Published September 15-19, 2023
I wrote previously about my liking for thrillers: “A good story transports you to a different world – it is the equivalent of dreaming with eyes open. Some authors that I like include Daniel Silva (Gabriel Allon series), Michael Connelly (Bosch and others), Anthony Horowitz, Scott Turow and John Grisham (legal), David Baldacci, Joel Rosenberg, David Ignatius, Brad Thor, Jeffrey Deaver (Lincoln Rhyme), Ken Follett, and Ruth Ware (Agatha Christie type thrillers).”
While thrillers are a good escape and there is no shortage of titles that come through the year, every so often I read a book which is different and leaves a mark. One of the best books I read was “Klara and the Sun” by Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. It is a book which must be read slowly because each sentence is so beautifully crafted. The book immerses us in the world as seen through the eyes and ‘mind’ of Klara. It is set in a near-future where Artificial Friends (AFs) are created to alleviate human loneliness. Klara, an extremely observant solar-powered AF, is chosen by a young girl named Josie to be her companion. The story follows Klara’s journey to understand the complexities of human emotions, relationships, and mortality as she tries to save Josie’s life by seeking the mysterious power of the Sun. The book explores themes of love, artificial intelligence, ethics, the essence of consciousness, questioning the nature of life and what makes us human.
While reading the book, I was completely immersed in it. It was a very different experience from reading murder mysteries and thrillers where the race is to the finish line. I did not want the Klara book to end. Even after I had read it, the book stayed with me. It contemplated a future that was not far off, and thanks to the exponential innovation we are now seeing in AI, that future could happen much sooner than we expect. Klara is such an endearing creation and one begins to wonder if machines can have feelings or it is just the algorithms at work, blurring the line between human and machine.
Another book I read recently was “Notes on an Execution” by Danya Kukafka. I came across it after it won the 2023 Edgar Award for Best Novel. It explores the psyche of a serial killer (Ansel Packer, in second person) and the women who shaped him. The book is about the last 12 hours before his scheduled execution. As Jacqueline Bublitz writes: “In a chapter poignantly titled Elsewhere, we get to imagine the lives of the women and girls he murdered, if only they had been left alone. These moments that might have been are both beautiful, and beautifully ordinary. Traveling to other countries. Holding babies. Remembering the eating of an orange in the sun. We see what the man who took their lives could not. That an entire universe was contained within each woman. Life after life to be lived. She was always more than her ending, the worst thing that happened to her. And he will only ever be the worst thing he did.” The book is very well written and brings the tension alive.
A good fiction book is about immersion – travelling through space and time into the characters that the author creates. It weaves together elements of setting, plot, and character development to create a vivid and engaging world that captivates us as readers, inviting us to lose ourselves in the story. For those few hours, the words on the page (or screen) intersect with our thoughts and create a mind meld. Through immersive writing, the author evokes a range of emotions, allowing us to empathise with the characters’ experiences and explore the intricacies of human relationships and life’s complexities. We can envision ourselves in the fictional universe a good author crafts, with detailed descriptions and believable dialogue. This resonance provides an escape from the mundane on a lazy weekend afternoon or a late night after a long workday, offering a portal that connects the author’s writing and our imagination. Immersion in a good fiction book fosters a deeper understanding of the human experience – very different perhaps from our own. The book leaves behind questions, some answers, and many memories that linger long after the final page is turned.
Closing and Opening Doors – 1
There are many occasions when we find ourselves in a bad place. We want to get out of such situations but are not always sure. The past keeps tugging while the future seems distant and unknown. I have been through this many times. My learning: we need to close doors before we can open new ones. This concept is crucial in personal growth and self-discovery, as it encourages us to let go of our failed past (and in some cases a stagnant present) and embrace new future opportunities.
I started thinking about this when I was in a meeting some time ago to discuss how best to monetise AMP in email. We had been trying to charge businesses a premium over ordinary emails. It was proving hard to persuade brands to pay extra and was also slowing down our goal of ensuring widespread AMP adoption. It was then that I asked myself a question: what if we did not charge extra for AMP emails? What if we closed that door? What new ones could I open? It was only then that I started thinking about “productised AMP.” We could monetise products around AMP rather than AMP itself. I needed to discard one option to open the possibility of alternatives.
Holding onto past experiences, relationships, and circumstances can be detrimental to our well-being. It prevents us from moving forward and achieving our full potential. By closing doors, we allow ourselves the freedom to grow and explore new paths in life. Letting go of what no longer serves us is a sign of strength and maturity, not weakness.
A year or so ago, I met with a friend, who found new doors opening after closing an old one. He had had a long career in a corporate role for several years, but deep down, he felt unfulfilled and stagnant in his career. He knew that something needed to change, but the fear of the unknown held him back. After confirming that he was financially well-off and thus could take some risks, I suggested that he quit his current job (the equivalent of closing the door). I then recommended going out and meeting people to consider new options. “Attend conferences, start writing, talk to anyone you know who is willing to give you 30-60 minutes of time.” My friend took the leap, resigned from his position, and began searching for new opportunities.
When we met again after a few months, my friend had embarked on this new journey, and was filled with excitement. He had started attending networking events, enrolling in online courses, and connecting with people. New doors were beginning to open. Business ideas were forming. He had even come across a person who he thought could be a possible co-founder for a new venture. Cut to the present. My friend is an entrepreneur and just getting his product to market. I have never seen him happier! He knows the odds of success are still low, but the joy of being free and the designer of his destiny is what he loves. And it had all begun with the resignation letter that he had held on to for many months and even perhaps years because the comfort of the known and fear of the unknown prevented him from closing a door and opening a new one. By making the jump, embracing the unknown, and staying true to himself, he was able to find a new path that was more aligned with his dreams and aspirations.
Closing and Opening Doors – 2
In the mid-1990s, I was trying to sell Image WorkBench, an image processing software, to Indian R&D institutions and hospitals. I had been at it for more than a year and had only gotten two confirmed orders. The selling cycles were long because most buyers were government organisations and needed to go through a tender process. I had a sense that we were failing but refused to accept that my awe-inspiring creation (“look, we can count objects in that image”) did not have a profitable future. Days turned to weeks and then months as I hoped for that one big order which would turn around our fortunes. It never happened. At the same time, the Internet had started to happen. A new entrepreneurial venture in the form of IndiaWorld beckoned. I had to make a choice. I had to let go of my past (the imaging project) to build a new future (India-centric portals). It was only when I closed the first door that the second opened.
This process has two elements that we need to mentally prepare ourselves for:
- Recognising the need for change: Understanding when it’s time to close a door is crucial. Assess your current situation and ask yourself if it aligns with your goals and values. Are you feeling stagnant or unhappy? If so, it might be time to let go and seek new opportunities. Remember, change can be a positive force in your life, leading to personal growth and greater fulfilment. This is not always easy because of the sense of failure that can envelop us. What we need to understand is that the problem is the relationship or business venture, and not us as individuals.
- Willingness to embracing the unknown: Closing doors can be scary, as it often means stepping into the unknown. However, it’s important to remember that uncertainty can lead to exciting new possibilities. Embrace the ambiguity and trust that the future holds something better for you. Be open to new experiences and allow yourself to be vulnerable, as this is where growth truly occurs. When I switched from imaging to the Internet, I did not know what would happen; what I felt was the excitement of entering a new world with immense possibilities.
Here are some practical tips for closing doors:
- Reflect on your current situation and identify areas where change is necessary. (Writing it out helps with the thinking process.)
- Make a list of the things you need to let go of and why.
- Establish clear boundaries with people or situations that no longer serve you.
- Take action to close the doors, whether it’s ending a relationship, quitting a job, or moving away from a negative environment.
- Seek support from friends, family, professionals, or mentors to help you through the process.
Once you’ve closed the doors to your past, you’ll find that new doors will begin to open. Embrace these new opportunities with enthusiasm and curiosity. Stay true to your values and goals, and trust that these new experiences will lead to personal growth and happiness.
Closing doors is an essential part of personal, professional, and business growth, as it allows us to let go of our past and embrace new opportunities. It can be challenging, but it’s a necessary step in pursuing a better future. By recognising the need for change, embracing the unknown, and taking practical steps to close doors, we can open ourselves up to a world of new possibilities and experiences. Remember, sometimes the only way to move forward is by leaving something behind.
The Second Side – 1
A colleague came up to me and said that she was having a tough time closing an order in a large B2C company. While the marketing team was convinced about our solution, the CFO had put a hold on the project as part of various cost-cutting measures, and the CMO had been unable to persuade the CFO on signing off on the purchase order. How could she break this stalemate? I suggested that she meet the CFO and speak something along the following lines: “You are only seeing the cost side of the equation and not seeing the potential benefits. The product should not be viewed simply as a solution for retention or engagement – it was a solution for boosting revenues and profits. In fact, I am so confident of the outcome that you can pay us after a year – from the upside that our product will generate for you.” I also suggested showing the CFO what our product could do; after all, every person is also a consumer and knows the friction in shopping and dealing with D2C brands. This worked, and we closed the deal.
Many a time, we see only one side of the situation. The second side is missed out. At times, this other side may not even be obvious. The CFO saw only the immediate costs but not the long-term benefits and upside from implementing our martech solution.
During the years that I was doing Nayi Disha, I was less focused on Netcore. My goal was to transform India, and I thought I could change people’s minds and their votes by persuading them about the need for freedom in India. During 2015-18, I came up with many initiatives: the need for a new Indian Constitution to replace the current one which borrowed heavily from the 1935 Government of India Act which made the people of Indian subservient to the rulers, the need for freeing city governments from the state government to drive urbanisation and prosperity, the idea of “Dhan Vapasi” to unlock resources and wealth idled and wasted by the government, and a “United Voters of India” movement to unseat the existing politicians and have a Lok Sabha of Independents to put India on a new track. (Many of these ideas are chronicled here.)
What I failed to see was the other side – the cost of me spending time on the political side and its impact on Netcore. Perhaps, I could have helped fast-track Netcore’s expansion to the US much earlier than we did. Perhaps, I could have led Netcore shift to SaaS for its sales and marketing approach faster. All of these could have accelerated Netcore’s growth. As I look back, while I was learning about India and its possible paths to prosperity, this came at a cost I did not then foresee because I had not considered the “second side” in my decisions on what was the best use of my time and in which field I could have had greater impact.
The Second Side – 2
Henry Hazlitt’s broken window fallacy story is a classic economic parable illustrating the concept of opportunity cost and the fallacy of ignoring unseen consequences. The story revolves around a young boy who accidentally breaks a shopkeeper’s window, leading to various reactions from bystanders. Some observers argue that the broken window is a blessing in disguise, as it creates work for the glazier and stimulates the local economy. They believe that the money spent on repairing the window circulates and generates income for others, promoting economic growth.
Hazlitt points out the fallacy in this line of thinking, emphasising that the money spent on fixing the window could have been used elsewhere for more productive purposes. By repairing the window, the shopkeeper loses the opportunity to invest in other goods or services, such as expanding the business or purchasing new equipment. This is the concept of opportunity cost: the value of the next best alternative forgone when acting.
The broken window fallacy illustrates that focusing solely on the visible, immediate effects of an action can lead to wrong conclusions. It reminds us to consider the unseen, long-term consequences and opportunity costs when evaluating the true impact of an event or policy on the economy.
As demonstrated by the aforementioned experience, recognising and understanding the other side of a situation is crucial to making well-informed decisions and overcoming obstacles. This broader perspective can lead to discovering hidden opportunities and mitigating risks. By considering multiple viewpoints, individuals and organisations can better anticipate and address potential challenges. This holistic approach can enable more strategic decision-making and help avoid falling into the trap of the “broken window fallacy,” as explained by Hazlitt.
So, the next time you are faced with a consequential and irreversible decision, ask yourself if you have thought about the “second side”. Speak to people who may have perspectives different from your own. Listing out the pros and cons or doing a SWOT analysis can also help uncover aspects which you may have not thought about. The “second side” thinking can also help close doors and help you open new ones.