Thinks 708

Stéphane Bancel: “Most people think about the future of business from the present onward. As humans we have a natural inclination to think linearly. However, this approach limits our creativity and inhibits our ability to achieve what was previously unimaginable. Consider a better alternative. By thinking five to 10 years out and then “playing the movie backward,” you free yourself from the constraints of what is possible now. You can envision year 10 and then figure out what has to happen in year nine, year eight, and so on for the vision to become reality.”

WSJ: “There’s a stark irony in Mr. Xi’s intensifying shift away from markets, for markets are what made China the economic powerhouse it is today. The robust growth that lifted China from poverty was driven by a hybrid model: a form of state capitalism in which Beijing allowed private ownership and U.S.-style free enterprise to flourish alongside large, low-productivity state-owned enterprises. China’s booming export-related manufacturing was driven by low-cost labor, government investment and highly efficient acquisition of foreign technology and know-how. With free enterprise, human capital flowed into China and drove innovation and productivity. China’s share of global exports rose from 4% in 2000 to 14% in 2015, creating well-paying jobs and domestic prosperity that financed modern urban infrastructure. China accounted for 30% of global growth in this period…By turning away from free enterprise, Xi Jinping ensures that the country’s economy will stop growing.”

McKinsey: Brooke Weddle: “Social capital, simply defined, is the presence of networks, relationships, and connections within any organization or, more broadly, community or culture. It’s been studied for decades, and some of the more recent work by Robert Putnam has emphasized the impact of social capital as it relates to ties in a community.” John Parsons: “With regard to individuals, it’s important to have connections to facilitate greater creativity and greater learning. There’s a lot of research that shows if you are more engaged, you’re more likely to stay. Connectivity can also help with career mobility. If you’re leading teams or you’re a part of a team, social capital is a building block that ultimately leads to that connection, that innovation, and that sharing of ideas.”

My Life System #10: Daily Discipline

The day is a repeating unit in our lives. It is therefore possible to create a system at the level of the day. It helps in bringing discipline to how we live. Of course, there are many events that take place which we cannot control. I am not talking about those – my focus is on what is in our control.

I wake up daily by 4:30 am. I set two alarms: 4:24 am and 4:27 am. To ensure that I still don’t oversleep, I have made a habit of listening to the BBC World News 5-minute bulletin (via their app) at 4:30 am. There is no exception on weekends – my waking up time daily is the same.

On weekdays, I do my thinking and writing between 5 and 6 am, and then go for a 35-minute walk in the building. Earlier, I used to write in my notebook. Now, I open up a Word document and write. On weekdays, it is typically some Netcore-related themes – the early morning brings a lot of clarity of thought. On weekends, I write for the blog for about 2-3 hours. I skip the walk so I get a longer time window to write much more. I can write about 1,000 words in an hour, which is the equivalent of 2 blog posts. These are not edited; I let the raw thoughts flow. I then send the blog writings to my friend (Atanu) for proofreading.

The pandemic ensured I set up a home office. I have two desktops – one at work, and one at home. I use Dropbox to sync files across them. I like the big screen and a proper keyboard.

To wake up on time, one has to sleep on time. I normally sleep by 9:45/10 pm. This gets me about 6.5 hours daily. On some days, I will take a short nap during the day – when I wake up, I feel fresh and it is almost like having a second morning.

Once the day starts, I go with the flow. Over the past few months, I have started going to the office daily. I like the feel of in-person meetings over Zoom. I try to keep some time in between meetings so I can think about what just happened and prepare for the next meeting.

I also try to stick to regular timings for meals, especially breakfast. Post-pandemic, I started skipping dinner. My breakfast and lunch are quite heavy, with a light evening snack (typically, apple and a banana). Combined with the daily walk, this ensures I do not put on weight – I have stayed at 65-67 kgs for the past many years.

Each of us should figure out when we are at our most productive. For me, it is the morning time. That then should become the anchor for organising the rest of the day.

PS: My previous post on life’s daily clue.

Thinks 707

Samuel Gregg: “[I]ndustrial policy supposes that if markets apparently fail to produce certain products, or to foster certain economic sectors deemed important for regional or national well-being, the government must intervene to rectify the problem. But what if the failure is not one of the private sector at all? What if the problem is pre-existing high taxes on profits generated by start-ups? Or regulatory barriers to entry for entrepreneurs? Or weak protections for intellectual property rights? Or preexisting subsidies that incentivize businesses to invest in established industries rather than new enterprises? Or some combination of these factors? In short, what if the problem is primarily government failure? Even relatively free economies contain numerous distortions that flow from government interventions that create perverse incentives for labor and capital to flow in less-than-optimal directions. The solution to such problems is less government intervention, not an industrial policy.” [via CafeHayek]

HBR: “When you align your organization’s values with both your strategy and the values of your employees—creating what we call values alignment—you reap all sorts of benefits: higher job satisfaction, lower turnover, better teamwork, more-effective communication, bigger contributions to the organization, more-productive negotiations, and, perhaps surprisingly, more diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our favorite finding involved the impact of values alignment on the turnover of chief operating officers. When we studied the divisions of one multiunit organization, we found that COOs whose values alignment was low needed a salary increase of 40% to become as likely to stay in their jobs as those whose values alignment was high. Imagine that: An increase in values alignment had as great an effect as a 40% raise.”

ThePrint: “Councillors are the bridge between citizens and the government at the ‘first mile’ and are closest to the citizen, quite literally. India’s 87,215 city councillors across its 4,700 plus towns and cities are extremely important but often ignored stakeholders of urban governance. There is lamentable infrastructure, inadequate sanitation and waste management, and we devise solutions without considering the role of elected councillors to run cities…Citizens often reach out to MLAs and MPs instead of councillors. Poor turnout in civic polls is yet another sign that councillors are not valued.”

Hayek: “Differences in wealth, education, tradition, religion, language or race may today become the cause of differential treatment on the pretext of a pretended principle of social justice or of public necessity. Once such discrimination is recognised as legitimate, all the safeguards of individual freedom of the liberal tradition are gone. If it is assumed that whatever the majority decides is just, even if what it lays down is not a general rule, but aims at affecting particular people, it would be expecting too much to believe that a sense of justice will restrain the caprice of the majority: in any group it is soon believed that what is desired by the group is just.” [via CafeHayek]

My Life System #9: Saying Sorry

I was in Pune for a customer meeting. My team had briefed me that the customer had had a very unpleasant onboarding experience a few years ago with Netcore and did not want to consider us at all for any of our products. We still managed to get a meeting for me. I was meeting the marketing manager. I began the meeting by apologising to her for the past – never an easy thing to do because it makes one vulnerable right at the start. But I wanted to address the elephant in the room. I knew that whether she mentioned it or not, that past would always cast a cloud on the future. So, it was best for me to accept our mistakes, and see if we could move past it.

It was the best thing I could have done. With my apology and promise to ensure that we would go the extra mile to ensure the next experience would be smooth, the conversation immediately switched to the new products that Netcore had and how we could help them.

In the ideal world, we would not make mistakes and thus never have to apologise. But life is never that simple. We are humans, not machines, and so we err. In most cases, the natural reaction is to put the blame on other people or circumstances beyond our control. The non-obvious action is to accept one’s mistake and apologise. An apology can be disarming and can set the stage for a better future, but it is our ego that prevents us from opening the door to accepting that we did something wrong.

At a recent conference, an attendee walked up to me and said, “I liked your presentation. But let me tell you the reality of my experience with your company. A few years ago, one of your sales persons came for a meeting. His first question to me was – So, what is your business? I ended the meeting right there. For me, that question spoke a lot about the culture of the company.” I was not prepared for this direct criticism. I had no idea about the incident. Instead of defending the indefensible, I replied, “I am really sorry for what happened. It is not the Netcore way. I hope you will give us an opportunity to re-initiate a relationship because the products we have can very much help improve your customer engagement and retention.” The “sorry” helped and a conversation began. After the meeting, I called up Kalpit (Netcore’s CEO), narrated the incident and suggested that we make sure such incidents never happen again.

In personal or in corporate life, saying sorry – and meaning it – can help bygones be bygones. For that, the first step – actually looking the other person in the eyes and apologising – is the hardest and the most important.

Thinks 706

Ruchir Sharma: “China is now a middle-income country, a stage when many economies naturally start to slow given the higher base. Its per capita income is currently $12,500, one-fifth that of the US. There are 38 advanced economies today, and all of them grew past the $12,500 income level in the decades after the second world war — most quite gradually. Only 19 grew at 2.5 per cent or faster for the next 10 years, and did so with a boost from more workers; on average the working age population grew at 1.2 per cent a year. Only two (Lithuania and Latvia) had a shrinking workforce. China is an outlier. It would be the first large middle-income country to sustain 2.5 per cent gross domestic product growth despite working-age population decline, which began in 2015. And in China this decline is precipitous, on track to contract at an annual rate of nearly 0.5 per cent in the coming decades. Then there’s the debt. In the 19 countries that sustained 2.5 per cent growth after reaching China’s current income level, debt (including government, households and businesses) averaged 170 per cent of GDP. None had debts nearly as high as China’s…China at 2.5 per cent growth has major implications for its ambitions as an economic, diplomatic and military superpower. A lesser China is more likely than the world yet realises.”

Joerg Wuttke: “Xi always says what he thinks. He has always done that, but for a long time it was not noticed in the Western world. The collapse of the Soviet Union had a fundamental impact on him, and he described the three Russian traumas early in his term in office: First, Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin was the original sin for him. Xi would never do such a thing with Mao, and he did so consistently. The old formula of «70% good, 30% bad» set up by Deng with regard to Mao was never heard of again under Xi. Secondly, Perestroika and Glasnost were, in Xi’s view, the catastrophe that led to the failure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The third Russian trauma for Xi were the oligarchs who became filthy rich under Boris Yeltsin and became a countervailing power to the state. That scenario was out of the question for Xi, which he consistently demonstrated, especially with Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. Xi is extremely consistent, you have to admire that, and at the same time he is also driven by history. He has studied the fall of the Soviet Union, and he has drawn the conclusion that this will not happen under his rule in China. On the contrary, he wants to show that communism will become a counter-model to capitalism.”

Mint: “McKinsey’s research across more than 1,000 companies identified four key reasons why culture matters to companies. One, culture correlates with performance. Those with top quartile cultures (as measured by McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index) posted a return to shareholders 60 percent higher than median companies and 200 percent higher than those in the bottom quartile. Two, culture is inherently difficult to copy. The ultimate competitive advantage, they found, is a healthy culture that adapts automatically to changing conditions to find new ways to succeed. Three, conversely, unhealthy cultures do not respond well to change. And last but not least, they found that over time, unhealthy cultures lead to underperformance, or worse, failure. These are the crucial old-economy lessons that start-up CEOs need to internalise.”

Ryan Holiday: “One of the interesting lines in Meditations, Marcus Aurelius talks about using the reins of his horse with his non-dominant hand. He says, ‘You get better from the practice of doing it differently.’ And so, I would argue that part of the reason that book one through book five, there is an evolution there, it’s not just that I did that same thing five times, but I also was working on extracurricular activities that made me a better writer.”

My Life System #8: Feedback

When I was living in graduate housing at Columbia University, a Russian roommate came up to me one day and said, “Rajesh, you have a very strong body odour. Consider wearing a vest and using deodorant.” I was momentarily taken aback – no one had told this ever in my life. And to this day, I am thankful that my roommate gave me that feedback – few would have the courage to tell another adult so candidly.

It was then I realised the importance of asking for feedback. It is not easy to ask and accept feedback. First, we are hesitant to ask because we do not like to hear negative things about ourselves. Second, we need to show sincerity in asking otherwise we will not get genuine and critical feedback. Third, we must have a commitment to take in the feedback and improve – also not easy because we have to accept our imperfections.

One of the questions I typically ask after a presentation to people who approach me is: what could I have done better? It is not an easy question to ask, because one then has to be prepared to receive critical (and at times, brutal) feedback. But that’s the only way to create a process of continuous improvement.

Recently, after I presentation, I asked the same question to a person who came up to me and complimented me. She was taken by surprise. At half my age (that’s the new world of entrepreneurs in India), she was shocked that I would ask her how I could do better. She then went on to give me some excellent feedback – you should have had more case studies, you should have explained some of the terms more clearly, and so on. And then she said, “You are the first person who has ever asked me for feedback on how to become better. It is such a good thing to do.” I replied, “Once we set aside ego and bring in the humility to learn, we can do so much more and do it so much better. That is the only way to improve.”

The change in my presentation style was also an outcome of me asking a friend for feedback after another “texty” slide deck. He said, “You have very good ideas, but the way you are communicating the story is not right. It leaves the audience bored and distracted. You have to grab them in the first 30 seconds and not leave their attention right till the end. Think how you can do that better.” And from there came a reinvention of my presentation style.

Thinks 705

Andy Kessler: “My free-market instincts make me allergic to government intervention. Instead, as in financial markets, government’s role is to set up rules for the sandbox and then let everyone play in it. Let the best sand castle win. Make sure everyone can get in and out of the sandbox on equal terms. We almost have to let Meta or anyone buy companies early in the development of the Metaverse to tinker with applications and business models and prove to others what works, enticing them to join in. If I were the FTC, I’d let Meta, Microsoft or Google make as many acquisitions as they want for the next decade, but only in exchange for open standards and interfaces so that competing firms can build their own version of this space to connect and be interoperable with what already exists. Governments are involved with standards—the National Institute of Standards and Technology is part of the U.S. Commerce Department. But instead of defining details of these new worlds, the focus should be on sensible interfaces and application programming interfaces so everyone can access the sandbox.”

David Perell: “The history of innovation is filled with endeavors that seemed useless at the time: Newton was as obsessed with alchemy as he was with calculus, Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class in college, which contributed to the typeface renaissance Apple would later pioneer…Many of the best scientists are poets. Many of the best investors are philosophers. Many of the best politicians are historians. Though life is random and spontaneous, something in the human psyche expects a linear, ascending staircase towards the penthouse of success. Fearing judgment, people are scared to explore unproven avenues. Second-time authors, musicians, and entrepreneurs struggle because they’re afraid to go back to the beginning and look like a novice again…Honor the dreamer within you and stop trying to justify everything.”

Peter Coy: “What most of us do most of the time is “satisfice,” to use a word coined by the Nobel laureate Herbert Simon in 1956. To satisfice is to satisfy and suffice — to make a quick, easy decision that, while maybe not perfect, is good enough. One quick-and-dirty way to make decisions is to consider a single criterion at a time, rather than trying to weigh all the criteria at once. Let’s say you’re choosing between job offers. Your first criterion might be salary and your second might be distance from home. In that case, you’ll automatically pick the job that pays the most without even looking at how far it is from home. Only if two or more jobs pay the same amount will you move on to the second criterion, distance from home, as a tiebreaker. This is known as lexicographic ordering because it’s similar to the way we alphabetize words. All the words starting with the letter A go in the front of the dictionary. Moving on to the second letter, “aardvark” comes before “abacus,” and so on.”

FT: “The relentless rise of TSMC is one of the most important and least told chapters in the era of globalisation. Different from peers such as Intel and Samsung, which continue to both design and manufacture chips, TSMC is a contract manufacturer that produces semiconductors designed by other companies. The efficiency and cost savings of this foundry model have convinced so many other chipmakers to outsource fabrication to TSMC that Taiwan now accounts for 20 per cent of global wafer fabrication capacity, the single largest concentration in one country, and a staggering 92 per cent of capacity for the most advanced chips. The US share in global chip manufacturing has dwindled from 37 per cent in 1990 to 10 per cent in 2020.”

My Life System #7: Time with Oneself

To become better, we have to be comfortable spending time alone without distractions. Call it mediation or me-time, done with eyes closed or open, with a writing book or without. The idea is that one has to enjoy one’s own company – the self and the silence. As the last paragraph on “The Invitation” puts it:

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

For me, I create time with myself whenever possible. The early morning and late nights are the best. There is something about the “sounds of silence”. As the Paul Simon poem puts it:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

All my writing happens early in the morning (from 5 am) – when the darkness and stillness of the night has still not given way to the morning buzz. Weekdays, I think and write for about an hour, while on weekends it stretches to about 2-3 hours.

In this “me-time”, I am not distracted by emails and WhatsApp messages. There is nothing that cannot wait for a few hours. I recreate the comfort of the inflight experience: sitting in one place with just one’s mind to oneself. This is when the ideas “flow”. We need chunky time for this – and our devices and notifications have taken it away from us. The temptation to pick up the phone or switch from Word to Thunderbird must be resisted. It is only then, with each passing minute, that we get into a high productivity zone.

I am able to create a bubble around me at any time, even in noisy surroundings. All I need is my notebook. At times, I am stuck in meetings which I cannot exit or escape. My notebook comes to my rescue. I mentally switch off and start writing – it is time with myself that others do not notice.

The reason for time with oneself is so we can contemplate on what we are doing and what we need to do. Much of life is a reaction to events around us, so it is very important to create these extended periods when we can think deeply about the important rather than act on the urgent.

PS: My previous posts on flow and me-time.

Thinks 704

FT: “[Steven] Pinker argues that humans have a “mythology mindset” when it comes to things outside their personal experience: we are happy to believe things for which there is no evidence. So it is often rational to pander to each other’s irrationality: Republican politicians must pretend not to believe in the 2020 election result. “That’s why we have institutions: like science, responsible journalism, liberal democracy, a court system.” So the problem of rationality is actually a political problem of defending institutions and decreasing partisanship.”

WSJ: “Across the West, we are led by too many inferior people who shouldn’t be left in charge of a Lego set, let alone the entire edifice of national government. Governing has become a heavily performative exercise played increasingly by a cast of professional political figures who never made a payroll, donned a uniform or created anything other than a sharply worded press release. All this is exacerbated by the unseriousness of a media and political culture in which the demand for constant gratification is met by “owning” your opponent, always on the lookout to exploit some alleged grievance.”

Donald Boudreaux: “Precisely because government intervention into markets is intended to disregard or to override market signals, government officials, if they are to improve the welfare of citizens, must have access to information that is superior to that which is available on markets. But government officials, in fact, not only have no superior source of information, they have no good source of information at all. The best they can do is guess. This absence of information available to government officials is an especially acute problem for those officials who fancy themselves able to improve the economy’s performance by nationalizing industries, by using subsidies and protective tariffs, and by imposing ‘corrective’ taxes here and there. But this absence of information is ubiquitous throughout all government affairs. No matter which projects government undertakes as a government, its officials cannot really know, in the way that market participants know, just what to produce, how much to produce, and how best to produce it.”

Indrajit Gupta: “As digital transformation agendas take centre stage, the newsrooms in large incumbent news brands have succumbed to pressures of building traffic, in a bid to chivvy up digital advertising. The reliance on technology tools like Chartbeat to take “data-driven” editorial decisions are rapidly replacing human curation of the past. Journalists in such integrated newsrooms are now given traffic targets. Yet this reckless obsession with page views can be self-defeating, as a major news publisher recently admitted in a closed door session. He said his biggest challenge was retaining loyalty and driving usage. Despite publishing more than 300 stories a day, nearly 95 per cent of his readers read only two stories—and drifted off to other sites. Going forward, my belief is that this dilution of news agendas could create new niches where digitally-led magazine brands could play a big role. The focus will be on building strong communities. Rather than pedestrian, run-of-the-mill events, more engaging formats for live and asynchronous engagement will emerge. Monthly or quarterly print editions could offer a more immersive experience. And new forms of digital story-telling, adeptly curated by editors, will provide the understanding and clarity that data-driven news agenda can seldom guarantee.”

My Life System #6: Presentations

I like making presentations. They are the best way to learn. To present to others means to distill one’s ideas in a manner that others can understand. It needs mastery on the subject. It also needs an openness to share.

In late 2021, my team approached me to do a fireside chat at a conference. I agreed. They were to pick a person and all I had to do was to ask a few questions to a guest. But with just a few days left for the conference, it became hard to get the time slots for the right people. And so, with five days to go for the conference, the fireside chat became a slot for a presentation by me.

My presentations tend to generally be a collection of slides with a lot of text. This time around, I decided to try something different. Could I do a presentation with very little text and more imagery and 2-3 words on a slide? I took that as a challenge. It was not an easy one for me, but as I started working on it, I began to like the story that was coming through. I realised it could become more gripping as I spoke through on slides that changed every 15-20 seconds. I had seen presentations like this done in the US, so I decided to give it a try.

In the process of putting it together (the title was “Winning in the Coming Martech Era: Driving Exponential Forever Profitable Growth”), I also started improving my own thinking about the topic. In the past year, I have done variations of the presentation multiple times to different audiences. I now have a core set of slides, and I pick and choose based on the audience and the time I have. With less text for people to read and eyes to glaze over, they have to listen – and that’s how I get their attention. It becomes a thriller with continuous action. To pull this off, I had to practise a lot to make sure I do not ramble or go over-time.

At an in-person conference in Goa, I covered 119 slides in 30 minutes – that is an average of 15 seconds per slide. But that is not the right way to look at it. I spoke about 5000 words and used the slides as a prop to keep the attention and engagement going. There was something new happening every few seconds and that ensured listeners had no time to check their messages or let their minds roam! I got very good feedback after the presentation. (There were many ideas presented so I offered to email the deck to whoever wanted it.)

I view each presentation as a way to sharpen my ideas. In that sense, like with my writing, I present for myself. The audience is a prop to help me make my story better. Doing presentations virtually is not something I like because as a presenter you need to be able to see the people, make eye contact, and watch their body language. Presenters are performers who need a stage – like actors and magicians.

As I have reinvented my presentation style, it is like I have found a new dimension to myself. And that’s why I believe we must always push ourselves to do things we have not done or tried before.