth of produces from Aranyaka Forests

Uditatma was to deliver the goods to Jagadamba only in 2022. However Jagadamba paid Uditatma 1000 rupees upfront in 2014. In modern terminology this is called 'Front loading of payments'. Uditatma could enjoy the interest benefit on 1000 rupees for seven years while Jagadamba waited for the material to be delivered to Aranyaka Forests.

However, the offset will come into place only 7 years later.

This means the offset contract was back loaded.

This was terrifically advantageous to Uditatma and bad for Aranyaka Forests. This is where Aranyaka Forests got cheated once.

The story is not over yet.

50% of 1000 is 500 in today's value. With an interest of 10% per year, the value would be about 1000 after 7 years.

By corollary, if Uditatma was paying Jagadamba 500 after 7 years, it is worth only 250 in today's value.

So that is where Aranyaka forests got cheated the second time. He thought he was getting 50% offset, but was actually getting only 25%.(assuming 10% interest rate, of course)

There is more.

In Aranyaka forests, there was a horse named Ashwagandha who had extensive experience in delivering such offset contracts. However Jagadamba ignored Ashwagandha and asked his friend Ajanachakya to apply for offset contract with Uditatma. Ashwagandha protested, but Jagadamba and his cronies branded him as 'Old and dilapidated horse'

Ajanachakya did not even know the business, he did not have technology, durukta (Sanskrit for 'bollocks', this is Panchatantra story, remember? ) he did not even have a company, but just with 12 days for offset contracts to set in he registered a company in Aranyaka Forest and Uditatma entered into an offset contract with the new company floated by Ajanachakya.

Ajanachakya did not know anything about the business. He did not know the 'Ah' to 'Ahm' (Sanskrit for A to Z) of Forest Security.

Uditatma did not stop there. For Ajanachakya, he modified the offset contract and made it front loaded.

Assuming Ajanachakya gets 10% of offset amount, he gets 50 rupees in today's terms, which is 20% of the Net present value of 250 rupees. So all the other offset contractors, instead of getting 90% of the offset amount will end up getting only 80%

In summary,

Payment to Uditatma has been front loaded
Offset to Ajanachakya has been front loaded.
Offset to all other contractors has been back loaded

In even simpler terms,

Jagadamba has already paid 1000 rupees to Uditatma
Jagadamba's friend Ajanachakya has already got 50 rupees of offset money even before a single unit is delivered..
Aranyaka Forests will get the first unit of old technology in 2022.

It looks to me (Acharya told the princes) It is like an elaborate scheme of Jagadamba for transferring money that belonged to Aranyaka Forest to Ajanachakya through Uditatma.

Why will Jagadamba let this happen? Will other denizens of Aranyaka forest understand that they have been taken for a ride?

Will they vote out Jagadamba in the ongoing Aranyaka Forest elections ?

My guess is as good as yours.