On pause (Blog update)

I have decided to put this blog on pause. The presence of another priority in my life has forced this decision.

After 6 years of writing this blog, this was a difficult decision. Blogging everyday is among the most enriching things I have done in life.

However, it has turned into an entrenched habit, and like any other entrenched habit it is time to put this one to a test. Has my blogging turned into a dead habit? Does it keep me from doing things that are more important? In 6 years, I have forgotten how it feels like to not be writing everyday. What would happen to my writing if I wrote less frequently? How would would it affect the rest of my life?

Thank you for your company on this journey so far. Farewell for now, and you’ll be hearing back from me later.

In love with a picture

In an allegory, an artist drew a picture of a beautiful person. He then falls in love with the person in his picture, and turns obsessed with her. Everybody around the artist don’t hesitate to tell him how he is a mad illogical fool.

However, we are also guilty of making the same mistake. The philosopher J. Krishnamurthi tells us how two people in love aren’t really two human beings in love with each other. Instead, two images of these human beings fall in love. The first person crafts an image of the second person and vice-versa. These images then enter into a relationship. However, these images are always static and imperfect. When either person differs from their partner’s image, this leads to conflict and eventually unravels the relationship.

How often do we see a person from faraway and assume that they are pretty, only to have this image shattered when they come closer? How often do we assume a pretty person to be kind, capable and good natured to also have this illusion shatter when we get to know them? The very reason familiarity breeds contempt is because familiarity shatters our images.

Similarly, we make an image of ourselves – the self, the ego – that we fall in love with. Just like that mad artist.

The tendency of our minds is to create an illusory image of the world around us that invariably shatters when it comes in contact with the real world. This is the root cause of our suffering.

Moving houses

The act of moving houses always reveals to us how much stuff we actually own. It is invariably more than we thought.

Once we move to a new place, we rid ourselves of the clutter and enjoy a spacious and roomy house, until we fill the new house with more stuff and the cycle continues.

A silent meditation retreat is analogous to moving houses in many ways. When we sit down for several hours with our thoughts, its contents are emptied in front of us. We then realize how much junk we actually store within our minds. We are then free to discard what doesn’t serve us. And like an uncluttered house, our mind is able to function better.

Then we return to our normal lives, which gradually clutters up our mind once again.

Its hard work to move houses – to let go of what we hold dear and move on. But this challenge also presents the opportunity to be mindful of what we buy, thereby interrupting this cycle of accumulation and purging.

It’s hard to get through a meditation retreat. But the experience makes us mindful of what we pay attention to.

The right to repair

About 2 years ago, my laptop’s battery turned weak.

Otherwise, my laptop was in excellent shape. It just needed a new battery. I looked up the manufacturer’s website for new batteries – they weren’t selling any. Therefore, I was forced to buy a battery from a small, non-descript Chinese company and trust that it worked. Luckily it worked beautifully, and I continue to use the same laptop to type out this post.

But the lesson here is that my manufacturer intentionally made it hard for me to repair my laptop. They would rather that I discard this machine and buy a new one.

Today’s devices are increasingly turning hard to repair. This applies to clothes, electronic devices and even automobiles. Instead of screws, parts are glued shut. Individual parts aren’t sold anymore. The moment one part of a device stops functioning, we are encouraged to throw it away and buy a new one.

As consumers, we are victims of this trend. But this need not be the case. As consumers, we have agency. When consumers talk, companies listen. If we only bought devices that can be repaired, manufacturers will take note.

Use-and-throw consumerism is a trend driven by capitalism that dents our culture. But capitalism needs to bend over to serve culture. Not the other way around.

Inspiration: Why everything you buy is worse now

The victim and the agent of change

When things don’t go our way, we tend to see ourselves on a spectrum.

On one end of the spectrum is the victim. The victim sees the challenge as something that happens to them.  They are resigned to their circumstances, but don’t like this fact. To assuage this, they blame, crib, complain and wish that things were otherwise. They fixate on problems, but don’t act because they don’t think they have the power to change the situation. If they were to act, they fear being blamed for the consequences. Their response is one of reaction and resignation.

On the other end of the spectrum is the agent of change. The agent realizes that regardless of the situation, they have a measure of agency over it. Regardless of how the situation plays out, they have the power to respond to it. They accept the status-quo and look for ways to change it. They are solution oriented, unafraid to act and to take responsibility for the consequences of their action. In other words, they are proactive.

Our response to every situation lies between being its reactive victim and a proactive agent of change. The more we see ourselves as victims of a situation, the more we relinquish our own agency to change it.

We are attention

Our thoughts are a product of we attend to in every moment.

Our memories are a product of what we think in every moment.

Our beliefs are a product of what we remember in every moment.

Our identity is a product of what we believe in every moment.

We are what we attend to. If we want to be different, we need to change what we pay attention to.

Weed out the bad

To define a good meeting is hard. It is easier to define a bad meeting.

To define a good speech is hard. It is easier to define a bad speech.

To identify a well functioning team is hard. It is easier to identify a dysfunctional team.

It is hard to define a good diet. It is easier to list out whatever makes a bad diet.

Good design is invisible. Bad design sticks out like a sore thumb.

It is hard to list out what makes us happy. It is easier to list out what makes makes us unhappy.

In most cases, it is tricky for us to define goodness, but far easier to define badness. To get better, we can start by weeding out the bad. Once we do that, the good stuff takes care of itself.

The discreet and the continuous

A workshop concludes. A website is launched. Our product is shipped. A book is published.

Our projects come to an end. We finish them, polish them, package them and send them out into the world. We are done.

No matter how many projects we finish, some things never end. Our teams keep improving. Our craft continually gets better. As we hone our old skills, we discover new ones. Improvement is continuous. It has no finish.

Our work is punctuated by destinations. But the journey of continually improving it never ends.

The gazelle or the lion?

Jerry Seinfeld points out how while watching animal documentaries, we are always rooting for the main character.

If a documentary is made from a gazelle’s point of view, we are rooting for the gazelle to outrun the lion. In another show shot from the lion’s point of view, we are rooting for the lion to catch the gazelle and feed its family.

People always get behind the main character of a story.

What happens to our favourite stories when they are told from the perspective of their villans? When you have a disagreement, what happens to you when you hear the story from the other person’s perspective?

The cycle of helplessness

The degree to which we resent is the degree to which we feel like victims.

The degree to which we feel like victims is the degree to which we give up our agency.

The degree to which we give up our agency is the degree to which we feel helpless.

The degree to which we feel helpless is the degree to which we resent something.

What a pity

To pity somebody is to acknowledge their struggle. But it also doubts their ability to face this  struggle.

To pity somebody is to feel sorry for their plight. But it also undermines their ability to change it.

To pity somebody is to wish for their life to be better. But it also entails a feeling that they are helpless.

When we pity somebody, we mix sympathy with condescention.

The root cause of our suffering isn’t a crisis itself but our inability to face it. Alternatively, true happiness can only be found in overcoming our challenges and being equal to them.

Some of the people we pity are proud, strong and resilient people who are equal to the challenges of their life. Such people don’t need our pity. Instead, they deserve our respect.

This isn’t working

A good investment portfolio takes several years to mature. The biggest mistake investors make is to prematurely intervene and disrupt the process.

A good habit takes several weeks to set in. Until then, it is tempting to abort our efforts midway because we don’t see results.

Vitamin supplements take several weeks to a month for their effects to kick in. So do anti-depressants. Sadly, patients are prone to discontinue them before they start working.

Past a point, advancement in a skill takes place at an atomic level on a day-to-day basis, where you sense no improvement. That is why every discipline has plenty of intermediate practitioners, but only a few masters.

Long term improvement takes time, continual effort and faith. Before you give up, ask yourself if you have given it a fair shot.

Worth it regardless

Regardless of how much progress we make,

We are never going to make our workplace entirely meritocratic.

We are never going to live in a perfectly equitable society.

We are never going to achieve perfect fairness.

We are never going to institute an ideal form of government.

We are never going to abolish hate and bigotry.

We are never going to arrive at several ideals that we aspire towards. But we try anyway.

Some journeys are worth making even if we will never make it to the destination.

The trouble with teamwork

A well-functioning team is the most powerful competitive advantage. Regardless of the industry and the business model, a more effective team is bound to outperform its competition.

Yet, this goal remains elusive. Most teams are dysfunctional. This is because teams are made up of imperfect human beings. They are collections of different interests working towards a common goal. It is akin to driving a bus where each passenger has a steering wheel.

Most teams I have been part of were dysfunctional. Yet, in the handful that were the exception is where I have done some of my most fulfilling work.

Getting a team to function well is hard, but worth aspiring for. In most cases, the mission, the vision and even the quarterly goal is to merely get a team to function well.

Inspiration: The Five Dysfunctions of A Team

To lose a debate

To lose a debate is to learn something new.

To lose a debate is to question our assumptions.

To lose a deabte is to be humble, open minded and to embrace a new perspective.

To lose a debate is to understand somebody else and build trust.

To lost a debate is pretty darn good. Yet, why does it feel so bad?

Prisoners of assumptions

The living room turns into a dungeon. The floor is a river of lava. The goal is to make it across the room, without stepping on the floor. You can only hop on the islands that take the form of the sofa cushions. On the other side, you must shoot arrows to get past the guards and secure your freedom.

When children play, their imagination knows no bounds. Their brains are unfettered by the rigidness that prevents us from imagining how a laminated floor can suddenly be covered in glowing magma.

What prevents our minds from imagining like they do? It is mostly our implicit assumptions of the world around us. We have seen living room floors too often for us to think of them as anything else. Our assumption of what this floor is and how it ought to behave prevents us from imagining an alternate reality.

What other assumptions prevent us from accepting an alternate reality?

That currency or airplane plane have to be printed on paper for them to be legitimate.

That our jobs are specialized and cannot be taken away by a machine or by somebody on the other side of the world.

That the typical person of my country has a certain hair colour, skin colour and speaks a certain language.

That buying a house is a good investment.

That the people we have grown up with will always be around.

That our business model will always be relevant in the market.

Our world is changing at a pace that continually dismantles our rigid assumptions. Like a terrifying earthquake, the ground shifts beneath us even as we always assume that it would be stable.

Our only hope is to learn to hold our assumptions loosely – from children, perhaps.

The aspects of reality

Our problem isn’t fear. Our problem is the expectation that there ought to be no fear.

Our problem isn’t uncertainity. Our problem is the expectation for perfect certainity.

Our problem isn’t an endless backlog of work to sustain everything that is dear to our lives. Our problem is the expectation that this backlog will disappear someday.

Phil Stutz mentions how nobody, absolutely nobody, is free from the three aspects of reality – fear, uncertainity and constant work. To wish them away is to fight reality.

On changing our expectations, we can learn to stop denying, resisting and fighting these three immutable aspects of reality. By changing our expectations, we can learn to embrace them and even find joy in them.

Inspiration: Stutz

An ode to paper

Nobody has more intimate access to our deepest thoughts other than ourselves.

The corollary here is that we are all intellectually lonely. Every single one of us. The more intelligent we are, the higher is this loneliness. The obvious cure for this loneliness is to converse with people we are close to. A less obvious cure is to be found in a blank piece of paper.

Paper (physical or digital) has several advantages over people. Paper is patient – we can write for pages and pages and it never tires of faithfully recording our thoughts, unlike people who have limited temperaments. Paper is accurate – it reflects precisely whatever we have given it, unlike people who are rarely listening well. Paper is never busy – we don’t need to schedule an appointment. Paper doesn’t judge – it merely records. We are fortunate to live in an era where paper is ubiquitous. And given how individualistic the world has gotten, paper is the only outlet that millions of people have.

In several ways, paper is our most effective cure for intellectual loneliness. It is startling how many of us owe our sanity to these unassuming little whisps of wood waste.

A test for manipulation

How do you know if you are manipulating somebody?

Both influence and manipulation involve getting somebody to do what you say. The difference is that if the person knew what you know, would they still make the same decision? If they had all the information, would they still follow your advice?

How would they feel after making the decision? Would they be glad they listened to you? Or would they feel cheated, used or betrayed?

Trust comes with responsibility – the responsibility to not manipulate.

Reframing selling

‘I see that you have worn-out tyres. Can I can sell you some new tyres.’

People usually recoil from the salesperson who tells them something like this.

‘Excuse me ma’am. I notice that your tires are worn-out past a point where it is safe for you to drive with them. They also reduce your car’s fuel efficiency. Would you be interested in new tyres? They will pay for themselves from the money they will save you.’

People are usually more receptive to the latter approach.

Sales is a dirty term because we often equate it with manipulation. But selling is actually an opportunity to solve another person’s problem in a manner that the solution is worth more to them than the money they spend on it.

Can we approach selling as a means to serve somebody rather than to make a quick buck?