Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Anjali - Little Ms. Organised

So Anjali's birthday is approaching and the usual excitement is on. People to call, what to eat, gifts to come etc etc. It's a pretty large affair so work starts a week in advance. However gifts must not be mentioned - 'I want a surprise'.

Anyway I did not understand the seriousness of things until I saw these sheets pinned on the board. The first sheet was a list of all her guests - about 11 show up here but the list got extended to all in her class - another 6. The second page had a list of games to be played on the day. The third sheet was about the stuff that needed to be bought - snacks, cake, return gifts etc. On the list of friends Mansi has already been assigned some responsibility.

There are still a few more days to go and I have every reason to believe that she will have a proper dossier by the time we are within striking distance - with responsibilities, schedules and back up plans.

I am amazed at this level of organisation. For me birthdays are stuff that happen - or for that matter life too - and you handle it the best you can.

Makes me wonder, if I had been half this organised, I probably could have done something with myself. But good for you Anjali; this is a lesson I will take seriously. Like someone said, you must work to ensure happiness.

Two Interesting Scenes

I saw two interesting scenes today, both while driving. That's to say I witnessed them for less than a couple of seconds but that was more than enough.

The first starred a young girl, four or five years old, walking home from school. One hand secure in her grandfather's hand, the little cherub peered beyond the grandfather's frame, spotted whoever she was looking out for and waved her free hand with such loving familiarity that I can never forget that mischief and happiness in her look. Her shining eyes, sweet smile, trusting body language, all pointed out that the recipient of her wishes must be someone special to her. I quickly followed her gaze and tracked down the recipient - an old, frail beggar lady sitting outside a temple and waiting for alms. The old lady's face was lit with immense joy and happiness as she waved back at her little friend and you knew instantly that this was a daily thing. The connection between the two was something divine, out of this world. It's worth waiting near that temple again to catch that joy and affection of these two friends, this little game they play with one another.

The second scene came almost immediately after. A young was father walking home with his young daughter, three or four. He was carrying her. She enveloped him in a big hug, so tightly that they were almost as one. More interestingly the father reciprocated, holding his daughter so tightly, his face hidden in her little shoulders, walking almost unseeingly but conveying something deep and profound to his daughter. It was a moment of pure oneness, unadulterated love, complete surrender. There they walked oblivious to the rest of the world, deep inside their own world, free of outside tensions, unknown fears. In there, they were safe and secure, all was good and nice. All I could do was wish them that space forever.

Two lovely scenes that will remain in my heart always.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nice Link - Publisher to Writers

Thought for the Day - How To Make Millions or Why 'Bad' News Sells

When it comes to making millions there is but one simple strategy.

"Human beings feel better when they feel superior to others, so give them content that makes them feel superior." 

This is the single point agenda that drives all that we the masses consume. This is why Saas bahu sells more than a spiritual talk or a well informed interview. This is why bad news dominates good news. This is probably also why porn sells more than education.

Because each time we see bad people (stupid people, pathetic people etc), we somehow feel better than them. How can they be like that? We instantly feel better than them in comparison. On the other hand, stuff would be depressing if all we saw were people who were flawless in thought, word and deed and who lived perfect lives. We would feel completely useless then. Between these two scenarios the general public wants to watch the first type - which makes them feel good in comparison without all this extra effort at being 'better'. If I must feel good, all I need is someone worse than me.

When it comes to news, the same principle applies. News agencies can show good news. But good news does not give us this same feeling of being superior to the others. It is only when the worst kinds of news are shown that we feel better about ourselves. The more sensational the news, the more deviant the news, the better we feel. How can they? We can go to sleep feeling better about ourselves - okay we are living pathetic lives but its not as bad as those characters.

Movies, ads, news, television serials - almost all the material we consume on facebook and other social media is about this - how do we feel superior to the others. Its the rare change in beat, an uncharacteristic inspiration that can dominate for a while. But overall evil is more interesting for the simple reason that it makes people feel instantly better.

Why does self-help or get-better not get as popular? Same reason in reverse - it makes you feel less. You feel depressed. If you need a successful self-help story package it so it makes the person feel better in comparison.

Now, go write that bestseller. You may not earn respect (who cares) but you will earn millions.

People - Turab Lakdawala on Advertising

Turab Lakdawala is the owner of 'Tempest', a leading advertising company based in Hyderabad. I know the Hyderabad-based ad companies  - because I hoped to get employed in one. I always fancied myself as an advertising man. (I think everyone does at some point.) Another reason why I knew about Tempest was because my good friend Ashok Nair worked there. In fact Turab recounted that we probably met through Ashok at their office many years ago which surprised me - I am always surprised when people remember me. Why would you?

Anyway Turab was gracious enough to write me a mail recently after he read an old blog I wrote about my friend Tarun Chauhan, an ex-advertising man. I am always looking out to meet experts in domains and Turab was one, so I made it a point to meet him. It was a lively chat - Turab is very unassuming and easy to talk to, brings honesty and intelligence to the table so it was a fun hour well spent. Then I decided to meet him again for an interview - my excuse for asking more probing questions shamelessly. What is recounted below is the gist of our interview.

Twist of Fate
As I felt my way around how Tempest happened and why he chose adverstsing as a career, Turab recounted how he got into advertising completely by a twist of fate. He never intended to. Turab studied agriculture from Pune University before he joined IIM, A.. Then he worked at Hindustan Lever for 7 years in the foods, soaps and detergents business which gave him great sales exposure. When he quit HLL he did not want to go back to a job so he and his friend started a company dealing with seeds and software. Both divisions wound up. Sometime then, one of their friends suggested doing HR consulting - an opportunity had arisen. One thing led to aother and Turab grew his business since 1988 and is now one of he biggest advertising firms in Hyderabad with branches in Pune and Bangalore.

Brand building needs Commitment
Turab said it takes a lot of commitment to build a brand. Brand building (his forte) is like raising a child. It needs care and nurturing. Organisations have to be tutored on how to do it right. Most organisations fall into the trap of reaping benefits from the brand too early and kill it. He believes that they should instead reinvest (just like any sensible promoter does). He cited the example of mango trees and how they start fruiting in the first year itself. But good farmers do not let the young fruit blossom and wait for a coupe of years - and it is this waiting that yields tastier and healthier fruit later.

As an advertiser Turab feels that he has to advise his clients tactically and strategically. Brand building is about advertising, about the values built around the product and delivery of the value.

Tempest - Advertising That Improves Lives
Citing his own case, Turab believes that Tempest is a brand that is on a mission to create advertising that improves lives. His vision for Tempest extends to a mindboggling 500 years. That was interesting it. What kind of commitment is this that one builds a brand that lasts for 500 years? It is a vision that deserves respect on both counts.

Invest in Brands - Let Them Blossom
Turab shared how many clients do not realise the full value or future story that their product offers. The way an advertiser sees potential in a brand is by unveiling the layers of potential it holds - starting from a well defined 'who am I' and unveiling layers upwards until they reach the question of 'why buy me'. That is the journey and it must be clear. He spoke about an interesting story of how an ordinary property was branded by them in such a way that it reaped a rich benefit for the seller. While on the subject  Turab said that advertisers make mistakes sometimes. Sometimes what they perceive and what the owner is willing to spend does not match.

Branding describes the product clearly - the base line or the positioning statement of the company becomes clear.

Advertising Compresses Time
Turab said something interesting. He said advertising compresses time. What you could possibly enjoy 5 years down the line minus advertising, you could, with proper advertising, reap benefits in the first year itself. I never looked at advertising like that.

On the importance of research Turab was not too convinced. Regular contact with customers is more than the research he needs.

Ads Must be Understood by a 5 Year Old
On communication Turab says he wants his ads to be understood by a 5 year old. He is very clear about that. No big words. No long sentences. If possible repeat and iterate. One needs to understand that attention spans are about 8 secs. People are looking for the easy way out. For lowest effort. Processing time is minimised. Hence communication must be aimed at making it easy.

We tried to recollect new ads but I could not recall any. He recalled the AIDS prevention ads and the Acche din campaign and reiterated the idea of keeping them simple.

What's a Good Ad
Describing what a good ad is about Turab said that it has three things -
1) Clarity with which it communicates core benefits of the product or service
2) Socially acceptable
3) Aesthetically pleasing

People Seeking Careers in Advertising
While screening new aspirants seeking a career in advertising, Turab looks for passion, willingness to work for a lower salary, someone who is perceptive and knows how to communicate.

A Powerful Advertising Lesson
One powerful advertising lesson he imparted was this. Turab says the key to advertising is this - you should know two things clearly about your product
Base line - Who am I
Headline - Why buy me
If you have this covered, you have a story.

I spent more than an hour discussing all this and more but I feel there is so much more one can learn from Turab about advertising and brand building. Maybe some other time. But for now, it was an extremely fruitful one hour and I learned many things in terms of brand building, communication and advertising. Thanks Turab and hope to see you soon and discuss some more about advertising and brands

Saturday, September 26, 2015

GITAM School of Technology - Student Literary Festival Lavz-O-Philia gets 1000 + registrations

When I was invited to a literary festival (the second in my life, the first was by CBIT a couple of years ago) as a guest speaker, I knew my job was to quickly speak some stuff in an ever rising din of youthful energy and get out before the students throw me out. Student festivals, even the literary kind, are full of energy and adrenaline and one cannot expect them to sit quietly at 10 in the morning and listen to a boring speech. My brief was clear - 20 minutes. And that appeared too long.

Lavz-o-Philia - what does it mean - stumped me. Later Namrata, chief ed of the newsletter explained to me - 'lavz' being 'words' in Urdu and 'philia' being 'love of' in English. Akhil is the man though - a pleasant, eager and energetic 3rd year civil engineering student and the one who did all the work as far as getting me there was concerned. He wants to write a book. I saw the flyer he sent me - interesting programs. Picture Perception, Short Story writing, Lit quiz, Short Film contest, Debate, Poetry recitation, paper presentation, Skits, Treasure Hunt, Spell Bee, JAM, Group Discussion and Dialogue (as per the schedule given to me). But what caught my eye was a Rs. 200 registration fee. A lit fest and entry fee. Will wonders never cease? How do they think they can get away with something like this?

When I told friend Ramaraju that I was heading to lit fest in an engineering college he was shocked. What lit festivals? In colleges? Do they read books at all? etc. I was not too sure what to say but let me give you a wonderful statistic.

When I got to the impressive campus on the 24th morning I saw a huge throng of students trying to register - it was as if they were selling tickets to a rock concert or something. The registrations kept piling on and on until they apparently  touched some 1000 or more. While waiting I had an interesting conversation with English faculty Ms. Savitha about lit fests, Indian writing etc. Very nice.

Our inaugural session which was to be in a room with a capacity of 120 was hopelessly inadequate so we shifted to a place that seems to be an under construction building - a bit like the place where Shahrukh Khan and band practice music in 'Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na'. Some band was playing before I entered. Some intros and then I was given the unenviable task of keeping a 1000 (ok, say 500 then) students entertained for 10 minutes.

My speech covered four aspects.
"Good morning,
It's a great pleasure to be here at a student lit fest for more than one reason. 

(The Cruel Friend)
Yesterday I was telling a friend of mine that I was invited to a lit fest being organised by an engineering college. He was more than sceptical. Do they read? Do they buy books? etc. Now I thought that was a cruel thing to say since I am trying to make a living writing books. I thought that the attempt at organising a lit fest was brave but I never expected anything like this. This augurs well for writers and the lit world in general that we have so many youngsters interested in lit events - you travel 20 kms from the city and pay 200 bucks as an entry fee.

While here let me also carry out a small poll.
How many of you read books regularly? (some 25 hands)
How many write? (equal number)
How many wish to write novels? (fewer, say 15 hands)
How many wish to write movie scripts? (some five)

My small survey done, I moved on to the next topic.

(The Lit Divide Must End)
This event also transports me back to my engineering college days when we used to have lit fests. Then lit fests were plagued by the lit divide between the lit types and the non lit types. The lit types were the ones who normally sat up front in classes (and had glasses) and they normally also somehow surrounded themselves with all the pretty girls in college - that's the lit types. The non-lit types were the rest of us (ugly, non-front row sitting, no glasses) including complete philistines like me, fast bowlers and back benchers and such. So sharp was the divide that they were pretty hostile and would not let us in - if they had a chance. We were not very interested in the actual lit events but were more interested in the pretty girls who came from other colleges. So we sat across the tables - the lit types and the non-lit types - and stared at each other with great hostility. Why I am telling you this is that I was prominent among the non-lit types which is the irony. Here I am having written a couple of books and being invited to lit events. I don't know what the lit types of my time are up to now but the one connection to anything lit from those days is me. The conclusion - end the lit divide. You never know where the next lit talent could come from.

(What writing is about)
Why should you end the divide? Because you should all write. And why should you write? Because writing is about organisation of thought. Organised thought is the one thing that can make all things clear for you. Don't ever think that writing is about creativity or some abstract thing like that - it's purely organised thought. So I urge all of you, lit and non-lit types to start writing, privately and publicly because its a great habit that will help you in your careers.

(Why being organised is not bad)
Why should you get organised? Because it gives you clarity and discipline and will cause you to move forward confidently. We normally don't move forward because we don't know what's ahead. All of the above traits will help you in whichever career you wish to take up. In fact writers normally write about things that bother them so I urge you to write about things that bother you. You will find answers, clarity and who knows, maybe even a best seller might come out of it. So write. About exams, about preparation, about career choices and all other stuff that bothers you and you will be better people for it.

(What should be done now -oops, it's five parts!)
Write. Journals, blogs, books, articles, scripts, poems...anything. Just go for it. Wishing you all the best."

I was felicitated with a shawl, a bunch of fresh fruits (instead of flowers) and a memento. I also released a newsletter called KNOW (Knowledge, News and Other Whacky Stuff) along with the editorial team minus the chief ed Namrata who was busy someplace else. And then I headed out. On the way out I met a young aspiring writer who asked me lots of questions about whether one should read etc to become a good writer (in my opinion, yes, it helps to read good works so you know how the masters think and how they write).

Things do look bright. Kids pay 200 bucks (they can buy all my books for less than that) to register in a lit fest. Wow. I met two students, Akhil and Sai Riddhi, who confessed they want to write (and many in the audience who raised their hands at my question. I met the Director of HBS on the way out and hope to interact with the MBA students sometime. Overall a nice, fun and energising experience.

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime - Oscar Wilde

Lord Arthur Savile meets a cheiromantist at Lady Windermere's house party. The lady is known for her wild ways and exotic tastes, so it's pretty normal that she has a cheiromantist around - someone who forecasts futures based on lines on hands. She flaunts the mysterious looking man who makes some reasonably heavy predictions. When he sees Lord Arthur's palm he freezes, makes up some cover up story and escapes.

When Lord Arthur follows up, the cheiromantist reveals that he sees a murder in his future. This upsets Lord Arthur who is all set to marry the beautiful Sybil Merton and wants the murder to happen before the marriage so all is clear. Lord Arthur sensibly postpones the marriage, and embarks on the murder which he wants out of the way. First, he identifies an aged aunt and tries to poison her and fails. Then he tries to blow up an uncle and fails again. And one day while walking about in his depression he sees the cheiromantist looking down at the river from a bridge and throws him over.

Deed done he marries Sybil and has children. One day while chatting with Lady Windermere he hears the lady say that she hoped Lord Arthur did not believe that cheiromantist because she never did.

Oscar Wilde at his irreverent best. The wickedness of the plot is so simple and unapologetic, and so right, that you wonder. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Thought for the Day - Leaders and Corporate Cultures

Cultures flow from the top. If the top lives and breathes the principles, the results show in the bottom most rung.

The test then, if the desired behaviors do not show at the bottom most level, the top must realign and readjust. Not point fingers (then all the bottom does is point fingers too!)

The pack will show the leader exactly what he or she is about. 

All that the pack is, the leader is. Time for honesty.

Thought for the Day - Will Do the Job versus the Best Way to Do It

There is one way to ensure minimum guarantee and say ok, seems like we have got somewhere. This seems to be doing the job so let's move on.
All I did was click - it all fell in place perfectly!
There is another approach that says hey, what's the best way we can do this. I am not just concerned with doing the job, but I want to really make it the best way to do this job.

Cultures are made up of approaches. The extra mile makes the difference. It's not much, but the results are exponential.

Thought for the Day - Hearing versus Seeing

I was watching a talk. I noticed that my eyes got drawn to the sub-titles below. Interestingly even with the sub-titles on, I kept missing the point and had to go back and forth a few times. I wondered why? Aren't the sub-titles to help me assimilate faster and more accurately?
Take the route that makes you concentrate more

While watching the sub-titles I realised that numbers became larger than what they really meant in the speech. It also somehow let me mind wander away because the words and numbers seemed to have certain associations that set my mind afloat.

To understand what he was saying properly it made sense for me to listen directly to the speaker and then process what he said quickly to make sense as it was happening. To organise the pattern dynamically. My overall understanding of the story was far better without the sub-titles which were distracting me with useless details. In directly listening I missed out on some small details (like the numbers which were only to support the main fact - but which grew bigger in the text) but I got the story right in its complete sense. Or some story at least where I had none.

Perhaps the fact that I had control over playing the video and could go back and watch it again stopped me from concentrating hard enough the first time round (when I saw the sub-titles). Or maybe I just concentrated harder when I was catching stuff coming at me straight off the speaker without another medium (the sub-title) in between.

It seems that between two choices it makes sense to go for the one that makes you process it as it comes on, even though it might have a greater degree of difficulty. The fact that you have to get it first time round makes it more effective. (You can always go back later but you still get the story the first time well enough to process it better the second time.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Art of Thinking Cearly - Rolf Dobelli

Rolf Dobelli lists 99 fallacies, effects, illusions and biases which he says mess with our decision-making. By being aware of these biases and other stuff we can make clearer decisions from the head (even though it's quite clear that decisions are not made by the head and by the heart). Interesting academic exercise, several experiments which show how humans behave in a manner not in their best interests. If we knew of these biases, we would be much more happier, wiser and richer. Fun to read because of the puzzles posed, the experiments conducted etc. Also the kind of stuff you can drop on unsuspecting chaps.

1) Survivorship bias - overestimating chances of success (don't look at successes, look at failures)
2) Swimmers body illusion - you don't get good bodies by swimming (look in the mirror and give up)
3) Clustering illusion - oversensitive to pattern recognition (be sceptical of patterns)
4) Social proof - be sceptical when everyone seems to be endorsing something ('popular' claims)
5) Sunk Cost Fallacy - let go, don't endure or suffer because you invested in it and save yourself
6) Reciprocity - don't take stuff because you may feel like reciprocating
7) Confirmation bias - interpreting information to fit in with existing theories, beliefs (find fault)
8) Authority Bias - authority figures influence reasoning (challenge them)
9) Contrast effect - judging something in contrast to what is beside it
10) Availability bias - creating a picture of the world using examples that comes easily to the mind
11) It'll get worse before it gets better fallacy - it's what it says so be careful
12) Story bias - creating stories to find meaning (where none exists)
13) Hindsight bias - feeling like better predictors than we are, we are not
14) Overconfidence effect - thinking you know more than you actually know
15) Chauffeur knowledge - those who don't know really but put on a show with superficial knowledge (experts know their circle of competence)
16) Illusion of control - the tendency to believe that we can influence something we have no control over (you don't control much)
17) Incentive super-response tendency - how incentives compromise intent and reward (people have agendas)
18) Regression to mean - making wrong connections
19) Outcome bias - never judge a decision by its result
20) The paradox of choice - too many choices messes up quality of life, leads to discontent
21) Liking bias - when we like someone we want to buy stuff from that person (make people believe you like them, even through flattery)
22) Endowment effect -clinging to things emotionally and thinking they are worth more than they are
23) Coincidence - coincidences happen (don't get excited, it's nothing divine, we know)
24) Groupthink - everyone agrees and makes reckless decisions (speak up even if others don't)
25) Neglect of probability - neglecting low possibility of odds and going for large returns in making emotional decisions
26) Scarcity error - scarcity causes irrational decisions, don't buy stuff because its going out
27) Base-rate neglect - descriptions mask statistical reality (so don't)
28) Gambler's fallacy - there is no balancing force out there for independent events
29) Anchor - anchors, ball park is established
30) Induction - makes you believe in it and then it dumps you, false beliefs
31) Loss aversion - fearing loss more than we value gain
32) Social loafing - people loaf off in groups where they can hide (if two people pull they invest 93%, three 85%, 8 its just 49%), when individual performances are not directly visible, blends into group effort (make individual performances as visible as possible)
33) Exponential growth - we understand linear growth but not exponential growth (folded paper 50 times is 70 million miles thick)
34) Winner's curse - where the winner is the loser (don't go to auctions)
35) Fundamental attribution error - attributing stuff to one individual (look beyond)
36) False causality - Co relation is not causality
37) Halo effect - one aspect dazzles how we see the entire picture, people who are good in one area are believed to be good in all
38) Alternative paths - outcomes that could have happened but did not (risk is not directly visible)
39) Forecast illusion - predictions don't mean much (so be critical)
40) Conjunction fallacy - being attracted to plausible stories (for big decisions remember we are likely to choose plausible stories over what is more likely, be on guard)
41) Framing - we react differently to same messages framed differently
42) Action bias - acting when not required (hold back action if not required)
43) Omission bias - where inaction is seen as a better alternative to action for cruel outcomes
44) Self-serving bias - taking success and blaming others for failures
45) Hedonic treadmill - achieving things but realising that the feeling wears off after a while (avoid negative things you can't grow to like, expect little happiness from material stuff, aim for free time and autonomy since long term happiness comes from what you actively do)
46) Self-selection bias - why me (because you are there), and its not because of bad luck
47) Association bias - making false connections (if you lead a group tell them to give only bad news)
48) Beginner's luck - be cautious
49) Cognitive dissonance - Interpreting things the way you want to see them because it is convenient
50) Hyperbolic discounting - giving more when the reward is closer (avoid being impulsive)
51) Because justification - when you justify using a because you get more tolerance and help (use it)
52) Decision fatigue - Making decisions tires us (courageous decisions are made earlier than later)
53) Contagion bias - bias against items due to old connections
54) The problem with averages - don't buy averages because it could be a bad distribution
55) Motivation crowding - money does not always motivate, sometimes it does the opposite.
56) Twaddle tendency - saying something without knowing about it (better shut up)
57) Will Rogers phenomenon - Stage migration, migrating stuff to mess averages
58) Information bias - Data can drown, do your best with bare facts (excess information can kill)
59) Effort justification - overvaluing stuff because we put effort into it (be objective about the result)
60) The Law of Small Numbers - statistics about small entities can mislead
61) Expectations - expectations bring Pygmalion effects (lower them in uncontrollable situations)
62) Simple logic - be careful with what seems plausible
63) Fofer effect - vague and universal predictions may sound right
64) Volunteer's folly - leaving stuff you are good at to volunteer and feeling good about it
65) Affect Heuristic - making decisions by feelings not thoughts (smile)
66) Introspection Illusion - introspection does not unearth any knowledge (be critical with yourself)
67) Inability to close doors - write down what not to pursue and stop pursuing that
68) Neomania - nothing changes despite all predictions
69) Sleeper effect - messages remain after the source is forgotten (don't accept unsolicited advise)
70) Alternative blindness - there are more choices out there so look around
71) Social comparison bias - foster individuals more talented than you
72) Primacy and recency effects - first and last impressions dominate
73) Not invented here syndrome - we love what we do and give it more value then required
74) Black swan - big improbable events, hitch on positive black swans, avoid negative black swans
75) Domain dependence - what you master in one area is difficult to transfer to another
76) False consensus effect - your worldview is not that of the publics
77) Falsification of history - inaccurate memories, creation of flashbulb memories
78) In-group Out-group bias - prejudice against foreign stuff
79) Ambiguity aversion - don't get hassled by ambiguity and be hasty, tolerate ambiguity
80) Default effect - clinging to things as they are, even if obvious benefits are seen otherwise
81) Fear of regret - last chance! hurry us into follosh decisions, slow down
82) Salience effect - blinded by big irregularities and not seeing other factors
83) House-money effect - exuberant behavior when free stuff comes (and losing it)
84) Procrastination - will power depletes fast, counter depletion smartly
85) Envy - stop comparing yourself and make smarter decisions
86) Personification - human stories influence, so stick to facts
87) Illusion of attention - gorilla in the room, cell phones reactions, we are not attentive, be aware
88) Strategic misrepresentation - misrepresenting stuff as stakes increase
89) Overthinking - overthinking kills action
90) Planning fallacy - plans made on overestimated capabilities of self
91) Deformation personnelle - you see what you want to see
92) Zeigrnik effect - you remember what you want to and forget all else, 25-50 steps to get tasks done,
93) Illusion of skill - skill is overrated, chance works mostly
94) Feature positive effect - what exists means more than what's hidden
95) Cherry picking - projecting best stories (ask for failures)
96) Fallacy of a single cause - attributing everything to a single cause, people are not masters of their destinies, we are influenced by many factors
97) Intention to treat error - where test subjects vanish from the sample
99) News illusion - stop reading and seeing news, instead read books

That's the lot, give or take a couple (I seem to have missed one or two but I followed Dobelli's findings and ended with a 99 - hopefully most won't notice - until now). Perfect decision making is yours if you can avoid all these biases. But why do we have these biases? How do they serve us? What is perfect decision making and how does it serve us? Why should I not volunteer is I feel pride in volunteering and instead make the perfect decision of sticking to what I know and sending the plumber? How is leadership not so much about skill? Why is skill an illusion? Why should I be critical of myself so much, so often?

There are many aspects which can be debated primarily because ambiguity exists and wrong connections can be made in the many studies quoted. Much advise seems to be highly critical of what you are naturally inclined to do or seem to do. If studies conclude that most people are behaving in a certain fashion there must be a reason why. (don't quote some bias now and say this reasoning is false) But it is surely beneficial to know such biases exist and this knowledge will make one more aware. Hopefully I will be able to make better decisions now. (Or am I falling for survivorship bias and overestimating my chances of making better decisions because I read a book - come to think of it how many people made better decisions because they read a book? So we are back where we began which is nowhere - only now we have some fancy words to explain where we are.) I liked the stuff on decision and will power fatigue and the many pointers to communications which can influence people behaviors.

Dobelli is a novelist and an entrepreneur. This book got some flak for plagiarism. However all the stuff noted above seems to be from studies conducted and he gave credit. Ok, how much is actually the same words etc is debatable - the ideas themselves are debatable - and interesting. Why can't we keep it there? It's not like earth shattering stuff - ok people behave this way - and they are likely to behave the same way. So let's get on with it. (Or is this some bias that I am falling into owing to my fatigue of writing such a long blog? Maybe I should listen to twaddle tendency and just shut up. See, I am already getting better at this.)

My Top 10 Happy Songs

And a top 10 list (after a long time!). My top 10 happy songs.

1) Happy Together - The Turtles
This song was part of a collection on a record at home and it did sound happy even then, back in the 70s. But when I heard it the other day I realised I remembered some lyrics even now and that it was a genuinely happy number. Top of the 10.

2) Sweat - Inner Circle
I heard this during my Mumbai stint where I had started a practice. Every salary day I'd pick up one book and one cassette. This song by Inner Circle was pretty popular for its happy sounds so I picked it. Almost a decade and a half later I have no complaints.

3) Good Vibrations - Beach boys
Another one from my father's record collection. Summer days were hazy - a shimmering heat, Enid Blyton's and the records. Good vibrations is a brilliant number any day and one of the most romantic too.

4) I Can See Clearly Now - Jimmy Cliff
This song is from the movie 'Cool Runnings' which remains in the list of my all time favorite movies. I watched this movie thanks to the ever-eager-to-serve owner of the Chandan Video Store in Pune and I could not forget the number. Now thanks to the net and you tube we get to see them all. And its nice to meet old memories again.

5) Happy - Pharell Williams
You can't not have this song in any happy list can you? I tried to shut the song off midway many times and could not. Just carries you along in  its happiness. Despicable Me.

6) Part Time Lover - Stevie Wonder
This goes all the way back to the mid 80s. Heard it when I was in college. Phenomenal song.

7) You're the One That I Want
'Grease' was one of the first cassettes I ever bought - in 1980-81 if I remember right - and I don't know why I did. But Olivia Newton John was a huge hit one way or another, so it's always a pleasure listening to her and watching her. While there, check this video out of the two in a reunion. You fall in love with ONJ all over again.

8) Sugar - The Archies
This is a 69 hit. I heard it in one of those collections and it remains. And it brings back Archie and gang which is a happy bonus.

9) My Sharona - The Knacks
This was in a movie and that's how I remember it. I ran into it sometime in the mid 90s. Nice and happy.

10) The Only One - Transvision Vamp
Another one from the early 90s. Again a hazy, post college rush that comes pouring in when you hear the song. I owe this to Koni and his Aussie collection though. Narrowly beats numbers by Elton John (I'm still standing). Billy Joel (River of Dreams), Aha (Take on me) and even the Beatles (I want to hold your hand) into the top 10.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

Nice Link - Lessons from the World Championship of Public Speaking 2015

Nice link to the speech given by Mohammed Qahtani whose speech won him the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking on August 15, 2015.

Insights to keep in mind for public speakers.
1) Start with getting the audience on your side through humor or any other emotional reaction (shock, gasp, cheer)- Qahtani uses humor which is one great way
2) The audience wants the performer to do well and is waiting to be entertained - so remember that.
3) Every presentation needs a message that the audience is convinced and will take with them.
4) Stories are a powerful way of sewing the talk together and getting the message across
5) The most important thing is the audience - just care about the,
6) Use your strengths - humor, voice, stage presence 0- whatever works for you best
7) End the talk with hope - make the audience feel empowered.

Nice tips. Now to practice. Anyone?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Paradoxes of our Lives - Work Must be Done With Urgency, Results Must be Awaited Patiently

This is one paradox I learned late - but it does have its uses.

Work must always be done with an urgency. This does not mean hurried and shoddy jobs but an indication that work should have some kind of an immediacy, some urgency to complete and even monetise. Now, is the only truth as far as work is concerned.

In the same breath results must be awaited patiently. Just because the work is done, does not mean all results show up instantly. A gap there could lead to frustration. It's imperative then to keep the fine balance - work with great immediacy and then patiently reap the results. Work here does indicate pushing with great urgency for results too, but being patient in its yielding.

It's quite a recipe for contented and satisfied living.

Il Duro - D.H. Lawrence

This was my first experience with D. H. Lawrence after 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' perhaps, which I might have read a couple of decades ago (and probably made no sense of it then). But the good news is that I still don't understand D. H. Lawrence. This slim Penguin classic was totally wasted on me as I turned page after page wondering what this was all about.

The academic facts first. Four short stories - The Spinner and the Monk, Il Duro, John and the Florence Museum. The first three are about Italians and I wondered what that was all about and the last was about some Etruscans. It's mentioned that the first three are from Twilight in Italy and the last from Etruscan Places. I have no clue what they were about. Maybe sometime later, if I am in the right frame of mind and of the required wisdom and maturity, I might understand DH.

Until then DH joins the list of people I don't understand at all.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Indian Non-fiction Festival 2015 in Mumbai

I was part of a panel in the Indian Non-Fiction festival, an initiative by Leapvault, held on September 15, 2015 in Mumbai. The event was organised at the Somaiya College of Management. The Somaiya campus is huge - it's bigger than many Universities and the sports facilities are incredible. I was in conversation with Dilip D' Souza, my good friend, and well known writer, on the topic of 'Lessons from Cricket'. The audience consisted primarily of students from the college which was nice - packed aisles and all.
Dilip D' Souza and me

Dilip, who lives right opposite Sachin Tendulkar's house, and who has written a book on Sachin's last Test match 'The Final Test' is no stranger to cricket. He writes sports columns, travelogues and much better stuff than I do.

Dilip was very kind and focussed all attention on my book despite the fact that he had written a book on cricket himself. Since the time was short, 30 minutes, I decided to speak about the topics that may help the young audience directly.

Dilip started off and asked me about the concept of creativity and how it relates to catches, about the importance of effort and then about self-belief. On creativity I mentioned how great fielders create opportunities - one can drop straight forward chances and miss opportunities. Or one can go the other extreme and prepare for opportunities and grab half a chance. No prizes for guessing which sort goes ahead. Similarly one can, by preparation and practice, identify opportunities well ahead, prepare for them and grab them. Jobs and careers for instance.

Another angle - D and I
On the next question which was about the connection between bending the back and effort, I mentioned how fast bowlers get stiff and do not properly follow through and how when we bend our backs we get 25% more from our deliveries. Always that extra effort 10% pays off whether in bowling or in studying.
50 Not Out!
When Dilip asked me about self-belief, and the difference between ability and capability, I got into my favorite cricketing story of me getting 158 runs after I promised my skipper that I'd get 128 runs which is what I'd given away - which is not only a story of self-belief but about what we can do with our limited resources. I detailed the experience and highlighted what I think was the key to accomplishing that 10x performance with my limited ability. It was about the decision, the preparation, the use of limited resources, the minimisation of errors and the application of what I had. It was complete focus on the goal to the exclusion of all else. In fact, this story was what I wanted to share with the youngsters and I am glad I was able to do that.

Another young team of students whisked me away after the talk and did a small interview with me which they said they would put on the net. And then we headed back, me and Dilip, both towards Bandra, chatting nineteen to dozen on many things common to us. We promised to meet up for dinner later at Dilip's home and I was looking forward for that.

The Indian Non-Fiction fetsival was a nice event. Glad to be sharing with youngsters always. Thanks Kumar for inviting me and thanks Jaico for sponsoring the trip.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Thought for the Day - Decisions That Work And Those That Don't

All of us have one thing we struggle with. Despite doing everything right something is missing. We are not able to get that 'one' thing. Money, stability, love, success, peace - or anything else.

Process-wise we are doing it right - goal clarity, detailed planning, implementation, monitoring, correction and achievement. The vision boards are there, the affirmations are there, the meditations are there, the actions are there - but something is missing. It's not the same as the decisions we took that worked.

What is different about these two decisions? Why is this not working? More importantly why did the other decisions work?

The more I delved into this the more I am convinced that the process is not the issue ever - it's nothing technical really. Its never an ability issue because the process comes through intuitively once the decision 'clicks' into place. Why is it certain decisions 'click' and certain decisions don't?

I struggled with this for a long time.

Why did it work when I took up huge assignments 10 times my capability? Why is it not working when I want small assignments that are a tenth of my capability?

And then the answer 'clicked' in my head the other day.

For the decisions that worked I had put all my focus on them. Not a single conflicting thought, internal or external, was allowed. Every ounce of my energy and focus went into making it happen until it happened. Every single conflicting thought was removed. Every one of them.

With all my energies focused on what I wanted I was able to create that. The 10x performances came out of that single minded, exclusive focus.

The failures came from hoping it will happen somehow despite a lack of focus, despite entertaining conflicting thoughts, despite sabotaging my own plan. Almost like - I got it even when I didn't want it so bad.

Single-minded focus. Removal of all conflicting thoughts. Complete attention. That is what makes anything work. Let me now put it into practice and report my findings. Deep, deep engagement. 

A Chat With R. Sridhar - Team India's Fielding Coach

R. Sridhar is R to all of us in Hyderabad who have seen and played with him a couple of decades ago. He is currently the fielding coach of the Indian cricket team. But R is more than that. He is one of the few passionate coaches who dedicates himself to learning the art and craft of coaching and in my opinion has the makings of being one of the truly great coaches of all time. He understands technique, people and the game. He is articulate and communicates well and clearly. He is always open to discussions about any aspect of cricket and high performance - a genuine learner. He is compassionate which is important and a hard task master. Even as a young cricketer of 17 or 18, which is what I knew him as, much younger to our bunch, I found R to be a serious thinker, a polite and sensible young man who was very learning oriented. All that he did, he did with discipline, commitment and did it well.

Among the games we played many years ago I remember two games well. One was a league match against the HBCC team. I was happily swinging away my bat - I scored 77 and was on target to score a century - when R fooled me with a slightly slower delivery and got me bowled. I remember kicking myself for having been foxed like that and missing out on a hundred. On another occasion we both played on the same team in a fun six-a side tournament organised by Charu Sharma for McDowell's. R and I were on the McDowell's side and we ended up winning the cup in a thrilling bowl-out finish against Secunderabad club. I remember R and I opened a few matches in that tournament.

Not much later I gave up competitive cricket and went my way. R went on to play first class cricket and then became one of the more respected and serious coaches. He joined the NCA and then went on to the successful India Under 19 coaching team with B. Arun. All the work he put in over the years paid off when he became coach of Andhra cricket team, got an assignment with the Kings XI Punjab before the big call - as fielding coach of the Indian cricket team which is on an upswing now with Ravi Shastri as the team director and a very competent coaching and support team. It was nice to hear Suresh Raina recount on 'Comedy Nights with Kapil; recently about how R would stand atop some chairs and throw down balls so they could tackle the deliveries of the tall Pakistani fast bowler Mohammad Irfan who stands 7'1'' and delivers from over the sight screen. There was obvious joy in Raina's voice as he shared how that kind of thinking helped counter the fast bowler and negate his main asset. R, I'd say, has earned his stripes and none will grudge him that.

It was important for me to give him a copy of 50 Not Out because he is one of the few who would understand and debate the cricketing and the mindset aspect. I had sent him an invite when the launch happened in March in Bangalore but he was in Australia then and has been busy ever since. So when I sent him an email the other day he responded warmly and said we should meet - he was in Hyderabad. We met and had a lively discussion on several aspects of coaching which were interesting to say the least. Let me recount some of the points that came up.

R feels that coaching is about coaching the person and not the sport. (There are instructors and trainers and there are coaches.) The coach understands deeply what the person is about and every effort is made to make him a better person, a better sportsperson. In the process the person understands his potential and aspires to do justice to the same through a good work ethic. I completely agree with him - one cannot be a good cricketer if you cannot be a good human being first.

R said that every person has potential. But why some do justice and why some don't to their potential is because of the interference in the way. His formula - potential minus interference is equal to performance. The coach's job then is to reduce interference. This interference could come in many ways and put conflicting thoughts in the person's mind thereby producing below par performances.

R is also firm in his belief that technique is overrated. There is no 'one' technique he says. There is only 'your technique'. Find out what works best for you and stay with it. Today he says, technique comes low in his order of things that guarantee a good performance. Its more a combination of the mindset, the approach, the work ethic and consistent values of effort and team above individual.

I asked R how the best in the business approach their preparation. He shared a valuable nugget there. He said they all have their routines which they know work for them and follow those routines with great regularity and seriousness. How they get to these routines is an interesting process too - he says they journal their practices over a period and identify the pattern that works for them. Once that pattern is identified they stick with it and perform seriously. The players are all well aware that beyond the joy of playing for the country and the name and fame they get, there is a substantial booty of crores of rupees that is theirs for the taking, if they remain true to their potential. The journal writing habit is a wonderful habit and improves self analysis and helps achieve potential.

Every player and individual is different. Players have different motivations for playing the game and R says he tries to understand what gets them going. This is also what Mike Brearley says in his book 'The Art of Captaincy' when he says he used different techniques to deal with Botham (who liked a challenge) and Willis (who needed much encouragement and positive reinforcement). To manage their apprehensions and know what gets them going, one needs to know them individually. There is no magic formula there. One must invest time and genuinely care for them. Even Ashok Mankad, one of the greatest man managers in cricket ever, invested far more than merely the time spent on the field. He was there giving a word of advise and encouragement to the likes of young Ravi Shastri and Sandeep Patil when they were consumed with doubt in their fledgling years. He'd write letters of encouragement and speak with them.

We spoke of books - the Mindset by Carol Dweck figured a lot - ideas and thoughts and what was to be a half hour meeting went on to well over two hours. We could have gone on and on but all good things must come to an end so we wound up. I gave him a copy of 50 Not Out and when he flipped a page he smiled - it opened on the chapter on Creativity - Catches win Matches. An appropriate page for the fielding coach to open.

As always I am very impressed by R's clarity and commitment. One could see and feel the growth in him. There is an air of everything can be sorted out about him and a nice, positive energy about his work. He is the kind who will roll his sleeves up and get going on all grey and problem areas. He is someone who believes that perfect practice makes perfect. Armed with good intent, skill, knowledge and a desire to learn and genuinely help, R cannot go wrong in his coaching career. Here's wishing greater heights to conquer for R and I look forward to another fine discussion when we meet next. About 50 Not Out!   

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Nose - Nokolai Gogol

I read some outlandish stories in my life but nothing comes close to this one -The Nose'. It's about a person whose nose suddenly vanishes. It shows up in the bread loaf of his alcoholic barber. Then the person who lost his nose finds it masquerading as a gentleman in high society. No one takes his complaints seriously including the police. Meanwhile the barber throws the nose in the river. The man with no nose goes to the newspapers to advertise about his lost nose. Just as he is losing faith the police comes home and tell him that his nose has been found. He is happy. But then the doctor tells him the nose cannot be attached and he is better off without it. And just like that - one day - he finds the nose back on as if nothing had happened.

'The Carriage' is about a braggart who tells an army general about his wonderful horse carriage an proposes that the general buy it. But too much drink makes him oversleep and when the general comes along with his officers, the braggart is still asleep. There is no sign of the dinner he promised - he plain forgot to tell anyone about inviting the general home. When his wife wakes him up on the arrival of the general he hides himself in his precious carriage with instructions to tell the general that he left town on some urgent business. But the general wants to see the carriage and finds the man in it in his night clothes - and the carriage to be way below what it is proclaimed to be.

Gogol lived a short life (1809-1852) and created many such satirical masterpieces.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thought for the Day - Principle and the Process

To get anything under control, to do any job well, it is necessary to understand 
1) the principle behind the work (the basic thought) 
2) the process to achieve it.(the actual sequence of work)

For example, the aspect of sales. The sales team is overly concerned with closing sales. It comes down to number of calls, number of closures. It can get a bit haphazard, lot of good work and good intent but way off key in terms of results. We need more traction, more customers, bigger orders but it is just not happening. Soon there is lots of frustration.

In this context we speak of the Twins - Principle and Process. For example, in cricket, keeping an eye on the ball until it hits the face of the bat is the principle behind good timing, making fine adjustments and not missing the ball etc. It is a principle that can cover for any lacuna in other areas. When backed by sound processes, it is a sure winner. 

So for sales.

The Principle for sales - Customer Need Satisfaction or User Focus
To sell anything we need customers who want our product or service. If the product or service is good these customers would ideally stay with us and come back for repeat purchases. If they are not coming back, we are not satisfying their requirement. 

Good value to the customer or signs of meeting their requirement has its markers. Look for those markers. If we satisfy well, customers come back with bigger orders, promote our business with others and certainly be happy enough to thank us for the service we have done for them. The key to do this well is to understand the user and his requirement – which is in other words ‘user focus’ or ‘need satisfaction’. 

If there is not enough traction put yourself into the customers shoes and keep looking for ways to make the experience better. What does he want? How does he want it? When and why? Think ahead. Show your intent and your preparation to satisfy his requirement. 
Then things happen

Look for the responses, for repeat orders, for increasing orders, for thank yous and appreciative notes. This is when the tipping point of incoming versus outgoing happens.

The Process for Sales - Out of the world User Experience
The principle is a promise. The process fulfills the promise.

Sales processes that are so seamless do one thing - the customer has no chance for complaints and in fact has an out of the world user experience. It is something that comes out of refining backend processes so well that they do not seem to be there. It has to be intuitive, easy and iterative.

Not all processes are that to start with but you can back it with extra mile service. Keep the customer user experience in mind and make it all so seamless that there is absolutely zero room for any lag. Good enough is not good enough. It has to move towards Wow.

This would include listing every part of the process and deconstructing it, seeing it from the user perspective, looking for markers that indicate user experience and working towards that. Each part of the process must then be iterated and simplified constantly so you are ahead of user expectations.

The key in both is to offer great value.

The Signs - Key 
One catch though. We may know the principle. We may have a process. But we need to know if the principle and the process are in alignment. If not, they are two completely different things working separately which is no good. They need to be aligned.

The key is in identifying markers or signs that show that the process outcomes are in alignment with the principle. A sales call that is part of the process can go wrong. It can happen but not if the principle is followed. If the caller had really prepared on the user requirement, understood the user so to speak, he would have been better prepared with the call, the time, the need. So one way is to throw away the learning from the bad call and say its a one-off thing or to look at it and say - hey why did this happen.

It could make all the difference. The extra 10% is the clincher.

Bahubali Revisited - Movie Review

So I watched Bahubali again and everyone looked familiar so I felt I need not be as serious as I was the first time around when I report my latest experience. When things are of this scale you must treat them with due seriousness but only for the first time; the second time you are all friends so we can joke about a bit. Anyway our friends won't mind our jokes (or they won't be friends for long if they don't like our jokes ha ha!)

Let me observe this from a human resource angle. Right up, the one chap I'd get rid off from my side would be Katappa or Cutappa, whichever way he writes his name in English, the fiercely loyal slave to the throne. He is Bhishma-like and is tied to the throne and not to the right or wrong. Bad teachers! Unfortunately he has a conscience too which makes him pretty useless when it comes to using his martial skills in duress. Upon closely watching him this time, I noticed this much feared warrior is good only when there is no pressure - under pressure he is useless. In three separate instances he fails to protect the people he is supposed to protect and they make do by themselves somehow - probably knowing how bad he is under pressure. First the queen is almost killed when she is attacked during the rebellion and she smartly saves herself with a small dagger (all Cutappa does here is leap over a wall and fight some minions exposing the queen to danger). In another instance he fails to save Bhallaladeva his king from a bull even with a sword in his hand, a bull that B later kills with his bare hands. Cutappa looks pretty foolish then. In the third he completely fails to save his prince from young Bahubali who neatly beheads him (some humans were hurt!). Where Cutappa is good is when there is no pressure - for example when the arms dealer challenges him for a friendly duel etc. One must also mention that his attempt to hold back the enemy forces fails and he compromises the big war. Add the fact that he is constantly trying to help the twig picking ex-queen flee. If I were B, I'd first get rid of this chap or put him in charge of some obscure training on the outpost. He is the biggest danger to the throne really. Ironically.

Another disappointment in terms of training and human resource development was the gang of Tamanna's. This is a classic case of getting the wrong trainers and coaches who come merely with certificates and without understanding the soul of things. All show but no stuff. First up this gang makes a big show of being very loyal and highly specialised and trained queen-releasers. That's their only goal you see - queen releasing. For some reason they only go in small units of one at a time, when in fact they have a pretty large contingent of well trained people (at shouting in unison and hiding up tall trees) who stand in order and shout well rehearsed mission statements with a lot of passion. I was pretty impressed by their commitment and thought that their leader fellow (who looked like a spiritual guru) had cracked it (though I did not understand his strategy of sending them one by one like goats to slaughter - oops - banned word, might hurt some even if our metaphor is also computer generated, Let me try again, like humans to slaughter - better word, aah everyone is happy now). Now this fiery warrior woman finds her entire training is pretty low class and hollow compared to what this illiterate fellow from a small tribe knows - all she does is make faces while he completely disrobes her easily. Again it's a case of all degrees and certificates and no content like our education system. Then she gives up her mission and places it in his hands - the entire gang is okay with that - which is a huge disappointment. What? This is what you trained all your life? Where is your self-respect? Bad training, bad everything. This gang is like a start up that has been infected with the big investor bug and lost sight of why its in business at all. Next you see they will all be fat and lazy.

Other people who bother you are the fearsome B himself. Though Rana looks even more like a king in his demeanour than P, his eyes are way too kind and straightforward to be what he is shown to be, a really cruel man. All his acts of cruelty seem to be ok to me - he is in fact being very kind to all. He lets the queen live and pick twigs and has provided her with a long leash that gives her access to many distant areas of the courtyard, he lets Cutappa occupy high positions, he lets the bull off without killing it, he even pulls back the overly trusting P when he jumps off the side of the hill, he tracks the spy while P is cavorting with three babes. Not a bad chap really and well deserving of the kingly post I should think.

This is exhausting so I will stop here. From a HR perspective I also found that the kingdom of Mahishmati also had no other heroes but these three - B, B and C. My recommendations to king B. Replace C before he messes up big time, get a few more able chaps from A to Z and delegate jobs to them, assign good coaches and hope for the best. Also marry. Whatever happens we all know that the pen is mightier than the sword - so the writ of the scriptwriter will only hold. More later. This is getting as tiresome as a consulting assignment which is going nowhere.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Disclaimer - No Humans Were Hurt (Nor Will Be)

While watching a movie the other day I noticed a large disclaimer that no animals had been hurt during the making of the movie. Wonderful stuff. Obviously the movie makers were concerned about not hurting animals - at least on the parts that show on screen!

It struck me that there should be a similar disclaimer that "no humans were hurt during the making of this movie!" Ah, now that would be tricky right? Apart from those who physically get hurt during the making of movies, stuntmen, performers who get slapped etc by intense directors, people who work three shifts a day and fall off at the end into the producer's arms and so on and so for. More importantly we have those whose feelings might have got hurt - those who auditioned for roles and did not get jobs, those who wrote stories and someone else got inspired and made off with the fame and the wealth, those who wooed the babe and she ran off with someone else, those who invested money and lost everything etc. The list of those who get hurt in movie making processes is long and no one can put a disclaimer like the one we have for animals. At best a 'no humans were hurt while making the movie as far as we know" can be expected.

Obviously we far away from seeking guarantees against the suffering audiences undergo when they watch certain movies. Obviously much is hurt for the audiences after the movie is released also - physical, mental, spiritual, financial. I hope someone takes up this issue in the interests of humans. I think too many people love animals and forget humans.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Gooseberries - Anton Chekhov

Three short stories - The Kiss, The Two Volodyas and Gooseberries by the Russian physician, playwright and writer. Also considered one of the greatest short story writer of all times.

In 'The Kiss' a shy, young officer in the army experiences a romantic experience in a landlord's house when he loses his way. An unknown woman embraces him from behind and kisses him, mistaking him for someone else. Before he can see her face she realises her mistake and disappears. The young man's thoughts are tormented by the young lady, he imagines who she could have been and has this mad desire to go back to that town. When he does get there, at the peak of his torment, he realises the futility of it all. Brilliant.

In 'Two Volodyas', an unusual story by all means, a young and spirited lady marries an older man for his fortune. He is charming, good looking and a ladies man, but much older. The younger Volodya is his protege of sorts. The lady has a brief affair with the arrogant younger man who soon tires of her. She is then consumed with the life of her friend who was equally spirited and gregarious, popular with the men, who chooses a life of a nun. She cannot make sense of her life nor of the nun.

In 'Gooseberries' a man of town tells his friend a tale of his younger brother. The brother had a job in town and an ordinary life but he dreams of life in the village. He tells his brother how he wanted his house in the village to be - always with a gooseberries shrub in the picture. The older brother gets irritated with this. Meanwhile the younger brother marries an older woman (seems to be obsessed with this) and gets her fortune. Upon which  he buys a house in the village and gets it done exactly as he wants - gooseberry shrub and all. While narrating the story the older brother loses his cool - wondering why anyone could live a lie like that. It's obvious who is more upset.

It's a unique style as one can make out from the stories. The stories have very fine threads and are based on subtle thoughts that lie deep inside, which show as confused acts on the outside. Surprisingly enough, the stories hang around your head, despite the lack of a clear and conclusive end. The actions and thoughts of the characters are vague and frustrating in their conflict and in sharp contrast the description of the world around them is clear and precise. No wonder he is considered a master.

Thought for the Day - What Will Happen If You Get What You Want So Badly?

We all want some things badly. We do not understand why we don't get them. The effort, the talent, the want and the need - they are all there. But something is just not happening.

This thought came up when we were discussing this issue, me and a friend. He runs a company, works hard (like a dog), is honest, straight etc but is just not taking off. Can't understand why. We looked at me - write books, committed to writing and stuff, but still struggling to find a publisher and in hitting the right notes. What is the missing link if we are walking the path but still something seems to be eluding us?

The thought that struck was this - we somehow do not want it to happen. Its a lack of preparedness, a reluctance, about what would happen if we crack this ceiling. What would happen to my concept of me if I moved up? If I got the money? If I got the freedom? If I got the love? If I got the success?

The questions we decided to ask ourselves were this.

What am I getting out of not getting what I want now?

In many cases it's a comfort zone with struggle, with fear, with the limelight, with the idea of comfort itself. We may worry if we will offend people with our success, if we will be able to handle it and its downsides if ever. It finally boils down to a lack of self-worth. A lack of love for ourselves as deserving of all that is available to all.

We must first feel deserving of it.

The second question is this.

What would I do if I got what I wanted now?

The answer could help prepare for the first. It makes us feel deserving, it makes us look at our needs and wants and bring sharpness and clarity to the issue. It makes us want to bring that stuff in - its at the door.

It needs some mental work. The physical work is being done anyway. We are ready in all other ways except spiritually - to receive. Get it, and then we shall deal with it.

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - The Thing We Want Badly, We Lose

The more we want to hold on to something badly, the more we lose it.

As we lose water in our palm when we close our fist around it, as we smother a sapling when we over-nurture it, as we suffocate anything that we hold too close.

It is a great tragedy - to kill that we love the most.

Or do we? Love cannot be anything more than seeing the best happen for the other person. In this case, it's worth asking - what is it we want. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Anjali - And the Art of Competing

Every Saturday Anjali goes to a skating class. Her friend Yeswanth comes to the skating class which is her motivation to go I guess. She tries hard in a group of boys, some of them really good. Yeshwant is one of the stronger and faster skaters so he leaves her far behind and sometimes overtakes her in the following laps too.

I wondered how she takes this. Not being as good as the others in the group can be demotivating. Ok, she is the only girl most times but still. She does not take too kindly to losing either.

But week after week she prods me to go to the skating sessions. It's the same each time. We go there. She goes to the sir says hello, gets ready and asks Yeshwanth to race her in a run (warm up). Yeshwanth beats her easily. But she puts in all her effort.

Then comes the skating. Same here. She is somewhere at the end of the line. But she comes away happy - I beat that new girl, or I came second. The look on her face is one of intense concentration as she goes about the laps. Sometimes the effort is worth it, other times its not. But she bears it and most times comes away focusing on her small improvements or something to laugh at.

Yesterday she challenged Yeshwanth again at the end of the session. Race? Yes, he says. Off they went, these two and another boy. The two boys took off like hares with Anjali in hot pursuit. And then her shoe came off midway.

For a while she tried to run with her one shoe, then realised it won't work. Then she tried to quickly put on her shoe in an attempt to catch them. But by then they were back. All credit to her however for not giving up and trying and trying to compete.

I wondered how she's react to this.

She shrugged it off - shoe in hand - and told the other two that her shoe had come off. Then she came back and I tied her laces again. Up she was.

'Race?' she asked again.

Yeshwanth was game again. The young boy shot off, striding powerfully ahead. Anjali followed all intent and effort as she tried to catch up.

'Someday,' she says in the car, on our way back. 'I will beat him.'
I nod.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees - Kenko

Yoshida Kenko (1283-1352) was a Japanese monk whose 'Essays in Idleness' is one of the most studied works in medieval literature. In this little Penguin classic we get a peep into his mind and thoughts - the essays are taken from his Essays in Idleness. Kenko speaks a universal language of peace, love, kindness. And wonder.

He wonders about human nature. He thinks about how people gives themselves away by the manner in which they treat birds and animals. He talks of sexual desire and ponders of how it distracts the human heart. Of women and how they snare men. How a home gives a person away. How it is not always nice to have someone who agrees with you. How not having anything is a boon. How to be present. The transient and unpredictable nature of lives. The ugliness of excess. The virtue of idleness. The dangers of having backups and not trying hard enough. Dangers of relaxing in the last steps.

He says there are 7 types of friends one should not have - A high ranking person, a young person, anyone strong and in perfect health, a man who loves to drink, a brave and daring warrior, a liar and a greedy man. If you have to choose your friends pick a doctor, someone who gives gifts and a wise man.

He also ponders wisely that illnesses are first caused in the mind - that there is a mind-body connection. He gives an example of the man who was sent to a great height to paint a sign board and how his hair turned white with shock.

Kenko feels a sensible man will not leave any valuables behind. He also advocates a state of no marriage - do not have a wife he says because you will get bored of one another. Instead live separately he says and meet once in a while. It keeps the relationship fresh.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Ricki and the Flash - Movie Review

There was a time in the 80s when we thought we were cool if we pasted posters all over our rooms. Those were also the times when magazines like Sun and Jetset sold posters of rock stars and celebrities and we bought them for those posters. Archies too made a fortune by selling us posters. I bought several - a lovely Brooke Shields poster that had her staring at me lovingly from the back of the door (strategic placement), Marilyn Monroe pouting away, Madhubala in black and white, and a few cricketers before the rock bug caught on. Kiss was one of the first, painted and all, Bruce Springsteen, YES, The Police - and one rather unknown singer but one of the most handsome chaps - Rick Springfield. I remember I had the poster on the wall (over Brooke Shield's left shoulder) before I bought his album 'Living in Oz'. 'Alison' was a number I remember very well, 'Human Touch' was another (I saw the video last night and Rick speaks into a futuristic computer in year 2016!) and many other numbers. It was a nice, rocky, tangy album and one of those few where you could listen to all songs. I did listen to a lot of Rick those days.

When the posters came down (why did they come down?), Rick Springfield went away from my life because he did not make too many other albums after I think. 'Living in Oz' is still in one of the boxes with the other cassettes and will come down from the loft soon when I chronicle my life with my music. Until this movie came. And I see Rick again, now 65 or so playing the romantic interest to Meryl Streep in a dream-about-living-a-rock band-life movie.

I haven't missed many Meryl Streep's movies so there was not much chance I'd miss this. Listening to a few 80s songs was not too bad too. 'Everybody have fun tonight' by Wang Chung was one I remember apart from the Bruce Springsteen song in the end. Couple more songs I can't remember now. Meryl Streep plays the broke singer of the band 'Ricki and the Flash' - a bunch of old musicians playing for a bunch of oldies in an old pub. Ricki had left her family to pursue her dream - broke and all but she does live her dream. Her ex-husband, now rich and successful, calls her to help her daughter who has just separated from her husband. And she meets her gay son and the other son who kept his engagement hidden from her. Clearly Ricki is not the favorite but she does have something and it turns out ok in the end. I like the part when she says she has no money to buy a gift and will do the only thing she knows how to do - sing. And sing she does with her band and whips up a nice party. Nothing much in terms of a story - it's a bit sweet and sour - and reminds you of watching movies in Sterling - one of those vague movies that somehow sticks in bits and pieces. There were a few tense moments when Meryl Streep walks about with a towel around her - and you hope it doesn't fall off. It doesn't.

And I enjoyed seeing the crowd that came - fiftyish, give or take some (like me and my two pals) - two ladies, grey haired, came by themselves in a car. It surely whipped up a lot of memories and made all of us feel older than what we are. It's that same Meryl Streep we watched in 'Falling in love' and the same Rick Springfield. You could excuse yourself for being transported for a while and wondering what happened after. But thanks Rick and Meryl for growing up with us.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Anjali - And the Dogs

Two strays were pulling at the garbage can and making a mess. I went to shoo them away.

Anjali came running and held my hand.
'No nanna, don't. What did they do to you?'

I was not meaning to hit them or anything but I played along.
'But they are messing it up aren't they?'

'Let them. Someone will clean it up. Don't hit them.'
She did not let go of my hand and led me away. Nice. Though I felt like I was some animal-torturing monster being led away gently by someone who sees it all differently.

I didn't see this side of her before. But I am glad she has that. I am not a great animal lover and wish them well in their space but I do admire people who have the capacity to love other creatures (and people too).

Mission:Impossible - Rogue Nation - Movie Review

Tom Cruise looks old. He would, considering that I first watched him in the 1980s in Top Gun. That's a good 25+ years gone by. But we somehow hope they remain as they were when we first saw them - I remember how my illusions came crashing down when I saw Axl Rose in a concert a few years ago. I was searching for the real one when the truth hit me - there is no real one - this is he. Tom Cruise however is not that bad because we recognise him and are not searching in the crowd behind - despite the lack of his charming smiles. He instead gives us a serious, clenched jaw look and some fine action scenes for which i shall be eternally grateful.

The first scene is an impossible one where he gets on a flying plane and hangs on as it flies off - and then jumps off safely with a load of nerve gas. Soon after he finds himself in a record shop where he is almost gassed to death (he is getting old I told you) while showing off his knowledge about some old music from the 80s. Then he is almost killed by a chap called the bone doctor (what does he do? the q is never answered). Why not gas Cruise in the first place if you had to kill him was my q when bone doctor starts to beat him? Anyway we have good looking Ilsa Faust at hand to save the oldish Cruise - she looks fortyish too - but can she fight! Bone doctor, instead of killing this chap by breaking his bones or deboning him or whatever he does, starts punching him in the stomach - what is that? Anyway, we are now on the trail of the syndicate, a dangerous enemy which has people like the mysterious gasser, the bone doctor and also the very agreeable Ms. Faust who looked a bit like Hepburn and Zellweiger.

The next impossible stunt comes in an opera where a number of people with highly sophisticated guns have been allowed into the opera which is being watched by the Austrian premier. Its like all the gunmen in town have been invited to kill the premier. They could have simply put the poor premier in front of the firing squad really. Hunt (Cruise) is the guy who actually shoots the premier - to save him of course. (Sadly he is not to be saved because the security forgets to check the premier's car for bombs!) One of the shooters on duty is our pretty lady - one more shooter is there but he is killed - he is not pretty obviously. Hunt and Faust escape together. Next scene is Morocco where there is an underwater stunt to switch data cards and get some data which transfers money. What? The syndicate is just a bunch of ordinary thieves? Hunt almost gets killed but hey, Faust is at hand and she jumps in and rescues the man.

Next impossible stunt is on bikes. A set of bikers come and give Faust a bike. Why? Because she can then use the bike to whip them all into shape in two minutes and run off with the data. What is this? One thing about the syndicate is that it has a bad recruitment and training policy. Anyway Ilsa is soon back in London. The big bad boy now emerges with glasses and a squeaky voice and wants the files in the USB opened. But hey, the files can only be opened by the British Prime Minister. Really! If you get the files opened by the PM, I will let your geeky friend go says bad man to Hunt (he is like destiny!). Anything for friends says Hunt and gets the PM to open the files. If you can get the PM to do stuff like that, I was pretty sure you could catch the idiots at the Syndicate but that's another story. Ilsa and geeky friend are finally found tied to tons of RDX with a fast moving timer on geek. But Hunt knows how to make the bad man stop the device in the last second. He has memorised the entire data on the USB. He is now the USB himself!

Just as we start getting uneasy at this revelation and want to go home the final job is done - bone doctor is killed by Faust who has a signature style of choking adversaries between her legs after quickly climbing on top of them. For good measure she stabs the bone doctor who dies without revealing why he is called the bone doctor. This is singularly the most disappointing part of the movie when they give out suggestive names and do not tell us the back story. Poor bone doctor goes to his grave without the world knowing of his expertise.

Soon the big bad guy walks into a ready made gas chamber full of nerve gas which is instantly set up by the guys from IMF - he is actually introduced to the other guys by Hunt - meet the IMF he says. I thought they would all lock hands and watch the fellow die while they crack some jokes about gas. But they did not. But in a bad move, Hunt kills this chap, the same chap who let him live in the earlier gas incident. Considering all this happened under the nose of the CIA chief Alec Baldwin (who has a different name in the movie of course), IMF is reinstated (it was disbanded in the beginning in case I forgot to tell by a high powered committee based on Baldwin's plea - but that's not important because Hunt will go on irrespective). Faust and Hunt share longing looks and this is where Moore was so good - he never let a single woman slip through and always got busy in the end scenes. Never got sentimental either. Must be age you think? Maybe, but the stunts are brilliant as always. Also all the British guys come out looking bad and the Americans come out shining. Including the British PM. Why?

Must watch. Obviously. Great fun. This movie will also be remembered for the fact that it was here that I ate a huge tub of caramel pop corn!