Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Mindfulness book: Mumbai launch, 1st Dec 2019

Having grown up in the city of Mumbai, the book launch on Dec 1, 2019, created an opportunity to catch up with friends and family. However, we didn’t anticipate a full house. Padmaja Parulkar Kesnur did an excellent job as an anchor. Padmaja is a writer and photographer focusing on ecology, wildlife, travel and much more (check out her blog: Earth Letters). She had identified 20 different attributes of mindfulness that the book highlights and helped us explore many of them through her questions. In this article, I have given the link to the audio of the conversation between Padmaja, I and the audience. The questions we explored along with the time-stamp are given below.

00:00  Introduction by Padmaja
02:00 What is mindfulness?
02:30 Can you explain mindfulness through bookkeeping vs berry-picking metaphor?
09:30 You emphasize mindfulness on the go. Can you talk about that?
12:30 You have used the phrase “leaning forward”. Any tips on that?
16:00 Tell us through the movie “Hindi Medium” how overthinking takes us far
22:00 I like your example of watching the sky. There you talk about spaciousness. Can you talk about that?
25:23 Reading of a paragraph from the book on “watching the sky”
26:12 Is mindfulness like enlightenment as if once you are there, you are there.
30:30 Then you move on to self-image and self-deception. Especially in the age of social media where self-propaganda is so rampant and people are projecting what they are not. Can you explain what you mean by self-image and self-deception?
38:30 From here the book makes a big leap by bringing in studies from neuroscience and quantum mechanics to get into deeper realms of what is self and what is real. Do you think the reader might find it difficult?
41:15 I found that “Brain by David Eagleman” where you talk of perception & reality extremely fascinating. That turns the concept of self and reality upside down. Do you want to talk about that?
44:35 Normally we say that crisis drives you to self-inquiry, or to a spiritual quest. But you say that you have had a smooth life. So how did you turn to this field of study? How was your spiritual journey?

06:31 I have read Osho, Ramana Maharshi and they say that consciousness is the only reality and all of this is an illusion. Most of the Eastern philosophy is telling us to let go of the illusion and achieve some sort of spiritual transcendence. But what if I want to stay in this world of Maya and enjoy my illusions. How will mindfulness help me do that?
09:45 You said when you see reality, most of it is in our mind. You said      80% comes from the mind, can you please explain it?
13:45 To the extent that you talk of wasteful thoughts or being rooted in the present, I have you. Where I lose sometimes is where in some ways you discourage thinking itself. At a utilitarian level are you discouraging thinking and therefore mocking at innovation, ambition? You seem to have a diet for the mind, but exercise for the mind, you seem to be iffy about.
Secondly, at the cognitive level, the train comes and goes but the platform is never empty. So is it possible to stay on the platform throughout without getting on some other train?
20:14 Mindfulness is a lifelong practice of being in the present moment. And practice makes oneself perfect. Is this understanding correct?
23:35 An observation and appreciation from a friend.
25:00 Finally the whole intention of everything is to be joyful. That’s the basic purpose of all this. But to be joyful, don’t you think further intentional efforts are required to feel the joy?
29:25 They say – Ummid pe duniya kayam hai – Hope keeps the world going. I want to be with reality but I need to have some hope alive to take me further. How do I do that?
31:39 I believe whatever happens in life happens for a reason. And 99% time it happens for the right reasons. I don’t give so much importance to I. We should convert this I into we because there is always someone behind the individual effort. If we remain grounded then whatever I am achieving in life is not because of me. Then all the wasteful thoughts will not come into mind. Are we on the same bus?
34:30 Pasaayadaan song by Saint Dnyaneshwar by Gauri Dabholkar and Aditi More (sisters)
38:54 Shanti mantra from Ishavasya Upanishad

photo credit: Madhav Dabholkar

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Mindfulness book launch – Bangalore – Q&A

We had a launch event for the book “Mindfulness: Connecting with the real you” in Bangalore on 24th November 2019. The event took place at Higginbothams bookstore near M. G. Road Metro station. At the event, Dr. Kajoli Banerjee Krishnan and I had a conversation followed by Q&A. It was lucky to have Kajoli as the host. She is a medical imaging researcher, poet, blogger (blog: Unfold the wings) and carries a keen interest in the topic of mindfulness. She covered a lot of ground during the interview and also asked some probing questions. Many friends & family members joined the conversation and asked good questions.

The event began with Kajoli and my wife Gauri singing a welcome song – Yei akashe amar mukti – a poem by Tagore. You can listen to their version here (3MB, MP3).

Here are Kajoli’s questions:

00:44 You have three streams of interest: design thinking, innovation and mindfulness. Do you see a connection among all of these?
6:15 If I have a reaction, what should I do? This is a practical question.
8:00 If someone derives pleasure in arguing and does that in a sustained way, and such a person may not see himself as doing anything wrong. Is there a message from the Gabbar story here?
10:00 What is the connection between sustained negative emotion, absolute necessity and self-deception?
13:15 What if I do all of this and feel good. What could be the ways in which I suddenly realize that may be there is something wrong here? I may not ever figure it out in my lifetime, right?
15:20 One of the stories from the book that fascinates me is the “reverse bike”. Do you want to tell the story?
19:15 Could human species survive if we are all mindful?
22:20 Evolutionary biology implies that a large number of tasks we do, we do automatically with certain model in the brain and take quick decisions.
26:10 Do you want to talk about how we define ourselves with respect to culture or a gender, the dance of necessities?
28:50 Why made you call it a “dance of necessities”? Would you call it a “song of necessities”?
32:00 I worked for seventeen years in a multinational organization. The two things HR would say are: perception is reality and actions should be consistent with organization values. I felt perception is not necessarily reality. I felt actions are important but your belief system is somehow fundamental. Do we as humans set up simple models so that we take decisions more easily?

1:40 Have you been asked by organizations to come and do mindfulness workshops?
3:20 Has this idea of investigation something you thought of?
4:30 In the last part of your book, you describe experiments like the dancing droplet. And then on page 114, you say, “The idea is not to understand the science behind these experiments. It is to use them as analogies.”  Isn’t it inconsistent with the spirit of investigation?

Questions from the audience:

10:00 On page x you say, “JK says process of becoming could be the root cause of human suffering” and then later you say that mindfulness is an investigation of the process of becoming. I am not able to connect the two.
12:58 Human beings are supposed to have emotions. And if we are following an engineering approach for understanding the mind and taking the right decisions, we could be taking emotions, happiness away. The second part is, looking at the Padmaavat example, won’t this approach lead to inaction? There has to be a criticism if something wrong is happening. If everybody becomes mindful then people will be expressing less.

0:00 When somebody criticizes Prime Minister Modi, I am upset and I cut his friendship off. I don’t want to see the bad comment at all. Is it right or wrong?
2:19 Would you call mindful person a rational actor the way economics talks about? Isn’t the goal to become a rational person?
5:12 How do you connect mindfulness to meditation?
9:08 The seventh chapter “searching for the real hero” presents concepts similar to existentialism. Is mindfulness similar to existentialism?
11:03 How do I write-off expectations on the go? I realize it only after the event is over.
14:05 You have mentioned “do’s”, but are there any “don’ts” in this practice?
15:55 Have you seen the snake illusion? It is something to do with the rate at which eyelids move.
18:56 You say mindfulness is a journey. So there is no “What next?” right?

I would like to thank Mr. Ananda of Higginbothams for providing the space in the bookstore. Thanks to Mr. Shivendra Singh of HarperCollins for helping with the marketing activity.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

My 3 takeaways from Ken Kocienda’s “Creative selection” at Apple

“How does this process compare with Apple’s design process?” is a question that I often get in my design thinking workshops. I talk about a few anecdotal incidents I have gathered from here and there. But quickly admit that I don’t know how it works at Apple. Thanks to Ken Kocienda’s “Creative selection: Inside Apple’s design process during the golden age of Steve Jobs”, we get some idea how the software design process worked during the first decade of this century, at least in the iPhone project. Ken is the father of the autocorrect feature of the iPhone and the book is also a biography of the idea from challenge to release. Here are my 3 takeaways from the book:

Importance of demo-culture: If there is one thing that Ken is trying to emphasize the Apple design process, it is the importance given to building and reviewing demos from top to bottom. Demos would get reviewed at all levels all the time. Selected demos would get reviewed by Steve Jobs and Ken begins the book with a detailed description of the drama associated with one of his demos to Jobs. That time Ken was working on the iPad keyboard and he was exploring how to provide the user with an option of two keyboards – one with bigger but fewer keys and the other with smaller but more keys. He had used a zoom key to toggle between the two keyboards. He was proud of the flexibility he was offering to the user. And yet the 2-3 questions that Steve Jobs asked him during the review played an important role in simplifying the design. Ken calls this iterative design process – demo – feedback – next demo – creative selection, the title of the book.

Role of challenge campaigns: In 2005, Ken was part of a small team of engineers working on the secret phone project called Purple. At one point, all the engineers were called for a meeting and it was announced that from then on all of them were keyboard engineers. It meant that the issue of software keyboard on a touch screen had become critical enough for all the engineering effort to be focused on it. The tactile feedback of a Blackberry-type keyboard was missing in their phone and hence typing accuracy was low. All engineers began to show their demos of various types of software keyboards. This is when Ken invented the autocorrect feature and his keyboard demo was selected for further development. This is an example of how challenge campaigns can be used to solve critical business challenges.  Unlike the keyboard derby example, not all business challenges need to be solved by stopping everything else. However, like the keyboard derby example, they need to emphasize demos and prototyping. And at the end, promising ideas need to be integrated into the roadmaps.

The intersection of technology and liberal arts:  In the chapter titled “The intersection” Ken says, “Apple valued expertise in both technology and liberal arts”. Ken is a history Major and pursued photography seriously for a few years before starting his career as a software developer. “Working at the intersection” was a topic of discussion among Apple employees and there was a half-day course on this topic at Apple University. In the technology industry, I am familiar with, this is hardly the case. People like to hero-worship Steve Jobs, but how many are willing to explore what it means to “work at the intersection”? I guess worshipping has always been easier than exploration in human history.
Apart from these concepts, Ken sheds light on many more areas associated with the Apple culture of his time such as the role of DRI – Directly Responsible Individual, the relevance of empathy & focus, the role of collaboration, the importance of asking oneself, “What do I really enjoy?” especially in the context of individual contributor vs management etc.

In case you prefer listening to audio to reading, I recommend Ken’s interview “Inside the Apple factory: Software design in the age of Steve Jobs”. It covers almost all of these points. 

Image source: goodreads.com

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A systemic approach to participatory development: A short primer by Prof. Shireesh Kedare

In October 2019, I got an opportunity to interview Shireesh Kedare, my hostel-mate and now a Praj Industries Professor at Department of Energy Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay. Shireesh has been working in the area of renewable energy, sustainability, and participatory development for over two decades. In this short interview (28 minutes) Shireesh tells us what systemic approach to participatory development is and its roles in solving wicked problems such as farmers’ suicide etc.

Here is the MP3 audio of the interview (11MB) (The interview was done on October 21, 2019 at Sustainable Development Lab, Dept of Energy Science and Engineering, IIT Bombay).

The questions explored in the interview are:

0:00 Introduction

1:10 Why is participatory development relevant in a place like Indian Institute of Technology? Technology as a bridge between needs and resources on the pillars of science. What needs? Which resources?

6:30 What is participatory development? Who is doing to decide the needs? Centralized body? Elected members? Remote vs direct decision making, opinion-based vs study-knowledge based decision making, This has been done before e.g. Anna Hazare, Systemic approach of participatory development, Can we do this at the village level? City-level? Is it practical?

13:00 Can you give an example to illustrate the concept?  Identified 6 villages in Yavatmal district in Maharashtra state known for farmers’ suicide, didn’t go with any agenda, started developing a dialogue, team led by Dr. Vijay Honkalaskar on a period of 3-6 months along with NGO workers, met women-men-farmers-young of the village on a sustained basis, tremendous pessimism-depression, village suicide, noted 42 different loops affecting farming – family size, cattle availability, land quality, atmosphere, pesticides, seeds, govt schemes etc. Documented all this and went back to the villagers, showed them some connects are working, some are broken (family size has become small), complete picture started evolving, once the picture was clear they started suggesting solutions, economics, organic farming, tinted word, people have a phobia, small farmer 1-2 acre land feels this is not for him, changed lingo, identified basic processes, gap between practice of organic farming and people is too much, community action needs handholding.

23:00 Key elements of the approach: Don’t go with any agenda, Try to understand, assimilate the complete system, Go back and show it to them, get their reaction on it, Establish collective clarity, they decide what to do. It can backfire. Needs iteration. Need to prioritize – people may not understand what prioritization means and how to do it. People are wise, they should be given an opportunity to understand and solve their problems.

Hope you find it useful. More details about Prof. Kedare can be found on his home page

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A resource companion to "mindfulness: connecting with the real you" book

My book "Mindfulness: connecting with the real you" uses metaphors from movies, novels, scientific experiments, magic shows, etc. to illustrate main points. The table below presents the links to the publicly available videos for each of the chapters.


1. Balancing the bicycle of life

2. Listening to the mental shotgun

3. Stepping out of the train of thought

4. Recognizing wasteful thoughts

5. Watching the dance of necessities

6. Investigating the shooting game

7. Searching for the real hero

8. Dying to self-image every moment

  • Eckhart Tolle talks about the film "Groundhog day" from his interview "Conversations on compassion" by Dr. James Doty of Stanford. 
  • "Groundhog day...again", Phil realizes for the first time that he is in a time loop.
  • Bengali film "Ghare Baire" (English: The home and the world" with English subtitles. Nikhil's dialogue with his sister-in-law is at 1:36:18.
  • "Kamla" Hindi film (1984) with subtitles, written by Vijay Tendulkar, directed by Jagmohan Mudhra. The dialogue between Kamla and Sarita is at 1:13:54. The dialogue between Sarita and her uncle is at 1:54:25.
9.  Question and Answers

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Advance praise for “Mindfulness: Connecting with the real you”

I really appreciate these wellwishers who graciously agreed to take a look and write an endorsement for my book, “Mindfulness: Connecting with the real you” which is releasing tomorrow (Amazon link). In the top row, Thulasiraj Ravilla, Radhika Herzberger and Swami Chidananda. Bottom row, Ravi Venkatesan, Mukunda Rao, and Vipul Mathur. The one whose picture is missing is Fr Lancy Prabhu. Here is what they say:

Thulasiraj Ravilla, executive director, LAICO and operations director, Aravind Eye Care System
It’s a delightfully engaging and easy-to-read book on a really complex subject. It isn’t a spiritual book and yet at the core of spirituality is being conscious of who we really are. This book trains us to become mindful so that we don’t unknowingly deviate from things that really matter it. This book is a must-read for living a regret-free life.  

Radhika Herzberger, writer, educator and scholar of Sanskrit and Indology
Vinay Dabholkar’s Mindfulness: Connecting with the Real You is a ground-breaking approach to mindfulness. The book offers a practice that stills the mind and discerns the present—breath, music, skies, nature as well as our wayward thoughts and the surrounding garbage on the street. For Dabholkar mindfulness is a search for what is real, for truth rather than profit. In order to uncover deeper facets of the mind, the book adopts a layered structure, moving from the simple to the complex, and illustrating each with wide-ranging examples drawn from popular cinema and books by scientists and spiritual masters. In the process, the author seeks to untangle the rigid, deluded and trigger-happy tendencies of our minds. Based on the premise that self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, Vinay Dabholkar’s book holds out the promise of a new approach to the humanities.

Swami Chidananda, spiritual teacher, Vedanta scholar and founder, FOWAI Forum 
This is valuable writing that presents in a delightful manner many serious aspects of the challenging theme of mindfulness. It can bring tremendous clarity to the reader about the much-talked-about subject. It is intellectually stimulating as it draws from great minds in a spectrum of disciplines like psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and physics. It makes for enjoyable reading as illustrations are taken from movies of Hollywood and Bollywood, among other sources. We encounter in its pages mystics of India, thinkers of Western universities and life experimenters from everywhere. Above all, the deep insights and significant remarks by the author himself make this book a very precious addition to anybody’s collection of reading material that deepens one’s understanding of life. It can cause a major shift in one’s outlooks and facilitate a fundamental transformation.

Ravi Ventakesan, Business Leader, Philanthropist, Author
Mindfulness is a crucial practice in reaching our potential as human beings. Vinay’s book is very readable and makes the concept and the practice of mindfulness accessible.

Mukunda Rao, Author
It is not by sitting in meditation but by being mindfully aware in your to day-to-day living that you grow in self-knowledge and learn to creatively negotiate the problems of living. Vinay Dabholkar’s Mindfulness brings home this wonderful, cleansing truth most effectively.

Vipul Mathur, CEO, Mufti, coach, trainer, and writer
This book makes much-needed mindfulness accessible and achievable. Vinay, with his unvarnished narration, probing questions and heartening Bollywood stories break the far-fetched concept into a simple idea that can be adopted easily in daily life.

Fr Lancy Prabhu, former head of department, inter-religious studies, St Xavier’s College, Mumbai
Replete with numerous attention-grabbing stories, analogies, metaphors and anecdotes, drawn from diverse sources including especially movies, the book brings into relief the many typical problematic patterns our mind gets trapped in, resulting in misery. More significantly, the book clarifies the process of Mindfulness, at whose heart lies Investigation, or present-moment spirit of learning, that brings understanding and freedom to ‘see things as they are’ especially the ‘real you’. An appealing and challenging book for our times to many, especially the young.

Image sources: aravind.org, alchetron.com, sadhanamandira.com, linkedin.com, twitter.com, afaqs.com

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Career-chat with Ravi Aranke: Career as surfing a wave vs climbing a ladder

My classmate and friend Ravi Aranke and I quit our jobs around the same time in 2006. But between the two of us, Ravi has been far more adventurous in his experiments with his career. So, as we near and cross the age of fifty, it creates a wonderful opportunity to look back and see if there are any lessons we learned. Ravi now works as a Senior Director, Technical Support at Cloudera, a leading cloud platform company and is based out of Silicon Valley in California. When Ravi visited Bangalore a month ago, I grabbed the opportunity to have a chat with him. In this interview, Ravi presents his view of a career journey as surfing a wave rather than climbing a ladder. You can listen to the interview here (14MB).

Here are salient points from the interview:

0:00   Introductions

1:15   Brief sketch of Ravi’s career:  Spanning Japan, Singapore in software development and support, Sun Microsystems, RedHat, linear progression till 2006, from individual contributor to senior management. Sun Microsystems, Dotcom bubble, euphoric, Bust, layoffs, a period of introspection, slowly started the feeling, “if you don’t do it now, when will you do it?”, urge to do something different.

3:45 Were you sure as to what you don’t want to do rather than what you want to do? Yes. I was looking at some of the start-up success stories, there was some ego involved, “If I am working hard, I should be working hard for myself.” In hindsight, it was more of self-discovery and spending time doing what I enjoy.

4:45 What happened after you quit your job? I was gravitating towards reading certain books, spending time on investing related things, talking to those people. This was telling that I enjoy these other things more than building the company. Fortunately, I had saved some money. Internet was becoming a thing by that time. Videos on YouTube – 2007-08.

6:25 What was the day for Ravi at that point in time? I started seeing that availability and analyzing data would be a big thing in the future. This hunch came around 2006-07. If I learn these techniques, I will make money in stock markets. Idea of trading system, investing system.

8:13 Were you building skills? Yes, building skills, talent, assets in data science, building models.

9:50 What did the asset involve? Write code, acquire data, regression testing. Had to get back to programming.

12:12 Doing projects together with your kids? One of the best outcomes. Got a lot of time with kids. Google cloud in 2009.

15:25 Motivation to move to a small town. Could I build a small company in a small town? Broadband was a challenge. Now it would be easier. Suddenly I realized I doubled my time.

18:45 After 7 years, what triggered you to consider going back to a job? We made a 5-year plan. Son decided to pursue an undergraduate in the US.

20:30 How difficult was to get back to the corporate world? Wave of big data. New wave brings new companies, demand outstrip supply. Worked in my favor.

22:33 What does it mean to look at a career as surfing a wave? Needs a lot of preparation and some amount of luck. Building up for a wave to come. Not looking to go anywhere. Just enjoy.

25:30 Did you realize getting somewhere was not important? Yes. Buffett’s internal yardstick.

28:09 Is financial security an important aspect? Yes, absolutely, especially if you have a family. You need to get your burn rate down. Moving to small-town helped.

30:15 Anything else? Consider it more like adventure sport. Be prepared that ride would be rough sometimes.

Friday, October 18, 2019

"Managing technological innovation" course at IIT Bombay Oct 10-21

Currently, I am teaching 4 classes (Oct 10, 14, 17, 21) in "Managing Technological Innovation" course being taught by Prof. Anand Kusre at IIT Bombay. This course is being offered at Desai Sethi Center for Entrepreneurship.  

The classes are:

Oct 10 (class slides): Creating a challenge book, Iterative thinking, Framing a challenge through metaphors 

Oct 14 (class slides): Rapid prototyping, feels-like, looks-like and works-like prototypes, before-and-after storyboard 

Oct 17 (class slides): Taking big technological bets, technology sandbox, Lego mindstorm - building a sandbox collaboratively

Oct 21 (class slides): Building a margin of safety, pre-mortem, cognitive biases and investigating cognitive illusions

Oct 20: Based on the first 3 classes, students have to submit the following assignment by Oct 20 (Sunday):

What to submit: A pdf document with the following:

1. Class-1 (10-Oct) exercise:
   1.1 List of challenge areas - one each for pain-wave-waste
   1.2 Shortlist them using PIC framework - Passion, Impact, chance of progress
   1.3 Identify a metaphor
   1.4 Frame a challenge statement - one line only

2. Class-2 (14-Oct) exercise:
   2.1 A before-and-after storyboard of an idea
   2.2 A paper model of the idea

3. Class-3 (17-Oct) exercise:
  3.1 Design of low-cost working prototype
  3.2 Cost of the prototype
  3.3 Outcome of your 1-hour effort towards working prototype

Friday, September 20, 2019

3 tips on being mindful in the corporate world: An Edgar Schein perspective

I have been a fan of Prof Edgar Schein, an expert on organizational culture. However, I was surprised to hear Schein emphasize mindfulness in an interview at Google. By the time of this interview in 2016, Schein would have been 87 years old, active as a researcher, teacher and consultant way more than half a century. What is mindfulness according to Schein? What is the role, according to him, mindfulness can play in a competitive corporate world? Let’s explore in this article.

Let’s begin with taking a look at what Schein means by mindfulness. According to Schein, mindfulness is not some kind of meditation process. Mindfulness is situational awareness of how culture inside of us and around us is dominating our thinking. The point Schein is emphasizing here is that the culture is inside us in the form of accumulated learning from family, school, corporate world, etc.

Here are 3 tips Schein offers on being mindful in a corporate world obsessed with measurement and winning.

Be curious about deeper reality: Situational awareness would mean being curious about what’s going on as we observe things, communicate with people and make decisions. Schein suggests a couple of questions that might help in this process. One, what’s the deeper reality? For example, in a meeting, can I become aware of the fact that I am trying to win an argument rather than focusing on the point of discussion, whenever that happens? The second question Schein suggests us to ask is, “What else is going on?”

Be relational vs transactional: In a fast-paced world, we need to make decisions quickly. That leads to interactions which are transactional – e.g. telling what to do and expect the other person to just follow. In some situations, this may be meaningful. However, in many situations, this doesn’t work. This becomes even tougher when the job is to fire people. Schein uses the example from the movie “Up in the air” to point out that firing people by hiring an agency to do it over a video call is transactional. A more humane approach would be for the manager to sit face to face and discuss options together openly.

Focus on process vs content: According to Schein, mindfulness involves paying more attention to the process of thinking as compared to the content of thought. Mostly our attention is grabbed by the content – the ideas, judgments, decisions, etc. And we are unaware of the process that fuels thinking. Many times the process is driven by anxieties and aspirations. Anxiety could be about losing out in one’s career or it could be about not winning. Situational awareness means being aware of this process, anxieties-aspirations driving the thinking as much as the content.

Schein points out that being mindful doesn’t guarantee corporate success. If your boss values only winning, you may be stuck. Of course, being mindful of one’s own anxieties about being stuck and how that is being reflected in everything one does may open up newer possibilities.

Why be mindful if it doesn’t increase the chance of success in the corporate world? I don’t think this aspect is discussed in the interview. I feel that being mindful in order to succeed is taking one away from mindfulness already. This is because every action now is driven by an aspiration to succeed or anxiety about failure.

Hope you get to explore the tips Schein offers and experiment with being mindful for its own sake rather than in order to achieve something. I thought Karen May, Google VP People Development has done an excellent job as an interviewer. Hope you listen to the interview which may have much more in store for you.

Image source: youtube.com
Interview link: “Edgar Schein: Humber leadership” | Talks at Google

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My 3 takeaways from Scott Adams’ “How to fail at almost everything and still win big”

A few months back my friend RamP recommended Scott Adams’ “How to fail at almost everything and still win big”. At that time, I was struggling to convey the importance of “fail fast, fail often” principle to the students in my course on innovation at IIMB. The book helped me in showcasing to students how successful people like Scott Adams have a long list of failures and they are not shy of presenting it. But the book doesn’t stop at flaunting failures; it goes deeper than that. It presents some of the key challenges we face in our creative journey and suggests some practical approaches in tackling them. And it does so in a witty style. Here are my 3 takeaways from the book:

Fail often in order to succeed: “You want to be steeped to your eyebrow in failure,” Scott says, “It’s a good place to be because failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure. The trick is to get the good stuff out.” That’s quite an insight. In chapter 4 titled “Some of my many failures in summary form”, Scott presents 22 failures and the lessons he learned from them. Chapter 5 is dedicated to “My absolutely favorite spectacular failure”. I would buy this book just for these two chapters. When I present my failure resume in the class, students comment that my failures weren’t that bad. When I tell them the Nassim Taleb quote, “Learn to fail with comfort, pleasure, and pride,” they feel if you are failing comfortably that means you are not trying hard. Perhaps it is not easy to understand that for an idea with big upside, the cost and downside of experimentation doesn’t have to be high. In my failure to communicate this point lies an opportunity for me to improve my presentation in the future.

Goals are for losers, system for winners: “If your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal – if you reach it at all – feeling as if you were short of your goal,” Scott adds, “Goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.” He suggests that one should treat the system as primary rather than the goal. How is system different from goal? He says that running a marathon is a goal while exercising daily is a system. If you do something every day, Scott calls it a system and if you are waiting to achieve it someday in future, it is a goal. My take is that both have a place but the question is where do you place emphasis? Scott suggests that system should be primary and I feel the same.

Maximize personal energy: How does Scott approach the problem of multiple priorities? He says he focuses on only one metric – “my energy”. Scott says, “The main reason I blog is because it energizes me. I don’t need another reason.” In fact, Scott goes on step further. His Dilbert comic creating process is divided into two stages to maximize the energy-generating ideas and drawing the final art. He has observed that his creative energy is at its best during morning time. So he tries to get new Dilbert ideas at that time. And he draws the final art in the afternoon which is less creative. Shopping drains his energy, so he minimizes shopping. Everyone is different and hence one should pay attention to things that give and drain energy.

I enjoyed the book and strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to preserve or develop the creative part within oneself. I find all the three suggestions valuable, keeping a failure resume, focusing on the system rather than goals and paying attention to the sources of energy. Hope you get to experiment with them.

image source: amazon.in
Nassim Taleb quote is from his interview by Alleb Webb in McKinsey Quarterly, December 2008 issue.