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30 April 2013

How do you handle failure?

Ever heard of Reinhart and Rogoff?

Carmen M Reinhart, is a Professor of International Financial Systems at Harvard Kennedy School and Kenneth S Rogoff is the Thomas D Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Harvard University.

These two Harvard economists wrote a paper in 2010 titled 'Growth in the time of debt'. The central point in the paper was that if the Debt to GDP ratio of a country crosses 90%, the country will slide into recession. 90% debt / GDP was the inflection point, the tipping point, where the growth turns into recession.

This theory, that excessive debt is bad for the country, had a certain ring of ethical overtones to it. It sounded right. All of know that excessive debt is bad, don't we? Don't we teach kids that borrowing is not good? Don't we all know of families who were ruined by debt? That debt was not good was intuitive. And now we have famous economists who told us that what we were thinking about all these days was correct. Debt was indeed bad for people, and it was bad for countries.

Many politicians and leading economists across the world accepted this thesis. In US, this was a manna from heaven that conservatives always wanted. They were always arguing for government to cut spending, and now their argument had a theoretical underpinning. In Europe most of the economists and politicians embraced this premise. 

Austerity wave hit Europe, Spain went into recession, Greece followed suit, Germany was struggling to recreate growth, Britain was elated that it grew 0.3%...

Unemployment mounted, the health benefits of old and infirm people were cut, businesses shut down...

Misery all around.

So what if people were suffering? We have Reinhart and Rogoff to prove that debt is bad.

That was till Thomas Herndon entered the picture. This 28 year old graduate student of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was looking for a paper to prepare for his graduate thesis. He decided to analyse the findings of R&R. On review he found that the authors had made a terrible mistake in one of the formulas in their Excel calculations. Instead of selecting cells 30-49, they selected cells 30-44, missing out 5 key cells. When the data in these cells were incorporated into the calculations, at 90% debt level, the average growth rate was 2.2% and not -0.1% as propounded by R&R !!

Terrible mistake with catastrophic consequences. One with global impact, one which led to severe recession in countries of Europe, with many people becoming unemployed, old people not getting the medicines and food that they desperately needed...

All because 5 cells in an excel spreadsheet was missed. Rarely in history, you will find such rookie mistakes with such disastrous consequences.

Of course, this article is not about Reinhart or Rogoff, it is about you.

How will you handle this if you were either Reinhart or Rogoff? How will you handle mistakes? How do you approach failure? How have you approached failure? Of course you have failed sometime in life. All of us have. How did we adapt? What did we learn? Did we get over it? I know that I have not got over some of my failures. They still rankle.

The point is that all of us fail some time in our lives. There is no one out there who have been 100% successful in whatever we do. To the outside world, our failures may not look as gigantic as that made by R&R. But to us, they are the biggest. We know that no one out there has suffered failures as much as we have. 

We may have made mistakes, we may have been failures in the past, but we have to get over and move on. While we are in our failures, there is one thing that we can and should do. Reflex. Think about your failure. Learn from it / them. Take positives from your failures, leave the negatives behind.

After all, that is called growth.

Here is a list of 50 people who failed initially before becoming international successes.

28 April 2013

Cogito Ergo Sum...

Caveat: This is not a treatise on philosophy.
In 1644, the French philosopher, Rene Descartes (known for the concept of 'Cartesian Coordinates') postulated the famous statement 'Cogito Ergo Sum', which translated into English means 'I think, therefore I am'. The philosopher was trying to answer the question, whether everything around him (including himself) existed or not (What we Indians call as 'Maya'). Descartes said that the very act of doubting your existence proves your existence.
That is not the point.
The point is 'I think, therefore I am'. In other words, 'I am what I think'. 
In life, you invariably become what you think you are. If you always think positive, always think like a winner, always think that obstacles are nothing but obstacles which need to be overcome, then you are a winner. 
On the other hand, if you always worry, if you always find problems, if you always think failure, if you always think of obstacles as insurmountable, then you are a loser. 
Note that just because you think you are a winner or a loser, you have NOT BECOME a winner or a loser. The point is that your thoughts will lead to corresponding set of action and you will strive to prove your thoughts right. 
If you think you are a loser, you will strive to lose. That  is the only way that you can prove yourself right. Everyone wants to prove themselves right all the time.
On the other hand, if you think you are a winner, you always try to win. The occasional failures are temporary setbacks. 
Which lead me to the most important postulate
If you want to change your situation in future, change your thoughts now. Change your beliefs, think positive, think that you can do it, think that you can win, keep thinking positive. 
You will start to change visibly in a short span of time. 
Yow will become what you think you are.

Let me round off this article with two beautiful poems that illustrate my point.

The Victor: 
By C W Longnecker

If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don't,
If you like to win, but you think you can't,
It's almost a "cinch" you won't.
If you think you'll lose, you've lost,
For out in the world you find
Success begins with a fellow's will;
It's all in the state of mind.

Full many a race is lost
Ere ever a step is run;
And many a coward fails
Ere ever his work's begun.
Think big and your deeds will grow,
Think small and you'll fall behind,
Think that you can and you will;
It's all in the state of mind.

If you think you're outclassed, you are,
You've got to think high to rise,
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later, the man who wins,
Is the fellow who thinks he can.

Don't Quit
by: Unknown Author

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh.

When care is pressing you down a bit.
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns.

And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out:
Don't give up though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt.
And you never can tell how close you are.
It may be near when it seems so far:

So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

27 April 2013

Shrodinger's Cat...

What is Shrodinger's Cat? Ever heard of it?
In 1935, Austrian Physicist, Erwin Shrodinger came up with a thought experiment. 
Let us say that you put a cat inside a box with a vial of Hydrocynic acid which opens based on a random event. Once the vial breaks, the cat is dead. 
Since the vial breaks based on a random event, the question is: 
At any point in time is the Cat alive or dead?
The answer is that we are not sure until the box is opened. 
What is the relevance of Shrodingers' cat to a blog on Personal Growth?
I recently moved to Mumbai. I live in Koparkhairne and on multiple Sundays I wanted to go to see different places in Mumbai. But I was not sure of the route, not sure of which bus to take, not sure of .....
So I kept putting off weeks after weeks.
Finally I ventured out about two weeks ago and the experience was very pleasant. I enjoyed the bus ride, I enjoyed the crowd, I enjoyed the walks, the local train....
I understood that Bombay was a lot of fun only when I started venturing out. 
That is Shrodingers' cat there. Till you open the box, you don't know if the cat is alive. Till you go out you don't know that Bombay is fun.
Another example. I was always scared of taking responsibility of the work of others. I always worried about taking a leadership role. Due to this fear, I moved from one individual consulting assignment to another. Recently I decided to take the plunge. I joined a company as the Head of IT.
Now I see that I have a flair for the job and I am enjoying the work and the role. I am having so many positive changes to my personality and I am learning something new everyday.
Now I am wondering why I did not opt for such roles earlier. I had the required credentials for the job, but the fear of taking responsibility made me to keep putting it off.
When I got another opportunity, finally I decided to make that leap. I am happy that I took it even though it involved some personal sacrifices. If I had not taken that leap, I would still carry the fear of responsibility in my mind.
There is your cat. Till I opened the box, I did not know if it is alive. Till  I took up the assignment, I did not know if I was capable of handling it. 
Till you venture, you don't know if you can run your business
Till you run, you wont know if you can run a Marathon
Till you go for classes, you wont know if you are IT Savvy
Till you go for it, you wont know if you can do cross-country cycling
Till you do it, you wont know if you can do it.
Till you open the box, you wont know if the cat is alive.
So, if you are doubtful about doing anything, think of Shrodinger and his cat. Remember that you wont know what you are capable of until you try.

11 April 2013

Need for 'Clarity of Purpose' in life...

You know what is the most important problem in life?

The most important problem is that we will know what is good for us only after the opportunity has passed. 

Too many people take current decisions based on past experiences, without basing the same on expected future. Even when considering past experiences, the focus in always on what went wrong in the past. What happened in the past is hardly relevant to the current decision, but most of us use that as a guiding post in making our decisions.

If not based on the past, our current decisions are based on the current problems, what is known as 'Recency Effect'. 

If at all we consider the future, it is only to consider the expected challenges in the future.

Add to it is the fact that many of us do not know what they want, what is our purpose in life.

By using the negative experiences in the past, the current challenges (which appear huge), by always considering the negative aspects of future and without a clear purpose to give us direction  to our life, it is no wonder that we end up making wrong decisions, with significant long term consequences.

It will be a surprise if we can make right decisions with so many 'Overheads'. 

It is sad.

Take for example the case of Rohit. He is a friend of mine. He was one of the early implementers of ERP in India. He was implementing ERP in the late 90's and early 2000s. In 2001, he got an offer to implement ERP in one of the African Countries (I think it was for a Nigerian Oil Company). The compensation was a whopping 1700 Pound a day plus all expenses covered. This works out to about 2 lakh Rupees a day !!

It was huge.

But Rohit did not take the offer. As he told me, at that time he had got married to a colleague and his wife had reservations about going to Nigeria. She was also working in the same company as Rohit and she did not want to disrupt her career. Also, he read in papers that there was internecine violence in Nigeria, even though he was assured full Security and the area where he was suppose to be working was not Violent.

Also, Africa was not very sexy. All his colleagues were going to exotic places like US, Europe, UK etc and he was hesitant to go to Africa. He was not sure if he will get the same facilities in Africa that he was accustomed to.

Having missed this great opportunity, his career went on a limbo. Let me modify this statement. Having carried this paradigm of decision making, his career went into a limbo. His company gave him the option to choose the country that he wanted to work. He declined the offer and said that he wanted to work only in India. His company did not have any opportunity for his skills in India. He left the company soon after. As he moved around from one company to another, only the constant that he carried with him was the paradigm of always looking back and regretting the various decisions that he made in life. 

When you talk to him, the predominant theme is that of regret. He regrets that he did not take the Africa offer. He regrets that he did not go to US or Europe when his boss gave him the opportunity. He regrets that his career is in a limbo. He is always carrying his regret along with him.

It is obvious that he has the requisite knowledge and expertise. But it is also very clear that he has lost his Mojo.

Take the case of another of my friends, Sunder.

He is expert in a niche technology which is very useful for many organizations. In 2007, he got an opportunity to work in Australia at a rate of 700 USD per day plus all expenses taken care. He declined the offer because he read in papers that Indians were getting killed in Australia !!. 

Why did highly intelligent people like Rohit and Sunder make the wrong choices? Why are they carrying the impact of the choices even now, after almost a decade? Why were they focusing on non-relevant parameters while making critical decisions?

More importantly, what do they do now? What do WE do in such situations?? How do we make good career decisions?

In my opinion, there are three aspects to consider.

First, it is very important to know what we want and what is important to us. What is important? Career, Family, Money, Recognition? We have to decide. It should be the peg around which our decisions should be based. If we have a strong base, our decisions will not go wrong.

Second, do not be afraid of the future. Fear of future (euphemistically called 'Risk') is always based on the past experiences and / or current experiences. Rephrase 'Risk' as 'Future Experience'. If we do that mental paradigm shift and start calling Risk as 'Future Experiences', our perspective will change. We will start thinking about future far more positively and as an opportunity to mold. After all, we cannot control our past experiences, but our future experiences are always under our control. Considering 'Risk' as 'Future Experiences  will give us a sense of control on our life. We may not be able to control 'Risk' (because it is perceived as external to you), but we can always control our 'Future Experiences' (because the control is internal), can't we?

Third, do not regret. Like I mentioned earlier, we cannot control the past experiences, but we can always control the future experiences. So focus always on what we can control and not on what is uncontrollable. This will make us more positive and we will start inviting positive experiences in life.

So, from this moment, pledge to that 'You will always focus on Future and try to control the future experiences. You will look at past only to take the right lessons'.

All the best.

02 April 2013

Three Productivity Tools that anyone require....

There are three common factors that link a working professional, a home maker or a business person.

There are things to do....

There are schedules to adhere to...

There are things to follow up...

You can improve your productivity by identifying and documenting the things to do, carefully scheduling them and following up with the people who have to do some of the tasks that are important for you.

Things To Do (TTD): The main characteristic of things to do is that these are tasks which YOU have to do. You cannot delegate these tasks to others. These are random list of items that you have to complete at some point in time. This may be as simple as taking the medicine or writing a new post in your blog or writing that email. The funny thing about this list is that the points will come to your mind at any time and if you do not jot down the thing to do as soon as you remember them, the chances are that you will forget them. 

Another characteristic of things to do is the priority. Some tasks are more important than the other. You should be able to prioritize these tasks. If you do not prioritize the tasks, all the tasks will become urgent at some point in time and you will have time only for urgent tasks and your important tasks are relegated to the background.

Yet another characteristic of things to do is the location. Each task has a location. You can improve your productivity by arranging the tasks by location and when you are planning to go to a particular place, you can complete all your tasks of that location. 

When to do, Schedule: Associated with things to do (TTD), is the Schedule. You must decide when you are going to do the same. Some of the tasks are urgent and will be scheduled. However, the key aspect of scheduling is to find time for the important tasks of your life. You have to schedule two hours a day for studying on that certification, find time for your annual health check up. While you are scheduling, ensure that you only schedule the tasks that are in your Things To Do (TTD) list. In other words, ensure to have a linkage between the TTD list and your schedule. The best approach will be to schedule the tasks as soon as you add them to your TTD list. However, for best results, prepare TTD through the week and prepare a Schedule on a particular day, may be on Sunday. This will help you review your priorities and schedule the top priority tasks first before you focus on your lower priority tasks.

Tasks To Be Followed Up (TTBFU): The key characteristic of these tasks are that, while you are responsible for these tasks, 'SOMEONE ELSE' has to actually do these tasks. This list has two parts, one, there is a list of tasks and two, there is a person (other than you) who complete these tasks. While it is difficult to schedule these tasks, they may have linkages to some of the tasks in your TTD list. These may be very important for you, but you have no control on TTBFU.

To improve your productivity, you have ensure that you have a comprehensive list of TTD and TTBFU and have a detailed schedule to do these tasks.

Being a working professional, who still use my Laptop to handle most of my work, I am always on the lookout for various Windows based applications to track my tasks and schedule my activities. 

What do I want?

One, I want an application that will help me list down my TTD list. There should be ways in which I will be able to identify the top priority items and also I should be able to group these tasks by location.

Two, I want an application that will help me prepare a weekly schedule my tasks

Three, I want an application that will help me track the items that I have to follow up.

I did some Google search to find out some applications that will help me handle these requirements. As I understood, it is very difficult to find an application that can do all the three. While you can still find a task and calendar application, there are no application that will handle TTBFU. I downloaded the following Things To Do (TTD) applications.

1. Wunderlist
2. GeeTeeDee
3. Google Desk Top

While the first two are comprehensive apps with the facility to create tasks with additional details like responsibility and schedule, Google Desktop is just a task list application. All the three can be installed on you Windows Laptop.

When it comes to Calendar, I found that Outlook Calendar is by far the best Calendar Application. The only problem is that this application is available only on a license basis. Another Calendar Application is Google Calendar. The main advantage of this application is that it is from Google and is integrated with your Gmail.

The disadvantage of Google Calendar is that it is not a desktop application, though I understand that recently Google has released a Desktop widget for Google Calendar.

So I was on the web, looking out for a good task cum calendar application, which is free, and I came across 'Rainlendar'. This is a very good application with integrated Task and Calendar feature and which can be easily installed and is intuitive.

It comes in two versions, the basic version is free, while the Pro version is chargeable.

I am still on the lookout for an application that can handle Tasks Follow up. I am yet to find one.

I think I am stuck with Excel for task follow up.

Do you know of any apps that can help me follow up on the tasks? That will complete my portfolio.