Sunday, April 20, 2014

William Seward - The 200 words project

Here's this week's 200 word idea from

A man met with a serious accident on a carriage ride - he broke multiple bones and only a large metal splint held his jaw together. Hearing this, Abraham Lincoln rushed to visit his most trusted confidant, Secretary of State William Seward. Lincoln shared that the Civil War was sure to be over in days. They had finally done it.

Nine days later, Lincoln was assassinated. An assassin came for Seward as well and struck him with a knife till he was sure he was dead. But defying all odds, he was not - the large metal splint from his broken jaw had somehow shielded his face.

Seward recovered, re-took his position as Secretary of State, supported President Andrew Johnson's plans of reconciliation with the South, and then went on to make what was considered one of the greatest mistakes of the time - buying a piece of land called Alaska for $7.2 million from Russia.

Many things in life won’t turn out like we planned. Some things will even inexplicably take turns down dark roads. But, as Seward's story shows, we never know what amazing gift lies around the next corner if we are willing to keep going.

Source and thanks to:

'The most miserable moments of our lives have the potential for the greatest redemption.'

Saturday, April 19, 2014

5 year plans and quarterly earnings calls

Thinking long term is hard - so hard that Jeff Bezos, one of the smartest entrepreneurs on the planet, has invested 42 million dollars into a 10,000 year clock that symbolizes the importance of thinking long term. I think long term thinking is something we do very badly in our own lives. Most thinking horizons rarely exceed a couple of years (at most). For the most part, we are focused on the next few weeks.

This is one area where I like the systems corporations follow - make five year plans, make commitments and review them every quarter. One of the ideas I am thinking about is implementing that in my life. I’ve probably done 5 year planning 2 times (!) over the past few years but I’m not sure I’ve followed up adequately. Thinking long term is extremely powerful and it needs to be made a habit.

The reason corporations don’t make it work so well is because the the pressure on the CEO to deliver short term results (thanks to pressure from stakeholders who generally don’t have much of a clue) messes the system up. But, if we were to implement it on ourselves, we’d be able to execute with the long term in mind. Additionally, I think the exercise of determining our 5 year goals - across dimensions like health, relationships, finances - and then preparing a quarterly review would in itself be a terrific learning experience.

Bill Gates says we overestimate what we can accomplish in a year but underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade. Perhaps it’s time we fixed this.

More to follow..

Friday, April 18, 2014

Waiting for an invitation

There is no end to waiting for invitations - from people around you to hand you a drink so you can sing and dance, from the club that won’t have you so you can hang out with people who you think you’d like to be around, or even from the universe to hand you the perfect time to be able to have fun.

I think a new life begins when we stop waiting for invitations - it’s in our hands to sing, to dance, to create our own tribes, and to lighten up and have fun.

There is no right time or age to get started. The best time was yesterday. The next best time is now.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Conveying one idea

Sometimes the hardest thing while attempting to communicate (by writing or speaking) is to just remember to convey one idea we’d really like to get across. It is always tempting to litter our essays, speeches, blog posts, and conversations with multiple examples, tips, and the like.

I’ve learnt that the best conversations and even the best books contain around one great idea (outstanding ones contain three) - some communicate it clearly while others just make a mess of it by attempting to communicate as many ideas possible and hoping the reader takes one away.

Don’t hope. All we need is to gain clarity around that one idea - let’s ask ourselves what it is and communicate it intentionally and clearly. It may not end up being a “great” idea in our reader’s/listener’s mind as they decide what they want to take from a conversation or passage. That’s part of the process. At least we’d have tried and grown through it...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You have to listen to be heard..

Folks who constantly interrupt before others complete a sentence to make a point (and I am guilty of this more often than I like to admit) forget a very simple principle - you have to listen to be heard.

And, by listen, I mean really listen. Not just nod fervently and prevent you get it. Real listening involves 3 things -

1. Showing understanding - some folks achieve this by demonstrating rapt attention while a few (wise) others do so by regularly paraphrasing what they heard

2. Letting others finish - they’re not done till they are done.

3. Being open to the possibility of your assumptions and world view being wrong- Now, you can follow points 1 and 2 all you like but if you aren’t open to the fact that the conversation you are having might just change the way you think and feel about something, it’s not listening. Don’t pretend the conversation matters. Just walk away. Or just call it preaching - don’t insult the term “conversation.”

If you, on the other hand, are following 1, 2, and 3 diligently while the folks conversing with you are not, walk away as well. Great conversation is a rare thing and doesn’t come easily. And, at the end of the day, it takes two (listeners) to tango..

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Plan B mentality

Musician John Ondrasik had a very practical answer for my question about his education when I interviewed him - He struck a deal with his parents that he’d be allowed to pursue music as long as he completed a degree from a normal college. So, John completed a degree in Applied Math and Physics from Berkeley and then went onto become a successful musician.

Simple concept. But one that isn’t done often. For instance, for a long time, I’d work very hard only on one plan A. I didn’t believe too much in having other plans as I felt it’d distract me and mess with my commitment to “the” plan. Over time, I’ve learnt that that isn’t too smart. 2 reasons -

1. I got too attached to plan A. Failure was taken very personally.
2. There is hardly ever a right/”the” plan. Well, maybe there is but we don’t generally know it when we see it. Experimentation and openness always opens up more possibilities than we can otherwise think about.

A key part of a successful personal process is relegating failure to a non-event that is great for reflection. And, the way to do that is to make multiple plans and always remember that the universe wholly approves making multiple plans - why else do we have 26 letters in the alphabet?

Monday, April 14, 2014

If you haven’t done it yet, don’t find fault

Here’s an idea - if you’ve never tried something yet, reserve your expert comments.

If you can’t cook - no judgments allowed on someone else’s cooking. If you haven’t started a weekend project in addition to your job - no criticism allowed on someone else’s project.

Your judgments (as well intentioned as they are) aren’t helping. No, really. They aren’t.

Before you pass that comment, try it first.

And, you know what happens? Once you try it and appreciate how difficult it is to just be the person doing things, your comments stop. And, in fact, when you actually get really good at whatever it is you try, you play the role of the wise expert who only offers encouragement and support. After all, there always are more detractors than necessary.

Sarcasm from the stands is easy. Support from the field is tougher.. and better.