My Worst Fears

Couple of days back I had a great realization. I realized what my greatest fears are (and have been). I mean I kinda knew some – but this time I came across the core of them. We all have our own dark corners and I nurtured mine with complete denial and ignorance. It was culmination of what I have been reading and that one amazing video watched the night before. Here is the book –

tamingA simple and amazing book which talks a lot about how internal chatter creates these seemingly uncontrollable gremlins that we carry around and believe the picture they paint as true. It’s really hard to identify them as they usually become part of our identity and severely limit our scope to catch them in action.

The books premise is – there is a core in everyone of us. The pure core and then there are these gremlins. We are kinda slaves to these gremlins (if you watched Cloud Atlas, there is a perfect example of it in that movie. The “Old Georgie” is nothing but a personification of Gremlin). Gremlins control us based on a pattern. They keep us anywhere except the present and now. Obsess about past, fear the future – that’s gremlin talking.

I think that book needs to be re-read and re-read till we can clearly identify and sort out those gremlins. So, here are my worst fears.

1. The Fear of not fitting in : This is so much part of me that it was really, really hard to dislocate and watch it. Basically not fitting in for me means anything from clothing, accent, pronunciation, culture, politics, knowledge, humor, sports, finances, habits and everything else. I am so dreaded by the fact that I won’t fit into something that I will totally avoid anything if I have a slightest hint of not fitting in well. It’s a painful truth and probably has kept me off of many astounding opportunities in my life but yeah that is my fear and it’s part of me.

2. The Fear of not being nice : This is nuts as well. I hate to be one with conflicts. I mean internal conflicts I seed and grow a many but outer conflicts I can’t take it. I am so scared of not turning out to be nice to other people that I will actually avoid them rather be angry at them or even show even a hint of discontent. Once again this fear is part of me and defines me.

3. The Fear of not being smart enough : This is the most craziest and the more I dwelled into it the more I realized that this is a double edge sword. I hate to be not smart enough among a peer group. If I am among a bunch of smart people, I strive really really hard to act and do smart things. But on the other hand if I come across someone who is not as smart as I think they are – then I drop, I completely drop and “act” stupid to accommodate me. So, I act more smart and more dumb when required to fit into the above two fears.

Remember the question here is NOT “why am I this way?” Doing that encourages another gremlin and you lost your battle already. It’s just to put the fears out. Pull out these grotesque creatures I have nurtured and created since my childhood and just watch them. Just be aware of them and do nothing. As simple as it sounds, it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done. Just writing this blog post makes me think that I am publicly shaming myself and making vulnerable to outside world.

The video I talked about which helped me to figure out the above process is by Alan Watts. Here it is.

I created this blog to actually post stuff that surfaces in my psyche and in the past there have been many books and stuff I read that have helped me to identify these. Here are some of them that come to mind.

I just came across this gem – The Blerch is nothing but a Gremlin – http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running

 

 

 

practicingmind artofwar mastery

 

 

 

Vivid Dreams

Ok this is weird but I think I realized a correlation recently. In the past few days – I am doing this news and feeds diet. Meaning, no reckless browsing on reddit, hufpost or facebook. It was hard first few days but I was getting more done! (I know, obvious right?) I wanted to keep that going and have been but something else has been happening. In the past 2 nights I have been having extremely detail and vivid dreams. It’s rare I see such a flurry of dreams so vivid and for so many days. When I woke up this morning I can remember a whole lineup of dreams and even though I slept for 7 hours my eyes were aching and didn’t want me to wake up.

I am not sure if these 2 things are related but may be all those neurons I am killing with aimless tech browsing are finally being utilized to provide entertainment during my sleep! I love it. sleeping-ganesha

Being Aware and Clear

As I journaled away my thoughts and complaints today I realized something good. I usually address my letter to Swami and pour out whatever is coming through. I think and treat him as if he is listening to me and sympathising with what I am saying. As I complained away – I realized or rather remembered that the point of power is within me and my complaints are actually shaping my very mindset about issues at hand.

I have always felt like that there is some secret mantra to life. I mean some kind of blueprint and pathway directing me every moment about what I should do next. But I don’t think there is any now. But how do I proceed through this jigsaw? I think there is only one way to it – As we are told about how being aware of our breath is a form of meditation (Thich Nhat Hanh talks a lot about this) so do I believe being aware of what I want in every moment is the only way of having a clarity in this life.

I know both aren’t easy and sound like they need a lot of work. I agree, but that is the only way to step back from our lives’ autopilot. You can think of 2 thoughts entwined – like when you become aware of your breath also ask – what do I want? Like in this specific moment. I may not have answer for all the moments and I may not remember to be aware of my breath all the time.

Again, it’s one way of living and passing through life’s various curved paths.

Like is the new Subscribe

First there was print media. Next came the Internet revolution and it got the 4th estate all riled up and they started out their websites. Blogs started complimenting the news and then came Twitter. People started to talk to each other using tweets and then the idea coalesced into leaders within Twitter providing information. The media was late to it but it joined eventually. The news started getting disbursed in 140 characters matching the 10 seconds attention span. Then came Facebook – colonizing the friendship graph. They pulled in all of us and all our friends and everyone we knew. Enticed us to “Like” each other’s stuff and encouraging activity, eyeballs and addiction. The media was late there as well, but now it’s catching up.

Facebook announced 2 major things last week. In video side of it’s 1 billion dollar acquisition of Instagram. Perfectly timed 15 secs (as opposed to 6 seconds on Vine) – matching the advertisement requirement, videos in your feed. Another thing is about Mark Zuckerberg’s passion to make Facebook as a place to get all your news. I think this is a genius move on Facebook’s behalf. I have literally stopped going to websites to read news – all I do is like them on their site when I visit them first time – and lo and behold I get all my news on my wall. Facebook turned it’s “Like” button into a “interested”, “permission to invade”, “subscribe me” button.

Pretty soon we will have news media saying – “Only available on Facebook“, “Watch it first on Facebook” – because that is where the action is. Because that wall you take for granted on Facebook is definitely a wall – a wall where you put your virtual TV on, a wall where you pin your address book on, a wall where you have your calendar on. Facebook wall is the new Desktop – it’s just that we are not aware of it yet. It’s here and it’s slowly creeping on us.

I feel sorry for Google and Apple – both companies still stuck in the old thinking and investing in good old media hardware – Google TV, Apple TV(the actual TV which is rumored). I feel sorry that Google dropped it’s Google reader which could have competed with Facebook wall. I feel sorry for Youtube Channels because you are way too far from my wall and need a new tab to visit you. It’s just a matter of time before we see HBO exclusive on Facebook wall.

This is how a simple Like turned into a mass consumption channel. A pathway to new consumers.

Sunday Book Review – Think Twice

2 years back when I was visiting India – I came across this cool book. I was more surprised to see Jeff Bezos saying some good words about this book. I believe Jeff Bezos is one of the smartest business man out there. I admire him for doing so much with so little (well until, Amazon started turning profits). I was kinda surprised to see him saying some good words about this book. I bought it but never got around to read it till now. I love this book. It does boil down some common thinking pitfalls and how to use counter intuition to overcome it. I wanted to write a review for it but I don’t want to write a long write up on it and use different tools to enhance the core concepts of this book. So here we go…

think-twice

This book gives you 8 counter intuitive thinking tools. To make it simple I have them tabulated them. The author uses a lot of examples of sports and financial world throughout the book but I think these strategies can be employed anywhere.

1. The Outside View

Intuitive Thinking: Thinking that the problem you have is unique and needs a unique solution

Counter Intuitive Remedy:

  • Collect these kinds of problems
  • Check the success rate of solution
  • If required draw a histogram
  • Pick/Predict a solution

2. Open to Options

Intuitive Thinking: Tunnel vision, not considering alternatives. Incentives may enforce tunnel vision further.

Counter Intuitive Remedy:

  • Explicitly consider the alternatives
  • Seek Dissent
  • Keep a log of previous decisions
  • Don’t decide with emotions
  • Check the incentives – for you, for others.

3. The Expert Squeeze

Intuitive Thinking: Our uncritical reliance on experts and their opinions

Counter Intuitive Remedy:

  • Match the problem you face with most appropriate solution
  • Seek diversity in solution space
  • Use technology when possible – again, like creating a sample data and studying it.

4. Situational Awareness

Intuitive Thinking: Role of context in decision making. Not knowing how others influence us in picking a solution. Thinking that you are in control of the problem and only you decide everything.

Counter Intuitive Remedy:

  • Be aware of the situation
  • Consider the situation first and individual second
  • Watch out for the Institutional Imperative – coined by Warren Buffett – implies how companies blindly copy other companies.

  • Avoid inertia – periodically revisit the processes.

5. More is Different

Intuitive Thinking: Pitfalls of understanding complex systems at a wrong level

Counter Intuitive Remedy:

  • Consider the system at the correct level
  • Watch for tightly coupled systems
  • Use simulations to create virtual worlds

6. Evidence of Circumstance

Intuitive Thinking: Predicting cause and effect for system based on attributes rather than circumstances.

Counter Intuitive Remedy: 

  • Ask whether the theory behind your decision making accounts for circumstance
  • Watch for the correlation-and-causality trap
  • Balance simple rules with simple conditions

7. Grand Ah-Whooms

Intuitive Thinking: Phase transitions, assuming that small changes to a system don’t mean anything

Counter Intuitive Remedy: 

  • Study the distribution of outcomes for the system you are dealing with.
  • Look for ah-whooms moments – the small changes that lead to big ones.
  • Beware of forecasters
  • Mitigate the downside and capture the upside

8. Sorting Luck from Skill

Intuitive Thinking: Not knowing the role of skill and luck in outcomes and to what measure.

Counter Intuitive Remedy:

  • Evaluate the mix of skill and luck in the system you are analyzing
  • Carefully consider the sample size
  • Watch for change within the system or of the system
  • Watchout for the halo effect

Books

I am a little nuts about books. I buy a lot of them, read a lot of them and always keep thinking about what that book I saw other day is trying to say. But what I noticed is that I read books for 2 reasons – one is just for pleasure (like 2001 Space Odyssey) and another is to learn more about certain thing. The 2nd part is where I am having some issues off late. I mean I read it, write down and take notes but then after a while I forget all about it. I always wanted to do book reviews and use that as an anchor to retain certain stuff with me. I am going to do that starting from tomorrow. Every Sunday I will write-up a review of a book. I know 50 books is a way too small a number for the amount of books I own, but it’s a start.

Microfinance – Good, Bad and Ugly

Microfinance is a one of those ideas which has been around for a long time but people have shown a lot of interest in it only recently (trend link). Now a days most people understand what it is and usually have  lot of positive things to say about it. But like any other idea, it has those 3 sides – good, bad and ugly. I stumbled up on the last 2 only in the past few weeks. After reading Yunus‘s book – it was very inspiring to learn about Microfinance and how it is going to pull a lot of people out of poverty. I was a very firm believer in that. But I think the reality is far different than what we find in books.

Banker to the Poor

The other 2 books in context are – “A fistful of rice” by Vikram Akula and “Confessions of a Microfinance heretic” by Hugh Sinclair.

A Fistful of RiceConfessions of a Microfinance Heretic

Vikram Akula was a poster child of Microfinance – couple of years back, in 2007 when I learned about him – I was so inspired and I had dreams of going back to India and working for SKS Microfinance. I sent emails to SKS Microfinance about it but never heard back. The technology stack was all .NET so I couldn’t find a way to work for them. Later in 2008 I attended a talk by Vikram Akula at University of Chicago and was completely inspired. As I read his book – which showcases all the troubles he faced to start his firm – it stuck me how he was forgetting the basic tenets of Microfinance. He has been working in it for almost 10 years and was dreaming up to connect Microfinance with capitalistic market based profit making companies. His idea is cool on paper, but the implementation is wrong.

When you get to poor people who are way below the poverty line and you offer them these micro-loans – the core idea should be helping them. Just helping them. Not even thinking in terms of “Oh, I am here to rescue you out of your poverty-ness”. No. Just helping them and showcasing them certain best practices is what one can do. There is no way one person, one system can massively move people out of poverty. If you think a little deeper – the systems which we have in place are enablers of this poverty and poor people. Nothing within the system can really fix it. But if we go around trying to do so – it would be a failure.

Which is exactly what happened to Vikram Akula’s SKS Microfinance. Even though Yunus never liked linking Microfinance with for profit making companies – he couldn’t stop Akula. And in 2010 – SKS collapsed. When a lot of poor people who borrowed money and couldn’t pay back – started committing suicides – the AP Govt passed a law to ban all microfinance activity in the state, thereby bringing down SKS. When you bring in investors who are looking for returns there is going to be a pressure on the company to churn profits always. This in turn will put pressure on the micro lenders to perform better which is passed on to the poor people who are already struggling to survive.

Hugh Sinclair explains it much better in his book. He worked in various microfinance firms for about 10+ years and saw how the reality mismatches with the fantasy story that everyone is weaving around him. Poor people are struggling but they are also human. They have desires as well – the money they started to borrow – got used for one time entertainment values rather than use it as an investment. If you are poor and hungry, a entertainment is far more distracting than a entrepreneurial thought. They do want to get better but after their basic needs are met. So any money thrown at them will first go towards their basic needs and then to uplift yourself.  Maslow talked about this so long ago. Sinclair also talks about how big banks have gotten into microfinance which is a $70 billion market and trying to make hay day out of it. In all this Grameen Bank (not Grameen Foundation – checkout the comment by Hugh below!) is an exception. It also functions as a bank, because of some laws passed in Bangladesh and may be that is the way to go. A Microfinance company can become a bank after certain time or reaching targets and then start thinking of profits- rather the other way around where the big banks get in with sole motive of making profits on the back of struggling poor.

My next book I am planning to read is – Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid – which Akula says was his inspiration to try to make a profitable public company on top of idealistic mico lending company.

Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Agriculture Information Index

This is something thats been hovering over my head from the past 2 weeks. One of my extremely smart friend talked to me about this idea and without spilling a lot of details about it (since he still wants to pursue this as a business) – I want to give my 2 cents on this.

The idea is very simple – basically create a searchable index with a REST API in the front for the agricultural information for a certain region – in this case it would be some county/district in India. This index would be a subscription based one for people who want to sell services and goods to farmers in this farmland. That’s the idea – but when you get down to implement it – it’s an uphill task. Since I have been thinking about this I want to take a crack at this – in theory for now. The difficulty is in collection of data – it needs to be cheap but network connected. The one thing that comes to my mind when I think about it is – Raspberri Pi – RPi has made inroads to some serious business models from a hobby and I think a simple prototype can be built which have multiple sensors and can capture them and store it temporarily. This could further be powered with solar (yeah I know the cost might go up with this one). The networking part can be solved with a simple solution. The Rpi unit doesn’t need to be online all the time. It could be a simple app running in background on an Android phone which will collect data as you pass by Rpi and send it across to a central location. There is a lot of scope for innovation in getting the data out from fields to a central db.

Then there are human problems – like vandalism and people stealing these things away for copper in it. This is going to be tricky. The farmers are mostly poor and they would need a incentive to keep these Rpi’s buzzing and collecting data. I think there is a scope here to involve a CBO or a micro lending company to turn this into an interesting investment option for the farmers. Imagine treating Rpis as cattle and as the data gets collected they would get paid some amount. It might be less than what they can make over cattle – but this one would be reliable and more recurring. Also the fact that the data might actually help them find the resources like fertilizers etc faster and might raise their land value is pretty convincing.

That’s just a small sample of what I think about the Agri data. I would love to jump into something like that and build a nice usable prototype if I have enough backing.

I did explore a very similar idea in Education area with another friend of mine who is equally skilled and passionate about bringing in cheap hardware and rich content to teach kids in remote areas – but that’s another blog post.

I think if you scale back and take a look at bigger picture – the bigger index is the social index – which would be hard to create but with incentives and some good planning it would be possible to create a social aspect index of Indian rural area which would then help other CBO and NGOs to be able to target specific issues at grass root level in the areas they want to.

The possibilities are unlimited and my imagination is buzzing!

Some moments

There are some moments in my life – where I would be in between of something and God knows what happens – may be some neurons fire together – a specific memory flashes back. Today I was writing some code and a distinct memory of my dad on  a particular day lit up in my head. I was trying to subdue it but it wouldn’t go away. I accepted what was coming in and stopped what I was doing and reminisce about that day.

When I finished my high school, I appeared for every premier institute entrance test. My favorites were IISC (Indian Institute of Science) or ISI (Indian Statistical Institute)  but it was a long arduous selection process. Every institute had this written test which was hours long and it would be a one whole day spent on it. I did my best to prepare, but my dad would want to make sure I am taken care of well. So, he would drop me off at the place and say that he would pick me up.

But sometimes he would never leave. He would take time off from his work and just spend all day waiting for me to finish the test. I would know once I get back out by the look on his face. Tired but eager. I don’t know why he did that. At that time I used to ask him not to do that but he wouldn’t listen.

That particular image popped up in my head today and refused to leave till I paid attention to it. I don’t think I am being nostalgic but I feel that there is some meaning to it. Also, I wouldn’t lie that this particular memory was easy to handle – it moved and churned a lot of things in me. 

Mourning

This morning I got a call from my home in India. My dearest grand dad passed away. It hurt so much to learn that. He has been sick from some time and I made it a point to spend a lot of time with him on my trip to India last month. It’s been a weird day. I tried so many ways to find solace in many things. It’s hard. Death is such a full stop to everything that happens around it that it throws people off their rhythm.

My grand father was the sweetest person in the world. The only person who would let me do and let me have whatever I want while growing up under my strict dad. I don’t remember when it started to happen but I think around the age when I was 7 I started to go spend all my summer at my grand parents place. It was so much fun. I used to look forward to that. The summer was the best. I would just spend time with my friends and watch movies. My grand parents took care of me.

Then later when I was went to college, it so happened that it was like 20 miles from my grand parents place. I loved it. Every weekend I would go visit them and spend a good amount of time. My grand father was so much fun to hangout with. He was a farmer. I would go to fields with him and watch him do the work and try to help. He loved farming. He has un-usual way to telling weather. Just by smelling the air and looking at the sky he could tell if it’s going to rain or not. It was fascinating to me.

It was always sad to leave their place to go back to my place. But one thing that got etched into my memory when I was kid was – as I was saying good bye to him – my grand father started to cry. I could never imagine that he could cry and I was shocked. I still remember that day.

10 years ago he had a stroke and everyone thought we would lose him. But he came back like a rock star. He got healed and miraculously also managed to do his pilgrimage and live this long. He was 80+ and in a good health. He doesn’t have any of the modern lifestyle diseases, no eye sight and still was going around on his bi-cycle.

I love him so much and I am going to miss him a lot. My only solace is that I saw him last month and he saw Sahana and was able to bless her. It’s painful to digest this and there are no words sometimes to express it. One song keep going on in my head and I just keep listening to it. It somehow soothes me.

Rest in Peace Nana. I will miss you a lot.

nana