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