Remembering Names – The Real Secret

Remembering names is a subject close to my heart. I even created a ‘Definitive Guide to Remembering Names‘ 2 years ago. Of course, the post was anything but ‘definitive’. And, as a result, I’m back 2 years later and finally feel like I’ve understood what it takes to remember names.

Firstly, I thought I’d explain why this topic is close to my heart. It’s a simple reason really – Remembering names is magical – for both sides. It’s magical for you because you have just pulled out a name, against the odds and feel really really good about yourself. And, if you’ve ever been the receiver, you know that there are few things that equal the magic of somebody remembering your name when you least expect it.

I’ve been witness to pure magic in this regard – miracles have happened in restaurants, super markets and in the oddest of places simply because a name was remembered. In some cases, it wasn’t even because a name was remembered. It was simply because a name tag was noticed. How amazing is that?

And, all that aside, I find that calling a person by their name forges a deep connection. It’s amazing that a simple collection of letters can forge a connection as deep. But, that’s really how magical the name is. It counts.

Now, over to the next problem – How do we remember names?

I have a friend with whom I had the benefit of spending many years in close contact. He is a very passionate Biologist and he, very often, shared interesting learnings from his classes in school with a bunch of us when we hung out. While we used to joke about falling asleep right as he began expounding some interesting theory, I’m glad he never gave up on us because I absorbed many an interesting tit bit.

One such tit bit was about memory and emotion. It was actually during a conversation when somebody pointed out that women tend to have better memories (on average) than men. And this friend explained the reason. He said the way our minds work is that memories become etched when they are attached with emotions. And women, being more emotional than men, as a result have better memories.

This learning came back to me as I was muttering a couple of names to myself a week or so ago. I had just asked a few members of the team at my favorite lunch haunt for their names. And I was busy trying to make proper associations to remember them. And I found myself struggling. Attempting to practice what I write about, I tried focusing on a successful moment i.e. a moment when I remembered a name.

And right then, the manager of the same haunt flashed in my mind’s eye. I remembered her name with ease. She was the first one I’d gotten to know. She was warm, sweet and always had a smile on her face. I cared about her.

I went over these thoughts again in slow motion and two words stood out. I cared.

I cared!

And I remember the moment – I stopped for a couple of minutes, pictured each person in my mind’s eye, associated their name with something familiar (eg: Rob with Robbie Williams) and felt that surge of emotion as  I decided I would never forget their names. I met them every single day. Surely I was capable of caring that much..

Turns out I was.

I re-learned something very meaningful that day. It doesn’t matter how many tricks, tips and techniques you know. At the end of the day, if you don’t care enough, the rest simply doesn’t matter.

I haven’t forgotten their names since and doubt I ever will. At the end of the day, it came down to a simple concept – caring enough.

I’m sorry if you find yourself disappointed at the absence of some cool Jedi mind trick that would zap names into your memory. I, for one, am not underestimating this learning. It’s taken 2 years to get here. And it hasn’t been easy!

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. | T.S.Elliot

So, there you go. That’s my secret to remembering names. And, the more I think about it, I realize this could very well be a secret to leadership, success at work, great relationships or life.

We can do most things we set out to do.

We just have to care.
Just have to care.
Have to care.
To care.

Or and And

New or Old

Profit or Value

Tough or Nice

Success or Relationships

Long term or Short term

Style or Substance

Focus or Diversify

Think or Do

Work or Life

Study or Play

Love or Friendship

Health or Happiness

Learn or Produce

We have so many choices that appear to be ‘OR’ choices. They pop up every day and at every important decision.

And every time I see one of these, I am reminded of an email exchange I had with a wise friend when I had asked him a philosophical question.

My question: 

When/How do we learn best?
 Is it through hardship, trials and tough times? Or through success, encouragement and growth of confidence?

His answer:
Whenever I am faced with such a dilemma, I ask myself [very deeply] what it would take to replace OR with AND…

Clipping Wings Because They Are A Nuisance

Over time, I’m beginning to realize the serious issues with feedback.

It’s that moment after you hear someone you share a professional relationship with talk about a list of things they like about you before adding a ‘but’ or an ‘and’ and going on to describe something about you they feel you need to change.

When you are on the side of the giver, it feels like you are doing the right thing. And as a receiver, you tend to have that bad feeling in your stomach.

How do I know? Been on both sides, more times than I can count.

Over the past year, I’ve come to the realization that giving feedback is just wrong. I’ve done it many times and I realize it’s something I need to stop. It’s a risk I should never take.

There’s a simple rationale to this. Your greatest strength moonlights as your greatest weakness. Always. And it’s natural. If you are an eagle, it’s normal that you can’t swim. But, feedback makes it sound like a bad thing instead of focusing on the fact that you are the best flyer around and if you did need anything to do with the water, you should just make friends with a fish!

Every person who accomplishes something understands this. Look at Steve Jobs in his early days at Apple and Next, and then in his second act. The big difference is that he surrounded himself with people like Johnny Ives, Tim Cook and John Lasseter who knew how to manage him, and whose skills were entirely complimentary. Luckily, for Jobs, he was born with a certain brashness (that worked counter productive as well) that had him ignore people who told him to stop being temperamental, the source of his creative genius.

My point here is that, for every Jobs, there a million others who are being given ‘constructive feedback’ and who never recover. It’s in our nature to focus on the negative and we will likely walk away from feedback sessions only remembering the criticisms. And that’s the end of the story.

So, here’s my suggested approach –

1. Don’t bother with feedback. There are, no doubt, a few relationships where the relationships that can take the feedback. Very few who will be able to laugh it off if they don’t like it. And I trust you’ll know which if you asked yourself that question.

2. Focus instead of finding people’s strengths. Focus like an insane person on what people are doing right, and how people can do more of that.

3. When you have difficulty working with people because of clashes of point of view or approach, focus on how you can leverage their strengths, and yours, to make the relationship positive. Staying out of the way could be a potential solution. ‘Constructive‘ criticism is not.

Here’s why. ‘Constructive‘ criticism tends to be constructive only in the mind of the giver. There are few people who are thick skinned enough to shrug it off. For the most part though, it is never constructive. It destroys much more in the long run.

Tony Buzan, author of Creative Intelligence, has an interesting theory. He says everyone is born with creativity in the arts, music, dance and in writing. However, we walk out of childhood at most with one or two of those talents. And he reasons it’s because we likely got laughed at or told in nice ways ‘we suck’ in the rest.

Conventional thinking gets this wrong. I’m convinced of that. Oh, and don’t worry about people never being told what they do wrong. The world will do that. For every 1 person who tells them they did well, there are a thousand that will laugh at them. It’s the easy thing to do.

Stop pointing out the things that the Eagle cannot do. Start figuring out how the Eagle can fly higher.

To do that, we will have to really understand the eagle and what it does right.

Telling an eagle to clip it’s wings because they are a nuisance to you is easy. The natural consequence, of course, is that it will never fly.

It requires serious thinking and effort to truly build people. It’s sometimes so tough that it hardly feels worth it.

Except when it is. 

On Gollwitzer Action Triggers

This week’s learning is part of the ongoing series of inspiring learnings from ‘Switch’ by Dan and Chip Heath.

Peter Gollwitzer, a New York University psychologist, gave his students the opportunity to earn extra credit by writing a paper about how they spent Christmas Eve and turning it in on December 25th i.e. during holidays. Here, he added a twist.

Half the students received the assignment as it is. And 33% of them completed the assignment and turned it in on time, which was expected as most forgot about it during the holiday season.

The other half were asked to set action triggers in advance i.e. they decided exactly when and where they would write the report. Eg: One student said ‘I will write this report in my Dad’s office on Christmas day before everyone wakes up.’

And here’s the amazing part – 75% of those students submitted their assignment!

That’s a pretty astonishing result for such a small mental investment. Ambiguity results in inaction. Action triggers clear ambiguity and enable us to do things we want to do by pre loading decisions.

Conventional thought would suggest having a goal is strong enough motivation. But, that’s where our learnings about elephants and riders come to play. Goals are good for our riders and appeal to logic. However, to motivate our elephants, we will need to clear all doubts and literally set ourselves up for success!

Here’s to committing to clear action triggers this week!


It’s Saturday evening and I find myself feeling like I’m right back to my university days. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’ve decided to have a rare late night.

Yellow lights. Check.
Good Music. Check.
Solitude. Check.

All of a sudden, I had New Slang playing and I found myself let out a ‘Gosh’ inadvertently.

The song transported me for a few moments to some great memories of nights with friends, huddled up together in a small dorm room, listening to music and talking about stuff late into the night. The stuff varied between philosophy, movies, TV shows and random topics of conversation. This typically ended at 5am in the morning culminating in the traditionally awesome breakfast from McDonalds. There were many many instances when we would somehow keep ourselves awake till 3:45AM to place our Mcbreakfast order..

There were a handful of such nights during those magical 4 years. They typically happened either at the start of the semester, during the first half of the mid semester break or post examinations and every one of them was great. A few, of course, were special.

One such special night came to mind as I respectfully searched for ‘Love story meets viva la vida’. August 8, 2009. One such memory where we exchanged many great songs. I saw the famous Al Pacino ‘Any Given Sunday‘ speech for the first time on this night. I’ve used that many many times. I heard many great songs, one of them being ‘Good Bad Ugly‘ by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. I remember that night vividly.

But, the most important song of them all was this masterpiece.

This song became the defining song of that first semester of the final year of university for a bunch of us. And every time I listen to this song, all those memories flash by.

I saw this wonderful quote today – One day your life will flash by in front of your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.

The quote made a lot of sense, especially in the context of this memory. When our lives flash by in front of our eyes, we often see flashes of the best memories, great moments with friends and family..

I had so many of such memories during my 4 years in university that I felt I took them for granted. They are much harder to come by now. They take a lot of work, organization and luck with timing. Those were simpler times.

On the upside, December is coming. And that means some precious time with framily. I am hopeful there will be a couple of such great nights in store for us. I’m working hard to make it happen.

But, such nights.. well, define life and happiness in many ways, don’t they?

And the best part is  – I, sure as hell, am not taking these for granted anymore.

Just the thought of these times ahead fills me with energy and optimism.

Life is good. And I am thankful. 

Pen Pals

There’s a certain romance about the thought of a pen friend. I grew up in the generation when pen friends were just going out of fashion. The world of internet and email had just come about and the rage was all about ‘chat friends’ in online chat rooms.

Either way, I’ve always thought the idea is very cool because it appeals to imagination. You know, you don’t really know the person. All you have done is engaged in a lot of dialogue. You might have spoken about life, your beliefs, your values and of the many things that you care about. You are almost forced to be trusting because there’s no way forward if you don’t believe the person on the other end is genuine.

There’s true romance in that experience, in my book. And when I say romance, I don’t mean the kind that precedes conventional relationships, but the fascination and enthusiasm that we feel when we are dealing with that incredible mix of mystery and imagination, almost like magic. It must have been the case with pen friends. And, with technology enabling us to have access to information at all times, god knows we could do with a bit of that magic in our lives..

Today, of course, a bit of that romance is lost. You can search a person out on the internet and tell whether he’s/she’s bull shitting you. That said, all your online searching generally reveal only the tip of the iceberg. Dialogue is a lot deeper and there’s only so much you’ll be able to find online. Unless, of course, this  person runs a daily blog that results in him/her practically sharing her life. But, in my limited experience, such morons are few and far between.

For the most part, there is still a lot of romance in the process. And that’s been the driver behind one my bigger obsessions of late. Regulars here will have identified themes over time – for instance, many of my posts over the last two weeks have been about focusing on strengths. Another such obsession over the past few weeks has been on building a community here, thanks to my experiences with the community at AVC.

Yesterday, I had more reason to justify this obsession. I met one of the members of the AVC community for lunch yesterday. She’s also an occasional visitor here and we’ve known for a while that we both live in London. We’d discussed meeting up and eventually got around to doing it. It was a fantastic experience. And I was describing it to a close friend who said ‘Ah! It’s like meeting a pen friend!’.

That nailed it! It was indeed like meeting a pen friend. Isn’t it amazing to meet somebody you’ve interacted with a fair bit online, in real life? I can’t wait to meet the rest of those I interact with so much over comments at AVC, on their own blogs and here even.

I have realized  over time that it takes a lot to stop and comment at a post. I went 3 years without ever commenting on a single post I read. And yet, funnily enough, it meant the world to me when I had a comment on my blog. (It still does!) I’m a tad slow on the uptake, but I’m still surprised this took me so long.

Eventually, I got there and nowadays, it’s reached a point where I hardly ever read a post without commenting. I don’t always have something of great value to add but sometimes, it’s just about letting the fellow blogger know that I’ve stopped by and I wanted to say a hello. You know, the kind of quick visit you might pay a close neighbor who you like.

And I realize I’ve been fortunate to have some old and new friends pop by every once in a while here and say ‘hello’. From Fred’s numbers, I see 1 in every 100 typically pops by to say hello. I’ve been luckier here, every once in a while. Thank you.. It means a lot! It’s lovely getting to know you. And for those who have stopped by every once in a while, I hope it will be more often. And for those who haven’t shown up yet, thanks for teaching me to be patient…

Because, following my lunch with my pen pal, I truly the felt the potential power of this experience.

We all meet each other over the ether, every day. Sometimes the communication is one way and yet, sometimes, it’s both ways. That said, we all still meet. Many of you have chosen to share your own experiences, thoughts, beliefs over this space. I’ve obviously known many of you personally and yet, increasingly, I’m meeting many with whom the acquaintance has been entirely thanks to optic fibre and, in some cases, air waves. Isn’t that incredible?

To think that one day we could all get together and meet ‘in real life‘ – that thought never fails to inspire me. It would be like magic!

We’ll get there.

Have a great weekend, folks! :-)

Jobs. Sivers. Transformation.

I’m reaching the end of the fantastic Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. Last week, at this point, I was feeling very disillusioned. This guy sounded dark, hard on people – reinforced from the previous Steve Jobs book that I’d read. All those media horror stories seemed true.

Last week, I had a nice conversation with a wiser friend where we were discussing education, use of intelligence and the like. It inspired me to write about our use of analytical intelligence by focusing on what is wrong with something rather than what is right.

And then, I had epiphany during the week. I was being cynical myself. I was easily lapping up the media portrayal of Jobs as the irrational angry negative guy and was dismissing him as someone who got marketing right.

From that moment, I began focusing on all the things that Steve did right. Every time I came across a theme that resembled a strength, I wrote it down.

This exercise has transformed me. It really has.

It is so easy to be cynical and judgmental. I’d slipped into that zone myself with relative ease. The zone is negative. It doesn’t celebrate wins. It only looks at the downside.

The moment I flipped it around, I could feel the rise in energy. I could see myself learning an incredible amount. Because, funnily enough, while it’s easy to point out someone else’s faults, those faults come with the person’s unique make up and hence, they are unlikely to be emulated.

However, when it comes to strengths or things people do right, there is actually a tremendous amount to learn. For example, it’s easy to rubbish Jobs’ management skills. He was a horrific people manager thanks to his inability to manage his emotions. However, in his 2nd coming at Apple, he made it a point to surround himself with people who complemented him. Persistent folk who managed him. Bloody insightful, this is.
(I will share the entire list once I’m finished with the book. Please remind me if I forget.)

And, to think I almost missed it!

I am amazed.

It’s all in my mind. Sivers shows the power of the very same thing in this wonderful 3 minute clip.

It’s easy to forget the good stuff.

Focusing on the positive is so damn hard. .

But, that’s what makes it worth it.

‘Let the man who will move the world, first move himself.’

Infinite Inspirations

I decided to call today’s post Infinite Inspirations as that is the name of a lovely blog that my friend blogs on. I was checking her last few posts out today and felt very inspired by a video she shared that reminded me that there were indeed infinite inspirations out there. Seek, and we shall find.

I was reminded of a story from John Lennon’s life this morning as I was reflecting on a post on a friend’s blog. I’m not entirely sure if this is real or fictional but I thought I’d share it anyway. When he was a 2nd grader, they were sent home with assignments to think about what they wanted to be when they grow up. They were supposed to write this on a piece of paper. The entire class did. Many others put in glamorous professions, spoke of wealth and prosperity.

John’s answer was simple though – be happy was all his note said. His teacher said he didn’t understand the exercise.

He walked away feeling she didn’t understand life..

That story brings me to this brilliant video..

Life is short. 
Love it. Live it. 
Happy Friday!

Thank You and Happy Thanksgiving

Today is celebrated as ‘Thanksgiving’ Day in the US. Being Indian, I don’t generally celebrate thanksgiving but regulars here know I’m a sucker for the friendship, mothers, fathers, teachers day etc. I think it’s nice to be able to pause, take stock and give thanks – in this case, reflect on the past year even. There is so much to be happy about.

There are 3 sets of people I would like to give thanks to today.

My support system or Framily (i.e. Friends + Family – You heard it here first. :)). I have a post coming on this soon. I’d like to thank these wonderful folks who keep me going. I actually managed to prepare ahead of thanksgiving this year and send out small handwritten Thank You notes. That was a fun project that kept me a work an extra hour every day. I experienced the joy of writing again and I also realized how painful it can be as it takes incredibly long to get across what seems so little. I also realized that, unlike in the computer, you can’t get away with copy pasting. Hence, every note is distinctly personal. It was a wonderful experience.. and I enjoyed every minute of it.

My Teachers. Albert, a fellow blogger, lead the way this morning by giving thanks to teachers who made a difference in his life. And that struck a chord with me too. I’ve been fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers – in school, in university and otherwise. Many of my colleagues have doubled up as teachers as well. And, in many ways, my framily has played a massive role in this process as well.

To all those who didn’t give up on me, thank you. I’m very grateful. :)

You. Thank you for being a big part of this experience. I’ve learnt an incredible amount thanks to blogging. Life has changed in many ways. I find it filled with opportunities. I seem to have slowly made a habit of seeing the opportunity and upside instead of the downside – all thanks to you. It’s nice to know thanks to our friends, Google Analytics and Feedburner, that you are reading these posts. And thanks to all of you who choose to drop by and weigh in with your own learnings and comments every once in a while.

I think this will be an amazing journey and I’m very hopeful, as I’ve said many times , that we will create a  learning movement that will impact many many millions around the world. All in good time though. And all thanks to you for making it work. There’s a reason I chose to blog vs write a personal diary. And you make it feel very worthwhile.

Thank you, in short, to everyone I’ve been fortunate to meet, interact and learn from.

It’s 6.37 in the morning on a chilly day here, and it’s time to head for some exercise. It’s a wonderful day. And a wonderful world. And I’m looking forward to it!

Thank you, God.

‘I love the whole world and all the sights and souunds. Boom de ya da.. Boom de ya da..’


My friend and I were debating about the best day to book for the evening session at the Tennis Masters series at the O2 arena in London. We eventually picked Monday over Tuesday. You can imagine my consternation when I realized later that the Tuesday session featured a Federer v Nadal game. Of course, by then, the tickets had gone up to 300 GBP from the original 30.

No complaints, however. Monday meant watching the Bryan brother and Djokovic, both world No.1’s.

And here is a quick observation from both the games featuring the 2 World No. 1’s –

– Both did not play their ‘A’ game.
– Both lost their first set
– Both could have lost the second set (Djokovic less so..)
– Both of them came back from set down to take the game in the 3rd sets tie break

What did I learn?
There wasn’t visible difference in the quality.

There was, however, a very visible difference in ‘nerve’.

That’s why I chose today’s quote to be ‘We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears.’

It just seemed that the champions played without fear.

My tennis coach talks of a moment in the US open semi finals where Federer was serving for the match in the 3rd set. He had 2 match points and the camera zoomed to Novak Djokovic’s face. And he grinned.

My coach pointed out that that moment told you all you needed to know about the outcome of that game. Djokovic ended up saving the match points and becoming the first person in a grand slam to beat Federer after Federer had taken a 2 set lead. Nerve. 3-4 years ago, you would have backed Federer to do the same.

That made me wonder about how it applies to our own lives.

When we are out there doing things – performing at work, performing in competitive sports etc, how much nerve do we display?

Is it the stuff of champions?

Do we persist when the times are tough? And act in confidence and forget fear?

Which spheres of life do we actually behave like champions? Are there any?

And, if not now, then when?