What are you going to learn today.

When I see young people casually browsing through online shopping websites, to fill gap time, I wonder, isn’t it only causing more misery to their already material hungry souls? Wish they did more of listening to TED talks or attending a online program to develop a skill. 

Many of us are thinking of buying more than what we can afford because of the awesome benefits a credit economy offers. We live on debt, spending more than what we earn, and we live to pay off those debts with interest rates more than inflation or even income growth. Many smart people think it is good to live beyond means, as it can help to improve lifestyle and there by more earnings potential. But what actually can improve earnings potential is our productivity using the skills which are in demand, that are economically useful for people who are willing to spend for it. 

Any debt for ‘improving skills’ can offer you returns, and is worth it. Any debt for consumer spending can only make you feel that you already got a lifestyle which you’d get if you had to achieve something through real work. This gives you a chance to make your life wonderful much earlier than your real income arrives. At the same time, we forget to improve productivity using skills which matter. So skill building becomes secondary in the list of priorities which are mostly dominated by material things which are comforting in nature. New economy demands professionals to invest seriously in skills building as the markets for skills are dynamic and the rate of redundancies are appalling. This makes it quite compelling for someone who is serious about continued income growth to focus on skills building. 

What are you going to learn today? 

A world full of stimuli.

I usually don’t read books written by paid employees of large consulting firms, they mostly contain their larger employer agenda. I prefer to read books written by risk takers, like listening a war veteran. But when I picked up Ruchir Sharma’s ‘Rise and Fall of Nations – Ten Rules of Change in The Post Crisis World’ for my Kindle read, little did I know, that this guy, unlike other investment bankers, could differentiate insights from analysis. 

The first page of his book has a story which shows us the extra sensory perception required to win in a world full of stimuli. 

Here it is. 

“For each of the past twenty five years, I have gone on a safari, either to India or Africa. On a trip to Africa, I heard a story of a king who sends his son out to learn the rhythms of the jungle. On his first outing, against the din of buzzing insects and singing birds, the young prince can make out only the roar of lions and the trumpet of the elephants. The boy returns again and again and begins to pick up less obvious sounds, until he can hear the rustle of a snake and the beat of butterfly’s wings. The king tells him to keep going back until he can sense danger in the stillness and the hope in the sunrise. To be fit to rule, the prince must hear that which does not make a sound.”

Information. Insights. Instincts. Intuition. 

There is too much information now on anything. You google it, and you have hundreds of ways saying things about a topic. Information also in the form of news, social media feeds, videos and opinions by experts. But very less insight. It is said that there should be a certain level of darkness to see the stars. While on long night drives, I feel more focussed on the road than during plain sunlight when I see lot of things around, which most of the times, do not make any sense, as far as the driving is concerned.
While we are struggling to comprehend the truck loads of information we encounter everyday, we rarely get insights, which need a certain level of calmness, distancing ourselves from the chaos and action. When we are in the middle of the action, we are biased by it. We become slaves of the information we acquired hurriedly. At times, not knowing enough can make use of your instincts and intuition to best use. 

Context hunting

Opportunity is a set of unique circumstances, which has high probability of being favourable to your interests. It is the context which can help you win. The permutations and combinations which would show you as lucky, capable or even successful. It’s mathematical in nature, though your innate talent can immensely contribute. What you must focus is to hunt such unique contexts which can help you thrive. 

I have had many failures and it comes quite natural for me to talk about luck as a big factor. But I’d prefer to call it context, which can be a more neutral term. So if context changes, things change. It’s like a complex mathematical equation. Each variable has the potential to change the outcome, and controlling each variable is not possible, in real life. I’ve observed successful people who hunt for opportunities is also aware of the unique set of circumstances and how change in each variable can change the potential outcome.  It’s their ability to see that makes them what they are. They focus their mind on that present moment, being aware of the slightest movement, sometimes even lack of it, to figure out what is best for them. 

Two things I always ask people in an interview, and it helps.

My work demands me to meet an average of ten new people a day, and it is easy to get biased and have judgement errors, especially in understanding what people want from jobs, and what is important for them. Many of them do not know how to articulate adding on to our judgement errors as in what they are looking from a job, and what makes them good in a job. I tried many ways. Reading resumes deeply, asking about their childhood, about their current boss, their friends. But finally two things matter to any job, that is what is the best trait which is suitable for the job and what they enjoy doing.

So now, I ask these two questions in an interview. It helps.

What do you love doing the most in your current job?

What’s your favorite thing outside of work?

Hunting, farming and harvesting

Disclaimer: This is more than one minute read. And these ideas are not relevant for internet businesses. 

Being in service business, my job as a CEO, is constantly motivating people and making them believe that they can do much better. Push, push, push. Everybody needs this push to do things. I have created a framework which can help to get clarity. 

Hunting — it’s all about exploring possible alliances, synergies with smart people, cold calling, events, networking, referrals, pre-planned accidental meetings and emailers to tens and thousands and of strangers who are potential customers. It’s all about new opportunities. New things to business — hope which fuels every business.

“Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it.” — Thomas Harris
Farming — once we strike a conversation and start a relationship, how to make them feel good about the work we do and giving significant value. It requires patience and ability to connect with people in the chaos. Cultivate relationships, pamper egos, solve immediate issues, make the customers feel wanted. It is painstaking, routine and sometimes thankless job. You need to develop the willpower to do it. List your must do calls for the day and push yourselves to do it. And do that everyday.

“Remember that creating a successful marriage is like farming: you have to start over again every morning.”— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Harvesting — once we are successful at farming, clients start giving us serious work and they believe in our potential to do good work for them. That is the time to look for money in the relationship. To reach this level, you need to go through all possible scenarios of the relationship not working out — just like in dating! Stay alert, patient, unconditional, assertive and humble. And most importantly do your math.

“We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest.”— Orison Swett Marden.

Celebrating our biases

90% of the internet time is consumed by Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter and Gmail. These platforms connect individuals who know each other or wish to know. These linear relationships are not out of our circle but within, and influence our thought process unknowingly. When we like pages in Facebook, we like pages which confirm our biases, there by limiting our thinking patterns. And when we do it often, we are becoming closer and closer to our biases than expanding the thinking horizons. This is evident in the way we express ourselves. More and more people are now becoming communities who like to interact with people who have intensely special like-minded interests, for example, community for raw vegans. Is humanity becoming more and more ‘tribe like’? Are the algorithms in the social media helping you to match the interests of many other people who are continents away from you? These are super niche networks. It’s becoming difficult to broaden our thinking in a world, where we have locked ourselves into a cage filled with biases.

When machines start learning

Leadership inspires. Management makes things happen. Heard this many times? Very often we get confused with these overused terms in business and entrepreneurship. A free market economy driven by capitalists (people who invest) needs highly capable managers to drive things, and when things become uncertain, they need leaders who are courageous, inspiring and innovative to push things forward. A volatile environment deserves to have a leader, as the environment is full of fear, uncertainty and chaos. When things are normal (there are no normal times) we need strong managers to drive people who are mostly in a comfort zone! 

In an algorithmic world, leadership is about solving humanity’s problems by building intelligent, cost-effective, brag worthy and convenient problem solving frameworks and scaling the problem solving which can work effectively with least human intervention. Human motivation is a variable and modern problem solving networks focus on putting more predictability, better intelligence to execute repeat tasks, more productivity for monotonous jobs and faster scalability. 

When machines start learning how to do repeat tasks without complaining, humans need to move to leadership areas to create new ways of solving problems using their creativity, interdisciplinary knowledge and multiple intelligences. 

Many experts predict that by 2025 millions of human jobs are going to be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence. What’s our immunity to machine invasion to our areas? It’s creativity. How do we train ourselves to be creative! We have to step out of the structure we are operating in to understand new ways of solving problems. We can’t improvise on old things to invent new things. We have to get out of that thing we are stuck in. Let’s unlearn. 

News or noise?

Most of us, start our day with a quick scroll of news in our Facebook newsfeed, or sometimes Twitter. It happens so that we start feeding our mind, a morning breakfast of unhealthy news stuff not good for our neurological system. It is fed unknowingly as a ‘must have diet’ to boost our mornings, but results in a gradual degradation of how we see our life and world around us. Everything looks like 100x bigger in news. It is like making us feel that the terrorists are hiding in our bedroom, or that psychopath is right across our apartment, or even that the economic policy is straight away eating our money. News seems to be just creating noise. We are biased by the way the journalists or contributing writers look at this world. We need to stop taking every bit of news items seriously and apply our own common sense to make better insights about this world. We seem to accept facts, not form an opinion. We should read analysis, but must make our own. Contradicting news articles which we read across social media platforms along with hundreds of different perspectives by users, actually cloud our judgement. How to make sense out of this world when the media throws clutter and garbage consistently? What we see in social media is social anger, impulsive reactions to news, sometimes even without understanding it fully. A constant urge to react, to let our reactions be social, and discuss it superficially without content or context. This is giving instant gratification to many, including me. It’s time for some healthy feed to our mind, not just junk news. Our soul is hungry for content which can uplift us, and we must feed it properly, not let it starve! Start reading books. 

Gambler’s fallacy 

It seems business networking is what everyone is talking about to boost your sales. Quick exchange of numbers or asking each other what they do without feeling for it. And in a new business scenario, it’s difficult to understand what others do, in a matter of a few minutes. It takes some deep conversations to understand new ideas, people, businesses and even the context.  It’d require value syncing. You are doing business with another human being, not with some entry in excel sheet or with a corporate entity. Terms like B2C and B2B confuse me, it’s all about human interactions, let me call it H2H, which is full of irrational and rational things. Emotional and impulsive. Story and data. When we start thinking like algorithms, we lose advantage. We must build creatively turbocharged relationships, which can excite people whom you do business with. A constant engagement of mutually adding value. Constructing each other. Those kind of relationships need more than exchange of cards and a quick tour of your latest presentation. When we irrationally believe that sales can happen through some chance encounter, we are falling into the trap of law of averages, or call it, gambler’s fallacy. What we instead can do is to learn something deeply and offer it as a value addition to make others’ life better. That is a great business model.