Monday, 9 April 2018

Work Hard...and smart!

There is an increasing popularity for "work smarter, not harder" mantra. In last week itself, I have seen few people discussing this on LinkedIn (which is what prompted this post) - with a common thread of discussion: not only smart work can replace hard work, but also that this is the need of the hour.
There could have been a time (or a generation) when the common belief was to work hard - that's it! However, that belief has changed, drastically at that. Hard work on its own might not be enough - there is a strong need for smart work as well. My objection is with the promotion of idea that smart work can replace hard work (as the cartoon's message suggests).
Without hard work, without relentless practice, can any sportsperson become a pro - let alone become a champion? Another mantra comes to mind: practice makes perfect. I will concede that hard work alone may not lead to success, but it is still not replaceable by smart work.
In business terms, a fresher needs to put in the hard work to learn the ropes. Hard work ensures the fresher experiences and understands many aspects of the task, which then can lead her to plan out a smarter way of completing the task. If she is taught the "smart way" of doing things from the beginning, essentially she is not learning the process (the why of it), rather learning short-cuts. The short-cuts that are due to someone else's hard work, leading to short-term efficiency.
For an experienced executive, she becomes a fresher every time she takes on a new role - a promotion, change of company, change of location, change of industry (or a combination of these). The smart work that helped her in her previous role may / may not be enough to deliver desired results in her new role...she needs to fall back on hard work, even if for a little while.
In my experience, life is rarely either black (hard work) or white (smart work). Life is usually a shade of grey. At times more of black is required, and at some other times more of white is required - but as a rule no one can should believe one is superior to the other. Each has its own importance, need and appropriate time to use.
My mantra: work hard...and smart!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Small Achievements Are Important

When was the last time you took time to congratulate yourself? When was the last time you actually felt as an achiever? When was the last time you celebrated an achievement?

If you are anything like me, then it must have been sometime since your last celebration of any of your question then: why is it so?

For long I have worked keeping a goal in mind. A goal that is achievable, but neither an easy one to achieve nor a quick one to achieve. For all the time that I am working towards my goal, when I am in the process, I am focussed on what I am supposed to do and unforgiving on self for digressing (which I do quite often).

Usually the process of completing a task is tough - whether successfully or unsuccessfully. Because I don't enjoy the process much, there is hardly a great sense of achievement on successful completion of the task because worry of the next task engulfs me. I am trying to work on changing this attitude towards how I approach life (work tasks / personal tasks).

My new mantra is two-fold: I need to break the overall task in smaller targets, and value other aspects of life at the same time. 

The former has a further two fold benefit: 1) the pressure of climbing a mountain gets broken down in layers of effort, giving me a moment to catch my breadth and check / recalculate the way forward, and 2) since each smaller target is a task in itself, I can start enjoying its completion and self-congratulate for the same. This method allows me to enjoy the process a little more - and keeps me motivated.

The latter is more important for me to follow. Problem is that I forget everything else that is important in my life, while I am working towards a huge task. Not only do I ignore the people I love, but also forget to take care of my mental / physical health. By accepting that there are always going to be more than one important aspect in my life, I can start valuing each aspect as it deserves. Also, this allows me to spread my sense of achievement and overall happiness across a wider base. Even if I don't meet desired success on one aspect, I can find happiness via success in another.

For example: I am taking sometime out today to announce to everyone - that I have completed 10 years of blogging. In this time, I have written 200 posts (this is my 201st post). When I started my blog, I had no idea how will it go - whether I will have anything to write, whether I will continue to enjoy writing...but here I am, ten years later - still writing, still enjoying writing. This is definitely a WIN in my books. I will pat myself on the back - take a personal moment to reflect on this achievement - and most importantly, allow myself to enjoy this personal success!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Agricultural Revolution: History's Biggest Fraud?

“Fraud (noun): a person or thing that is not what it claims or pretends to be" - Cambridge Online Dictionary.

As per Yuval Noah Harari (YNH), yes Agricultural Revolution (AR) is history's biggest fraud (from his book, Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind). I am not quite in agreement with his views. In following few paragraphs I will quote some of his views (taken directly from his book, Sapiens), and either I will put forth my reasons of disagreement, or I will raise questions that I feel have been left unanswered, rendering author's views to be incomplete / inaccurate.

Pg87: "History's Biggest Fraud"

For me - this start in itself was off-putting. Who has given YNH the authority to suggest (although he does more than simply suggest, he claims it) AR was a fraud? For fraud to happen, there should be 2 parties involved - I can either be the fraudster, or the victim of a fraud - but I cannot defraud myself. As per YNH, Homo sapiens (HS) are one specie (singular unit, which has become victim of AR fraud) - then who came to Earth to introduce agriculture to HS and sold a fraudulent concept to HS? If HS were themselves responsible for agriculture, then why is it a fraud?

If YNH wants to claim that this is a generational fraud - that the generation that started AR was the fraudulent one and all following generations are victims - then does he truly believe his personal life (if still possible) would have been better had it not been for AR?

Pg89: "Scholars once proclaimed that the AR was a great leap forward for humanity. They told a tale of progress fuelled by human brain power. >> That tale is a fantasy. There is no evidence that people became more intelligent with time. Foragers knew the secrets of nature long before the AR, since their survival depended on intimate knowledge of the animals and plants they gathered."

So many problems with these few lines...such deep-rooted narcissism from YNH: all previous scholars knew horse-shit, and I know it all!

Also - YNH claims foragers' "intimate knowledge", on which their "survival depended", to be intelligent enough for any addition to that intelligence not only to be unnecessary, but also not worthy enough to be labelled intelligence at all.

Pg90: "AR left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers". 

Pg91: "How did wheat convince HS to exchange a rather good life for a more miserable existence?"

Really? He knows this how? How many farmers of that era and foragers did he interview to understand what caused their lives to be difficult and what satisfied them? What is his source to the claim that foragers themselves didn't want to move away from hunting and gathering all their life, and that they didn't want to settle down at one place?

Pg94: “Why would any sane person lower his or her standard of living just to multiply the number of copies of the HS genome? Nobody agreed to this deal: the AR was a trap.”

The once considered “intelligent” lot, the foragers (Pg89), are now considered insane on Pg94. The intelligent foragers were insane enough to accept a concept that led to lowering of their standard of living. But, who decides the standard of living? Who decides what was good / bad / satisfactory – for something that happened 10,000 years ago????

Pg97: “Why did people make such a fateful miscalculation? >> People were unable to fathom the full consequences of their decisions."

Pg112: “Foragers discounted the future because they lived from hand to mouth and could only preserve food or accumulate possessions with difficulty. Of course they clearly engaged in some advance planning. >> The AR made the future far more important that it had ever been before."

Is it not possible that foragers were actually the most intelligent ones that humans ever have been…and knew exactly what they were doing with AR, i.e. ensuring survival of HS for thousands of years to come. Probably foragers understood that as long as they continue to be just one of the animals on Earth, their survival was always going to be questioned by any already existing specie or a new one (as their coming on scene meant extinction of few other species).

Pg90: “The AR was history's biggest fraud. Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa."

I still cannot understand why is AR considered to be "History's Biggest Fraud". Unless YNH believes Devil defrauded the "intelligent" foragers into becoming slaves of their own activities by introducing agriculture via handful of plants. 

Is it YNH's stance that nature fucked HS - then why is he crying about it? Nature fucked so many species by introducing HS. At least with AR, HS specie has managed to survive and become more "intelligent" by learning to use the brain gifted to us.

It is the use of this brain that led to the very tools YNH used to research his chosen subject, and write a book on his research. Is it YNH's stance that all this intelligence not count to more than the intelligence that he attributes to survival instincts of foragers? Or is it his stance that all this that we have today (2018 A.D.) would still have been possible with AR?

It is easy and utterly useless to put value judgment about past decisions and actions, without understanding what were the circumstances during which these decisions and actions were taken. YNH has neither shed any light on what were the circumstances faced by foragers, nor shown evidence of multiple options that may / may not have been available to foragers for securing long terms survival. It is possible that AR was the best of bad scenarios waiting to happen for foragers – which only means, foragers accepted their fate as becoming domesticated. In this case - no, AR is not a fraud, leave alone history's biggest.

If a layperson, like me, can have so many questions on YNH's views - I do believe those who are more familiar with this subject will find more loopholes with this story. For me anyone claiming such things, when there are unanswered questions and obvious limitation on understanding why things happened back then (as they did), for personal gain is not doing anyone any favours.

Anyone who has believed YNH's words that AR was indeed history's biggest fraud, has been misled and taken for a ride. Does that make YNH a fraud? that is another unanswered question!


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

My Confusion with Religion

"I am not an atheist, thus I must be religious." This is the best way I can describe my position on the subject of religion, and what it means to me. In my late-teens (nearly two decades ago), I started using the term "spiritual" to better describe my position. "I am more spiritual than religious" was my go-to view on the subject. Obviously, I had no clue what these concepts meant...honestly, I still don't understand much about either concept.

Due to my upbringing, and my own life experiences and sensibilities, I do believe in a higher-power, which is superior to human comprehension and out of reach for human exploration.

Various groups (of people) have been formed basis a commonly-accepted view of this power, giving it a name and some sort of form - thus giving birth to concept of religion. As a simpleton on the subject - I take the liberty of being ignorant about details in general. I think of religion as a human creation - no divine power would want human animal to segregate its society, when no other animal group does the same.

Whatever be the need in past for humans to form religions - today, role of religion has to be re-examined and redefined. It is not my intent to question religion - any one religion, or even religion as concept. I, too, am a religious person - believing in my own way. It is my intent to question how human society is using religion.

At an individual level - religion does wonders. Religion provides a moral compass, a set of guidelines to live by, at times a few laws as well - all of this giving the individual a sense of purpose of life. More importantly, religion provides the individual a sense of belonging, a sense of being rooted & centred around something greater than self. Individuals can invest more time and effort in understanding their religion better, improving their own life in the process (as they, alone, see fit). So far - religion is a greatly positive power.

At a group level - religion becomes confusing to me. Where there is a group of people, there is a need for checks & balances, for order, for hierarchy, for laws, for guidelines of moral values...and more!

Since it is humans in the group that we call religion, and each group is managed by other humans - I cannot help, but think these humans are prone to human frailties. Hunger for power being one such human frailty that I feel is one of the greatest negatives of religion at a group level. The thought that one religion is superior to others, or that one religion got it right while others got it wrong, or that the more people one religion has (as followers - not believers) the stronger that religion becomes - is all human need for power, not divine need.

The more we use religion as an exclusive club, with rigid and strict set of rules (many of which are archaic), the more segregated society becomes. This exclusivity has already resulted in power-hungry people to create factions for themselves, becoming leader to followers (of a human and not of divine).

In my view - a new born is made to understand religious values much before the child has any understanding of law of the land. This can be through the diet provided (or not provided), through the cultural aspects (mannerisms / actions), and even through language(s) taught to the child. Religion, therefore, is quite a strong concept. This only means there is an enhanced need for people to understand religion - as a concept on the whole, and not just understand more about their own religion. 

With the sensitivities today, and a low threshold of being offended - I believe religion as a group function is failing the individuals. It may be time for individuals to wake up to this reality, and realise how they want to work within (and without) religion. To seek meaning and to question (not disregard) status-quo may be better for our times, than being blind believers. 

Do human leaders of religions allow seeking and questioning by individuals - if not, then why: my confusion with religion!

Friday, 5 January 2018

Importance of Narrative We Tell Ourselves

Most of us are story tellers - good or not-so-good, having a conversation, making up reasons to satisfy children's curiosity, embellishing experiences (or achievements), or at times fabricating incidents that may never have happened. We share stories about our life with other people all the time - this post is for the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories shared with others are usually about past events, things that have already happened. The stories we tell ourselves are about future scenarios - all the various possibilities that can unfold and pan out. Future is inevitable - it will happen...something will happen. We can at times predict what's going to happen and at some other times are completely taken by surprise.

Our mind is capable to building multiple possible outcomes for almost every decision we take. Not only is our mind is capable of thinking of the good (desirable) outcomes, but also our mind is capable of thinking of the bad (undesirable) outcomes.

If it was just this, listing out various possible outcomes (good and bad), things would have been simpler. However, our mind is also inclined to attach itself with some possible outcomes by working out an equation of probability and desirability. For those who are pessimistic, their mind starts telling them a narrative that's more bad than good...and vice-a-versa for those who are optimistic. 

This is where we often fail to see an opportunity to take control of our own thoughts, we simply believe we are who we are - thus an optimist will continue being an optimist, and a pessimist will also continue being a pessimist. The opportunity is to start working with our mind, bringing our thoughts more in our control, and becoming more balanced in our approach towards future.

Fact of the matter is simple, none of us know the future. We can never be sure of how exactly future events will unfold, how exactly will results of our decisions of today pan out tomorrow, and how exactly will we feel about the outcome at that moment. But what we can definitely do today is to find a balanced view of our future - highly positive outlook could lead to feeling of failure if the positives don't come our way...and a highly negative outlook could make our present miserable even before the future events have a chance to do the same.

Just as we are convinced telling stories to others helps make our case, or helps others accept a reality better - we need to learn to believe in the power of narrative we tell ourselves. The more balanced we can get in the narrative, the more centred we will become. The more centred we become, the more capable will we be in accepting whatever future brings for us.

It is acceptable that this line of thought is seemingly for pessimists, so that they can find it in them to feel better about their future and in the process not make their present miserable. However, the idea presented here is two-fold: a) take control of the narrative we tell ourselves, which brings our thoughts under our control, and b) to use this control to build a balanced view of the future.

It is not that difficult to train, and control, our own mind. If we can, at times, convince others to see a scenario as we want them to - we sure can learn to convince ourselves!

Friday, 15 December 2017

How Do I?

How do I begin this poem?
How do I explain this in words?
How do I describe my love, my darling?
How do I tell the story of bees and birds?

How do express what I feel?
How do I ensure I tell it all?
How do I say your smile is my high?
How do I say your tears are my fall?

How do I promise uninterrupted happiness?
How do I convince you that I share your pain?
How do I manage all, or any of it?
How do I get you back in my arms again?

How do I sleep at night?
How do I wake up every morning next to you?
How do I remove the miles that separate us today?
How do I fly across the seven seas to be with you?

How do I change our situation?
How do I tell you, how I miss your touch?
How do I make things better?
How do I make this poem convey so much?

How do I?

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Concept of Control

Problem with concept of control is simply this: people, in general, think of control as one concept - overarching on their entire existence. That is: either people think they can control everything, or the other extreme that nothing is in their control.

In my view, simplistically, we need to think of control at two levels (not one) - external and internal. External control is over others, over scenarios, over life in general (etc.), and internal control is over self - my views, my thoughts, my reactions, my actions (etc.). Most people mistakenly think they can control the external, and not focus enough on controlling the internal. In reality, people need to do the exact opposite - control the internal (self-control) and stop worrying about the external.

This distinction is important to understand - more in today's environment because there are many self-proclaimed gurus preaching that control is an illusion. "Control is an illusion" has become a mantra - being talked of in corporate circles to better manage stress. In this instance, logic that flows is this: accept that the outcome is not entirely in your control, thus don't be stressed about it. However, usually, these self-proclaimed gurus forget to highlight the need for reducing the thought of controlling the external and at same time increasing the level of controlling the internal.

Stress may be a by product of so many different factors (personal, professional) and may / may not be anything to do with feeling in control or not...or even wanting to be in control or not. In order to better manage stress, we need to understand why are we stressed, remove the elements that are not in our control (usually external causes, let's say - we have only 24 hours in a day, we have only one body etc OR clash of priorities set by seniors in the organisation to our plans / thoughts - things not in our control) and focus on what all is in our control (usually internal, for example - our emotions, our reactions etc). Essentially, let go of the illusion of controlling the external, and focus on improving control over the internal.

In our daily lives, we exercise some degree of self-control almost all the time. We don't say everything we want to, we don't do everything we want to, we don't punch everyone that we think deserves one...yes, we constantly live with self-control.

Because we are wired in a manner, and society further helps us learn self-control (by punishing lack of it, mostly), some degree of self-control happens in auto-mode. But it leads us to believe in the concept of control, and further creates the illusion of control over external.

Although self-control happens in auto-mode, it takes energy away from us. It is exhausting to always be in control - stop self from doing things that we want to. This energy-sapping element working on auto-mode depletes our ability to improve self-control - build it so, that it comes in our conscious decision making, not merely auto-mode. We get restricted to controlling our societal (in public view) actions and words, but not work towards controlling our emotions. Lack of control over emotions leads to lack of on-demand control over our reactions, which brings out outbursts that cannot be controlled by auto-mode self-control.

There are different cycles that we enter, with each of these choices we make. The cycle when we live with the illusion of controlling the external (to human levels), we often find ourselves to be disappointed, hurt or angry at something someone did (or equally much, did not do). Because we did not work on improving self-control, our emotions rule our reactions - our exasperation makes us irritable. People see that in us, keep their distance from us. As people grow distant, and the more control over external we want to exercise, the more hurt we get by the behaviour of others.

The other cycle that we could enter into is this: we let go of the illusion of controlling the external, and work on improving self-control. This relieves us of pressures that are, at times, unnecessary and will not go away just because we are worrying about them. Also, because we work on improving self-control - we become relaxed and more pleasing in public setting. This may lead to people reacting to us more positively, and for us to get more of what we need from them.

There is no route, or suggested course of action that I want to prescribe here for how to achieve any of what I have stated above. Simple reason - what worked for me, might not work for you at all (if not worsen things up). My aim with this post is to highlight an issue, break it down a bit and to leave the thought with the reader - for the reader to introspect and find the best combination solution that works for her / him. From personal experience I say this: it is freedom to let go of the illusion of controlling the external, and focussing on controlling the internal.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Keep It Simple - The Best Advice I Ever Received

Not often do we realise the value of advice given to us, at the time that advice is given to us. In my experience, self-confidence (in this context - over confidence) is the usual culprit. Add to self-confidence, other reasons contributing to our disregarding advice range from the lack of respect we have for the person giving advice (if I don't respect the person, I am less likely to take his / her advice) to obviousness & simplicity of the advice given that leads us to miss its deep meaning or its long-term implications. However, there are times when we are reminded of an advice that was given to us in past and holds good in our present scenario - just wish we had paid attention to that advice when it was given to us.

One such advice, which I didn't take seriously, came from a colleague at the start of my career. I was simply told to keep things simple!

As an early 20-something, in my first job, with all the euphoric feeling of independence and responsibility (as much as junior-most guy in any team can enjoy), I wasn't matured enough to think how such a simple advice could be valuable - I didn't value simplicity because I was gunning to do more, have chaos around me and have my fingers in as many pies as possible. It didn't take many years for me to realise just how important this simple-sounding advice was.

As I climbed the corporate ladder, and personal responsibilities increased as well (i.e., got married) I was reminded of these very sound words - keep things simple!

I found myself surrounded by the chaos that I once worked hard to get around me. The pressure of responsibilities seemed to be crushing my spirit, which only led me to worsen my performance...and so began a vicious cycle of chaos, pressure and poor performance.

Post-realisation of value of these words, I didn't know what I could or should do immediately to make things simple. Although I knew that I had to do something, I knew in my gut that moving away from chaos, and towards simplicity will help me immensely. This started a journey, showed me a path that I walk on even today - not only in my professional life, but also my personal life.

With some amount of pain and a lot of time spent on introspection - I realised two areas that caused me most difficulty: a) the illusion of control, and b) attachment. The former broke my heart, and confidence every time there was a fuck-up, and the latter forced me to live in the past, rather than be fluid & moving ahead.

Such a realisation is neither simple to act upon, nor easy to verbalise. It took a lot of effort, some rather big fuck-ups, and luck to find the path of simplicity. Essentially, I gave up the illusion of controlling every aspect of my life - rather focussed on controlling my reactions & emotions (as much as possible given the situation). Also, I started to understand what attachment meant to me - where it was required, and where I could completely let it go.

Keeping things simple has freed up my time for things that really matter, has provided a compass for decisions and directions I want to take, and has renewed my confidence. There is a lot, still, that I need to improve on to further simplify in my life, but I am glad that I have found a path and am walking on it. I am constantly reminded of the learnings I have had since I started on this journey - I still falter, but an internal kick comes to stop me from wandering off-course for long.